Historical Commission tables Overbrook Farms historic designation discussion

    • 2525 S. Garnet St.
      2525 S. Garnet St.
    • 2525 S. Garnet St.
      2525 S. Garnet St.
    • 1617 Lombard St.
      1617 Lombard St.
    • 1617 Lombard St.
      1617 Lombard St.
    • 256-58 S. 20th St.
      256-58 S. 20th St.
    • 256-58 S. 20th St.
      256-58 S. 20th St.
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Despite getting off to a slow start — a contentious 40-minute look at some exterior renovations to a Girard Estate home — today's meeting of the Historical Commission wrapped up its year in speedy order.

In addition to the the South Philly proposal, Commissioners considered just one other case, some substantial alterations to a building in the Rittenhouse Fitler Historical District; returned briefly to old business; and examined issues surrounding the creation of an Overbrook Farms Historic District.

The Girard Estate case, at 2525 Garnet Street, had consumed a great deal of time at last month's Architectural Committee meeting, too, with the Committee recommending denial of the applicants' requests to restucco the house and to replace its terra cotta tiled roof with a synthetic substitute. At today's meeting, Jonathan Farnham, executive director of the Commission, offered that the staff, from previous tours of the neighborhood, does recognize that saving or reusing the area's distinctive roof tiles is not often feasible.

Commissioner Dominique Hawkins, chair of the Architectural Committee, appeared to soften the stance of the Architectural Committee, conceding the point on the roof and suggesting that the applicant be allowed to restucco over the existing stucco on the side and rear of his home but not to do so on the front of the house.

There, she said, he should remove or repair existing stucco so the home's profile would match its neighboring twin. When no one seconded her motion, another one, including approval of the restuccoing of the entire house, was put forth and eventually approved, with Hawkins the only hold-out.

The Commission next heard the case of 1617 Lombard Street, where applicants presented revised plans that closely followed the Architectural Committee's recommendations, which it had offered to the applicants while denying the requests they had brought to the Committee meeting. In light of those changes, Hawkins motioned for approval, and the alterations — with a new cornice, new balconies and planters, scored stucco, and other details — were given the go-ahead.

In a return to old business, the Commission denied the legalization of an awning that spans two buildings at 256-258 S. 20th Street.

Finally, Farnham introduced a request by City Councilman Curtis Jones to table the Commission's review of a nomination to place the neighborhood of Overbrook Farms on the historic register.

Commission chair Sam Sherman, Jr., acknowledged that the designation progress has been ongoing since 2004 and that a lot of the stakeholders may have changed and so more time might be needed for residents to understand the ramifications of designation.

Commissioner Richardson Dilworth III, Chair of the Committee on Historical Designation, praised this nomination, as “hands-down,” the best such proposal he's seen, but concurred that residents seem to need more time.

The packed house that filled the Commission's meeting room attested to that, with a grumbling crowd clamoring for less whispering among those at the table, more information from everyone, and relief from the restraints that they must contend with even as designation is considered.

(On the latter point, Farnham reminded everyone that a city ordinance rules that districts under consideration for historic designation are automatically subject to the jurisdiction of the Commission.)

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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