Germantown takes first place in national competition for historic preservation funds

A view of Germantown Ave, in Philadelphia, Thursday, Oct. 12, 2017. Germantown is entered in a contest sponsored by the National Trust for Historic Preservation and the grand prize is up to $2 million.

In a national competition for historic preservation funds, Philadelphia’s Germantown neighborhood emerged Thursday as the first-place winner after beating out 24 other cities and neighborhoods across the United States.

Since Sept. 25, Germantown has competed against cities ranging from Greensboro, N.C., to Seattle in the 2017 “Partners in Preservation: Vote Your Main Street” competition, which aimed to dole out multiple $150,000 preservation grants to the cities that received the most votes. Across the nation, communities rallied residents to vote early — and vote often — for their Main Streets, which would use the grant money to preserve historic community landmarks if they were to win.

Camera icon JESSICA GRIFFIN / Staff Photographer .
Parker Hall, located at 5801 Germantown Avenue, in Philadelphia, Thursday, Oct. 12, 2017. Germantown section of Philadelphia is entered in a contest sponsored by the National Trust for Historic Preservation. The Germantown CDC plans to use the money to improve African-American landmarks in the neighborhood.

Germantown, which won both a $150,000 grant plus an additional $10,000 for being the community that advanced the most in its rankings in just one week, plans to use the money to rehab the facades of two Germantown buildings that officials say are integral to the neighborhood’s African American history: Parker Hall, 5801 Germantown Ave., and the John Trower building, 5706 Germantown Ave.

Camera icon JESSICA GRIFFIN / Staff Photographer .
The Trower building, located at 5706 Germantown Avenue, in Philadelphia, Thursday, Oct. 12, 2017.

The Germantown United Community Development Corp. nominated both buildings for the competition.

Despite its prominent spot along the once-bustling Germantown Avenue, Parker Hall has long suffered from aesthetic and structural damage. The sign on the front of the building is faded. The red bricks are chipped. For years, a main wall has been “fractured” and “bulging” — so much so that the city deemed the wall “unsafe” years ago.

Inside, however, Althea Hankins has run a medical practice, a historic World War II museum, a veterans services operation, and more out of the 3,800-square-foot building. Upstairs, Parker Hall itself, a USO-style cantina that black veterans used during World War II, has sat unused and unrenovated. Hankins could never scrape together the funds to fix the wall or restore the hall alone.

Funds also will be used to restore the Trower building, currently home to the popular Crab House restaurant. The building was once owned by prominent businessman John Trower, who is argued to have been one of the wealthiest black men of the late 1800s and early 1900s.

The $160,000 prize will be divvied up between the two locations. Voting for the competition — which was created by the National Trust for Historic Preservation, American Express, and National Geographic — closed Oct. 31. Residents were able to vote five times per day every day.

In total, 11 communities were selected, including Los Angeles, Las Vegas, and Cincinnati. A total of $1.5 million was distributed to the 11 sites.

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