Lazaretto rises from dead, maybe

A couple of weeks ago I wrote about the Lazaretto, an 18th-century quarantine house in Tinicum, a small township just outside of Philadelphia, which was in danger of being eclipsed by a new fire-station/conference center complex. News about it seemed to have dried up, and I wondered if the story was over.

It wasn’t, as it turns out.

Ground was broken on the site sometime after September 11, and in late October, two historic preservation groups asked a Delaware County judge to stop the construction. Yesterday, November 9, the preservationists and Tinicum officials reached an out-of-court settlement. The township will continue to build its firehouse on the site, but the two sides will appoint nine members to a board that will manage a new nonprofit in charge of the five acres that the Lazaretto sits on. In addition, part of the firestation’s parking lot will be turned into a buffer zone.

As with most compromises, this sounds less than ideal. It doesn’t sound as if the long vista in front of the Lazaretto will be preserved, and it’s the sort of 18th-century building that insists on being approached down a long lane. In fact, since the firehouse is to stand between the Lazaretto and the access road, it’s not clear how the public would reach the Lazaretto at all, unless they’re arriving by boat; presumably they will come through the firehouse’s parking lot, not the most inspiring entry. For that matter, if you look at the blueprint for the firehouse, and mentally amend it by making half the parking lot into a buffer zone, it’s not clear that the preservationists have won much. If it’s to be built at anything like its originally projected size, the firehouse will
still dwarf and obscure the Lazaretto.