Preservation Magazine, Fall 2022

A Revamped Philadelphia Boys & Girls Club Maintains Its Historic Character

A longtime home of the Boys & Girls Club of Philadelphia in the city’s Germantown neighborhood reopened in April with an update designed by local firm Heckendorn Shiles Architects (HSA). Built in 1898 as a Boys Club, the four-story Georgian Revival building suffered from a lack of upgrades over the years and seemed primed for demolition as recently as 2016, with the club focused on constructing a new facility for the children it serves in the community. But the organization ultimately determined that preservation was a better fit; HSA Principal Matt Heckendorn says practical design issues, the property’s history, and community support factored into the decision.

The $9.3 million project’s design phase launched in 2017, and construction began three years later. HSA repaired the exterior masonry and the fourth-floor gymnasium’s wood floors, while maintaining the existing fenestration pattern, rooflines, and original atrium stairs. “We preserved the general configuration of the space,” says Heckendorn, adding that many artifacts from the club’s past, such as recognition plaques and photos, are placed thoughtfully throughout the building. HSA’s design included a small addition at the rear of the building to make the property ADA compliant, and the firm replaced the atrium’s original clear glass skylight with a translucent one. The restoration brought the building’s HVAC system and thermal envelope up to code, and the team installed a modern drainage system to prevent groundwater intrusion in the basement.

The exterior of the Germantown Boys & Girls.

photo by: Don Pearse

Several new education and recreation areas were created to better fit 21st-century youth programming. The work has allowed the club (renamed the Ralph J. Roberts Boys & Girls Club) to “reclaim spaces that they weren’t able to use with regularity,” says Heckendorn.

Tim O'Donnell is a former assistant editor at Preservation magazine. He spends most of his time reading about modern European history and hoping the Baltimore Orioles will turn their fortunes around. A Maryland native, he now lives in Brooklyn.

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