Demolition permits have been filed for a vacant three-story prewar rowhouse at 1937 West Norris Street in North Philadelphia West. The former single-family dwelling stands on the north side of the block between North 19th Street and North 20th Street and will be torn down as part of the City of Philadelphia Demolition Program at a cost of $16,961. The City of Philadelphia owns the property. Thomas Curran is the listed contractor.
In addition to demolition, the job will include an erosion control mat with seed on lot, cleaning and grading of the adjacent lot at 1935 West Norris Street, and replacement of the sidewalk in front of both properties. No stucco will be added to the future exposed wall of the adjacent building at 1939 West Norris Street, likely because the structure is also vacant and subject to future demolition.
The building is a typical Philadelphia rowhouse, with a brick exterior, sash windows with stone sills and lintels, a raised ground floor, and a decorated cornice. What separates it from many of its contemporaries is subtle yet refined decoration. Courses of ornamental stonework, dimensionally articulated yet set flush within the façade, run between each floor. Webbed-spoke roundels and quatrefoils are set within square blocks at the junction with the adjacent building. The cornice is lined with classically styled courses such as dentil and egg-and-dart, spaced by minor ribbed brackets that lend a vertical element to the horizontal composition.
Though the building’s design was rather average for its period, such attention to detail surpasses most contemporary construction, so its destruction is unfortunate, especially since its blank side wall features a glass mosaic in the style of the Village of Arts and Humanities, a local art icon and a unique example of urban adaptive reuse. However, the dilapidated and boarded up rowhouse, with a cracked façade, extensive vine overgrowth, and likely interior damage due to exposure to the elements for over a decade, likely makes restoration unfeasible. In addition, the building is a part of a block-long rowhouse ensemble, meaning that the style would remain preserved in its neighbors, though many of its counterparts are also vacant and thus vulnerable to future demolition.
YIMBY hopes that the remaining vacant prewar buildings on the block can be rehabilitated for residential use. Fortunately, this prospect remains plausible, as the surrounding area is in the midst of a two-decade-long development boom due to its proximity to Temple University and its ever-increasing need for student housing as well as job opportunities available for nearby residents. The university is located within a 10-minute walk to the east.
Local historic landmarks further enhance the area’s allure. One such structure is the Church of the Advocate, a National Historic Landmark built at 1801 West Diamond Street several blocks to the northeast in 1887-1897 in an imposing Gothic Revival style. The church played a role in the Civil Rights movement of the mid-twentieth century.
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