New Glen Foerd director visits ETCA

Ross Mitchell, who recently became Glen Foerd’s executive director, talked about some of his ideas for the historic mansion at last week’s East Torresdale Civic meeting.

Man with a plan: New Glen Foerd Executive Director Ross Mitchell speaks to residents on Monday, Aug. 12, at the East Torresdale Civic Association meeting. JACK TOMCZUK / TIMES PHOTO

Ross Mitchell has big ideas for Glen Foerd on the Delaware. 

Mitchell, who was hired as the historic mansion’s director in June, told residents at the Aug. 12 East Torresdale Civic Association meeting that he would like to raise Glen Foerd’s profile.

“I think Glen Foerd is a blank slate for doing creative things,” he said. “I think we need to have a regional appeal.”

Mitchell took over from Meg Sharp Walton, Glen Foerd’s executive director since 2011. He has previously served in leadership positions at the Barnes Foundation and Laurel Hill Cemetery.

The challenge for Glen Foerd is funding. Mitchell said the 18-acre site, which includes several structures, has “an aggressive deferred maintenance program.” 

“How do you support a house? It has to be relevant,” Mitchell said. “Somehow, it has to be relevant. Just having it be a museum — where you open the doors and people walk in — it’s not the Philadelphia Museum of Art.”

“You need to do some creative thinking about how to fund something to preserve the greater good of it,” he added.

He would like to see the Glen Foerd Conservation Corporation, which rents the land from the city for a nominal fee, build an endowment to pay for necessary repairs and improvements that could bring more people to the mansion.

Most of Glen Foerd’s money comes from a catering business that hosts weddings and other private parties at the mansion, Mitchell said. Eventually, he said he would like to raise enough funding that the historic mansion could wean off the catering and transition into a more traditional historic house with community events and tours.

Much of the historic furniture belonging to the house is in storage to protect it from drunk wedding guests, Mitchell said. 

Glen Foerd is best known as a popular wedding spot, so Mitchell’s initial fundraising idea is to sell tickets to a mock wedding. Guests would enjoy all the trappings of a normal wedding, and actors playing the bride and groom would perform funny skits.

A preliminary date for the fundraiser is Oct. 31, 2020, Mitchell said.

Mitchell also said he plans to explore the option of building an entrance to the historic mansion on State Road. Currently, drivers have to use Fitler Street and wind through residential streets to access Glen Foerd.

“You arrive there in a state of confusion, and I don’t think that’s the best way to come to a place,” Mitchell said.

There has been some confusion about a dock-building project at Glen Foerd that has been in the works since 2016, when the William Penn Foundation wrote a $500,000-plus grant for the effort.

The dock remains unbuilt. Mitchell said the original engineering firm designed a structure that costs more than the grant money. Moreover, the company, which Mitchell said was aware of the budget, hasn’t refunded the $162,000 it charged for the dock’s design.

Glen Foerd may have to reach out to attorneys to try to retrieve the money, Mitchell added. 

A new firm is on the case, and Mitchell told residents he hopes to get a new price within the next couple of weeks.

“It’s been a nightmare,” he said. 

Glen Foerd, which is located on the Delaware River at the mouth of the Poquessing Creek, has had aspirations of running a boating program.

The East Torresdale Civic Association’s next meeting will be held Monday, Sept. 9, at Liberty Free Evangelical Church, Linden Avenue and Milnor Street. Representatives from Oak Street Health, which recently opened a new location at Roosevelt Mall, are scheduled to attend. ••

Jack Tomczuk can be reached at jtomczuk@newspapermediagroup.com.