Historical Commission approves Family Court and A.J. Reach designations

In a relatively brief meeting on Friday, the Philadelphia Historical Commission reviewed just five cases, none of significant public impact. In a short discussion following its regular meeting, the Commission also commented, approvingly, on two recent national register nominations: the Family Court Building (1941) on the 1800 block of Vine Street and part of the A.J. Reach Sporting Goods Company complex (1880) in Fishtown.

At the start of the meeting, Commission executive director, Jonathan Farnham, noted that plans for the most significant site up for review, the Shirt Corner Plus corner, had been satisfactorily revised to meet the Architectural Commission’s recommendations and was thus added to the consent agenda.

The meeting began with a brief examination of plans to remove the pool wing of the individually designated Overbook School for the Blind. In introducing the case, Farnham encouraged the Commission to consider whether the applicants — who contend that the wing has deteriorated too much to maintain — were asking to “demolish” or merely “alter.” The Commission unanimously approved the work, viewing it as an alteration.

It next considered revised plans for the removal of a 1952 addition to an individually designated building at 1903 Spring Garden St. (1873), a large row home that has been used as a church and is being converted into a multi-family dwelling of seven units. The Architectural Committee had recommended approval of renovations to the building’s facade, but asked for more details on work planned for the rear. With Farnham’s assurance that such supplemental information had been satisfactorily provided, the Commission granted the project its unanimous approval.

In the absence of an appearance by the owner or applicants for the individually designated property at 1027-31 Arch Street, the Commission followed the Architecture Committee’s recommendations and voted to deny the requested legalization of storefront windows and the installation of new awnings.

The last two applications concerned Civil War-ear residential projects in the Rittenhouse Fitler Residential Historic District. In a familiar story, the owners of a two-story, 1,000-square-foot home sought approval for a 300-square-foot third floor addition. Commission staff member Randal Baron reported that he had visited the site and found that such an addition would be “visible and conspicious.” The applicants’ contended that that was not the case and pointed out that they had lowered the profile of the addition since originally presenting the idea. The Commission approved the work, with Commissioner JoAnn Jones the lone holdout.

The morning’s last case was also its longest, as the Commission indulged the owner of a home at the corner of 18th and Delancy as she put forth a lenghty tale of setbacks and frustrations in dealing with the building. Commission co-chairs Sara Merriman and Sam Sherman at last attempted to steer her presentation to a conclusion with the suggestion that the Commission deny this specific request to continue renovations on the building and to construct an addition and to find a competent architect who would work with staff on developing a satisfactory plan for the overhaul of the building. That motion passed unanimously.

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