ON THE WEST SIDE
THE UNIVERSITY CITY HISTORICAL SOCIETY
NOVEMBER 2000


MIKE HARDY, EDITOR


Holiday Houses 2000

Kristen Rozansky, UCHS Board Member

This year's UCHS Holiday House Tour will take place on Sunday, December 10 from 4:00-8:00 pm. The tour will begin at Calvary United Methodist Church, 48th and Baltimore Avenue, and encompass more than six historic homes. The homes on the tour date from the mid-1800s through the early 1900s. These private residences feature many wonderful original architectural details, as well as splendid personal collections of historical objects and unique holiday decorations. Tickets are $10 for UCHS members and $15 for non-members, available, beginning at 3:30 p.m. at Calvary.

Shuttle vans will take participants from neighborhood to neighborhood. Trained guides from the Foundation for Architecture will lead the tour on each shuttle, and will provide information about UC history and structures of significance along the way. In each selected area, participants will exit the shuttles and enter the homes for tours and refreshments provided by the homeowners. The tour will conclude at Calvary Church with holiday entertainment and a wonderful assortment of desserts and beverages provided by Peachtree & Ward, one of the city's premier caterers. Robertson's of Chestnut Hill will provide Calvary's holiday decorations.

Please plan to attend and feel free to share information about this year's tour with a friend. This is a wonderful opportunity to see new homes that have not been on previous tours while supporting the efforts of UCHS.

Historic Greening

Took place this fall with help from UC Green, Baltimore Avenue in Bloom and the Pennsylvania Urban and Community Forestry Council with the planting of nine new "specimen" street trees of underrepresented species to continue the special botanical heritage of University City. Funded by a grant to UCHS from the council, matched by contributions of cash and labor and planted by neighborhood and student volunteers, these trees, a mix of American natives and foreign "exotics" expressive of the area's botanical past, included:

These specimens were planted on the "UC Green Belt," a circle of four proposed area "greenbelts" along 43rd Street, 48th Street, Walnut Street and Chester Avenue which UC Green and other "Partners" are developing as pedestrian and bicycle friendly, environmentally enhanced greenways through portions of the "garden village" of University City. Each leg of the "Belt" links major neighborhood "destinations," such as schools, markets, churches, parks transportation centers, etc.

The locations of the above street trees are among those featured in a new electronic guide to "The Urban Arboretum of University City," which will premier on UCHS's web site, www.uchs.net, beginning on January 1, 2001. The guide will feature a comprehensive listing of the street trees and other "woodies" of the area, suggested "walks," the locations of specimen examples of distinctive species and other information about our "urban forest," its history and care. The guide was funded by matching grants from the Forestry Council and the Tree Tenders Program of the Horticultural Society of Pennsylvania's Philadelphia Green, and produced with the help of local "tree experts," Johannah Fine and Stephen McCoubrey, together with web technicians, James Sim of UCNet, and our own UCHS webmaster, Tim Wood.

The guide to the arboretum is also dependent on the on going inventory of University City street trees, a large portion of which was completed this fall as part of "Tree Check 2000." This UC Green/Fairmount Park Commission/Philadelphia Green Project was conducted by a host of neighborhood volunteers trained by Philadelphia Green's Tree Tenders Program. Through on-site surveys, the location, name and condition of the area's street trees were recorded in an initial survey area from 39th to 52nd Streets, Kingsessing Avenue to Spruce Street. This information is being entered into a first-time, citywide, official database maintained by the Fairmount Park Commission that will provide them and us with an invaluable tool for improved maintenance and additional funding sources for our "urban arboretum." "Tree Check 2001" will continue in the spring to complete the survey for all of University City. Call (215) 573-4684 for additional information or to volunteer.

Restoring The Gardening Tradition

Our Botanic Heritage, An Occasional Column
by Pat Gillespie, UCHS Board Member

Everywhere you look in University City you find newly planted gardens and trees. Where just a year or so ago our neighborhood displayed treeless sidewalks, neglected private and public spaces, and front yards paved over in concrete, the UC community is hard at work restoring the lush and vibrant tree lawns and gardens that attracted residents to this area west of the city over a century ago.

Our nation's passionate love of plant collecting and gardening had some of its most significant beginnings in southwest Philadelphia. In 1728 John Bartram purchased a 102-acre farm on the banks of the Schuylkill River (portions of the garden remain at Lindbergh Boulevard and 54th Street). It was on this farm that Bartram and his family, most notably his son, William, began identifying and cultivating native plants they collected east of the Ohio River. Their botanic collection attracted much national interest, and they supplied plants for the gardens of Philadelphia's Independence Hall, George Washington's Mount Vernon, Thomas Jefferson's Monticello and E. I. duPont's Nemours. Eventually, over several generations, their family efforts flourished as a commercial nursery.

In the 1780's, William Hamilton, the grandson of Andrew Hamilton, the designer and builder of Independence Hall, began a great garden on his inherited estate that spanned a large area now hosting the Veteran's Administration Hospital, Woodlands Cemetery and the SEPTA "Portal" down banks to the Schuylkill River. Mill Creek, now tunneling underground through a culvert, openly flowed through Hamilton's estate and emptied into the Schuylkill as it does today in an enclosed sewer. After the American Revolution, William Hamilton was determined to make his new estate and country as beautiful as England, and set out to do this through gardening. He hired a number of renowned gardeners who collected plant specimens from all over the world, and Hamilton's "Woodlands" became known as the finest garden of exotic plants in America. Many of the plants used by Thomas Jefferson in his Monticello garden came from The Woodlands, and seeds collected by Lewis and Clark during their great westward expedition were propagated there. (Today, a portion of the estate, including Hamilton's mansion, are held privately as the Woodlands Cemetery. The mansion is designated a National Historic Landmark, and a National Recreation Trail winds through the cemetery grounds.)

Through the 18th century, Philadelphia County west of the Schuylkill River remained quite rural with only a few country estates and mills operating along swift streams such as Mill Creek. With the completion of the Market Street Bridge in 1805, townships west of the Schuylkill River could do a viable business with the City of Philadelphia. As the city's industry strengthened and population grew, living conditions worsened. The open spaces west of the city became more attractive and developers created homes for this growing housing market. These new 19th century residents sought roomy interiors and exteriors in contrast to what could be found in the city center. Space for gardens, both for kitchen and pleasure, were in demand. Residential plots were designed for garden space in the front, sides and back of the house where possible. Later, tree lawns in the public right-of-way were also created to separate the pedestrian sidewalk from the faster and noisier street traffic of horse and trolley. Every inch of the yard was designed for a purpose in mind-vegetables and herbs, cut flowers, shade trees for outdoor activities and to shield the house from the sun's rays, and overall beauty. Entranceways were embellished with plantings, property boundaries were defined by iron fences, shrubs and flowers, and ornamentation such as urns were used as attractive focal points.

The late 19th century was an era of prosperity and with it, numerous plant expeditions and importations provided countless choices in exotic plant species for the home garden. Gardeners experimented with new varieties, and it was easy to overwhelm one's yard with many unusual plants of mixed variety. In those golden years of horticulture, much was written about what was deemed "good taste" in the garden to help control the urge to plant too much. However, many could not resist this "green" addiction and wildly planted their yards for the pure joy of it. Sound familiar?

In the decades following the turn of the century, neighborhoods ebbed and flowed, generations moved out of the area and new residents from foreign lands settled in over and over again bringing with them new gardening tastes or dictates. Eventually, stretches of the neighborhood evolved into a rental community, primarily serving area academic institutions. Front yards were paved over with concrete and sidewalks were replaced without provision for street trees. Our public spaces suffered from lack of public funding to properly fund turf and tree maintenance. And forget public flower gardens!

All of this is changing with a renewed focus in University City on our trees, yards and public spaces. Baltimore Avenue in Bloom has focused on highlighting the area's botanical heritage with plantings the SEPTA "lawns" on the 3900 blocks of Baltimore and Woodland Avenues with plants recreating the international "exchange" of Bartram natives on the Baltimore Avenue side with Victorian displays of "exotics" on the Woodland Avenue side.

Resources in the way of volunteers and funding are supporting neighborhood-based efforts to help homeowners, landlords, and public and private institutions to take a fresh look at their properties and seize opportunities to restore their outdoor spaces to places filled with gardens and tree lawns. Many local non-profit efforts such as UC Green, the University City District, the Philadelphia Urban Resources Partnership, the Horticultural Society of Pennsylvania, the Friends of Clark Park, the Powelton-Drexel Greening Project, the Spruce Hill Community Association and other initiatives are helping with this effort.

The early residents of the homes we live in today in University City expressed their creativity and celebrated their outdoor spaces by planting wildly and plentifully. That tradition continues today and rewards us all along our historic streetscapes.

For more information about how you can be a part of the UC gardening tradition, contact UC Green at (215) 573-4684 about the resources available.

Hiding Trash

The long-awaited winners of UCHS"s "Hide the Trash Contest" have been announced by the judges. This effort, a search for designs for containers, methods, or other solutions to keep trash cans and their contents off of sidewalks and out of the public view until collection day, was an effort of UCHS's Historic Streetscapes Committee to provide solutions to one of the area's more vexing problems.

In a Victorian neighborhood of buildings, the majority of which were initially designed for single families, often with servants, "trash" must have originally meant a few leftovers for the chickens and pigs, plus quite a lot of coal ash. Yet, with "progress" and building reuse, we are now faced by a growing daily pile of "disposables" generated by an increased occupancy level with nowhere to stash the stuff before the city collectors come around.

Quite a few neighbors and others put pencil to paper or submitted photo suggestions for dealing with this issue and you can see quite a few of these posted on the UCHS web site. These suggestions might even spark other proposals; we are always open to ideas here since the "problem" and its "solutions" take many forms.

Our winners for this round and their prizes are: First Prize (a porch bench or swing) Deborah Giles & Julie Regnier; Second Prizes (2 tickets to the Holiday House Tour) Amy Orr; Cindy Roberts; Third Prizes (year's membership in UCHS) Robin Gresham Chin; Stephen McCoubrey; Lauren Leatherbarrow.

The Giles/Regnier first place (above, full entry shown here) is for a "Garden Screen" for trashcans for the front or sides of the West Philadelphia house that "combines Plants & Structure to create a green screen to complement or enhance this neighborhood of gardens." Click here for a complete view of this and many of the other entries, including some humorous entries by Ruth Molloy and a bold suggestion from Paige Chin, aged 10. All create "food for thought" about trash and how to live with it.

Community Thank Yous 2000

...are again the order of the day at year's end. For this, we need your nominations for those properties and persons deserving of thanks for their "Gifts to the Streets." These can take the form of recent façade repairs, new paint schemes and landscaping improvements, particularly those that are sympathetic to the historic character of the area. Your recommendations here will let us send commendations and "thank you's" to those responsible for "improving the view in University City's historic districts" for all of us during the year 2000.

Nominations are also in order for the year's Outstanding Preservation and Preservation Initiative Awards recognizing major efforts, both private and public, at significant exterior restoration of University City properties and for programs that have significantly contributed to historic preservation efforts in the area during the year.

All of those to be recognized and the award winners will be invited, along with the entire UCHS membership, to our annual Valentine's Day Gift to the Streets Awards Tea, set for Sunday, February 11, 2001. We can supply the setting, tea and refreshments and a good time; we need your recommendations, based on your own experience on the street, of those who deserve the thanks and applause. Send us a note or an email or call us at (215) 387-3019 with your nominations.

Coming soon:
A new UCHS coffee mug bearing UCHS Board Member Sylvia Barkan's design for a montage of University City buildings as "A Living History of Architecture 1789-2000" shown below and on this year's Holiday House Tour flyer.

 


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