Good news on 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. 9
Previous coverage
By Matt Golas
For PlanPhilly

A thorough inspection of the 19th Century Garrett-Dunn House last week by the Historical Commission, the Department of Licenses & Inspections and city building experts indicated that damage to the historic structure was less severe than first thought, attorneys for the city and National Penn Bank, which holds the developer’s mortgage, told Common Pleas Court Judge Peter F. Rogers Tuesday morning. 

The inspection was conducted to assess the impact recent demolition and renovation work had on the historically significant structure.

During the hearing Tuesday, city solicitor Leonard Reuter summarized the condition of the house, which is situated at 7048 Germantown Ave., for the judge, who just happens to live a couple of blocks from the site.

Reuter said the property’s condition is not as bad as it looks from the outside perimeter. He said very little water has penetrated the structure because the eves protrude far enough out to offer substantial protection. Roof protection is adequately tacked on and the open window spaces would be sealed and a heavy grade plastic wrap would be used to cover lathwork that was left exposed when renovation work was halted last spring.

Reuter said one concern that would not be addressed at this time was excavation work that was conducted on the plot about 50 feet from the main building.

Reuter told Rogers that the city was confident that a conservative estimate to seal and stabilize the structure would not exceed $20,000 and that National Penn Bank would pay for the work. Rogers suggested that the city survey the property every 60 days or so.

“This is a good day for people who care about historic buildings,” said Jonathan Farnham, Executive Director of the Philadelphia Historical Commission.

Germantown Avenue Holding etal, was sued in October by the City of Philadelphia for building code violations and failure to protect the historic site. Talks between National Penn Bank, the city and the Preservation Alliance to explore the possibility of placing the Garrett-Dunn House in receivership are continuing and a status hearing on that matter has been scheduled for Jan. 6 in Common Pleas Court.

During last week’s proceedings, the court was told the developer carries a $6 million dollar open ended mortgage 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, who was not in court, has previously told PlanPhilly 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 Jan. 6 in Common Pleas Court.

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