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Advocates Urge Officials To Make Necessary Repairs To President's House Exhibit

By Pat Loeb

PHILADELPHIA (CBS) - It took a monumental effort to get the President's House exhibit open on Independence Mall four years ago, and now advocates are promising another campaign to get it operating properly.

The attraction is plagued with technical and structural problems:

--A faulty ventilation system leaves condensation on glass enclosures, blocking views of the site's key feature, the architectural remains of the house where George Washington and John Adams lived before the White House was built, including the foundation of the quarters where Washington kept slaves.

--Monitors telling the stories of the lives of those slaves have never worked properly, even after being replaced.

--Dampness from an unknown source, leaks, poor drainage or both, threatens to damage the remains. The Park Service recently had to place a tarp over one area and cover it with sand to keep it from deteriorating.

"The conditions are indefensible, inexcusable and intolerable," says Michael Coard, the driving force behind Avenging the Ancestors Coalition (ATAC), which fought to make the site a memorial to Washington's slaves. "It's a blemish not only on Philadelphia history but American history."

Coard says he has met with those involved in the project -- Independence National Historic Park, the Philadelphia Mayor's office and architect Kelly Maiello -- but the problems persist.

He says if they're not fixed by July Fourth, ATAC will demonstrate at the site.

"The world will see who is engaging in what we call cultural and historical blasphemy at this great site," Coard says.

In an email, Mayor Nutter's spokesman said, "The Administration is monitoring these matters on a regular basis and we continue to work with our stakeholders."

Kelly Maiello did not respond to requests for comment.

Independence National Historic Park spokesperson Jane Cowley says the problems have prevented the Park from taking ownership of the site, even though it is on park land, steps from the Liberty Bell.

"We were going to accept a fully functioning exhibit and we don't feel that this is yet a fully functioning exhibit," she says.

"It's such an important site. It's such an important story. We talk about freedom in making our nation and we need to talk about the promises and the paradoxes and it's been an undertold story and this is a unique opportunity to tell that story and our visitors still value what we have here but I think everyone would like to see a fully functioning site."

Many visitors overlook the glitches and focus on its compelling message.

"I appreciate that they're explicit about the contradiction between the assertion of everybody's freedoms and yet the maintenance of slavery for so long," said Richard, a recent visitor from Australia. "That's impressive they're right up front about that. It's obviously an embedded contradiction in American life and they're here talking about it. I was impressed by that."


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