A House of Our Own bookstore and two other West Philly buildings now have historic protection status thanks to a 23-year-old Penn student

Sitting in McDaniel’s book-lined office the day before the Historical Commission meeting, Loftus received a breakdown of what she would face the next day. Her old professor played down the conflicts that sometimes rage in the meeting room at the top in 1515 Arch Street: “It’s not a fight. You just have to present your case.”

There was opposition from the owner of 4525 Spruce Street, James Cook, who has lovingly preserved the building and two others in the neighborhood. His lawyer, David Moloznik, protested that Loftus’s nomination represented an infringement on his client’s property rights.

“The owner has done a commendable job over three decades in preserving this property,” said Moloznik. “He’s a great steward of it and took on the responsibility himself. It is certainly a taking of a property right without compensation.”

Loftus says she understands why some property owners fight historic protections. She wants to nominate the block she grew up on, in Bryn Mawr, but her parents blanched at the idea. Like many property owners in Philadelphia, they feared the designation would lower their property values.

“They said ‘do not do that because if we want to sell the house, God forbid, we don’t know how it will affect us monetarily,’” recalled Loftus. “That’s the fear, that’s the reaction against it.”

Research on the question of how historic protections affect property values is mixed, but there is a strong body of studies that show preservation increasing and stabilizing property values.

 “A vast majority of recent studies show that property values tend to rise within historic districts when compared to a similar non-designated neighborhoods,” reads a study on the National Trust for Historic Preservation’s website. 

Moloznik and Cook’s objections were not calibrated to sway the commission, however, which is supposed to rule on the arguments for a building’s historic relevance. All three of Loftus’s nominations will be added to the local register of historic places and protected from demolition.

Loftus is currently applying for graduate schools, which would take her away from the city. She will also be in Colombia between February and May to teach English, giving her only a scant few months left in the Philadelphia area. Nonetheless, she already is working on two more nominations, both in West Philadelphia, and hopes to get a few more in this summer before she leaves for graduate school in the fall.

There will be more preservationists who will rise to replace her, she believes, because, in Philadelphia, inspiration lies everywhere.

“If you notice one house on your walk to work, on your walk off the trolley to your home, you are going to notice that in another house and another,” said Loftus. “That builds pride in your neighborhood, and that makes Philadelphia special. I take more interest in these buildings than the average 23-year-old, but when people start to notice, I think everyone takes joy in these things.”