Whitemarsh Board of Supervisors to consider agreement between art center and donor for purchase of Abolition Hall property. Donor revealed to be Karabots Foundation

On April 8, 2021, the Whitemarsh Township Board of Supervisors voted 5-0 to approve an agreement of sale for the township and the Whitemarsh Art Center to purchase the property that is home to Abolition Hall near the intersection of Butler Pike and Germantown Pike in the Plymouth Meeting section of the township. The purchase price is $3.95 million.

The purchase was contingent on a donation from an unnamed donor who is to contribute $2 million to the Whitemarsh Art Center which would be applied towards the purchase price. The balance would come from Whitemarsh Township’s open space fund.

On the agenda for the August 11th meeting of the board of supervisors is the consideration of an agreement between the township, the art center, and the donor. The agreement reveals that the donor is the Karabots Foundation. The foundation was founded by Nicholas and Athena Karabots and has donated millions of dollars to projects in Whitemarsh Township (such as the William Jeanes Memorial Library) and the region (such as Einstein Hospital in East Norriton). Nicholas Karabots passed away on February 1, 2021. You may also recognize the Karabots name due to their ownership of Karamoor Estate Vineyard & Winery in Ft. Washington.

The Abolition Hall property was once home to Quakers who offered their property as a stop on the Underground Railroad and notable abolitionists spoke there. Later in its history, it was artist Thomas Hovenden had a studio in the hall. Over the past few years, the property was part of a development plan to add townhouses to a field on the property. While there was vocal and legal opposition to the plan, it was approved. However, the developer eventually walked away and the township and art center moved to purchase the property.

Within the agreement, there are details on how the property is to be utilized by the township and the art center. The portions of the property that consist of open space can only be used for passive open space (no sports fields). In regards to Abolition Hall, the agreement states:

The Partnership [the township and art center] has committed to soliciting input from the public to determine the future use and operation of Abolition Hall. The Partnership and the public shall explore options for the use and operation of Abolition Hall in such a manner to preserve the spirit of its original use (e.g. public gathering and meeting space) and its architectural and historical relevance. The Township shall provide reasonable advance notice to the Foundation of any and all public meetings where the use of Abolition Hall will be discussed and Township representatives will meet with the Foundation prior to any and all public meetings upon their request regarding such uses and operations.

In regards to the main house, the agreement states:

The Main House and its outdoor areas shall be used by the Partnership for a public meeting space and for educational and Arts Center programs. The Partnership agrees to gear programming and opportunities to appeal to and attract local underprivileged, disadvantaged youth so that they can gain exposure to the arts and the other cultural and educational opportunities offered and enjoy the space and surrounding areas.

In regards to Hovenden House, the agreement states:

The Arts Center will use the Hovenden House as its primary location for administrative offices, classes, and/or gallery space. In its implementation of its strategic plan, the Arts Center will use the Hovenden House to increase and broaden its class offerings to include STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Math) based curriculum. In connection with its expansion and broadening of educational classes and programs, the Arts Center will use its scholarship funds to focus on outreach programs for local
underprivileged and disadvantaged youth and special needs children and adults. This outreach will
include summer camps for children and also cultural events and workshops unless otherwise
agreed to in writing by the Foundation.

In regards to the Marple Lane House, the agreement states:

The Foundation acknowledges that the Marple Lane House is not historically significant and does not have an operational use for the Partnership. As such the Partnership is permitted to subdivide and sell, transfer, lease, or otherwise convey the Marple Lane House, and its surrounding property to conform to the minimum required lot size under Township ordinances, to a third party, with no restrictions on its use from the Foundation, and utilize the proceeds therefrom to repair and maintain the remaining Buildings and/or the Property.

Elsewhere in the agreement, it states that the township and art center are responsible for maintaining the property and that how the foundation’s grant will be recognized on the property will be determined between the parties in the future.

You can read the agreement here (scroll to page 1,322).

Photo: Wikipedia Commons