Pennsylvania Historic Preservation

Blog of the Pennsylvania State Historic Preservation Office

When a door closes, a window opens…

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One of the stereotypes that often accompanies historic preservationists is the battle over replacing historic windows. 

What good are they in this modern world of central air conditioning and cheap vinyl replacements? 

Why go through all the trouble to take the time and effort of removing the sashes, repairing the sash cords, resetting the glass, and rehanging wooden window sashes when a property owner can just run right over to your nearest big box hardware store for the grab-and-go vinyl option? 

Book cover showing many windows
This handy publication from Preservation PA, available as a PDF, explains why windows matter and how to fix them!

Who really appreciates historic windows anyway? 

Fishtown

Over the last decade, the historic buildings of the Fishtown neighborhood in Philadelphia, a National Register eligible historic district (Key# 102284), have transformed to become the homes of chic boutiques and some of the best restaurants in the United States. 

Brick rowhouses along city street
Berks Street in Fishtown, 2007. Photo by Tim Kiser (w:User:Malepheasant) / CC BY-SA (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.5)

Tourists and locals alike flock to the restaurants, bars, and coffee shops at the intersection of Frankford and Girard Avenues or nestled within the neighborhood’s labyrinth of narrow streets and hodgepodge of densely packed rowhouses. 

Windows work

During the current COVID-19 pandemic, humble, and often over looked, operable historic windows have helped many of Philadelphia’s small businesses continue to operate.  

When their doors closed to patrons in March, business owners in Fishtown looked for creative solutions to continue safely serve their customers and keep their businesses going. 

The historic buildings, and some of their character defining features, helped to provide a solution to the current public health restrictions.  The sashes of windows that had previously remained closed became walk up service windows. Tables were set up in front of doors to provide makeshift counter services. 

Woman standing at bar
This screenshot from Johnny Brenda’s Instagram account shows this Fishtown legend is being creative when it comes to serving its customers.

Sometimes, the simple solution is to look at an old thing in a new way. 

You can read more about Philadelphia’s new take out window trend in this April 2020 story from the Philadelphia Inquirer.

What about the rest of PA?

Have you noticed restaurants in historic buildings in your community using their windows in this creative way? Leave a comment to tell us about it!

Share this post and encourage businesses in your community to #StealThisIdea.

One Comment

  1. The problem of preserving historic buildings is relevant not only for Pittsburgh, but also for Europe. I liked the way it was implemented in Budapest. They managed to make world-famous ruinous pubs in factory buildings. Many cafes have been working and preserving their historic appearance since the early 20th century. Such authenticity attracts tourists!

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