Naval Asylum, 2420 Grays Ferry Avenue, Philadelphia, PA
Toll Brothers' progress in restoring Biddle Hall and other historic buildings now being monitored closely by city, state,neighborhood organizations
Eight hours after the first trucks arrived, firefighters were still battling this five-alarm blaze that erupted in the early morning hours of February 3, 2003. Preservation experts believe that despite the apparent devastation, much of this National Historic Landmark can be rebuilt.
After some time, several trips to court, and continued attention by the the media, the city, preservationists, and neighbors, developer Toll Brothers is working to remove debris, clear the site of weeds and brush, and begin the process of replacing the roof destroyed in the February 3 fire and restoring the building as the centerpiece of a development of luxury homes and condos. For continuing updates see the South of South Neighborhood Association website. This site is being maintained as an archive of the state of historic Biddle Hall before, during, and immediately after the fire.
[From this page as originally put up in December 2002]
First planned in 1799, the Naval Asylum was built in 1833, designed by William Strickland, who also designed the first U.S. Mint, the Tennessee State Capitol, and the cupola for Independence Hall. The facility was used as a naval home and hospital and also, until 1846, as the first Naval Academy.
Closed in 1976, it was sold to Toll Brothers in 1988 for $1,200,000. As these photos taken December 22, 2002 attest, this magnificent structure, on the National Register of Historic Places and a National Historical Landmark, is at risk. It would certainly be convenient for Toll Brothers -- who describe themselves as the nation's leading builder of luxury homes -- if the building fell down, because then they would have twenty acres on which to build a "suburban-type development," as they once described their project.
Preservationists call what's happening to the Naval Asylum "demolition by neglect." I call it a sin and a shame.
UPDATE, February 3, 2003 -- It didn't take a crystal ball to predict last night's/this morning's devastating fire at the Naval Home. But some of the preservationists we talked to hold out hope that the building's historic facade and parade grounds can be saved. If you'd like to be kept informed of developments on the Naval Home, send e-mail to email@example.com
Background: links to historic plans and photographs found on web by area residents
Graffiti of this magnitude are a clear indication that this site is not secure. Even before the fire, vandals entered the building and damaged the stunning cantilevered staircase flanking the chapel. (For more photos of the building past and present, see the online exhibition based on Ann Hoskins-Brown's tabletop display.)
This building should be the cornerstone of a neighborhood renaissance, but is instead hampering residents' efforts to improve the streetscape.
This gap in the fence behind the property is another easy entrance...
UPDATE February 9, 2003 -- This gap has not yet been secured. People are still entering through it.
UPDATE March 1, 2003 -- The gap was briefly covered with 8-ft chain link, but it's open again.
As is this pair of walls with convenient low-hanging branches.
What you can do:
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All opinions on this page are the personal opinions of Laura Blanchard and do not necessarily represent those of any organization of which she is a member. This page and its contents copyright © Laura Blanchard except as indicated herein.