His­toric dis­trict ap­proved

The Review - - FRONT PAGE - By Kier­sten Mc­Mona­gle

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.

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