About Amerisurv| Contact    
Magazine | Newsletter    
Flickr Photos | Advertise    
HomeNewsNewsletterAmerisurv DirectoryJobsStoreAuthorsHistoryArchivesBlogVideosEvents

Sponsored By

Software Reviews
Continuing Series
An RTN expert provides everything you need to know about network-corrected real-time GNSS observations.
Click Here to begin the series,
or view the Article PDF's Here
76-PageFlip Compilation
of the entire series
Test Yourself

Got Answers?
Test your knowledge with NCEES-level questions.
  Start HERE
Meet the Authors
Check out our fine lineup of writers. Each an expert in his or her field.
Wow Factor
Sponsored By

Product Reviews
Partner Sites







Spatial Media LLC properties




Home arrow Archives   The American Surveyor     

Vantage Point: When Saving Is Not Equal to Preserving Print E-mail
Written by Wendy Lathrop, LS, CFM   
Sunday, 15 March 2009

A 185Kb PDF of this article as it appeared in the magazine—complete with images—is available by clicking HERE

We try to "save" buildings for many reasons­to save a slice of history that happened there, to reflect life as it used to be, to save samples of a famous architect's work, and sometimes just for their sheer beauty. But what does it mean to "preserve" a building? Does it mean to freeze it in time as it now exists, or to strip away modernizations that have obscured earlier and more historically accurate conditions? Can it involve adaptive reuses that require some new construction?

After leaving home at age 18, I have never again lived in another 1950s era development. My college campus began as a few buildings in the Michigan hinterlands in 1835, and my first house, bought in 1980, was an 1890 Victorian fixer upper. I much preferred older structures to the "little boxes made of ticky-tacky" that Pete Seeger sang about in 1963, even if it meant uneven floors and knob and tube wiring. The tall ceilings and chestnut baseboards of my house, which overlooked the Delaware River from across a tree-lined Trenton street, inspired in me a willingness to learn how to undertake the necessary carpentry and masonry to keep my brownstone and brick duplex functional as well as elegant. At the end of 16 years, the fixing was complete, but I sold it to move into another old house (vintage 1920) as a newlywed.

While I had bought my Victorian because it was affordable (as well as attractive and well located), current arguments for saving older buildings from the wrecking ball emphasize preservation as the ultimate recycling project. Historic status of a building by itself usually cannot save it, but in many cases rehabilitation and reuse can reclaim it from demolition that would make room for new and less interesting construction.

Just down the road from my current house (vintage 1908), a neighborhood organization has won a legal battle that defines the distinction between "saving" a historic building from destruction and preserving it. The masonry building at 3 Rector Street (vintage 1870s, originally offices for the A. Campbell Manufacturing Company's Union Mill) is part of a warren of textile mills that stretched along the Manayunk Canal dating from the height of Philadelphia's industrial boom that began in the 1820s. Main Street, running parallel to the canal, experienced rapid revitalization in the 1980s as restaurants and new businesses moved into storefronts lining this thoroughfare, and in the next decade developers began pushing for residential use of the island on the other side of the canal. The history of the area was threatened as older structures in the neighborhood were deemed too costly to rehabilitate or just not suitable for the more modern designs of their new owners.

But this section of Philadelphia relies on its roots as a mill town for its charm, and when plans to raze the structure at 3 Rector Street, which is on the Philadelphia Historic Register, were presented to the city's Historic Commission in June 2005, the Manayunk Neighborhood Council (MNC) protested the loss of ambience that forms the heart of the historic district in the community. Although the architect argued that there was no viable use for the structurally sound building, it was clear that much of the basis for that claim was that the owner's asking price was too high. After much debate about its authority and jurisdiction, the Historic Commission denied the proposal for demolition and erection of a new four-story 17-unit condominium.

The developers appealed the Historical Commission's denial to the Philadelphia Board of Building, which upheld the denial. The developers' next step was to file an appeal with the city's Licenses and Inspections Review Board but withdrew before any hearings. They then went on to propose construction on top of the existing building, presumably to "preserve" the historic structure­—a five-story vertical addition as an "overbuild" plan that the neighborhood group vehemently opposed once renderings showed dramatic differences from the original conceptual plan that the Historical Commission had supported in June 2006.

Thus began the battle of the neighborhood against the city. The developer fought to eliminate MNC from the fray, arguing that the citizens had no standing in the matter as they were "not an aggrieved party and suffered no injury" (they only lived there and would have to look at the mutant structure, but had no other interests). The councilman for the Ward even fought his own constituents.

Amidst disputes about which of Philadelphia's review boards had jurisdiction and which of its many rules, regulations, and codes should apply to the case, heated discussions abounded regarding zoning, planning, land use overlays, historical review, architectural review, and economic hardship (due to the overwhelming competition of Home Depot to the hardware store at 3 Rector Street). Oversight overlaps and gaps are common in a city that has not had a master plan for forty years, giving lots of room for conflicting interpretations of who can do what, and when.

In the end, the local residents had an early Christmas present in the form of a Commonwealth Court (appellate) decision in their favor, reversing the Court of Common Pleas and overturning all prior approvals related to the proposed project.

Returning to the questions I posed at the start of this article, one has to question "preservation" of the historic structure when looking at the artist's rendering of the proposed residential conversion. The image surely qualifies as what Old House Journal refers to as "remuddling." Alien-like, the five-story glass and brick structure erupts from the roofline of a modest structure to tower over its neighbors.

The confusion and conflict between different city agencies' regulations and rulings hardly presents a unified vision of how the cityscape should look, and largely ignores the citizens most closely affected by changes. Having to resort to the courts is an expensive way to promote consistent planning, and hardly fair. But it is probably not unusual, either. Master planning is sorely needed in many communities, including a thorough review of consistency between the rules issued by their various departments and agencies. Without it, citizens, surveyors, and developers are left with moving targets and unclear objectives.

Author Note: Additional images on the web for those interested in historic maps of the site in this article:

The building in question appears at the southeast corner of Robeson Street and the canal in the 1894 Hexamer General Survey of this site (Volume 29, Plates 2816-2817) published by Greater Philadelphia GeoHistory Network at www.philageohistory.org/rdic-images/view-image.cfm/ HGSv29.2816-2817

For a view of the magnitude of mills along the Manayunk Canal in 1875, just prior to the construction of the building discussed in this article, see the Schofield site just east of the Blantyre Mills along Robeson Street at the canal on Plate A of the City Atlas of Philadelphia (Vol. 2, Wards 21 and 28), published by Greater Philadelphia GeoHistory Network at www.philageohistory.org/rdicimages/view-image.cfm/GMH1875. PhilaWards21_28.005.PlateA

Wendy Lathrop is licensed as a Professional Land Surveyor in NJ, PA, DE, and MD, and has been involved since 1974 in surveying projects ranging from construction to boundary to environmental land use disputes. She is a Professional Planner in NJ, and a Certified Floodplain Manager through ASFPM. 

A 185Kb PDF of this article as it appeared in the magazine—complete with images—is available by clicking HERE

< Prev

 American Surveyor Recent Articles
Thought Leader: Land is Too Important to Be Left to Land Specialists
A while back I was searching the Internet for an old treatise on land titles. A Google query yielded a book published in 1914. The author was Charles Claudius Kagey and the book was titled "Land Survey and Land Titles, a book for boys and girls, a reference volume for property owners, a text ....
Read the Article
Jason E. Foose, PS 
Decided Guidance: Wacker vs. Price - Irony in Sevenfold
This month's case takes us to Phoenix, Arizona in 1950. The Arizona Supreme Court went all guns-a-blazin' in Wacker vs. Price (216 P.2d 707 (Ariz. 1950)). Maybe it's just me, but I'm sensing plenty of irony and have taken license to point it out along the way. I like what the Court did with this case ....
Read the Article
Allen E. Cheves 
Around the Bend - A Visit to Carlson Software
The Ohio River is one of America's greatest, running near 1,000 miles between Pittsburgh and the Mighty Mississippi. Much of the coal and other products that fueled our nation's industrial expansion flowed between the shores of this maritime ....
Read the Article
Lee Lovell, PS 
Surveying & Mapping Economics Part 3 - Customers & Services
This article continues an inquiry into the economic conditions of the Surveying and Mapping industry (NAICS 541370) using data from the U.S. Census Bureau. This time we will look at customers and services. The data comes from the Economic Census conducted every 5 years on American ....
Read the Article
Jerry Penry, PS 
True Elevation: Black Elk Peak
Black Elk Peak, located in the Black Hills region of South Dakota, is the state's highest natural point. It is frequently referred to as the highest summit in the United States east of the Rocky Mountains. Two other peaks, Guadalupe Peak in Texas and ....
Read the Article
Larry Trojak 
Bringing The Goods - Mobile Scanning an Integral Component
When Jim Smith, Jerrad Burns and Charlie Patton left the Memphis division of a major construction company in 2015, they took with them the knowledge of how to get even the most complex jobs done and what equipment could best serve them in making that happen. So when they joined West ....
Read the Article
Lee Lovell, PS 
Test Yourself 41: Integers, Integers, and Integers
ABF is a 5:12:13 triangle, ACF is a 48:55:73 triangle, ADF is a 3:4:5 triangle, and AEF is a 7:24:25 triangle, all with integer sides and inscribed in a semi-circle. What are the lengths of BC, CD, and DE? ....
Read the Article
Wendy Lathrop, PS, CFM 
Vantage Point: Sunset or Sunrise?
While we often think of legislated government programs as static, they do change over time. Such evolution and opportunity for transformation are part of the dialogue in reauthorizing these programs. Every so many years there is a sunset on each government program, and this September is the ....
Read the Article


Amerisurv Exclusive Online-only Article ticker
Featured Amerisurv Events
List Your Event Here
contact Amerisurv


JAVAD Intros
Spoofer Buster

press [at] amerisurv.com
Online Internet Content


News Feeds

Subscribe to Amerisurv news & updates via RSS or get our Feedburn
xml feed

Need Help? See this RSS Tutorial

Historic Maps

post a job
Reach our audience of Professional land surveyors and Geo-Technology professionals with your GeoJobs career ad. Feel free to contact us if you need additional information.


Social Bookmarks

Amerisurv on Facebook 

Amerisurv LinkedIn Group 

Amerisurv Flickr Photos 

Amerisurv videos on YouTube 



The American Surveyor © All rights reserved / Privacy Statement
Spatial Media LLC
905 W 7th St #331
Frederick MD 21701
301-695-1538 - fax