John P.A. Todd, 88, formerly of Chestnut Hill, an innovative Philadelphia architect whose work blended historic architecture with modernist design and pioneered sustainability and adaptive reuse long before others, died Dec. 22 of heart failure at the Artman Home in Ambler. Until recently, Mr. Todd had been living at the Alden Park Manor in Germantown.
Mr. Todd developed his signature architectural approach beginning in the 1970’s. Breathing new life into the distinguished properties that were disappearing along with the patrician lifestyles for which they had been constructed by performing what he described as “selective surgery,” Mr. Todd preserved their historic forms, reconfigured interiors, and added inventive architectural and landscape elements resulting in spacious, bright interiors and gardens updated for contemporary life.
His imaginative spatial design and creative land usage avoided the cookie-cutter housing developments that befell many large properties of old private estates of the Main Line, Chestnut Hill, and Montgomery County.
In the city, Mr. Todd’s adaptive reuse of a 19th Century livery stable, his design and development of passive solar townhouses on Brandywine Street, and an infill of townhouses on a corner adjacent to the Spring Garden Community Garden, all contributed to the transformation of that neighborhood in recent years.
Almost 40 years ago, in an interview with The Philadelphia Inquirer, he called on Philadelphia to revitalize its “great warehouse of Victorian architecture” and presciently foresaw “an enormous re-entry of middle-class people into the city.”
Todd attended Germantown Friends School and was a longtime resident of Chestnut Hill. His professional architectural and entrepreneurial career began during high school when he built wooden doll houses as a hobby, but soon began selling them through the toy department at Wanamaker’s department store. After graduating from GFS in 1945, he served in the Army with the occupation forces in Japan.
He majored in classical archeology at Haverford College and later received a full scholarship to the architecture program at the University of Pennsylvania’s Graduate School of Fine Arts where he earned a master’s degree in architecture. Before establishing his own practice in 1969 on North 17th Street in Philadelphia and later in a building he designed for George Woodward at the southeast corner of Willow Grove and Germantown avenues, which he closed in 2008.Chestnut Hill,
Mr. Todd had been a staff architect in several Philadelphia firms, including that of the noted modernist Vincent Kling.
One of Mr. Todd’s most memorable projects was his longtime residence in Chestnut Hill, where he used the modest Civil War-era cottage as a laboratory for constant experimentation in architecture, interiors and landscape design, creating a warm, light-infused home for his children; full of books, artwork and family history. His garden developed into a special retreat where his love for plants and knowledge of their care merged with his design expertise.
He was fond of entertaining, sharing stories, rowing and sailing.
Mr. Todd was a member of the American Institute of Architects, the University Barge Club, the Natural Lands Trust, the National Trust for Historic Preservation and the Philadelphia Athenaeum. He served on the St. Martin’s Train Station Committee and was a member of the board of the Chestnut Hill Historical Society.
Mr. Todd is survived by a daughter, Regula Elsbeth; a son, Phillip; a brother, Thomas; and a sister, Stephanie Coggeshall. He was preceded in death by his companion, Bunny Hume Oliver. A memorial service will be held at a date to be announced later by his family. Memorial donations may be made to the Morris Arboretum. – WF