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Property Details: Welcome to the Arthur Brockie House
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Welcome to the Arthur Brockie House
345 Stenton Avenue
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215-275-1685 or 610-651-2700
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SOLD for $1,575,000 on 11/30/23!
Once again, I am honored to present yet another one of my Magical History Tours, with a twist!
Normally, I take the time to discuss the history of the land and the building, but today, I am going to delve just into the history of the original owner of this home, who also happens to be the architect!
Arthur Howell Brockie was born in 1875 in the Germantown section of Philadelphia.
His Father, William Brockie was from Edinburgh, Scotland. While still living in Scotland, he married his first wife and had two children (Isabel & William Jr.). She died the year after their Son’s birth, and William Brockie emigrated to the United States with his two children.
While it is unknown how his Father met his 2nd wife, Anna Peniston Howell, they married just 2 years after the death of his first wife. The Howell family has a long lineage in Quaker Philadelphia and while I could delve into that entire family, suffice it to say that the Howell’s roots in Philadelphia run far back before the American Revolution!
In addition to the 2 children from Scotland, Anna and William had 5 more children, of which Arthur Howell Brockie was the 3rd born.
A little piece of history, just for fun, is that Arthur Brockie attended Germantown Academy, originally known as the Union School and the oldest non-sectarian day school in the United States! Founded in 1759, the school has a long and storied past that could take pages to share!
Upon graduation from Germantown Academy, he attended the University of Pennsylvania and graduated in 1895 with a degree in Architecture. His first joined the storied Philadelphia firm of Cope & Stewardson as a draftsman.
In 1899, Brockie was awarded the John Stewardson memorial scholarship in Architecture, which provided a $1,000 grant and a year’s travel and study abroad. I found a lovely little article in the Philadelphia Inquirer, dated March 30, 1899 that stated the following…
“Arthur H. Brockie, winner of the John Stewardson memorial traveling scholarship in architecture, sailed yesterday for London on board the ship Menominee. He was accompanied by Alfred M. Githens and Clinton G. Harris. All three are University graduates and will tour England and Scotland together on bicycles.”
I found another interesting article that has yet another tie-in to one of the most famous marriages in Philadelphia history!
In February of 1902, Arthur Brockie was a groomsman at the wedding of Charlotte Hope Binney Tyler to Robert L. Montgomery. One of the wealthiest families in Philadelphia, their estate in Radnor Township is called Ardrossan and their family was the basis for the movie “The Philadelphia Story”.
One of Brockie’s earliest commissions is one of the most photographed buildings in Philadelphia!!!
The Sedgley Boat Club hired Arthur Brockie in 1902 to design a new clubhouse along the Schuylkill River, incorporating the 1887 lighthouse that stood on Turtle Rock. It was the first building of what has become known as Boathouse Row, one of the most iconic and photographed landmarks in Philadelphia.
“The new building will be two stories high, and it will be constructed of stone and shingle. It will measure 49.8 x 83 feet. A light tower, 46 feet high, will be built with balconies on the second floor on the river and drive fronts…”
This amazing building is the very first building along Boathouse Row and is the one with the lighthouse!
In 1903, Brockie partnered with T. Mitchell Hastings (a graduate of Harvard University) to create the firm of Brockie & Hastings. When it dissolved in 1919, Brockie headed his own architectural firm for the remainder of his career.
His connections with the old families from Germantown, and likely his connections from his days at the University of Pennsylvania, provided him with a long list of wealthy clientele throughout his entire career.
His primary focus was in the design & construction of hospital buildings for institutions including Germantown Hospital, Pennsylvania Hospital, University of Pennsylvania Hospital, Cooper Hospital and Bryn Mawr Hospital.
He also designed bank buildings, churches and other commercial & institutional buildings and numerous residential projects.
Some of his more notable (or familiar) commercial buildings included the following;
Philadelphia Zoological Society, Bird House & Reptile House – 1914/1915
Calvin Payne Hall, Princeton Theological Seminary – 1921
Philadelphia Cricket Club, Chestnut Hill – 1922
In 1930, Brockie purchased the 3.8 acres along the banks of a tributary of the Wissahickon Creek called Lorraine Run, designing & constructing his own personal residence. There have only been two owners of this property since the Brockie family.
Per Patrick McDonough of Period Architecture, “The house was designed in the French Normandy style with a regional Chestnut Hill flare, similar to those found in works by contemporary architects like Robert McGoodwin, Walter Durham, Mellor Meigs & Howe or Durhing Okie & Ziegler.”
Purchasing the home in 1961, the current owners, pillars of the local business and philanthropic communities, lovingly made this their home for the past 62 years.
Taking the long driveway, named Knox Road on some maps, one captures the first glimpse of the stately pastoral setting that feel eons away from Stenton Avenue. The house was perfectly positioned to take advantage of all the natural light that fills the home. The entire front façade faces South.
A circular driveway wraps around a stately sycamore tree while the detached, 2-car garage is sited just beyond the entry (close to the rear entry). That building also includes an efficient 1-bedroom apartment on the 2nd floor with its own washer & dryer, a small galley kitchen & full bath. It has incredible views out the rear windows towards the vast lawn and Lorraine Run beyond.
The entire front and side perimeter of the home are flanked by stone garden walls that provide the perfect backdrop for perennial border gardens. A gate in the stone wall at the driveway leads to an expansive & level front yard. Flanking the western edge of the home begins a series of Pennsylvania flagstone pathways and an amazing circular patio that is positioned to take full advantage of the long distance vistas over the expansive rear lawn & pond. This area is easily accessed from the dining room, living room and entry hall. Perennial beds line the foundation of the home and a small stone fountain sits unobtrusively under the living room window. Stone steps lead to the rear lawn, with a gently sloping hill (that was the location of many sledding events when the snowfall allowed!) that levels out to an huge & level area for further play.
Directly below the circular patio, one finds an exceptionally large pond that ebbs and flows with the rainfall. Originally designed to allow for the pumping of water up from the Wissahickon Creek, current water levels have kept the pond from being filled from the creek. The pond also includes a large stone waterfall on the far side that cascades down the steep embankment. The current owners remember many fun times taking out a canoe on the pond or ice skating in the Winter when the weather was cold enough to do so.
Back at the front entry, you'll notice the octagonal entry turret, the copper gutters & downspouts and the Ludowici terra cotta tiled roof. The original oak entry door is adorned with wrought iron details and the entry retains its original light fixtures. Just around the corner, looking out into the front courtyard, one will also see a wrought iron Juliet balcony that is accessed from the 2nd floor home office.
The foyer retains more original light fixtures. From the stone-paved foyer, one ascends several stairs into the formal section of the home. There is also a beautiful oak arch-topped Dutch door that takes one out to the rear patio (one of three access points to that area). The random width & pegged oak floors extend into the living room, the dining room, and up the wraparound staircase and landings. The 1st floor boasts many interior and exterior French doors, making the house ideal for both intimate and large gatherings. Original banks of Hope’s steel & bronze casement windows and French doors, as well as original solid wood doors with brass hardware remain throughout.
Just to the left, one finds a more informal family room that overlooks the courtyard and entryway with built-in bookshelves & storage cabinets. It’s believed Brockie repurposed a ship’s ballast stone for the window sills in the family room & entry.It also has one of the most amazing Murano glass chandeliers (the one in the dining room is even more amazing, and larger!) that has individual glass fruits in all colors. Original solid wood Oak French doors between this room and the living room and foyer allow for complete privacy or inter-connectivity when needed.
Within the living room, there are so many details to absorb. The first are the beautiful paneled walls made of richly stained pine. At the far end of the living room are a set of original French doors that lead to the outdoor gardens and terrace, flanked by two floor to ceiling, built-in bookcases. The entire ceiling has boxed beams and the Southern wall is anchored by a substantial wood burning fireplace. A mid-century wall unit provides additional book storage along the Northern wall. With windows facing south, west and north, this space is always filled with natural light and have some of the best views of the entire property.
Back into the stair hall, one descends several stairs into the formal dining room that has a bay window with a period tile sill and a French door that leads to the terrace. A 2nd Murano chandelier provides colorful light over a massive table that has hosted many impromptu and large holiday gatherings.
Through French privacy doors, one enters into the expanded & enlarged kitchen. Keeping the integrity of Brockie’s footprint, the kitchen was renovated in 1965 into a free-flowing kitchen, bar, breakfast room, and mudroom area with solid oack cabinets along all of the exterior walls. Windows provide an expansive view of the backyard where tented celebratory events, neighborhood football & baseball games, and friendly competition on the ½ basketball court played out.
A staircase accesses the full basement and 2nd floor. The working “call bells” in the kitchen at on the landing upstairs bear the architect’s name.
Heading back to the entry foyer, there is a powder room & coat closet as well as a 2nd staircase down to the basement.
Ascend the primary staircase, featuring the original wood banister which curves around the landing to the front wing that features refinished oak flooring in exceptional condition. A short flight of stairs leads to the rear wing of the 2nd floor that has southern yellow pine flooring, as was common during the period.
The first room on the left off the main second floor landing was originally a bedroom and includes the Juliet balcony overlooking the front courtyard. It has also been used as a nursery as it is directly connected to the owner’s suite. The current owners added built-in cabinets and shelving and used it a home office later in their ownership. This could easily be converted back to a nursery or bedroom if one needs more sleeping chambers, or could be reconfigured with the neighboring owner’s suite for a larger bathroom or walk-in closet.
The owner’s suite occupies the entire space of the living room below. It has its original bathroom, fireplace and a large dressing room with a wall of built-in closets and drawers along the interior wall. The sleeping chamber was enhanced by the current owners with a wall of windows and a sliding door that accesses another small balcony overlooking the courtyard, terrace and pond beyond, facing west. A wall of bookshelves were added along the northern wall as well.
The third room of the 2nd floor main landing is the 3rd bedroom, occupying the space above the dining room. It is well lit by two banks of windows with views of flowering trees, the terrace, pond, a majestic black walnut tree in the backyard and the entire expansive rear lawn. This bedroom has direct access to another full bathroom which is also accessed from the hallway.
Two charming bedrooms, an original walk-in linen closet with laundry chute, and a 3rd full bath complete the 2nd floor.
A hall door hides a seemingly secret staircase to the 3rd floor. At the top of these stairs to the right, there is the 6th bedroom overlooking the rear yard. There is a large gathering room to the left of the stairs and the 4th full bathroom. The exposed ceiling beams are present in this space and in the final living space in the home, the Bunk Room! Four built-in Twin beds were incorporated into this final space and it reminds one of the Poconos or the Adirondacks! A wall of windows were added to the far wall (above the owner’s suite) that floods this final space with light and great views of the pond and woods beyond.
Finally, the basement provides tall ceilings, the large laundry room and multiple storage areas. There is direct access to the rear yard via two sets of exterior stairs and a full-height doors to either the rear yard or garage courtyard, making it quite easy to access the basement for equipment changes, furniture, etc.. The area under the living and dining rooms was formerly finished space. The owners recently removed the exterior walls and the drop ceiling. While the tile floor remains, lit by numerous well-windows, the space is primed to be re-imagined by the next owners.
The full scope of the 3.8 acre property is both expansive and wonderfully private, with woods running along most of the property line, several old growth sycamores and a black walnut tree worthy of champion tree status anchoring the back lawn. The woded property line extends beyond the creek, so the owners actually own 350’ of the creek! And in case you are wondering, while the lowest level of the rear yard (well below & beyond the house and the garage) is within the 100 year flood plain, none of the elevated areas surrounding and including the house and garage are within that zone.
In 10 minutes, one can get to all of the shops & restaurants of Chestnut Hill (and the SEPTA trains to Philadelphia). The Morris Arboretum & Gardens of the University of Pennsylvania is just 5 minutes away and is a great place to get out and explore nature and take advantage of their numerous events, including their annual plant sale and holiday garden railway!
The interchange of the Blue Route (I-476) and the Pennsylvania Turnpike (for easy commuting to so many places) is just 5 minutes in the other direction, and just beyond that interchange is a large Whole Foods.
In 15 minutes, one can drive to downtown Ambler, with its unique assortment of restaurants, shops, the Ambler Theater and Weavers Way Coop (which also happens to be in Chestnut Hill as well!).
The house has been modified with high velocity central A/C and a few other renovations, but the integrity of Arthur Brockie's original vision for his own home has been beautifully honored over the past 62 years by the current owners and awaits a new owner's gentle stewardship of its historic site into its second century.
Meticulous in its architectural details and quiet elegance, the Arthur Brockie House is a bucolic respite that is a world away, yet just around the corner from everything.
|Last Updated: February 13, 2024
|All information deemed reliable but not guaranteed and should be independently verified.
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