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For historic Upsala, a search for new steward

It may not be as well known as Cliveden, the Chew family mansion across Germantown Avenue that was the site of the Battle of Germantown in 1777.

Upsala played a role in the Battle of Germantown in 1777. The nonprofit National Trust is looking for someone to take over the historic property. (ELIZABETH ROBERTSON / Staff Photographer)
Upsala played a role in the Battle of Germantown in 1777. The nonprofit National Trust is looking for someone to take over the historic property. (ELIZABETH ROBERTSON / Staff Photographer)Read more

It may not be as well known as Cliveden, the Chew family mansion across Germantown Avenue that was the site of the Battle of Germantown in 1777.

But Upsala, at 6430 Germantown Ave., just over the line in Mount Airy, played a role in the battle, too, as the staging ground for American forces before they attacked the British on that foggy morning of Oct. 4.

Considered one of Philadelphia's finest examples of Federal architecture, Upsala has been owned since 2005 by the National Trust for Historic Preservation and administered by Cliveden Inc., part of its operations in what is known as "Freedom's Backyard."

Now, however, the National Trust, a private nonprofit based in Washington, is actively looking for ideas to guarantee Upsala's future - ways to make the mansion "sustainable financially and culturally for the long term," said Katharine Malone-France, its vice president for historic sites.

The trust has issued a request for proposals for Upsala, with an Oct. 6 deadline.

The property was given to the National Trust by the Upsala Foundation, a group of volunteers that could no longer maintain the house. In the intervening 10 years, Cliveden Inc. has completed an archival and architectural assessment and rehabilitated Upsala's exterior.

Cliveden, which Malone-France described as "co-steward" of Upsala with the National Trust, hosted two public meetings, one in 2013 and the other in April of this year, to discuss possibilities.

Although Upsala and its 21/2 acres have been owned and operated by preservation organizations since 1944, the National Trust and Cliveden Inc. would entertain proposals for nonprofit or income-producing uses, as well as proposals from individuals that include the mansion's return to its original use as a residence, she said.

Determining the price of such a building is a long and complex process, real estate experts say - well outside the realm of the average appraisal using comparable properties.

Ensuring "the best use" of Upsala while preserving and protecting it are the goals, Malone-France said. The emphasis is on a "preservation-minded owner" for Upsala.

When, and if, the property is transferred to a new owner, it will be subject to a preservation easement to guarantee its remaining an historic site. That includes public access to the mansion's grounds during the annual re-enactment of the Battle of Germantown, she said.

Acquisition is subject to a host of conditions spelled out in the National Trust's request for proposals (available at http://tinyurl.com/q34v8gp), among them "financial viability" of the person or organization making the proposal, Malone-France said.

The exterior may not be changed. Only portions of the interior may be altered, and then only after review and approval of the plans by the National Trust.

As discussions about Upsala's future have been underway since the National Trust acquired it, the surrounding neighborhoods have been experiencing a revival.

Mount Airy's Germantown Avenue corridor in the blocks above Upsala has seen a number of new businesses, restaurants, and mixed-use developments. Housing prices stabilized and have been rising since the real estate recovery began in 2012.

As far as Upsala's future is concerned, this upward trend is a coincidence.

The request for proposals "is a culmination of a decade-long process designed to find the best use for Upsala," Malone-France said.

215-854-2472@alheavens

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