Click the list below to get to questions
concerning a particular technical area.
is masonry pointing regulated?
The Historical Commission staff may approve all permit applications for
new pointing. A masonry wall is like the body - bricks or stone units
are bones and the mortar is the tendons. With changes in temperatures
over the seasons, the wall expands and contracts. The mortar must be soft
enough to absorb the changes; otherwise damage may occur to the bricks
or stone. Mortar with too much Portland cement is too hard for historic
masonry and may cause severe damage over time. To ensure that the correct
amount of lime (which softens the mortar) is in the mix, the Historical
Commission requires an owner or contractor to submit a mortar recipe for
review (a typical recipe may be 2 - 2½ parts lime, 1 part cement,
and 6 - 8 parts sand). After the contractor has put up a sample of the
pointing, a member of the Commission's staff will check it for softness.
After that, the project can proceed.
you have a stuccoed house and the stucco was badly repaired when you bought
it - the original stucco is not available anymore. Can you paint over
The Historical Commission has approved the painting of stucco. However,
if the stucco shows severe cracking or flaking, the paint will hide the
problem but not cure the underlying cause. If the stucco shows these signs
of deterioration, contact a mason or structural engineer to ensure that
the masonry wall behind the stucco is in good condition.
there be any type of conformity of building aesthetics which properties
will have to follow?
When the Historical Commission reviews permit applications, it does not
employ aesthetic judgements; it must follow objective guidelines, the
Secretary of the Interior's Standards for the Treatment of Historic Properties,
with Guidelines for Preserving, Rehabilitating, Restoring and Reconstructing
Historic Buildings. To determine the appropriateness of a proposal for
a building, the Historical Commission turns to historical evidence, such
as old photographs, fire insurance surveys, or neighboring buildings for
pieces of exterior/decorative trim have fallen down, are owners required
to replace them with antiques?
For repairs, the new material does not have to be an antique or salvaged
element. In fact, just because a piece is old does not mean that it is
the appropriate match for that particular house. The Commission typically
asks that the repair have the same details as the element that is being
replaced. For example, if a wood cornice is deteriorated beyond repair,
the Commission will approve a new wood cornice that matches the existing
exactly is the stance on trim painting? Laura Spina has said that there
is no regulation of trim color, but it's been said that this is just a
traditional policy and not set in stone.
Pursuant to Section 6.2.b of its Rules and Regulations, the Commission
has not exercised a jurisdiction over the painting of trim.
house was built in 1962. Is there any provision to preserve our row in
its 1962 form? Will someone try to "colonize" a 1962 house?
The Historical Commission looks at buildings as a reflection of the time
in which they are built, whether its 1762, 1862 or 1962. Many of the houses
in the Society Hill Historic District are contemporary and the Commission
has approved changes that reflect their contemporary architecture.
you are against this movement will you still have access to the historical
supplies to reduce any repairs on your home? Will the historical society
be willing to help us find people to do the work?
The services provided by the Historical Commission are for any property
owner, architect or contractor who does work in the City of Philadelphia;
we do not ask people about their personal views of historic preservation.
Although, as a City agency, the Commission cannot give referrals for specific
contractors, it does have a list of various companies that have performed
work that the Commission approved.
you have Philadelphia labor unions (which are very ???) contractors on
your list of contractors or do you have contractors from outside of Philadelphia
The Historical Commission has a list of various contractors that have
performed work approved by the Commission. The Commission does not note
if the contractor belongs to a union or has a contractor's license from
the City of Philadelphia. The Commission routinely works with contractors,
architects and engineers that are based outside of the city.
true that some restorations, e.g. painting, that are required by the PHC,
have to be done by specialists and are very expensive?
Some work on any house, whether it's designated historic or not, requires
the expertise of a professional, such as structural work or masonry repair.
Some work can certainly be done by an experienced do-it-yourselfer. The
Commission does not dictate who must do the work, as long as the final
results conforms to the drawings and specifications approved by the Commission.
Views & Alleyways
4200 block of Pine Street has a street that runs behind the homes. Would
the historic society govern the rear of the properties? Windows, etc.?
The Historical Commission has jurisdiction over the entire building envelope,
front, sides and rear of properties. However, if the side and rear are
not visible from a public right-of-way or face an alley, the staff may
approve changes to these facades.
a homeowner remodels the kitchen and the project calls for installation
of a range hood with exterior venting to an alleyway. The vent is visible
from the street though it is toward the rear of the house. How might this
be regulated in an historic district?
The Commission has approved venting for kitchens (many existing restaurants
occupy historically designated buildings). If the vent is on the rear
of the property, the staff may approve the application.
rear alleys considered public right of ways, such that regulation would
apply to rear of homes that have alleys or walkways?
When a property has a street at its rear, the Commission takes into account
the nature of the street. If houses face the street or if the street routinely
has pedestrian traffic, then the Commission considers it a public right-of-way.
If the street is extremely small, only has the rears of properties and
the general public does not use it, then it's considered an alleyway.
If that is the case, then changes to the rears of the properties may be
approved at staff level.
houses on corners more subject to regulation since they have two sides
facing the street?
The Historical Commission regulates the entire building envelope, front,
sides and rear of the buildings, whether the building is on a corner or
in the middle of the block.
& Security Gates
I wanted to replace an iron security gate covering a large 1st floor front
window, would I be prevented from doing so because it's not original to
The Commission works with existing conditions, so the existing grill would
be grandfathered. The Commission has not received an application for exterior
security grates on the first floor windows. In the past, the Commission
has approved interior window grilles.
there are changes already to the property, example vinyl windows, if down
the road we choose to change them, could they be replaced with the same
Although non-historic changes to properties are grandfathered at the time
of designation, the Historical Commission approves changes that are historically
appropriate for a particular building. If the house originally had wood,
true-divided-light windows, then the new windows should have the same
appearance, regardless of the present windows.
about security bars and storm windows, how are these regulated?
The Historical Commission understands that property owners are concerned
about security and energy efficiency. The Commission has approved security
bars on windows and storefronts, but encourages interior security bars
on more prominent windows and facades. The Commission has approved storm
windows with several conditions: the shape and size of the storm window
must match the original window, if the storm has a muntin bar it must
rest at the meeting rail of the original window and the frame must be
the same color as the frame of the original window. The Commission does
not dictate the color of the frame, but the frame of the storm should
blend with the frame of the original window. If the storm window meets
these requirements, then they may be approved at staff level. Exterior
gates and security bars must go to the Commission itself for approval.
exterior storm windows allowed?
Yes, see above.
window air-conditioners allowed?
The Commission does not regulate window air-conditioners.
a replacement wooden window costs in the neighborhood of $150 custom made,
why would someone choose a vinyl replacement for the same money?
Many companies try to tell people that vinyl or aluminum windows will
give them a maintenance-free house. Unfortunately, there is no such thing.
Although wood windows may require repainting every 10 - 15 years, they
have a longer life span than either vinyl or aluminum windows.
about vinyl-clad or aluminum clad windows. Are these okay if they have
true divided lights (where appropriate)? Are there particular brands that
have been approved such as Pella, Kolbe & Kolbe, Anderson, Marvin?
The Commission does not routinely approve cladded windows. Although the
window is wood, the cladding alters the visual appearance of the window.
The Commission does not have a list of approved vendors.
house was built in 1962. Can I replace my aluminum windows with vinyl
Just as eighteenth and nineteenth-century buildings historically had wood
windows, many modern buildings have windows of other materials. The Commission
generally wants the replacement windows to be made of the same material
as the originals.
you use room air-conditioners?
The Commission only regulates air-conditioning systems that require alteration
to the exterior fabric of a building, e.g. through-wall units and central
air-conditioning systems. It does not regulate window air-conditioners.
alley windows regulated if slightly visible from street such as bay windows,
which protrude into the alley?
The Historical Commission regulates all windows, whether they are on the
front, side or rear of the property. The Commission's staff may approve
changes to windows that are not visible from a public right-of-way. Photographs
of the scope of work will help the staff determine if they may approve
the work or if it needs to go the Commission itself for review.
glass can be very, very expensive. What about a leaded glass bay?
The aim of historic preservation is to preserve historic fabric. If a
leaded glass bay can be preserved or restored, the Commission would require
that the window be kept rather than replaced. However, if the window is
deteriorated beyond repair, the Commission may approve its replacement
with a plain glass window.
the back of a house is visible to the public sidewalk (i.e., twin of a
corner property) does the PHC need to review and approve work done to
repair the rear facing items: retaining wall, fence, windows, deck, etc.?
Yes, however, the staff may be able to review the work.
there be any restrictions on use, type or placement of 1) air conditioners,
2) security bars or alley gates, 3) antennas or satellites for TV communication,
4) curb cuts for parking, 5) sheds &sun porches and 6) paint color
for bays trim?
The Commission does not regulate the use of window air-conditioners. It
does review security bars or gates (see above). The Commission reviews
antennas or satellites to make sure that the dishes are installed on the
roof with limited visibility. Curb cuts are in the jurisdiction of the
Streets Department. However, the Commission would review the installation
of a parking pad. The Commission regulates any changes to or additions
of sheds and sun porches. The Commission does not regulate the painting
of trim and bays would be considered trim.
a non-conforming roof deck rots or the roof underneath is damaged and
the deck must be removed, may the owner replace or restore the deck?
Maybe. If the deck is on the rear of the property and has limited visibility
from a public right-of-way, then the Commission will probably approve
the new deck.
house historically has red terra cotta tile roof visible from the street.
The existing roof is red asphalt shingles. Would there be a requirement
to use red replacement shingles (or tiles) when the roof needs replacement?
Like slate, the Commission understands that tile roofs can be extremely
expensive. However, it may require that the new asphalt shingles have
a specific color or pattern.
would my putting a new roof on my house be affected by historical designation?
The Historical Commission does not review applications for "flat"
roofs. If the building has a sloped roof, then the Commission would review
the new roof.
a building is fire damaged and requires extensive rehabilitation/renovation,
would the owner be required to restore to original historical state?
Depends on the extent of damage and what parts of the building require
rebuilding. The Commission does not regulate interiors.
the historic district have prevented a landlord faced with a burnt out
attic, from covering a dormer - one in a block long row of dormers, one
on each house facing the street with a flat roof, and how would that process
The Historical Commission does regulate any work done to a sloped roof
and any dormers that may protrude from it. Even if a building suffered
a fire, the Historical Commission would not approve covering a dormer
& Front Yards
there rules/regulations regarding non-permanent furniture, etc. used on
visible exterior areas (porches, etc.)?
No, the Commission does not regulate furniture or decorations, even on
about flooring for porches? Is ??? (Timbertex or Trex) ok? What are the
requirements for porch floors - especially if the floors are not visible
except when walking up steps to get to porch?
The Commission has not received an application proposing the use of this
product. However, if it has the exact same visual appearance as wood,
the Commission may approve it.
porches that have been removed, need to be replaced?
All changes to a property prior to designation are grandfathered. The
Commission will not require the replacement of a building element, even
a porch. If the owner wishes to replace a missing porch or other element,
then the Commission would review the new design.
about front yards? How are they regulated? Are plantings regulated? Landscaping?
In a district, the Commission does regulate the streetscape, and gardens
are a major feature of Spruce Hill. The Commission does not review landscaping.
However, if an owner wishes to remove a garden to install a paved parking
pad, then the Commission would review the proposal. The Commission would
review the installation of a new lighting fixture.
if I want to break the sidewalk in front of my home and make a garden,
would that be regulated?
A new front garden would require the approval of the Historical Commission
and the Streets Department. The Commission has approved such proposals
in the past.
a district, if an existing front porch has been poorly rehabbed before
the historic district came into being, and then at some point in the future
the owner seeks a permit to do some major rehab work on the porch, is
the owner required to reverse the earlier rehab or is the neighborhood
stuck with pressure treated posts and aluminum brackets?
It depends on the scope of work proposed by the owner. If the new porch
has pressure treated posts and balusters, but the owner only wants to
change the flooring, then the Commission will only review the new flooring.
the historic district designation, is there any way to stop my neighbor
from enclosing his porch or tearing it down once he gets a permit? ( I
assume a permit will be granted under status quo)
I want to make my home a duplex or triplex for rental purposes, can this
The Historical Commission does not regulate use. That is a zoning issue.
existing structures not original to the house be completely rebuilt (if
visible from the street)?
Such as garages? Work to any building within the district would require
the review of the Historical Commission, not just residences.
these questions address very specific situations. Without knowing the
subject property's address or having photographs showing the existing
conditions, it is difficult to give answers that take into account every
instance that may occur on every building. If you have any follow-up questions,
please do not hesitate to contact the Historical Commission directly at
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of questions and answers.
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