Pennsylvania Historic Preservation

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Community Landmarks in the City of Neighborhoods

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By Samantha Kuntz

Philadelphia has managed to accrue some significant historic resources over the past, oh, 300 years or so. It is home to no fewer than 550 resources (including districts) listed on National Register of Historic Places, and it holds over 11,087 resources (including districts) on the local Philadelphia Register of Historic Places.  Philadelphia possesses relics of our nascent nation (the U.S. Constitution, the Liberty Bell), contains a UNESCO World Heritage Site (Independence Hall), and boasts an impressive new heritage association (full membership in the Organization of World Heritage Cities).

In other words, there must be something in the (Schuylkill and Delaware) water here.

With such a vast inventory of historic properties comes an increased need for documentation. Throughout the past year, the PA SHPO has been working to transform the approach to cultural resource protection by integrating historic preservation into local hazard mitigation planning via the Disaster Planning for Historic Properties Initiative. For Philadelphia, this primarily meant documenting over 600 registered historic properties located in flood hazard zones for consideration in citywide disaster planning.

However, it also meant considering stewardship from another angle: what about resources not yet recognized by either Register?

 Community Landmarks and the Citywide Vision

 To help answer this question, AECOM was tasked with a second survey to explore potential historic resources hiding in plain sight. Working beyond the identified flood hazard boundaries that defined the first phase of the Philadelphia survey, the AECOM team launched an additional, non-flood related cultural resource survey in two of Philadelphia’s city planning districts to suss out historic properties that have not yet been documented or designated.

Castle Row (above, 1888) and Battleship Row (below, 1880) in Tacony. Examples of housing built specifically to house Henry Disston’s incoming labor force in Tacony. Workers’ rowhomes were historically part of a building-and-loan program established by Disston as part of his comprehensive company town. Photo by Jenn Robinson from AECOM Technical Services, Inc., March 24, 2016.

Castle Row (above, 1888) and Battleship Row (below, 1880) in Tacony. Examples of housing built specifically to house Henry Disston’s incoming labor force in Tacony. Workers’ rowhomes were historically part of a building-and-loan program established by Disston as part of his comprehensive company town. Photo by Jenn Robinson from AECOM Technical Services, Inc., March 24, 2016.

Since the beginning of the Disaster Planning project in Philadelphia – and in concurrent surveys throughout Monroe, Bedford, and Cameron counties – the PA SHPO has emphasized the importance of identifying resources with substantial local and historic value that are not protected by designation. Deemed Community Landmarks, these properties form the core of continuing survey work in Philadelphia.

For the purposes of the resulting survey, Community Landmarks are known as buildings, structures, sites, districts, or objects that are eligible for listing in the Philadelphia Register of Historic Places (PRHP) and hold value within the local community due to their ability to convey information about its local history, identity, or social and cultural heritage.  Furthermore, Community Landmarks need either have been identified by city agencies as worthy of study, or have been a focal point for neighborhood advocacy efforts.

Devon Theater (1946) on the edge of Wissinoming and Mayfair. The Mid-Century Modern theater on Frankford Ave underwent a multi-million dollar rehabilitation in 2008 but was unable to continue operating as a theater. Now adaptively reused, the theater now houses the Kingdom of Life Christian Center. Photo by Kaitlin Pluskota from AECOM Technical Services, Inc., March 23, 2016.

Devon Theater (1946) on the edge of Wissinoming and Mayfair. The Mid-Century Modern theater on Frankford Ave underwent a multi-million dollar rehabilitation in 2008 but was unable to continue operating as a theater. Now adaptively reused, the theater now houses the Kingdom of Life Christian Center. Photo by Kaitlin Pluskota from AECOM Technical Services, Inc., March 23, 2016.

You may know them as your neighborhood park, the civic meeting center, or even the diner where you had your first date.

And there are thousands of them spread throughout Philadelphia. To narrow the scope, the PA SHPO partnered with the Philadelphia City Planning Commission (PCPC, recent recipient of the American Planning Association’s (APA) 2016 National Planning Excellence Award for a Planning Agency) and selected two planning districts to ground the Community Landmark pilot surveys: North Delaware and Lower Northwest.

 Delving into the Districts

 AECOM’s cultural resource team completed survey of the North Delaware planning district in early April. In total, 40 resources were assessed for potential listing on the National and Philadelphia Registers of Historic Places.  Ranging from neighborhood parks to roadside inns, workers housing blocks to wealthy mansions, and civic facilities to local shops, these resources reflect a broad collection of architectural styles, construction eras, and historical development types – capturing a diverse subset of historic resources grounded in local heritage.  Take, for example, the following sites:

Rocky Hill Village House (ca. 1790) located on the border of Wissinoming and Mayfair. The dwelling is one of only two remaining structures remaining from Rocky Hill Village (or Rockville), an early neighborhood centered around the intersection of Frankford, Cheltenham, and Bustleton Avenues in what was then known as Oxford Township. Photo by Kaitlin Pluskota from AECOM Technical Services, Inc., March 23, 2016

Rocky Hill Village House (ca. 1790) located on the border of Wissinoming and Mayfair. The dwelling is one of only two remaining structures remaining from Rocky Hill Village (or Rockville), an early neighborhood centered around the intersection of Frankford, Cheltenham, and Bustleton Avenues in what was then known as Oxford Township. Photo by Kaitlin Pluskota from AECOM Technical Services, Inc., March 23, 2016

Photo Caption: The Pennypack Mill House (ca. 1830) in Holmesburg is situated alongside Pennypack Creek. This form of twin worker housing at the original site of the Pennypack Grist Mills recalls high-volume mill industry in Holmesburg. hoto by Jennifer Robinson from AECOM Technical Services, Inc., March 24, 2016

Photo Caption: The Pennypack Mill House (ca. 1830) in Holmesburg is situated alongside Pennypack Creek. This form of twin worker housing at the original site of the Pennypack Grist Mills recalls high-volume mill industry in Holmesburg. hoto by Jennifer Robinson from AECOM Technical Services, Inc., March 24, 2016

Ethelhurst (1882) in Holmesburg. Dwelling designed by and built for local resident Amos C. Shallcross. Photo by Samantha Kuntz from AECOM Technical Services, Inc., March 24, 2016

Ethelhurst (1882) in Holmesburg. Dwelling designed by and built for local resident Amos C. Shallcross. Photo by Samantha Kuntz from AECOM Technical Services, Inc., March 24, 2016

Originally known as Harbot’s Hotel (1904), the Colonial Inn and Tavern stands today as Curran’s Inn in Tacony. It is one of the few significant properties of that era to survive the construction of I-95. Photo by Jennifer Robinson from AECOM Technical Services, Inc., March 24, 2016

Originally known as Harbot’s Hotel (1904), the Colonial Inn and Tavern stands today as Curran’s Inn in Tacony. It is one of the few significant properties of that era to survive the construction of I-95. Photo by Jennifer Robinson from AECOM Technical Services, Inc., March 24, 2016

 

Lardner’s Point (1906) in North Delaware was the largest water pumping station in the world when originally built to serve the Torresdale Water Works. Photo by Kaitlin Pluskota from AECOM Technical Services, Inc., March 24, 2016

Lardner’s Point (1906) in North Delaware was the largest water pumping station in the world when originally built to serve the Torresdale Water Works. Photo by Kaitlin Pluskota from AECOM Technical Services, Inc., March 24, 2016

The Disston Recreation Center (1931) in Tacony. The now prominent community gathering spot was built after the park grounds were established in 1912. Photo by Jennifer Robinson from AECOM Technical Services, Inc., March 24, 2016

The Disston Recreation Center (1931) in Tacony. The now prominent community gathering spot was built after the park grounds were established in 1912. Photo by Jennifer Robinson from AECOM Technical Services, Inc., March 24, 2016

Stein’s Florist (ca. 1950) on the border of Tacony and Mayfair has served the Northeast Philadelphia community since 1886. Its current location, however, is a Mid-Century adaptation of a Frankford Avenue rowhouse, with original period neon signage remaining. Photo by Jennifer Robinson from AECOM Technical Services, Inc., March 24, 2016

Stein’s Florist (ca. 1950) on the border of Tacony and Mayfair has served the Northeast Philadelphia community since 1886. Its current location, however, is a Mid-Century adaptation of a Frankford Avenue rowhouse, with original period neon signage remaining. Photo by Jennifer Robinson from AECOM Technical Services, Inc., March 24, 2016

Mayfair Diner (1954) was established in the Mayfair neighborhood as the Morrison and Strumm boxcar eatery in 1932. There have been several remodeling efforts since settling in its current location in 1938. Photo by Kaitlin Pluskota from AECOM Technical Services, Inc., March 24, 2016

Mayfair Diner (1954) was established in the Mayfair neighborhood as the Morrison and Strumm boxcar eatery in 1932. There have been several remodeling efforts since settling in its current location in 1938. Photo by Kaitlin Pluskota from AECOM Technical Services, Inc., March 24, 2016

All of these resources have been documented in the North Delaware district. Despite their differences, each site helps to communicate a sense of place germane to a particular time, place, and group of people. Each serves as an anchor to the neighborhood and its history.

If found eligible for listing on the National and Philadelphia Registers of Historic Places, these properties may qualify for financial incentives related to rehabilitation work.

With North Delaware district survey worked wrapped, the Community Landmark and National Register identification efforts will continue in the Lower Northwest planning district in the coming weeks. AECOM has slated approximately 120 resources for survey in the district, including Frank Furness rowhouses, Mid-Century Modern dwellings, and WPA-era park structures in the Wissahickon area of northwest Philadelphia.

Check back this summer for more on Disaster Planning for Historic Properties Initiative as AECOM gears up to survey historic resources in flood-hazard areas in Bedford and Cameron counties next month!

 

Samantha Kuntz is an Architectural Historian for AECOM Technical Services, Inc. A recent addition to the AECOM Cultural Resources Department based in Burlington, New Jersey, Ms. Kuntz is a Philly resident, former PCPC intern, and a new member of the Young Friends of the Preservation Alliance Steering Committee. She has a M.S. in Historic Preservation (MSHP) and an M.A. in City and Regional Planning (MCP) from the University of Pennsylvania.

Author: Guest Contributor

The Pennsylvania Historic Preservation Office occassionally asks our partners to share their news, successes, challenges, and perspectives on historic preservation matters in Pennsylvania.

One Comment

  1. Wonderful and informative article with great photos! I can’t wait to see more of your work!

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