Many of the buildings in University City, once a quiet suburb lined with summer homes belonging to prominent Philadelphia families, echo the area's vibrant past -- a history that many are trying to protect.
The designation of Spruce Hill -- the area between 40th and 46th streets, from Market Street to Woodland Avenue -- as a historic district is being addressed by the Historic Preservation Task Force, which was recently created by Councilwoman Jannie Blackwell.
The task force, composed of individuals from various backgrounds, seeks to improve the way in which historic districts are created and to address a course of action to the City Council, the Mayor and the Historical Commission.
The group was also formed to address the designation process and the financial burdens such a change might create.
Gary Hack, dean of Penn's School of Design, chairs the task force -- which counts PennPraxis among its supporters.
This past Monday, the group held a community meeting in order to foster public discussion and review the task force's recommendations.
If part of Spruce Hill some day becomes a historic district, it would join other areas of the city -- such as Old City and Society Hill -- as the tenth historical district in Philadelphia.
The proposed boundaries of the district include 1,924 University City properties, from 39th to 48th streets and from Woodland Avenue to Market Street.
Indeed, many Penn faculty and students are included in this region.
If the district eventually becomes historic, the Philadelphia Historical Commission would require residents to maintain the exterior appearance of their property.
While many hold the misconception that buildings' interiors would have to uphold certain standards as well, this is not the case.
The painting of trim is not under the Commission's jurisdiction, and they have no control over interior work that does not affect the exterior.
A nomination for the area as a historic district was developed 15 years ago, though no progress has been made due to some community opposition -- mainly on behalf of landlords. Furthermore, low-income residents may be disproportionally affected by house maintenance requirements.
However, Mark Stuart, president of the University City Historical Society, feels that there are economical ways to fix homes while preserving their historical integrity.
"There are so few cities in America where you see the kind of architecture you do in Philadelphia," Stuart said.
He also projects that as a historic district, homes will increase in value. In fact, many neighborhoods nationwide have used historical preservation to revitalize communities and attract tourism.
According to the Spruce Hill Community Association, a poll they conducted last summer revealed that 81 percent of the organization's 473 voting members were in favor of their district's nomination.
About a year ago, Blackwell proposed legislation that would exempt certain areas from historic designation -- such as urban renewal zones or those under the Mayor's anti-blight Neighborhood Transformation Initiative -- which would remove the Spruce Hill neighborhood from the list of eligible districts. This legislation stirred discontent among preservationists.
"Penn is looked to as an informed broker in community dialogue," Adjunct Assistant Professor of Architecture Harris Steinberg said.
He added, however, that legislation is not moving anywhere at the moment.
According to Stuart, University City landlords stopped the nomination from moving forward.
And some members of the community recognize concerns about preservation.
Mary Goldman, who lives on 41st and Pine streets and has been a Spruce Hill resident for approximately 40 years, said she was horrified to see that a tavern slapped a new brick facade on a building at 42nd and Chester streets.
While Goldman supports the designation, she understands that many residents don't want to be "dictated" to.
There is a "lot of fiction floating around that's not true," she said, mentioning concerns that houses would have to be painted a certain color, for example.
"To tell you the truth, I don't think Spruce Hill is as much of an interest as Powelton village [as a historic district]," Goldman said.Comments powered by Disqus
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