COUNCIL APPROVES COUNCILMEMBER JOHNSON’S CHRISTIAN STREET/BLACK DOCTORS ROW DEMOLITION MORATORIUM BILL

In Council News, Kenyatta Johnson, News by PHL Council

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PHILADELPHIA,PA (June 24, 2021) – Philadelphia City Council overwhelmingly approved Bill No. 210473A, which established a temporary one-year demolition moratorium with respect to properties in the area of Christian Street between Broad and 20th Streets in South Philadelphia.

The area, known as “(Black) Doctors’ Row,” is a stretch of Christian Street settled in the 19th Century by prominent African Americans Philadelphians such as famed architect and Philadelphia native Julian Abele.  Abele (1881 – 1950) designed of more than 400 buildings nationwide, including the Philadelphia Museum of Art and Main Branch of the Philadelphia Free Library and lived on Christian St from the mid-1920s until his death in 1950 and his home still stands on the 1500 block of Christian Street.

“ I want to thank my fellow members of City Council, The South of South Neighbors Association (SOSNA) and the Preservation Alliance for Greater Philadelphia for supporting the passage of this legislation, “ Councilmember Kenyatta Johnson (2nd District) said. “Christian Street has been a historically vibrant, professional community for decades. The corridor has always been a very vibrant area and we want to make sure we maintain the cultural fabric for decades to come.”

Bill #210473A is a prelude to a permanent historic district, which preservationists say would be the city’s first based mainly on the history of Black Philadelphians. SOSNA and the Preservation Alliance for Greater Philadelphia are expected to file an application by the end of June to the Philadelphia Historical Commission asking that Christian Street between 13th and 20th Streets be deemed a Historic District.  It could take the Philadelphia Historical Commission months before making a final decision on the Black Doctors Row Historic District request.

The Black Doctors Row demolition moratorium would only last one year and would expire upon the creation of a historic district for the area.

SOSNA, Preservation Alliance and residents who live along Christian Street were strong supporters of the legislation.

“The Preservation Alliance joins SOSNA in celebrating the passage of the Christian Street demolition moratorium,” said Preservation Alliance Executive Director Paul Steinke. “We can further develop our collaboration with Councilman Johnson to rediscover the legacy of Black Doctor’s Row and the people and places that give it a special place in our city’s history.”

“After the mid-winter demolitions of three large homes on Christian Street left holes in the ground that exist to this moment, SOSNA’s Zoning and Architectural Review Committees coalesced, contacted our comrades in the Preservation community and started the conversation that led to Councilman Johnson’s office lending significant support with legislation to preserving the homes on one of the streets in our neighborhood where history was made in the Black community,” said SOSNA Zoning Chair Murray Spencer. “ This piece of legislation, and the pause on the height bonus, gives us a chance to step back, get our community involved in the conversation and move forward with plans to preserve what makes sense to architecturally preserve on the street fabric that has existed for over 100 years and hopefully for decades to come. We thank Councilman Johnson and Preservation Alliance for all their efforts on this initiative.”

The newly formed Society to Preserve Philadelphia African American Assets (SPPAAA) issued a press release recently supporting Councilmember Johnson’s plan requesting that Black Doctors Row be established as a historic district.

“Christian Street from Broad Street to 20th Street in South Philly is well known to some, but certainly not to all, that these blocks were the residences of prominent African Americans and came to be known as Black Doctors Row,” the SPPAAA statement said. “These beautiful properties are now being threatened with unnecessary demolition by speculative developers that have no regard for the historic fabric of Philadelphia. Creating a historic designation will give some hope to preserve the visibility of our legacy.”

The Black Doctors Row demolition moratorium bill would go into effect immediately upon Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney’s signature of the law.

Councilmember Johnson, a former Pennsylvania State Representative, represents the Second Council District, which includes parts of Center City, South Philadelphia, and Southwest Philadelphia.

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