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The historic mansion at 40th and Pine streets was demolished on Aug. 22. | DP File Photo

After a long battle between Penn and the neighborhood of West Philadelphia, the historic mansion at 400 S. 40th St. has finally been demolished.

On Aug. 22, the University began demolishing the 40th and Pine mansion in order to create new student housing. Although Penn tried to compromise with the neighborhood, proposing a plan to incorporate the mansion into the housing complex they had received permission to begin, the neighborhood ultimately refused to meet them in the middle.

Saving the mansion would have cost Penn more money, but the university was willing to do this if the neighborhood agreed to it.

“It’s not like this thing happened overnight. There was enough of a lag time that if the opponents wanted to reach some sort of conclusion, they could’ve done it,” Spruce Hill District zoning committee Director Barry Grossbach said.

“Penn purchased the property in 2003 for redeveloping a neighborhood eyesore, and in that time presented a variety of redevelopment concepts to the local community,” Facilities and Real Estate Services Vice President Anne Papageorge said in an email statement.

Ultimately, Penn decided to go forward with demolition after the university was granted a hardship — a designation allowing developers to circumvent the zoning code as written. In 2012, the Philadelphia Historic Commission determined “the property so blighted that its reuse was not feasible,” Papageorge said.

The Woodland Terrace Homeowners Association, a group of West Philadelphia residents, appealed the demolition, but the decision was upheld by the Board of License and Inspection Review, the Philadelphia Court of Common Pleas and the Commonwealth Court.

“As far as the neighborhood is concerned, that battle is over,” Grossbach said. “It’s unfortunate that it [the mansion] could not be saved.”

The mansion was built in the 1850s by architect Samuel Sloan, and Penn purchased the location in 2008. In 2013, Penn created a plan to leave the mansion as is and expand upon it, adding student housing and calling it “Azalea Gardens.” The Woodland Terrace Homeowners Association rejected this proposal.

In place of the mansion, “the city of Philadelphia has approved Azalea Gardens, a new four-story building containing 115 apartments,” Papageorge said.

Before moving forward, the project must receive a zoning variance, which would permit developers to change the official designation of the property and allow it to serve a different purpose. The City of Philadelphia has granted the variance, giving Penn permission to use the land for Azalea Gardens, with support of the Spruce Hill Community Association. However, the Woodland Terrace Homeowners Association continues to give the university pushback and is appealing the zoning variance.

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