A historic district is a collection of historic resources that represents architectural, social, and/or cultural values deemed significant in American history. Historic resources can include buildings; structures (i.e., bridges, walls); landscapes (i.e., parks, vistas); and objects (i.e., public art, street signs). There are two levels of historic designation: local (Philadelphia Register of Historic Places) and national (National Register of Historic Places).
Philadelphia Register of Historic Places
The local register is maintained by the Philadelphia Historical Commission. Criteria for evaluation can be found HERE and includes exemplifying the cultural, political, economic, social, or historical heritage of the community and being the work of an architect who significantly influenced the historical, architectural, or social development of the City, Commonwealth, or Nation.
Inclusion on the Philadelphia register provides a historic district with regulatory oversight if an owner desires to alter the property. Alterations can include building additions; roof, window, or porch replacement; and partial or complete demolition. While window replacement can often be reviewed at the staff level, more invasive alterations must come before the PHC’s Architectural Committee for a public discussion of the effects of such proposals. Local regulatory oversight guarantees a public review process in which neighbors can participate. Preservation is a public good and local government gives a platform to discuss implications of alterations to our inherited patrimony.
University City has several local historic districts within its boundaries: 420 Row; Chester Regent; Parkside; Satterlee Heights; and the 3611-31 Spring Garden Street Historic District. The Spruce Hill Historic District was submitted to the PHC in 2002 but was not processed. The Powelton Village Historic District is currently in the works.
National Register of Historic Places
The National Register is the nation’s inventory of historic places at the local and state levels with corresponding documentation as to its significance. It documents the appearance and importance of historic resources significant in our history to give “a sense of orientation to the American people,” according to the 1966 National Historic Preservation Act which authorized the National Register. National Register properties and districts are managed by their state’s Historic Preservation Office; for us, this is the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission.
University City is proud to have three National Register Historic Districts within its boundaries. Powelton Village Historic District, West Philadelphia Streetcar Suburb Historic District and Garden Court Historic District.
Inclusion on the National Register is based on Criteria for Evaluation found HERE and recognizes the accomplishments and achievements of everyone who has contributed to the history of the United States. National Register properties are not under regulatory review if owners seek alterations, including demolition, nor do they invoke local historical ordinances or land-use codes. State and federal tax credits can be used to restore buildings in NR-designated districts for income-producing purposes and are terrific for revitalizing dormant and derelict properties.