Philadelphia's Lost Treasure
Reopens for New Beginning
By Edward N. Eisen
Over the past four years workmen have been burrowing deep into the bowels of the earth below the Philadelphia Museum of Art. Ever so carefully -- like a small, colony of pack rats -- they have been tunneling into one of America's great architectural and engineering wonders -- The Fairmount Water Works.
This is the story of a great comeback, how an icon that once held the pumps, flumes and turbines of the nation's first municipal water system, has been restored, rescued from the junk pile of history.
The 189-year-old landmark presents an incredible tale -- the city's early struggle to deliver potable water to its residents. The challenges this presented were remarkable: how Philadelphia buried the guts of an old engine house, then camouflaged its creation with a series of classic, Greek-style buildings, then dug it all up over the past four years. So here it is, folks, spanking new, reclaimed ... the site that drew writers, artists and poets -- the likes of Dickens and Twain -- to the banks of the Schuylkill.
Some of the story will be retold Saturday night as members of the Fairmount Park Commission and the Philadelphia Water Department say thank you to supporters who played a key role in funding the reopening effort. Over 900 individuals and organizations, among them the Pew Charitable Trusts, were invited to see the impact their dollars made.
The work was shepherded by Fairmount Park Commission member Ernesta Ballard and a committed group of tireless souls who pooled together a public/private effort to put the famed landmark back into the hands of the people. In all, $22 million was raised over the past 22 years to make it happen, according to Gail Tomlinson, director of the Fairmount Park Water Works Interpretive Center.
Clearly, the work is a continuous process. Yet to be done is the reclamation of a seawall, building of the Interpretive Center and a 200-seat restaurant on the site where turbines once pumped water up to wooden mains but a few miles away at City Hall.
There won't be any speeches tomorrow, says Tomlinson, but guests can expect food, music, dancing, fireworks and more than a few toasts. A looped video will tell the story.
All the burrowing and digging over the past four years was part of several contracts totaling $11 million awarded to J.J. DeLuca, the Wayne, Pa. general contracting firm that has built a reputation in historic renovations. Paul J. McDonald, vice president for Business Development at the company, characterizes the project as the "most significant historic renovation" in the 20-year history of the firm.
Charles Dickens visited the Works in 1840 and wrote: "Philadelphia is most bountifully provided with fresh water. ...Powered and jerked about, and turned on, and poured off everywhere. The Water Works ... are no less ornamental than useful ... The river is dammed ... and forced by its own power into...reservoirs, whence the whole city ... is supplied at a trifling expense."
Mark Twain was 18 when he visited the Fairmount Water Works in 1853. With unabashed enthusiasm he wrote his brother about its lovely park, its marble cupid and fountains and the reservoir on the hill where the Philadelphia Museum of Art now stands. By then this remarkable engineering feat was 40 years old, the first large-scale big-city water-supply system.
But the story is much older than that. Philadelphia began claiming leadership in water supply soon after the American Revolution. In 1801 Benjamin Latrobe built a set of steam power pumps just where City Hall stands today. The Centre Square Water Works was its name.
Problem was Centre Square kept failing. Latrobe hired architect Frederick Graff to find a solution. Graff proposed a new pumping station on the Schuylkill, just outside town. It was powered by two steam pumps delivering water to a reservoir built atop Morris Hill, then carried to pumps at City Hall via underground wooden pipes.
Construction on the Engine House, largest in the Water Works' complex, was finished in 1812. To generate steam, it required 3600 cords of wood each year. That was more than the city could afford.
A mound dam was constructed along with a wheelhouse to shelter the wooden wheels powering the pumps. Lovely Greek-style buildings were erected atop the Old Mill House. The city also built a Caretaker's House and the Watering Committee Building at the end of the row. The project was completed in 1822.
The surrounding country side with its rolling hills and view of the river soon became a popular attraction for residents, tourists, artists and writers. The city decided to develop the area into a park. Walkways and fountains were installed. A gazebo was built in 1835 at the end of the mound dam.
In 1861, a New Mill House was constructed between the Old Mill House and the mound dam. The decaying wood and iron wheels in the Old Mill House were replaced by turbines in a major renovation in 1871. A large, open air structure, The Pavilion, and adjoining entrance houses were built the same year.
The Fairmount Water Works continued to serve Philadelphia until the Schuylkill became polluted. It reached epidemic proportions in the 1890s. Finally, the facility was closed in 1909 as the machinery deteriorated and more advanced pumping stations were built elsewhere.
In 1911 the city turned the Old Mill House into an aquarium. Then in the 1940s, the New Mill House became the Kelly Auditorium, a site for dances and special events. A public pool that once accommodated a young actress who married a prince -- Grace Kelly -- was installed.
The building was closed and fell into disrepair when the city built an aquarium in South Philadelphia in the 1960s. The venerable site attracted vagrants. Graffiti lined its walls. Trash littered the old promenade.
In the 1970s, the Junior League of Philadelphia initiated a campaign to rehabilitate the city's faded jewel. But the attempt failed. For a short period, an outdoor cafe operated on the terrace of the Graff Mansion. In 1984, the Watering Committee's Building was restored in a revitalized campaign headed by the Fairmount Park Commission. Again, public support lagged and the project was abandoned.
Work began in earnest again in the 90s as the Philadelphia Water Department and the Fairmount Park Commission began to seek both public and private funding for the project. This time the effort -- pushed vigorously by Ernesta Ballard and supported strongly in the news media -- was successful. Some four years ago the two public bodies sought bids for the restoration. Mark B. Thompson Associates was retained as the architect. J.J. DeLuca was awarded Phase I in the competitive bidding and subsequently won contracts for three additional phases. In all, $11 million in new work went to the firm.
Part of the builder's mission was to tackle the project with small crews, never more than 30, according to Louis Zecca, a vice president with the firm and the point man in overseeing the reclamation. Carefully, meticulously, workmen uncovered pumps, turbines, and flywheels, all buried in the catacombs of the Engine House, the largest, most decorative of the buildings. Operating in confined spaces, DeLuca found the buried treasure the archeologists had targeted: a fix on where the old machinery had stood. "It was amazing to see how water was transferred to City Hall," says Zecca. "It was all done with simple machines."
Some of the most labor-intensive work, says Zecca, were hand excavations and the use of conveyor belts that dug deeply into the bowels of the Engine House. "Sometimes we felt we were working like tunnel rats," he adds.
In these spaces workmen uncovered where flywheels once stood, old pumps, original water mains. To get there, 100 cubic yards of bedrock were unearthed in the spot where a commercial restaurant is scheduled to open next year.
DeLuca's crews performed structural repairs, rehabilitated all the building facades, carved out spaces to hide new piping and duct work to accommodate boilers, oil heaters and air conditioning systems in a structure never designed for this purpose.
Zecca was taken by how workmen nearly two centuries ago moved heavy materials to the river's edge to build the facility. "Today we have modern materiel-handling cranes. They were moving tons of stuff with mules, gin poles and levers," he notes.
The structural repair, says Zecca, "forced us to do some destructive work on the existing facade. But we still had to maintain the integrity of the building and we had to put the structural elements back together in a manner that resembled the original appearance."
Workmen restored the existing stonework around the Water Works, ripped out the old Kelly swimming pool, erected a new site drive, reshaped the promenade and installed new historical balustrades, a reminder of the old Victorian elegance.
Now nearly complete, the restored structures line the river as they once did 189 years ago, lightly wooded and grassy, in classic splendor, basking under a sunlit sky for all to see again.
Behold the new and the old, the Fairmount Water Works: a declared National Historic Landmark and a National Historic Mechanical and Civil Engineering Landmark.
"Now," says Zecca, "it's finally calling people back."
Ed Eisen is a Philadelphia-based freelance writer. His e-mail address is email@example.com.
GTCR Buys ATM Operations
of ACS for $180 Million
FORT WASHINGTON, Pa. - GTCR Golder Rauner, LLC, a leading Chicago-based private equity firm managing in excess of $4 billion, announced today that it has signed a definitive agreement to acquire the automated teller machine businesses of Affiliated Computer Services, Inc. (ACS:NYSE), a worldwide provider of technology solutions and services. The total purchase price was $180 million.
The acquisition will be completed through a newly-formed company, Genpass, Inc. The acquisition marks a re-entry into the transaction processing industry for Bipin C. Shah, a pioneering banking technologist who helped propel MAC to its position as the largest regional ATM system in the country. Shah will head the newly acquired businesses. His business partner and co-founder of Genpass, regory Dillett, will serve as CFO.
The ATM businesses acquired from ACS include its Electronic Commerce Group (ECG), one of the nation's largest third-party providers of electronic funds transfer (EFT) processing services, and its Service Solutions Group, the nation's largest independent ATM service organization. The combined businesses support more than 16,000 ATMs in 49 states, process more than 220 million transactions annually for over 500 customers, and provide ATM maintenance to 350 clients including banks, credit unions, retailers and casinos.
This acquisition represents the second business partnership between GTCR and Shah. Shah and GTCR together founded Gensar, Inc., a processor of credit card transactions in 1992. After the completion of two core acquisitions and a subsequent period of rapid organic growth, Gensar was sold to Paymentech in 1996 for $200 million. "We're delighted to have the opportunity to partner with Bipin and his talented executive team again," said GTCR Principal Donald J. Edwards. Shah and his team are pioneers in the transaction processing industry with a proven record of success. We believe that the current acquisition will provide an ideal platform for the team to re-establish a leadership position in the industry."
Genpass will be based in the Philadelphia suburb of Fort Washington. In addition to Shah and Dillett, senior management of Genpass will include Bonnie Hill, who will lead strategic planning, and ECG's T.G. (Tim) Connor, Jr., who will stay on as head of operations of the acquired businesses. Shah, who will serve as President and CEO, said the new management team will be focused first and foremost on customer service and product improvement.
In announcing the acquisition, he said: "We are tremendously excited about the potential of this business. We have put together an organization to create a new generation of products and services that consumers need. Customers will be able to look to us for a complete suite of electronic business services and other integrated products such as call center support, cash management and prediction and emerging Web-based solutions."
Back in 1980, Shah, Dillett and Hill together served as senior managers of Philadelphia National Bank (predecessor to CoreStates Financial Corp.) during its launch of the first shared automatic teller machine network (MAC) with a consortium of banks in Philadelphia. At CoreStates Shah was Vice Chairman and Chief Operating Officer, Dillett served as Vice Chairman and CFO, Hill was the MAC Network Senior Vice President and Business Manager. Shah recalls that the driving force behind the growth of MAC was a desire to give consumers access to their money in an increasing array of convenient locations first at ATMs, then at gas pumps, supermarkets and retail locations resulting in the nation's first and largest Point-of-Sale (POS) Network.
"Not much has changed since I left the business several years ago," Shah said. "The exception is the Internet. Leveraging on the core transaction processing capabilities of Genpass, we will extend our business to the Internet to provide customers secure, near ubiquitous access to their cash accounts."
Founded in 1980, GTCR Golder Rauner, LLC, is a leading private equity investment firm and long-term strategic partner for outstanding management teams. It pioneered the investment strategy of identifying and partnering with exceptional executives to acquire companies in fragmented and growing ndustries. GTCR manages equity capital invested in a wide range of companies and industries. Its primary industry focus includes information technology services, marketing services, healthcare services, outsourced business services, transaction processing and logistics.
Contact: Ed Eisen, Eisen & Associates - 215.745.4168 - e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
Self-Made Millionaire, Philanthropist
Isaiah Williamson Leaves a Message
At Philadelphia Flower Show
By Edward Eisen
"I planted a shade tree today underwhich I shall never sit."
-- Author Anonymous
The old man -- wherever he is -- would be proud. Could that be a glimmer of a smile lighting Isaiah V. Williamson's stern countenance? After all, his legacy -- his "boys" -- are creating treasures these days both on earth and perhaps even in heaven.
Take, for example, the work of some 40 young men --aspiring painters, carpenters, horticulturalists and brick masons -- that goes on display March 2 at the Philadelphia Flower Show.
A key centerpiece of this year's exhibition, the display is a virtual tropical paradise, a simulated roof garden, set around the quiet elegance of a 22-foot Gothic-style clock tower. The serenity is awakened by 10-foot high red-stem banana trees and bold, flowering vines, foliage of coleus, elephant ears and an artist's palate of maroons, yellows, and lime chartreuse startle and inspire. The scene is punctuated by mural of Philadelphia's skyline, magically transformed to mirror the work of famed Victorian-era architect Frank Furness.
It is a subtle reminder that the nation's largest remaining collection of Furness' iconoclastic red tile-roofed buildings still stands today just 14 miles southwest of the Flower Show at a little-known trade school for poor boys. It was the old man, Isaiah Williamson, a devout Quaker and self-made millionaire who founded the school in 1888, leaving a $2.1 million endowment, valued at $40 million today.
Williamson died just six days after viewing the 220-acre site near Media. He was 86.
His "boys" -- graduates of the Williamson Free School of Mechanical Trades -- those alive and those who have passed on like their founder -- number in the thousands. Many alumni and friends joined students gathered at the sprawling campus on Route 352 in Middletown township, Delaware County in February. They came to remember Isaiah's 200th birthday and his life-long commitment to help deserving young men become useful, respected members of society -- regardless of race or religion.
After his passing, it was left to Williamson's friend, retail giant John Wanamaker and six other trustees to erect the buildings and nurture the dream. Now, 115 years later, the only remaining, free, private, degree-granting institution of its kind in the nation, is alive and prospers with a student census of 250.
A horticulture curriculum -- supported by a grant from the Dorrance H. Hamilton Foundation -- was added in 1990. Nine of these students labored for a year to produce the unique display at the Flower Show chronicled, "To the Roof." It's a striking illusion giving viewers the perception of looking over the edge of a housetop. Like the pieces of a huge jig-saw puzzle others at the school played key supporting roles. Carpentry fabricated two Furness-style buildings, while the paint shop guys replicated the architect's favorite hues - rustic red, thunder-grey and sandstone. Masonry students erected a brick wall facade while a computer-aided drafting system was used in designing the molds for 200 Chinese-style paving stones that line the garden path.
This year's design was inspired by three disciplines, says Wayne Norton, horticultural instructor at Williamson. The students, he says,were motivated by the work of M.C. Escher, the world-renowned Dutch-born graphic artist, remembered for his so-called "impossible structures." Other influences come from the Chinese and the imprimatur left by Furness on late 19th century buildings.
In all, the school spent some $25,000 on the display, a bargain, says Norton, compared to other Flower Show entries. Williamson has won the top prize twice in five years running, missing the gold last year by but a point.
Two of Williamson's boys -- Warren Henry Anders, 21, of Glenolden and Ken Furlong, 22, of Malvern, sat with Norton recently in the brightly refurbished horticultural building, once the school's basketball courts, and in yet another era, its horse stables.
Warren and Ken have studied horticulture, landscaping and turf management for the past three years, a free education Williamson bequeathed in his deed, an education valued at $50,000 today. In May the two seniors will receive their diplomas at ceremonies that will mark the school's 110th graduation.
The young men are attired in standard Williamson dress: buttoned-up shirts, ties and jackets, part of a highly structured regimen that imbues values from the Judeo-Christian perspective, the cornerstone of a Williamson education. The founder's principles are emboldened on every piece of stationary that leaves the school: faith, integrity, diligence, excellence and service.
Isaiah Williamson ordained the daily walk for his boys in his 72-page Deed of Trust. There was little leisure time. While not in class or practicing their trade, the boys labored on the school grounds tending the rolling acres of field and lawn, hammering shingles onto the roofs or working in the kitchen. Among other things, there would be no smoking, no drinking, and no cursing. Boys had to be in bed by 10 every night, rise at 6 every morning and line up for inspection -- face, hands, hair and shoes.
Trends have come and gone since those early days. Cell phones, TVs and automobiles are permitted on campus. But there are some things that remain: early morning line-up, chapel service, four hours daily of academic instruction and four hours of shop-related theory and training, room inspections and mess hall duty. Of the 100 freshmen accepted for scholarship annually, 28 percent drop out or are asked to leave. For some -- despite some easing of the rules over the years -- the stress level and discipline at this unique boot camp is more than some can bear.
Seniors Warren Anders and Ken Furlong, say there's no telling what things are going to be like when the next class arrives in the fall. Says Warren: "I have an uncle who graduated in the mid '70s, another who graduated in the mid '80s. Their recollections of Williamson are completely different," says Anders. That is, different from each other and from his own. "Neither one can believe some of the stories, some of the stuff that goes on. But it's mostly the little things."
Both seniors concur that a Williamson education is a great preparation for life. Says Furlong: "It's taught me an appreciation for the work ethic and discipline. You learn to be on time, to follow the rules."
Warren adds: "A lot of it establishes momentum. You get up every morning at 6 a.m., shave, and get ready for work. Then you go to work. You don't just sit around and talk about it."
Says instructor Norton: "It really doesn't matter whether graduates become tradesmen or go on to become lawyers, doctors or U.S. senators. What you learn at Williamson will not be wasted on you."
From the alumni file, a few examples:
There were the late Roy (Class of 1917) and M.A. Schwieker (Class of 1914). The two brothers went on to found American Olean Tile Co., a leading manufacturer in the United States. Roy was the father of former U.S. Sen. Richard A. Schweiker. Other alumni include Robert Miller, (Class of '36) founder, general manager and president of Playworld Systems, a top playground equipment maker. The late George W. McCarty (Class of '37) served as a vice president of corporate technology at Black & Decker and principal inventor of 14 patents, including the cordless drill.
Other graduates were involved in the rehabilitation of the Brooklyn Museum of Art and the construction of the Metropolitan Opera House in New York. Still others hold key positions at Scott Paper Co, PECO and major architectural firms such as Philadelphia's Ewing, Cole, Cherry and Brott.
Yet Williamson president Paul A. Reid, notes that he does not hold the view that individuals who achieve national prominence are a measure of the school's success.
"Williamson is proud of the host of graduates who become exemplary employees or owners of their own business," he points out. "And while some of them achieve regional importance (or even national importance) it is the consistency of the character of the graduates that is the best measure of Mr. Williamson's legacy."
Dr. Reid, who holds a Ph.D. in educational studies and came to Williamson seven years ago after a 27-year career in the U.S. Air Force, maintains that the financial prosperity and upward mobility of many alumni is not what would make Isaiah Williamson proud today. Instead, he says, the founder's legacy "is the legacy of opportunity that he provided for young boys. "Maybe some people would assume Mr. Williamson's legacy was wealth. But to Mr. Williamson, wealth was only the tool to live out the purpose he saw in his life. As a Quaker, he would find that purpose to provide opportunity for the people around him."
Exactly who was Isaiah Williamson? Details are often sketchy, sometimes mired in controversy.
Isaiah Williamson was a frail, quiet-spoken man. He viewed the site that would become the culmination for a lifetime of philanthropic work on a trip accompanied by John Wanamaker and other members of his board of trustees. His brief comment after seeing the rolling hills in Middletown township was simply: "This place is very nice. "
Six days later on March 7, 1889, he fell unconscious in his home on Chestnut Street and died. Williamson never married. He was born on February 3, 1803 in a small farmhouse outside Fallsington, Bucks County, one of eight children.
Characterized by some in the news media of his day as a miserly, threadbare, curmudgeon who would negotiate the price of a 10-cent lunch, Williamson was to President Reid an astute manager of wealth. He parlayed a boyhood savings of $2,000 into a $20 million fortune, a huge sum in the late 19th century. He created his wealth by his own hands, in the dry goods and building materials business. He invested his profits wisely. By the time he was 37, Williamson had earned enough money to retire. He spent the next three years traveling abroad.
While he agonized over spending an unnecessary penny on himself, Williamson quietly and sometimes anonymously dispensed hundreds of thousands of dollars to colleges, libraries, hospitals and orphanages. Philadelphia's Stephen Girard became an inspiration for much of his philanthropic ideals. Yet it took Williamson 30 years to work out the details of his greatest life work, a $2.1 million endowment to the Williamson School, a gift The New York Sun proclaimed, "there had been nothing in history like Mr. Williamson's vast gift."
Wanamaker, who once served as U.S. Postmaster General in the administration of President Benjamin Harrison, wrote a brief biography about his friend and mentor, ostensibly to set straight the much maligned record.
"For 86 years he lived most of his life in Philadelphia," Wanamaker wrote. "Yet few knew or cared to know him until the last five years of his life. Big men were too busy with their own affairs and little men too narrow to do more than point to him as a shabby, stingy, old man, as if the bent figure and clothes were all of the man...The visible is not always final..There is nothing simpler than to judge by appearances and burn a human being at the stake of mistaken judgment."
A huge portrait of a stern-faced Isaiah Williamson hangs ceremoniously in President Reid's office. The old man appears to be carrying the weight of the world on his infirm shoulders. President Reid is asked whether he believes Isaiah Williamson -- perhaps looking down from his heavenly abode -- would be pleased with the way things turned out.
Dr. Reid pauses reflectively: "I think so, " he says. "Isaiah Williamson didn't direct that we graduate carpenters. He didn't direct that we graduate masons or horticulturalists. He directed that we graduate useful, productive successful citizens. It's much easier to train a carpenter than it is to help mold the kind of young man who will become a respected citizen. The legacy of opportunity is what he left."
Ed Eisen is a freelance writer based in Philadelphia. He can be reached at email@example.com or by calling 215.885.7253.
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