Don't Tear Down Germantown History

In the heart of Germantown, at 25 W. Penn St., stands a building that is a symbol of its community. Designed by Germantown architect Mantle Fielding (1865-1941) in the Colonial Revival style, the Germantown Boys & Girls Club (built 1898-1909) provided social services for disadvantaged boys at a time when such programs didn’t exist. It is the oldest building of its kind in Pennsylvania. 

Perhaps the most iconic example is the story of Jack Kelly, Grace Kelly’s father, who attended the club before the Kelly family was famous. The son of Irish Catholic immigrants, it was here that Kelly was able to flourish as an athlete, despite his family’s limited financial resources. Although the club was originally segregated, the building, from its opening in 1898, also served as the home for a Sunday school program for African American children. These are only two of so many stories that define the importance of this building. 

The Philadelphia Historical Commission will decide the fate of the Germantown Boys & Girls Club building in a historic-designation hearing scheduled for Friday, Jan. 12. 

Unfortunately, the current administration of the Boys & Girls Club of Philadelphia claims that historic designation of this historic building will destroy their plans for the site as well as its programmatic future. 

This is a confusing conclusion, since the building occupies less than 6 percent of its total site. Steps have been taken to demolish the building, ignoring outcry from most of the organizations that represent the Germantown community, as well as historic preservation advocates citywide.

This effort comes at a moment when generous gifts of the Roberts family, the Ed Snider Youth Hockey Foundation and Comcast have given Germantown a wonderful opportunity to offer never-before-available programs to local children. The community wants our children to have every opportunity. At the same time, we find ourselves fighting hard every day to save historic assets that help to define the soul of Germantown and the city of Philadelphia in general. As reported recently by the Inquirer’s Inga Saffron, this is a fight that Mayor Jim Kenney has repeatedly recognized as essential to Philadelphia’s future and to its status as a World Heritage City. We know that there must be a way to give our children what they deserve without depriving them of the value of their past.

We are asking the Philadelphia Historical Commission to do its job — to protect this building on the merits of the historical nomination. More importantly, we look toward the Boys & Girls Club of Philadelphia and City Councilwoman Cindy Bass to preserve and reuse this building that holds more than 100 years of community stories. We encourage them to work with the community in bringing new resources to Germantown in a way that serves our children while preserving our neighborhood’s precious historic character.

Penn-Knox Neighborhood Association

Penn Area Neighborhood Association

SoLo/Germantown Civic Association

Baynton Hill Neighbors

Germantown United CDC

Westside Neighbors

Wakefield 49ers Development and Improvement Association

Southwest Germantown Neighbors

Swampoodle Neighbors

Blue Bell Hill Civic Association

West Central Germantown Neighbors

12th Ward Democratic leadership

Historic Germantown

Preservation Alliance for Greater Philadelphia