This week three very different hardship cases have the attention of Philadelphia’s preservation community. The Church of the Assumption case was heard Thursday by the Court of Common Pleas, and on Friday two West Philadelphia cases come before the Historical Commission. One involves the Episcopal Cathedral’s campus at 38th and Chestnut, but I am captivated by the strange and important case of a humble white elephant at the corner of 40th and Pine.
At 40th and Pine there stands a once-beautiful Italianate mansion built in the 1850s. It is a designated historic building, but two hugely insensitive additions have left its form horribly disfigured. The property’s recent history as a troubled nursing home, and now as a Penn-owned vacant eyesore have won it few friends, even in the preservation community.
Since purchasing the building in 2003 Penn has tried to find a way to redevelop the property, and restore the existing building to some semblance of its historic past, but nothing has been straightforward.
Penn and its Spruce Hill neighbors share the hope that this problem property can become something, anything, positive. But a mix of delicate community relations, complicated by interrelated zoning and historic preservation concerns have made redevelopment difficult.
The latest twist: Penn is seeking permission from the Historical Commission to demolish the building at 40th and Pine to make way for a residential apartment building at a scale that the neighborhood can abide. This request has issues of its own.