Philadelphia Historical Commission Public Meetings

Philadelphia Historical Commission Public Meetings to Consider the Designation of the
Spruce Hill Historic District, Southeast Quadrant
The Philadelphia Historical Commission, the City’s preservation agency, will hold two public meetings to consider a proposal to designate a historic district that consists of 572 properties in the Spruce Hill neighborhood. The boundaries of the proposed historic district are shown on the map below.


The Historical Commission invites all property owners and other interested parties to attend and comment on the proposed district at two public meetings, which will be held remotely on Zoom. To participate in the Zoom meetings on a computer, tablet, or smartphone, use the links below. To participate in the meetings on the telephone, call the phone number below.
COMMITTEE ON HISTORIC DESIGNATION HISTORICAL COMMISSION
APRIL 17, 2024, 9:30 A.M. MAY 10, 2024, 9:00 A.M.
Zoom Link: https://bit.ly/CHDApr17 Zoom Link: https://bit.ly/PhcMay10
Telephone Number: 267-831-0333 Telephone Number: 267-831-0333
Passcode: 809060 Passcode: 385736
Meeting ID: 889 0921 4482 Meeting ID: 892 7030 6864
For more information, visit the Commission’s website at https://www.phila.gov/historical or email the Historical Commission at [email protected]

2024 Monthly Board Meetings

Our Board meetings are held on the 2nd Tuesday of the month at 7:30 pm, at the Spruce Hill Center at 257 S. 45th Street 
After years of being remote due to the pandemic, we are excited to return to live face-to-face meetings but with the following COVID-19 precautions:  

  • Only Board members and guest speakers will be allowed to attend in person, 
  • Community members will be invited to attend virtually via Zoom

The agenda will be emailed to our Google group.

Jan 9 UC District plans for 43rd & Spruce safety improvements:
Nathan F. Hommel, Director, Planning and Design  
Feb 13 St. Joe’s University development ideas. 
Constant Springs Consulting about our Historical District Application
Mar 12 TBA
Apr 9 TBA
May 14 TBA
Jun 11 TBA
Sep 10 TBA
Oct 8 TBA
Nov 12 TBA

Joint UCHS & SHCA Response to the Inquirer

A joint response from the University City Historical Society and the Spruce Hill Community Association to the Philadelphia Inquirer editorial from 7/18/2023 on the ongoing Spruce Hill Historic District effort

**Note: Link to Philadelphia Inquirer above may be restricted to paid subscribers**

With its July 18th editorial on the Spruce Hill Historic District effort, the Philadelphia Inquirer alarmingly betrayed a deep disconnect with our city’s essential identity and a misunderstanding of Philadelphia’s historic preservation ordinance and its historical commission. A pointed arrow from the paper of record shockingly directed toward a community-based effort to sustain neighborhood viability deserves a direct response.

The Spruce Hill neighborhood in West Philadelphia is one of the nation’s earliest streetcar suburbs and has one of the largest collections of Victorian-era housing in the entire country. The Spruce Hill Community Association, with support and involvement from the University City Historical Society, is picking up the effort to include our unique neighborhood on the Philadelphia Register of Historic Places. With rampant, “by-right” demolitions happening at a dizzying scale and rendering corners of our neighborhood unrecognizable and residents at risk of displacement, the urgency for this designation effort has never been more acute.

Historic district designation is the right choice for Spruce Hill to help manage inevitable changes in our world. Historic districts are not museums; they are dynamic places that express the character of a neighborhood. They allow neighborhoods to ebb and flow with the times without allowing them to be diminished by out of scale or out of context changes. Historic districts enhance the unique character of a place and are in use and demand in every other major city including New York, Savannah, Chicago, and San Antonio.

According to the Philadelphia Historical Commission, historic districts are “a collection of historic resources linked by a location or theme.” This theme is explored in a narrative that describes the significance of the district. Spruce Hill’s significance, in part, resides in the fact that it has historically provided a variety of housing types and sizes for as wide a variety of people. The naturally occurring housing options are widely accessible. Spruce Hill is not Society Hill.

Take, for example, the north side of the 4000 block of Locust Street, where tastemaker architect Samuel Sloan designed three-story rowhouses in the 1870s to accommodate faculty members at the newly located University of Pennsylvania. These houses now provide student housing close to campus and nearby commerce. Sloan’s gracious Woodland Terrace retains a mix of owners and renters facing the historic Woodlands Cemetery.

Take also the nearly 200 years of documented African American presence centered at 41st and Ludlow Streets where the 1884 Monumental Baptist Church is located. Once a small village of free blacks in the farmland at the edge of Philadelphia, this area of modest rowhouses around the descendant church is particularly vulnerable to erasure. The grand twins along Spruce Street may no longer house affluent single families, but they continue to serve as rental properties for families and individuals and often include amenities like ground floor restaurants or a community arts center.

Due to the neighborhood’s proximity to three universities, Spruce Hill has a relatively low owner-occupancy rate. The result has been a high percentage of absentee landlords renting to students and faculty: residents who keep the character of the neighborhood young and dynamic but property owners who are not incentivized to protect their historic buildings. Our housing stock of large, single-family homes can be converted into multiple occupancy units, and vice versa, allowing for flexibility in the housing marketplace. In addition to housing, historic buildings provide the spaces for small businesses such as coffee shops, hardware stores, second-hand shops that form part of the tax base and provide necessary commercial activity. In fact, Spruce Hill falls within the boundaries of a National Register historic district which allows for income-producing properties such as apartments to qualify for rehabilitation tax credits for developers at the federal and state levels.

Historic districts are generally more dense areas than other neighborhoods and provide necessary strength in up and down markets. According to PlaceEconomics in a January 2020 report, historic districts recover from market downturns better than other areas. Their report shares that “speculation inherent in new construction leaves the industry vulnerable to boom and bust, whereas reinvestment and rehabilitation of older buildings acts as a stabilizing force during economic downturns.”

In Philadelphia, historic districts allow for the by-right development of ADUs, or auxiliary dwelling units, which can be deployed for rental income or for aging in place, a difficult aspect of our city’s vertical housing types. Designated properties also do not require zoning for reuse, allowing property developers to skip a step in a process that is complicated enough. No parking minimums are attached to designated properties or those in historic districts, also allowing flexibility for maximizing income-producing density instead of carving out land for car storage.

Housing affordability is a real crisis in our country and city. There are multiple causes, but according to PlaceEconomics, two things are clear: 1) you cannot build new and rent or sell cheap, unless there are deep subsidies or corner-cutting, and 2) we are simultaneously tearing down what is affordable and building what is not. Keeping older housing maintained and occupied needs to be a central strategy for housing affordability. Indeed, to the extent there has been displacement of longtime residents in Spruce Hill, it has largely been on the northern end, where developers have torn down older houses and replaced them with market-rate or “luxury” apartments. This is precisely what a historic district could help prevent.

To the point of the editorial and its subtext, not all historic districts have the addition of the real estate industry’s ideal of “location, location, location.” It is this feature of Spruce Hill that keeps it firmly in developers’ crosshairs and makes the neighborhood and its residents vulnerable to the multiple negative effects of demolition, rising rents, and designs that do not encourage community or affect affordability. In fact, despite being told that the housing density brought by new development will foster affordable housing, the reality is that none of the new metal boxes have lowered rent anywhere in the neighborhood or city. Rather, whenever developers invest in the next “hot” neighborhood – be it Fishtown, Hawthorne, Brewerytown, NoLibs, or University City – older houses get torn down, and inevitably, gentrification accelerates. It’s almost as if Philadelphians are expected to step without resistance into the role of dupe in the shell and pea game.

More immediately, the climate emergency demands that, to the greatest degree possible, we reuse our existing building stock and adapt it, as needed, for our changing needs. Existing buildings embody carbon and energies that have already been expended in constructions that are usually longer lasting and securely constructed than new developments. The demolition of existing buildings is counter to goals of climate response as well as heritage conservation. Our buildings form the backdrop of our lives, telling our stories and illustrating what we prioritize. Perhaps the city’s Land Bank could be better encouraged to reactivate the more than 35,000 vacant properties throughout Philadelphia.

Section One of the National Historic Preservation Act states that “the historical and cultural foundations of the Nation should be preserved as a living part of our community life and development in order to give a sense of orientation to the American people.” Made law in 1966 during the expansive era of the Great Society, this acknowledgement of historic resources as relevant to communities across the nation aligns with today’s expanded needs to address economic inequity through building reuse and reactivation.

It is our sincere belief that the designation of the Spruce Hill Historic District is the greatest act of stewardship we could demonstrate for our cherished neighborhood and the people who live here. It is one that will support human-scale density, environmental responsibility, economic strength, and resident diversity. Designation aligns with our values that support building and keeping community and the neighborhood that forms us.

Eric Santoro, President, Spruce Hill Community Association
Amy Lambert, President, University City Historical Society

Spruce Hill Historic District Nomination

SHCA is exploring local historic district nomination. Check out FAQs here.

Thank you to all who participated in the Proposed Spruce Hill District Nomination Panel Discussion and Q & A on June 27. Please take 1 min to complete the survey: here

Thank you!

May Fair 2023

May Fair is just a few days away! Thanks to the generosity of local businesses, we have some amazing raffle items to give away this year! Get your tickets below or stop by the Spruce Hill booth this Saturday to purchase. You can select from one of five baskets, and you can see what they look like here!

Music

We also have three fantastic musical acts queued up for the event! Here’s the schedule:

Vendors

We have more than 60 amazing vendors offering a range of crafted goods, services and more. You can find the full list of vendors here.

Raffle Tickets

To enter the raffle, drop by our booth at Clark Park to purchase tickets on the day of the event. Tickets are $5 for a book of 6 tickets, or $1 per ticket.

If you’d like to make a general contribution to SHCA, you can do so on our membership page. Thank you in advance for your support, and we’ll see you in Clark Park on May 13!

SEPTA Forward’s Bus Revolution

SEPTA Forward’s Bus Revolution project is focused on delivering an easier to use, more convenient and more reliable bus network informed by its riders. Get involved by sharing feedback throughout the project and help us continue to drive SEPTA forward. Here is a link to the latest SEPTA bus rout designs.
SEPTA Forward: Bus Revolution

Bike Safety Tips

Where is trash left on Penn’s Move Out Day?

When Penn students move out certain blocks are left with a lot of trash, discarded furniture, etc. Help target the location(s) or blocks that have an annual problem with excessive amounts of trash, discarded furniture etc. left on sidewalks during student moveout and suggest solutions in this short survey:
https://forms.gle/u84k5Yp8xwaQSDHz7 

Trolley Modernization Survey

Want to learn more about Trolley Modernization and share your input? Take SEPTA’s survey: tinyurl.com/trolleymodsurvey
Trolley Modernization improvements will include updated facilities, signals, & stations. Want to learn more about how we will be making service faster & more reliable? Visit: https://planning.septa.org/projects/trolley-modernization/about/

May Fair Vendor Invitation 

Dear Friend of Spruce Hill:

After two long years, we are delighted to announce that the May Fair will return to Clark Park! We invite you to participate in the 64th Annual Spruce Hill Community Association May Fair, to be held on Saturday **May 7th, 2022**, 12-6PM in Clark Park, 43rd & Chester Avenue. We are inviting vendors, local artisans, community groups and organizations seeking to do outreach and promotion to be part of the SHCA May Fair. 

Space is limited and priority will be given to local community organizations and artisans. Vendor fees are set affordably low (all $40 or less for the day), reflecting our mission to connect the neighborhood with local groups and artisans. No second-hand goods or commercial products please – this is a day to showcase works that local artisans have produced themselves. 

Please note that we are unable to accept vendor applications from businesses/organizations that plan to sell prepared food or beverage items at tables due to Health Department regulations in relation to our permitting process for the Fair. Food vendors with a free-standing and separately permitted truck/cart may still be able to participate. If you have a truck/cart, please contact Terry Mond ([email protected]) who can discuss this further with you.

To submit an application, prospective vendors are invited to request a table online by SUN MAY 1st- follow this link


We provide a 6-foot table, table covering and chair in a 10-foot space for the day. We assign locations and will give notice regarding exact location by e-mail a few days before the event. Guidelines: No displays on the ground. No products that compete with raffle. No recorded music or generators.

Applications will be reviewed in the order received and if you are selected to participate, you will
receive e-mail notification along with instructions for online payment submission. If selected, please plan to arrive after 10:30AM to give us time to set up. Look for parking in lots around USciences and Woodland Avenue. NO vehicles in the park under any circumstances.  

Our policy is to work around any threatening showers if at all possible and hold the event as planned. However, in the event of significant rain, we will have to cancel the event and if you choose, you will be given a refund of 50% of the vendor fee. You may also elect to donate the remainder of the vendor fee. We cannot provide a full refund as we are an all volunteer non-profit community organization and will have already outlaid money for May Fair expenses including table rental deposits. If we need to cancel, you will be notified as soon as the decision is made so you can plan accordingly.

If you have questions, please e-mail Monica Calkins: [email protected]

Hope to see you at the Fair!

Monica Calkins, SHCA Executive and May Fair Planning Committees

www.sprucehillca.org