Historic district approved
ROXBOROUGH >> Philadelphia history was both made and protected Friday, Oct. 12, when the Ridge Avenue Historic District was officially approved.
The district has been a long time coming; community members have been seeking a way of protecting Roxborough’s history since the demolition of the Bunting House in 2012. It wasn’t until 2017 though that Councilman Curtis Jones met with local community members and devised the early stages of a path toward historic designation for properties along Ridge Avenue and neighboring streets.
Jones explained he and several members of the community surveyed the neighborhood in November 2017. At the time, the goal was simply to look at an individual property development, but along the way, he noticed a building with the numbers 1717 on it. After being told by neighbors that those numbers indicated the year in which the property was built, Jones spoke with them about other historic properties in the neighborhood.
That day, Jones said, “we did a walk from the creek all the way up to the county line, and we started identifying properties.”
In total, the group took note of 324 properties they believed to be potentially historic and, therefore, in need of protection.
The new district knocks the number down to 188, just more thanhalf of the original number. However, Jones indicated, this is still one of the largest historic districts in the city.
“Other than Germantown Avenue, this was the most significant historic corridor in Philadelphia,” he said.
Jeff Allegretti, a community member who has been highly involved in this entire process, echoed Jones’ sentiments, saying, “It would’ve taken us a lifetime to nominate that many properties. I’m still pinching myself it’s so incredible … we did it all in one fell swoop.”
In fact, the 188 properties approved in the newly named Ridge Avenue Historic District make
this the largest new historic district to be approved in Philadelphia since 2009.
Jones said he believes the approval is big not just for protecting the past but for Roxborough’s future as well.
“I think out of all the things we’ve done [to protect Roxborough’s history] … I think, over time, this is going to be the most lasting thing that preserves Roxborough,” he said.
Suzanne Hagner, a member of the Roxborough community who has been involved in this entire process as well, said she feels similarly.
“I hope it saves the character of our neighborhood and the history,” she said, describing Ridge Avenue and the neighboring communities as being like a “storybook” through the city’s history.
While many members of Roxborough are thrilled by the district’s approval though, a smaller group of people — many of whom own properties included in the district — are more concerned than excited.
Jones described a woman at last week’s hearing who explained that selling her home to a developer was a big piece of her retirement plan, one which no longer exists since her home has been included among the 188 properties in the historic district, making it illegal to demolish it.
Alternatively, Allegretti explained many of the homeowners impacted by the district see this as a “public taking of their assets.”
While Jones said he sympathizes with concerns, he was quick to respond that for the neighborhood’s past, present and future, creating this district is one of the most important steps the city could take to protect Roxborough.
“Properties like that are a mirror of the neighborhood,” he said, explaining some of the properties included were frequented by British troops during the Revolutionary War, visited by George Washington or served as stops in the Underground Railroad.
A list of the 188 properties included in the Ridge Avenue Historic District, along with photos and descriptions of each, can be found at phila.gov/historical/PDF/Ridge-Ave-Inventory.pdf.