MARCH 2003



On February 23, the membership of the University City Historical Society joined those commended for their 2002 “Gifts to the Streets” (listed here) at the society’s annual Valentine Awards Tea, postponed by a winter snowstorm. Braving the continuing bad weather, those attending enjoyed the spread of teas, sandwiches and sweets put together under the direction of Doris Cochran-Fikes and the party’s host, Ellie Cernansky of “The Castle” at 48th and Springfield Avenue.

In addition to thanking these committed property owners and project directors for their civic contributions or “Gifts” of historic façade improvements and gardening efforts, the society’s preservation awards for 2002 were presented by Board Member, Kathy Dowdell. The Outstanding Preservation Award for the year went to a group of property owners (and their principal craftsmen) for their combined and coordinated restoration efforts at 4200-4218 Spruce Streets. These included professionally cleaned and repointed masonry, restored and repainted porches, reproduced ornamental details and slate roofs along with landscaping renewals. Such combined efforts have restored and renewed one of the signature range of structures in University City, including the free standing Clarence Clark, Jr. house of 1890 by architects Andres, Jacque & Rantoul and seven Queen Anne row houses of 1887 by the architects, George W. & William D. Hewitt. Special thanks went to current owners, David Adelman & Alan Horowitz of Campus Apartments; Danny DeRetis of Apartments@Penn, Bret Tobias & Collette Hain, Nien-hê Hsieh & Sara Toomey and Mike Levin along with their contractors, Louis Tannen, Hector Medina and Richard Neal.

Chris Jones accepts Special Preservation Honor form UCHS's Kathy DowdellSpecial Preservation Honors were also presented to the owners and craftsmen at 317/319 S. 43rd Street for the façade restorations of this historic twin, built by the prolific West Philadelphia developer, William B. Kimball in 1904. These included the faithful reconstruction of front porches and their architectural details together with multicolored paint schemes highlighting those details. Owners Marguerite Browning & Robert Vitalis and Michael Stauffer were honored along with craftsman Chris Jones, who is shown accepting the honor awards.

Honoring an effort which makes major contributions to historic preservation, UCHS’s Preservation Initiative Award for the year went to architect and author, Robert Morris Skaler, whose life-long love for the historic architecture of his birthplace and extensive and unique collection of vintage postcards made possible the publication in 2002 of West Philadelphia, University City to 52nd Street (Arcadia Images of America Series), the first photographic history of the area in the last 100 years. Bob was thanked for generating new awareness and appreciation of the priceless architectural heritage we all share and permitting hundreds of former, present and future West Philadelphians the opportunity to experience the initial years of their built environment and thus to, in his terms, “go home again.”

Honorary Lifetime Membership in UCHS was also extended to Kate Stover & Tim Wood for leading, on behalf of the Spruce Hill Community Association and the University City Historical Society respectively, the ongoing campaign to nominate and create a local historic district for the Spruce Hill neighborhood of University City. Begun over 15 years ago, this campaign has encompassed the work of scores of volunteers, advocates, sponsors, supporters and funders from both organizations.

Tim and Kate’s long-standing leadership and perseverance included contracting for a professional revision of the original nomination of 1985; developing and managing a special website devoted to the nomination of the proposed district; locating and arranging for hosts, speakers/moderators, announcements and informational materials for residents attending block-based informational meetings about the proposed district for over thirty blocks; co-hosting, with the area’s district councilperson’s office, a major community meeting in April, 2002 where scores of questions were meticulously answered by the historical commission and posted for the public; distributing over one thousand packets of information; continuously correcting misrepresentations about the nomination and combating efforts to politicize the process and cripple the authority of the Philadelphia Historical Commission established by the city’s preservation ordinances.

As a couple who have really “done the work, not just talked the talk,” Tim and Kate provide the model and inspiration for those who will need to complete the nomination process, which is yet to officially begin!

After thanks for all the efforts on behalf of preservation in University City, the tea attendees left to slog through more snow in the longest winter of current memory.


Mill Creek Sewer construction between 47th & HaverfordThe University City Historical Society and the Office of Watersheds of the Philadelphia Water Department will be among the sponsors of a lecture providing the latest chapter of a “Philadelphia story” focusing on “Mill Creek: From Creek to Sewer,” at 7 p.m., Tuesday, March 18 at the new Penn-Alexander Public School, on 43rd Street between Locust and Spruce Streets.

Free to the general public, this fascinating lecture by Adam Levine, a historical consultant to the Philadelphia Water Department, with period photographs, maps, drawings and plans, will trace some of the major alterations in the original Philadelphia landscape, and reveal the various justifications used by city officials for these projects. The most significant topographical change in many cities was the systematic obliteration of most of the surface streams--a process that, in Philadelphia, went on for more than 150 years. Buried deep underground in pipes as large as 20 feet in diameter, these former streams--some with watersheds that covered thousands of acres--became main drainage arteries in the city's 3,000 mile sewer system. In Philadelphia, as in many cities, this massive alteration to the original hydrology and landscape is a little-known story that is still relevant today. Mill Creek, which runs in a sewer underneath 43rd Street, will be a major focus of the talk.


Thanks to the many of you who responded to our request that you contribute your letter of support for historic preservation and reject any attempts to cripple the authority of the Philadelphia Historical Commission by proposing that historic certification rest with the District Councilperson on City Council rather than the community and the commission. An impressive number added to the Hall Watch fax bank set up to insure that these voices reached Councilwoman Blackwell, the Mayor and others in the council responsible for such decisions. All of your letters can be found at that site.

For those who have yet to write, please know: There are no signs that those belittling the importance of protecting our historic resources and opposing historic preservation have modified their views. Premised as they are on the assumption that our period architecture has no special merit or worth, they are yet another example of the city’s defeatist “inferiority complex.” If these positions succeed, the effects would be disastrous, both for the city’s historic built environment and for its hope of economic renewal.

Please take the time to make your voice heard with a short letter or message to our decision makers through the Hall Watch medium.


Help welcome new residents to University City with information they can use to enjoy and preserve its special quality of life. UCHS’s Historic Streetscapes Committee has assembled packets of materials for distribution to introduce new UC residents to resources for enjoying, maintaining and A historic view of a historic streetscaperenewing its historic streetscapes. These especially designed and printed large business-sized envelopes bear logos of trees, iron fencing and architectural details and carry a message of “Welcome to the neighborhood and the historic streetscapes of University City.” These can be personalized and hand delivered to a neighbor, compliments of an individual, a block or community association or area business or institution. The other side of the envelope will carry a message from the University City District, which is co-sponsoring the production of the packets.

Inside, the recipient will find a complementary membership form from UCHS and information about practical home maintenance and preservation, craftsperson databases, special mortgage and home improvement financing, trash pickup and recycling schedules, sanitation enforcement, special public safety services, car sharing, local public transport options, protecting water drains and water quality, unsolicited circular delivery, street tree care and planting, preserving public green spaces, historic house date markers and area attractions. Special coupons for area merchants will also be included. Contributors so far include UCHS, University City District, Philadelphia Streets, Water and L & I Departments, Philly Car Share, Citizens Bank, Pennsylvania Horticultural Society’s Tree Tenders, the Friends of Clark Park and Calvary Center for Culture and Community. Future additions will include order forms for special UCHS preservation briefs and initiatives and more merchant coupons.

The packets are free to those interested in distributing them to local addressees. Other community associations and area organizations are welcome to add their own contributions to the materials they deliver. To obtain the packets, simply call or contact UCHS using the contact information on this newsletter and leave us information about how many and how we can get them to you. Given their bulk, except for single mailed orders to UCHS members, these packets are meant to be hand delivered.


Members of UCHS’s Board of Governors and other “Friends of Calvary” were among those lucky enough on February 13, 2003 to support the building restoration fund-raising efforts of the
Calvary Center for Culture and Community with a spectacular sampling from the new menu of Bitar’s new Lebanese Bistro, Simsum, at 222 S. 40th Street.

A dish from Simsum's new menuSimsum’s owner, Amin Bitar, just completed an attractive remodeling to his restaurant and introduced his innovative new Middle Eastern and French-inspired menu. This is served tapas style in the evening, where diners can choose from among a myriad of exceptional vegetarian, seafood, meat and chicken dishes, as well as salads and desserts. Full information and complete temptation is available at Simsum's website.

The Calvary Center, which serves as home base to UCHS and other community efforts, has been raising funds to repair and restore the building over the last several years. They recently received a prestigious state Keystone grant for $100,000, putting a total of more than $200,000 toward the crucial gables repair project. The event at Simsum provided the flavorful kick-off thanks the great generosity of Amin Bitar and his staff.

Show your support for all this by making reservations soon (215) 382-3000 and do yourself and the neighborhood a great service.


The “Evening with the Philadelphia Boys Choir and Chorale” to benefit the restoration of the Paul Robeson House at 4951 Walnut Street previously announced for February 16 has been rescheduled for Sunday, March 23 at 4 p.m., Houston Hall, 3417 Spruce Street, on the Penn campus. The event will also include performances by: The Intermezzo Choir, Lisa Marie (dramatic soprano) and Stephen Green (baritone) with Thomasina James, accompanist. Seating: $25, General Admission; $100, Friends of the House (both include West Philadelphia Cultural Alliance membership). Make checks payable to “WPCA.” Contact them for a complete program of activities at (215) 747-4675, or wpca@wpcalliance.org.

Thanks to new Sustainers of UCHS:
Habtamu Shitaye & Frehimot S. Desta (Gojjo Inc); Robert P. Thomas & Nancy Adams Drye; Tom McCarron & Richard Keiser; Brian Ratigan & Melani Lamond; Gregory Montanaro

Thanks to new Friends of UCHS:
Greg & Mary Berzinsky; David & Linda Blythe; Mark Brack; Penelope Branning (In Memory of Ruth Branning Molloy); Mary McGettigan & Larry Caputo; Warren Cederholm, Jr. & Don Caskey; Libby Rosof & Murray Dubin; Freda R. Egnal; Sylvia Elias; Mary Goldman; William F. Hooper III; Nadine Landis; Patricia McKenna & Gerry Lee; Dan Liberatoscioli, The Restaurant School; Laurie & Victoria Olin; Brenda & Arnold Palley; Tim Rupe & Mark Stuart; Carol Thomson; Nien-hê Hsieh & Sara Toomey; Beth & Nelson Wicas; Rebecca & Doug Witmer

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