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West Chester Comprehensive Historic Preservation Plan

West Chester Comprehensive Historic Preservation PlanAugust 25, 2011 | Malcolm Johnstone

Prepared by: Ray Ott of Ray Ott & Associates, Land & Town Planning, in association with Jane E. Dorchester, Architectural Historian & Preservation Consultant, under the direction of the West Chester Comprehensive Historic Preservation Plan Task Force.

Funded by: West Chester Borough and the West Chester Business Improvement District (BID); and by a Preserve America Grant administered by the Advisory Council on Historic Preservation, Washington DC, and the Pennsylvania Historical & Museum Commission.

West Chester, PA -- The Comprehensive Historic Preservation Plan was prepared to evaluate the current state of historic preservation initiatives in the Borough and recommend changes and new initiatives to help insure the protection of the Borough’s built environment. The planning process involved an extensive community participation component that included a public workshop and individual meetings with six active neighborhood associations. The project also had an oversight comittee which included representatives from Borough Council, the Planning Commission, the Historical and Architectural Review Board and the West Chester Business Improvement District.

The plan includes a development history of the Borough, an inventory of historic resources and local preservation programs and ordinances, an evaluation of current and future needs and a recommended action program to enhance and improve preservation initiatives.

See the Comprehensive Historic Preservation Plan in PDF format.

Historic preservation has been an established force in planning and development in the Borough, which has enabled it to remain an attractive, compact and walkable community. Local initiatives to maintain and improve the Borough’s character date to the 1920s and 1930s with the formation of the West Chester Civic Association and later, the Concerned Citizens of West Chester. Other active preservation movements began in the post World War II period as buildings were threatened and even demolished to make way for new development and parking lots. Significant events in this period included the successful effort in 1958 to convince the National Bank of Chester County to reuse rather than demolish the Sharpless-Darlington Building at 13 North High Street.

Other buildings were lost however, including:

  • The Thomas U. Walter designed County Prison at Market and New Streets in 1960;
  • The Turks Head Inn at Market and High Streets in 1964;
  • The Mansion House Hotel at Market and Church Streets, circa 1972;
  • Old Main on the then West Chester State College campus in the early 1970s.

The loss of these buildings motivated citizens to call for stronger preservation initiatives. The Borough Council authorized the formation of the Board of Historical Review in 1972 and formally adopted a local historic district ordinance and established the Board of Historical and Architectural Review (HARB) in 1988.

While West Chester can definitely be considered one of Pennsylvania’s most successfully preserved small towns, this plan was prepared to insure that preservation efforts continue.

The National Trust for Historic Preservation selected the Preservation Plan as an example of Best Practices for a historic community and placed it in its reference library.

In 2015, the West Chester Downtown Foundation selected the Preservation Plan for the Preservation Service Award due to the breadth of the research undertaken to identify the borough's current historic resources, determined which of them are most at risk of deterioration/demolition, and what steps can be taken to preserve them. This makes the plan an authoritative guide to future preservation efforts in the borough.

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For more information, e-mail Malcolm Johnstone, West Chester BID.

Updated February 12, 2016


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