Funding Tied to Grant from Delaware River Port Authority
PHILADELPHIA — Governor Edward G. Rendell today recommended a $3.5 million grant from the Delaware River Port Authority to support the completion and enhancement of the President's House commemorative site at 6th and Market Streets in Philadelphia, the location of the executive mansion of the first two United States presidents.
The grant, which should be approved on Jan. 23, will enable final stages of construction to begin at the site and clears the way for site organizers and supporters to complete an endowment goal.
"The President's House commemorative site represents a unique opportunity to educate future generations about the role that Philadelphia and our founding fathers played in many aspects of our nation's history," Governor Rendell said. "This grant will help to ensure the success of the public-private partnership that has worked so hard to make this project a reality."
Mayor Michael A. Nutter enthusiastically issued the "authorization to proceed" with the project in March 2008, followed by an Independence Day holiday announcement of a campaign to raise $1.5 million to complete site construction and $2 million for an endowment supporting ongoing maintenance and programmatic support. A fundraising event held in September 2008 yielded $200,000 in grants from Bank of America, PECO and PNC Bank and pledges from a number of private donors, including Bernard Smalley, Christopher Lewis, Denise Smyler, Manuel Stamatakis and William Sasso.
"This extraordinary, historic site is a must, not only for the city of Philadelphia, but also for the entire nation. The President's House represents an essential — and up to now, insufficiently recorded — part of our history and must take its rightful place in the landscape of Philadelphia," said Mayor Nutter.
Initial funding for the project was jump-started by former Mayor John F. Street with a 2003 pledge of $1.5 million. In 2004, U. S. Congressmen Chaka Fattah and Robert A. Brady secured a multi-year federal grant of $3.6 million, intended to complete the funding for the project. The City of Philadelphia later committed an additional $1.5 million in cultural bonds.
The site will be completed according to the design concept selected by the Presidential House Oversight Committee in 2007. The plan was designed by Kelly/Maiello Architects & Planners, an award-winning minority-owned firm, and was the unanimous choice of the President's House Oversight Committee, City Officials, and the National Park Service representatives.
The President's House commemorative project has been marked by fascinating and unexpected developments. During the construction of the Liberty Bell Center in 2002, researchers discovered that the proposed threshold of the center was located above the former sleeping quarters of nine enslaved Africans who worked in George Washington's household. The findings resulted in intense community debate over the goals and physical design of the project, ending in consensus in 2003 that the President's House site should memorialize not only the 10-year (1790-1800) residencies of George Washington and John Adams — key architects of American democracy — but also the untold stories of the nine enslaved Africans that Washington owned, two of whom eventually escaped to freedom.
A President's House Oversight Committee was convened in September 2005 to help guide the project and ensure its ultimate success. Its most laudable accomplishment was the facilitation of a highly competitive, nationally distributed Request for Qualifications process to select a design and construction team for the President's House site. The process concluded in 2006 and yielded the selection of Kelly/Maiello Architects & Planners.
An archaeological dig at the President's House site conducted from March through July of 2007 yielded a series of unexpected findings, including a basement below the kitchen, the foundation from a bow window believed to be the prototype for the Oval Office at the White House in Washington, DC, and an underground passage from the kitchen to the main house, likely used by the enslaved and servants working between the two structures.
In December 2007, Kelly/Maiello unveiled plans to incorporate the archaeological findings into the President's House project by way of a multi-sided clear glass enclosure at ground level, through which visitors will be able to see an extensive portion of the original dig with key archaeological findings in their undisturbed configuration.
"This project is important to this nation and we are actively pursuing all means to insure its timely completion," said Mayor Nutter.
"I am grateful to know that the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, the City of Philadelphia, and local civic leaders have come together to work with the federal government to make this commemoration at the President's House Site a reality," said Cynthia MacLeod, Superintendent of Independence National Historical Park.
"On behalf of the Avenging The Ancestors Coalition, which has fought since 2002 for commemoration of the nine enslaved Africans who resided in the President's House, I commend Governor Rendell for his commitment to historic truth in Pennsylvania generally and Philadelphia specifically," said Michael Coard, coalition founder. "Not only is his recommendation the right thing to do, but in light of President Obama's inauguration, it is also timely."
Upon its completion, the President's House project, a joint initiative of Independence National Historical Park and the City of Philadelphia, will result in a new permanent outdoor installation on the doorstep of the Liberty Bell Center at 6th & Market Streets. Officials from the city and Independence National Historical Park are targeting the fall of 2010 for project completion.