Scrolling down Woodall's list is a sobering exercise for all who love Philadelphia, history, and architecture (as an aside: is there any city in America that can claim the variety and quality of historic architecture that Philadelphia, despite its shortsightedness and shiftlessness, can?). My own melancholy ruminations on the loss of the Thomas W. Buck Hosiery Mill and the L. H. Parke Coffee complex to devastating fires can be found here and here. Others on the list met their demise before I, due to constraints of time and distance, could document them photographically (especially the Frankford Arsenal and the Van Straaton and Havey silk mill in Germantown).
But the problem remains, and I see no reason to be optimistic about the futures of hundreds of other historic homes, factories, and churches, particularly those that have fallen on hard times in hardscrabble, marginal neighborhoods. Every time I wander around my hometown I wonder what the next Buck Hosiery or St. Boniface Church will be. And when I witness the plethora of new, architecturally pedestrian buildings being constructed throughout such areas as Northern Liberties, North Central Philadelphia, and Graduate Hospital/Southwest Center City, a little of my soul dies with each regretful glimpse. What is it, I always wonder, in the American psyche that instinctively prefers the new and large, no matter how architecturally cheap and banal, to the old, almost always constructed to proper scale with detailing and quality, natural materials? Whatever it is, it is foreign to me, and has been since my youth. Here's to the hope that the city will, at long last, look deep within its collective soul and act to preserve the one thing that really makes it sui generis among American cities.