A series of recent news developments suggest that one of Chestnut Hill’s historic buildings may be saved from the wrecking ball while another may yet face one. And the fire-gutted Hiram Lodge faces challenges of its own.
A series of recent news developments suggest that one of Chestnut Hill’s historic buildings may be saved from the wrecking ball while another may yet face one. Meanwhile, the fire-gutted Hiram Lodge at the center of the historic business district faces challenges of its own.
First, the Wilson Eyre Jr.-designed home at 399 E. Willow Grove Ave. known as Teviot appears likely to be getting a reprieve from the wrecking ball that showed up unceremoniously in its front yard two weeks ago.
According to City Councilwoman Cindy Bass, who contacted developer Kenneth Curry at the request of concerned neighbors, Curry said he had not realized how historically important the building was when he applied for - and received - his permit to raze the entire lot.
“I spoke with him and he has reconsidered,” Bass told the Local. “He had not been aware of the architectural and historical significance of the building, so that was obviously something that weighed very heavily in his decision.”
Curry has not yet withdrawn his demolition permit.
“He has a business partner who still needs to be consulted about what ultimately happens there,” Bass said. “But at this point, based upon what he told me, he is 97.5 percent sure that he will not be taking that building down.”
“What he told me was that he is taking the equipment off the site while he reevaluates his options,” said Lori Salganicoff, executive director of the Chestnut Hill Conservancy. “He did not commit to lifting the demo permit.”
While stabilizing the historic building that was consumed by fire one year ago at 8425 Germantown Ave., contractors have removed – and destroyed – the badly-charred wooden roof trusses that once defined that building’s iconic third floor meeting room.
According to a recent memo sent to the Chestnut Hill Conservancy by Gary Kimmel, chairman of the Lodge’s building committee, all of the rubble from the fire was removed from the basement, up to and including the Lodge Room on the 3rd floor, and the inside of the building has been stripped down to masonry and studs. Steel columns and lumber have been set in place to stabilize the building, and a temporary roof will soon begin keeping out the rain.
“The burned out building hammer trusses have been taken down, the gable roof has been torn out as part of [the Department of Licenses and Inspections] mandate to make the building safe,” Kimmel wrote.
Salganicoff, however, said it was a mistake to destroy the trusses.
“We would have helped find a feasible solution to salvage these 134-year old trusses and the wood they were built of, for reuse here or somewhere else,” she said. “We can be a helpful resource if there are other problems or opportunities to salvage history.”
The historic property at 8760 Stenton Avenue was recently listed for sale – both as a residence in need of rehabbing or as pre-demolition open land. Current zoning allows for three new houses on that lot.
The house, known by the name “Philista,” was built in 1858. While it is considered “Significant” in the Chestnut Hill National Register Historic District, it is not listed on the Philadelphia Register of Historic Places and therefore is not protected from demolition. It has been updated over the years by a series of architectural luminaries, including Mantle Fielding; Willing, Sims and Talbutt; Mellor, Meigs & Howe, and Arthur H. Brockie.
According to listing agent Carole Godfrey, the seller is not committed to demolition and “all offers will be presented.”