Not just any house for sale in S.W. Phila.

Floor plans show the generous interior space available in the Governor's Residence. It was almost turned into condominiums.
Floor plans show the generous interior space available in the Governor's Residence. It was almost turned into condominiums.
Posted: January 27, 2014

For sale, for $2.5 million: a spacious and historic house in a trendy Philadelphia neighborhood with an interior you can change to accommodate your needs and tastes.

What's so unusual about that?

The house is the Governor's Residence at Naval Square in the Schuylkill neighborhood, designed by William Strickland and completed in 1834.

The 6,746-square-foot Greek Revival mansion, with a 3,000-square-foot finished basement, has served since 2006 as the sales office for Toll Bros.'s Naval Square development. It's also the headquarters of the Horsham-based luxury-home builder's Philadelphia City Living Division, said Brian Emmons, its vice president.

The Governor's Residence is one of three buildings Toll Bros. restored at what was originally known as the Naval Asylum and, after 1889, as the Naval Home (designated a National Historic Landmark in 1971).

The two other Strickland buildings - Biddle Hall and the Surgeon's Residence - hold some of Naval Square's 614 units, fewer than the 1,000 initially envisioned by now-retired chief operating officer Zvi Barzilay, who led Toll Bros.'s foray into the city from its traditional suburban market.

The Governor's Residence had been approved for six condominiums, Emmons said, "but we decided to go another way." Offering the building as a single-family residence or as two single-floor condos with four parking spaces are "the two roads we've chosen."

Toll will not sell to anyone who will turn around and carve the building up into more than the two single-floor units, he added.

"We are going to have restrictions on the sale," Emmons said. The builder would "prefer to have the building returned to its original glory."

The sale would close between October and December, depending on when Toll's need for the building is finished.

The structure, with its 13-foot ceilings, will be sold "as is," Emmons said, noting that Toll has spent a considerable amount of money restoring the long-neglected exterior, including the roof and porch.

Sale of the Governor's Residence signals the end of the path on which Toll embarked when it bought the 20.7-acre Naval Home in 1988. Construction there began in 2004.

That path included a long wait till the Philadelphia housing market improved, compromises with neighbors and preservationists, and passage of tax-abatement provisions by City Council.

From the beginning, Naval Square attracted singles, empty nesters, and a growing number of families with children. Buyers paid from $308,900 for the least expensive, 938-square-foot, one-bedroom condo to about $900,000 for a three-bedroom, two-bath with a den.

Just 10 units, including the residence, remain for sale. Those include seven units in the last condo building, Lawrence Place, and two sales models, Emmons said.

"Since we've stopped introducing 60 to 80 new units a year, activity has been limited mostly to resales," he said.

Mickey Pascarella, of Keller Williams in Center City, said: "Values are off from the peak, and we have done more than a handful of short sales. That said, resales are hot now - selling in 48 days, and for 97 percent of original list price. Those are seller's market stats."

Toll Bros. is not ending its efforts in Philadelphia as Naval Square winds down, Emmons said: It has 2400 South, a community of condos and townhouses in a former milk-processing plant in the same neighborhood, and luxury condos at 410 at Society Hill on South Front Street, at what was once NewMarket.

"The city is a good market for Toll," he said, "and we are continuing to pursue opportunities here."

215-854-2472 @alheavens

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