Commission passing on history?

Posted: July 03, 2012

HERE'S A LOOK at three other recent controversial decisions by the city's Historical Commission.

1. Richardson Dilworth House, 223 S. 6th St.: In November 2007, the Historical Commission approved developer John Turchi's proposal to demolish the back half of the house where the former Philadelphia mayor lived from 1957 to 1962 to build a 16-story condominium. Dilworth and his wife moved to Society Hill, then a declining neighborhood, helping to launch the revitalization of the area and bolster the idea of urban renewal. Turchi hired renowned architect Robert Venturi to design the condo.

FIGHTING BACK: The Society Hill Civic Association and a second group of property owners appealed to the Board of Licenses & Inspection Review. The board twice overturned the Historical Commission's demolition ruling. Neil Sklaroff, an attorney for Turchi, said his office is again appealing the L&I decision to Common Pleas Court.

2. The Church of the Assumption, 1123 Spring Garden St.: In September 2010, the Historical Commission voted, 6-5, to grant the church's owner, the nonprofit Siloam — which provides services to people with AIDS and HIV — permission to demolish the church, claiming financial hardship because it didn't have the money to properly maintain it. The church was designed and built in 1848 by Patrick Charles Keely, one of the most prolific ecclesiastical architects of the 19th century. Former Bishop John Neumann helped consecrate the church, and religious sister Katharine Drexel was baptized there. Both later became Catholic saints.

FIGHTING BACK: The Callowhill Neighborhood Association filed an appeal of the Historical Commission's demolition permit to the Board of L&I Review. The group's attorney, Samuel C. Stretton, said the L&I board overturned the Historical Commission's demolition vote. Siloam is now appealing that decision in Common Pleas Court.

3. Brownstones at 3723 and 3725 Chestnut St., owned by the Episcopal Cathedral of Philadelphia: The commission voted on June 8 that it was in the "public interest" to allow the Episcopal Cathedral to demolish two historic brownstones, one designed by the noted ecclesiastical architect Charles M. Burns and one that was redesigned by Burns. The church said in its application that it needed the money it would receive from allowing a developer to build a 25-story apartment tower on the site to stabilize the tower of Episcopal Cathedral, which was designed in 1855 by Samuel Sloan.

FIGHTING BACK: The Preservation Alliance for Greater Philadelphia last week filed an appeal of the demolition approval, said John Gallery, executive director of the alliance. In an interview, Gallery said he was troubled that the commission's June 8 vote would "open up the opportunity" for more applications to destroy historic sites. "The notion of trading off one historic building to save another, we think that is a very bad policy," Gallery said.

— Valerie Russ

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