Spruce Hill: Historical Society Votes ‘Yes’ On Mansion-Preserving Construction Plan

The Levy-Leas mansion at 400 S. 40th St.

Members of the University City Historical Society voted unanimously to support a new proposal for construction on the historical mansion on the corner of 40th and Pine Streets. The proposal will allow for the preservation of the now-abandoned 19th-century mansion.

“We are an historical society, so as you expect, we’d like to see it preserved,” said UCHS president Melani Lamond.

The new building proposal, which was drafted by Equinox Management and Construction LLC, called for a building containing 99 apartments to be built around the original structure. The complex, which would be called Azalea Gardens Apartments, would be aimed at young professionals and Penn graduate students, said Equinox’s Peter Staz. According to blueprints, the restored mansion would house a foyer and two larger apartments.

Members of the University City Historical Society watch a presentation about proposed building plans for the mansion at 40th and Pine.
Members of the University City Historical Society watch a presentation about proposed building plans for the mansion at 40th and Pine.

UCHS held a meeting Wednesday evening, February 19, at the Calvary Center on 48th and Baltimore to vote on its official stance. About 25 people, almost all of whom were UCHS members, attended. Before the vote was taken, Staz gave a presentation on the building’s history and Equinox’s past and current proposals. Equinox has been working with the University of Pennsylvania on the property since 2011, Staz said. Penn bought the property in 2003.

The new plan was created in response to legal appeals against Equinox’s previous plan, which differed from the newest plan in that it called for the demolition of the mansion. Both the construction and the demolition were approved by the city, but further action was halted by the appeals. As previously reported by PlanPhilly, the appellants – Woodland Terrace Homeowners Association, Maryanne Kurmlavage and Guy Laren – challenged the zoning exceptions awarded to Penn for the construction and the approval of demolition granted by the city’s Historical Commission. UCHS voted to take no stance on this proposal, according to Lamond.

Staz referred to the current plan as “the compromise plan.” The new plan is lower density and allows for the restoration of the mansion. However, opposition from the appellants continues. Matthew Grubel, a member of the appellant group, noted in an email that Penn is still pursuing demolition.

A rendition of the building proposed in the compromise plan.
A slide from the presentation, showing a rendition of the building proposed in the compromise plan.

After the compromise plan was announced in November, the appellants released a position paper, which was published in the Weekly Press.

“With regards to the current proposal, we have several concerns, including height, the west wing, the use of the mansion, management of the tenants, design issues, operation issues and restoration issues,” the position paper said. “If we can agree on density for the property, then we believe it would [be] fruitful for us to discuss these other issues as part of a comprehensive resolution.”

“This has been a prolonged effort to protect our neighborhood of long time home owners and historically significant architecture from demolition and inappropriate high density development,” said Mary Daniels, a member of the appellant group.

During a question-and-answer session after the presentation, Staz said that Equinox would continue to reach out to the appellants and that he had attempted to contact them within the last couple of weeks and was planning on trying again in the near future.

“We don’t necessarily have a clear path,” Staz said, before reaffirming Equinox’s openness to suggestions from the neighborhood and the Historical Society.


All text, video and pictures, unless stated otherwise, were created by Nicole Gattone.

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