Members: Jenine Sanzari, Justin McDaniel, Sylvia Hamerman-Brown, Julie Bush The Historic Preservation Committee is open to all laypeople and professionals that support historic preservation of buildings and historic sites in one of the country’s first cities and particularly in Spruce Hill, which was built as a streetcar suburb for Center City in the second half of the 1800’s. Beyond protecting aesthetic and artistic architecture from the past, historic preservation maintains ancestry and cultural values that are priceless and provide a sense of community. Responsibilities of this committee are to provide public awareness and to promote appreciation and benefits that historic preservation has in an evolving urban community such as Spruce Hill.
PROPOSED SPRUCE HILL HISTORIC DISTRICT NOMINATIONThank you to our special guests and all who came to participate in the Proposed Spruce Hill Historic District Panel Discussion and Q & A on June 27, 2023. To view the first Historic District Informational Panel Session hosted by the SHCA (Nov 2022), click here.
What is a historic district?Local historic districts recognize the historic, cultural and architectural importance of a neighborhood or area with the goal to preserve the historic fabric of that place. The definition listed in the Philadelphia Historic Preservation Ordinance is as follows: “A geographically definable area possessing a significant concentration, linkage, or continuity of buildings, structures, sites, or objects united by past events, plan, or physical development. A district may comprise an individual site or individual elements separated geographically but linked by association, plan, design, or history.”
—Listing on the Philadelphia Register of Historic Places, designated by the Philadelphia Historical Commission, does offer protection from demolition or insensitive alterations. Currently, there are ~250 properties within the Spruce Hill neighborhood that are already protected and listed on the “local”, Philadelphia Historic Register of Historic Places. If your home or property is currently listed on the local historic register, a historic district nomination/designation would bear no effect to the owner.
What is the proposed Spruce Hill Historic District?The proposed Spruce Hill Historic District shown in the map below. The boundaries were determined by the Philadelphia Historical Commission based on the area’s historical development, and are subject to change during the review process. First proposed in 1987, with a follow-up effort in 2002, a nomination for the district was initiated in the Spring of 2023. Spruce Hill is already within the boundaries of the West Philadelphia Streetcar Suburb National Register Historic District. What’s the difference between National Register designation and “local” Philadelphia Register of Historic Places designation?
A listing on the National Register of Historic Places indicates that a strong case has been made for the historic nature and character of a place and that its story fits into the narrative of the diversity of American life. It is an incredible honorific and inclusion on the National Register can open properties for rehabilitation using Historic Tax Credits at the state and federal levels, giving a developer 10-20% back as long as they meet criteria set by the National Park Service (NPS) and administered through their State Historic Preservation Office (SHPO), in PA called the Pennsylvania Historical & Museum Commission. The historic tax credit project is directly linked with many successful reuse projects for housing, affordable and otherwise.
What advantages does a historic district bring?The creation of a historic district does not stop change. Rather, designation provides a mechanism to maintain the basic physical and visual character of a district. Many cities, including New Orleans, Charleston, Savannah, New York, Boston, and Baltimore, as well as many smaller municipalities in Pennsylvania, have adopted historic districting successfully as parts of their planning, economic development, and historic preservation programs. Studies demonstrate that local historic districts contribute to the stabilization of property values and the fostering of community pride. By taking care of your property, you play a role in preserving Philadelphia’s history. Further, the Philadelphia Historical Commission provides expert advice on maintaining historic properties at no charge.
How does a historic district prevent demolitions?Demolition permits in historic districts are reviewed by the Historical Commission. There are some circumstances in which demolitions are allowed, including those benefiting the public interest or in instances of financial hardship where it has been demonstrated that a sale of the property would be impracticable or cannot yield a reasonable rate of return.
Impact on Property Owners
If my property is designated a historic district, as a property owner, what is my responsibility?The Philadelphia Historical Commission regulates designated properties. The property owner will need the commission’s approval if:
- Alterations to the property requires a building permit, or
- Alterations are to be made to the exterior of the building or site features
Does designation affect my property taxes or insurance?No. Inclusion on the Philadelphia Register of Historic Places is not a factor in property tax assessments and will therefore not result in higher taxes.
Can the Historical Commission require me to do something I cannot afford?No. There is a hardship clause in the ordinance so that the commission cannot make you do work that would cause economic hardship. The Philadelphia Historical Commission staff are committed to working with property owners to meet mutual objectives of cost and appearance. Further, the commission’s advisory Committee on Financial Hardship evaluates claims of hardship at public meetings; however, these claims typically have to do with proposed demolition of historic buildings.
Would becoming a historic district require me to restore all of the historical details on my property
What if repairs have already been done to my home in a non-historic way (e.g. vinyl windows)?Being listed on the Philadelphia Register of Historic Places does not obligate a property owner to replace elements or materials that are already in place at the time of listing. The Historical Commission cannot enforce an owner to perform work on a property, except in cases of extreme neglect.
Spruce Hill Nomination
What would a nomination for Spruce Hill look like?Recent nominations of other properties and districts can be viewed at the Historical Commission’s website. The University City Historical Society also links to recent nominations within West Philadelphia on their website, www.uchs.net, including the most recent historic district in our area: Powelton Village Historic District, accepted onto the Philadelphia Register of Historic Places in 2022 and inclusive of 935 properties.
What is the methodology for creating and submitting a historic district nomination?
There are nearly 2,000 properties within Spruce Hill.The strategy for the Spruce Hill Historic District is to divide the area into quadrants and submit one nomination for each quadrant as resources and community support merit, ideally in quick succession. The southeast quadrant will be the first to be submitted. Dividing the district into four areas accomplishes two goals: 1) it respects the Spruce Hill Community Association’s resource allocation and 2) it takes into account the limited capacity that the Philadelphia Historical Commission is currently operating under. The same Statement of Significance will be submitted for each quadrant but each quadrant will have a different set of photographic and descriptive inventories for each property within each quadrant. Once all quadrants are submitted (at the pace the SHCA decides) then the full Spruce Hill Historic District will be designated historic.
How does historic designation affect the amount of affordable housing in a given neighborhood?Historic designation in no way impacts the amount of affordable housing in a given neighborhood. Historic designation does not make it any more difficult to create affordable housing. In fact, listing on the National Register may open the door for tax credits which make affordable housing more financially viable.
Where can I learn more?
- University City Historical Society: The University City Historical Society advocates for the preservation of the history, architecture and cultural heritage of West Philadelphia. This site provides numerous resources on existing historic districts within West Philadelphia, which were led or supported by the University City Historical Society.
- Philadelphia Historical Commission Rules & Regulations: This document contains all of the rules, regulations and processes that are followed and enforced by the Commission.
- Philadelphia Historical Commission Ordinance: This document is the underlying piece of legislation created by City Council to form and govern the Commission.
- Preservation Alliance for Greater Philadelphia: The Preservation Alliance is an independent, nonprofit advocacy organization for historic preservation, unaffiliated with the City of Philadelphia. It is a go-to resource for the preservation community and owners of historic buildings. Their Marketplace Directory has a wealth of contractors and resources for preservation, and their
- Philadelphia Historic Preservation Task Force: Organized by the Mayor’s Office and Philadelphia Historical Commission, the Task Force is a new initiative of the City to improve its approach to preservation policy and advocate for greater, preservation-related owner/developer benefits. Its website has a wealth of resources for owners of historic buildings, notably its Neighborhood Preservation Toolkit/Resources for Homeowners, and its Historic Designation FAQs.
- Philadelphia Historical Commission: The Commission is the City-created agency responsible for overseeing historically designated properties and districts. Its website publishes the schedule of Commission Meetings & Agendas. It has a number of resources, such as: Information for Property Owners.
Please send comments and queries to: [email protected]
HOW CAN YOU HELP?
Accepting donations to support the historic district nomination
OR send checks to PO Box 31958, Philadelphia, PA. 19104