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Thursday, 4 June 2009

Yo Steve! Youse From South Philly Too?

Photo, below: Richard Carreño/Writers

Photo, right: Thom Nichels
The author pictured at far right

The Other Girard

Most Philadelphians know Stephen Girard as the founder of Girard College. A banker maybe? Though he didn't have anything to do with the later-day Girard Bank, now the premises of the Ritz Hotel. (Owned and managed by the Marriott chain. Ugh! Just an aside). The French-born Girard made his fortune as an early 19th-century shipping magnate, later bank-rolling the US's imperialistc War of 1812. (We wanted to grab Canada -- finally!)

Girard lived and worked near the Delaware, near Market (then High Street). But like many rich Philadelphians he had a summer house to escape the city heat -- and disease. Downtheshore? Not then. Oligarchs at the time, like Girard, prefered the bucolic climes -- and yes South Philadelphia was just right. South Philly (of course it wasn't called that then), was farmland, and Girard built his manse, Gentilhommiere, in what is now Girard Park, off Shunk Street at 22nd.

It's a complicated and interesting story. Short version: Girard's estate passed into the hands of the City of Philadelphia. Gee! Guess what? The place, now theoretically (mis)managed by Fairmont Park, is in desrepair, neglected, ignored, and dissed.

That's why David Traub, the head of Save Our Sites (SOS), invited his group (of which I'm a member, to check out the place Saturday, May 30. We didn't get. Against the rules.