Skip to content
Link copied to clipboard

Mantua artist wins battle against City Hall

James Dupree fought to save his nearly 8,600-square-foot studio, which the city wanted to give to a grocery-store developer.

Artist James Dupree in front of Dupree Studios, at 3617 Haverford Ave.
Artist James Dupree in front of Dupree Studios, at 3617 Haverford Ave.Read moreINQ Robertson

FOR TWO YEARS, James Dupree fought City Hall over its plan to use eminent domain to seize his Mantua art studio and museum to make room for a grocery store and parking lot.

Yesterday, Dupree reclaimed the deed to his 8,600-square-foot studio.

At a meeting Wednesday night, the Philadelphia Redevelopment Authority board dropped its condemnation of Dupree's massive studio and galleries, which stretch across three addresses along Haverford Avenue near 36th Street.

Brian Abernathy, the authority's executive director, announced the decision yesterday.

The authority "will end condemnation proceedings enabling Mr. Dupree to keep his studio," Abernathy wrote.

"Unfortunately, the legal costs associated with Mr. Dupree's appeals make it impossible to continue." The statement was published in the Inquirer.

Another legal factor was that the city had condemned only two of the three addresses for the studio. Changes to state laws make it harder to seize property for a private developer.

Abernathy noted that the condemnation had received widespread media coverage, locally and nationally, in which Dupree "described the PRA as an agency acting haphazardly, for the sole benefits of a for-profit developer."

"I strongly disagree with Mr. Dupree's characterization of our agency," Abernathy said, adding that the authority was motivated by the need to "bring fresh, healthy food to Mantua."

Dupree was not available for comment yesterday. His daughter Gia Dupree issued a statement for the family:

"We are so excited that Dupree Studios will remain a cultural asset in Mantua." Dupree plans to use the studio for a mentoring program to teach art, she said.

"While we have a won a significant battle, we remain committed to contribute to the development of the Mantua community and are confident that Mantua still houses adequate land for whatever development the PRA has planned."

Dupree's work has been shown at the Philadelphia Museum of Art; the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts; the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, in New York; and the National Museum Cardiff, Wales.

The city condemned his studio on Dec. 27, 2012 - only four days before a state law went into effect making it harder to seize property to benefit a private developer.

Melinda Haring, activism manager for the Institute for Justice, said that Pennsylvania and other states tightened eminent-domain laws after the Supreme Court's 2005 Kelo v. New London ruling that cities could "take private property for the mere promise of greater tax revenue."

Haring said the institute, a law firm that fights property seizures, found that eminent-domain actions are "disproportionately used against minorities and the elderly. It's often targeted at people who are least able to defend themselves."