Research Notes: Chamounix Mansion (Hostelling International)

Having made my way through some of the pile of scholarship on Historic House Museums, I made a foray into Fairmount Park on Wednesday to visit the Chamounix (SHAM-ah-nee) Mansion, which has operated as a hostel since 1965. Abbe, the hostel’s steward, and Andrew, the manager, showed me around the place and then we had a really nice conversation about Philadelphia, historic buildings, Fairmount Park, gentrification, and the Church of the Divine.

Because I’m trying to learn some Google Map APIs, here’s a map of where Chamounix is located in Fairmount Park:

A photo from the Fairmount Park Historic Preservation Trust (now the Fairmount Park Conservancy) after restoration work completed 2006-2008.

Built in 1803, the mansion has been a summer-home, a year-round residence, a concession stand, a boarding house, a raceway, residence for a park employee, and a condemned fire-damaged shell before it found its current purpose.

[Check out PhillyHistory.org’s collection of images that show the condition of the mansion in 1962*]

The hostel has two semi-formal rooms furnished with donated antiques and with wall coverings and window treatments that hearken back to the 1870s. The rest of the interior is utilitarian, with mixed and matched charm. Upstairs are the dormitories, in the basement is laundry, kitchen, dining room, and fußball. I’m fascinated by the place, and its unique blend of lived-in utility and history, and I hope to draw some lessons from its example for the HHM field. I think I might even argue that Chamounix constitutes a HHM: in addition to the restored fabric of its exterior, the hostel contains collections of artifacts, even if they are a blend of the old (china), ephemeral (tourism materials), and alive (the resident kitty).

I’ll be back to Chamounix in the near future, to look through the records they have on hand. And to talk more to Andrew and Abbe.

*PhillyHistory.org is a mapping website that allows users to search for, view by location, and purchase thousands of historic photographs dating back to the late nineteenth century.

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