Few places in the nation are as old or historically significant as Philadelphia, the touted birthplace of America. Yet only 2.2 percent of the city’s buildings are historically designated. Mayor Kenney, here are some suggestions to get you started:
Few places in the nation are as old or historically significant as Philadelphia, the touted birthplace of America. Yet only 2.2 percent of the city’s buildings are historically designated. Compare that with Boston, where 7.2 percent of buildings are protected from demolition. Or, Washington, which boasts a 19.4 percent rate after rapidly ramping up its preservation efforts in recent years.
In 2017, honoring a campaign promise to better protect Philadelphia’s buildings, Mayor Jim Kenney invited preservationists, academics, developers, and city officials to examine the city’s policies. It wasn’t long until conflicting ideas and slow-moving bureaucracy clouded the process.
Meanwhile, prominent Philadelphia buildings continued to fall. A month before the May 2019 primary, Kenney unveiled the group’s recommendations, wide-ranging ideas that included creating a citywide survey of historic inventory, and introducing legislation, such as zoning bonuses, to incentivize preservation. Additionally, one of the most significant suggestions was the idea to create an “index” of buildings that, while not historically designated, could not be altered or demolished until the building’s history is properly reviewed.
Here’s how the index could work, according to the task force: Philadelphia’s Historical Commission staff would compile the list. Each property would have to meet one of the city’s designation criteria. If a demolition or alteration permit were sought for an indexed building, the commission would have a set time period to either add it to the local historic register (protecting it from demolition) or decline to do so. The index could include hundreds of properties. We received more than 50 submissions, many for already historically designated buildings. Some people suggested broader ideas, such as creating new historic districts. Two said all Philadelphia buildings built before the mid-1900s should be protected. One suggested properties along Jewelers Row, which are expected to be demolished to make way for a condo tower. The Inquirer chose 18 individual properties from reader submissions to profile here. Mayor Kenney, here are some suggestions to get you started:
The Henry Minton House 204 S. 12th St Nominator
Faye Anderson, from North Philadelphia said, “Minton was a caterer and leader in the free black community. He entertained Frederick Douglass … and provided John Brown a place to stay shortly before the Harper’s Ferry raid.” Henry Minton was a prominent black Philadelphia caterer who became a leader in the free black community. He lived and ran his business during the late 19th century inside 204 S. 12th St. in Center City, a 3½-story home. The building also served as a meeting place. Earlier this year, the house was nominated to Philadelphia’s historic register as a small piece of a larger submission that focused on preserving multiple pieces of the nearly block-long building, given their significance to the LGBTQ population. After a heated debate between Oscar Beisert, the nominator, and attorney Matthew McClure, who represented the building owner, Midwood Investment & Development, the Historical Commission voted to designate only the portion of the building on the corner of Chancellor and Camac Streets. This portion of 204 S. 12th St. was a central piece of the Camac Baths, a former Jewish schvitz that was frequented by the LGBTQ community. Faye Anderson, a preservation advocate in Philadelphia, says that with Minton’s ties to the property, it should be reconsidered for historic preservation. Minton was visited there by abolitionists Frederick Douglass and John Brown, she said. In 1880, an Inquirer article noted a court summary involving Minton, which described a local judge fining a man, John Donohue, “$1 and costs” — roughly $25 today — for committing “an assault and battery upon Henry Minton … a restaurant keeper on South Twelfth Street.”