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The “Historic Streets Restoration Program” 2018 Meeting Report

The Philadelphia Society of Small Streets (PSSS) 

April 7, 2018


The “Historic Streets Restoration Program” meeting was very well attended.  Over fifty people took part in the PSSS March 19th meeting at the Old Pine Community Center to learn more about the Historic Streets Restoration Program and discuss their street’s issues. Those present represented historically-certified streets in Society Hill, Washington Square West, South Philly, Northern Liberties, and Fitler Square.  Councilman Mark Squilla, Streets Department Chief Engineer Stephen Lorenz, and Kim Chantry of the Philadelphia Historical Commission were there to listen to everyone’s comments and respond to their questions.  It was an information-packed 2-hour meeting with good news for some, but continued concerns for others.  (See “MEETING REPORT” below.)


PSSS conclusions are 3-fold:

1.      The Streets Department needs more funds and training to restore historic streets in a proper and timely manner.

2.      The Streets Department should end the use of concrete foundations & Plumbers’ Patches on historic streets.

3.      Residents of historic streets should organize their neighbors to lobby Mayor Kenney and City Council. 

PSSS will form 3 committees to assist in these efforts: 

·        Funding Committee

·        Construction Committee

·        Lobbying Committee

To volunteer, please email  We are also asking the public to please write to the following city officials to support the timely and proper restoration of Philadelphia’s historic streets. See attached Sample Letter or go to PSSS website:   (Mayor of Philadelphia)  (Chair of Streets Committee on City Council)  (Streets Commissioner)  (Chief Engineer, Historic Streets)  (Executive Director of Philadelphia Historical Commission)
Find your council member (






Councilman Squilla expressed interest in finding more sources of funding for our historic streets in order to expedite the restoration process.  To aid in that effort, we are forming a committee to work with the councilman and his staff, as well as to look at both public and private sources of funding.  Hopefully, The Preservation Alliance and other organizations can assist us in these efforts.  We may also want to look at the costs of these restorations, as the concrete foundation that the Streets Department is currently requiring may be much more expensive than the 15 inches of modified aggregate that PSSS recommends.




This year the 300 block of Philip Street is scheduled for restoration.  Next year Thomas Paine Place will be restored, due to the fact that the Streets Department won a $1 million dollar grant for its restoration.  Streets had applied for a grant to restore Hutchinson Street a couple of years ago, however it was turned down.  The reason Thomas Paine Place was awarded a grant this year was probably due to its connection to Dock Street and proximity to The Merchant Exchange, City Tavern, and many other historic locations.  Unfortunately, there was no commitment at the meeting from Chief Engineer Stephen Lorenz that the PSSS priority list would be recognized, therefore we need to lobby to that end.  See PSSS Priority List at:


CAMAC “THE WOOD” STREET:  Chief Engineer Stephen Lorenz reported that the Streets Department continues to research the historically accurate wood to use on Camac Street, but made no mention of removing the concrete foundation, which PSSS believes is the cause of why the wood blocks have rotted out at least twice in the past 17 years.


o   PLUMBERS' PATCHES  Chief Engineer Lorenz continued to assert that the Streets Department was fixing the patches as fast as possible, despite the fact that many of our historic streets have been blighted by the same Plumbers’ Patches for years, if not decades.  We believe that we need to lobby Mayor Kenney and City Council to pass legislation, or change Streets Department policy, to require that Plumbers’ Ditches be immediately restored after excavation, as is currently required of utilities.  Otherwise, all our historic streets, restored and unrestored, will continue to be blighted by Plumbers’ Patches.


o   CODE ENFORCEMENT & LIABILITY:  Chief Engineer Lorenz said that he does not require residents to bring their sidewalks into compliance with the ¼ inch per foot safety standard of the Streets Department.  Although PSSS recognizes that there is a difference between slightly non-compliant versus grossly non-compliant, we remain very concerned about the public safety and liability aspects of steep and slippery sidewalks.  A resident at the meeting, who is also an attorney, pointed out that the ‘standard’ is to protect public safety, not an ‘option’ for property owners and contractors.  A comment was also made regarding liability, in that any slips due to non-compliant sidewalks exposes the homeowner to increased liability, to which Chief Engineer Lorenz said that he understood that aspect of the issue.  PSSS finds the Chief Engineer’s comments very concerning, as the Streets Department failure to require compliance results in the follow: 1) it does not protect public safety, and 2) increases the liability exposure for property owners and the City of Philadelphia, alike. 


o   WORKMANSHIP & CERTIFICATION:  Many comments were also made regarding the poor quality of workmanship by the restoration company that worked on American Street last year.  In addition, residents on Quince Street complained of the sub-standard quality of workmanship by the Streets Department crew on restoring a Plumbers’ Patch on their street. 

Chief Engineer Lorenz heard residents’ complaints about the quality of workmanship of both the restoration contractor and the Streets Department crews, but offered no reassurance that their workmanship would improve, nor that a program would be put in place to correct the situation. PSSS supports a 1-day training program in order to assure the proper restoration of our historic streets. 

Residents also complained about the length of time (many months) it took for the Streets Department to return to Quince Street to restore a ‘Plumbers’ Patch, during which the original curbs stones disappeared and had to be replaced by street gutters that did not match.  Chief Engineer Lorenz said that concrete could not be poured in the middle of winter.  It was another example of why Plumbers’ Ditches should be restored using modified aggregate, not concrete.  His response also did not answer why so many Plumbers’ Patches remain on our historically-certified streets for years on end.


o   Concrete Foundation vs Modified Aggregate or Pulverized Concrete:  Chief Engineer Lorenz continued to defend the 8-inch concrete foundation requirement for all historic street restorations as well as Plumbers’ Patches, despite PSSS’s and residents’ arguments to the contrary.  Specifically, PSSS supports the Netherlands/European model for street foundations, which uses 15 inches of pulverized concrete (although PSSS recommends modified aggregate for environmental reasons). 


Due to time constraints, the remainder of the Agenda was not addressed.  For complete Agenda see:   


We want to thank everyone who attended, especially Councilman Mark Squilla, Streets Department Chief Engineer Stephen Lorenz, and Kim Chantry of the Philadelphia Historical Commission.  Our common goal is to make our historically-certified streets safe and attractive, but there are some issues to work through, as well as a lot of work to do.  So, please organize the residents on your street, join PSSS, volunteer for a committee, and/or write to Mayor Jim Kinney and City Council (see attached).  Thank you for your attention and support.


Lynn and Cliff Landes, Founders 
Philadelphia Society of Small Streets (PSSS)

217 S. Jessup Street, Philadelphia, PA 19107 / 215-629-3553





Mayor James Kenney                                                                                                       

City Hall, Office 215                                                                                                                                                       (date)                                                                                                                                                                     

Philadelphia, PA 19107



Dear Mayor Kenney and City Council:


Our historically certified streets need your support.  The Historic Streets Restoration Program was started in 1999 under Mayor Edward Rendell.  Over 300 streets are on the Historic Streets Inventory, yet only a handful of streets have been restored due to budget constraints.  Our historically-certified streets need your help now, particularly Quince Street (200 block), the Hutchinson/Manning/Bonaparte (200 block), and Panama Street (2400 block). These incredibly charming streets are in very poor condition, making it difficult for residents to walk or drive on their own streets and for others to pass through.


Many of our most charming historically-certified streets, restored and unrestored, are also blighted by asphalt or concrete “Plumbers’ Patches”.   Those unsightly patches can last forever, and rarely are they restored by the Streets Department.  We are asking for a change in Streets Department policy or regulation, requiring that Plumbers’ Ditches be properly restored by the contractors immediately after the work is completed (as is currently required by utilities), so that Plumbers’ Patches are never created to begin with. 


In addition, the Streets Department requires an 8-inch concrete foundation as part of the restoration of our historic streets (including Plumbers’ Patches), which is in contrast to the Netherlands/European model, which calls for 15 inches of pulverized concrete or modified aggregate.  A concrete foundation causes 3 major problems:  1) it is more expensive and time consuming, 2) in order to access underground utilities, it necessitates the need for a jackhammer, which threatens fragile historic buildings and nearby gas, water, and sewer pipes,  and 3) it is completely non-porous and prevents any storm water abatement, rotting the wood blocks on Camac Street and creating a mosquito breeding habitat for all other historic streets.   

Summing up, Philadelphia’s historically certified streets need:

·       Increased funds

·       No more Plumbers’ Patches

·       Foundations of modified aggregate, rather than concrete

Please help the Streets Department to properly restore and maintain one of Philadelphia’s most charming assets and greatest tourist attractions - our historically certified streets!



(address)                                                                                          For more information: