by Kevin Dicciani

The Chestnut Hill Community Association board voted unanimously to affirm the National Historic District in its efforts to oppose the demolition of the 104-year-old home at 415 W. Moreland Ave. The vote places the CHCA on the side of the Chestnut Hill Historical Society, which now faces an uphill battle to prevent the demolition and subdivision of a property that are well within the legal rights of its current owner.

The home, a Colonial Revival, was built in 1910 by noted Philadelphia architect Charles Barton Keen for Charles Bromley, then president of the Quaker Hosiery Company, and was later deemed a significant historical structure by the National Historic District in their selection of homes in Chestnut Hill.

Today the property is in disrepair. The front yard is cluttered with fallen branches and overgrown with weeds and tall grass. According to developer Sam Blake, the current owner, the damage is not only to the outside of the property. He said the roof is decrepit, the stuccoed exterior detached from the stone walls. Inside, he said, there is extensive water damage, mold and structural issues, and the original knob and tube electrical wiring has never been replaced.

Some near neighbors, including Stan and Jeanne Baum, call the property an “eyesore.” It is also why the Baum’s welcome Blake’s plan to demolish the house and subdivide the property to build two new homes.

“For 25 years that house has been a disaster,” Jeanne said. “What are you to do when the house next door is a disaster? So we welcome in Blake because he can only make it better.”

“We’re delighted that it’s been sold,” Stan said. “We’re delighted to finally have a nice home next to us. We have grandchildren and the place is a disaster. It’s an attractive nuisance.”

Mike Macleer, another neighbor, said he was concerned that property values might go down because of the unsightliness of the house. He said he wants the property to be maintained, and if he had his choice, he would prefer the house was “restored rather than subdivided.”

Blake, a local developer and recipient of numerous architectural awards, has been restoring historical homes as well as building new ones for more than 25 years. When he purchased the property from an elderly couple in April for $800,000, his original intentions were to restore the house. But, after seeing the aforementioned issues outside and within the home, he found it to be “unsalvageable.”

The Chestnut Hill Historical Society strongly opposes the demolition of the house and urged Blake to find other means to preserve and restore the house for its historical relevance to the area. Randy Williams, president of the CHHS, said the precedent the demolition sets should shock the community.

“This is a real threat to the way we know Chestnut Hill,” Williams said. “We need to hang together and preserve the community as we know it. When you can take a property, divide it in two, and make more money on it, it’s tough. We’re up against a real tough situation.”

The society’s executive director, Jennifer Hawk, called the house “a part of the fabric of the collection of houses in Chestnut Hill.”

“It’s not just about one building,” Hawk said.“It’s really the entire collection of your architecture in Chestnut Hill that makes it a historic district.”

Hawk said Blake invited her and members from the CHHS to tour the house. She said she walked 360 degrees around the property, up and down the grand staircase and surveyed each corner in every room. An architectural analyst who accompanied the members on the tour, Hawk said, found in his report that the building is in “sound condition.”

“It needs a lot of love,” Hawk said. “It’s a building that needs a lot of love, it’s a building that needs repair. But there are no issues there that are insurmountable.”

Blake said that although he respects what the CHHS is attempting to do, calling their requests to spare the home a “very noble cause,” the rehabbing of the house is a more serious endeavor than others think.

“I’ve been doing this a long time and I know what I see,” Blake said. “And what I see is a house beyond repair.”

Board member Richard Snowden echoed the sentiment of CHHS’s president Randy Williams when he mentioned that people should consider the consequences of allowing a historic home to get demolished.

“I’m very worried about the precedent this sets,” Snowden said. “This is a case of a historic house becoming less valuable than the ground it sits on. And with 1,400 loose lots sitting out there, and a lot of profit to be had, it changes the way we look at this community. We’ve done a great job of preserving this community, but now the rubber’s really going to hit the road, and we have got to galvanize on this.”

Board member Elizabeth Bales said she was disappointed that the house was never put on the market, and suggested to Blake to do so instead of following up with demolition.

“There are probably dozens of people, if not more, who want this opportunity to rehab this house,” Bales said. “People would be arm-wrestling over it.”

Blake said that he has talked to someone who has offered to purchase the property, and met with others who’ve made suggestions, but in the end, he said, all of the offers were “unrealistic.”

“As much as we all like to save houses,” Blake said, “in reality it becomes almost impossible. Sometimes they’re just old houses. Not every old building is a masterpiece.”

Blake said that he has listened to many suggestions and tried to hear the opinions from many different people and groups, but there is nothing that will change his mind. He said he is moving forward with his decision, and he is sorry common ground couldn’t be found with the CHCA and the CHHS.

“We can usually find common ground,” he said, “but, unfortunately that’s not the case in this instance.”

Blake said that although he does not have an exact time line for the project, “at the end of the day, I think many people will be pleased with the finished product.”

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  • Dave

    Richard Snowden has a lot of gall telling others how to best manage property in Chestnut Hill.

  • Mary w

    Sam Blake paid 800,000 for that property I bet he could sell it and be a “good neighbor”.

  • mellon

    Sam Blake has restored more homes in this community, he has taken on properties that no one else would touch and done a beautiful job! 415 Moreland Avenue has been in a state of disrepair for at least 15 years. Junk has filled its overgrown and ignored yard. Even the trees were spray painted, the windows covered with trash bags or painted black, the smell of rotten garbage surrounded the property. Where was the Historical society, the community association and Richard Snowden? Why was this property allowed to be abused for many years? I agree with the comment from Dave how dare Richard Snowden try to tell others how to best manage properties in Chestnut Hill. I support Sam Blake and look forward to seeing the new beautiful homes he will build to replace this tragic and abused property.

  • michael

    Isn’t Richard Snowden planning on putting the large Fresh Market in the old Magarity dealership space? What effect will that have on Chestnut Hill’s small family run businesses such as Top of the Hill market , the farmers market, the Evergreen cheese shop, the Chestnut hill cheese shop and lets not forget Weavers Way? Does he really care about this community? sounds to me he is all about personal profit and not about our community. Also he will be building new townhouses on this property too. i think this should be a much bigger concern to the Historical society and the community association and not an old house that has been neglected for many years.

    • Dave

      Amen, Michael. And let’s not forget those signs that Mr. Snowden hung from all his properties on the Avenue a few years ago, no doubt as part of his tireless efforts in “preserving this community.” You know, the ones that announced his feigned willingness to lease to check cashing businesses and nail salons. Was that the act of a man concerned about the character of Chestnut Hill, let alone one who ought to be lecturing others about it?

  • June Goodwin

    Do those historical groups own the house or not? No, as they do not own the property. Case closed.

    The developer knows what he is doing in proposing demolition vice restoration.

  • June Goodwin

    The developer has zoning approval to demo and construct two houses on subdivided property plus one of the houses is under contract. The affected house has no historical protection and the defveloper is under no obligation to give up his plans to demo the house and construct two new houses on the property. All he has to do is to pick up the building permits and start demo/site preparation.

  • Dan P

    Sam Blake does a great job with his renovations. The CHCA and CHHS should get off his back. Increasingly, these organizations are working against progress in the community and not for it. He’s proven himself to be the anti-Snowden. God knows we need more people like Sam Blake investing in our community.

    • megan dawson

      dan do you have any of the drugs you are smoking to share with the rest of us – his houses are crap and UGLY — bet he wouldn’t put one of them on his street — Meadowbrook by the arboretum!! and he already has a buyer — liar never intended to renovate — btw i will not put my name because his wife would come find me and if you know her you know thats the gods honest truth

  • kathy

    Shame on “Meg Dawson” for getting personal and mentioning Sam Blake’s family. This is about business and all comments should be kept that way. So Gross!