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Welcome | st-francis-dome-minardi-706x410
Dome of St. Frances de Sales, 4800 Springfield Ave. Photo by Joseph Minardi.

Summer 2015

  • 3600 Lancaster Ave (Lancaster Mews) Update: The three-story row of stores and dwellings on the 3600 block of Lancaster Avenue is under threat for demolition but the Philadelphia Historic Commission will review an application for historic nomination, co-sponsored by Powelton Village Committee Association and UCHS. Permits for demolition cannot be issued while the nomination is under review.
  • 4224 Baltimore Ave Design Approved: The final design of 4224 Baltimore Avenue was approved by a narrow vote of 3–2 by the Zoning Board of Adjustments.
  • UCHS Summer Intern: UCHS welcomes Jennifer Robinson, a recent graduate of the University of Pennsylvania with a Master's degree in Historic Preservation, who will identify and research endangered properties for historic nomination.
  • Conservation Overlays or Historic Districts: Which One to Use? Guidelines from the City of Philadelphia's Department of City Planning for considering two important tools offered by the Philadelphia Code to guide changes and development in Philadelphia neighborhoods.
  • St. Francis de Sales and Guastavino: What do the Penn Museum, Ellis Island, Registry Hall, Grant’s Tomb, and St. Francis de Sales Church all have in common? Each one has a Guastavino tile dome or vault as part of its architecture.
  • Profiles in Architecture: James C. Fernald, began his architectural career in 1886 although he started as a carpenter just two years prior. Within a short time Fernald became one of Philadelphia’s most prolific architects, designing a number of homes throughout the city. His biggest commissions in West Philadelphia were with builders J.H. McClatchy, Samuel Shoemaker, John Megraw, John L. Fry, William A. Patterson, Daniel Crawford, and the Quaker City Realty Co. He ceased working in 1929.
  • University City Then & Now: St. Paul’s Presbyterian Church, 50th Street and Baltimore Avenue (1907 & 2010). St. Paul’s Presbyterian Church (now Hickman Temple AME Church) was built in 1904, designed by the firm of Pursell & Fry. The exterior has remained largely unchanged over the past century.
  • Did You Know? In the mid-1890s the advent of electric streetcars, commonly called trolleys, heralded a new era in West Philadelphia. One important result of streetcar electrification was that it helped reduce the fare. This in turn made a daily commute affordable to a significantly larger portion of the population. Then, on March 4, 1907, elevated rail service was officially opened to the public. This dramatically changed the potential use of the whole Market Street corridor from 46th to 69th Street. Within two decades, strong retail centers evolved out from the El stops at 52nd and 63rd Street. In between, block after block was filled in with two-story row houses.
  • Glossary of Terms for Homeowners: "Three-ply" to "Velvet" (sometimes called "tapestry Wilton").


3600 Lancaster Avenue Gets Review for Historic Nomination

Lancaster Mews, the three-story row of stores and dwellings on the 3600 block of Lancaster Avenue, is under threat for demolition by owners who intend to replace it with a modern building designed for high-density student housing. The row of buildings was built in the 1870s and contributes greatly to the Powelton Village neighborhood and the Victorian-era commercial corridor of Lancaster Avenue. The loss of Lancaster Mews would be a devastating blow to a neighborhood already fighting off a number of historic building teardowns. In an effort to protect the block, the Powelton Village Civic Association (PVCA), led by George Poulin, UCHS Board member and chair of PVCA Zoning, said PVCA had submitted an application for historic nomination (co-sponsored by PVCA and the UCHS). A final decision on the future of the block was postponed by the Philadelphia Historic Commission (PHC) until the fall to allow for meetings with residents of Powelton. The inclusion of 3600–3630 Lancaster on the Philadelphia Register of Historic Places would prevent the demolition of the block, and that while the nomination is under review, permits for demolition cannot be issued.

4224 Baltimore Approved

The final design of 4224 Baltimore Avenue was approved by a narrow vote of 3–2 by the Zoning Board of Adjustments. The approved design is the end-result of three meetings with residents of Spruce Hill, will be situated on 1.1 acres of land on the southeast corner of 43rd and Baltimore Avenue. The mixed use building will contain 132 residents, a fitness center, 1,700 square feet of commercial space on the ground level, 60 parking spaces, and 50 spaces for bicycle storage. Despite objections from a few residents, the majority of Spruce Hill neighbors were in favor of the project. Additionally local organizations Spruce Hill Community Association, University City Historical Society, the Friends of Clark Park and the Civic Design Review all supported 4224 Baltimore Avenue. It is believed that the project will be a boon to the local economy, adding new businesses and new residents to Spruce Hill.

St. Francis de Sales and Guastavino

In May of this year William Whitaker of the Penn Architectural Archives hosted an exclusive tour inside the sanctuary and discussed the controversial Venturi Scott Brown project that incorporated Modernism into its traditional sacred space in 1968. The Byzantine style church was designed by Henry D. Dagit (1865–1929), a prominent Philadelphia architect who specialized in Catholic Church architecture. The foundation of the landmark church began in 1907 and was completed by 1911. To complete the beautiful interior of the church, Rafael Guastavino y Moreno was employed to design the intricate herringbone tile work.

Guastavino started out working as a tailor in Valencia, Spain. It could very be the inspiration of seeing herringbone patterns in the fabrics with which he worked with that inspired him to "knit" together tile construction for which he would become world-renowned. After settling in Woburn, Massachusetts, he improved and patented a traditional Catalan technique for using interlocking tiles and thin layers of special mortar to build arches and domes without requiring expensive temporary interior framework and bracing. This construction method was not well known in America, and his business prospered. Today, Guastavino’s tiles can be found on more than 600 buildings in 36 states. The 63-foot dome of St. Francis is unique among them because it has no copper or other roofing above it. The distinctive appearance of the colored dome has made it an icon in the Cedar Park neighborhood.

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