Germantown residence added to the Philadelphia Register of Historic Places

On a tree in the front lawn of 240 W. Tulpehocken St., a sign warns trespassers to keep out.

Another sign notes that the sprawling villa is owned by OIC (or Opportunities Industrialization Centers) International, a community empowerment group started in 1970 by the late civil-rights leader Rev. Dr. Leon H. Sullivan.

Yet another sign, this one taped above the padlock on the front door in June 2011 by city Licenses & Inspection, points out that some $45,000 in repairs are needed to address water damage inside a vacant building which rests in a seemingly controlled state of disrepair.

There’s also a Century 21 sign out front indicating that the property is for sale. Well, was for sale. A pending deal listed online has the 7,300 square-foot villa, along with the carraige house out back, prepared to change hands for $350,000.

Whomever purchases 240 W. Tulpehocken will have more than two buildings and a front sidewalk rendered bumpy by the tree roots underneath, though.

They’ll have a piece of Philadelphia’s past, one of five properties added last week to the Philadelphia Register of Historic Places.

A rich past

According to the Philadelphia Historical Commission, the register “consists of more than 10,000 buildings, structures, sites, objects and districts designated as historic by the Philadelphia Historical Commission. The cultural resources listed on the Register illustrate the City’s history from before the arrival of William Penn to the relatively recent past.”

The Tulpehocken property’s nomination file at the Commission’s office in City Hall speaks to a history dating back to the late 19th century. It passed muster because of its distinct style and characteristics.

Nominated by Jorge M. Danta, a historic preservation planner with the commission, noted architect Frank Miles Day designed the building which was completed in 1893. It was owned by family of Harry K. Cummings and is an “exceptional example of the Renaissance Revival style [which] retains a high degree of integrity.”

In the file are photos of the property, and ornate decorative exterior fixtures, from an 1897 issue of “The Clay Worker” trade publication, a 1900 issue of “Pittsburgh Architectural Club Catalogue” and a 1905 publication of “American Architectural and Building News,” among others.

The residence’s greatest significance, the nomination maintains, is “as an outstanding design from the early career of reknowned Philadelphia architect Frank Miles Day.”

It singles out the “long second-story open-loggia” as “the most striking feature of the house.”

Germantown is cited “as one of the earliest suburban developments in the nation. By the late 18th century, it was a popular destination for wealthy Philadelphians where they would spend the hot summer months.

As for the Cummings residence itself, the nomination notes that “it is an intact example of the residential development of upper class families in Germantown. It reflects the unique eclecticism of the late 19th century.”

Sold off quickly

The Cummings family made much of their money in the grains, feeds and cereals industries. However, Harry K. Cummings was ordered to pay a $115,000 settlement in a legal case of unclear circumstances. That forced him to sell the home in 1897, according to information in the Historical Commission file.

“The deed records of the property lists the sale as an unusual transaction entered on the books as ‘for the benefit of creditors,'” the nomination reads in a seemingly ironic foreshadowing of modern-day foreclosure woes.

OIC purchased the property for $1 in 1985 and its market value was listed at $170,000 in 2011. As the historical-register action commenced, commission executive director Jonathan E. Farnham wrote a letter to the property “owner” noting that inclusion “elevates the historic, architectural and other attributes of the property.”

However, calls to OIC seeking comment on the potential impact of being on the register went unreturned on Monday. Realtors did not respond to a call seeking information about the sale, either.

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