CHESTER The historic Deshong Mansion of Chester is no more.
Wrecking crews late last month razed the 164-year-old Italian Renaissance-style mansion, which had begun to fall apart after years of neglect.
"It was just a public-safety hazard," said J. Patrick Killian, director of the Delaware County Commerce Center, which oversees the Delaware County Industrial Development Authority and controls the property.
The mansion, at 10th Street and Avenue of the States, was home to Alfred O. Deshong, a wealthy industrialist with an extensive art collection. Deshong died in 1913 at age 75 and bequeathed the collection and the 22-acre property to the city.
A small museum was built to house the collection, which included 19th-century American and European painters, along with Japanese and Chinese lacquerware and carved ivory figures.
The endowment and museum declined in the 1970s. In a controversial move, Delaware County Court Judge Francis J. Catania dissolved the Deshong trust in 1984. The art collection was sent to Widener University and the estate property to the county's development authority.
"It was the historic heart of the community," said Benjamin Leech, advocacy director for the Preservation Alliance of Greater Philadelphia.
Both the Preservation Alliance and Preservation Pennsylvania, a nonprofit dedicated to saving historic places, had listed the Deshong property as endangered. The front of the structure collapsed in January.
For the last three decades, various plans, including hotels, office complexes, and even a water park, have been considered for the site, which is near the central business district and an I-95 ramp, and not far from Philadelphia International Airport.
But Leech argued that preservation efforts "can be great community builders," saying that the long-term benefits would outweigh those from minimum-wage jobs.
The Pennsylvania Humanities Council plans to propose a one-mile corridor from Widener University to the business district to be used as an arts and culture district as part of an economic revitalization.
For now, the land will be leveled and seeded, said Killian, the commerce center director.
The authority has reached an agreement with Chester to permit the property to be used for park activities.
"It will be a lot safer to use," Killian said.