The Philadelphia Register of Historic Places is a list of buildings, structures, sites, objects, districts, and public interiors that have been recognized by the Philadelphia Historical Commission for their architectural or historic significance. The Historical Commission is the City agency responsible for designating properties to the Philadelphia Register and for reviewing changes to listed properties. A property listed on the Philadelphia Register is protected from unsympathetic alteration or unnecessary demolition.
What is protected?
More than 10,000 historic buildings are included on the Philadelphia Register, either listed individually or as part of local historic districts. A property or district must meet at least one of ten criteria to be listed. Properties with historical, architectural, cultural, or archeological significance are all eligible for protection under the city’s Historic Preservation Ordinance. Including individual condominium units, the Historical Commission monitors over 20,000 properties across the city.
An historic district is an area where changes to any property within its designated boundaries are reviewed by the Historical Commission. Philadelphia currently has fifteen historic districts of varying sizes. Some contain only a few dozen properties; others contain thousands. Historic districts have been proven to stabilize property values and encourage community pride.
In general, listing on the Philadelphia Register affects only the exterior portions of buildings as seen from the public right-of-way. The Commission does not normally review or prevent changes to building interiors, unless those changes also impact the exterior of the property. However, in 2009, Philadelphia’s City Council passed an ordinance allowing the Historical Commission to designate building interiors originally designed to be publicly accessible. Since then, two such interiors have been added to the Philadelphia Register. Click here to learn more about interior designations.
The designation process
Anybody can nominate a building, structure, site, object, district, or interior to the Philadelphia Register of Historic Places. The Preservation Alliance for Greater Philadelphia publishes a free guide, How to Nominate an Individual Building, Structure, Site or Object to the Philadelphia Register of Historic Places, and provides technical assistance to individuals and organizations who would like to complete a nomination. Completed nominations are submitted to the staff of the Philadelphia Historical Commission, who review them along with a special designation committee before a final vote by the full Historical Commission. All committee and commission meetings are open to the public, and participation from property owners and neighbors is encouraged. However, owner consent is not required for a property to be designated.
If your property is included on the Philadelphia Register of Historic Places, the Historical Commission must approve any work that requires a building permit or that alters the exterior appearance of a property. The Department of Licenses and Inspections refers all permit applications for designated properties to the Historical Commission for review; most applications are approved by staff in three days or less. However, more substantive changes (requests for additions, major alterations, demolitions, etc.) are also reviewed by an architectural committee and the full Historical Commission to ensure that the proposed work is appropriate. The Historical Commission follows the Secretary of the Interior’s Standards in evaluating proposed changes to designated properties. These guidelines were developed by the National Parks Service and are used by city and state governments nationwide to guide the rehabilitation of historic structures. The Commission has also developed internal guidelines to evaluate specific conditions common in Philadelphia. These are included in the Commission’s Rules and Regulations. To help property owners understand and successfully complete the historical review process, the Preservation Alliance publishes a free guide, How To Navigate the Historical Review Process in Philadelphia.
What is listed?
How do you know if a property is included on the Philadelphia Register? The Philadelphia Historical Commission maintains an online spreadsheet of designated properties. The Preservation Alliance has also developed an interactive map that includes individually designated properties and historic districts. Please note: this map is not an official record of the Philadelphia Register and is presented for illustrative purposes only. To confirm whether a property is listed, please contact the Philadelphia Historical Commission directly.
Listing on the Philadelphia Register of Historic Places is not the same as listing on the National Register of Historic Places or inclusion in a local conservation district, nor are sites with blue Pennsylvania historical markers necessarily listed on the Philadelphia Register. Click on the links above for more information on these other programs.