Developer to Raze Estate

Posted on: August 30th, 2007 by Margaret Foster 1 Comment

Dunminning Estate’s contents were sold last weekend, and no laws prevent its imminent demolition. (Chris Driscoll)A Pennsylvania developer is preparing to demolish a c. 1897 mansion in Newtown Square, Pa., outside Philadelphia.

At a so-called "pre-demolition sale" last weekend, many of the Dunminning Mansion's interior features, including several of its six mantels, were marked "sold," according to Chris Driscoll, vice president of the Newtown Square Historical Preservation Society, so the 15,000-square-foot mansion's days are numbered. A spokesman for Bentley Homes says it will be razed within 30 days.

"We don't have a historic-preservation ordinance, which is kind of ridiculous since [Newton Square] is one of the oldest townships in the state," Driscoll says. "Without a historic-preservation ordinance, there is little we can do."

Next month, the township's board of supervisors will consider granting a demolition permit to Bentley Homes, based in West Chester, Pa., which plans to build 17 houses on the site. The board of supervisors approved Bentley's development last November after the company downsized the project by one house. According to the minutes of a Jan. 22, 2007, meeting of the board of supervisors, Don Petrosa, Bentley's lawyer, stated that the proceeds of the sale of the mansion's contents would go to the township.

Architect Theophilus Parsons Chandler (1845-1928), founder of the University of Pennsylvania's architecture department, designed the Normandy-style mansion for Philadelphia banker John A. Brown.

The Dunminning Mansion's former owner, a nonprofit called the Devereaux Foundation, used it as offices before selling it to Bentley, which tore down several historic structures to make way for another neighborhood across the street.

Bentley did not return phone calls to Preservation Online, but its Web site mentions "a community of 17 estate homes, which surrounds the original Dunminning Mansion."

Driscoll says he has seen plans for the 17-house development, and they don't include the mansion.

"In our opinion, [Tom Bentley] never really made an effort to sell it," Driscoll says. "It's more profitable to tear it down and have two extra lots and two $2 million houses on them."

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Preservation Magazine

One Response

  1. Newtown Round

    September 4, 2007

    While I am maddened by the thought of the Newtown Square township board of advisors issuing a demolition permit to Bentley Homes (http://www.bentleyhomes.com/rep_proj.asp) for the demolition of the 110 year-old Dunminning Mansion, I’m equally frustrated by the seemingly disinterested or non-vocal leadership at the University of Pennsylvania for whom Theophilus P. Chandler, Jr. – the architect of Dunminning – apparently did so much.

    If, as Tip O’Neil wrote, ‘all politics is local’ applied to historic preservation (which I’d argue it does) is there then no argument to be made to inspire UPENN’s involvement to save this historic place? Or, is there not a single voice of protest from AIA Philadelphia, where T.P. Chandler once served as President, that isn’t loud enough… or outraged enough to be heard?

    What of the Governor? And why not? With his unique brand of Philadelphia-born politics, and with enough good-will and ties in eastern PA to make it happen, Ed Rendell could quietly and effectively assemble the developer, the township, and preservationists alike to do one of the things he does best: broker a deal. But, until he, the township or other local players take a stance, I’m afraid the author is right, Dunminning’s days are numbered.

    More on the architect’s life and legacy here: http://www.philadelphiabuildings.org/pab/app/ar_display.cfm/22836