Press Release | Philadelphia, Pennsylvania | July 25, 2018

Public-Private Partnership Brings Hope to Philadelphia’s Historic Eastern State Penitentiary

Media Contacts:

  • Juvenio L. Guerra • National Trust for Historic Preservation • 202.588.6030 • jguerra@savingplaces.org
  • Nicole Frankhouser • Eastern State Penitentiary Historic Site • 215.236.5111 x219 • nf@easternstate.org
  • Samantha Byles • PowerCorpsPHL • 857.869.0822 • sbyles@bellevuepr.com

Today, the National Trust for Historic Preservation’s HOPE Crew (Hands-On Preservation Experience), a nationwide program connecting young people to preservation trades while breathing new life into historic structures, unveiled a weeks-long project to help rehabilitate Eastern State Penitentiary. In partnership with Eastern State Penitentiary Historic Site, HOPE Crew has placed a team of national experts and young participants from the City of Philadelphia’s PowerCorpsPHL to support efforts to conserve the challenging legacy of one of our nation’s most historic prisons.

In operation from 1829 to 1971, Eastern State Penitentiary was once the most famous and expensive prison in the world. Known for its grand architecture and strict discipline, this National Historic Landmark was the world's first true "penitentiary," a prison designed to inspire penitence, or true regret, in the hearts of prisoners. Its vaulted, sky-lit cells once held many of America's most notorious criminals, including bank robber "Slick Willie" Sutton and Al Capone. In recent years, however, nonprofit Eastern State Penitentiary Historic Site, Inc. has been transforming the collapsing, once dangerous property into a thriving cultural attraction, engaging more than 250,000 visitors a year with some of the most critical issues facing our nation.

“Eastern State Penitentiary is an enormous historic preservation project. The building suffered from years of deterioration between the time it closed as a prison in 1971 and when it reopened for tours in 1994,” said Sara Jane (Sally) Elk, president and CEO of Eastern State Penitentiary Historic Site, Inc. “We are grateful to the National Trust for Historic Preservation’s HOPE Crew and PowerCorpsPHL for helping us launch a masonry preservation training program that provides hands-on experience while advancing our preservation goals and, in turn, our mission to interpret the legacy of American criminal justice reform.”

As part of ongoing efforts to preserve the former prison from structural deterioration, balancing the needs of the buildings with the needs of the people who use them, HOPE Crew participants, led by masonry expert David Gibney, working on Eastern State Penitentiary’s Cellblock 3 and north perimeter wall have had an opportunity to discover the site’s history while acquiring advanced skills that make them competitive in the job market, including: foundation stabilization; wall assessments; re-pointing; and masonry.

“Beyond addressing deferred maintenance at historic sites—ranging from adobe ruins to military forts—the success of HOPE Crew highlights a hands-on approach to saving places that is making a positive difference in the lives of future preservationists and the communities where they serve,” said Monica Rhodes, director of the National Trust’s HOPE Crew. “We’re excited to continue broadening the preservation movement with our partners in Philadelphia and to contribute to Eastern State Penitentiary’s innovative programming, allowing visitors to engage in the national conversation on criminal justice.”

The HOPE Crew team at Eastern State Penitentiary consists of eight specially selected participants from PowerCorpsPHL, an AmeriCorps initiative formed in 2013 in partnership with the City of Philadelphia, EducationWorks, and the Philadelphia Youth Network. The PowerCorpsPHL experience engages youth, ages 18 to 26, to become urban and environmental stewards, pursue a meaningful career pathway, and commit to a lifetime of community engagement. As a result, PowerCorpsPHL not only enriches the lives of its corps members, but also provides Philadelphia the ideal opportunity to grow a diverse, talented workforce.

“This project exemplifies the type of career exposure and hands on learning that PowerCorpsPHL aims to offer its members,” said Lisa Varon, executive director of PowerCorpsPHL. “It is only through unique learning experiences like this that our members can be exposed to various trades and transferable skills that can be applied to future career pathways; with the added benefit of improving the public spaces and communities they serve.”

To learn more about the National Trust’s HOPE Crew program to save historic sites and empower youth through hands-on preservation experience, please visit: www.savingplaces.org/hope-crew.

About HOPE Crew

An initiative of the National Trust for Historic Preservation, HOPE Crew trains young people in preservation crafts while helping to protect historic cultural sites on public lands. Named for “Hands-On Preservation Experience,” the program links preservation projects to the national youth corps movement, as well as launch special volunteer efforts nationwide. Since the start of the program in 2014, HOPE Crew has completed more than 150 projects, trained over one thousand young people (including veterans) in preservation trades, performed more than $18 million of preservation work and recruited thousands of volunteers to protect places that are significant to their communities. www.savingplaces.org/hope-crew

About Eastern State Penitentiary Historic Site, Inc.

Eastern State Penitentiary was once the most famous and expensive prison in the world, but stands today in ruin, a haunting world of crumbling cellblocks and empty guard towers. Known for its grand architecture and strict discipline, this was the world's first true "penitentiary," a prison designed to inspire penitence, or true regret, in the hearts of prisoners. Its vaulted, sky-lit cells once held many of America's most notorious criminals, including bank robber "Slick Willie" Sutton and Al Capone. Eastern State Penitentiary Historic Site is located at 22nd Street and Fairmount Avenue, just five blocks from the Philadelphia Museum of Art. The penitentiary is open seven days a week, year round. When purchasing online, admission is $14 for adults, $12 for seniors, and $10 for students and children ages 7-12. When purchasing at the door, admission is $16, $14, and $12, respectively. (Not recommended for children under the age of seven.) Admission includes “The Voices of Eastern State" Audio Tour, narrated by actor Steve Buscemi; Hands-On History interactive experiences; history exhibits; and a critically acclaimed series of artist installations. For more information and schedules, the public should call (215) 236-3300 or visit www.easternstate.org.

About PowerCorpsPHL

PowerCorpsPHL is a City of Philadelphia AmeriCorps program operated in partnership with Education Works that supports the City’s environmental and sustainability initiatives through workforce development and career training for disconnected young adults between the ages of 18 and 26. Launched in September 2013, PowerCorpsPHL works closely with Philadelphia Parks & Recreation, the Philadelphia Water Department, and partners in the public and private sector, to build opportunities for young people that support Philadelphia’s environmental stewardship, youth violence prevention, and workforce development priorities. www.powercorpsphl.org

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The National Trust for Historic Preservation, a privately funded nonprofit organization, works to save America’s historic places.
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