Hunting Park: Community Sees Future for Historic House
Just off Old York Road in Hunting Park sits a vacant house. Like many in the neighborhood, its story is one of neglect and crime. But this house is different–it’s over 200 years old. Through the right eyes, the Logan House tells more about the future than the past.
Much of the Logan House’s history is unknown. Based on style, it was thought to have been built in the late 18th century by George Logan, grandson of James Logan, who was William Penn’s secretary. Hunting Park was originally part of James Logan’s estate, Stenton, before being sold. The 87 acres were eventually given to the city as a public park.
Stenton House is located just a mile northwest of the Logan House. Stenton was built decades before the American Revolution. The Logan House was built decades after. It has since served a variety of roles, often reflecting the changing fabric of the neighborhood.
Laura Keim is the curator of Stenton House. She said that the historical significance of Stenton was recognized even as early as the 1870s. Even so, Keim attributes the survival of the house to “conservation by neglect.”
In 1832, the railroads were constructed through North Philadelphia. The Logans found themselves on the “wrong side of the tracks.” As industry expanded, workers’ housing and factories crept onto the property. Some were even owned by James Logan’s descendants. The property didn’t become a historic project until the 20th century.
These places cannot all be museums
Today, Stenton house serves as a hybrid between historic preservation and communal space. On March 30, 628 people from the surrounding area attended Stenton’s annual egg hunt.
“The majority of our programing is free and open to the neighborhood,” Keim explained. “Reaching out to our community is really important to us.”
Keim said that Stenton’s neighbors are very involved in the property, a change in the house’s history of neglect. Neighbors help with Stenton’s garden and enjoy the green space.
The Logan House has a similar history of neglect that is also changing. In 1871, Fairmount Park Commission took over the house, using it to house the Fairmount Park Guard and a police station. In the 1980s, the commission found the house financially difficult to maintain. The house and park were left abandoned and neglected as the neighborhood went into decline.“These places cannot all be museums,” Keim said, “It takes a tremendous amount of financial backing.”
The house needed a purpose in order to be saved.
About the future
Gary Chilutti lived in Hunting Park for 25 years, serving as director of the Community Development Corporation in the late 1980s. He defined the Fairmount Park Commission’s policy towards Hunting Park and the Logan House–demolition by neglect.
To simplify maintenance in the 1980s, the Fairmount Park Commission planned to demolish all structures in Hunting Park, Chilutti said. The community took action to protect what they recognized as a vital organ of the neighborhood. Chilutti said that the Fairmount Park Commission responded by surveying residents, asking if the house should continue to be left vacant and a hub for drugs and prostitution or if it should be knocked down.
The Community Development Corp. conducted its own survey, changing the question’s phrasing to give residents another option–adaptive reuse. The house could be used to provide services to the community.
“The community overwhelmingly chose to save it,” Chilutti said.
With an emergency stabilization grant from Preservation Pennsylvania, the Logan House was sealed from moisture. Over time, bits and pieces of the park and the house were restored. Athletic fields were redone. Trees were planted. The house’s roof, windows and shutters were restored.
Today, the 200-year-old house is waiting for a tenant.
Not just about the house
Lucy Strackhouse is the executive director of the Fairmount Park Historic Preservation Trust. She said that the trust is holding out for the right tenant.
“We would like to find a use that is compatible with the neighborhood, with the park, and with the historic character of the house,” Strackhouse explained. The ideal tenant would already be a significant part of the community with a plan to provide services like job training or youth development.
Strackhouse said that the challenge to leasing the house is finding tenants who have the funds to invest in the building to bring it back to life. She estimated that restoration could cost anywhere from $500,000 to $800,000.
“We have talked to many organizations–bicycle coalitions, youth education groups, churches, community development corporations–but the problem is the funding,” Strackhouse explained. “We work with people to develop funding and look for grant funding, but we have not found a strong enough organization that is willing to undertake this.”
Gary Chilutti pointed out that the fight for the neighborhood was never just about the Logan House or the park. Maintenance, he said, was just one step. The community must also develop and grow. Chilutti said that revitalization must be community driven to ensure sustainability and impact.
“It’s not a ‘do for’, it’s a ‘do with,’” he said.
Chilutti suggested that the leasing responsibility for the house be contracted out to a Hunting Park organization to build that organization’s capacity and keep resources within the neighborhood.
For now, the house remains empty.
“We would love to find the perfect tenant for this house,” Strackhouse said. “It is easy to walk around the house and see what it could be.”
Through the right eyes, the house is a window to the future.