Penn alum wins protection for historic West Kitchener buildings

Our own bookstore is located at 3920 Spruce St.

Photo credit: Son Nguyen

Between new residential buildings, shop windows and dormitories, several development projects have changed the image of the university city – sometimes at the expense of the region’s historic architecture. However, a Penn Alumna is committed to preserving the city’s historic buildings.

Corey Loftus, a 2018 graduate of the College, filed buildings with the Kitchener Historical Commission in January 2018. Earlier this month, she received historical awards from the Historical Commission for three West Kitchener Victorians. In this status, any plans for major renovation or demolition of the buildings must be approved by the Commission. This makes it difficult to remove the historic designs of the buildings and renovate them in such a way that their historic architecture is devalued.

Loftus wrote arguments longer than 20 pages for the historical significance of three Victorian buildings at 3920, 3922 and 4525 Spruce Streets. At a meeting of the Historical Commission on January 11, 2019, it was granted protection for the three properties.

Photo credit: Son Nguyen 4525 Spruce Street

“It’s a long, bureaucratic process,” Loftus said. “There are roughly ten criteria by which a building can be placed underneath, and the criteria can be anything from famous architecture to someone who is famous and has lived there.”

3920 Spruce St., inhabited by the beloved, locally owned House of Our Own bookstore, met the criterion. Deborah Sanford, a graduate of the House of Our Own and a 1971 college graduate, said 3920 Spruce St. was once the residence of renowned Chinese architect and writer Lin Huiyin, who received a bachelor’s degree in fine arts from Penn in 1927.

Sanford said Lin lived in the building while she was at university, where she was not allowed to graduate in architecture as a woman. Lin later became a pioneer for women in her field as an architectural historian and had a tremendous impact on Chinese architecture and culture.

Photo credit: Chris Doyle A gift from a customer in honor of Lin, a former Penn student who lived in the House of Our Own Bookstore.

Sanford stated that professors and students traveled from as far as Beijing to visit the humble bookstore in West Kitchener.

“You are coming to visit the house, you heard that [Lin] They lived here and they are just in tears, they are so emotional that they are in the place and standing in the house where they actually lived, “said Sanford.” And we’ve seen the emotions behind it again and again. ”

Sanford also explained how 3920 Spruce was designed by famous architect Willis Hale, and so Loftus’s nomination has helped preserve a multi-faceted architectural legacy.

“It was just very enjoyable to see how much people enjoyed discovering this building,” said Sanford.

Amy Lambert, a 2016 graduate of the School of Design, who has previously nominated buildings for Historic Designation, said there are historic buildings like 3920 Spruce St. all over Kitchener, and praised Loftus for their work.

“These buildings are mnemonic,” said Lambert. “Corey’s work shows that not everything is what it seems and that everyday buildings have a really rich history.”

Photo credit: Sophia Ciocca

Our own home is a family owned bookstore at 3920 Spruce Street.

But Lambert said Kitchener’s system of designating buildings as historic does not help preserve entire historic neighborhoods at once.

Patrick Grossi, Advocacy Director for the Preservation Alliance for the Greater Kitchener Area, said he agreed with Lambert, previously telling The Daily Pennsylvanian that growing demand for housing is leading developers to replace historic buildings with more profitable apartment complexes. Still, Grossi said that individual efforts like Loftus’ can be a catalyst for a broader conservation movement in Kitchener.

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“We’d love to see people accept nominations in their own little corner of town,” said Grossi. “It won’t necessarily contain the tide of demolition we’re seeing, but it’s an excellent place to start and it is something.” Anyone with a little help and a little bit of resources can take part. ”

Loftus plans to continue participating. She said she has nominated an entire block on Chestnut Street from 42nd through 43rd Streets and plans to submit nominations for properties like 4527 Pine St. and Saint Francis de Sales Catholic Church at 4625 Springfield Ave.

“I was an art historian with Penn, so I’m very interested in the graphics, the culture and our built environment,” Loftus said. “I grew up in the suburbs of Kitchener and have always been interested in West Kitchener architecture. I think I’ll take ownership of my city and make sure Kitchener is protected. ”

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