Marian Anderson Museum Begins Long Road Return After Flood Damage | Local news

The Marian Anderson Historical Society is beginning restoration work on its South Philadelphia house museum that suffered flood damage in 2020, having raised about half the cost of $ 500,000.

The townhouse where the famous opera singer and civil rights icon lived on Martin Street closed to the public in March 2020, due to the pandemic. Without the staff present, no one noticed when a basement water pipe burst in June 2020.

Water flowed in the finished basement uncontrolled for 36 hours. Water also bubbled up in the kitchen sink drain, flooding the first floor. By the time CEO Jillian Patricia Pirtle entered the house, there was over three feet of standing water in the basement, where historical artifacts were on display.

The water has been pumped out and the house stabilized, but the damage persists.

“Some materials are lost forever. Sheet music, letters, historic furniture, some clothing, ”Pirtle said. “It’s just sad. Water does so much damage.

At the time, Pirtle said the future of the museum looked dire.

“We had no help, no support, no one to turn to. We tried to apply for every grant, every loan, everything, and we didn’t have priority, ”she said. “We looked to the community for help, support and kindness. It was these spirits, these souls that began to try to give us the help we needed. “

The Preservation Alliance for Greater Philadelphia inspected the premises for water damage as well as deferred maintenance of the historic monument. The inch-thick appraisal report – which includes non-flooding issues like repointing the brick facade, replacing windows, and installing a modern HVAC system – estimates the total cost of the repair at $ 491,000.

“The museum has long struggled with funding, for capital investments,” said Jennifer Robinson, director of preservation services for the Alliance. “Things like replacing the roof, things like repointing bricks, restoring windows, these are all things that any homeowner faces. We are trying to solve them all at the same time.

With a grant of $ 75,000 from the National Trust for Historic Preservation, $ 105,000 from the city budget with another $ 50,000 pledged from a recent arts fundraising distribution, and the Marian Anderson Society’s own GoFundMe campaign currently At just over $ 28,000, the museum gives the green light for contractors to enter and begin work.

Marian Anderson purchased the 1857 brick row house in 1924, living there when her career began her dramatic trajectory: her debut with the New York Philharmonic in 1925, performing at Carnegie Hall in 1928 and – most famous – singing outdoors in 1939 at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington DC, a concert hosted by First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt after Anderson was refused an appearance at Constitution Hall by the Daughters of the American Revolution because she was black. The Washington concert was broadcast on the radio to millions of listeners across the country.

Anderson continued her career until 1965, singing internationally, performing in two US presidential inaugurations, and becoming the first African-American musician to sing with the Metropolitan Opera in 1955. She died in 1993.

By 1943, Anderson had moved from the townhouse to live on a Connecticut farm, by which time his mother and sister used the Philadelphia home. It has the original hardwood floors, original plaster walls, and the same basement that Anderson converted into a living room for performances and social gatherings from touring local and national African-American musicians.

The restoration work will bring modern plumbing, electrical and air conditioning systems into the historic home, while retaining existing early 20th-century features that Anderson is believed to have lived among. For example, the mid-century bathroom will be remodeled to give it more space, but the 1930s kitchen cabinets, which Anderson herself helped design, will remain.

Pirtle hopes enough work will be completed by February to accommodate a limited number of visitors for a celebration of Anderson’s birthday on February 27. The full restoration is not expected to be done until mid-2023. The museum has been closed to visitors since the pandemic closed in March 2020.

Two of the contractors – Premiere Building Restoration and BQ Basement Systems – are offering in-kind services worth $ 20,000, but with just over half the money needed to complete the work, the museum is looking for more contributions. . Council member Kenyatta Johnson, in whose district the museum is located, has rallied support for the restoration and says he is working to ensure the Marian Anderson Museum becomes a permanent item in the city’s annual budget.

“In the same way that we support the African American museum every year, in the same way that we support the Swedish museum every year, in the same way that we support the Betsy Ross house every year,” Johnson said. “Likewise, we will support the Marian Anderson Historical Museum. “

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