Robert Purvis House is Finally For Sale, But Who Will Buy It?

A reader reached out recently and gave us the heads up that 1601 Mount Vernon St. is listed for sale. This is exciting news, as the building has quite a bit of history, with some of it dating back over a century and a half, and the rest relating to its slow decline in recent decades. Looking far back into the past, the building was constructed in 1859 and was once home to Robert Purvis, a man that helped thousands of former slaves achieve freedom and is considered to be the “President of the Underground Railroad.” Colloquially, people refer to this place as the “Purvis House” due to its connection to this important person. Unfortunately, the Purvis House has not been well maintained at all and we highlighted its blighted condition way back in 2012.

In the past

As we told you back then, Miguel Santiago bought the property for $15,500 in 1977 and has proposed redevelopment a few different times. In 2012, he got permission from the Historical Commission to convert the building into three condos, but that never came to fruition. Sadly, most of the rear of the building came down in the same year, thanks to years of demolition by neglect. We checked in to nothing happening in 2015, and when we visited last year we found more of the same.

Current view
Rear of the building

But now there’s hope that the building will be revitalized at some point in the future, as soon as a buyer comes forward. The listing provides some interesting and new information, indicating that there has indeed been some work done on the property in recent years. It notes that there has been some facade work done, the presence of newer windows which were approved by Historic, a new roof, a new basement foundation, and new attic joists. That all being said, it’s still a shell which will require a full renovation and the reconstruction of its rear ell to the exacting standards of the Historical Commission. Though the multi-family zoning of the property would allow for at least five units by right, we wonder whether a project will pencil at the current $750K asking price, given all the factors that will be involved in renovating the building.

The listing also indicates that the sale of the property wasn’t the idea of the owner. It’s being taken through conservatorship using Act 135, which allows residents, businesses, or non-profits to take conservatorship over a blighted property, fix it up, and sell it off. In this case, it appears that the conservators made simple structural fixes and are now looking for new owners to complete the renovation. We’ll certainly be interested to see who, if anyone, steps forward to take on this long overdue project.

New homes to the north

While we’re here, we’d be remiss if we don’t mention the completed project located immediately to the north. Remember, we told you about the construction of four homes at 16th & North about a year and a half ago, when they were still being framed. They were completed earlier this year and two of the homes have already sold. The remaining homes are still listed for sale, at price points a little over $1M. We suspect they’ll trade soon enough, and news about the potential sale of the long blighted property next door will only help move things along.

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