2011 MBD V3 Panel Discussion Society Hill and I 95 Panel Discussion Part 2

2011 MBD V3 Panel Discussion Society Hill and I 95 Panel Discussion Part 2


Speaker 1: Two of our speakers now reviewed
the past as it relates to the preservation particularly in the context of the highway
issues. Now our next two speakers are going to look more to the future and to the present.
John Gallery who like me lived through most of what we’ve just been hearing about is
going to provide a status report on preservation and progress as it is in Philadelphia now.
John. We need the lights out.
John: Thank you very much. My concern is the issue that Roger just described and that is
are we still in the situation in which concepts about progress and the preservation of the
great architectural heritage of Philadelphia are still in conflict or have we moved past
that and are we dealing with other and different issues?
I think it’s important to remember first off that I-95 was not the only progressive
action that was occurring in the ‘50s and ‘60s that had a negative impact on the historic
resources of Philadelphia. As Greg already mentioned there are lots of wonderful 19th
century houses in Society Hill that were demolished as part of that project which we tend to forget
in our appreciation for what was accomplished in Society Hill.
This is true of almost every one of the major projects that were undertaken in that period
and almost everything that was funded by urban renewal. A great many important buildings
were lost in the construction of the National Park including some great banks by Frank Furness.
A great many cast iron buildings were lost in the multi-blocked demolition for Independence
Mall and properties for the expansion of the University of Pennsylvania and many, many
other places. It’s hard to look back and that it hurt
for me and I acknowledge that well, I was part of that myself. Here on the left hand
part of the screen is the Reading Terminal and when I came to Philadelphia to work at
the city planning commission my first project was working on the Market East Project and
I was told by my superiors. When the commuter tunnel was completed the Reading Terminal
and the train shed will be demolished so just erase those and construct a shopping mall
linking Wanamakers and Strawbridge & Clothiers and I recent graduate and not very knowledgeable
about preservation or even planning at that point took my eraser and I lithely erased
the buildings and went on planning. There was no hesitation in thinking that those
marvelous buildings should be demolished in favor of progress. Well in a moment I’ll
say I think things have changed, I would also just like to point that building on the right
which is the Girard Building on South 12th Street right across PSFS Building. Most people
are not aware that the owner of this property, the Board of City Trust, applied for and successfully
received a demolition permit for this building only three or four years ago, and this building
to me is one of the most important buildings in Philadelphia. It is the most intact example
of the early skyscrapers of the turn of the 20th century and it is a magnificent building
yet this demolition permit was issued because someone thought they might sometime in the
future develop the block between Eleventh and Twelfth Street having no tenants, having
no financing but nonetheless deciding that they would demolish this building.
I did wait a short period of time until the developers realized there was no project there,
submitted a nomination to the Historical Commission and have the building listed on the Philadelphia
Register so as not to face this folly again in the future.
I think we also have to recognize that in the 50 years that have passed a great deal
was changed about preservation and many, many things have been saved and preserved in a
marvelous way. We have to be really proud about what has happened. Two buildings for
years were the poster children of neglected buildings in Philadelphia, the Victory Building
and the Naval Home have both been restored. The Naval Home is the center of extensive
residential development in that section of South Philadelphia.
Preservation has been one of the key economic development generators in Philadelphia. All
of the development that began at the navy yard with urban outfitters and others was
based on restoring historic buildings and most people aren’t aware that 75% of all
of the new housing units that have been created in and around Center City that have fueled
the population growth of Center City were created by the conversion of historic buildings.
We also can think about all of the hotels that served the convention center and historic
buildings, places like the Please Touch Museum has spent a tremendous amount of investment
in historic structures. A few years ago I documented this with the help of the Counsel
Corporation and show that in 10 years over $6.5 billion have been invested in real estate
development of historic properties in Philadelphia producing a lot of taxes and a lot of jobs
for the city. You would think that those numbers and the
obvious presence of those rehabilitated buildings would create a ground swell of support for
historic preservation in Philadelphia but it doesn’t and I’ll speak to that in a
minute. We still have many problems. I thought it was appropriate for me to label these next
two photographs as what keeps me awake at night. Some things really do bother me and
I worry. The Divine Lorraine that you might be able to see some of the graffiti that covers
this building is a magnificent building. It’s had a whole lot of small fires from homeless
people sleeping in it and it is sitting there and everyday I wake up to wonder whether or
not it’s still going to be there. I’ve spent nearly 10 years trying to do something
with the Boyd Theatre and I haven’t given up yet but I haven’t succeeded either.
There are still some very major challenges that are before us but the bigger question
is why does it feel like a struggle and I have to tell you that doing this on a day-to-day
basis its still feels like a struggle. We did an online survey during the summer
and asked our members of the general public, what do you think are the primary obstacles
today to preservation, and the three responses we got were insufficient funding which is
an obvious thing and a perennial thing. The other was lack of public support and lack
of support from elected officials. We also asked people what they thought were
the top issues and how could preservation most contribute to Philadelphia’s future,
and it was interesting to me that the condition of residential neighborhoods outside Center
City was the top issue by far in everyone’s mind and the area in which they felt preservation
had the most to contribute. The other top issue has been the impact of new development
on residential neighborhoods, something that has been a continuing problem even in the
present time. It’s interesting to look at these issues
to understand some of the problems and the impact of new development has been something
that almost every community group, particularly those in historic districts have fought in
the recent years. Developers want to build things that are big because they want to make
money. Architects, and I apologize to all the architects in the room, want to design
things that are flashy, different and grotesquely out of context with their historic surroundings.
Glass to me is like the material I would most like to go away. There is this theory that
architects have that glass buildings disappear into the sky and you don’t even notice them.
Something which I find not quite to be true. There are tremendous conflicts and almost
every one of these projects has been opposed by the communities in which they’ve been
located. Often successfully, sometimes not always but it is a continuing problem and
it just isn’t a problem with respect to big buildings in Center City neighborhoods,
these are two photographs of houses being built in the Point Breeze neighborhood, a
neighborhood that is blocks and blocks and blocks of very handsome two-storey row houses
in which developers are now inserting these three-storey boxes because that’s the way
they can make the most profit in developing one of these vacant lots much to the consternation
of many people in the neighborhood. The impact of development is something that
is still of great concern and it’s something that is hard to address because the public
sector views new as progress and therefore, there’s a great deal of encouragement for
people to build new and I think we are fortunate that we have lots of these small developers
doing new development in neighborhoods. That’s not the issue. The issue is whether we’re
going to do it in a way that is sympathetic to the character of neighborhoods so that
we’re building an environment. We’re not just building some marketable products.
The bigger issue is really the deteriorating housing inventory of our city. The house on
the left is the house of John Coltrane. It is listed on the National Register. It’s
a national historic landmark. It’s vacant and falling apart and no one really cares.
The house next door is vacant as well. I think that 90% of every porch in Philadelphia
is falling apart. We see that all over the city and these are not houses that are vacant.
These are houses that are occupied. This magnificent block of houses in North Philadelphia was
half vacant and half occupied. Finally, after many years the redevelopment authority did
get a developer to rehab them. The problem was with the remaining houses where people
with low incomes were living who simply couldn’t find ways to maintain these properties. We
had a program that has given some grants to these but this is an issue throughout the
city. The biggest issue, the biggest housing issue in Philadelphia is not what to do with
vacant houses, it is the need to reinvest in the existing occupied housing stock.
That is in conflict very much with the policies we’ve been following for many years. We’re
very concerned with vacant lots. We’re very concerned with demolishing vacant houses.
Instead, once we have those demolished, once we have those lots then we want to build on
them because new is progress and so we’re building these characterless environments
while we are at the same time not even bothering to invest in the neighborhoods that have character
and they are reinforcing the population of neighborhoods outside, the Center City is
declining. Every time you build a new house in theory
someone moves out of the old house, the old house becomes vacant, the vacant house becomes
demolished. It’s a cycle in which we are not intervening. There is another issue that’s
related to this whole system of declining population ad that is its impact on institutions.
The school district has announced that it intends to close perhaps 50 schools that probably
will all be historical events which means schools are often easy to convert. Buildings
that are hard to convert are churches and some of you may be aware of the great struggle
going on related to Church of the Assumption but believe me, that is, as I say here, only
the tip of the iceberg. Over the next decade I couldn’t even guess
the number of churches that are going to be abandoned. This is a church which is totally
abandoned, sold off by the archdiocese to someone who’s totally disappeared, it’s
vacant and nobody really knows how to get in touch with the current owner. This church
on North Square is about to be demolished, the demolition being paid for by the city.
The number of vacant churches I could have put up 20 slides here of churches that are
vacant that congregations don’t know what to do with and that could go on endlessly.
What are the problems? I don’t think the problem is a conflict between progress and
preservation except in some limited instances, mainly in the Center City. The real problems
are problems which make it so difficult to address to preservation in the broad sense
at the moment are I think these. One is poverty. We have a vast collection of really magnificent
residential properties, in most cases the owners of which simply do not have the incomes
to be able to maintain them. Our grant program over the last few years put $1.7 million into
grants for the restoration of the Historic Owner Occupied Properties with a limit of
about $25,000 per property doing it in a responsive preservation manner and often we could not
deal even with just the exterior issues for $25,000.
This is a tremendous problem. I think we needed to really address the issue of preserving
the existing occupied housing stock that we have more seriously. I think there is a conflict
with this whole notion that we nee d to build on vacant land, rather than preserve the stock
that we have and I’m very pleased to see in the planning commission’s 2035 citywide
vision, a statement that established an objective of the city to redirect a lot of the block
around funding from new construction to rehabilitation. We have a declining population which is I
said is going to undermine institutional buildings such as schools and churches and I think churches
are going to emerge as one of the biggest preservation issues because the church as
we have are so grand, so magnificent architecturally, so difficult to reuse, so expensive and we’re
going to see many, many, many more of them closing.
We have to do something about developers. We’re just in it for the buck. We’re just
insensitive to the context in which they’re working, how to do that I think is a real
challenge. We have a lack of funding. That’s always true but right now it’s even worse.
The Obama Administration eliminated federal money for preservation, state has eliminated
most federal grants, the city never really put much into preservation but what little
it did put in to things like staffing. The Historical Commission is also squashed
and it’s a very difficult situation and developers are hard pressed to find private
financing. There is still a difficulty in really getting broad public support and I
think one of the reasons why we have weak support among elected officials is they just
don’t see it as a primary issue for their constituents.
Now all of that seems pretty bleak and it is. I think it is a real struggle but at the
same time there are bright lights even in this era. If you look right around the corner
here we see the Lafayette building under construction for a new hotel, conversion of a historic
property. If you went up to Twelfth and Chestnut Street, you’d see the Commonwealth building
under construction, conversion to apartments and shortly, the Robert Morris building opposite
the Comcast Center will be under construction for conversion to apartments.
In this particular economy, the access to the federal investment tax credits that gives
people 20% of their financing makes historic preservation a lot more economically feasible
than new construction and I think we need to remember that. We need to try to induce
the opportunities to provide access to the tax credits and we have to make sure that
Congress doesn’t have that on their list of things to cut.
It is a challenging environment but I think we can look back on the past decades in Philadelphia
and see tremendous accomplishments and if we can realize that preservation is a fundamental
part of the economy of Philadelphia, it is not just the preserving of things that look
pretty. It is part of our economy and if we see it in those sense then hopefully, we will
build a broader base of support, thank you. Speaker 1: Thank you, John. We’ve made Suzanna
wait through all of these talks and she is going to return back to the highway question
with some questions on the preservation in the context of the highway. Suzanna.
Suzanna: Okay, yes, I’ll take you back to I-95 and I wanted to address I guess that
any assessment of the tension between preservation and progress should take into account the
historic and present-day contexts within which roads are planned and decedents are made.
After World War II the American dream was a house in Levittown, not a townhouse in downtown,
the suburbs bloomed and the urban core fell into decay. The planning construction of I-95
in Philadelphia and elsewhere occurred at a time when legislation and funding streams
favored an assault on cities in the name of urban renewal as we’ve heard.
The Interstate Highway Act of 1956 established legislative framework that supported tracking
an automotive-centric travel and therefore road building. All of these forces and others
contributed to the lost of historic resources when I-95 cut through Philadelphia’s historic
core. The results of urban renewal could and can
still be seen not just in Philadelphia but in many American cities. I put arrows here
so you can see kind of before and after used. Many of you may recognize Albany here, kind
of before and after, it’s striking isn’t it? Buffalo, another example.
I did two buildings because the next view is kind of from the opposite direction. Relevant
to our discussion here in this regard is the source of funds for I-95 in many similar projects
which relied upon large amounts of federal funding already mentioned, really unheard
of in our present-day context although I think Obama is going to try again. The federal government
paid 90% of the cost, Divine 95 and the states, it went of course all the way from Florida
to Maine along the East Coast that federal government paid 90% and the states chipped
in the other 10 percent. This was clearly a real federal commitment
to the distraction of clearing land and certainly, the distraction of historic resources perhaps
not intentionally but certainly in consequence. Attempts were made to mitigate the loss of
historic resources through documentation at the time when I-95 was going in. Research,
archeology and measured drawings, another group that has not been mentioned yet was
the Historic Salvage Council which was a partnership between the Philadelphia Historical Commission
and the University of Pennsylvania and it was established as early as 1964 for the purpose
of documenting historic sites before they were loss at demolition.
In fact I think as Greg has already mentioned, the Federal Aid Highway and Highway Revenue
Act of 1956 provided for archeological and paleontological salvage and archeological
and paleontological survey was intended to be supported by the federal government again,
with this 90-10% split with the states. A cooperative agreement was in fact established
between the National Park Service and the Pennsylvania Department of Highways and the
Historic Salvage Council. Buildings were documented and some archeology was performed but the
agreement was apparently never fully honored and the council’s efforts were eventually
aborted. Some of these documents happily have survived in the Athenaeum archives and at
Penn. With the National Historic Preservation Act
of 1966 the federal government at last acknowledged that, “Historic properties significant to
the nation’s heritage are being lost of substantially altered often inadvertently
with increased frequency,” and that, “The preservation of this irreplaceable heritage
is in the public interest so that’s its vital legacy of cultural, educational aesthetic,
inspirational, economic and energy benefits will be maintained and enriched for future
generations of Americans.” I’m impressed that they got all of those
in there. The National Historic Preservation Act again created a new legislative framework
and one with which we’re so familiar today, the National Register of Historic Places,
State Historic Preservation Offices and particularly relevant to our discussion today, the Section
106 review process. For those of you who may not be familiar with
it, Section 106 of the National Historic Preservation Act states and I’m quoting again. “Any
federal agency having direct or indirect jurisdiction over proposed federal or federally assisted
undertaking shall prior to the approval of the expenditure and/or any federal funds on
the undertaking take into account the effect of the undertaking on any district, site,
building, structure or object that is included in or eligible for inclusion in the national
register.” We call this simply the Section 106 process
and it does require federal agencies to take into account the effects of their undertaking
on historic resources and those that receive federal funds are also subject to the Section
106 review. Again, I quote that “The Section 106 process seeks to accommodate historic
preservation concerns with the needs of federal undertakings through consultation among the
agency official and other parties with an interest in the effects of the undertaking
on historic properties.” The National Historic Preservation Act of
1966 and the Section 106 review process in particular gave something preservationists
that they really hadn’t had before and that was the seed at the table, which was pretty
significant. Now we’ll go back to I-95. As Roger mentioned KSK, my firm, has been
involved with I-95 since it went in and these are just two designs that were done for the
areas that cover over the expressway here at Market Street, a pedestrian and vehicular
pathway and then just the pedestrian walkway at South Street, the intention being again,
to try to improve these connections from the city to the waterfront.
Since 2010, KSK has been working with the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation’s
long-term multi-phased initiative to improve and rebuild I-95 in Philadelphia. I’m sorry
Greg but they’ve gone ahead and started that. What’s different this time around
is interesting. Just to show you … this is their site, Revive.com and you can find
out everything you need to know and you can see here this project is in several phases
here along the side. Here you can get your community, any project
that’s happening on I-95 or on a federal road has a huge public involvement component
now and that seems to be pretty typical and Philadelphia has made a really grand effort
at this. You can find out about current construction, completed improvement, scheduled improvements
and of course, the public meeting schedule. I want to just, if none of you are familiar
with it, this is the area of work right now. Although there is only one here, this is the
connection to Penn Treaty Park obviously but a big part of this effort now which is largely
just a reconstruction and repair of the existing infrastructure although not entirely but a
big part of the effort is trying to connect neighborhoods on this side of the road to
the river. One of the greatest tragedies obviously of
I-95 was not just the lost of historic resources but the separation of Philadelphia neighborhoods
from the riverfront. To remedy this, Philadelphia is finally starting to do something so Philadelphians
were engaged in a yearlong “civic vision” for the Central Delaware which was run by
PennPraxis. The final report was the result of again,
intense civic engagement and thinking about the future of the Delaware Riverfront in addressing
transportation, commerce, recreation, housing and other development. Interestingly, PennDOT,
Pennsylvania Department of Transportation, was a partner and was very involved in this
process. While I-95 will remain, as I say, with the current project, PennDOT is working
hard to engage communities and to reconnect neighborhoods to the waterfront and here’s
just an example of all of the public meetings that you can attend and participate in.
That’s something just by the by that KSK has been very involved with, in particular
is this public participation process. The stakeholders are invited to participate in
the design of planned open space along the I-95 corridor and the interpretation of neighborhood
history and cultural identity through signage and the incorporation of lighting, artwork,
iconography, and similar things on the inevitable retaining walls and underpasses that the roadway
requires. Another benefit that this project has had
is that archeologists have been given a major role in the current project and in spite of
all the construction that has been preceded them they are making incredible finds. Not
only are they digging and discovering in all the areas impacted by construction but they’ve
been encouraged to open their digs to the public and to share their findings in public
forums and exhibits. Anecdotally, I was told that when other archeological
work has been done in the old city previous to this, archeologists were really kind of
… they were allowed to do what they had to do but they were never encouraged to really
display their work and get the public involved and that’s been a real change this time
around. Here you see, I have an historic image up here of the Aramingo Canal and here you
can see this is part of the base of the bridge over the canal that was uncovered and this
posts or a part of a pier of some sort. These are just some examples of the types
of things that they’ve been finding. It’s been extraordinary. One notable loss though
since this is about preservation, progress and where we are, one notable loss on the
historic landscape through this I-95 project is the loss of the William Cramp & Sons Ship
& Engine Building Company. The machine shop number two which is the last surviving building.
Here you can see, the Cramp building is here and unfortunately, it’s been demolished
for an interchange so shades of the first 95 going in. The Cramp Shipbuilding was established
by William Cramp in 1830. They were a major shipbuilder. This is the building. Actually,
let me just take you through. This is the exterior of the building. Any of you have
traveled 95 am sure have noticed it on the riverside. It’s huge building.
This was the interior and these are just some historic images. I’m sorry if I’m going
quickly but I’m sure everybody is ready to get into this. Just a quick history, it
was … Cramp Shipbuilding was established by William Cramp in 1830. They were a major
shipbuilder in Philadelphia, builder of the battleships USS Indiana and USS Massachusetts,
the armored cruiser USS New York and the USS Columbia.
William Son Charles Cramp managed the company’s transition from wooden shipbuilding to iron
and steel hull construction and Cramp built the hull for the steam frigate New Ironsides,
one of the North’s premiere ironclads. In 1895, the shipyard covered 32 acres and employed
6,000. The shipyard went idle in 1927 but like many industrial adventures was reactivated
by the navy in 1940 for emergency war production of submarines, cruisers and other vessels
and at that time it employed 10,000 men and up until war’s end.
Cramp Shipbuilding closed permanently after the war ended and the site was later occupied
by an industrial park. To PennDOT’s credit, preserving some portions of the last remaining
building of the Cramp shipyard was actually considered although eventually rejected as
infeasible. Mitigation has included removal of artifacts from the building which would
be made available to local artists for public art or incorporated into interpretive materials
that will be displayed in neighborhoods and then along the I-95 pedestrian corridor.
They were, as you can imagine, a lot of … of course I brought it up, I can’t think of
what they’re called. The things that go along the … Forget it. Many cranes in the
building, thank you. Well done, you get a free copy of my singed manuscript. There wasn’t
really that much left in the building but they’re going to, they have taken out as
much as they can and they are engaging artists which I think is something. But still here
at last is perhaps the tension between preservation and progress which was promised in the title
of this session. PennDOT has been more responsive to historic
resources during the current roadway improvement effort the fact remains that a major historic
landmark has been lost to a new highway interchange. The loss of the Cramp Building perhaps embodies
the tension between preservation and progress that still exist today while the public and
preservation professionals are now engaged rather than ignored and mitigation efforts
are employed, resources continue to be lost. This is not just happening in Philadelphia,
I just wanted to show you another example and I don’t have a photograph, I’m sorry,
the boathouse but this … It’s interesting on their website the Connecticut DOT tells
you what’s been demolished but it also gives you a history which I think is interesting
from an information, an education point of view but still this Peabody & Stearns Building
was torn down for a bridge. Is this tension or is this the reality of
what is still our automotive-centric culture? It’s unlikely that another I-95 will be
proposed and more likely that we will see more projects like the current one with minimal
losses to our built heritage. Indeed, many of these roadways now have achieved National
Register status, the New Jersey Turnpike is on the national register so maybe we’ll
have to be preserving roads instead of talking about getting rid of them.
The question now I think may be how long will our dependence continue and will we be discussing
these same issues around the construction of railways and rapid bus transit systems
in the next five, ten or twenty years. As a side note it just occurred to me as we were,
I was sitting here continuing to think about this. Now all the railway lines are now converted
to paths for bikes, for walkers. There’s the High Line in New York, we’re
going to plant the elevated railway here in Philadelphia so where are we going to go when
we start thinking again about public transportation so the future may be interesting. Thank you.
Speaker 1: We do have a few minutes left of our allotted time and so any of you who have
questions you could direct either specifically to one of the speakers or to the group for
comment from the floor. Speaker 4: I don’t know if I should direct
this to any one individual or to the whole panel but I was wondering what you think the
potential or urgent sustainability movement to affect this conflict that you’re discussing
today. It seems to me that there’s a lot of weight on the side of preservation to come
from sustainable approaches to not demolishing buildings that we can build again, that sort
of thing. Suzanna: I’ll take the first comment but
I welcome [inaudible 36:54] from the floor. I think it comes out of teaching and being
around the next generation of professionals, I think that preservation has tried to connect
with the sustainability movement but to my mind it has not really stuck as well as it
should yet. But I really think that the next … I think
that we’ll see more of it in the next generation because there’s a lot more students in school
now, architects, landscape architects, preservationists, they’re all working together so much more
I think than we did in my generation and that’s what I see as the future.
John: Sustainability and please, you’ll understand that I’m a little bit cynical
about this. Sustainability is putting the green roof on a new building. That’s really
what it is today. Look around and yes, maybe there’s some more insulation in the walls
but the things that everyone hypes is it’s a green roof on a new building.
Until you got to the point of being able to look at this exotic calculation of what is
the total energy consumption between demolishing, sending things to landfills and building new
buildings, you still don’t get preservation coming up on the winning side of things and
you can do flashier … Again, it’s my sort of mantra, progress means new.
You can see sustainability in a new building, in a green roof, in a this, in a that. If
you do something in a historic building that improves its insulation, improves its efficiency
and things like that, you don’t see it and that’s part of our dilemma I think is that
we want to see these visible things that we can point to and that means progress.
Philadelphia I think we have to somehow turn that over, we have to recognize that progress
for Philadelphia is maintaining what is so beautiful and so unique about this city and
that is its architectural character. Speaker 5: One of the speakers, I forget which
one, mentioned with dismay the policy of the city and demolish it, they get housing in
the neighborhoods but it seems to me that in neighborhoods which are beginning to decay
and beginning to have large quantities of vacant houses, the residents of those neighborhoods
support such a policy partly because these vacant buildings tend to attract more vacancies
and also could be a scene for undesirable people and fight their tendency to try to
make their neighborhoods more safe. I wonder even though it may not be so elegant,
whether the policy has been followed out may not be the correct one.
John: I think I made reference to that, although I think there is a tremendous difficulty here.
There’s no question that the vacant buildings and occur throughout any neighbors in the
cities are nuisances, they are dangerous, they’re harmful to the properties they’re
adjacent to and many of them need to be demolished, there’s no question about that.
Back in the days when John Street initiated the Neighborhood Transformation Initiative,
the beginning of that program, I spent a lot of time in which I went out with the engineers
who were doing the surveys making decisions about which vacant buildings were going to
get demolished. We’d walk down the block that had whatever, 40 row houses on it, all
of which were occupied and there was one vacant house in the middle of the block and the engineers
would say, demolish. I would say like I think maybe that’s worth
a second question. I think the dilemma really on the one hand is yeah, we need to demolish
them but we need to also be able to think about it and the NTI program actually became
more responsive as time goes on. Often encapsulated the building because it was the one on the
block and eventually, you try to get it restored. It started to … when it came across historic
buildings, there’s actually an interdisciplinary task force of city agencies that looked at
properties and made decisions about them. I think we do need to do demolition but I
think we need to think about it in the context of what, where and how but then the dilemma
you have is okay, what next? Now we have tremendous amounts of vacant land and the whole underlying
theory behind the neighborhood transformation issue that was, we’ll tear them down, we’ll
have vacant land, we’ll sell it to developers and nonprofits and they’ll build new.
The dilemma of that is that most of the vacant land that you see in Philadelphia is owned
by people that we don’t even know where they are. It’s not owned by the city. When
properties were demolished and still when properties are demolished they are not acquired.
They’re owned by some widow in Cleveland, but even if you leave that aside, what is
the choice? The choice is are we putting the subsidy money that we have available into
all of the suburban twin house, new construction that you see all over the place and I always
like to own up to my guilt. I did the first project of that nature in North Philadelphia.
I blamed myself for everything that’s followed. We’re doing that at the expense of looking
at places where strategic investment in existing occupied housing would allow us to retain
the integrity of these neighborhoods and we don’t have enough resources to do all of
those things. That’s the dilemma. I’m not faulting some of the … I am faulting
but I’m not faulting some of the policies because yes, they are correct ones. The challenge
really and particularly now with much more limited resources is, how do we find some
balance between those things? How do we figure out which of the neighborhoods have enough
integrity, we really should invest in maintaining the existing stock and where are the ones
in which you have so much vacancy or vacant land that that isn’t even an issue, that
the issue really is clear out the rest of the bad stuff and figure out a way that we
do rebuilding those things but there needs to be that balance and we haven’t had that
balance. The last probably two decades have been really
swung towards let’s deal with the vacant land, let’s deal with the demolition, let’s
deal with the new construction, at the expense of then a real investment in the existing
infrastructure. Greg: Yeah, if I could jump off that actually.
In my actual day job I run a community development corporation and we’re right now restoring
a 13,000 square foot building from the 1930s. We do home repair programs, we do other neighborhood
reinvestments. The question is we always look at neighborhoods, okay, this is how it looks
now, this is what the residents are thinking about it now.
I think the key that we have to struggle with is how can we make strategic investments as
John was saying to influence the community’s future five, ten years from now and I think
this is a real block in thinking for a lot of people that if the neighborhood looks rundown,
has these problems, the solution is to tear things down and start over.
What actually is that through the right kind of planning and the right kinds of strategic
investments and community empowerment initiatives, you can very quickly uplift the neighborhood,
without displacing people and create private investment to restore historic houses and
buildings as is going on the neighborhood where I work.
I don’t think it’s an either or scenario. John was talking about a balanced approach
but I would even go a step further that it’s really critical to look at investing in these
historic structures as a way to uplift these neighborhoods that are really in devastated
conditions because these kinds of things can be anchor development that change the visibility
of the neighborhood and the impression of the neighborhood for the whole city.
Speaker 7: You’re talking about any success stories of converting for that of AAC big
churches, any community for a community center maybe Partners for Sacred Places, something
in Philadelphia that had been a tremendous model as a success story of what can happen
to these big churches. John: It’s a good question. I asked that
question about three, four months ago myself and this last summer, I funded a study that
was jointly done by the Preservation Alliance Partners for Sacred Places and the Historical
Commission in which we basically did an inventory of I think it’s 7,000 religious properties
in Philadelphia. One of the tings I wanted to find out was
what churches have been converted to nonreligious uses. There’d been lots of things that have
… the Lutheran churches that are now Buddhist meditation centers or Catholic or the now
Korean. We found about, I think it’s about 20 examples and I’m not able to remember
them all. One of the most interesting is in West Philadelphia
so and I think Haverford Avenue, probably around 40th Street. I don’t remember the
name of the church but the one reason, one of the reasons why I think it was successful
is it consisted of a complex of a very large church, a school building and a recreate building.
There are two buildings which are relatively easy to convert to housing and the church
was actually converted to housing as well with dormers inserted in the roof of the church.
The whole complex was converted to housing using I think both historic and low-income
tax credits. I’m trying to manage to figure out how to get this inventory and the results
of it up on our website because I think it’s the most definitive of examination of the
properties of religious … of the problems of religious properties in the city and there
are some other examples. There’s a church out in West Philadelphia
that was converted to a theater, so there are a few but there are not a lot in Philadelphia
that we found in going through this summer. Greg: One example [inaudible 48:03] and John,
you throw in on the logist but the original question to this for community uses and one
of my favorite examples of a church that I think has really found a way to sustain itself
is what’s now the Calvary Center at 48th and Baltimore which does have religious uses.
It has maybe six or seven different congregations that use it but it also has several community
groups, historical groups that use it. There’s a theater that uses it as its space. There’s
a flea market downstairs, there’s yoga and karate classes downstairs.
There’s a flea market on the weekends. A huge number of users use this space for different
things. A community meeting one day, a Quaker or a Mennonite service another day, a Jewish
service another day while there are other uses and theater going on across the hall
although not at the same time and I think it’s a wonderful example of how big church
building can be reused as a community center that’s both religious and nonreligious.
Suzanna: I’ll just throw an office example because that may seem less feasible to the
22nd adjustment I believe and that was converted to offices. It’s got to be I think now 20
years ago. It’s a great example of a church and the offices are actually in the sanctuary
space so it’s not that … they also use the adjacent building but that’s another
good example. They’re out there when you …
Harry: I’d like to point out that I live at Pier 3 Condominium which is not quite what
you’re talking about but which is a historic redevelopment of a property in Pier 5 next
door to it at the same time. Interestingly enough when this was first undertaken in the
1980s, the local developers thought that the developer of this project was nuts. As it
turns the developer losses sure but about 10 years after they were redeveloped, let’s
say about 19 … They were meant to be condos but went into
apartments soon after they were redeveloped and about 10 years later in the early ‘90s
they switched from apartments to condos again and they were sold out within three to four
weeks. It’s a very … Pier 3 in particular is a very popular place to be. It’s not
new. It’s actually 25 years old, the refurnishment and so forth and so on but it’s a healthy
development along the Delaware Riverfront.

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