Understanding residential and commercial areas

Within most neighborhoods there are usually residential areas that vary somewhat from one to another. Some neighborhoods also have commercial corridors or districts. For this analysis these are referred to as sub-areas. The objective of this part of the analysis is to identify the residential sub-areas that have a distinctive character and that might be appropriate federal style for designation as historic or conservation districts (see Chapter 5) or that should be reflected in a District Plan and a zoning remapping plan for the neighborhood. The elements that characterize the physical environment of each sub-area should be described and illustrated with photographs. Residential sub-areas of a neighborhood may be defined by land use changes that create boundaries between one section of a neighborhood and another; they may be defined by changes in density (low density vs greek revival style high density housing) or changes in architectural character or differences in building quality and conditions. Residential buildings may be of different architectural styles. Philadelphia neighborhoods exhibit a wide variety of architectural styles that give neighborhoods a distinctive character. (See the Preservation Alliance’s Field Guide, listed in the Resource section of this chapter, to help identify the architectural styles in your neighborhood.)In describing residential sub-areas the objective is to identify those queen anne style elements that make up the common physical character of the area. In some neighborhoods houses consist of twins with front yards and porches or bay windows; in others houses consist of row houses built right to the front property line. Some neighborhoods have single-family houses on larger lots with open space and off-street parking. Some residential areas include narrow streets with two story houses in contrast to major streets with three and four story houses. These are the types of characteristics to identify and illustrate with digital photographs.Some neighborhoods have entire blocks that are often very distinctive in themselves and different in character than the residential area surrounding them. It is often useful to identify these and describe what makes them stand out as a way to see if these features can be replicated in other parts of the neighborhood. Often these features relate to a particular historical characteristic, like street paving, and or a landscape characteristic such as the presence of mature street trees.

  • Commercial sub-areas consist of commercial corridors or streets whose character and functions are dominated by retail and businesses uses. Often these areas contain housing on the upper floors of buildings, but it is the commercial uses that are the dominant use in the area. These areas should also be described in terms of their physical characteristics and architectural styles.


The map and photographs on the following pages indicate that the Washington Square West neighborhood has **seven **residential sub-areas and one commercial sub area. The text provides a brief description of two of the sub-areas (areas #1 and #2) to illustrate the type of description that gives enough detail to understand the characteristics of the physical environment. Most of Washington Square West consists of row houses, typically three or four stories on major streets and two or three stories on smaller streets. However, to illustrate the diversity of architectural styles and housing types that are found in different Philadelphia neighborhoods, photographs of residential buildings from other neighborhoods are also included and described. A common housing type in many neighborhoods are twins, a pair of houses built side by side that share a common wall. This configuration creates two identical buildings in a single structure and not a continuous row of homes. Some common elements found on twins are front porches, projecting bay windows on the second story, dormer windows and decorative cornices. They can either be situated close to the street or set back allowing for a front yard and mature tree growth. The front porches typically contain a high level of detail including columns, balustrades and dentil trim and can be enclosed or open to the elements.Single-family or detached homes are also found in some Philadelphia neighborhoods in a range of styles and sizes. They are typically situated on larger plots of land allowing for bigger front yards and expansive porches. They can be constructed of stone, brick or wood and are often at least two stories in height. The entrance ways typically have a greater level of detail, such as decorative trim around the door with a pediment or fanlight window above the main entrance way. Decorative cornices and wood sash windows are also common features. Washington Square West also has some distinctive blocks. Many of these are the narrow streets with historic street paving. Others, like Portico Row on Spruce Street, exhibit architectural features not found on other houses in the area.

Sub-Area Descriptions

Sub-Area 1: Clinton Street

The two blocks of Clinton Street from 9th to 11th streets are the most outstanding sub-area of the neighborhood. Houses are predominantly three stories tall with a raised first floor and basement windows at the sidewalk level. A few houses are four stories in height. The houses, built 1831-1837, are designed in the Federal style in brick with simple details, the porticos show a Greek Revival influence. The elements of the physical environment that make Clinton Street stand out are:- All the houses are very well maintained.- Almost all the houses have shutters on the first floor and many on the upper floors as well. While wood shutters were a typical historic feature of houses of this style and period, most of the houses in the neighborhood no longer have shutters. The presence of shutters on these two blocks gives the houses an added distinction. - The sidewalks are brick, contributing to the feeling of an historic block.- There are large street trees on both sides of the street, which is not the case on many other streets. The trees shade the blocks in summer and contribute to the distinctive character. - Complimenting the street trees, residents have taken great care in landscaping the blocks, which is probably the feature that makes the blocks so distinctive. Almost all houses have window boxes that are carefully maintained and full of plants and flowers. In between the entrance steps of adjacent houses, which project into the sidewalk area, planting beds can be found in front of many houses. These are also well maintained with interesting plants and flowers. Even the areas around the base of the street trees have been planted. It is these features more than almost all others that contribute to Clinton Street’s distinctive character.

SUB-AREA 1: CLINTON STREETClinton StreetClinton Street first floor window shutters & flower bedsClinton Street brick sidewalkClinton StreetClinton Street plantings22 How to Look at your Neighborhood

SuB-area 2: SMaLL StreetS, caMac and otherS **Throughout the neighborhood are a number of small streets, usually north/ south streets in between the numbered streets although there are also a number of east/ west small streets. Houses on these streets are a combination of two and three story houses, usually in a very simple Federal style. Houses have brick fronts, some of which have been painted light colors. Camac Street contains elements of the physical environment that make most of these small streets stand out. These are:- The narrow size of the street is itself a distinctive feature. - Many of the streets are paved with Belgian block and are listed on the City’s inventory of historic streets. - Some of the sidewalks are brick, although this is not always consistent for an entire block. - In spite of their narrow size, most of the blocks have street trees that add to their character. - These blocks also have landscape improvements. Sometimes there are small planting areas, but more usually window boxes or planters of some form. **hapter 4 cA Preservation Alliance Guide for Community Organizations23


Camac Street historic street pavingCamac Street Paving and LandscapingWaverly Street window boxes and plantersQuince Street treeJessup Street paving

Housing Types & Styles in Other Neighborhoods

Colonial Revival twin home with setback and front yard; highly detailed porch with columns and balustradesSingle family Victorian Gothic detached home with expansive porch and decorative corniceColonial Revival twin homes with no setback; projecting bays on second stories and dormer windows and **enclosed porchesTudor twin stone rowhomes with gabled roof Tudor apartment buildingand enclosed porch*


Field Guide to Styles, July 2009 Preservation Alliance for Greater Philadelphia, 2009Prepared by Preservation Design Partnershiphttp://www.preservationalliance.com/files/Archstyles.pdfPhiladelphia Rowhouse Manual: A Practical Guide for HomeownersAvailable from the City Planning Commission and the Preservation Alliance* not currently onlineNational Main Street Center *National Trust for Historic Preservation, Main Street program provides resources, solutions and services for main street corridorshttp://www.preservationnation.org/main-street/hapter 4c*26