Will West Philly Italianate Mansion Be Saved After All?

Azalea Gardens, a graduate student housing complex, is the latest proposal in a long-contested battle over how to redevelop a historic Italianate mansion located at 400 S. 40th St., which is owned by Penn.

Way back when. Image from Phillyhistory.org
More recently.

Last month, developers from Equinox Management and Construction presented preliminary plans to preserve the mansion, knock down the concrete wings that were added when it served as nursing home, and construct a five-story L-shaped residential building, to members of the Spruce Hill Community Association. The project would target grad students, and offer 99 apartments with mostly studios and 1-bedroom units. One notable feature of the project is that it doesn’t include parking. Hopefully, proximity to campus and easy access to the 40th St. Trolley Portal will allay fears from neighbors that the project will make parking more challenging in the area.

Early project rendering. Image from West Philly Local.

The new plans came months after the Woodland Terrace Homeowners’ Association, which has fought with Penn over redevelopment of the site for nearly a decade, filed a lawsuit against the group after the ZBA approved plans to demolish the mansion last year, according to the West Philly Local. Years earlier, neighbors fought a proposal to erect an 11-story Hilton hotel on the site, which has sat vacant for over a decade. That hotel was eventually built at 41st & Walnut as Homewood Suites. .

We hope this historic mansion can be preserved, as its architectural style is a nod to the upscale suburban culture that used to make up this area in the second half of the nineteenth century. If Penn can figure a way to parlay preservation of the mansion with new housing as it continues to expand, we applaud that vision as well. Hopefully, some variation of this project will eventually receive approval and new life will come to this ghost of a corner. We’ll stay tuned as more info about this project surfaces in the months to come.

–Lou Mancinelli