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Source: Philadelphia Business Journal
Date: August 25, 2006
Byline: Peter Van Allen

Five Firms Vying for President's House

The controversial exhibit will include a depiction of the slavery at the site.

Five architecture-and-design firms have made bids to build the President's House exhibit on Independence Mall.

About $5.1 million in public money has been committed to the interpretive exhibit, which would mark the site of the Colonial-era President's House that stood at 6th and Market streets during the presidencies of George Washington and John Adams.

The site, which will include exhibits about slaves that lived in the house, will lead up to the entrance of the Liberty Bell Center.

"It's of central importance in our whole history, and some of our history is not so pretty. Everyone should understand the story, not just the story of three or four people," said Bill Moore, president of the Independence Visitor Center Corp., which is across the street from the President's House. "In the short term, it's one of the last pieces [of Independence Mall] to be finished. It's the one that could change how people view things. You could argue that it's as important as the Liberty Bell."

The five proposals are available for public viewing at the National Constitution Center at 525 Arch St. Visitors can fill out cards choosing their favorite design. Designs and public comment will be reviewed by officials from Philadelphia and the National Park Service. Models of the proposals will be on display through Sept. 13.

Completion of the exhibit is slated for July 4.

The President's House exhibit will be part of roughly $300 million in investments on the four blocks that include historic Independence Hall and three structures opened within the past five years — the Liberty Bell Center, Independence Visitor Center and the National Constitution Center.

Controversy over the President's House has raged since January 2002 when historian Edward Lawler Jr. first published findings indicating that slaves lived in it. The disclosure was startling given that the historical interpretation has traditionally centered on more positive events, including the signing of the Declaration of Independence and events that shaped the nation.

"While all that was going on, at the exact same moment, slavery was at the heart of the American nation. The full story is not that freedom reigned, but that slavery and freedom were intertwined, economically, socially, politically and culturally," Smithsonian historian Fath Davis Ruffins said at a public hearing in Philadelphia in June.

A brief outline of the five proposals made by architectural firms:

 

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