Because of an imminent threat to an important historic building, the Chestnut Hill Historical Society issued an urgent “call to action” for all its members regarding the announced plan by Blake Development Corporation to demolish the house at 415 Moreland Ave. and build two new houses on the subdivided lot.
After a week of intense discussion with everyone involved, the historical society remains strongly opposed to this demolition and subdivision, and are offering financially feasible solutions to the developer. Here is an update on this situation:
• Last week both the Community Association and the Business Association voted to affirm their support for the preservation of important historic buildings within Chestnut Hill’s National Historic District, which is gratifying.
• The developer planning to re-develop 415 West Moreland, Blake Development Corporation, invited a group from the historical society (the CHHS Executive Director, Vice President of Preservation and a board member who is an architect with historic preservation background) to visit the property.
It was observed that, as with many historic properties that have not been properly maintained, some deterioration has occurred and repairs are needed. As in many neglected properties, water infiltration has occurred, but, crucially no indication of structural failure or insurmountable problems were found.
Further, the interior needs sizeable cosmetic work, but was substantially intact (including the main staircase). It retains the key features of its original, Colonial Revival style interior as it was designed by the eminent architect, Charles Barton Keen, such as foyer stairs.
• During the visit, the Developer acknowledged that the building was sound, but that the repairs and upgrades he’d need to make for resale purposes would not yield his expected profit margin.
The historical society is deeply troubled by and strongly opposed to the potential loss of this important Colonial Revival house by Charles Barton Keen to make way for subdivision and new development. Several years ago, a survey was conducted to determine how many of the approximately 2,800 residential properties in Chestnut Hill are vulnerable to this kind of demolition and subdivision by right under Philadelphia’s zoning code. The answer is breathtaking: roughly 1,400 properties could be affected. If even a small portion of these properties were redeveloped, the unique character of Chestnut Hill could be lost forever.
We continue to reach out to the developer to work with him to seek financially feasible solutions, such as a new buyer who is interested in restoring the property for their own use (we do know of at least one couple who have visited the property with an architect that is interested in doing this).
We’ve also suggested that appropriate conservation/preservation easement(s), which can have substantial charitable contribution benefits, could be placed on the property.
During the visit, the developer indicated his willingness to have an open dialogue, but confirmed his intent to raze the building and continue the demolition permit process. He has since been unable to meet in person and our suggestions were sent by email.
While the building was listed as “significant” in Chestnut Hill’s National Historic District, this listing provides no safeguard against this kind of action. Under the city’s Zoning Code, the developer is permitted to tear down and subdivide without public review or notification. The Zoning Permit has been posted on the property and a demolition permit has been applied for and will likely be issued shortly.
The Chestnut Hill Historical Society strongly urges Blake Development Corporation to seriously consider other alternatives before it’s too late. Once this “significant” building is gone, it and a piece of our community’s extraordinarily high quality built environment will be gone forever.
Jennifer S. Hawk
Chestnut Hill Historical Society
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