by Justin Berg
The Chestnut Hill Historical Society (CHHS), a nonprofit organization dedicated to preserving the historical, architectural and cultural resources and open spaces of Chestnut Hill, recently appointed Lori Salganicoff to be its new executive director. On Nov. 3, Salganicoff officially took over for previous executive director, Jennifer Hawk, who left CHHS for Indiana after six years of service.
Salganicoff, a Bucks County native who recently turned 50, brings a wealth of experience in historic preservation. Prior to coming to Chestnut Hill, she achieved success directing historical preservation efforts in Lower Merion, Fairmount and Wilmington.
In an interview last week, Salganicoff said, “Clearly, without even knowing any of its history, you can tell Chestnut Hill is a special place, a national model for how urban villages can remain. When you’re trying to create a new urban center, make sure you have a main street, diversity of housing, public transportation and open space. What we created here has been rediscovered in recent years by contemporary planners.”
Salganicoff did not always plan on a career in historic preservation. She graduated from the University of Delaware in 1987 with a degree in mathematics and had a job lined up as a high school math teacher. “I thought I was going to be a math teacher and had a job to be one, but I realized that I was sort of just following in my mother’s footsteps. I hadn’t figured out what I loved. I got a job in New York City and gave myself two years after college to figure out what sparked me.”
She discovered her spark working for Building Conservation Associates, a consulting firm specializing in the technical and historical aspects of restoring buildings and works of art. In working to conserve historic buildings, Salganicoff developed a passion for historic preservation, especially early modern architecture, and applied to University of Pennsylvania to study historic preservation further. She earned an M.S. from Penn in 1991.
From graduate school, Salganicoff started her career working with the National Parks Service, traveling to all of the national parks in the region to survey historic architecture. From there, she worked for the Philadelphia Historic Commission as a historic preservation specialist before becoming director of historic preservation for the city of Wilmington in 1996.
When Salganicoff became a mother, she and her family moved to the city’s Fairmount neighborhood, where she opened a private consulting practice. In 2003, she became the founding executive director for the Fairmount Community Development Corporation, a position she held until 2007. When her children grew old enough, Lori and her family moved to Lower Merion to take advantage of that community’s public schools. She found a new challenge, working as executive director of the Lower Merion Conservancy from 2007 to 2012.
Her time in Lower Merion equipped her to deal with issues like those she will face in Chestnut Hill. “You have a struggle between the public benefit of the community being preserved and the fundamental rights each property owner has,” Salganicoff said. “Sometimes they don’t align. There is an inherent struggle between those issues. I don’t think historic preservation is about stopping change. It’s about managing change. Our struggle was to help people preserve an important part of why we loved the community.”
Salganicoff stayed in Lower Merion until 2012. Then, among other ventures, she worked on an Emmy Award-winning series of documentary films about Philadelphia’s history by Sam Katz’ History Making Productions. “It is such an amazing tool,” Lori said of the project. “It’s incredibly entertaining and highly scholarly.”
Salganicoff’s blend of experience with parks and natural conservation and her experience in urban settings equip her to pursue the objectives of CHHS. She pointed out that Chestnut Hill was one of the first areas outside of Center City to be developed and significantly laid out, first appearing on the record in 1704. “It was a rural place. It took half a day to travel the 10 miles from Center City to here. Then in 1854 we got the railroads … We still have the Pennsylvania and Reading railroads in the Chestnut Hill East and West, which still serve the community.
“CHHS was created 48 years ago, a really long time ago for an organization like this. Most of the U.S. woke up to the idea of historic preservation in the 1960s. CHHS was created just before that and not part of a national wave but part of a local interest and recognition that this is a special place.”
Among her duties, Salganicoff looks forward to continued work with Friends of the Wissahickon to promote conservation easements — agreements from landowners not to allow further development on their properties — and continuing to organize and provide lectures and walking tours throughout the neighborhood. She will also look to grow membership within CHHS.
To get involved, contact CHHS, 8708 Germantown Ave., at 215-247-0417. CHHS will also be holding its 30th annual preservation celebration at the Philadelphia Cricket Club on Feb. 7. More information at the same phone number.