Monday, July 31, 2006

The Next Big Thing on Rittenhouse Square

If you've walked along the south side of Rittenhouse Square, on the little block of Rittenhouse Square Street that runs past the Dorchester, you've probably noticed the 'For Sale' sign posted on an eccentric, Jeffersonian pavilion next to a red-brick, mansard-roofed Victorian townhouse. Many Philadelphians know the place as the McIlhenny Mansion, after Henry P. McIlhenny, the great socialite, party-giver, philanthropist, and art connoisseur who donated his priceless collection of Impressionist works to the Philadelphia Museum of Art. But the mansion has sat empty and decaying since 1986, the year McIlhenny died.

Not surprisingly, given Philadelphia's current real estate frenzy, the house is finally on the market. Asking price: $11,740,000.

A sale at that price would be far and away the most ever paid for a Center City home, but that is hardly the main thought rumbling through people's minds. While the $12 million tag might suggest the Philadelphia housing market has reached a whole new level, it's pretty much what developers expect to pay today for a prime Rittenhouse Square high-rise site. The sale brochure for the houses isn't even printed yet, but already a chill of fear has gone around the square: Is this going to be the scene of Philadelphia's next major preservation battle?

There are plenty of reasons not to get worked up yet. Although not historically certified, the 1853 house has seen plenty of history. It's also firmly inside the Rittenhouse-Fitler Historic District. It's an important low-rise landmark on the south side the square, which is the side least conducive to tower shadows. In 1999, a plan to add a glassed-in, roof-top pavilion provoked a battle royale at the city Historical Commission. It was eventually approved, though never built.

But you never know how the commission might react today. And this is a very big, very attractive site. The McIlhenny Mansion is no ordinary townhouse. It's 8,600 square feet of living space on six separate lots - plus a 30-foot-wide garden. The entire property measures 106-by-60 feet and goes through to Manning Street. It includes parking for four cars.

Micki Stolker, the broker at Prudential Fox & Roach who is representing the property, says she is not marketing it to developers. In fact, the property, which was bought by a different art collector, Henry S. McNeil Jr., in 1998 for $1.4 million, is being offered so that it can be broken into two separate properties - 1914 and 1916 Rittenhouse Square. Both properties are 30 feet wide and extend to Manning street. The one at 1914, which includes the red Victorian, is going for $6,875,000. The one next door, which includes the reception hall that McIlhenny had built to greet his party guests, is priced at $4, 865,000. Despite those record numbers, Stolker said there's been quite a bit of interest. Given that a sizeable Delancey Street house now goes for $3.5 million, she argues, a house like this on Rittenhouse Square is practically a bargain.


Blogger HughE Dillon said...

It's not a bargain when you have to deal with the Historic Commission and they find out that there's not too many changes they can make to the outsie of their new $6 million house.

12:24 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

If you're willing to pay $6 million for the house, it could be presumed that you have some appreciations for the historic aspects of the property an want to preserve them.

Otherwise, all I have to say is "a fool and his money will soon be parted."

2:02 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

What's funny is that a home like this in Manhattan might go for twice the price simply because of how much land is being sold.

Maybe it is a bargain?

4:22 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

A bit of the ridiculous for a house that hasn't been lived in for 20 years.

12:30 PM  
Blogger ACM said...

who cares whether it's been lived in, if you plan to completely redo the interior, as I would bet any current buyer would. a mouldering church in the 800 block of Lombard is being made into an 8,000-square-foot custom mansion right now, and they're pretty much ripping out the whole interior and starting over with a repoured foundation. it will be killer when it's done...

3:14 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

That's a very ambitious price with the Philadelphia market drying up more rapidly than the national market and the fact that the neighborhood is stuck in 1920 and won't let anything new be built.

4:48 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The interior is rather charming -- there was a public tour a few years back. May need a new kitchen & some bath rehab, all of which could be handled for under $ 0.3 MM. The property should probably sell for around $ 4 MM in the current market, but someone has planted visions of sugar plum fairies in the owner's head. That's too bad, because the market is declining & the owner won't get $ 4 MM if he/she really insists on $ 12 MM.

1:20 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

How is it the property and others in cc have gone up 10 times!! in just over ten years??

NEVER in any time period has there been such an out of whack change... did incomes move this much during the time period?

When will Philadelphia home sellers lower the asking prices as in the rest of the country and major cities??

4:57 PM  

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