Tenleytown may soon make space for the Opus Dei religious order, now that it has a fresh HPRB approval in hand. The Yuma Study Center Inc. and its owner, the Heights Foundation, are planning to construct a residential addition to the landmarked Convent of Bon Secours at 4101 Yuma Street in Tenleytown for Opus Dei. The new building would entail a cloister constructed around a central courtyard and, according to a 2008 Historic Preservation Review Board (HPRB) report, consist of “meeting and classroom spaces, residential space and a chapel for fifteen members of the Opus Dei religious community.”
The Heights Foundation has a long history with the HPRB. Plans to renovate and alter the Bon Secours Convent first came to light in 2003. At the time, HPRB was considering the Convent for a historic site designation—a move that would shield it from being razed by its owner, The Heights Foundation. In 2004, the Convent officially became a historic site, requiring all changes to pass through the HPRB, which has since reviewed designs for the project three times—most recently back in January of this year.
Though the concept received initial approval, the HPRB required revisions to a planned roof deck, porch, alley parking, and walkways before complete approval could be granted. In a hearing, the Board has also raised concerns that the architects' original renderings for the project are vague, perhaps intentionally so.
The architect was equally vague in describing the timeline for the project. According to the architect, Alvin Holm, the timing has been a “source of contention.” He then declined to comment further, citing privacy concerns. The architect is well-known in his home town of Philadelphia, and nationally for his classic architecture, having founded the Philadelphia chapter of the Institute of Classical Architecture and Classical America.
According to HPO staff reviewer, Tim Dennee, The Heights Foundation has not submitted any new plans, schedules, or drawings to his office since January.
If it goes forward, this will be only one of three projects to begin on the same block, with plans for a new library and school addition, all contiguous, nearly ready to begin.