By Patrick Grossi, Advocacy Director, Preservation Alliance for Greater Philadelphia
On Thursday, September 22, the Philadelphia History Museum at the Atwater Kent hosted a panel discussion on the history and future of Jewelers’ Row. Bob Skiba, President of the Association of Philadelphia Tour Guides presented a brief history of the row and its evolving context, from Revolutionary War financier Robert Morris’ palatial “folly” to the emergence of the jewelry trade on and around Sansom St in the late nineteenth century. Paul Steinke, Executive Director of the Preservation Alliance for Greater Philadelphia, presented his advocacy organization’s position on the proposed Toll Brothers project and how Jewelers’ Row can and should be saved in its entirety. Lastly, Hy Goldberg, President of the Philadelphia Jewelers’ Row Association and longtime merchant on the row, expressed general support for Toll Brothers and their project, though also indicated his hope that at least the late nineteenth and early twentieth century facades be retained in the eventual tower project. As of this time, no designs or official plans have been shared by Toll Brothers, though they are believed to be forthcoming.
Seated in the museum’s Main Gallery atop “the world’s largest walkable map of Philadelphia,” the capacity crowd was largely supportive of efforts to preserve Jewelers’ Row. Asked by a show of hands, close to 80% of those in attendance indicated they had signed the Alliance’s online petition expressing opposition to the project (which has thus far generated over 6,300 signatures). Also in attendance were First District Councilman Mark Squilla and the city’s Director of Planning and Development Anne Fadullon. City representatives for their part have been reluctant to weigh in on the matter, citing the “by right” nature of the project and the lack of local historic protection. Both public officials have nonetheless been accessible and transparent in their efforts to convene the various stakeholders invested in Jewelers’ Row and who hope to preserve its historic character.