By John Luciew on May 15, 2013 at 9:50 AM
Jackson House, the Sixth Street hamburger and hoagie restaurant, recently won PennLive’s Burger Battle, affirming its iconic status among Harrisburg eateries.
But right next door, another Jackson House — the former African-American inn that catered to the likes of Pearl Bailey, Louie Armstrong, Ella Fitzgerald and Cab Calloway — just might be the most endangered historic property in Harrisburg and across the state.
This month, Historic Harrisburg Association, poised to celebrate 40 years of historic preservation in the capital city, issued a “Preservation Action Alert” for the Jackson House, a four-story, circa 1884 red-brick building at 1006 N. Sixth St. And just the year before, Preservation Pennsylvania named the 1000 block of Sixth Street in Harrisburg as one of the most endangered sites in all of Pennsylvania.
The former German Jackson Rooming House, which housed prominent African-American guests during segregation, is located to the immediate right of the Jackson House Restaurant (center) on North Sixth Street in Harrisburg. (SUE GLEITER, The Patriot-News)
After decades of falling into disrepair, the building is now closer than ever to being demolished, according to the alert published by Historic Harrisburg. The building has been condemned by the city. Its windows have been boarded up. And no viable reuse for the mansion has been identified since a proposal by former Mayor Stephen R. Reed to locate an African-American history museum there fell through years ago.
“The time to act is now,” Historic Harrisburg’s urgent alert stated.
“Historic Harrisburg believes that this property can be saved and has worked with area developers, individuals community leaders, residents and the owner to work on a solution to preserve the block’s history and integrity,” said John R. Campbell, the association’s executive director.
Even the Jackson House Restaurant isn’t totally safe if the adjacent structure would ever be razed, Campbell hinted.
“This property shares a foundation wall with the historic Jackson House restaurant, which may cause concern for the restaurant if the property were to be demolished,” Campbell said.
Dave Kegris, who has run the Jackson House Restaurant for 30 years, owns both buildings and has been actively trying to find a developer willing to restore it.
Campbell hinted that there has been some recent interest in the property, but declined to offer specifics. Both he and his group are holding out hope for saving the former German Jackson Rooming House, which always maintained a welcome mat to African-American’s throughout the country’s shameful segregation period.
“It is our understanding that the ownership of this historic structure and cultural landmark will soon change with the intent of restoring it,” Campbell said. “This is an exciting opportunity for the community and Historic Harrisburg. Most recently the property was on the verge of demolition due to a number of codes violations.”