Preservation Alliance and Friends of the Tanner House work together to save Philadelphia’s historic landmark – The Philadelphia Inquirer | Candle Made Easy

Concerned that famed artist Henry Ossawa Tanner’s North Philadelphia home was threatened with demolition, a group of community advocates launched an online crowdfunding campaign to save the home.

Last summer, Philadelphia city officials posted a yellow notice stating Tanner’s former home, a National Historic Landmark at 2908 W. Diamond St., was “unsafe.”

The city’s Permits and Inspections Office determined that the roof needed replacing, the walls were warped, and the floors were damaged.

After the Inquirer wrote about the home and its history last December, the Friends group stepped into action, launching their online fundraiser on February 25th.

» READ MORE: The Henry O. Tanner House, once “the center of Philadelphia’s black intellectual community,” could face demolition

To date, the Tanner House campaign has raised nearly $26,000 in cash and received an additional $5,000 pledged donation. The Philadelphia Museum of Art has also pledged to donate proceeds from its own fundraising event to the Friends’ project.

Last week, Friends of Tanner organizers announced they had signed an agreement with the Preservation Alliance for Greater Philadelphia to serve as a temporary fiscal sponsor of these funds.

“We are incredibly grateful to the Preservation Alliance for Greater Philadelphia for working with the Friends of the Tanner House to act as a temporary local trustee to ensure quick repairs to the Henry O. Tanner House pending the identification of a long-term nonprofit custodian ‘ Christopher Rogers, a member of the Friends Group, said.

The relationship with the Preservation Alliance has been described as temporary as the Preservation Alliance group of friends and Michael Thornton, the home’s current principal owner, are looking at ways to stabilize the home and hopefully sell it to a non-profit administrator.

“It’s a fiscal sponsorship arrangement because Friends of the Tanner House isn’t an official non-profit organization and they’re raising money to work on the house,” said Jennifer Robinson, director of conservation services at the Preservation Alliance.

“We will serve as a conduit for the funds so people can receive a tax deduction for their donation and support this cause.”

Originally, The Friends of Tanner had intended to end its campaign on the site on June 21, Tanner’s 163rd birthday.

Rogers and Robinson said potential donors can continue to donate to the Tanner House project by donating directly to the Preservation Alliance. For now, people are being asked to mail checks to the following address: Preservation Alliance, 1608 Walnut Street, Suite 1702, Philadelphia, PA 19103. They asked that donors specifically name “Tanner House Campaign” in the memo.

Robinson said her organization is working on the details to ensure people wanting to donate to the Tanner House are clear on the Preservation Alliance website whether they are donating to the Preservation Alliance or to the Tanner House.

Judith Robinson, a North Philly resident and member of the Friends of Tanner group, said group members, Preservation Alliance staff and Thornton will be meeting with Justin Spivey, a well-known historic preservation expert, via Zoom this Friday.

She said Spivey, who works for Wiss, Janney, Elstner Associates, an engineering firm, wants to meet with them before providing a preliminary report on exactly what needs to be done to stabilize the home.

Thornton, who inherited the house from his father Robert Thornton, is the executor of his father’s estate.

He has been working with a Philadelphia attorney for the past year to clear the house’s “muddled title.” He said last week he hopes to sell the home to a non-profit organization by September.

Thornton, a biology professor at Florida Agricultural and Mechanical University (FAMU) in Tallahassee, said that because his father put his elderly mother’s name on the deed, Thornton had to get signatures from all of his grandmother’s heirs in order to obtain the right to sell to obtain property.

Thornton’s grandmother, Emma Thornton, had seven other children in addition to Robert and left no will. So technically, any descendants of Robert’s siblings could be entitled to a share of the house.

Tanner, known for such important works as Nicodemus, The Annunciation, The Banjo Lesson and The Grateful Poor, lived in the Diamond Street house from 1872 to 1888, from the ages of 13 to 31 .

In 1891, Tanner, who first studied at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts, moved to Paris to study at the Académie Julian. Within a few years he was exhibiting at the Paris Salon and winning prizes

Tanner’s work is currently in the collections of PAFA and the Philadelphia Museum of Art.


The work, produced by The Inquirer’s Communities & Engagement desk, is supported by the Lenfest Institute for Journalism. Editorial content is created independently of the sponsors of the project.

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