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.

Send him a message at: motecw[at]hotmail[dot]com



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
Mayor’s Office Awards $60K For Performances In Public Spaces Program

Mayor’s Office Awards $60K For Performances In Public Spaces Program

February 26, 2015  |  Morning Blend

Pilot program will bring the arts to 23 public spaces throughout the city, Grays Ferry park to be renovated, Nebinger to install new gateway, microgrants for Newbold, and stained-glass on the Avenue of the Arts > more

Committee Approves 3D Signage For Center City

Committee Approves 3D Signage For Center City

February 25, 2015  |  Morning Blend

Council counters Planning Commission’s recommendation, a petition to save and redevelop the Germantown YWCA, connecting communities in West and North Philly, and more cultural grants this year > more

Under Inspection: Five Residential Projects Currently Breaking Ground

Under Inspection: Five Residential Projects Currently Breaking Ground

February 25, 2015  |  Vantage

Boon times for our evolving skyline as large-scale construction projects pop up all over the city, but how the designs hold up when the buildings are complete? Hidden City contributor and urbanist inspector Stephen Stofka puts an eye on five big residential projects about to begin > more

Close Call For Bromley Carpet Factory After 3-Alarm Fire In Neighboring Building

Close Call For Bromley Carpet Factory After 3-Alarm Fire In Neighboring Building

February 24, 2015  |  News

Crisis averted for Bromley Carpet Factory in Kensington after 3-alarm fire breaks out along Front Street. > more

East Falls Residents “Blindsided” By Sale of Former Psychiatric Institute

East Falls Residents “Blindsided” By Sale of Former Psychiatric Institute

February 24, 2015  |  Morning Blend

NewCourtland Senior Services purchases facility for $2.1 million, still no word on plans for The Gallery’s renovations, rising rents in South Philly, and nearly a quarter-century after the Meridian fire > more

Winter Whiteout 2015

Winter Whiteout 2015

February 23, 2015  |  Vantage

Though last month's Storm of the Century resulted in little else than a dusting and forecaster embarrassment, this winter has meant serious business. Thanks to the brutal recent cold snap, Philadelphia has had its coldest February in over 30 years. Top the frozen landscape with 4-6" of Saturday's surprise snowfall, and the big city turns to Currier & Ives. Brad Maule tips his cap to the old romantics with this snowy walk through Fairmount Park > more