South Philly woman-owned business restores historic Society Hill street

Olivieri and Associates Inc. repaired a mid-18th century cartway that was damaged for years.

The South Philly-based Olivieri and Associates, Inc., a minority woman-owned heavy-highway construction company, spent the last three months rebuilding the distorted infrastructure of the 300 block of South Philip Street nestled in the heart of the historic Society Hill. (GRACE MAIORANO/South Philly Review)

After years of lopsided cobblestones, a colonial Society Hill street has been recently restored thanks to a South Philly resident.

Olivieri and Associates Inc., a woman-owned heavy-highway construction company based in South Philadelphia, spent the last three months rebuilding the distorted infrastructure on the 300 block of S. Philip Street, nestled in the heart of the most historic district in Philadelphia.

Last week, construction workers, community members and Councilman Mark Squilla convened on the corner of Philip and Delancey to celebrate the completion of the street, which neighbors say has been gradually crumbling for close to two decades.

“We’re giving the street back to the city today,” said Maria Olivieri, founder of the small South Philly business. “This street — you couldn’t walk down the street, because the way that the brick sidewalk settled. It was like half up and half down, and you couldn’t safely walk down the street, and it was in dire need of restoration for a long time.”

Residents of the block, which is home to several structures listed on the Philadelphia Register of Historic Places, have noticed the cobblestone street and brick sidewalks develop slopes that were close to 12 inches deep.

The 300 block of South Philip Street prior to renovations. (Photo special to South Philly Review)

Neighbors say, over the years, they’ve called the Department of Streets to evaluate the site, but it wasn’t until the last few years that residents started meeting as a community with Squilla and the Philadelphia Society of Small Streets, a local collaborative effort that listed Philip Street as a priority site in 2015, to keenly address the issue.

“We think the streets that should be first fixed are the ones in the most historic areas that get tourists and have historic homes lining them,” said Lynn Landes, co-founder of the Philadelphia Society of Small Streets.

Squilla helped lobby for the restoration with the city this past year, and toward the end of summer 2018, Olivieri and Associates Inc. won the bid for the project with the streets department.

Olivieri and Associates Inc. is certifed through the city’s Office of Economic Opportunity, which works to ensure that businesses owned by women, minorities and the disabled receive a share of city contracts.

Within 90 days, the company successfully completed the project.

“When we do a lot of these jobs, it’s often difficult,” Squilla said. “You’re dealing with not only the history of the street and trying to get it back to its original conditions, but you’re dealing with people who actually live on this street and have to deal with the construction that is affecting not only the street but them personally.”

Considering the street’s mid-18th century infrastructure, Squilla said it can be difficult to find an appropriate contractor for the job.

Olivieri and Associates Inc., though, which has performed projects across the region since 1999, including specializing in ADA ramps with the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation.

“It’s kind of a dying trade,” Olivieri said.

For the construction team, a considerable challenge was retaining the essence of the block, which once functioned as a cartway close to 300 years ago, while incorporating 21st-century components underneath the colonial brick sidewalks, including fiber optic wires.

“You’re balancing all these different issues at once to make sure the street functions properly…It’s a victory in two fronts,” said city construction inspector Joe Nicholson. “The formal front — it still looks like and maintains the character of a historic street, but it functions like a brand new street.”

Maria Olivieri, founder of Olivieri and Associates, Inc., lead the 90-day restoration in Society Hill. (GRACE MAIORANO/South Philly Review)

Several Society Hill residents commended Olivieri and her crew on their exquisite attention to detail.

After years of thinking the city could not afford to fix the street, they’re thrilled to finally see the restoration blossom into fruition. With other neighboring streets in need of repair, hopefully, Philip Street’s success will serve as a precedent.

“I would love to see a day when there’s more money in the budget to restore these historic streets in perpetuity,” said Philip Street’s block captain, Sandra Williams, who has lived on the street for more than 30 years. “…This crew, Olivieri, they did a wonderful, wonderful job. I couldn’t have imagined anything better than this. They really did a great job.”

South Philly woman-owned business restores historic Society Hill street was originally published in South Philly Review on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.