Sunday, July 27, 2014

Joe Minardi brings Philadelphia's history and architecture together

"Historic Architecture in Philadelphia: East Falls, Manayunk, and Roxborough" | Joseph Minardi

Looking for the latest and greatest coffee table book to show off to your family, friends, and neighbors?

I'm not talking about Kramer's, "Coffee Table Book ... About Coffee Tables." I'm talking about something local, something cool, and something unique.

Joe Minardi and I met years ago when he first started to compile his latest work titled, "Historic Architecture in Philadelphia: East Falls, Manayunk, and Roxborough." Since I live in Roxborough myself, he had reached out to me about getting in touch with some of the local Myk/Rox homeowners who lived in historically significant homes. As a real estate agent, my idea was to find homes that fit within Joe's criteria and then reach out to other agents who had homes listed for sale. With the owners' permission of course, Joe started shooting Philadelphia's real estate history; one home at a time.

After Joe released his EF/Myk/Rox book in May 2014, we decided to meet up and chat about how it came to be.

Tim Garrity: What inspired you to write about Myk/Rox/EF?

Joe Minardi: This is my 3rd Philadelphia book. Each book focuses on different neighborhoods, and I've always had EF/Myk/Rox in mind as a subject. Typically, I target my books based on historic significance and architecture; it must be well preserved from the earliest period of the colonial era, up to the revival styles of the earlier 20th century. Pre-Modern architecture, is also a better way to put it. Pre-Modern encompasses a wide variety of styles in the Victorian era: Greek Revival, Early Italianate, Second Empire, and Queen Anne. These styles are mainly centered around European influences.

TG: How has this area differed from your other architecture-inspired books? In other words, what makes EF/Myk/Rox unique?

JM: The uniqueness of the EF/Myk/Rox area is its industrial past. That and the fact that many homes in the area were built with Wissahickon schist, a local stone. Over time, these homes have almost acquired an ancient aura to them. This area also has many factories/mills that have been re-purposed and modernized, which presents a story in itself. Ex-factory owners lived in the larger homes on top of the hill (aka Roxborough). Those owners really enjoyed the ruralness of the area. In Upper Roxborough and the Shawmont Valley, it's interesting to look back to Roxborough's rural period. It never developed like other parts of Philadelphia, and still remains rural today. Henry Howard Houston owned most of the land when he died in 1895. He was the one who inspired Chestnut Hill's plan and future growth. Samuel Houston, his only surviving son, built the Andorra Shopping Center (early 1950s). Which was a different model of growth.

TG: If you had to pick a favorite home/building in this book, which one would it be?

JM: (Laughs) As for a favorite, that's a tough question. If I had to pick one building, I was blown away by St. John the Baptist church in Manayunk (where Silverwood St and Rector St meet). It's probably the nicest church I have seen in Philadelphia, aside from the Cathedral Basilica of Saints Peter and Paul. Another local building to note was St. Timothy's Episcopal Church on Ridge Ave, it was magnificent! What a great church. If I had to pick one home, 347 Green Ln (owned by Louise Fischer) was my favorite. It stood out to me as it was built in the early 1900s, and it was done in the Tudor Revival style. Original plumbing fixtures, woodwork, and tile work from the 1920s. Louise refers to it as "The Great Gatsby House." There was another nice home (circa 1865) in Upper Roxborough, done in Italianate Style, and it actually had a root cellar framed in dolomite; which was amazing in itself.

TG: Aside from the home I got you into, how did you get in to shoot most of these homes?

JM: Knowing local people, which you helped with. Kay Sykora was instrumental and gave me some very good leads. Then there was good old-fashioned research. I would reach out and schedule meetings with current owners/tenants and ask, "Would you mind if I came in to do a photo shoot?" Since I am from South Philadelphia myself, I had to reach out to local, neighborhood people.

TG: Where can readers go to get their copy?

JM: It's available for purchase at The Spiral Bookcase (Manayunk), AIA Bookstore (2 Philadelphia locations), Joseph Fox Bookshop (Center City), UPenn Bookstore (University City), as well as on Amazon.com and lots of other places online.

TG: Any other Philadelphia-inspired books on the horizon?

JM: Yeah, I have some other ideas. I'm trying to come up with an appropriate title for one of my concepts, which focuses on Philadelphia's residential architecture from the late 19th century to the early 20th century, back when Philadelphia was referred to as "The Workshop of the World." The factories here made just about anything used anywhere on Earth, which grew our city and our architecture. I'm working on it.

Joe hopes that his books will inspire people to preserve what we have in Philadelphia (e.g. The Bunting House, Roxborough). He wants to give people perspective into Philadelphia's history and culture, and wants them to "rally to the cause."

If you want to help support Joe's mission, pick up a copy of his latest book as well as any of his other books.

Friday, July 18, 2014

Comprehensive planning is taking place in Northwest Philadelphia

Image courtesy of the Philadelphia City Planning Commission

That's right, my home-sweet-home.

Please bear in mind that Northwest Philadelphia is a large area (East Falls, Manayunk, Roxborough, Chestnut Hill, Mt Airy, and Germantown), which is why the Philadelphia City Planning Commission (aka PCPC) has separated NW Philadelphia into 2 sections: Upper Northwest and Lower Northwest.

The name of PCPC's comprehensive plan is called "Philadelphia 2035." It's pretty cool, so check it out when you have time.

As for these two "districts," Upper Northwest is basically any/all neighborhoods north of the Wissahickon Valley area (e.g. Chestnut Hill, Mt Airy, and Germantown), and the Lower Northwest district is any/all neighborhoods below it (e.g. East Falls, Manayunk, and Roxborough). Now if you really want to get technical, the Lower Northwest also includes smaller sections like Andorra, Shawmont Valley, and Wissahickon, but they are referred to as "enclaves" and are all part of Roxborough anyway (aka 19128).

Okay, so there's our foundation. Now let's chat about what's going on.

From a resident's standpoint, as I am one, there has been a lot of pressure from the neighborhood to stop and/or slow down some of the new construction development that has taken place over the last 10 years.

Why?

Well, there are a few reasons.

First, development in Manayunk/Roxborough (aka 19127 + 19128) has been a hotbed of activity in relation to the overall number of permits issued for the entire City of Philadelphia (see this article for more details). Second, some of the older/larger homes in Myk/Rox sit on large parcels of land. If the property needs a lot of work, it usually makes more financial sense to tear down and build multiple homes (which developers have already done, and without much/any community dialogue). Lastly, there is no comprehensive plan currently in place for developers to follow. Which basically means they can do whatever they want once the permit has been issued.

Hence, pressure from the local neighborhood.

From a real estate agent's standpoint, as I am one as well, I have a front row seat. Meaning that my daily job is to help both buyers and sellers find what it is they're looking for (a home, a rental, an investment), and explain either how it will benefit them to purchase it or not. So as both a resident and a real estate agent, I can see both sides.

How so?

Well, there are a few reasons.

First, the neighborhoods of Manayunk and Roxborough are great places to live. Biased? Maybe, but you can read more stats here that help support my opinion. Second, there is a lot of opportunity to buy Myk/Rox homes/land to live in, rent out, or rehab/build and resell. Lastly, when real estate developers look for spots to put their money (in the hopes of creating a return on their investment), there is a lot of opportunity to build new and rent/sell in both Manayunk and Roxborough.

Hence, there is opportunity in local real estate.

So as you can see, there are two sides to every story as well as pros/cons to both sides. I happen to see why both sides are doing what they're doing, which is why I choose to remain neutral on the subject.

On the one hand, I want to see my local neighborhood thrive, improve, and remain one of the best neighborhoods in all of Philadelphia. On the other hand, I don't want to see history/culture erased because money can be made.

It's a tough subject to discuss, and I welcome any/all readers to chime in with comments. I'm also always happy to answer your questions as best I can.

Once more, here is the article that inspired this post.

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Are "Innovation Districts" the key to Philadelphia's growth?


Maybe, maybe not. But here is something to think about.

As the US population continues to choose cities over suburbs, the job landscape in cities is adjusting to meet that growing demand. People today want more (and better) choices for where they live their lives, choose their jobs, and enjoy their free time.

This is where Innovation Districts come in, and cities in general.

First, let's define what an Innovation District is. According to Bruce Katz at the Brookings Institution, the definition of an ID is as follows:

"A geographic area where anchor institutions and companies cluster and connect small firms, start-ups, business incubators, and accelerators. The area is physically compact, transit-accessible, and technically wired. The options for mixed-use housing, office, and retail are all present."

The two main areas in Philadelphia that meet those criteria are Center City and University City. The Navy Yard is not far behind, but it's still lacking in the housing and retail areas (although there are plans for more of that in the near future).

To redefine, isolated campuses in the suburbs that corporations have been flocking to for decades are slowly losing their appeal. Reason being, Innovation Districts are changing the model due to both the appeal of urban areas and the need for today's corporations to collaborate more.

So, I found this cool article, saying that University City was recently recognized as 1 of 7 IDs (in the entire US) that are "on the rise." Katz from Brookings was quoted as saying, "We identified seven examples in our paper of districts to watch, and University City in Philadelphia, we think, has enormous potential, only a portion of which has been realized."

Part of the reason University City was recognized was due to its accessibility to transit, its "iconic presence," and its track record of attracting start-ups and entrepreneurs.

Good news for UC and Philadelphia!