ON THE WEST SIDE
THE UNIVERSITY CITY HISTORICAL SOCIETY
MARCH 1998


MIKE HARDY, EDITOR

UNIVERSITY CITY:
ON THE WALLS,
ON THE PLATE,
ON THE TOUR

 

UCHS members will have two special opportunities this month to experience a new exhibit of black and white photographs celebrating the places and people of University City. At the University City Arts League, 4226 Spruce Street, on Friday, March 20, from 6 to 8 p.m., the opening of Photographer Dave Lakatos' essay on "University City: Neighborhood Contrasts" will display his attempt to capture the strength and character of the neighborhood's people, places and events. Both the area's history and current realities will be the focus of this visual celebration of a special slice of urban America. Expect to see plenty of neighborhood faces at this reception sponsored by the West Philadelphia Partnership and the University of Pennsylvania's Office of Community Relations.

Many of those same neighbors will be dining at the local café d'habitués, Campus Epicurean, 4248 Spruce Street, where from 5 p.m. to 9:30 p.m. on March 20, a special menu of main dishes, salads, pastas and desserts will feature dishes honoring the communities of University City. Owner Gary Levin will be pouring a complementary glass of wine along with the meal and suggests, if you bring your own wine, he will be happy to park and tag it for you as you visit the Arts League. Call Gary for reservations at (215) 382-1818.

This event, one of a series of "West Side Evenings" offered by "Philadelphia On the West Side," is sponsored by the University City District and the Philadelphia College of Pharmacy and Science, soon to be known as The University of the Sciences in Philadelphia.

Then, on Sunday, March 29 at 1 p.m., UCHS is sponsoring a free gallery tour and discussion of the exhibit with the photographer at the Arts League. The tour talk will focus on the historical elements of the exhibit and will also include a discussion of the photo essay project with Dave's anecdotes of his months of looking at and attempting to visually capture the life of University City. Information about the exhibit and the gallery tour along with directions for reaching the Arts League can be found at (215) 382-7811.

VALENTINE THANKS FOR
PRESERVATION EFFORTS

A sumptuous Victorian tea in the Cedar Park area during the Valentine's Day weekend provided the setting for the University City Historical Society to recognize and thank those individuals and groups for their 1997 preservation "gifts to the streets".

On Sunday, February 15, the society's members gathered at the home of UCHS Board Member Doris Cochran-Fikes and her husband Elton to present their annual "Outstanding Preservation Award" plaques to two University City developers for their outstanding efforts in preserving the exterior facades of some of the area's historic buildings, including some long-vacant or in serious need of revitalization. In addition, two groups of neighbors were recognized for their outstanding "Preservation Initiative" efforts on behalf of the area's architectural heritage.


l. to r., UCHS President Melani Lamond, Board members Sylvia Barkan and Doris Cochran-Fikes, and Preservation Initiative Award winner Theresa Sims

The Allison MansionOne of the preservation honorees, Danny Liberascoli of the Restaurant School, 4207 Walnut Street, was recognized for not only returning the Allison Mansion (c. 1860) to the streetscape in its near-original condition, but developing, in its immediate neighborhood, a small complex of support buildings which also continue to celebrate their 19th century architecture while serving the adaptive uses of this urban culinary institute. Since acquiring the mansion in July of 1989, the Restaurant School has sympathetically restored and reused the formerly derelict mansion and joined its 6000 square feet in the rear with a modern, 21,000 square foot education building, including a multistoried atrium dining room. More recently, the school also acquired and rehabilitated two nearby multi-family properties, now used as dormitories and administrative offices. The school's grounds have been landscaped with new red paved sidewalks and period lighting fixtures.

In the second "Outstanding Preservation Award," the society recognized Mark Sherman, developer, contractor, and new neighbor, for restoring fire-damaged 4600 Spruce Street long-vacant 4504 Pine Street. Attracted to University City by the availability of the real estate stock, its architectural history and rich detail, and by the diversity of the neighborhood, in less than two years, Mark's efforts have impacted and transformed our streetscape for the better.

For the first time, the historical society also presented two "Preservation Initiative Awards" to honor the preservation efforts by groups of area residents, business people and political and institutional representatives for their efforts on behalf of maintaining the architectural heritage of the neighborhood. Councilwoman Jannie Blackwell, Lindsay Johnson of Common Ground Realty and administrators from the University of Pennsylvania's community relations and housing outreach programs, including project coordinator D-L Wormley, Glenn Bryan, Ed Datz, Sidney P. Holmes, Felicia Green, Roman Petyk, Leo Quigley, and Carol Scheman were cited for their heroic and extraordinary efforts in stopping the demolition of 4620 Spruce Street. Their quick action in November, 1997, thwarted the in-progress demolition of this c. 1913 twin. Although the bay window and porch could not be saved, the shell was retained to preserve the architectural integrity of one of University City's most magnificent Victorian blocks. The University of Pennsylvania team continues to work towards resolution of this situation with the goal of restoration of the property.

Also honored were the members of the Cedar Point Park Neighborhood Association for their past and continuing efforts on behalf of 4618 Cedar Avenue. This c.1900 twin has recently seen its front porch decimated by being enclosed with aluminum siding and glass block by its new owner, a dentist installing his practice in this small Colonial Revival/Victorian twin with a business entrance through the property's back front on Baltimore Avenue. Alerted at the last moment by the demolition of the porch and its potential to destroy the architectural integrity of the block, the neighborhood group organized a responsible and conscientious effort to engage the owner in a dialogue and explore alternatives. So far, he has rejected all such initiatives and the group continues to closely monitor his uses of the property. Recognized were the efforts of Pat and Kathy Powell, Theresa Sims, DeBorah Giles, Valarie Boykin, Kathy Phillips, Gita Chavenson, Prentice Cole, Ernest Waugh, Timothy Sistar, Norman Weister, Councilwoman Jannie Blackwell and State Representative James Roebuck.

While the outcomes for these latter two preservation efforts are far from assured, the historical society wishes to thank those individuals and institutions who have, through their efforts, demonstrated the best examples of responsible community stewardship for the architectural heritage of University City. A number of other individual property owners were cited for exterior improvements and their "gifts to the streets." These honorees will be listed in future editions of "On the West Side." All of these preservation initiatives serve as models of people taking responsible action on behalf of the exceptional built environment which so distinguishes our neighborhood.

AT LONG LAST, A NEW
UNIVERSITY CITY HISTORIC DISTRICT

On February 5, most of the Spruce Hill, Squirrel Hill and Cedar Park neighborhoods were placed on the National Register of Historic Places. The new West Philadelphia Streetcar Suburb Historic District joins other University City locations such as Garden Court, Powelton Village, the University of Pennsylvania Historic Districts, as well as many individual sites ranging from The Woodlands to the WFIL-TV Studios where American Bandstand was produced, on the National Register.

The designation of the Historic District caps a long-term project of UCHS. Society members and volunteers spent countless hours surveying and photographing the buildings in the neighborhood, as well as researching the area's history. UCHS then hired historic preservation consultant Cynthia Rose to prepare the final report that was submitted to Pennsylvania's Historic Preservation Office, and then to the National Park Service (the agency that administers the National Register). Funding for this project was provided by the members of UCHS as well as by a grant from the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission.

Inclusion on the National Register recognizes the historical, cultural, and architectural significance of the area. The designation does not, however, limit what property owners can do to their buildings. For owners of commercial properties, there are tax credits for historically-sensitive renovation projects. The requirements for gaining these credits are too complex to fully explain here, but generally, any rehabilitation of a commercial property costing over $5000 that is completed to the standards set by the United States Department of the Interior is eligible for a tax credit of 20% of the rehab costs. The owner of the property must hold the building for at least 5 years after the project is completed, or the tax credit must be returned an a pro-rated basis. More detailed information about the requirements of the tax credit program and the application process is available from the National Register's Heritage Preservation Services web site or by writing or calling Pennsylvania's State Historic Preservation Officer at the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission (P.O. Box 1026, Harrisburg, PA 17108-1026, or 717-787-2891). If you have questions about whether a property you own is included in the West Philadelphia Streetcar Suburb Historic District, or one of the other National Register Districts in University City, contact us at (215) 387-1558, or send us an e-mail message.

THE HOUSE TOUR IS BACK!

On Sunday, May 17, the Houses and Gardens of University City will be on display among the regional tours of Philadelphia Open House, an offering of house tours from April 23 to May 17, 1998 coordinated by The Friends of Independence National Historical Park. Our self-guided walking tour with refreshments from 1 to 5 p.m. will feature, not only the distinctive architecture of the area, but its garden environment as well.

Philadelphia West of the Schuylkill River has a long and proud tradition of horticultural dedication dating from the colonial plant importations of pioneering botanist, John Bartram and "exotics" collector, William Hamilton. It also has equal claim as a place for relaxed residential living surrounded by a continuously renewed garden landscape.

Both are celebrated in this visit to a baker's dozen of the area's outstanding stock of period architecture and their garden settings, from the broad porches of prosperous 1880's Queen Anne twins in the recently-designated "West Philadelphia Street Car Suburb Historic District" to the adjacent 1920's, English-inspired, planned "Garden City" neighborhood of eclectic revival-styled homes with their attached conservatories and automobile-sensitive surroundings. Their interiors, whether restored or reworked, are filled with the intriguing collections and imaginative furnishings of this exuberant "suburb in the city."

Tour tickets at $20/person will be available from Philadelphia Open House, 313 Walnut Street, Philadelphia, PA 19106-1778. (215) 928-1188. They also will be happy to send you a brochure describing the over 30 tours available this year.

Paid-up members of UCHS, however, will be able to purchase tickets at a special $15/person if they order in advance directly from UCHS. More information will be made available in next month's newsletter.

UNDER FULL SAIL

is a good metaphor for UCHS's dues renewal effort to date, with some 75% of the current membership sending in their 1998 dues and a very gratifying 30% of those renewing in the newly created "Friend of UCHS" category! Thanks to all of you who have responded so generously and we hope that the remaining 25% will be responding soon as well.

Particularly rewarding was a donation of $4500 from a colleague realized from the sale of a 30-foot "fully found" sloop originally donated to UCHS for its restoration efforts at The Woodlands. This contribution, along with any other remaining contributions for The Woodlands, has now been assigned to other preservation programs of the society. Thanks, captain, for your special generosity and ongoing concern.

 


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