On one hand, it looks like a losing battle for preservationists. The five buildings on Jewelers Row that a developer wants to tear down and replace are not on the city’s Register of Historic Places, which would give them some protection from the wrecking ball. And the developer has already started pulling permits, meaning it’s legally too late to put the buildings on the register.
On the other hand, it might be just the battle that preservationists need.
Since news of the proposed development was reported by the Inquirer Thursday afternoon, advocates have jumped into action. A petition to stop the demolition, created by the Preservation Alliance for Greater Philadelphia and directed to Anne Fadullon, the city’s Director of Planning and Development, has gotten more than 400 signatures. Something called The Keeping Society of Philadelphia has popped up to lobby for protecting the city’s old architecture. Paul Steinke, who became director of the Preservation Alliance earlier this year, has encouraged people on social media to sign the petition, while others, including some unfamiliar faces in Philly’s preservation community, have noted that the loss of so much of Jewelers Row would be particularly painful.
— Paul Steinke (@paulrsteinke) August 12, 2016
Not the hugest "historic-preservation-everything" guy, but @tollbrothersinc tryin 2 knock down jewelers row is such poor move on many levels
— Nate Echeverria (@Nate_Echeverria) August 11, 2016
During the primary campaign, Mayor Jim Kenney sang all the right notes about historic preservation and signaled that he would make it a priority in his administration. But so far, he hasn’t had to put his money where his mouth is. The Philadelphia Historical Commission, which is charged with protecting historic buildings, is deeply underfunded relative to other big cities’ preservation agencies. When he was a Councilman, Kenney introduced a bill to transfer $500,000 to the commission to complete a survey of historic buildings, but that bill died when Kenney resigned to run for mayor. Advocates have been talking with the administration about ways to increase funding for the Historical Commission, but so far no proposals have come forward.
Preservationists may have no legal recourse in this case, but if Kenney sees it as a winning issue, he could use political pressure to try to get Toll Bros. to choose a different site. Even if it’s a done deal, could this be the case that focuses attention on just how much of the city’s historic architecture is at risk?
Follow @JaredBrey on Twitter.