Historical Commission denies Old City townhouses

Thanks to the postponement of a complicated application from developer Bart Blatstein that involves the individually-designated McIlhenny mansion, Friday's meeting of the Philadelphia Historical Commission was short and sweet.

The biggest case was brought before the Commission for review and comment only, since its jurisdiction is limited because the project concerns a currently-vacant lot in the Old City historic district.

The applicants (Susan Uhl, Landmark Architectural Design) propose to construct three five-story, single-family townhouses with garages and curb cuts on the 200 block of Arch Street.

Commissioner David Schaaf of the Philadelphia City Planning Commission commented that the garages offer an "opaque gesture to what is a really rich pedestrian environment," and Commissioner Robert Thomas echoed those sentiments, saying the development works "against" the district.

The fact that the applicants claimed to have received the necessary streets and zoning approvals were irrelevant, said Thomas. For good measure, Schaaf added that the plan presented the "worst case scenario" from Planning's standpoint. The Commission unanimously voted to comment in agreement with the Architectural Committee.

The meeting began with a proposal to replace non-historic doors at the Walnut Street entrance of the individually-designated Bellevue Stratford Hotel (now known as the Park Hyatt). Following revisions, based on the suggestions of the Commission's Architectural Committee that the new doors have bronze frames and that no historical flooring be removed, the application received unanimous final approval, with staff to review details.  

The last application of the morning concerned the legalization of a roof deck on an 1870 vintage property at 1636 Spruce St. in the Rittenhouse-Fitler historic district. The Commission unanimously voted to deny the legalization.

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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