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Philly’s neighborhoods have just been named a ‘National Treasure’

A long-term planning process to save Philly’s historic structures launched today

Amid Philly’s building boom, the National Trust for Historic Preservation hopes to help preserve the city’s historic structures.
Photo by Melissa Romero

Philly’s neighborhoods have collectively just been named a “National Treasure” by the National Trust for Historic Preservation. But what does that actually mean?

The designation of “National Treasure” means that the preservation-minded organization now has an invested interest in helping Philly amp up its historic preservation planning at a time when the city is trying to find a way for historic preservation and development to live in harmony.

“We are delighted Philadelphia is benefiting from a welcome resurgence, and its historic character is undoubtedly helping drive this trend,” said Stephanie Meeks, president and CEO of the National Trust for Historic Preservation in a statement. “But we must ensure that what makes Philly’s neighborhoods so appealing remains intact, to benefit today’s residents and to fuel tomorrow’s growth.”

The trust’s National Treasures program has identified dozens of monuments, structures, buildings, and communities throughout the U.S. that are in need of saving, including the new addition of Philly’s historic neighborhoods.

One local “National Treasure” that has a success story is the Joe Frazier Gym, a modest three-story structure at 2917 N. Broad Street, where the gold medal winner and Heavyweight Champion of the World once trained. By deeming it a “National Treasure,” the Trust was able to help raise funds to save the structure from demolition and earn it a spot on both the national and local registers of historic places.

Meeks went on to say that there are “thousands” of buildings and structures in Philadelphia that are currently unprotected and at risk amid the city’s building boom. The hope is that her organization will be able to provide its expertise to help Philly “meet the challenge” of saving potentially historic properties while promoting growth and economic development.

Courtesy of the National Trust for Historic Preservation
Courtesy of the National Trust for Historic Preservation

Top left: Girard Estates in South Philly. Top right: Jewelers Row has been in the national spotlight amid a historic preservation battle with Toll Brothers over its proposed 26-story tower. Bottom: The Germantown neighborhood is full of historic buildings.

The “National Treasure” designation comes on the heels of Mayor Jim Kenney’s establishment of a Historic Preservation Task Force earlier this year. The task force consists of more than a dozen preservationists, developers, and community stakeholders who have been tasked with updating the city’s dated preservation ordinance.

The National Trust for Historic Preservation is also on the task force, there to offer technical expertise. One specific way the organization plans to do this is through its ReUrbanism initiative, which helps streamline the process of identifying older buildings that could be good examples of adaptive reuse, through research, data, tools, and strategies.

Demolition, the organization argues, should always be the last resort.

Kenney said the designation and partnership with the National Trust for Historic Preservation and the Preservation Alliance for Greater Philadelphia is a key step to helping meet the extreme challenges that the city currently faces. “The challenge facing us is how do we balance the need for that preservation while also encouraging the growth and development we need to combat our 26 percent poverty rate.”

Philly was also named the first World Heritage City in the U.S. in 2015. Cities can only qualify for this designation if it has a UNESCO World Heritage site, which for Philly is Independence Hall.