There have been over 2,000 demolitions in Philadelphia since 2006 with almost no oversight.

UNDESIGNATED, HISTORIC PHILADELPHIA

The following statistics were provided to the City of Philadelphia by the National Trust for Historic Preservation in September 2017:

Local Designation (the Philadelphia Register of Historic Places):

  • Protected Philadelphia: 2.2% of the built environment of Philadelphia is locally designated and protected from alteration and/or demolition.
  • Protection Nationally: 4.3% is the national, 50-city average in terms of cities and the protection of their historic fabric.

The Demolition of Tourison’s Hall (1904), a Contributing Resource in the National Historic Landmark: Germantown Avenue Historic District.

National Designation (the National Register of Historic Places):

  • Philadelphia’s National Register of Historic Places (NRHP) Stats: 4.2% of the built environment in Philadelphia is listed in the NRHP.
  • Comparison of NRHP Stats Nationwide:  6.8% of the built environment is the 50-city average when looked at nationwide.

Philadelphia’s Built Environment (more stats):

  • Philadelphia has the 3rd most total buildings (1. NYC and 2. Los Angeles).
  • Philadelphia has the 2nd most buildings constructed before 1945 (1. NYC).
  • Philadelphia’s density ranks 1st in having the highest average of “building parcels per square mile” (4,078).

Development:

Historic Tax Credits

  • Philadelphia has higher than average Historic Tax Credit activity with 296 projects between 2001-2015.
  • Philadelphia ranks 3rd in the use of Historic Tax Credits  (1. New Orleans and 2. Baltimore)
  • Philadelphia, ranking 4th, has seen $1.9B in private investment leveraged through the use of Historic Tax Credits (1. St. Louis, 2. Chicago, and 3. NYC)

Looking northwest at Germantown Avenue. Much of the historic fabric shown in this view was demolished by the City of Philadelphia over the last 30 years, despite the fact that Germantown Avenue is one of two National Historic Landmark Historic Districts in Philadelphia.

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.