Jacobs school demolition awaits civic review


Plans to de­mol­ish the Jac­obs school build­ing on the Politz Hebrew Academy prop­erty were post­poned last week, ac­cord­ing to Jack O’Hara, pres­id­ent of the Great­er Bustleton Civic League, and Politz prin­cip­al Be­sie Katz.

O’Hara said the school­house, which dates to the mid 19th cen­tury, is a na­tion­al his­tor­ic­al site. The academy wants to raze the 9229 Old Bustleton Ave. build­ing. The struc­ture can­not be seen from the street.

The civic league pres­id­ent said the or­gan­iz­a­tion’s mem­bers, who don’t meet in Ju­ly and Au­gust, want to re­view the pro­ject and that the academy last week agreed to delay the de­moli­tion un­til they can. The league’s next meet­ing is at 7:30 p.m., Wed­nes­day, Sept. 19, at the Amer­ic­an Her­it­age Cred­it Uni­on Com­munity Room, Red Li­on Road and Jam­is­on Av­en­ue.

Be­fore the build­ing was ac­quired by the academy in 1990, it was the Fay­ette Con­sol­id­ated School. It was re­named the Jac­obs School in 1915, O’Hara said.

The school com­prises “an ori­gin­al 1855 wing de­signed by Samuel Sloan, joined to a later Co­lo­ni­al Re­viv­al build­ing con­struc­ted in 1915,” ac­cord­ing to a sur­vey of the prop­erty by the Pennsylvania Bur­eau for His­tor­ic Pre­ser­va­tion. “While al­ter­a­tions ob­scure some of the ori­gin­al de­tail­ing, the Sloan wing con­sists of a two-story stone build­ing sheathed in stucco.”

The por­tion of the build­ing erec­ted in 1915 will not be af­fected by the planned de­moli­tion, Thomas Witt, an at­tor­ney for the school, said in an e-mail to the North­east Times on Tues­day.

The older part of the build­ing that dates back to the 1800s is wood-frame, not ma­sonry, has not been used for sev­er­al years and the school is con­cerned about its safety, he said.

Ad­apt­ing it for mod­ern use “is thought to be pro­hib­it­ively ex­pens­ive,” he wrote.

The build­ing is the only na­tion­ally his­tor­ic­ally cer­ti­fied build­ing in the 19115 ZIP code, said Ben Leech, dir­ect­or of ad­vocacy for the Pre­ser­va­tion Al­li­ance for Great­er Phil­adelphia, a non-profit group that pro­motes ap­pre­ci­ation and pre­ser­va­tion of the re­gion’s his­tor­ic and cul­tur­al re­sources.

Leech said the build­ing “isn’t much to look at and has been altered con­sid­er­ably since its con­struc­tion,” but it’s the only sur­viv­ing ex­ample of a group of about 20 sim­il­ar schools de­signed by Sloan in the 19th cen­tury.

“Sloan’s plan formed the basis for the design of school in­teri­ors dur­ing the second half of the 19th cen­tury,” ac­cord­ing to the Bur­eau for His­tor­ic Pre­ser­va­tion.

Leech said the school has been on the Na­tion­al Re­gister of His­tor­ic Places since 1986, but the des­ig­na­tion car­ries no leg­al weight, so it can’t be used to pre­vent de­moli­tion. And, he ad­ded, there is a val­id de­moli­tion per­mit.

“The al­li­ance has not taken a po­s­i­tion yet,” Leech said, and simply is ad­vising a group that is con­cerned. “I can’t say we would cat­egor­ic­ally op­pose this. There’s a lot more in­form­a­tion that we’d like.”

“We’d like to know: Is this really ne­ces­sary?” Leech said.

“The school has no choice but to pro­ceed,” Witt stated in his e-mail to the pa­per. “Oth­er­wise, it will have a va­cant, un­us­able build­ing at­tached to its 1915 build­ing. The vol­un­tary pause in de­moli­tion was done to al­low the Civic League to un­der­stand the pro­posed im­prove­ment of the cam­pus. We are hope­ful that our neigh­bors will share our vis­ion of a safe cam­pus for the edu­ca­tion of our 350 stu­dents.”

O’Hara wants to know what neigh­bor­hood res­id­ents think about the plan. They can call the civic league’s hot line at 215-676-6890 or send an e-mail to gb­cl19115@gb­c­league.com.End­Frag­ment 

You can reach at jloftus@bsmphilly.com.

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