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City Renting Rundown Mansions

October 10, 1991

PHILADELPHIA (AP) _ The strapped city has a plan to restore some of its historic mansions in Fairmount Park without dipping into Philadelphia’s meager coffers.

The city wants to lease six houses, and two stables, to businesses or non- profit organizations willing to renovate and maintain them.

Rent could be forgiven until investors recoup their restoration costs, Larry Snyder, director of the Fairmount Park Historic Houses Project, said Thursday.

Rent income would be used to preserve other park buildings that don’t lend themselves to moneymaking ventures, he said.

More than 60 people toured the 18th- and 19th-century buildings last week. Their ideas for using the houses ranged from bed-and-breakfast inns to restaurants, offices and conference centers.

Snyder said any proposal would be considered for a long-term lease as long as it was compatible with the recreational uses of the park.

″We don’t want to second guess someone,″ he said. ″They may have wonderful use we’ve never thought of.″

Many of the mansions were built by prominent families as farms or summer houses along the banks of the Schuylkill and Wissahickon rivers. They were later sold or donated to Fairmount Park.

Park officials and police officers lived rent-free in some of the houses until the mid 1970s, when the public became aware of the practice and protested.

Since then, the buildings have stood vacant, been minimally used for park offices or leased for a dollar a year.

The buildings are essentially sound, but they need extensive roof work, stone pointing, wood replacement and painting. Little maintenance work has been done since the bicentennial in 1976, Snyder said.

An 18th-century stone mansion known as the Monastery, its field stone stable, and the nearby Kitchen Lane property with its stucco house, stable and spring house have been leased to an organization called Friends of Wissahickon, which has in turn leased the buildings for the past 13 years to Bill Hayes.

Some of the people who board their horses at the Monastery Stable have recently formed a non-profit group to try to preserve the barn. Elizabeth Trotman, president of Friends of Monastery, said the stable needs ″substantial repairs″ but is especially valued because of its access to park trails.

Snyder said at least one other person is interested in upgrading the riding center.

The other buildings include the Thomas Mansion, the Jacob Kelter House, Ridgeland Mansion and Glen Fern, which is also known as the Livezey Canoe House.

Prospective renters have until Nov. 1 to express interest in the houses and make brief proposals. They will later be required to submit detailed applications.

The Fairmount Park Commission plans soon to expand the program to include at least two other mansions.

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