Scouts Honor

One famous Logan Square building won't go condo--at least for now.

By Gwen Shaffer
Add Comment Add Comment | Comments: 0 | Posted Jun. 13, 2007

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Scouting locations: The Cradle of Liberty Council headquarters would be prime real estate for developers.

Should the local assembly of Boy Scouts be evicted from its headquarters in the Art Museum area, the grand Beaux Arts building will remain "institutional in nature," Philadelphia City Councilman Darrell Clarke assured neighbors during a recent meeting. Logan Square residents called for the June 2 powwow amid fears the historic building could be transformed into upscale residential units or a restaurant.

"We're concerned about many potential unintended consequences of this eviction, one of which is the property being developed in ways that aren't compatible with the neighborhood," says Frances Dalton, who lives on adjacent Spring Street. A "primary goal" of nearby residents is preserving the historic building erected by the Cradle of Liberty Boy Scout Association nearly 80 years ago.

In 1928 City Council adopted a resolution allowing the Boy Scouts to use land at 22nd and Winter streets "in perpetuity," as long as any building on the premises housed Boy Scouts-related programming. But City Council members voted May 31 to authorize termination of the lease on grounds that the city will not "subsidize" any organization that discriminates against gays.

The local Boy Scouts council provides programs for 40,000 children in Philadelphia, including after-school mentoring and job shadowing. Although this kind of support is clearly needed in Philadelphia--where the School District was drowning in a $173 million deficit before the recent balanced budget--the Boy Scouts' ban on gay members and employees violates the city's Fair Practices Ordinance.

The U.S. Supreme Court ruled in June 2000 that as a private organization, the Boy Scouts of America may exclude whomever it wishes.

Rumors about the fate of the building--prime real estate just off the Benjamin Franklin Parkway--are now flying. The former School District headquarters next door--at 21st and Winter streets--is currently being converted into luxury condos. A spokesperson for one of the developers on that project, Synterra Partners, says the company hasn't looked into buying the property now occupied by the Boy Scouts.

Clarke says the potential to pocket millions from the sale of the building--which boasts an intricately tiled floor, a vaulted ceiling and detailed frescos--played no role in the city's decision to move toward eviction.

"I met with local residents and assured them the building would be used for another nonprofit or governmental entity," Clarke says. "But I don't want to talk about alternative uses of the building yet. I'm hopeful we can come up with compromise language."

Learning opportunity: The former School District headquarters next door will soon become condos.

City solicitor Romulo Diaz Jr. confirms the city isn't pursuing "competitive uses" of the property. "Our move to evict the Cradle of Liberty Council is strictly a principled response to its lack of answers."

Nevertheless, the property is zoned R-14, a classification that could permit the building "to be redeveloped into ... you name it," one concerned neighbor cautions. During the June 2 meeting Clarke promised to introduce legislation that would tighten the zoning designation. But with Council poised to recess for summer, that can't happen until fall.

The Fairmount Park Commission voted to evict the Boy Scouts last July. But the city Law Department couldn't take action without approval from the mayor and City Council, says Diaz.

"I find it amazing that in this day and age, if you were to seek a job with the Boy Scouts, you'd be asked to fill out an application that overtly states gays are not welcome," Diaz says. "The Cradle of Liberty Council has to determine what's more valuable--to allow members to contribute their skills without fear of discrimination, or to have the blessing of the national Boy Scouts."

According to property law, should the Boy Scouts ultimately be evicted, ownership of the land would revert back to the city of Philadelphia. But the Boy Scouts built the headquarters with its own funds, and the organization spends about $60,000 annually to maintain it, says Cradle of Liberty Council spokesperson Jeff Jubelirer. In 1994 the organization spent $2.6 million to refurbish the structure.

"I don't know what the city's legal rights are regarding the building itself and the land--that's likely one of the issues that could be dealt with in a legal proceeding," Jubelirer says.

Russell Meddin, vice president of the Logan Square Neighborhood Association, says a majority of the neighbors don't want to see the Boy Scouts booted. "They've been excellent neighbors, in terms of taking care of their property and contributing to safety in Logan Square."

Dalton, the Spring Street resident, stresses that no one in the neighborhood association supports the Boy Scouts' antigay policy. "At the same time, this council has an important role to play in children's lives," she says. "I can't understand why it's necessary to take action at this point."

Resolution of this 4-year-old drama may ride on the use of a single word: unlawful. That's because the antidiscrimination policy adopted by the Cradle of Liberty Council in January 2004 states that the organization opposes "any form of unlawful discrimination."

Ironically, the Philadelphia Law Department suggested this exact language before realizing that the Supreme Court decision makes discrimination against gays perfectly legal. City solicitor Diaz is scheduled to meet with the local Boy Scouts council at the end of June.

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