Conservative institute withdraws variance application for Copperwood estate

 The John Jay Institute has withdrawn its variance request to use the Copperwood estate as a student residence and classroom space. (Neema Roshania/WHYY)

The John Jay Institute has withdrawn its variance request to use the Copperwood estate as a student residence and classroom space. (Neema Roshania/WHYY)

Plans by a conservative nonprofit to transform one of Chestnut Hill’s most esteemed mansions into a school and student residence have been withdrawn because of neighbors’ objections.

The John Jay Institute, currently located on Bala Avenue, had sought to purchase and obtain a zoning variance for Copperwood, 9002 Crefeld St., that would allow the private home to be converted into classrooms, administrative offices, and student dorms.

Following a meeting with the neighbors last month, the institute withdrew the application for the variance, said Celeste Hardester, community manager of the Chestnut Hill Community Association, which organized the meeting.

“Basically, the neighbors were not interested in having what is clearly a residential property converted in their neighborhood to a different kind of use,” Hardester said. “There were a multitude of reasons: the traffic that would impact on the near neighbors, the numbers of people who would be around the property, and the impact on property values.”

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Hardester said the representatives of the institute were “very direct at the public meeting that if they were not well received by the community, they were not interested in putting up a large effort that would go against the will of the neighborhood.”

“I thought it was a very nicely considered evaluation of the situation,” Hardester said.

Representatives of the institute, which is named for “arguably the most religious, social, and politically conservative of the principal founders of the American Republic,” according to its website, did not return calls for comment last week. The institute’s mission is “to prepare committed men and women like Jay for leadership in public life.”

Estate history

The Copperwood estate was featured as the Wall Street Journal’s “House of the Day” when it went on the market in 2011. It was built in 1929 in the French Norman style by the firm of Tilden, Register and Pepper for attorney Schofield Andrews. It was later owned by socialite Eleanor Widener Dixon, who commissioned renowned architect Horace Trumbauer to make renovations.

The house offers nearly 18,000 square feet of space, including eight bedrooms, a ballroom with 16th-century paneling from a King James hunting lodge, ironwork details by Samuel Yellin, a bowling alley, and a billiards room/library with a false bookcase that led to a Prohibition-era “speakeasy bar.” The five-acre property also includes a pool, tennis court, and three-bedroom guest cottage.

The property was being offered in 2012 at a “reduced” price of $3.2 million, according to a posting on Curbed Philly.

“I’ve heard it described as one of the finest residences in the all of the city,” Hardester said.

NewsWorks has partnered with independent news gatherer PlanPhilly to provide regular, in-depth, timely coverage of planning, zoning and development news. Contact Alan Jaffe at

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