Last week, 134 years after the architectural treasure known as Teviot was built at 399 E. Willow Grove Ave., fencing and a backhoe suddenly appeared.
Last week, 134 years after the architectural treasure known as Teviot was built at 399 E. Willow Grove Ave., fencing and a backhoe suddenly appeared in what was soon discovered to be preparation for its planned demolition.
The building was designed by Wilson Eyre Jr, one of Philadelphia’s most important architects, and is one of a diminishing number of his works that remain within city limits. Eyre was also the architect of Chestnut Hill’s Anglecot, which still stands because it was successfully repurposed into multi-family housing rather than being demolished.
Given the size of the corner lot on which it sits, the imminent destruction of this Queen Anne masterpiece could be a move toward replacing it with higher density housing of some kind. Kenneth Curry, who has owned the adjacent 8036 Crittenden St. since at least 2001, bought this property in September of 2022 and three months later was granted a permit from the city to seal the sewer lateral, often an early step in building demolition. He was granted permits on Jan. 11, 2023, for the “complete demolition of all existing structures on the lot.”
Neighbors are shocked, and dismayed, to learn of this proposed imminent loss, having understood from the prior owners that there were arrangements in place to prevent demolition and perhaps also subdivision. Although we have not yet found documentation in the property’s deeds regarding demolition, new construction and subdivision does seem to be restricted by deed “hereafter forever.” Might this building be lost for a development that would require court proceedings and (unlikely) community support to allow for new construction – i.e. for an empty lot?
As a Significant building listed on the National Register of Historic Places, a renovation could be eligible for Historic Preservation Tax Credits. We hope that Mr. Curry will choose to reverse his plans and repurpose Teviot.
Teviot is recognized as a Significant resource in the Chestnut Hill National Register Historic District. It is not, however, listed on the Philadelphia Register of Historic Places and it is therefore not protected from demolition.
For the many who care about preserving our history, a tremendously valuable asset that we all share, this shocking development demonstrates the importance of protecting your property while it’s yours to control. Preserved buildings can still be changed and adapted for contemporary needs.
The architecture and open space that make this such a special place were built and cared for by generations who came before us. Now, however, our community’s remarkable union of fine architecture and visually shared open space is threatened by development pressure to build on every buildable square foot.
Currently, fewer than 3% of the city’s historic properties are protected through listing on the Philadelphia Register. The Conservancy and similar organizations add historic buildings to the Philadelphia Register every year, but the City must seriously improve broader efforts to encourage growth without this irrevocable erosion of its beauty and character.
We maintain hope that Teviot may still escape demolition. But if it is lost, the building should be thoroughly documented prior to its destruction.
Until there are better incentives for adaptive reuse of buildings and conservation of open space, the best way to protect our community from teardowns and overdevelopment is to conserve your property while you own it. Visit chconservancy.org or contact us if you want to learn more about how to do that, and what it would mean.
The Chestnut Hill Conservancy is a member-supported nonprofit educational center, land trust, and leading advocate for balancing development with protection of the architecture, open space, and social history of Chestnut Hill and surrounding communities in the Wissahickon Watershed.
Lori Salganicoff is executive director of the Chestnut Hill Conservancy