1. The Powel house is considered to be one of the best examples of Georgian Architecture in the country and has been around since the 18th century, what does it take to maintain its renowned appearance?
The Powel House was originally restored in the 1930’s by the matriarch of our organization, Frances Anne Wister. To restore the house, we used fire insurance inventories, George Washington’s correspondences and the historical architectural expertise of Fiske Kimball. Today, we consult with structural engineers and architects on our property committees who advise us when searching for the right artisans to complete any restorations needed on the house. We also have a collections committee who govern the preservation of our artifacts.
2. The Powel house has an interesting mix of art and history, how does this influence the performances that take place there?
When creating programming for the historic houses, we at PhilaLandmarks try to draw on our histories and narratives as often as possible. We are always looking for new ways to activate the space and new ways to tell the stories of our four historic houses. For example, we are currently featuring an Early Music Series which boasts chamber music played on historical instruments of the time period of our houses in an intimate salon-style setting.
3. Have you noticed a different crowd of people since incorporating the arts into the experience of the Powel house?
Absolutely! By incorporating new innovative arts programming, we have introduced our house museums to people of varying age groups. People from all walks of life ranging from history buffs to theatre enthusiasts to musicians and artists and even to people who have never explored a house museum before. Opening our historic doors to new audiences affords people a new and unique experience that transcends beyond the performance they have come to see.
4. Would you say that the historical performances hosted in the house allow the audience to relate better to its history?
I would absolutely agree. Historical performances allow all types of learners to experience history in a new and exciting way. They create activated spaces that make learning history easily digestible.
5. What motivated you to begin hosting performances at the Powel house?
PhilaLandmarks’ mission is to inspire people to engage with history by preserving our historic sites and by providing related historical, educational and cultural programming. We strive to become an important cornerstone in our communities. Having a background in theatre myself, hosting performances at the Powel House and our other sites seemed to be a natural fit. These performances bring our houses to life as they were intended to be and keep them from becoming stagnant. Powel House, in particular, has always been a house of entertainment. Elizabeth Powel was a well-known salonierre who entertained many of our founding fathers in the house — George Washington, Benjamin Franklin, Samuel Adams, the Marquis de Lafayette to name a few! We like to believe in some way that we are honoring her memory when we host events in the Powel House.
6. What is special if anything about hosting Theatre Ariel, Philly's Jewish theatre at the Powel House?
The Powel House and Society Hill in general has strong Jewish ties that we rarely explore in the narrative of the house. We focus mostly on Samuel and Elizabeth Powel during Revolutionary America but the Powel House’s 252 year old history has many other stories that deserve to be told. One story that we hope to shed light on is that of Wolf Klebansky a Jewish immigrant from Nemaksciai, Russia (now within the borders of Lithuania) who immigrated to the United States in 1884. His work involved the importation of “Russian and Siberian Horse Hair and Bristles,” and he found success conducting business in the city of Philadelphia. On December 9th, 1904, Keblansky purchased the Powel House for his business and the property that existed beside it for his residence . He led an active life in Philadelphia’s Jewish Quarter — he was a founding member of Kesher Israel, a synagogue at 412 Lombard Street. When the synagogue’s president died unexpectedly in 1906, Klebansky became the institution’s leader. Klebansky and his wife Chaya Dobra also formed a charitable couple that gave aid to help the impoverished children of immigrants.