Ode to the Philadelphia Rowhouse


Fitzwater Street, Queen Village

THERE’S A HUGE, TELLING DIFFERENCE between New York City and Philadelphia in terms of how each values and regards its vernacular architecture.

It’s hard to imagine NYC’s Department of Housing Preservation and Development putting out something as enlightened as the Philadelphia Planning Commission’s well-designed and -written Philadelphia Rowhouse Manual: A Practical Guide for Homeowners, published in 2008 in conjunction with the city’s Office of Housing and Community Development and the National Trust for Historic Preservation.

It’s available free by downloading as a PDF (links below) or in print for $10/copy from the Center for Architecture, 1216 Arch Street.

Philadelphia Rowhouse Manual: A Practical Guide for Homeowners
(Download Color: 4.4MB PDF File)
(Download B&W:  3.3MB PDF File)

Thanks to Townhouse Lady for alerting me to this fascinating and useful publication, intended to encourage the renovation and development of Philly’s sprawling rowhouse stock.

There are descriptions of the various kinds of rowhouses, from the diminutive, endemic-to-Philadelphia working-class trinity to the elegant, large-scale townhouses of Society Hill; a bit of history; a fair amount of how-to (e.g. fitting a sink and toilet into a a 5’x5′ space); floor plans; information on mechanicals, structure, and energy-efficiency; maintenance to-do lists; resources, and more.

There’s a detailed review here.

From the intro:

In 2003, the City of Philadelphia was selected to
participate in the National Trust for Historic
Preservation’s Preservation Development Initiative
(PDI). Funded by the John S. and James L. Knight
Foundation, PDI focused on demonstrating the
importance of preservation as a core component
of neighborhood revitalization.
A Comprehensive Preservation Assessment noted
that almost all of the neighborhoods in Philadelphia,
from Mount Airy to Pennsport, are defined by their
rowhouse streetscapes. As a building type, the rowhouse
offers many advantages, but when neglected or poorly
maintained, it deprives homeowners of value. It also
affects the homes nearby. This manual is one of
many projects aimed at celebrating the Philadelphia
rowhouse, helping people understand their value
(in terms of both history and livability), and aiding
rowhouse inhabitants in adapting and maintaining
them as a great model for 21st century urban living.
Philadelphia is a city of rowhouses. Their constant
revitalization and adaptation illustrates the viability
of the city. We don’t cook in basement fireplaces or
use backyard privies as the earliest rowhouse residents
did, but the houses have proven to be so adaptable
that we’ve been able to make them congenial to
the 21st century, even with vastly different family
structures, social ideals, and technology. The intent
of this manual is to help residents value the history
and legacy of the rowhouse and its future as a
comfortable, community-enhancing, energy-efficient
place in which to live.

About cara

I blog (for fun) here at casaCARA, and write (for money) about architecture, interiors, gardens and travel for many national magazines and websites.
This entry was posted in HISTORIC PRESERVATION, OLD-HOUSE MAKEOVERS, PHILADELPHIA and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Ode to the Philadelphia Rowhouse

  1. Terry says:

    Thanks for linking to the Rowhouse Manual. I enjoyed the floor plans and the nick names: “Trinity, Bandbox, Father, Son & Holy Ghost”

  2. What a fantastic idea, especially for the vocabulary.

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