Philadelphia Mansion "in Limbo"
By Margaret Foster | Online Only | Apr. 1, 2009
UPDATE: A fire destroyed the Garrett-Dunn House on Aug. 2, 2009.
A 19th-century mansion in Philadelphia, damaged last year during a construction project, has survived the winter.
The Garrett-Dunn House, designed by Thomas Ustick Walter (famous for the U.S. Capitol dome), was the focus of a condo project that came to a standstill when a developer ran out of funds. Before his money ran out, John Capoferri hired contractors who removed the landmarked house's stucco facade, which left it open to the elements. Responding to pressure from neighbors and the Preservation Alliance of Greater Philadelphia, the city sued Capoferri last October for building code violations and "failure to preserve and protect historic property," according to the complaint filed in the city's court of common pleas. (Capoferri could not be reached for comment.)
In December, a court bestowed "conservator" status of the house to the Preservation Alliance of Greater Philadelphia. With $20,000 from Capoferri's mortgage holder, National Penn Bank, the alliance hired contractors to secure the house, protecting it for many winters to come.
"This was an extraordinary move for a bank—in these times—to step up and contribute the funds to stabilize the house," says Adrian Scott Fine, former director of the National Trust for Historic Preservation's Northeast Field Office in Philadelphia, who met with the city last year to discuss the legal process necessary to protect the historic structure.
The house, the only Greek Revival summer cottage left in Philadelphia, is listed on the city's register of historic places as well as the National Register of Historic Places.
According to Capoferri's Web site, his project would have included the construction of 14 townhouses and "adaptive reuse" of the original manor house "into five new luxury residences."
Now the Garrett-Dunn House, which preservationists feared would not survive the winter, is stabilized, says John Gallery, executive director of the Preservation Alliance of Greater Philadelphia. Gallery cautions that the future of the property remains "in limbo. The intent was to secure it so it remained intact until something new happened."
For more photos, stories, and tips, subscribe to the print edition of Preservation magazine.