Letitia House To Be Restored

January 22, 2013 |  by  |  Buzz  |  ,

 

Letitia Street House | Photo: Peter Woodall

Letitia Street House | Photo: Peter Woodall

The exterior of the tiny Letitia House, erected in 1715 at Second and Chestnut Streets (and thought to once be the home of William Penn’s daughter Letitia) and moved to West Girard Avenue in Fairmount Park for the 1876 Centennial world’s fair, will be restored this year, according to Mark Focht, first deputy commissioner of the department of Parks and Recreation. The project, which is already underway, is funded by $600,000 from the City’s capital budget. The restoration also includes the installation of a geothermal heating and cooling system and clearing of the surrounding landscape to create a clearer viewshed to Girard Avenue and the Philadelphia Zoo and so that the house will feel better connected to the surrounding streetscape.

Once the restoration work is complete, says Focht, Parks and Recreation will find a tenant for the building.

Ryan Briggs contributed reporting to this article.

1930s postcard of the Letitia Street house

1930s postcard of the Letitia Street house

About the author

Hidden City co-editor Nathaniel Popkin’s latest book is the novel Lion and Leopard (The Head and The Hand Press). He is also the author of Song of the City (Four Walls Eight Windows/Basic Books) and The Possible City (Camino Books). He is senior writer and script editor of the Emmy-winning documentary series “Philadelphia: The Great Experiment” and the fiction review editor of Cleaver Magazine. His essays and book reviews appear in the Wall Street Journal, Public Books, The Kenyon Review, The Millions, and Fanzine.



11 Comments


  1. This is thrilling!

    • This is great news! Where in the park is it located? Im assuming maybe somewhere in the area of Memorial Hall?

      • Letitia Street House is located just across the Philadelphia Zoo on Girard Avenue. It’s up on the hill as you drive on Girard Avenue, and you’ll see short steps leading up to the area where the house is sitting.

  2. Any lead on who may do the restoration work?

  3. The article is unclear since it seems to indicate that the house is still thought to have been the home of William Penn’s daughter, Letitia. Actually, Letitia never left England. The signboard outside the house reports that it was built for Thomas Chalkley in 1715. I am glad that the city is restoring the building. But if all possible, it would be historically appropriate to move the house again, and to erect it on one of the parking lots on Letitia Street, close to its original location. In that case, it would quite likely be the oldest house remaining within the old city limits of Philadelphia.

  4. $600,000.00 for renovations including a geothermal heating system? Pretty bigtime waste of money for an old house owned by a guy who basically sold Pennsylvania back to the monarchy. And it has never drawn much in the way of visitors, and it is highly questionable it will ever do so, making it unlikely it will generate enough income to offset the expense of renovation and operation subsequently.

  5. $600K to rehab a small building that probably has a very limited reuse in the future. A geothermal heating [and cooling] system! And we wonder why our taxes are high! Why not make the building water tight and wait until and a defined use presents itself. Certainly there are hundreds of problems in the park that could use some funding. It seems so easy to spend [other peoples] money on capital projects and underfund the day to day needs of the park/zoo/schools/septa/city
    WHO MAKES THESE DECISIONS?

  6. Letitia Penn accompanied her father to this country on his second visit and then returned with him to England. Letitia Street, between Front and Second, off Market, was once at the center of Letitia Court. Penn reserved the whole city block for his own use and then gave it to Letitia. She later sold it off piecemeal and one parcel became home to the London Coffee House. A house on the block was this very house, and that is connected to the incorrect back-story. And here’s the story:
    For the longest time, historians and city officials believed that this house had been bought by or was built at the request of William Penn for his use when he arrived in Philadelphia. He later supposedly gave it to his daughter, Letitia, at her marriage. In 1883, the house–having been used as a hotel for some eighty years–was purchased by the city and was moved from Letitia Street to Fairmount Park. There, it operated as a museum until it was discovered that the house had little to do with the Penn family. As it turns out, the house was constructed about 1715 for Thomas Chalkley on land originally owned by Letitia Penn. It was built in the early Georgian style by a house carpenter named John Smart. Quietly in 1965, the Letitia Street House ceased admitting tourists.

    In other Letitia news: Legend has it that sometime around 1699, William Penn brought a doll to the Pennsylvania colony as a gift for Letitia to give to a friend. This wood-carved doll, named after Penn’s daughter, has glass eyes, a flax wig, and brocade and velvet dress. Though there is great controversy about this, the Letitia Penn doll is considered the oldest doll in America.

  7. The house is in a difficult location in the Park. In fact, it would be a more exciting idea to move it back to its old location in Old City where it might be used more productively. While the exact site might not be available there are parking lots along Letitia Street with which an arrangement might be made. Think Bold!

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