by Margaret Fahringer
On Thursday, June 21, Historic Germantown will celebrate thee notable individuals from the German Township as it brings back to life the Germantown Historical Society’s Hall of Fame.
From 1994 to 2007, the Germantown Historical Society honored men and women whose impact on the quality of life in our communities of the northwest has been significant. From Maggie Kuhn, who founded the Gray Panthers, to eminent architects Robert Venturi and Denise Scott-Brown, to Grover Washington, Jr., to the first woman Episcopal bishop, the Right Rev. Bishop Barbara Harris, GHS recognized the value of contemporary history by honoring those who were in the middle of making it.
Historic Germantown is continuing that tradition by this year honoring Jim Duffin, a distinguished community historian and archivist; Betty Turner, longtime revered community activist; and Ken Weinstein, well-known community preservationist, restaurateur, and developer.
We had an opportunity last week to sit down with Ken Weinstein to see what is behind the good work he does that has resulted in the popular Trolley Car Diner, the complete overhaul and restoration of St. Peter’s Church to create a new home for the Waldorf School, and so much more.
Over the next two weeks, we will publish interviews of Jim Duffin and Betty Turner as well. Here is what Ken had to say:
Q: Tell me what led you to your career as a community-based real estate developer.
A: “Well I have been developing in the Germantown and Mt. Airy area for 29 years. I just fell in love with the idea of taking vacant, deteriorated, blighted buildings and making something special out of them.
Q: How did you get interested in architectural preservation and what’s special about this community?
A: “I love saving buildings whether they are historic or not. But one of the reasons I chose the German Township, 29 years ago, in which to invest, is because of the housing stock and the incredible architecture that exists here still today”.
Q: You are taking on the revitalization of Wayne Junction. Talk about the risks and rewards associated with this project?
A: “Wayne Junction is my biggest project to date. Partly because I’m not renovating one building at a time, instead I am focusing on a whole area of lower Germantown. Clearly the reward is the idea of taking a number of blighted properties and making something great out of them. Bringing in a lot of amenities like Dekes BBQ, Attic Brewing, Philly Bread, Philadelphia Woodworking, and dozens of apartments – all of which is really going to revitalize that area. There is a reason why Wayne Junction has not been revitalized yet, but we love the idea of risk, we are willing to do it”.
Q: I understand you had to wait for the modernization of the Wayne Junction Train Station before reasonably taking on this project? What about the effects of gentrification?
A: “We would not be doing this project if SEPTA had not invested $31 million into the revitalization of the Wayne Junction Train Station. Gentrification is always a big concern when we do development projects; this project is no different. There are a lot of aspects of keeping gentrification at bay while you develop an area. We plan on hiring local, bringing amenities to the neighborhood that the neighborhood wants, not just outsider ideas. There are a lot of things we are doing to keep gentrification down.
Q: Tell me about JumpStart Germantown and your desire to be a mentor?
A: “JumpStart Germantown is the project I am most excited about of anything I have done so far. We are training, networking and loaning money to aspiring real estate developers. So far over the last three years we have graduated 283 people, loaned 8.2 million dollars to graduates and provided them with mentors. Most of the aspiring developers are local. People are creating nest eggs, creating wealth for their families inside of the community. It’s not outsiders taking their wealth with them when they leave.
Q: The JumpStart program is being looked at by others who want to copy it. Are you making it available?
A: “JumpStart Germantown has really caught the attention of other communities, both around the city and the country. It is exciting that others are getting on the bandwagon to start their own JumpStart programs. Recently JumpStart South West Philly, JumpStart Hunting Park, and JumpStart Promise Zone in West Philly have joined JumpStart Germantown and JumpStart Kensington. We get calls from cities on a daily basis asking how can they bring this impactful program into their community.
Q: What does being part of Historic Germantown’s Hall of Fame mean to you?
A: “Obviously I was very honored that Historic Germantown asked me to accept this award. I have always looked up to Historic Germantown and its members’ historic properties, as real institutions that strengthen the Germantown, Mount Airy and Chestnut Hill communities. I hope that people will join us on June 21st for this fund-raising celebration, which I very much look forward to. Clearly our area is a model for preserving its historic buildings, and I am proud to be part of that process and proud that Historic Germantown has been a partner with me.
Historic Germantown is a consortium of 16 extraordinary historic houses, destinations and museums in northwest Philadelphia that have joined together to protect, preserve and share some of Philadelphia’s prized historical assets (http://freedomsbackyard.com).
Its Hall of Fame event will take place in its green courtyard at 5501 Germantown Ave. at Market Square on Thursday, June 21, from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. For more information, to sponsor the event in honor of one of the inductees, or to purchase tickets, call 215-844-1683 or visit www.freedomsbackyard.com.
Since retiring, Margaret Fahringer has volunteered for a number of organizations. She is a recent volunteer with Historic Germantown and is cataloging the hat collection of the Germantown Historical Society’s Clarkson-Watson costume Collection.