The nearly century-old mansion at 1500 N. Broad St. was once a private dwelling for a local millionaire and later a community outreach center, but it now stands as a deteriorating monument to a bygone era in North Philadelphia history.
Temple now owns the building, where the School of Social Administration and the Center for Social Policy and Community Development were located until a fire closed the building.
“It’s been sad to see the building fall apart,” said Michael Clemmons, who worked in the mansion for ten years, “You walk by now and can only see it contributing to urban blight.”
“It pains me to see what has happened to it,” former Temple maintenance person Andy Riccardi said, “I’ve always connected with older buildings. This building is unique…you can feel the history when you’re inside of it.”
Employees who used to work in the building agree that a July 8, 1993 fire spelled the beginning of the end for the property.
Riccardi vividly remembers the event that involved four of his co-workers.
He said that a crew that was replacing a blown fuse in an air conditioner compressor.
The crew did not know that the compressor they were repairing had a terminal that had cracked and leaked oil and gas.
“When they went to restart it there was a spark that ignited the escaping gas,” he said. “It was like a fire gun and they were trapped there with their backs to the wall.”
Michael Stasulli, the maintenance worker who was directly in front of the unit, was severely burned over 56 percent of his body.
The other three workers were treated for burns to the face, back and arms and inhalation of phosgene gas and smoke.
Clemmons, who is the Assistant Coordinator of Employment and Training for the Center for Social Policy and Development, said the center’s workers were told several months after the fire that they would have to leave the building.
“We weren’t moved directly after the fire,” he said. “But we had to stop using the floor because there were concerns over the building’s wiring. A short time later we were told it needed extensive renovation and they would be closing the building rather than make the repairs.”
Robert Buchholz, Associate Vice President of Facilities Management, said there are no plans on the books for further use or historic maintenance of the property.
He said it would cost a lot of money to bring the complex up to code.
Issues that concern him include the building’s plumbing and wiring, as well as lead paint and asbestos, he said.
“Earlier this year I went down and took a look at it with [university] president [David] Adamany,” Buchholz said, “The president is interested in the building, but right now it doesn’t fit in with his priorities.”
Buchholz said that even though the building is aging, the roof is strong and that there is no water damage to the property.
“It was converted from a home into offices and does have an elevator and fire sprinkler system,” he said, “But how you repaired it would really depend on what you want to use it for and right now there hasn’t been anybody trying to move down there.”
Neighborhood residents hope that efforts to revitalize the Progress Plaza shopping center across the street from the mansion will force the university to act.
Richard Rumer, Associate Vice President of Business Services, said that work on Progress Plaza could affect the university’s plans.
“The development may have an impact on how the space is utilized,” he said. “But right now we’re holding onto the building with no real final plans for it.”
Even though the property has declined over the last few years, Rumer says that it remains a valuable piece of real estate to the university and could one day make a nice combination of retail, office and administration space.
But for people like Clemmons and Riccardi who once worked in the building, preservation is only the first step.
They hope that the university will use the property again and work to maintain the site’s historic nature.
“It’s been sad to see it deteriorate,” Clemmons said.
“You see people taking parts of the stone from the fence in front of the building and know that people have broken inside to steal the valuable wood paneling.”
Chris Powell can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org