Blight of the Week: Robert Purvis House

If you frequent the Spring Garden neighborhood, you’ve probably noticed this horribly blighted property at some point over the years. The dismay that we feel about the poor condition of 1601 Mount Vernon St. is only heightened by the fact that it has tremendous historic value.

Front of the building
Bricks appear to be crumbling

In 2009, the Preservation Alliance listed this building on their Endangered Properties List. The building, built in 1859, was home for twenty-five years to Robert Purvis, a man often referred to as the President of the Underground Railroad. Estimates vary, but it’s clear that he directly helped thousands of former slaves achieve freedom.

Miguel Santiago has owned the property since 1977, when he purchased it for $15,500. Over the past decade or so, he has proposed redeveloping the property a few different times, though no work appears to have taken place as of yet. As recently as this past May, the Historical Commission approved revised plans for Santiago to demolish and reconstruct the eastern wall of the building, eventually creating three condo units in the building. No visible work has taken place since then.

Forgive us, but we’re not optimistic that this developer is going to be successful in his efforts to redevelop the property. His family’s track record in allowing the building to deteriorate over the past three decades suggests either irresponsibility or a lack of resources to get the job done. Hopefully, the owner will sell the property to someone who can get moving on a redevelopment of the property right away. Because if he continues to dither, the building may well collapse before he has the chance to restore it.

Unless that’s been the plan all along…