CPCRS is working with Friends of The Henry O. Tanner House and project partners Preservation Alliance for Greater Philadelphia and Wiss, Janney, Elstner Associates, Inc. on sustainable long-term preservation plans for the Henry Ossawa Tanner House in the Strawberry Mansion area of North Philadelphia. Goals for the project include a building assessment, repairs to the exterior and interior of the building, and plans for rehabilitation and future management of Tanner House as a community-based institution. In Fall 2022,  graduate students in historic preservation explored the possible futures of the Tanner House in a semester-long Preservation Studio.

Read the national news coverage here


The house at 2908 W. Diamond Street in the Strawberry Mansion area of North Philadelphia was home to distinguished 19th-century African American painter, Henry Ossawa Tanner (1859-1937). The property was purchased by Henry O. Tanner’s father, Benjamin Tucker Tanner, and mother, Sarah Tanner, in 1872 after his father accepted a position as bishop at Mother Bethel African Episcopal Methodist Church. It was in Philadelphia where Henry O. Tanner fell in love with painting and later went on to study at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts under renowned artist, Thomas Eakins. After graduating from PAFA, Tanner went on to paint notable works of art, such as The Banjo Lesson. [1] 

Tanner House
Henry Tanner
Tanner_Banjo Lesson
Tanner Mossell Family

Though Tanner spent much of his later life abroad, his homestead in Philadelphia served as important place during his developmental years. Moreover, the house on Diamond Street was also home to Tanner’s sister, Dr. Hallie Tanner Dillon Johnson. Dr. Johnson who went on to become the first women of any race to be a licensed physician in the state of Alabama and was invited to practice by Booker T. Washington at Tuskegee Institute. Records show that Henry O. Tanner’s niece, Sadie Tanner Mossell Alexander, was also born in his home. Alexander would go on to be one of the first three Black women in the U.S. to obtain a Ph.D. and the first Black woman to graduate from the University of Pennsylvania’s Law School. She and her husband, Judge Raymond Pace Alexander, championed civil rights within the Greater Philadelphia region for much of their life. [2] 

The possibilities for the Tanner House also represent the growth, development, and rich cultural life of Black North Philadelphia — a community of which the greater Tanner family was part of, and which continues to evolve and thrive. Planning a next life for the Tanner House is part of the continuing evolution of Tanner House as a cultural and community landmark, acknowledging the broader story of Strawberry Mansion and North Philadelphia in an effort of nurturing thriving neighborhoods where development refuses displacement.

Project Background

In August 2021, the Department of Licenses and Inspection (L&I) deemed the Henry O. Tanner House at 2908 W. Diamond Street in North Philadelphia as an unsafe structure with a potential to be salvaged. [3] Though listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1976, the house's condition had greatly deteriorated due to years of neglect. Recognizing the importance of the Henry O. Tanner House in not only art history, but also Philadelphia history, an all-volunteer group of local African-American preservation advocates came together to spearhead preservation efforts for the house. The group, now known as the Friends of The Henry O. Tanner House, includes beloved community advocates such as: Mary Enoch Elizabeth Baxter, Award-Winning Philadelphia- based Artist, 2021 Frieze Impact Prize Award Winner, 2022 Corina Mehiel Fellow; Deborah Gary, President, DHEx Enterprises, and Co-Founder, Society to Preserve Philadelphia African American Assets (SPPAAA); Tyler A. Ray, Republican Leader for the 16th Ward, Docent & Historical Researcher for Church of the Advocate; Judith Robinson, Historic Preservationist, Community Advocate, Real Estate Broker; Christopher R. Rogers, Philly Black History Preservation Advocate & Ph.D Candidate, University of Pennsylvania Graduate School of Education; and Jacqueline Wiggins, Wiggins Tours and More, Longtime African-American Preservation Advocate in Philadelphia.

As of Fall 2022, the house is still in need of immediate repair. To date, the project has amassed $30,000 of the $300,000 needed for building stabilization and restoration through a fundraising effort spearheaded by the Friends of The Henry O. Tanner House. Funds will go toward repairing the building foundation, rehabilitation of the exterior wall, replacement of the roof, and restoration of the home's interior. In July 2022, the Preservation Alliance for Greater Philadelphia agreed to serve as a temporary local fiduciary sponsor for the Friends of The Henry O. Tanner House until a long-term non-profit steward has been identified. This partnership will allow for swift repairs to be made to the house as well as additional fundraising support. [4] The group is currently working with various partners to develop a rejuvenation plan for the house and are seeking a long-term steward for the house. [5]

In Summer 2022, CPCRS engaged Wiss, Janney, Elstner Associates to conduct a building assessment for the Tanner House. Additionally, during the summer, CPCRS undergraduate intern Zhangyang (Charlie) Xie conducted preliminary research on the Tanner House, laying the groundwork for a future Philadelphia Register of Historic Places nomination. In Fall 2022, students in Penn's historic preservation program will study the history and condition of the site and propose future scenarios for rehabilitating Tanner House as a community-serving heritage place. CPCRS has also hired Christopher R. Rogers of the Friends of Henry O. Tanner House as its Fall 2022 Research Fellow to help further support his work on the Tanner House and his dissertation on neighborhood storytelling practices.

The possibilities for the Tanner House also represent the growth, development, and rich cultural life of Black North Philadelphia — a community of which the greater Tanner family was part of, and which continues to evolve and thrive.

Annunciating a Community Cultural Platform with Holistic Preservation

In early 2023, The Friends of the Tanner House and the Center for the Preservation of Civil Rights Sites (CPCRS) at the University of Pennsylvania Stuart Weitzman School of Design received a grant from the Mellon Foundation to support a planning, community engagement, and capacity building process for the rehabilitation of the Henry Ossawa Tanner House, the former residence of the acclaimed African American artist.

Friends of the Tanner House member Christopher R. Rogers directed the project, engaging a cohort of Philadelphia cultural workers and community partners to participate in the art-centered participatory planning process. CPCRS provided project management, research, administration of consultants and contractors, and helped produce a preservation plan.

Artist Partnership Series

In Fall 2023, CPCRS hired Qiaira Riley, community-based artist, educator, guerilla theorist, and event curator, as the Friends of the Tanner House Artist-in-Residence.  Riley developed a series of public-facing community based art workshops to help further explore the legacy of the Tanner family and gather input for the future of the house. Events included:

  • The People's Dispensary:  multi-generational, communal care event centering art + holistic care, while honoring black femme health care workers inspired by Dr. Halle Tanner Dillon Johnson
  • Plastic on the Sofa: An artist talk + collage workshop, honoring and exploring the role of the Black home in contemporary art, inspired by Henry Ossawa Tanner
  • Ceramic Altar BuildingA family-oriented ceramics workshop intertwining Black liberation and spirituality, inspired by the lives of Sarah Elizabeth and Bishop Benjamin Tucker Tanner
  • A House is Not a Home: A Family Portrait and Oral Histories Day
  • Civic Inspirations: A social-justice printmaking workshop inspired by the work of Sadie Tanner Mossell Alexander

Alongside this, folks were invited to fill out a community survey that ask them to imagine what activities could occur in the space once opened. 

Community Collaboration Event Series

During the grant period, Friends of the Tanner House and CPCRS collaborated with community-centered groups, organizations across themes of faith, family, freedom, health, arts, and education in the 19121 & 19132 zip codes to support local programming. 

Design & Preservation Series

In May 2024, Friends of the Tanner House partnered with sbk + partners, LLC (sbk) to conduct a structural and architectural condition assessment of the Henry Ossawa Tanner House. Suzanna Barucco, principle of sbk, managed the project and conducted the architectural assessment. She was joined by Megan Holloway, structural engineer with Larsen & Landis Structural Engineers for this project. 

Summer 2022 CPCRS Intern Reflection

My name is Zhangyang (Charlie) Xie, and I am an undergraduate student majoring in Africana Studies and Science, Technology, and Society at the University of Pennsylvania. During my summer internship at the Center for Preservation of Civil Rights Sites, I worked as a research assistant with a primary focus on the Henry Ossawa Tanner residence in the western section of north Philadelphia, the life and work of Sadie Tanner Mossell and Raymond Pace Alexander, as well as various additional African American civil rights sites and events in Philadelphia. I gained valuable property and archival research experience through this internship by working with institutions such as the Philadelphia City Archives, the Historical Society of Pennsylvania, and the University Archives of the University of Pennsylvania. I also broadened my knowledge of African American history in Philadelphia through a detailed exploration of the success, struggles, and strife of prominent Black Philadelphians. I believe understanding African American history such as that of civil rights is particularly important for the residents of Philadelphia, temporary or permanent. It serves as the basis on which we deal with institutional racism, uplift historically disadvantaged groups, and, perhaps more importantly, try to understand and appreciate each other with whom we share the city. Preservation of civil rights sites allows us to create centers of calculation, in Bruno Latour’s words, that serve pivotal functions in the accumulation and dissemination of knowledge regarding African American history.

CPCRS Project Team:

Amber N. Wiley, Matt and Erika Nord Director of CPCRS

Randy Mason, CPCRS Senior Fellow

Steph Garcia, CPCRS Project Manager

Christopher R. Rogers, CPCRS Fellow

Qiaira Riley, CPCRS x Friends of Tanner House Visiting Artist

Khai Saunders, CPCRS Research Assistant F'23-S'24

Monique Robinson, CPCRS Research Assistant Summer '23

Zhangyang (Charlie) Xie, CPCRS Research Assistant S'22
[1] "Henry Ossawa Tanner," Smithsonian American Art Museum. Accessed September 23, 2022. https://americanart.si.edu/artist/henry-ossawa-tanner-4742 
[2] University Archives & Records Center, "Sadie Tanner Mossell Alexander (1898-1989)", PennLibraries, University of Pennsylvania. Accessed September 2, 2022. https://archives.upenn.edu/exhibits/penn-people/biography/sadie-tanner-mossell-alexander/
[3] Valerie Russ, "Beacons of Black History in Peril", The Philadelphia Inquirer (December 19, 2021). Accessed September 6, 2022. https://www.inquirer.com/news/henry-tanner-house-philadelphia-20211216.html 
[4] Friends of Henry O. Tanner House, "Save the Henry O. Tanner House", loby. Accessed September 7, 2022. https://ioby.org/project/save-henry-o-tanner-house
[5] Naiser Warren-Robinson, "Philly's Historic Tanner House Faces Threat of Destruction", The Philadelphia Tribune, Accessed September 17, 2022. https://www.phillytrib.com/news/local_news/phillys-historic-tanner-house-faces-threat-of-destruction/article_dc3b0b87-5a40-530e-9434-00c80637f0c4.html
Lead image (L)
Historic American Buildings Survey, Creator. Henry O. Tanner House,West Diamond Street, Philadelphia, Philadelphia County, PA. Pennsylvania Philadelphia County Philadelphia, 1933. Documentation Compiled After. Photograph. https://www.loc.gov/item/pa0926/.
Lead image (R)
Historic American Buildings Survey, Creator. Henry O. Tanner House,West Diamond Street, Philadelphia, Philadelphia County, PA. Pennsylvania Philadelphia County Philadelphia, 1933. Documentation Compiled After. Photograph. https://www.loc.gov/item/pa0926/.