Roxborough’s Bunting House Gets Reprieve

 

Bunting House, Roxborough

An endangered historic Roxborough residence became the subject of rallying cries by community activists and preservation advocates last week. Today, there’s new indication that its fate may be spared–for now.

The home, built around 1880 as the residence of Dr. Ross Richardson Bunting, at 5901 Ridge Avenue, is cited by preservationists as a striking example of the French-inspired Second Empire style popular at the time.

On Monday evening, civic leaders met with the owners, Frank and Anthony Giovannone, to work out a possible compromise and avoid demolition.

The Giovannones were planning to leave the parcel at 5901 Ridge vacant, as well as demolish the three blighted buildings (5905-5909) next door to the Bunting. Following the original outcry, they told Josh Cohen, a staffer for City Councilman Curtis Jones, Jr., that the house was structurally unsound.

On Monday, however, they revealed a willingness to reach a solution that was financially feasible.

“It went very well,” said Bernard Guet, executive director of the Roxborough Development Corporation. He also said he was awaiting confirmation from the Giovannones to agree to a 30-day halt to demolition while the RDC helped to find funding for repairs and a new commercial tenant.

Although the owners had made no announcement of their plans before applying for the demolition permit, Guet said he felt they were cooperative during the meeting.

“I’m confident that they care about the neighborhood,” he said. “They are from Roxborough and are committed to the area. They just thought it was a simple matter of development. They didn’t know the historical importance of what the house represents.”

A Doctor’s Abode

Bunting (1834-1900) was among Philadelphia’s distinguished physicians and one of Roxborough’s most conspicuous residents. John C. Manton, the author of Victorian Roxborough, has listed 1880 as the most probable year of the construction of the Bunting House, according to deeds and appraisal records available from the time.

An alumnus of Jefferson Medical College, Bunting later studied in France and was one of the first Americans to earn a degree from the École de Medicine at the Université de Paris.

Back home, he became a founding trustee of the Roxborough Home for Indigent Women, still in operation today as a senior center (known simply as the Roxborough Home for Women) at 601 East Leverington Avenue. He was also a member of the Philadelphia Obstetrical Society and contributed widely to medical journals.

Bunting is buried in the cemetery of Saint Timothy’s Episcopal Church, a few blocks down Ridge Avenue from his home, which remained in the family until 1911.

Saving a Community’s Character

Kelly Phillips Erb has a special intimacy with the Bunting House. Her law firm was based there from 2004 until the beginning of this September.

A North Carolina native, Erb and her Philadelphia-born husband settled in Roxborough because of the compromise it offered between city life and green space. They cite the Bunting House as one of the surviving landmarks of “The Ridge,” as locals endearingly refer to the avenue.

“Residents like the fact that this is a green neighborhood,” said Erb, who is also a former president of the RDC. “We actually have a greening initiative that involves pulling up asphalt, not putting it down. So it’s disappointing that anyone would want to eliminate part of that character of the neighborhood.”

Although she dealt with various repair issues as a tenant, Erb felt the house was still in livable condition.

“It’s not in any way falling down,” she said.

The previous owners maintained the property, she said, installing hardwood floors, repainting the exterior and refurbishing the cherry-colored trim. Those owners, unfortunately, fell into financial hardship after the recession hit, eventually surrendering the house and the three blighted homes next door to it at foreclosure.

Before the recession, the previous owners had proposed a plan, approved by the community but never realized, to preserve the Bunting House while tearing down the neighboring homes to build new mixed-use properties.

An Outpouring of Support

When Erb turned in her keys to the present owners, she said they gave her no impression that they would do anything different.

“We didn’t grill them on their plans,” she admitted. “There was some whispering among civic association members, but I genuinely didn’t believe anything unusual was going to happen.”

That was September 4, she said. Two days later, a demolition permit for 5901 Ridge Ave. was approved by L&I. It was only last week that Erb became aware of it and sounded the alarm. Reaction was swift and precipitated a flurry of calls to the offices of community groups and Councilman Jones, as well as an online petition on change.org.

The Bunting House lacks designation on the city’s Register of Historic Places, which would have required the Historical Commission to approve demolition. At Monday’s meeting, as was reported by Newsworks, Josh Cohen also affirmed that the councilman’s office could not deny the owners their permit, but rather, could encourage the best solution among all parties.

The French-born Guet, who describes Roxborough as Philadelphia’s “village,” said that the RDC is beginning to receive mail from parties interested in renting space in the house as a result of the controversy. He supports new development of the other three properties, but draws the line at those homes that give the neighborhood its heritage.

“It’s not something that’s going to be built again,” he said of the Bunting residence. “It’s a part of who we are.”

About the author

Christopher Mote covers stories of preservation, planning, zoning and development. He lives in South Philadelphia and has a special fondness for brownstone churches and mansard roofs.



6 Comments


  1. The photo posted with this story is not the Bunting House in Roxborough. It’s the old Y in Frankford.
    Thanks for the article, though. Very much appreciated.

  2. The photo in the article is indeed the Bunting House at 5901 Ridge Ave. It is good news that the house may be saved. It should be placed on the historic list. We don’t need any more parking lots, or strip malls in this area. Thanks to everyone who got involved…

Recent Posts
Finding The (Diverse) Faces Of Boathouse Row

Finding The (Diverse) Faces Of Boathouse Row

August 1, 2014  |  Buzz

Noticing the wide range of age and racial diversity on the river, rower and photographer Sabina Pierce put together a series of portraits of Philadelphia's rowers, on display along Boathouse Row > more

Researchers: World Trade Center Ship Built In Pre-Revolutionary Philly

Researchers: World Trade Center Ship Built In Pre-Revolutionary Philly

July 31, 2014  |  Morning Blend

Manhattan sloop said to be constructed from similar timber of Independence Hall, Comcast looking for temporary solution to office space shortage, City to get better neighborhood data, minimizing the impact of methdone clinics, and the Queen Lane Apartments well on their way to demolition > more

Under World

Under World

July 31, 2014  |  Last Light

What's life like under the El in Kensington? There are a million answers, and here are a few of them courtesy of three street photographers > more

In Parkside, Habitat For Humanity Takes On New Challenge: Preservation

In Parkside, Habitat For Humanity Takes On New Challenge: Preservation

July 30, 2014  |  News

Neighbors and volunteers confront challenges as they attempt to restore their Philadelphia historic register houses. Some preservationists argue that this kind of project, in a low income neighborhood, requires a new approach. Michael Buozis files this report from West Philadelphia > more

Over $200 Million In Improvements Coming To The Gallery

Over $200 Million In Improvements Coming To The Gallery

July 30, 2014  |  Morning Blend

Two companies announce their joint venture to revitalize the Market Street mall, two youth-athletic leagues also set to collaborate on new space, preventing inappropriate mixed-use in Bustleton, and crime down in UCity > more

Fairmount Park Guard Houses: A Survivor's Guide

Fairmount Park Guard Houses: A Survivor’s Guide

July 29, 2014  |  Harry K's Encyclopedia

The Fairmount Park Historic Preservation Trust is busy restoring the few of these uniquely Philadelphia buildings that remain. Harry K tells us why they're important and where to find them > more