City inspects Garrett-Dunn House

Garrett-Dunn House interior photos in slideshow at right were taken in March 2006 during a walk through of the Historical Commission’s designation committee.

Dec. 4

Previous coverage

By Matt Golas
For PlanPhilly

The Historical Commission, the Department of Licenses & Inspections and building experts examined the 19th-Century Garrett-Dunn House Thursday afternoon to assess the impact recent demolition and renovation work have had on the historically significant structure.

During a hearing Wednesday morning in City Hall, Common Pleas Court Judge Peter F. Rogers, who happens to live a couple blocks from the property at 7048 Germantown Ave., agreed with city solicitor Leonard Reuter that the house should be stabilized, sealed and evaluated for potential damage from incomplete work that was halted last spring.

Rogers also agreed to the city’s request for a one-week continuance of the proceedings against Germantown Avenue Holding etal, which was sued last month by the City of Philadelphia for building code violations and failure to protect the historic site. The complaint filed by the City Solicitor’s Office seeks a fine of $100,000 if the owner does not begin repairs within one week of the order, a $300 fine for each day of violation, and an additional $300 per day if he fails to make the repairs within that timeframe.

The one-week delay was requested in order that the city, the developer’s mortgage holder, Penn National Bank, and the Preservation Alliance can continue discussing the possibility of placing the Garrett-Dunn House in receivership.

During Wednesday’s proceedings, Rogers expressed concern that the developers were not present, have not been in contact with the city and have not paid any contractors and he asked an attorney for Penn National Bank and the city solicitor whether the case should be referred to criminal court. The bank’s attorney said the developer carries a $6 million dollar open ended mortgage from Penn National and has borrowed $1.6 million to date. Bills for roughly a half million dollars in renovations have not been paid, the court was told.

The complaint identifies the defendants as Germantown Avenue Holding and Hedgebank Partners LP, both of Philadelphia. John Capoferri Properties has been identified as the owner/developer of the planned HedgeBank condominium project at 7048 Germantown Avenue in West Mount Airy. Capoferri has said that he lost financing for the project and ceased construction work at the site in April, after crews had stripped the stucco cladding and exposed the open lathwork. In addition, windows in the rear of the building have no glass and parts of the adjacent barn had been left to collapse.

In its list of violations, the city complaint includes “front and side walls deteriorated, rear wall of main building and north wall of barn collapsed, and failure to preserve and protect historic property.”

The Philadelphia Historical Commission had sought to have Capoferri seal and stabilize the building before it sought legal action to force the repairs. Capoferri said in September that he intended to find new financial backing and to take steps to seal the property before the harsh weather set in. He also said “the structure is not in any way compromised.” Apparently, no work was done since that time, and banners identifying the project and owner have been taken down.

The complaint says the building code violations were found during an inspection on Sept. 26, and a notice was served on the owner on Oct. 2.

The condition of the property “presents a serious and immediate hazard to the safety, health and welfare of the public” and “threatens the historic fabric” of the site, the complaint states. Once repairs are made, the complaint orders the owner to maintain the site in compliance with the city’s building codes, pending inspections by the city and the Historical Commission.

The Garrett-Dunn House was designed by Thomas Ustick Walter, who is recognized as the most important American architect of the mid-1800s. He designed the dome of the U.S. Capitol and reconstructed parts of the Library of Congress. In Philadelphia, where he was born, Walter built Founders Hall at Girard College and the renowned Biddle estate, Andalusia.

The next hearing on Garrett-Dunn will be Dec. 9 in Common Pleas Court.

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