In a major win for historic preservation in Philadelphia, the Historical Commission established the Ridge Avenue Thematic Historic District in 2018. The nomination, which was written by commission staff, reads like a history book and traces the history of Roxborough back to the days when Ridge Avenue was a Native American trail called Perkiomen Path, and provides countless fascinating nuggets about one of our favorite streets in Philadelphia. In all, this historic district includes 188 properties, the vast majority of which were not previously protected. These properties run across miles of Ridge Avenue, from Lincoln Drive almost to the northwest edge of the city.
As we’ve detailed numerous times, inclusion on the local historic register means that any desired renovation or construction needs the blessing of the Historical Commission. And so, today we can share a plan to renovate 6712 Ridge Ave., a building constructed in the Late Victorian style that dates back to around 1890. In its day, it was surely a very attractive building, with a slate 3rd floor mansard and a nice looking second floor bay. But over the years, this poor building has been altered quite a bit, with the vinyl-clad first floor bump out a rather egregious sin. For many years, Roxborough Animal Hospital has operated out of this building, utilizing not only the structure but also the sizable parking area in the rear.
Ridge Avenue has plenty of commercial uses in this area, with the Jiffy Lube next door as a fine example, so a vet at this location has certainly made sense over the years. But the owners are seeking to go in a new direction, and want to renovate the existing building into a triplex. This work will entail repairing the roof, restoring the existing trim, repairing the stucco on the side of the building, expanding and replacing the windows in the front, and swapping out the vinyl in the front for something better. Assuming the owners are willing to install appropriate windows, the Historical Commission staff likes the plan.
But wait, there’s more! As we noted above, the building sits on a huge lot, most of which has been used for parking for decades. But you know the drill, surface parking is never the highest and best use for a property, especially with so little density. So the plans are also to eliminate parking from a portion of the rear of the property and build a new four-story apartment building with 15 units. The new building, designed by Ambit, will look different from the historic building on the site, but will be “compatible in massing, size, scale, and architectural features.” Therefore, the Historical Commission staff is on board with the new building as well.
This certainly seems like a big step up for this property, as it will result in the renovation of a property that was looking worse for the wear after 130 years as well as the addition of a bunch of units in a tasteful fashion. If not for the historic district, we have no doubt that the existing building would have been demolished and we’d be seeing a project here with similar density but far less architectural interest. We don’t know how many other properties in the district will have a similar condition in the future, but in this specific case at least, it feels like a great outcome all the way around.