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Egads. No more Historical Commission?

September 11, 2009

Late this afternoon, a contact sent me the letter you see below announcing closure of the Philadelphia Historical Commission.  While the document is named “Service Suspension” the letter makes the ending sound much more final than that.  The hardworking staff had so much significant work going on — the new interiors bill, review (and hoped for approvals) of several new historic districts, in addition to their daily review of renovations and alterations to the city’s registered historic properties.  To think they will have to turn out the lights and lock the door is simply astonishing.

Dear Interested Party:

We deeply regret to inform you that, owing to the ongoing delay by the Harrisburg State Legislature in approving our necessary budget measures, the City of Philadelphia no longer has the funds to provide a full range of critical services, severely impacting our residents, businesses, and visitors. 

While we have been doing all we can to encourage swift action, without this State authorization to resolve our funding crisis, the City will be forced to discontinue operations and services at the Philadelphia Historical Commission. All Historical Commission activities, including all building permit application reviews and historic designation services, will cease.

Even as we remain hopeful that the State Legislature will act, we wanted to notify you of this very possible outcome so that you can plan accordingly. Please understand that only immediate action by the State would prevent some, if not full, disruption of services on October 2nd.

If you have additional questions about changes to any city service, or want to keep informed about this situation, please contact Philly311 by dialing “3-1-1” from your phone between the hours of 8 am and 8 pm Monday through Friday, email us at, or visit the City of Philadelphia website at 

These are extraordinarily difficult times and we thank you for your cooperation and understanding. 


A similar letter went out from the City Planning Commission.  Read it (and a wide array of opinion on the move) here.

I’d read about the Mayor’s threatened cuts in the paper (farewell libraries, rec centers, budget cuts, etc) but I’d assumed much of it was grandstanding to get the State to wave its magic wand.

Hello, State?  What’s with the magic wand?

Update (September 17):  Crisis averted.   And not a moment too soon; the pink slips were in hand and waiting to be passed out.  After the sort of silly game-playing one generally sees between teenagers in love, the state approved the city’s budget. 

Hello sales tax increase, and hurray for the rescue of the Historical Commission and city libraries, etc.   This is an example of one of the major challenges historic preservation often faces  — arguing its value in the face of day to day needs like salaries for police, firemen, teachers, sanitation workers, and so on.  Those daily needs take precedence in people’s minds over the more ephemeral notion of “place” or “historical value.”

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