Context - Winter 2015 - (Page 20)

TRUly AnD UnobTRUsIvEly MoDERn: Chestnut Hill is known for the quality of its built environment: the careful interweaving of good design in both architecture and landscape within a relatively narrow range of scale and with a strong relationship to the shared, street context. The legacy of Chestnut Hill's high design quality begins in the mid-nineteenth century and continues to the present, including some of Philadelphia's most recognized buildings. The Margaret Esherick House by Louis I. Kahn and the Mother's House (Vanna Venturi residence) by Robert Venturi are both justifiably world-renowned and local, Chestnut Hill landmarks. They are rarely if ever, however, recognized as products and part of a specific regional, even local context. In fact, they are not unique achievements in the design history of Chestnut Hill. There one can find important examples of the trends in local modernism that precede the emergence of the famous "Philadelphia School," and thereby trace the connections between the work of such wellknown architects as Kahn and Venturi and that of their Philadelphia predecessors and contemporaries, including Oskar Stonorov, Montgomery and Bishop, and Kenneth Day. In contrast to the recognition that has been afforded the Esherick and Venturi Houses for some time, the other modernist architecture of Chestnut Hill has received relatively little attention. The Chestnut Hill Historical Society began the important and substantial task of updating the 1985 National Register Nomination that created Chestnut Hill National Historic District in the fall of 2015. This update was made possible by funding from the Preservation Alliance for Greater Philadelphia, and its main goals are to create greater recognition of the significance of a number of modernist buildings from the 1930s to the 1960s and to afford further protection to a select number of them through listing in the Philadelphia Register of Historic Places. The Chestnut Hill National Historic District is one of the largest in the state, and includes nearly 3,000 properties. It comprises almost all of 20 WINTER 2016 | context | AIA Philadelphia this portion of the city, stretching from Stenton Avenue at the city's northeast limit into the Wissahickon Valley on the west, and from the Cresheim Creek on the south to Northwestern Avenue on the north. The original nomination of the district was a heroic undertaking by the early leaders of the Chestnut Hill Historical Society and historian Jefferson Moak. The "50-year rule" that generally keeps newer properties off the National Register of Historic Places by federal regulation dictated, however, that the modernist buildings constructed after 1935 could not be considered "contributing resources." While the nomination's text recognized their design worth, they had to be classified as "intrusions" in the accompanying inventory. The present project will change the status to "contributing" for a large number of these important buildings and thus list them in the National Register for the first time. Further information about their significance will be included in an addendum to the original document. The modernist buildings of Chestnut Hill were woven into a richly varied, existing environment. This area remained relatively rural into the midnineteenth century, when the arrival of the first railway line (now SEPTA's Chestnut Hill East) in 1854 began its transformation. Substantial country houses by notable Philadelphia designers such as Sidney and Merry and Samuel Sloan were constructed near the highest point of the hill along Summit Street and Chestnut Hill Avenue, taking advantage of the views to the north and cooler summer temperatures. Alongside this elite enclave grew a community of entrepreneurs and workers who provided goods and services. Another major wave of growth began in 1884 when a second rail line (now the Chestnut Hill West) was introduced and Henry H. Houston began substantial developments in the land west of Germantown Avenue. The firm of H. W. and W.D. Hewitt designed an inn (now part of Springside Chestnut Hill Academy), St. Martin-in-the-Fields Church, double houses as rental properties, a number of larger, single residences for sale, and Houston's own eMily t. cooPerMan BY EMILY T. COOPERMAN

Table of Contents for the Digital Edition of Context - Winter 2015

Editor’s Letter
Community
Up Close
Philadelphia’s Everyday Modernism
Truly and Unobtrusively Modern: Chestnut Hill Architecture of the Twentieth Century
Rehabilitating Richards
2015 Design Awards
Index to Advertisers

Context - Winter 2015

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