By Alan Jaffe
The fire that destroyed the historic Garrett-Dunn House in West Mt. Airy on Sunday, Aug. 2, was caused by a lightning strike, the Fire Marshal’s Office said today.
Witnesses had said the mid-19th-century estate caught fire during a severe thunderstorm.
The house, which was on the National and Philadelphia Registers of Historic Places, was designed in the 1850s by renowned architect Thomas Ustick Walter, who also designed the dome of the U.S. Capitol.
In 2008, the owner of the structure, Germantown Avenue Holding et al, was sued by the city for building code violations and failure to protect the historic site. The complaint filed by the City Solicitor’s Office sought a fine of $100,000 if the owner did not begin repairs within one week of the order.
The complaint identified the defendants as Germantown Avenue Holding and Hedgebank Partners LP, both of Philadelphia. John Capoferri Properties had been identified as the owner/developer of the planned HedgeBank condominium project. Capoferri told PlanPhilly that he lost financing for the project and ceased construction work in April 2008, after crews had stripped the stucco cladding and exposed the open lathwork. In addition, windows in the rear of the building had no glass and parts of the adjacent barn had been left to collapse.
After weathering the elements in a state of disrepair for more than nine months, the historic building had been buttoned up and readied for rehab earlier this year, thanks to efforts of the Preservation Alliance for Greater Philadelphia and the Philadelphia Historical Commission. The firm JRB Historic Restoration, LLC sealed the windows and doors in January. Masons were working on restoring the barn in the back of the property, and the side porch had been shored up.