Wayne Junction National Historic District building’s days are numbered

The city is moving to demolish a vacant, unsecured former silk-mill building in the Wayne Junction National Historic District, calling it too far gone for preservation or redevelopment.

State historic officials have signed off on the demolition plan, meaning the days are numbered for the Van Straaten and Havey building at 133 W. Berkley St., near Germantown Avenue.

Problem site

The four-story, 1919 brick mill building has some striking facade areas, but also has a partially-collapsed roof and trees growing within. It’s a perfect spot for “ruin porn” photography, but it’s also in immediate danger of collapse and a threat to public safety, according to the Department of Licenses and Inspections.

The property is owned by a seemingly-defunct charity, The Eddie Francis Cancer and Recovery Foundation of Brookhaven, set up to provide transportation for cancer patients to and from treatments. The site has a list of property code violations for trash, weeds and being an unsecured vacant building.

It sits within the Wayne Junction National Historic District, and would also be within a similar city district, if the Philadelphia Historical Commission approves an application to create one.

Amid preservation efforts

The state approved the historic district in February, part of an effort to acknowledge, preserve and potentially redevelop a group of 17 mostly-vacant commercial buildings — once factories that turned out everything from ladies’ stockings to lead pencils — built from the late 19th to mid-20th century.

The Van Straaten and Havey building is among those 17, but city officials now say it is beyond saving.

It now awaits a demolition date, after the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission historical commission signed off on a so-called “Section 106 review,” named for a section of the National Historic Preservation Act.

The reviews are triggered when federal money, in this case funds from Department of Housing and Urban Development Neighborhood Stabilization Program 2 grants that will pay for the demolition, are used on projects with historic designations.

Multi-agency review

Through an agreement, the Philadelphia Historical Commission undertakes those reviews and can seek an expedited review in some cases, said PHC executive director Jon Farnham.

“L&I made a request to demolish, and we told them that because it’s within a federal district, it needed this review,” Farnham said. In a case like this, the city commission’s job is to provide review information to the state commission, which makes the final determination.

The state’s approval came in an Aug. 21 letter, which reads in part, “It is our opinion the above referenced project will adversely affect the National Register listed Wayne Junction Historic District,” but asked for further documentation including a written history of the structure and its features, and interior and exterior photographs.

Farnham said the letter seemed ambiguous, so PHC staffers asked for, and received, clarification that demolition could proceed.

No community outcry

So far, there is no sense of any community-based move to preserve the building, despite its inclusion in the historic district. But Allison Weiss, who participates in many Germantown-based community activities, said there wasn’t any real community notice that the building was slated to come down, either.

“You don’t hear about these things until it’s in process,” Weiss said, lamenting the empty space on the street that would be left behind by a demolition. “The way people find out is by seeing things, but in this case we wouldn’t have seen anything until [the building] came down.”

Weiss said she would be interested in seeing at least the facade preserved, if possible.

NewsWorks has partnered with independent news gatherer PlanPhilly to provide regular, in-depth, timely coverage of planning, zoning and development news. Contact Amy Z. Quinn at azquinn@planphilly.com.

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