The owner of the Society Hill mansion across Walnut Street from the historic Merchants’ Exchange Building wants to replace his palatial 20-year-old home with a 15-story, 117-guest-room hotel tower.
Logistics mogul Anthony Cerone, who owns the property at 232-36 Walnut St., told members of the Philadelphia Historical Commission’s architecture committee Tuesday that the hotel project is what “the city needs” to help it recover from the economic consequences of the coronavirus pandemic.
The architecture committee, whose rulings serve as nonbinding recommendations to the Historical Commission, voted against endorsing the proposal, with some panelists characterizing it as out-of-scale with the surrounding neighborhood.
Cerone, an owner of the XTL Inc. warehouse and trucking company, built his four-story, 5,400-square-foot home behind high brick walls on land he acquired for $1.1 million in 1999, property records show.
The mansion has a forested rear patio, a five-car garage, an elevator, custom-sawed “Bubinga hardwood” floors, a wine cellar, and mahogany closets from the same New Jersey carpentry shop that crafted the those of TV newswoman Diane Sawyer, Philadelphia Magazine reported in 2019.
At that time, Cerone was listing the property for sale at $12 million, the magazine reported.
Now he’s proposing that it be replaced by the hotel tower, which would have a stone facade inspired by the 186-year-old Merchants’ Exchange Building and arch-shaped top-story windows that echo those of other nearby historic buildings.
Despite those features, architecture committee members said the building would be a bad fit in a neighborhood of mostly two- and three-story homes beside the city’s main historic district.
“The big concern of mine is the extraordinary height in a mostly three-story part of the city,” committee member Dan McCoubrey said.
The National Park Service, Society Hill Civic Association and Preservation Alliance for Greater Philadelphia also opposed the project in meeting remarks and written testimony.
Some members of Philadelphia’s historic-preservation community, however, spoke in favor of the project, saying it hearkens back to the large buildings that once stood in the area, before the mid-20th-century architecture that now makes up much of Society Hill was constructed.
“The idea that we’re married to a three- or four-story building height in this area seems wrong to me,” said Oscar Beisert, a prominent preservationist.
The full Historical Commission could review the proposal when it next meets on Aug. 14.