Historic Designation and Protection

Historic designation and protection is a tricky subject in the realm of preservation. In Philadelphia, there are nationally- and locally-listed historic properties. Nationally-listed historic properties include National Historic Landmarks (NHL) and those listed in the National Register of Historic Places (NRHP), including individual resources and historic districts. Unfortunately,  even in Philadelphia, not all NHLs  or NRHP-listed resources are locally protected, which is why many Philadelphians are surprised when buildings they knew to be officially “historic” are demolished. NHL-status is the highest national distinction in terms of designation; however, Philadelphia retains several resources that remain unprotected. The NRHP includes resources that are nationally historically significant  on a national, state, or local level. There are roughly 20,000 resources in Philadelphia that are listed in the NRHP. There are also likely hundreds of NRHP-eligible properties that are not listed. While this sounds like allot, 20,000 buildings is about 5% of Philadelphia’s built environment. About of half of these properties may be altered and/or demolished with no oversight whatsoever. 

Local designation is the primary method for protecting historic properties in Philadelphia. The Philadelphia Register of Historic Places (PRHP) is administered by the Philadelphia Historical Commission (PHC) and its professional staff. Less than half of the NRHP-listed properties are locally protected by the PHC. This means that these individual properties and/or districts have not been added to the PRHP. There are roughly 10,000 historic properties protected by the City of Philadelphia through the PHC and the PRHP. This accounts for between 2-3% of the local built environment.

Unprotected Historic Properties in Philadelphia:

The following National Historic Landmarks and/or their contributing resources may be demolished with no oversight:

The Colonial Germantown Historic District

Germantown Avenue Historic District 1966 and Germantown Avenue Historic District 1987

Kirkbride’s Hospital, West Philadelphia

The Institute of the Pennsylvania Hospitaly

*Correction:

We are happy to learn from the Philadelphia Historical Commission that Girard College is locally protected. There was a technological error within the mapping system, which made it appear undesignated.