VAF 2019 Annual Meeting: Landscapes of Succession

May 29-June 1, 2019
Philadelphia, PA

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VAF 2019 Annual Meeting

Landscapes of Succession

May 29-June 1, 2019
Philadelphia, PA

Aaron Wunsch, Jeff Cohen, Jillian Galle, Catherine Morrissey, Michael Emmons, Jennifer Robinson, organizers

Join us for the Vernacular Architecture Forum’s 40th Annual Conference in the City of Brotherly Love! Come explore the successive and overlapping built peripheries of Philadelphia’s core, from the early 18th century to the present. Through a study of neighborhoods around the city center, we take conference-goers on a journey along the arteries and into the formerly peripheral urban zones that are now incorporated into, and transformed by, surrounding urban fabric. Conference tours investigate the blurred divisions between city and countryside, commercial and residential, and rich and poor neighborhoods--over landscapes shaped by rivers, roads, railways, and interstate highways.

Wednesday Reception, Plenary, and Awards

The conference is headquartered at The University of Pennsylvania, in the heart of lovely West Philadelphia. The conference opens on Wednesday, May 29th, with a late-afternoon reception, plenary session, and awards ceremony held at the University of Pennsylvania’s School of Design.  Please note that the reception starts at 4:30. Plan your travel accordingly.

Thursday Periphery Tours

Thursday’s three bus tours map the diverse architectural legacies of the Philadelphia’s peripheries over three centuries, legacies which are often as jumbled as their changing historical narratives.

The Germantown & Northwest Philadelphia Tour: The "Seekers, Servants, Grandees, Mechanics" tour traces the route that connected Philadelphia to its most important early satellite “street village,” Germantown. While the 18th-century spine of Germantown Avenue will give this tour narrative and geographical coherence, we will also explore factories and residential streets at its edges to show its later development, first as a street-car suburb, and later as an important center of industrial development. We will visit country houses including Stenton and Cliveden, Bringhurst Street to illustrate the working class cottages of mechanics, East Penn Street and Tulpehocken for high-end suburban housing, and the industrial area east of The Avenue. Sites of slavery and resistance include Cliveden and Johnson House, and we will also touch on the demographic and social changes in the 20th century.

Organizers: Aaron Wunsch, Nancy Holst


Darby and Southwest Philadelphia Tour: The "Villa, Village, Suburb, City" tour travels primarily along Woodland Avenue, starting near University City with one of Philadelphia's earliest suburban developments, Woodland Terrace, and extending as far west as Darby’s Main Street. Featured sites along the route illustrate ongoing cycles of arrival, settlement, and interaction among different ethnic groups, from the 18th century to the present. The tour will consistently emphasize evolving modes of farming, building, manufacturing, transportation, and worship. Key sites will include country houses such as The Woodlands and Bartram’s Garden; the historic St. James Episcopal Church complex and the adjacent Paschallville area; Darby Borough, which encompasses the transition from Quaker country town to industrial village; and Eastwick, which presents a new paradigm of working-class suburbanization and later urban renewal. Narratives of African-American presence are woven throughout this landscape, especially in Paschallville, Darby’s Mt. Zion A.M.E. Church, and nearby Eden Cemetery.

Organizers: Michael Emmons, Catherine Morissey, Aaron Wunsch


Tacony & Northeast Philadelphia: The Industrial and Residential Landscapes along the Delaware­ River" tour traverses a landscape shaped by shipbuilding and a host of early industries that grew up along the Delaware River. The tour stops first in Kensington, a mid-19th century working class town that grew up around the Dyottville Glassworks. Sites include a late 18th-century Court, 19th-century worker housing, churches, and a burial ground. The bus moves onto Tacony, a company town that grew up around the Disston Saw Works. Tacony stops include Disston Saw Works and the churches, social halls, and houses across the economic spectrum shaped by the demands of a company town.

Organizers: Aaron Wunsch, Jennifer Robinson, Emily Cooperman


At the end of the day, all three tours return to The Woodlands in West Philadelphia for house and grounds tours and a reception(drinks and light snacks), both included in tour registration.  Due to the steep costs of hosting a conference in a large city, we are unable to provide a reasonably-priced catered meal as part of this event. However, weather permitting, the site will stay open for a Food Truck Picnic. Local food trucks dispensing tasty Philadelphia fare will be available for those who wish to picnic together on the bucolic grounds. We will provide blankets for picnicking, as well as a few tables for those who require a seat.  You provide the funds for your meal (between $10 and $20 depending on your choices). Those who do not wish to picnic may disperse to one of the numerous dining establishments in West Philadelphia.

Friday Center City Self-Guided Tours

On Friday we’ll be in the city proper, with more than a dozen sites open as we self-navigate across Center City and the northern part of South Philadelphia with rich documentation in hand.  Philadelphia is a rowhouse city, and among the morning’s open-house offerings will be a number of sites that explore ranges in size, form and plan types among that most dominant and characterizing element of the city’s historical urban fabric. In keeping with our overarching theme, “Landscapes of Succession,” our morning focus lies beyond the colonial city and the historic district in the areas near Independence Hall.  

Friday morning we will explore built landscapes that succeeded those, ranging from elite townhouses that miraculously survive along Spruce and Pine streets, to the contrasting settings in the interiors of these very large blocks, then further south into the city’s 7th ward that was the focus of W. E. B. DuBois’s 1899 study, The Philadelphia Negro, and finally into the northern part of South Philadelphia, with blocks of working-class houses built up before the mid-19th century, a district that became the home of successive and co-mingling immigrant populations, especially Irish, Italian and Eastern European.  And we will move west and south with the decades, noting morphological and social change -- the former with the help of fire insurance surveyors’ period plans and of real-estate-atlas snippets, the latter through detailed research on owners, residents, and developers.  With this focus, we dedicate a critical mass of attention to this building type and the theme of 19th-century speculative development as an understudied but central one in many cities, here with a focus on the genesis, form, and early occupants of these rows.  

These same districts were themselves subject to later waves of succession, especially to the west, when the speculative edge near Rittenhouse Square became a fashionable enclave in the later 19th century.  Many repetitive rowhouses were dramatically individualized as townhouses, and sites used for more utilitarian or institutional purposes were claimed for grander new houses.  Slightly later, around the turn of the century, came a tide of tall apartment buildings, often claiming corner sites. Our prepared wanderings will take us to sites in these continually evolving built landscapes, also including churches, stores, and perhaps a bar or two along the way.

Friday afternoon we’ll explore four other themes in topically and geographically focused clusters.  Two will look to the north of Market Street and to the east, one focused on 18th-century residential space on Elfreth’s Alley, based on research conducted by Bernie Herman and his students.  The other, based on Jeff Cohen’s research, will look nearby at the mid-19th century formation of the central business district near 3rd and Market streets.  A few blocks to the south, we will explore sites in another transformed district, in the re-creation of Society Hill in the 1950s and 60s.  Here we will be guided by the recent research of Francesa Russello Ammon, who has been examining documents that track the careful editing of this built landscape.  A fourth foray, developed by Amy Hillier, will guide participants through Du Bois’s 7th ward, with opportunities to visit churches, fire houses, and, yes, more row house.

The field guide will also be opportunistic all though the day, identifying other sites of potential VAFer interest within our territory from various eras and touching on various themes.  We’ll liberally seed this part of the city with volunteers to help orient you, and street-side opportunities for food and snacks will be plentiful.  Registration will provide SEPTA day-passes for easily traversing the city on subways and buses, and getting from and back to West Philadelphia.  Dinner Friday night will be on your own, with a plethora of possibilities within easy reach.

Organizers: Jeffrey Cohen, Bernie Herman, Francesca Ammon, Amy Hillier, Jillian Galle

Saturday Paper Session and Banquet

Saturday’s paper sessions will be followed by the banquet, the Glassie Award, and dancing.  All of these events will be held on the University of Pennsylvania campus in Houston Hall, the oldest student union building in the United States.

Pre- and Post-Conference Attractions

Tuesday, May 28

On Tuesday, May 28 and Wednesday, May 29th,  the Graduate Program in Historic Preservation at PennDesign, the Architectural Archives at Penn, and the School of Architecture, Design, and Planning at the University of Sydney a two-day symposium, The Cultural Value of Everyday Places, in honor of Richard Longstreth. Click here to register for this event.

Sunday, June 2

The Liz Jarvis and the Chestnut Hill Historical Society is offering a post-VAF conference tour for the first 35 VAFers to sign up!

Chestnut Hill: Village to Garden Community to Architectural Excellence

Cost: $50 per person on or before 4/26; $60 after 4/26. 

Time: Pick up by "trolley" or van(s) at Homewood suites at 9:00 am, return approximately 4:30.

Organizer: Liz Jarvis, Curator/Archivist, Chestnut Hill Conservancy and Historical Society

Details: Lunch provided. Tour capped at 35.


Chestnut Hill is most recognized and visited by those interested in the built environment as the location of Robert Venturi's seminal house for his mother Vanna. What is less known is that this house both exists in and responds to an area of Philadelphia that had developed its own distinctive patterns of scale, materials, and organization that originated in the late seventeenth century, succeeded by initial community development in the eighteenth century as a gateway and crossroads. These patterns were then followed by two important periods of nineteenth-century development which introduced the work of the city's architects and earliest planners, taking advantage of two new railroad lines, one created at mid-century and the other in the 1880s, to establish a summer resort and commuter suburb that mixed larger, free-standing houses with smaller double and row residences. In the early twentieth century, the work of the city's best architects and planners added to this already remarkable ensemble of mixture of scales woven together by common landscape elements. The area has continued to attract a high quality of new design to the present.

This tour will combine travel by bus to gain an understanding of some of the larger patterns and notable houses in Chestnut Hill such as Wilson Eyre's Anglecot and Louis Kahn's Margaret Esherick House, with visits to a group of individual houses, including the Vanna Venturi house, and representative examples from the late eighteenth, nineteenth, and early twentieth centuries, including the work of Samuel Sloan, G. W. and W. D. Hewitt, and Robert R. McGoodwin. A catered lunch will be provided in one of these houses.

Conference Details

The conference is headquartered at the The University of Pennsylvania. Housing will be available in two hotels, each an easy walk to the plenary and paper sessions. The tour buses will depart from the main hotel, Homewood Suites.

A detailed schedule can be found on the conference schedule page.

Please note:

  • The reception for the plenary event and awards is from 4:30-5:30pm on Wednesday, so make your travel plans accordingly.

  • The Darby/Southwest and Tacony/Northeast tours are limited to 50 participants each, so register early.

  • Thursday’s Germantown/Northwest and Tacony/Northeast tours, and Friday’s Center City tours include a lot of walking.  Please contact the conference organizer if you will require transportation between sites on these tours.

Contact Michelle Jones, VAF Conference Coordinator or Jillian Galle, Conference Co-Organizer  with questions.

We look forward to seeing you in the City of Brotherly Love!

The 2019 conference receives generous support from the University of Pennsylvania’s Historic Preservation Program and the University of Delaware’s Center for Historic Architecture and Design.

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