Historical Commission talks signs

Between several consent agenda items and a few withdrawn applications, today's Historical Commission Meeting was remarkably brief.

After commissioners reviewed the remaining residential applications for about 15 minutes, Chair Sam Sherman, Jr. turned to a planned discussion on signage decisions as they pertain to historic buildings.

Jonathan Farnham, executive director of the Commission, began by reviewing the relevant standards, then opened the floor to questions and comments from commissioners.

Architectural Committee chair, Dominique Hawkins, citing her experience in drafting design guidelines for cities like New Orleans and Oak Park, IL, conceded that while "signage is a huge issue," most  commercial buildings were designed with places for signs.

She also pointed out that  less than five percent -- the problem cases --of the signage applications that the staff reviews actually get passed on to commissioners, "which means," she added, "that the staff is doing a really great job."

Several other commissioners chimed in with observations on issues of aesthetics and content before Sherman adjourned the meeting.

The Zoning Code Commission resolution today specifically requested that the Planning Commission work on the signs section between now and the effective date of the new code (which is eight months after the date Council finally approves it and Mayor Nutter signs it).

It is possible that modifications to the sign rules will tighten up some sign sizes, locations, etc., in which case the number of sign cases that come before the Historical Commission could decrease, as fewer signs would be offensive to its mandate.

Contact the reporter at and follow her on Twitter @joanngreco

About the author

JoAnn Greco, writer

JoAnn Greco writes about parks and recreation, preservation, public space, and architecture for PlanPhilly. Her articles on design, cities, and the built environment have appeared in National Geographic Traveler, Washington Post, Canada's Globe and Mail, National Parks, Metropolis, Interiors, Art & Antiques,, Planning, Next American City, Urban Land, and Hospitality Design. In addition, she has written for dozens of other consumer, custom, and trade outlets, from Brides to The Wall Street Journal, from AARP to Wine Enthusiast. She also owns and edits, an online magazine dedicated to urban destinations.

JoAnn was born in Brooklyn, New York and moved to Philadelphia in 1991. She has lived in Rittenhouse Square, Old City, and now owns a home in Bella Vista.

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