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IHA Letter to Park Superintendent Cynthia MacLeod

The following letter was sent by the Board of the Independence Hall Association, the citizens advisory organization which is named in the Park's enabling legislation to Park Service Superintendent Cynthia MacLeod.

Independence Hall Association

TO:Superintendent Cynthia MacLeod
FROM:The Independence Hall Association Board of Directors
RE:President's House Commemoration
DATE:August 11, 2009

Dear Superintendent MacLeod:

The Independence Hall Association (IHA) is the Congressionally-recognized citizens' advisory organization for Independence National Historical Park and is represented on the Oversight Committee for the President's House project. The Oversight Committee is charged with assisting and advising on the project; however, the project is moving ahead without either the benefit of oversight or appropriate vetting of the plans.

We have only recently had the opportunity to study the final plans of the physical design, nine weeks after the architects completed them and started distributing them to contractors. The plans were not distributed to the Oversight Committee; rather, we visited a location provided to contractors to obtain our copy. Our review of these plans indicates that there are serious flaws and historical inaccuracies in their design described below, based on documentary evidence. These include two 1785 maps of the President's House property that show the locations and exact dimensions of most of the buildings.

More specifically, our vetting of the physical design has revealed:

  1. The architects cut off approximately two feet from the front of the Main House, so that the façade will no longer coincide with the Market/High Street building-line established by Thomas Holme’s 1683 plan for William Penn. The January 4, 1952 “dig” by architect David H. Morgan, performed following the November 1951 demolition of the site, located and measured the Main House’s surviving foundations, including the Market Street façade. The architects’ moving of the façade contradicts the documentary evidence, and affects the marking of the interior rooms, decreasing them in size.
  2. The Bow Window of the President’s House was a precursor for the oval rooms at the center of the White House, and the Oval Office now used by our Presidents. Its curved foundations, uncovered in the 2007 archaeological excavation, strongly indicate that the Bow Window’s walls were curved, not only on the interior but on the exterior, and that it was the full width of the State Dining Room (making the ties to the White House even stronger). The architects’ final design shows an easier-to-build “bay” window — that is, semi-octagonal instead of semi-circular — which contradicts the actual foundations uncovered by the archaeologists in May 2007.
  3. The architects’ final plan has moved the “slave quarters.” George Washington himself designated that the 10-foot-square smokehouse at the rear of the kitchen be expanded to the stable (a distance of about 12 feet) to create two rooms for his stable workers: the white coachman, and 2 or 3 enslaved Africans. The Liberty Bell Center erected in 2002-03, had its main entrance about 5 feet from the smokehouse extension, which is now conceded by INHP to have been the “slave quarters.” Marking the smokehouse extension, or marking the smokehouse itself and interpreting it as a slave quarters would be intellectually defensible. Moving the location and creating a synthetic “slave quarters” is not.
  4. The architects cut off 3-1/2 feet from the kitchen ell. This seems to be the result of carelessness, and perhaps not done intentionally, but the building dimensions marked on the ground should be those documented in the 1785 maps.

Quite disturbingly, we learned last week that the blue-ribbon panel of historians advising the project — Gary Nash of UCLA, James Oliver Horton of George Washington University, and Julie Winch of the University of Massachusetts — has been eliminated. Frank Matero of the University of Pennsylvania, the only architectural historian advising the project, quit in protest.

We understand that you were also kept in the dark about the architect's changes until recently and that groundbreaking is fast approaching. We also understand that the Park Service must be under substantial pressure from the various constituencies concerned about the site to get moving on the project. However, given the disagreement of the physical design from the documentary and archaeological evidence, we believe it could end up being an embarrassment for the Park Service to have the project proceed uncorrected due to expediency. Thus, we recommend that the following occur:

We look forward to continue working cooperatively with the City and the Park to bring this important interpretive commemoration to completion in a timely fashion.

Sincerely,

For the Independence Hall Association Board of Directors

[Signed]

cc:

Dan Wenk, Acting Director NPS
Robert K. Sutton, Chief Historian NPS
Dennis Reidenbach
Hon. Arlen Specter
Hon. Robert Casey
Hon. Robert Brady
Hon. Edward Rendell
Hon. Michael Nutter
Hon. Frank DiCicco
Hon. Chaka Fattah

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