Celebrating historic designation


The Historical Society of Tacony recently hosted a reception to celebrate the establishment of the Tacony-Disston Community Development National Historic District, which was made official by the National Parks Service and Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission in the summer.

Louis A. Iatarola, president of the historical society, described the designation as an expensive and rigorous undertaking. He said the designation will promote a sense of pride in Tacony.

“It truly is a momentous event,” he said.

The Oct. 6 reception was held at the Engine 38 firehouse community room at Keystone Street and Magee Avenue.

The evening featured a commemorative cake, hoagies donated by Fink’s and wings courtesy of Curran’s Irish Inn.

The crowd joined in a toast using sparkling white grape juice.

“Salute!” Iatarola said.

The historic district is roughly bounded by the 4500 to 4900 blocks of Magee Ave., Princeton Avenue, Tyson Avenue, Disston Park and the 6900 block of Cottage St.

The arrival of Henry Disston in 1871 precipitated Tacony’s rise into an industrial town. Located along the Delaware River at Unruh Avenue, Disston’s factory became the largest manufacturer of saws in the world.

Henry Disston Jr., the great-great-grandson of the company founder, described Tacony as a “special place.” He has heard the stories of the quality of the Disston company’s saws and the care shown by the owner toward employees.

“He took care of his workers, and that’s what made him successful,” he said.

Disston credited Iatarola and his son, Lou, vice president of the historical society, with securing the historic designation.

“It shows what good vision can do,” he said.

Next, the Tacony community will seek historic designation in Philadelphia.

The Iatarolas want to hold tours of houses that have exterior plaques detailing their history. The program would start next summer.

“There are stories behind every home that has a plaque,” the younger Iatarola said.

Overall, Iatarola hopes the designation leads to more owner-occupied homes.

One bright spot in the near future will be construction of a second MaST Community Charter School, this one at the former Dodge Steel plant near State Road and Magee Avenue.

Iatarola said it was a “long road” to historic designation, but worth it because it reinforces a sense of pride among residents.

“It’s a feather in our cap. We have a great story to tell,” he said. “This is taking a step toward long-term stability.”

State Sen. John Sabatina Jr. presented the historical society with a Senate citation. He believes the designation will help Tacony remain vibrant.

“Tacony’s future, as well as its past, looks brighter than ever,” he said.

Monique Hawkins and Emily Cooperman, of Preservation Design Partnership, joined in the celebration. Hawkins received a call from the historical society in 2008 about Tacony, and she was amazed by its history.

Still, she said it was complicated to get more than 1,500 properties onto the national registry. In the end, she said it was a “work of joy and pleasure and pride” for her firm.

“What a glorious day of celebration,” she said.

Cooperman said it was her privilege to assist a neighborhood with such a rich heritage.

“It’s such a deserving place in so many ways,” she said.

Paul Steinke, a Burholme native and executive director of the Preservation Alliance, recalls viewing Tacony as “the bridge to the seashore” when he was a kid. He’s since learned that Society Hill isn’t the only place that boasts history in Philadelphia.

“This is a special neighborhood,” he said. ••


Making history: Henry Disston Jr. (right), a living relative of Henry Disston, speaks about his family’s history in Tacony while Louis A. Iatarola, president of the Historical Society of Tacony, listens. MARIA YOUNG / TIMES PHOTO