Another Roxborough Home Could Bite the Dust

Developer plans to demolish 368 Lyceum Ave. for three houses.

Disclosure: The editor lives in a neighboring property to the one in the article.

Simultaneously as neighbors posted an online petition to save 368 Lyceum Ave. from a wrecking ball, construction crews took chainsaws to trees along the Roxborough property.

For the second time in a month, neighbors work to preserve an historical Roxborough home that property owners secured city permission to demolish.

Andrew Thomas received zoning permission to build three homes currently at the site of 368 Lyceum Ave., according to city records. Joshua Cohen, special adviser to City Councilman Curtis Jones, Jr., said the plan is permitted by right and the developer did not need neighborhood permission to knock down the Gothic home.

"They have a new construction permit and a use permit. That includes the ability to demolish the home," Cohen said. "It's a shame, because it's a loss of another historically important Roxborough property."

Patch reached to Bill O’Brien, the developer’s attorney who applied for the permits. Although he shared questions with Thomas, the property owner did not return a request for comment by publication.

Thomas has been involved in Roxborough developments before and owns two ongoing projects. He received support from the Central Roxborough Civic Association in 2010 to turn an abandoned church at Manayunk and Monastery streets into condos, and in 2011 the Manayunk Neighborhood Council backed 17 homes at Silverwood and Leverington streets.

On Thursday, Cohen noted the difference between the Lyceum project to the Bunting Home at 5901 Ridge Ave., where residents successfully negotiated a 30-day stay in demolition to devise alternatives. Because Thomas received lot division permission, no demolition notices were required. Other than neighbors filing a legal injunction, he said, residents lacked significant recourse.

Bob Spear owns a home on the 400 block of Lyceum Ave. and said the demolition is a backward step for a neighborhood just coming together.

"There's no procedure in place to maintain the integrity of the neighborhood. He owns it and has the right to make property what he wants as long as it's up to code, but by doing so, he'll devalue the neighborhood," Spear said.

Recently, the Roxborough Development Corporation secured grants from the Preservation Alliance to help homeowners historically renovate the homes on Lyceum Avenue. Although this property is beyond the Pechin Street border, Spear said it proves the neighborhood is worth maintaining.

"This street is a beautiful street, not just in Philadelphia, but it's also unique to in the United States... This home represents the Gothic style. It hasn't been maintained. Since, I've been on the block, it's been a state of deterioration. I know it will cost money to bring back to where it was, but that has so much more value than making a quick buck on rowhomes," he said.

Resident Helen Mangelsdorf created a petition on Change.org to preserve the home. She took issue with developers' attitudes toward Roxborough.

"This neighborhood is attractive to developers because of its historic character, Victorian architecture, stable property values, and open space. Yet the projects they undertake demonstrate a complete disregard and worse yet threaten and stand in opposition to the very qualities that attracted them in the first place," she wrote.

Although long-time resident Kay Sykora, also of the Schuylkill Project, said 368 Lyceum Ave. may be doomed, this demolition is symbolic for Roxborough's future. 

"This is indicative of the challenges facing Roxborough... These big properties have the ability to be broken into a few homes. There are more properties that are at risk unless people here raise the profile of Roxborough in the city's eyes," she said.

Sykora suggested two ways to do that—one is getting higher priority from the City Planning Commission. That agency is drafting neighborhood master plans, but Roxborough is at the bottom of the waiting list.

Additionally, she wants neighbors and civic associations to come to the table with developers.

"We need to figure what kind of tools will bring responsible developers here. You can't say no to every development, and part of the process is figuring it out. We can say we're willing to do thoughtful development that respects the value of these properties," she said.

Debbie Thomas October 27, 2012 at 09:03 PM
Well is this keeps up, I won't be staying in the area much longer. I have no desire whatsoever to live in a neighborhood filled with bland houses that are bland with no character. The developers are going to take full advantage of that "permit by right" to destroy the Manayunk and Roxborough........what a crying shame. It makes me sick. Cities like Boston have laws the protect older, architecturally beautiful homes and buildings. Here in Philly we rip them down. Whoever changed the L&I code should hang their damned heads in shame!
John C. Manton October 30, 2012 at 11:42 PM
About twenty years ago, the owners called me in for a consultation. In the parlor, to the right of the main entrance hallway, they had been removing layers of very old wallpaper when they discovered a message written on the plaster in pencil that read: "Halley's comet returns tonight, {date} 1910." This message was written in "Spencerian," a style of cursive writing taught in our public schools from 1850 to 1924, so I do not believe it to be a fake. Only someone who does extensive research with old 19th century public handwritten records would be familiar with it. Ironically, Bill O'Brien, Esq. lives in an almost identical house on the Gettysburg Road in Northern Roxborough that was built in the same time period.


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