For the past several months, and with the authorization of the Board, the Society has been in discussions with a Shillington realtor, a benefactor, and current owners regarding the possible purchase of the John Updike childhood home at 117 Philadelphia Ave. We were trying to work quietly behind-the-scenes and not announce anything until we actually had something concrete to report, like a signed agreement. But one of the owners of the house went public with the story because he felt things weren’t moving quickly enough.
Here’s the Reading Eagle story about the “Author’s childhood home in limbo.”
We have foundation support lined up to enable us to purchase the home and to cover a significant portion of the maintenance into the future. We believe that Updike is an important American author and that his home should be not only preserved as a historic site, but made available to the public in some small way. We think that the Society purchasing and maintaining the home will be a good thing for Shillington and the Greater Reading area. I’ve been in touch with three author homes that operate as museums or literary centers in heavily residential areas in three different states, and have learned that the amount of traffic will actually be minimal—with less coming and going than if a family lived there, or renters, or a business. As a result, we believe that Society ownership of the house will be a good thing for the neighborhood and for Shillington; however, if the people of Shillington aren’t of the same mind, then we’re comfortable walking away from this, because when all is said and done, it’s the works themselves that speak to Updike’s legacy.
So where are things at? Well, you’ve all seen that the house was first listed on eBay and never sold, and the article indicates that the owners previously offered it to Alvernia University and the Burough of Shillington—again, with no interest. We are very interested in acquiring the property and are moving forward, but we wish to respect the process and go through proper channels, letting local residents know of our intentions, then applying for a variance . . . if we can do so without great risk or expense. Likewise, if our desire to pursue this through proper channels puts the owners in an untenable position, we’ve told the owners that they can put the property on the market again.
When we have something to report, we’ll report it here. We apologize that our members weren’t the first to read about this, but we were as surprised as anybody when one of the owners went public with this. He seems to think that public opinion will help us get the variance; we’re of the mind that proper channels are the way to go.