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Future of Friends building in dispute

Photo credit: PHC Application Materials

The nonprofit Preservation Alliance for Greater Philadelphia and several community partners have appealed the Historical Commission’s decision to permit demolition of a historic building at Friends Hospital so the city can build a district health center.

The 19th-century Victorian cottage, “Lawnside,” is slated for demolition.

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“Lawnside is among Friends Hospital’s early buildings,” said Paul Steinke, Alliance executive director. “It contributes to the historic character of the park-like property that is on the local historic register as well as a national historic landmark. The great front lawn of Friends has been open space since its founding more than 200 years ago, and this building of Wissahickon schist retains its structural integrity and should be restored and repurposed.”

Joining the Preservation Alliance appeal are the Northwood Civic Association, St. James Lutheran Church and St. Mark’s Church Frankford.

Friends Hospital is the nation’s oldest private psychiatric hospital, established in 1813. Located on 100 acres bounded by Roosevelt Boulevard, Whitaker Avenue and Frankford Creek, it was designated a national historic landmark in 1999. The founding Quakers originally called it “The Asylum for Persons Deprived of the Use of Their Reason.” The Alliance and supporters are counting on the city Department of Health to find a different site for the medical center.

“Roosevelt Boulevard is one of Philadelphia’s most dangerous roads for pedestrians,” Steinke said. “Most of the people who will use the clinic will arrive by bus and be forced to cross 12 lanes of traffic. The health department has not made public the other locations under consideration, but it’s not likely they feature a 170-year house.”

The Alliance expects a hearing date soon with the Board of License and Inspection Review. It was formed in 1996 from the merger of the Philadelphia Historic Preservation Corporation and the Preservation Coalition of Greater Philadelphia. ••

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