Proposed historic district outlined
Philadelphia Historical Commission describes plans for Ridge Avenue Thematic Historic District
The Roxborough community met with Councilman Curtis Jones Jr. and members of the Philadelphia Historical Commission at Roxborough Memorial Hospital Wednesday, July 18, to discuss the possibility of 188 properties throughout the community being identified as historic.
If approved, the proposal would result in the implementation of a Ridge Avenue Thematic Historic District running from the Wissahickon Creek to the Montgomery County line. In total, 188 properties along Ridge Avenue would be categorized as historic and therefore protected from demolition and other unapproved changes to the property.
Jones opened the meeting with an acknowledgment of the Bunting House, which was demolished in 2012 and later replaced with a Wendy’s.
“As you can tell, I love Wendy’s burgers,” he said. “But not at the expense of history. We really need to look at the assets that we have.”
Jones’s goal of protecting historic properties throughout Roxborough has been a long time coming, with last year’s demolition moratorium seeking to address the problem temporarily. If approved, the Philadelphia Historical Commission’s proposal for a thematic historic district throughout Roxborough would be a permanent replacement for that moratorium, which is slated to end in December 2018.
The majority of the 188 properties included in the proposal
are residential, according to Kim Chantry, the historic preservation planner of the Philadelphia Historical Commission. Chantry also noted that among the properties included in the proposed historic district are schools, cemeteries, churches, parks, mixed-use buildings and commercial buildings.
All of the properties included in the proposal are believed to have been built or gained significance in the community between 1681 and 1908. The commission determined that this period in Roxborough’s history was the most significant in it becoming the community it is today.
“We decided that the earliest days of Roxborough really occurred up until that point that the automobile becomes the primary source of transportation,” said Jonathan Farnham, the executive director of the Philadelphia Historical Commission. “So we designed the historic district to represent the history of Roxborough” from the time William Penn founded the community to the construction of the Manayunk Walking Bridge.
Farnham further explained that the goal of the proposed historic district is to protect the look and feel of Roxborough.
“The primary advantage of a historic district … is to protect the visual and aesthetic architectural character of your neighborhood,” he said.
Both Chantry and Farnham assured community members in attendance that the commission has no power to control interior design changes on any of the properties included in the proposal. Additionally, the commission is unable to require changes that would result in an undue financial hardship to the property owner.
Chantry explained that among the changes which must be approved by the Philadelphia Historical Commission, should the historic district be approved, are windows and doors; exterior light fixtures; driveways and parking lots; exterior mechanical equipment such as vents, wiring, pipes and satellite dishes; siding and roofing; and fencing, among other similar changes.
Anyone owning a property designated as historic would need to obtain approval and a permit from the Philadelphia Historical District before starting any construction or other work.
While both Chantry and Farnham acknowledged that the list of changes requiring commission approval seems extensive, they assured those in attendance that the commission approves nearly 95 percent of all permit applications, with the majority being approved during the same day or week the request was submitted.
The Philadelphia Historical Commission’s historic designation committee will be meeting next month in a public meeting to further assess the proposal. This meeting will be held on Sept. 12 at 9:30 a.m., followed by a review by the commission on Oct. 12 at 9 a.m. Both meetings are open to the public and will be held in Room 18029 of One Parkway Building, located at 1515 Arch St. in Center City.