the arlen specter center for public service at the roxboro house

OVERVIEW

The Roxboro House (1802), located in the East Falls neighborhood of Philadelphia, was historically the home of several of Philadelphia's notable citizens. During the last decade of the 20th century, the building was neglected to a point where moisture infiltration compromised several structural and decorative elements of the original design. Philadelphia University came to the Roxboro House's rescue and purchased it with the intent to incorporate it into its campus within its historic neighborhood.

In 2006, Philadelphia University retained Preservation Design Partnership (PDP) to perform a thorough Existing Conditions Assessment. In 2010, Philadelphia University reengaged PDP to lead a multi-discipline team in the planning and design of the house as the Senator Arlen Specter Center for Political Science and International Relations. PDP developed a plan, sequence of construction, schedule and project estimate for the restoration and reuse of the house. The Schematic Design was approved by the University and received preliminary approvals by all authorities having jurisdiction over the project.

HISTORY

The Roxboro House was originally built c. 1802 as a speculative investment. Its original form - a Federal-Style, rectangular-plan, hipped-roof, frame dwelling with front and back porches from which to take in the views then available from the heights - reflects the taste in country seats for Philadelphia's mercantile elite from the late eighteenth and early nineteenth century along and near the Schuylkill River.

Roxboro was owned briefly by the prominent physician and scientist Caspar Wistar 1810 until his death in 1818. In 1834, the house was sold to the merchant Moses Brown, marking the beginning of just over a century of Brown family ownership. In the decades after his purchase, Brown made many improvements to the Roxboro House estate, building a farmer's cottage and barn, erecting a substantial stone wall along School House Lane, and establishing a remarkably well-documented landscape garden around and behind the house.

By the late 1920s, the house was occupied by Samuel Rosenbaum as a tenant. Rosenbaum made a number of substantial changes to the building, and retained it at least until the 1960s, when it was listed in the Philadelphia Register of Historic Places.

A final major campaign of changes took place in 1991, when the property was operated as a bed and breakfast. In 1998, Philadelphia University purchased the Roxboro House.

CONDITIONS ASSESSMENT

In 2003, Philadelphia University determined that portions of the Roxboro House were structurally compromised, jeopardizing the stability of the historic building core. The University installed exterior and interior shoring to stabilize the tower until a building assessment could be completed.

In August 2006, PDP completed an Assessment Report for the Roxboro House, in conjunction with Keast & Hood, Co. Structural Engineers. After conducting a comprehensive assessment of the existing conditions of the Roxboro House, PDP made recommendations for several critical interventions that would minimize additional deterioration to the historic fabric of the building. The work proposed included: careful dismantling and storage of the historic exterior cornice; the replacement of the roof over the historic core; improved storm water management; and the removal of the southeast tower.

RENOVATION

In July 2010, PDP was selected by Philadelphia University for the planned renovation of the Roxboro House into the Arlen Specter Center for Public Service. The Schematic Design and Planning Phase, which began immediately, included the following key elements:

  • Assessment of existing conditions
  • Wood pathology survey
  • Historic research
  • Scope and budget validation
  • As-found conditions drawings
  • Programming
  • Building envelope thermal analysis
  • Renovation options
  • Zoning application
  • Schematic design

The Schematic Design + Planning Report was completed in December 2010. Construction Documents were completed in 2013. The building was completed and occupied in 2014, and serves as the "front door" to the rest of the campus, as well as a source of mutual pride for the University and the surrounding community, symbolic of achievement and rebirth.

STATUS

Conditions Assessment - Completed (2007)
Stabilization - Completed (2006)
Construction Documents - Completed (2013)
Construction - Completed (2014)

SELECTED AWARDS

Preservation Alliance for Greater Philadelphia Preservation Achievement Grand Jury Award, 2015