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October 21, 2016

Two Jewelers Row properties recommended for Historic Register

Historic Preservation Jewelers Row
Jewelers row Sept 17 Hayden Mitman/PhillyVoice

The Jewelers Row structures that could be made part of the Philadelphia Historic Register: 704 and 706-08 Sansom Street, as seen last week. Windows in 704 Sansom Street host signs for an online petition protesting their proposed demolition.

Two Jewelers Row buildings might soon be protected from demolition after a Philadelphia Historical Commission committee voted unanimously Friday morning to nominate them to the city's Register of Historic Places.

The properties — 704 and 706-08 Sansom St. — were recommended for preservation by the committee's designation committee and will be voted on by the full commission on Nov. 10.

The properties had been nominated for the Historic Register by Paul Steinke, executive director of the Preservation Alliance for Greater Philadelphia. Speaking to the committee, Steinke noted the history of 706-08 Sansom St., a publishing house, and 704 Sansom St., an electrotype foundry, both developed by publisher Henry C. Lea in the late 1800s. 

Toll Brothers' —a Horsham, Montgomery County-based real estate company — plans to build a 16-story, 80-unit residential building at 7th and Sansom streets. It seeks to demolish five structures – including 702 and 710 Sansom, and 128 S. Seventh St. – on the southeast corner to make way for the project.

If two structures are added to the Historic Register, however, every stage of development would need to be approved by the PHC before moving forward. And the buildings could not be demolished. 

After Friday's meeting, Steinke said he was pleased with the decision and noted he would be happy to work with Toll Brothers to build a tower without any demolition.

"We don't want to rule anything out, except demolition of these buildings," he said. "We believe Jewelers Row deserves preservation."

He said the developer still needs to obtain demolition permits and would need to present the plans to the community for review. So far, Steinke said, he hasn't seen any proposed plan for the development. 

But attorney Michael Phillips, speaking for Roberto Pupo, owner of the property at 706-708 Sansom, said a petition opposing the preservation of the properties has been signed by 27 property owners in the neighborhood.

"This isn't the first place in Philadelphia where publishing was performed," Phillips argued. 

Pupo told the committee the Toll Brothers project would be a positive development that could kickstart a stalled economy for the Row. 

"We are looking forward to something to bring the economy back to Jewelers Row," said Pupo. "We need something to generate business. The internet is stealing it all." 

Steinke has a petition of his own, however, which he told the committee has more than 6,700 signatures in support of saving the properties from the wrecking ball. On Friday, members of the committee seemed to agree for the need for preservation. 

Committee member Jeffrey Cohen argued the entire block of Sansom Street between 7th and 8th streets deserves to be recognized for the impact its architectural design has had on the entire city. 

"This block, when it was built, essentially set the rhythm for development in Philadelphia," he said. 

In defending the plan to demolish these properties, Toll Bros. attorney Carl Primavera quoted Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin. 

"In order to make an omelette, you've got to break a few eggs," he argued. 

When the committee allowed members of the audience to step forward, Jane Theis, who has lived on the block for more than four decades, said the demolition would destroy important remnants of Philadelphia history. 

"Once it's gone, it's gone forever," she said.