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Source: Philadelphia Inquirer
Date: October 10, 2009
Byline: Stephan Salisbury

Despite criticism, President's House project advances

A committee overseeing the President's House memorial on Independence Mall has agreed to proceed as planned after discussing recent criticism of the project's historical accuracy.

In late summer, Edward Lawler, who represents the Independence Hall Association on the committee, had complained that the design improperly located important memorial elements.

The President's House, at Sixth and Market Streets, is on the site where George Washington and John Adams conducted their presidencies during the 1790s, and where Washington held at least nine enslaved Africans.

Lawler said the design incorrectly sited the front of the house, distorted the shape of a much-noted bow window designed by Washington, and placed a commemoration of the house slave quarters in the wrong spot.

The oversight committee, though acknowledging some issues, has decided that the work by Kelly/Maiello Architects & Planners, designer of the memorial, was justified.

For instance, the front of the memorial, which constitutes an echo of the actual building where the presidency was born, is not in the precise spot where the front of the President's House was.

If it were, the busy sidewalk along Market Street would be significantly obstructed, the committee agreed. Instead, it said, marking the front of the house in the pavement will sufficiently alert visitors to the precise outline of the house.

Similarly, because of federal mandates regarding access for disabled visitors, a commemorative "room" marking the house's slave quarters has been moved north of its ideal location, a room built by Washington for use of enslaved and indentured stable hands.

According to a statement released yesterday by Rosalyn McPherson, manager of the project for the city and Independence National Historical Park, the oversight committee agreed that moving the commemorative room several feet would not compromise facts, particularly because enslaved Africans lived throughout the house.

She also said the committee agreed that the bow-window design was a reasonable interpretation of historical and archeological elements.

Members of the oversight committee, who represent the city, community groups, Independence Park, historians, elected officials, and others, agreed not to comment individually on the matter.

Speaking only on condition of anonymity, one committee member said there was general agreement that the design constituted a reasonable approach to challenges embedded in the site. The committee member called architect Emanuel Kelly's arguments for his firm's work "impressively solid."

Lawler declined to comment after the meeting, citing the general agreement.

Not everyone with an interest in the project was satisfied, however. Sacaree Rhodes, a member of Generations Unlimited, an activist organization focused on African American historical issues, said there was growing unease with the overall houselike nature of the memorial.

"Why in the world would you build a house that the slaves were always trying to run away from?" she wondered. "The design itself is an affront to what happened to those Africans." Sun Oct 11 2009 15:04:16 GMT-0400 (Eastern Daylight Time)

 

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