University City Historical Society: Call to Action
Dear Friends and Neighbors,
University City is at a preservation crossroads. Within the past two years, the number of demolitions of historically and architecturally significant properties within University City has dramatically increased, with most recent demolitions taking place at 4042-4044 Chestnut Street, 245 S. 45th Street, and 3937 Chestnut Street.
This trend shows no sign of stopping, and is only likely to accelerate as University City continues to grow and prosper. As it turns out, shockingly few properties within University City are listed on the Philadelphia Register of Historic Places, and none of the University City’s neighborhoods maintain local historic district status, both of which would provide protection from demolition. Furthermore, many blocks in University City hold underlying zoning designations of high density use, which will make older structures more vulnerable to demolition, and in some cases, actually encourage it. The University City Historical Society is troubled by this demolition trend, and we know many of our neighboring community groups and institutions are as well.
The University City Historical Society (UCHS) is a non-profit organization with a mission to promote awareness of the history and architectural character of University City. We are a small, membership-based organization with a board comprised of volunteers who share an interest in the history of our community. Regretfully, our volunteer board members collectively do not possess the capacity to write our own Philadelphia Register of Historic Places nominations. Within the past year, UCHS has leveraged our limited resources to hire architectural historians to nominate significant parcels in University City: 3600-30 Lancaster Avenue and 4300-06 Osage Avenue. Additionally, for the past two summers, UCHS has worked with student interns from the University of Pennsylvania’s Historic Preservation program to prepare nominations for several other historically significant buildings in our neighborhood. These efforts are reactionary and have been undertaken when threat of demolition appears imminent, but in many cases, we learn of these threats only after demolition permits have been pulled and it is too late.
On a more strategic level, the UCHS has formed a preservation task force which has identified those structures and blocks in our neighborhood which are at greatest risk for demolition. It is our hope that future efforts can be proactive, rather than reactive, so that we can better protect the character of University City. UCHS welcomes outside participation in this task force for those willing to volunteer their expertise or time toward this important cause. It is our hope that we can target preservation initiatives for those properties in University City which may be at greatest risk for redevelopment.
Despite these efforts, it is clear that the University City Historical Society cannot go it alone when it comes to preserving our neighborhood’s historic resources. Without support of our fellow community organizations, homeowners, and institutions, we will be limited by how many structures we can nominate and preserve. At its most basic level, each nomination may cost several thousand dollars in consulting fees. Additional financial support towards these efforts can go a long way towards furthering our efforts.
Here are ways that you can assist with us in this uphill battle:
- Keep each other informed. Alert the UCHS when you suspect a property may be vulnerable for demolition. The more we can share information, the more effective we can be.
- Contact your elected officials and let them know that you value historic preservation and its importance toward the cultural fabric of University City.
- Become a member of University City Historical Society and Preservation Alliance of Greater Philadelphia and stay informed about preservation issues in our City.
- Make a tax deductible donation to the University City Historical Society that can be used specifically for the preparation of nominations of historic structures.
- Volunteer your skills and spread the word among your neighbors.
Likewise, in the coming months, UCHS will be organizing a Preservation Summit within our neighborhood to discuss the facts, challenges, and opportunities surrounding preservation in our neighborhood. In attendance will be representatives from the City, local neighborhood organizations, trained preservationists, and like-minded preservation organizations. We see this as an important step towards sharing knowledge and collaborating together to strengthen our efforts. Invitation to this important event will be forthcoming.
The significance of University City architecture is universally acknowledged, but it is easy to take for granted that this may not always be the case. Together we can find a comfortable balance between the preservation of our historic resources and the growth and economic vitality of this very special neighborhood.
Elizabeth Stegner, President, UCHS
George Poulin, Committee Chair
July 28, 2016