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Source: Philadelphia Inquirer
Date: December 19, 2007
Byline: Editorial

A fitting and conflicted memorial

A unique reworking of the design for the President's House memorial at Independence Mall means there will be no coverup — quite literally — of the little-known story of George Washington as a slave owner. Not only will that honor the slaves' memory, but it also should be a crowd-pleaser.

When the house foundation at Sixth and Market Streets was unearthed in the spring, more than 300,000 fascinated visitors stopped to gaze at the basement of the kitchen and an underground passageway likely used by Washington's nine slaves.

The archaeological finds sent the National Park Service back to the drawing board for a design that took the discoveries into account. The just-unveiled redesign by Kelly/Maiello Architects & Planners of Philadelphia does exactly that.

The new, preferred look for the Robert Morris house, which once served two American presidents, will give visitors a subterranean view of the foundation, basement and passageway. The excavated site will be visible through a glass enclosure, while at street level, visitors will see the architectural outlines of the house and learn of the lives of slaves and president in audio and video.

With the Street administration's welcome addition of $1.5 million in city support, the newly designed memorial's construction budget is nearly in hand. Yet to be reached is the worthy goal of raising a small endowment for maintenance and educational programs.

Among the many memorials to the nation's early years, there may not be another that captures so well the contradictions of a great democracy being founded while some Americans remained enslaved.

 

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