ON THE WEST SIDE
THE UNIVERSITY CITY HISTORICAL SOCIETY
SEPTEMBER 1998


MIKE HARDY, EDITOR

PLANTING HISTORY AT THE "POINT"
A Project of the University City District
and
Baltimore Avenue in Bloom

You can add to the history of University City's Baltimore Avenue this month by joining the University City District (UCD) and volunteers from Baltimore Avenue in Bloom (BAIB) on Saturday, September 12 as they further the campaign to "green-up" the avenue and celebrate the special horticultural history of this area of the Lower Schuylkill.

Beginning at 9 a.m. until around 3 p.m., the UCD will lead the improvement effort at the intersection of Woodland and Baltimore Avenues. Volunteers from the University of Pennsylvania's "Into the Streets" Program and BAIB will install two planting beds at the 39th Street "point" of the SEPTA trolley portal. The Philadelphia Water Department is providing the soil enrichment materials and Russell Gardens Wholesale of Buck's County has made a major donation of the plants. Ruppert Landscaping, Inc. of New Castle, Delaware is donating labor, equipment and materials to prepare the beds the day before as a charitable gift to the University City community.

The UCD and BAIB plan in the future to use recycled paving materials provided by SEPTA and stones from the former Asbury Church provided by the University of Pennsylvania and stored by the Philadelphia Streets Department to complete the project.

The coordination and plans for the project are the work of University City District's Director of Capital Program Planning and Development, Eric T. Goldstein, CLA, ASLA.

Other volunteers are necessary to join other teams from the "Into the Streets" Program and University City Green to spruce up several other areas. These are:

Volunteers are asked to work from 9 to 1 or from 12 to 3 and pizza lunch is offered at noon. BAIB tee shirts will be there for those who work a three-hour shift. Volunteers should report to the "lawn" area above with shovels and work gloves. Call 389-7825 or contact ABB33@aol.com for more information. More information on BAIB can be found at their website.

ON LINE

If you are hooked up to the internet, you should book mark UCHS's developing web site at www.uchs.net. There you will find and can watch grow the society's electronic reference library, photo gallery, poster board, post office and member services. Like the garden project above, the ground has been prepared, the seeds planted and the first blooms have started to open. There you can access information about the historic districts of University City and individual nominations to the National Register of Historic Places throughout West Philadelphia (many more than you might imagine!), items about University City churches, universities and special places, a beginning historical bibliography, ways of joining the society and contacting us.

The months to come will see an archive of UCHS newsletters, special focus pieces, illustrations, maps and other stories to join that of the history and preservation tragedy of The Woodlands. We invite your comments and additions to this process, especially examples of artwork and photos of University City interiors to add to the on line record. These can be forwarded to an interactive on line guest book where you can leave your commentaries, personal recollections and additions to the record.

Like a garden, more floral embellishment and constant change is promised for the site, so check back often.

CLOSE AT HAND

At the UCHS web site, you will also find, among the "links" suggested, a way to access Close@Hand, the electronic Directory of Goods and Services in University City, to which UCHS has contributed. Its web address is www.upenn.edu/pfsni/close@hand.html. If you don't have access to the internet and would like a hard copy version of the directory which contains our ad and other useful information about the area's resources, contact us by phone, mail or email and we will arrange to send you a copy.

THE WALNUT WEST SAGA
By Kathy Dowdell, UCHS Board Member

The Friends of Walnut West library (FWW), along with members of UCHS, met with representatives of the Free Library of Philadelphia (FLP) in July to discuss again the fate of our branch library building at 40th and Walnut Streets. At this meeting, FWW and UCHS presented the results of independent engineer Jim Smith's structural assessment of the building conditions. Also presented were cost estimates for work originally proposed by the FLP's engineers. FWW and UCHS financed these studies. We were heartened to show figures that demonstrated significant opportunities for saving money and reducing the overall renovation costs by over a million dollars. These figures are just estimates, but the important fact remains that there are options that we can press FLP to investigate.


The Walnut West Library at the corner of 40th and Walnut Streets

FLP's original cost estimates for renovating the building, based an a study done by Kise, Franks and Straw, Architects (now Kise Straw Kolodner) and Joseph Callaghan, Structural Engineer, put the cost of renovations at approximately 3.8 million dollars. (Figures of up to seven million have been reported in the press, but these are in error). Our independent engineer, Michael Funk of International Consultants, Inc., reviewed both the library's original report and the Smith report, and came up with total costs of approximately 2.8 million dollars. At our request, Mr. Funk also investigated the cost of demolishing the existing building, and the cost of building a new structure, either on the current site or elsewhere in the community. Building demolition was estimated at $175,000 to $200,000, and the cost of a new building was estimated at $165 to $187 per square foot (building cost only). For a 8,000 square foot building (roughly comparable to the existing library space), this comes to 1.32 million dollars at $165 p.s.f., or 1.426 million at $187 p.s.f. When fees and contingencies are added, along with the cost of land acquisition (if the existing site is not used), and site development, the total for a new building approaches 2.2 million dollars.

While FLP was cordial in its reception of our information, they continue to make clear their intention to abandon the building, citing cost as the major factor. We feel strongly that as the cost gap between renovating the existing building and providing a new building narrows, it becomes clear that saving the existing building can make economic sense as well as historical sense. Although there are costs associated with renovation that do not exist with new construction, there are grant moneys available which are not available for new construction. We are asking FLP to fully investigate these options. The aesthetic quality of the existing building certainly would not be duplicated for the amount of money the library is able to spend on a new building, and an historical treasure would be lost forever if the existing building is discarded. Moreover, the land on which the building sits was donated to the city expressly for use as a public library, an important historical and legal consideration.

We are continuing to work on the effort to save this building, and ask the community for support. Petitions are being circulated throughout the community, and letters addressed to UCHS forwarded to FLP as a demonstration of broad community interest in this important building. FLP has promised a response to our report and cost estimates in September. We will report on that response when it happens. In the meantime, your help would be appreciated! For more information, contact Kathy Dowdell at (215) 662-5086.

UCHS AND THE PENN NEW SCHOOL INITIATIVE

Among a number of new community initiatives taken by the University of Pennsylvania to improve the quality of life in University City -- including the University City District, U C Brite, an enhanced mortgage and homeowner investment program, Sansom Common and the rejuvenation of the area's business cores -- are efforts to improve the quality of public education for the neighborhood. Part of this effort includes planning for a new University-assisted PreK - 8 public school at 42nd and Locust Streets.

UCHS is among the community associations who have been asked by Penn to assist with the planning for the new school in conjunction with the university's Graduate School of Education, representatives of the Philadelphia School District, the teachers union, other neighborhood educational institutions, both public and private, and city agencies.

In particular, the historical society has been asked to send representatives to a Facility/Site Committee along with design and construction personnel from the School District and Penn, the Spruce Hill Community Association, and the site's current residents (the University City New School, Penn Children's Center, and Parent Infant Center ).

UCHS's special concern will be to insure the preservation of the buildings and environment of the former Episcopal Divinity School of 1922-26 by Zantzinger, Borie & Medary, architects. These structures and their surroundings make significant contributions to the recently approved West Philadelphia Street Car Suburb National Register District and the society's representative will be especially concerned with how the development of the new school affects them. We will keep you posted over the three-year planning period on the effort.

ELECTIONS

If you find a post card enclosed with this newsletter, that means that your dues are currently paid up and you are urged to send in your votes for the nominees for open positions on the UCHS Board of Governors.

The new candidates you find listed there have all indicated strong interests and special qualifications for working on the society's projects and the returning members with continuing their active service. A twenty-cent stamp will return your ballot to us, so please return yours by September 13.

AND, IF YOU DON'T FIND THAT POST CARD, PLEASE CONTACT US WITH YOUR DUES RENEWAL. This could be your last newsletter.


go to current issue of On The West Side

go to list of back issues of On The West Side

back to University City Historical Society Homepage