About The
Spruce Hill District

About Philadelphia
Historic Districts


Further Reading

Frequently Asked



Spruce Hill Historic District
Working With The Philadelphia Historical Commission


What is the PHC?
The Philadelphia Historical Commission (PHC) is the agency of city government responsible for the preservation of the historic resources that reflect three centuries of Philadelphia's culture and traditions.

Under city law, the PHC lists on the Philadelphia Register of Historic Places buildings, structures, sites, objects, and districts that meet the designation criteria established by ordinance. The PHC reviews all applications for which a building permit is required and for work that alters the appearance of a listed property.

Although historic designation entails some restrictions, it also has benefits. Designation can help foster community pride, revitalize neighborhoods, and help improve and maintain a neighborhood's quality of life. Owners of income-producing properties may be eligible for federal investment tax credits for restoring and rehabilitating historic properties.

How does the PHC Work?
The 14-member Historical Commission meets monthly. The Mayor appoints the Commission, which must include an architect, an architectural historian, an historian, a developer, and six city officials. The PHC also has a qualified staff trained in various aspects of historic preservation.

The PHC is guided in its evaluation of applications by the City's Historic Preservation Ordinance (§ 14-2007 of the Philadelphia Code), its published Rules and Regulations, and The Secretary of the Interior's Standards for the Treatment of Historic Properties with Guidelines for Preserving, Rehabilitating, Restoring and Reconstructing Historic Buildings, published in 1995 by the National Park Service. These publications are available from the PHC office.

How does an owner know if a property is designated?
A property owner should contact the PHC to determine if a property appears on the Philadelphia Register of Historic Places, either individually or as part of a district. The staff needs the exact street address to locate the property on the list.

How does a property owner get proposed work approved by the PHC?
The PHC reviews all work that requires a building permit or alters the exterior appearance of any property listed on the Philadelphia Register. PHC's jurisdiction extends only over the exterior. This includes, but is not limited to, the replacement of doors or windows, the removal or enclosure of a porch, additions to and remodeling of a building, reroofing, masonry cleaning and pointing, facade painting, and the demolition of a designated property. Within historic districts, it also includes new construction.

When an owner of a designated property applies to the Department of Licenses and Inspections (L&I) for a building permit, L&I refers the owner to the PHC staff for review. L&I will refer applications for interior work to PHC, which will review it only to determine that a project will not affect the exterior appearance of a structure. The PHC, however, encourages property owners to contact its staff early in the design process to discuss any proposed work. Upon submission of a complete application to PHC, the staff will either approve it or refer it to the Architectural Committee, a technical advisory committee, for review. The Committee reports its recommendations to the Commission, the decision-making body. Both the Committee and Commission hold their monthly meetings in public and urge applicants to attend to answer any questions that may arise.

What information does the PHC need to process an application?
Submissions may vary according to the type of project proposed. Contact the PHC staff before submitting an application for review. Along with a completed building permit application, the property owner needs to provide the following:

  • a cover letter that describes the proposed undertaking and any special circumstances that should be considered by the PHC;
  • dated and labeled pictures of the present condition of all locations where alterations are proposed (these pictures will remain the property of the PHC);
  • an example of the proposed materials and design, such as a catalog picture or a roofing shingle; and
  • a detailed drawing.

Additional information, such as scaled drawings, plans, or specifications may be required by the PHC. An applicant should contact the PHC staff for further details.

How long will it take to get approval?
The timetable for approval depends upon the complexity and nature of the proposed work. Alterations to secondary elevations that face service alleys, or are not visible from public rights-of-way, some exterior work, and interior work that will not affect the exterior, are reviewed and approved within five working days by the PHC staff. Staff refers more complicated applications, including demolition and new construction, to the Architectural Committee, which in turn gives its recommendations to the Commission.

The Commission may approve, reject, defer for no more than six months, or request resubmission of the application. The Commission must vote on the proposal within 60 days of receiving the completed application. If the Commission approves the proposal, staff can process the permit application immediately. If revisions to plans are necessary, the staff and Architectural Committee will work with the property owner to revise the project so it meets the Commission's requirements. If the Commission denies an application, the property owner may appeal to the Board of License and Inspection Review within 15 days of receiving written notice of the Commission's decision. The law also contains provisions for postponing applications and for hardship situations.

What services are provided by the PHC?
Property owners, contractors, architects, and developers may consult with the PHC for technical advice and historical research. The PHC staff can provide information for everything from appropriate window design to the preservation of deteriorating historic materials such as masonry, metals, and wood. The PHC also offers information about state and federal historic preservation laws and federal tax incentives.

The PHC maintains a non-circulating library and thousands of building files available to anyone curious about Philadelphia and its architecture. Resources include books, historic and current photographs, property transactions, atlases and maps, fire insurance surveys, and other materials related to historic buildings and Philadelphia history.

A brochure cannot address every situation involving a historic building. Please consult the PHC before undertaking any work.

Philadelphia Historical Commission
One Parkway
1515 Arch St., 13th Floor
Philadelphia PA 19102
phone: 215 683-4590
fax: 215 683-4594
website: http://www.phila.gov/historical/

This brochure was produced by the Preservation Alliance for Greater Philadelphia, in conjunction with the Philadelphia Historical Commission. The Alliance is a non-profit, membership organization that actively promotes the appreciation, protection, and appropriate use and development of the Philadelphia region's historic buildings, communities, and landscapes. For more information, call 215-546-1746 or visit www.preservationalliance.com.

This project has been financed in part with Federal funds from the National Park Service, U.S. Department of the Interior. However, the contents and opinions do not necessarily reflect the view or policies of the Department of the Interior. This program receives Federal financial assistance for identification and protection of historic properties. Under Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, and the Age Discrimination Act of 1975, as amended, the U.S. Department of the Interior prohibits discrimination on the basis of race, color, notional origin, disability, or age in its federally assisted programs. If you believe you hove been discriminated against in any program, activity, or facility as described above, or if you desire further information, please write to: Office of Equal Opportunity, National Park Service, 1849 C Street, N. W., Washington, DC 20240.
Photography: Top Kat Inc.

Used with permission of Philadelphia Historical Commission.