Historical Panel Blocks Demolition By Bookbinder's

Posted: June 25, 1987

The Philadelphia Historical Commission yesterday refused to allow the owners of Old Original Bookbinder's to demolish a historically certified 19th- century warehouse located behind the Walnut Street restaurant.

The commission's ruling, which was decided by a 5-3 vote, was hailed by preservationists as a major victory for the city's strengthened preservation ordinance, which was revised in 1984 to provide added protection for historic buildings.

Under the ordinance, the commission can approve the demolition of a certified building only if the owner demonstrates that renovating or maintaining the building would cause a financial hardship.

At its meeting yesterday, the commission rejected Bookbinder's application to raze the vacant, four-story warehouse at 149 S. Hancock St. in order to expand its adjacent parking lot.

John Taxin, whose family owns the landmark restaurant, had argued that the cost of renovating the dilapidated building, which Bookbinder's purchased for $186,000 in May 1985, was prohibitive.

Opponents of the demolition plan, who were led by the Old City Civic Association, contended that since the building was certified when Bookbinder's bought it, the restaurant should not have paid such a high price for it. The

purchase price should have been based on the value of the existing, dilapidated building, not on what the property would be worth as a cleared sited, the opponents said.

That argument was apparently accepted by a majority of the Historical

Commission members, including Barbara J. Kaplan, executive director of the City Planning Commission.

Kaplan said she was concerned about frequent cases in which developers paid inflated prices for properties that had existing zoning or historic- certification controls and then came to city agencies expecting variances

because the controls made development of the site unprofitable.

"I don't think that type of activity should be rewarded or encouraged," Kaplan said. She noted that the buyer of a historically certified property had a "special obligation" to maintain it.

In asking that the commission deny the demolition application, Roger T. Prichard, an officer of the Old City Civic Association, acknowledged that the warehouse building, which was constructed about 1855, did not have major historical or architectural significance. But Prichard said the building was ''part of the fabric of the Old City neighborhood" and was "very similar to dozens of other Old City buildings that have been redeveloped successfully."

At its meeting yesterday, the Historical Commission also certified the former United Gas Improvement Co. (UGI) Building at 1401 Arch St. and delayed a decision on certification of a parking lot on Delaware Avenue that is believed to contain the buried remains of a colonial shipyard.

The UGI Building was added to the city Register of Historic Places despite the objections of the owners of the 90-year-old building.

The owners, who were represented by Albert Eisen, executive vice president of Strouse-Greenberg Inc., said they opposed the certification because it could block a plan to build a skyscraper on the site.

Under the owners' plan, which Eisen stressed was preliminary, the 14-story facade of the UGI Building would be retained and used as a shell within which a modern office building of 35 stories or more would be built.

The Historical Commission delayed action on designating the parking lot at Delaware Avenue and Vine Street as a potential archaeological site. The lot, the proposed site of a multistory parking garage, was the site of a 17th- century boatyard that was operating at least six years before William Penn landed here in 1682, according to research by the commission staff.

Eunice Lazin, the owner of the lot, had requested more time to conduct tests on the site and to study the feasibility of constructing the garage in a manner that would not disturb any archaeological remains of the boatyard.

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