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Community driven preservation at work in Kensington

Thanks to community activists and the New Kensington CDC, the Kensington Soup Society, at 1036 Crease Street, is now listed on the Philadelphia Register of Historic Places. The designation is the latest example of a successful bottom-up approach to preservation where community members have driven the process forward, completed the labor-intensive work and research, and submitted appropriate documentation to the Philadelphia Historical Commission

According to Ben Leech, Director of Advocacy with the Preservation Alliance for Greater Philadelphia, those involved with the nomination process asked for the Preservation Alliance's help to drive the process forward. "We ran a 'How to Nominate' workshop in Fishtown last year, and this was one of the buildings identified by the community as being a priority for designation," said Leech. "We then helped the New Kensington Community Development Corporation complete the nomination, which was reviewed and approved by the Historical Commission in March of this year."

The history of Soup Societies is particularly pronounced in Philadelphia where, in 1805, a man by the name of James Ronaldson opened the Southwark Soup Society. It was the first charity of its kind that fed the "deserving poor" and became the model for modern soup kitchens. In time, soup societies became important community anchors in working-class neighborhoods across Philadelphia. The Kensington Soup Society, erected in 1870, was the city's longest-running soup house until it closed in 2008. It is one of the last surviving soup kitchen buildings left in the city, and was the only one not already listed on the Philadelphia Register.

According to Leech, the Kensington Soup Society building is now better equipped to celebrate its storied tradition and continue its role as a community anchor for years to come. "The building's inclusion on the Register will ensure that redevelopment will be sensitive to the historic character of the building's exterior features, and will not regulate use or interior alterations."

While Leech is currently unaware of any immediate redevelopment plans for the site, if future plans involve apartments or other income-generating uses, listing on the Register could help finance historically sensitive rehabilitations. But for now, residents can rest assured their architecturally and culturally significant Soup Society will not face the wrecking ball anytime soon.  

Source: Ben Leech, Preservation Alliance for Greater Philadelphia
Writer: Greg Meckstroth
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