Because of an imminent threat to an important historic building, the Chestnut Hill Historical Society issued an urgent “call to action” for all its members regarding the announced plan by Blake Development Corporation to demolish the house at 415 Moreland Ave. and build two new houses on the subdivided lot.

After a week of intense discussion with everyone involved, the historical society remains strongly opposed to this demolition and subdivision, and are offering financially feasible solutions to the developer. Here is an update on this situation:

• Last week both the Community Association and the Business Association voted to affirm their support for the preservation of important historic buildings within Chestnut Hill’s National Historic District, which is gratifying.

• The developer planning to re-develop 415 West Moreland, Blake Development Corporation, invited a group from the historical society (the CHHS Executive Director, Vice President of Preservation and a board member who is an architect with historic preservation background) to visit the property.

It was observed that, as with many historic properties that have not been properly maintained, some deterioration has occurred and repairs are needed. As in many neglected properties, water infiltration has occurred, but, crucially no indication of structural failure or insurmountable problems were found.

Further, the interior needs sizeable cosmetic work, but was substantially intact (including the main staircase). It retains the key features of its original, Colonial Revival style interior as it was designed by the eminent architect, Charles Barton Keen, such as foyer stairs.

• During the visit, the Developer acknowledged that the building was sound, but that the repairs and upgrades he’d need to make for resale purposes would not yield his expected profit margin.

The historical society is deeply troubled by and strongly opposed to the potential loss of this important Colonial Revival house by Charles Barton Keen to make way for subdivision and new development. Several years ago, a survey was conducted to determine how many of the approximately 2,800 residential properties in Chestnut Hill are vulnerable to this kind of demolition and subdivision by right under Philadelphia’s zoning code. The answer is breathtaking: roughly 1,400 properties could be affected. If even a small portion of these properties were redeveloped, the unique character of Chestnut Hill could be lost forever.

We continue to reach out to the developer to work with him to seek financially feasible solutions, such as a new buyer who is interested in restoring the property for their own use (we do know of at least one couple who have visited the property with an architect that is interested in doing this).

We’ve also suggested that appropriate conservation/preservation easement(s), which can have substantial charitable contribution benefits, could be placed on the property.

During the visit, the developer indicated his willingness to have an open dialogue, but confirmed his intent to raze the building and continue the demolition permit process. He has since been unable to meet in person and our suggestions were sent by email.

While the building was listed as “significant” in Chestnut Hill’s National Historic District, this listing provides no safeguard against this kind of action. Under the city’s Zoning Code, the developer is permitted to tear down and subdivide without public review or notification. The Zoning Permit has been posted on the property and a demolition permit has been applied for and will likely be issued shortly.

The Chestnut Hill Historical Society strongly urges Blake Development Corporation to seriously consider other alternatives before it’s too late. Once this “significant” building is gone, it and a piece of our community’s extraordinarily high quality built environment will be gone forever.

Jennifer S. Hawk

Executive Director

Chestnut Hill Historical Society

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  • CH

    Echoing many of the prior comments in response to this campaign, instead of telling Mr. Blake what to do with his property, perhaps the CHCA can find someone willing to buy either i) the current property as-is from Mr. Blake at some negotiated price and then affect the full restoration themselves (perhaps commissioning Blake’s company to do the work), or ii) have Mr. Blake do a full rehab as prescribed by the CHCA and broker a sale to someone, with CHCA backstopping Mr. Blake’s originally-underwritten profit margin and finding someone to buy the finished house. Either of these would at least be viewed as positive-minded ideas, but, as clearly evidenced by the fact that this house sat neglected for 15 years without any action or attempts by the CHCA to try and force a sale or restoration proactively, it’s pretty clear what’s going on here and why so many people have commented in favor of Blake: the CHCA or any of the other opponents aren’t willing to put up any money, risk, or effort into gaining the desired outcome, but rather seems content to try and tell others what to do with their money. The same thing happened with Greylock and that continues to rot away on CH Avenue. I’m all for restoring the house, but this is so typical of what gives our neighborhood a bad reputation and why it’ll ultimately just result in more large old mansions lost rather than restored.

    • June Goodwin

      This house went though the zoning process and was approved for demolition with construction of two houses on the subdivided lot. One of the yet to be built houses is under contract. There is no protections against demolition and the developer has exercised his rights to do the job. Now both historical committees want to subvert the demolition plan as if they have the right to do so by themselves which is not the case at all as they do not own the property.

      • CH

        I know – I’m agreeing with you that Mr. Blake should be able to do whatever he wants…not sure if you actually read what I wrote of you just wanted to copy and paste the same comment you made on the other article. The point though is that Mr. Blake has gone out of his way to facilitate a good relationship with stakeholders in the neighborhood and I’m sure the two houses he’ll likely ultimately build on this lot will be awesome – his work speaks for itself throughout CH, I’d love to live in one of his houses. My point is that unlike Blake’s attempts at getting buy-in where he doesn’t legally need to, the CHCA has stuck to its typical outright opposition and mobilization of ‘near neighbors’ into a frenzy, which accomplishes nothing and does more harm than good in the longer-run by ‘poisoning the well’ of our relations with potential developers, prospective business owners looking to open a new store in CH, or anyone else thinking about moving here and that hurts everyone.

        • June Goodwin

          That means CH has to decide how far it wants to go to discourage people from investing in CH over nebulous zoning issues which can throw a roadblock toward someone’s possible investment in CH and cause them to consider locating across the fence in nearby Montgomery County. Some of those zoning demands are ridiculous and petty enough to discourage investors.

          • CH

            Again, I’m agreeing with you.