Mixed scoreboard for preservationists in 2011

    • Edison eastern wall
      Edison eastern wall
    • Olympia patch applied
      Olympia patch applied
    • Assumption convent
      Assumption convent
    • West Girard buildings
      West Girard buildings
    • N. Broad Ballet headquarters
      N. Broad Ballet headquarters
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For the preservation community, this has been a year of renewed hope for a neighborhood landmark and a waterfront icon. But other historic buildings were lost to fire and demolition.

The Philadelphia School District’s plan to close, sell or demolish underutilized school buildings was examined in February in a series of stories reported in collaboration by PlanPhilly and The Notebook, the publication that covers the school system. Preservationists and community activists responded to the District’s announcement, saying that any blueprint for closing schools should be preceded by an analysis of the building’s historical and architectural significance, potential real estate value, and role in the neighborhood.

Unfortunately, one of the 158 Philadelphia schools listed in a special thematic district on the National Register of Historic Places, the former Edison High School in North Philadelphia, was destroyed by an extensive fire in August, following years of neglect and vandalism.

In April, after months of sinking hopes for the deteriorating Cruiser Olympia, a summit was held at the Independence Seaport Museum to find a new caretaker for the historic warship. Six organizations from around the country stepped forward as potential stewards for Olympia, which needs an estimated $20 million for keep her afloat. The field was narrowed to four by the fall in the first round of the transfer process.

The Church of the Assumption, a symbol of the growing threat to vacant houses of worship, seemed headed for the wrecking ball until May, when the Board of Licenses & Inspections Review reversed the Philadelphia Historical Commission’s permission to demolish the historic building. The L&I board vote gave new impetus to the Callowhill neighbors who want to preserve the landmark, and the case moves early next year into Common Pleas Court.

In June, the Francisville neighborhood battled to save a trio of historic buildings on West Girard Avenue from a developer who wants to replace the former chapel and monastery of the Poor Clares, a contemplative order of nuns, with a new residential complex and parking. But the buildings came down in early September.

Plans announced in October for a new headquarters, dance school and rehearsal facility for the Pennsylvania Ballet on North Broad Street was met with applause from the city and arts community – and disappointment from preservationists. The proposal will renovate three buildings on the site, but will raze a building that contributes to the Callowhill Industrial Historic District on the National Register of Historic Places.

Contact the writer at .

Coming Thursday: Philadelphia Housing Authority auctions, Mantua, Parkside and Philadelphia 2035

About the author

Alan Jaffe, Contributor

Alan Jaffe has been a contributing writer for PlanPhilly since 2008, focusing on overlooked buidlings and historic preservation issues. He was a writer and editor in the newspaper industry for nearly 30 years, including eight at the Philadelphia Inquirer and nine at the South Jersey Courier-Post. He is currently the director of communications for the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society. He is also an antiques writer and collector and the author of “J. Chein & Co.: A Collector’s Guide to an American Toymaker.”

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