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City of Philadelphia

Design Review

Historical Commission decisions are guided by the Secretary of the Interior’s Standards for the Treatment of Historic Properties.
The City’s historic preservation ordinance requires that the property owner or an authorized representative of a property listed on the Philadelphia Register seek and obtain an approval from the Historical Commission and a building permit from the City’s Department of Licenses & Inspections prior to commencing any work that would require a building permit and/or would alter the exterior appearance of the building(s), site, or permanent site features such as fences or walls of the historic property.

The Historical Commission exercises jurisdiction over the entire exterior envelopes of buildings, including all facades and roofs, not only front facades. It has no jurisdiction over the interiors of buildings, unless it explicitly designated the interior after 1 January 2010. The Historical Commission requires reviews for projects including, but not limited to:

§ Construction, alteration, and demolition of buildings and additions to buildings;
§ Construction, installation, alteration, repair, removal, replacement, or covering of:
· Windows, storm windows, dormers, doors, storm doors, security doors, garage doors, and shutters;
· Exterior light fixtures, window boxes, railings, grilles, grates, and star bolts;
· Porches, steps, stoops, ramps, decks, balconies, and patios;
· Fences, walls, gates, sidewalks, driveways, and parking lots;
· Facades, façade elements, and trim such as cornices and doorways;
· Roofing and flashing;
· Storefront features, signage including window film, awnings, and lighting;
· Mechanical equipment and associated vents, pipes, conduits, and wires (except seasonal window air conditioners that require no window alteration);
· Wiring, conduit, pipes, and satellite dishes on exterior facades and roofs;
§ Masonry cleaning, painting, pointing, repair, replacement, alteration, or removal;
§ Painting, coating, staining or sealing surfaces except wood and metal trim;
§ Site work such as driveway or parking lot installation or sidewalk replacement; and,
§ All other projects that would alter the exterior appearance of the building(s), site, or permanent site features.

Reviews are NOT required for standard maintenance such as scraping and painting wood trim, cleaning gutters, and replacing clear window glass. Also, reviews are not required for gardening, landscaping, tree trimming, or temporary holiday decorations, provided no historic features are altered or removed.

To initiate a review, contact the Historical Commission’s staff at 215-686-7660 or by visiting 1515 Arch Street, 13th Floor, Monday through Friday 8:30am-5:00pm. The Historical Commission recommends that you confer with its staff early in the planning stage of any construction or rehabilitation project, especially if the project is complicated. The staff can provide valuable guidance regarding the Historical Commission’s processes as well as appropriate preservation techniques.

The Historical Commission’s staff reviews and approves most applications without referral to the Commission itself, a 14-member appointed body. However, some applications propose alterations, additions, and demolitions that exceed the staff's authority to review. When applications exceed the staff's authority, the staff refers them to the Commission for review at its next monthly meeting.

Submission requirements for submittal to the full Committee and Commission can be found here.