What is a Historic District?

Neighborhoods within Philadelphia may be designated as historic districts by either the City of Philadelphia or by the National Park Service's National Register of Historic Places. The University City Historical Society is involved in ongoing efforts to have the historic character of our neighborhoods recognized by both groups.

West Philadelphia and University City currently contain over 50 sites that are listed on the National Register of Historic Places. The most recent to be listed was the West Philadelphia Streetcar Suburb Historic District. This nomination was a long-term project of UCHS. Volunteers from the society completed an exhaustive survey of the buildings in the neighborhood, describing and photographing almost every structure. The final report was begun by former UCHS president Jennifer Goodman and completed for UCHS by historic preservation consultant Cynthia Rose; it was submitted to the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission in January 1997 and approved by the National Register in February 1998. This report contains over 250 pages of description and documentation of over 3500 neighborhood buildings. The descriptive text is available on UCHS's web site.

National Register sites and districts recognize important historical areas. No restrictions are placed on buildings included on the National Register, although owners of commercial properties may be eligible for tax incentives for appropriate rehabilitation of those properties. The National Register's Heritage Preservation Services division can provide more information.

Local historic districts are regulated by the City of Philadelphia's Historical Commission. The goal of these districts is to preserve the unique character of a district or neighborhood. The University City Historical Society has been working toward getting Spruce Hill recognized as a local historic district, and recently has begun investigating the possibility of adding parts of Cedar Park and Squirrel Hill to that nomination. The timetable for review by the Historical Commission is somewhat unclear, but it is expected that the nomination may come up for review in the near future.

The Spruce Hill Historic District nomination, made possible by a grant from the J.N. Pew, Jr. Charitable Trust, was prepared by the Preservation Coalition of Greater Philadelphia (now the Preservation Alliance of Greater Philadelphia).

The West Philadelphia Streetcar Suburb Historic District nomination project was supported jointly by a grant from the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission and by funds raised by the University City Historical Society.