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Penn History

“Carriage House” at the Rear of 3905 Spruce Street Part III: The Carriage House “Doubles” In Size, 1922-1943

by Mark Frazier Lloyd, August 2000

Today’s Carriage House building is actually composed of two, former, carriage house structures, which once stood side by side. The first, as discussed in Part II, was a two-story brick building either constructed new by Joseph D. Potts to service his household at 3905 Spruce Street or an older building remodeled by Potts. The second was a two-story brick building constructed to service the household of Wharton E. Harris, at the house next-door to the west, 3907 Spruce Street. As discussed in Part II, the heirs of Joseph Potts sold the 3905 property to the Christian Association (CA) in 1917.

The Harris family sold the 3907 property to Anthony J. Drexel in 1887 and after his death, the executors of his estate sold the place to Clarence S. Bement in 1900. In 1922 Bement sold 3907 to the Acacia Fraternity, but Acacia could not afford to purchase the entire property. Acacia, Bement and the Christian Association then reached an agreement, by which Bement realized the full market value of his house and grounds. Acacia purchased the house at 3907 and the land behind it, but the Christian Association expanded the western boundary of 3905 by purchasing a strip of land, about thirty feet wide, which fronted on Spruce Street and extended the entire depth of the 3907 property. The CA purchase included the 3907 carriage house, which stood on Irving Street, at what had originally been the northeast corner of the 3907 property. From 1922 until the International House sold its property to the University in 1960, both carriage houses were owned and used for International House purposes.

A detailed account of the 1922 expansion of the International House property and the acquisition of the 3907 carriage house may be assembled from the papers of the Christian Association, in the collections of the University Archives. On 23 November 1922, two members of the Foreign Division of the Board of Directors of the Christian Association proposed to the Division that purchase be made of a portion of the Harris House property at 3907 Spruce Street. The minutes of the meeting describe the land as “a strip of land 30 feet wide, and running the full length of the lot from Spruce Street to Irving Street.” The argument in favor of the purchase was stated as ” the great need of this additional piece of land in order that proposed additions to the International House might be made.” The Foreign Division voted first, “to buy from the Acacia Fraternity a thirty foot strip of land next to 3905 Spruce Street on the west, at a figure not greater than $12,500; settlement to be made not sooner than two months after the signing of the agreement of sale.” The Division voted second, to “recommend to the Board of Directors of the Christian Association the placing of an additional mortgage of $15,000 upon the whole property of the International Students House if it be necessary to complete the purchase of the property.”

On 15 December 1922 the Board of Directors of the Christian Association voted to “adopt the recommendation of the Foreign Division” and to “borrow a sum not exceeding $18,000 . secured upon the premises 3905 Spruce Street and also upon a strip of land 26 feet wide immediately west thereof, which the corporation is about to buy from Clarence S. Bement.”

The minutes of the 25 April 1923 meeting of the Foreign Division reported the following: “the purchase of additional property for the International Students House made final report that the land had been purchased for the sum of $13,000; that the old mortgage of $4,500 had been canceled; and that a new mortgage in the sum of $18,000 was placed on the House at 6%.”

On 25 September 1928, George E. Nitzsche, representing the Acacia fraternity, wrote James W. Fry of the Christian Association, saying,

You will recall that in December 1922 I agreed, for the Acacia fraternity, to have you take over twenty-nine feet of the property at 3907 Spruce Street, adjoining the Christian Association property at 3905 Spruce Street. For this you paid the sum of $13,500. The property also included the two story brick stable on Irving Street. At the time we had not yet taken title to the property so I asked the former owner to convey this part of it to you direct.

Shortly after the property was sold we all regretted it, but at the time I was hard pressed, not being able to finance our proposition in any other way, so I had no other alternative. .

We have been anxious to get this property back and at least part of it, for some time, and I write now to ask whether you would consider the proposition.

On 10 October, Fry wrote back to Nitzsche, saying that the Christian Association was “not now inclined to sell the property,” but further, “we have no immediate intention of building there.” This appears to have closed the matter and there is no record of any further discussion of selling the Harris carriage house back to Acacia.


Archival Sources

  • Collections of the University Archives and Records Center (UARC):
    • Christian Association Collection, including:
      • “Christian Association, Administration, International Students House, 1927-28,” Box 11, File Folder 78.
      • Board Records, Minute Book, 1918-23.
    • “‘Potts’ Mansion 3905 Spruce St.” (photograph). Photograph Collection, Box 30, File Folder 23.
  • Philadelphia Department of Records:
    • Plan 20 S 9, Lots #135 and #136.