Lazaretto Lazaretto
Source: Delaware County Times
Date: October 2, 2000
Byline: Matt Schwartz

Can Lazaretto come back to life?

TINICUM — Two hundred years ago, what looked like a Georgian mansion shot up out of the swamps of Essington. Known as the Lazaretto, the structure, with a fireplace in each of its 28 rooms, was fashioned after Pennsylvania Hospital in Philadelphia, which, in turn, took its architectural cue from Independence Hall. And though Lazaretto (named after St. Lazarus) was neither the brainchild of Ben Franklin or host to a Continental Congress, its value as a quarantine station for boats entering the port of Philadelphia is immeasurable. Today the weathered, three-story, brick building is trying to ward off a contagion for which there's currently no cure: Development.

Three plans presented at a Tinicum Township planning meeting last week call for the landmark's demolition. It's owners, Island Marine Partners, plan to raze the structure and build a hotel complex, a restaurant and lounge, or an airport parking lot that would accommodate 889 cars.

The 10-acre parcel rests between the Lagoon restaurant and Gov. Printz Park beside the Delaware River.

Several Philadelphia-area historical societies and the many of the Tinicum residents who attended last week's meeting have voiced their concerns about the plan. Residents say all three of the plans would lower property values and increase traffic.

"It's going to be a damn eyesore," said John Hines, who lives about a block away from the Lazaretto. "People in that area don't want a parking lot devaluing their property. They're talking about putting it plum-smack in the middle of a residential area."

Other neighbors called the current traffic conditions "unbearable" and worried that an estimated turnover of 100 to 200 cars a day would pose a threat to children playing in the street.

"It scares me," said Loretta Giancristoforo, who's lived in Tinicum for 18 years. "My son's a fireman and he has to go out on these (car accident) calls."

While Island Marine's representatives didn't make any promises to change their plans, they said they would study the traffic issue further.

"We're business people. We want to move this application as soon as possible. At the same time we're your neighbors and we want to follow local ordinance," said James Byrne, an attorney representing Island Marine.

The parking lot proposal already calls for a line of evergreen trees between the lot and nearby homes. A code enforcement officer found the parking lot proposal violates land-use laws, which Island Marine disputes. The township zoning board will hold hearing Oct. 27 and make a recommendation to the Board of Commissioners, who have until December 27 to rule on the three proposals.

Built in 1800, the Lazaretto survived as a quarantine station for decades until a yellow fever epidemic in 1870 sparked a grass roots campaign to shut it down. Ten years later, the federal government took over quarantine operations and a new complex was opened in Marcus Hook.

Since that time, the Lazaretto grounds have been used as a pleasure resort for affluent Delaware Countians; a flight school; an Army Signal Corps training facility; seaplane base; yacht club; and as a boat storage facility. For its history and distinctive architecture, the site was placed on the National Register of Historic Places. But because the Lazaretto's owners have never used government money to pay for the building's upkeep, they retain the right to demolish it, officials say.

Staff writer Timothy Logue contributed to this report.