09:48 AM

In New Milestone for Facilities Master Plan, Philadelphia Museum of Art Reopens its Historic North Entrance to Reactivate Public Space

Admission is Pay What You Wish All Day

Philadelphia, PA (September 18, 2019) -- In a gathering attended by Mayor Jim Kenney, Superintendent of the School District of Philadelphia Dr. William Hite, museum officials, and architect Frank Gehry, 28 second graders from the Bache-Martin School became the first members of the public to pass once again through an historic street-level entrance of the Philadelphia Museum of Art today. This moment marked an important milestone in the realization of the museum’s Facilities Master Plan: the reopening of architecturally significant spaces that have been out of the public eye for many decades.

Accompanied by a burst of confetti and a trumpet solo by Arnetta Johnson, today’s opening reactivated a grand entrance lobby with ceiling heights of more than 24 feet and a rich array of architectural features, as well as a section of the museum’s storied Vaulted Walkway—its arched ceiling clad in newly restored Guastavino tiles. Within these spaces the museum unveiled several new amenities: Gehry-designed admission and information desks, a coat check, a new museum store, an espresso bar, a seminar room, and a dedicated educational studio for children. In total, 22,000 square feet of space has been recovered for public use. By fall 2020*, when the Core Project—the present phase of the Facilities Master Plan—is completed, more than 90,000 square feet of renovated space will be open to visitors.

Mayor Kenney stated: “We are reclaiming part of Philadelphia’s history and one of Philadelphia’s most unforgettable interiors. The renovation we see today will be breathtaking for a new generation of Philadelphians, and our administration is proud to support this public-private partnership because a strong and vibrant art museum is not only a vital cultural and educational resource but also a productive investment in our city’s future. Today is truly a milestone, and a harbinger of exciting things to come.”

Leslie Anne Miller, Chair of the museum’s Board of Trustees, said: “When this great building was being planned, its North Entrance was intended to be used by the public, and yet it has been closed for decades. We thank the Mayor, the Commonwealth, and the many donors who have contributed generously to make its reopening possible. When visitors witness how Frank Gehry has rejuvenated the spaces inside, they will be even more excited about the work ahead. There is much more to do, but we have the momentum, and it starts here, with these beautiful school children.”

Timothy Rub, the George D. Widener Director and CEO, stated: “The renewed use of this ground level space has been addressed by Frank Gehry and his team with understanding and a respect for the vision of the original architects but also made new through an elegant, contemporary touch. While much of the Core Project has focused—appropriately—on infrastructure, it is especially gratifying to be able to share these extraordinary spaces with our visitors. I believe that more than ever before they will feel the wonderful difference that our Core Project is making and appreciate the transformation that is taking place before our eyes.”

Gail Harrity, the museum’s President and Chief Operating Officer, said: “This part of the project reveals, perhaps more than anything else, Frank Gehry’s genius as a planner. The largest investment in this phase of the Facilities Master Plan is the upgrade and installation of new building systems, all of which are hidden from public view, and yet are vital to preserving the collections, for future generations to enjoy. Gehry Partners has gone to great lengths both to respect the architectural integrity of this landmark building and, at the same time, to adapt it to present and future needs. Bear in mind as you enter the new lobby that all of these spaces have been recreated with our visitors in mind. These investments set the stage for what will come next, as one day—hopefully not too far from now—the North Lobby will open onto the new auditorium and the Vaulted Walkway will provide access to new galleries under the East Terrace that will be dedicated to modern and contemporary art.”

As Bache-Martin students lined up to pass through the North Entrance, Dr. William Hite, School Superintendent, remarked: “This great museum is a vital learning resource that makes a difference for our school children every day, and these new spaces opening to the public just now rightly belong to them. Inside, the new classroom is a place for them to begin their journey, and a gateway to the museum’s 200- plus galleries. This entire museum is Philadelphia’s classroom, so what has been accomplished today is a gift to our schools, and our children’s future.”

The reopening of the North Entrance, and the rejuvenation of 22,000 square feet of space so far within it, is the latest step in the realization of the Core Project, which was officially launched in 2017. The project will ultimately open to the public a total 90,000 square feet of interior space, including 23,000 square feet of new gallery space. Today’s North Entrance reopening reflects significant progress on the key goals of the museum’s Facilities Master Plan: to free up as much possible interior space for public use; to restore and reopen architecturally significant spaces that have long been hidden from view; to enhance the visitor experience; and to upgrade infrastructure and systems.

The North Entrance was designated for public use in 1928 when the building first opened (it was also used for the delivery of goods and services). The ground-level spaces to which it led were designed to be public facing, but this use diminished over a period of decades before the entrance was officially re-purposed to serve as a dedicated loading dock in 1975 as the museum prepared for the nation’s Bicentennial. Under the Facilities Master Plan, moving the loading dock was identified as critical to the reorganization of a number of functions within the museum, and it was relocated to the south side of the building in 2012 during an enabling phase of the Core Project.

Gehry and his team, working closely with the museum, determined to respect the vision of the original architects, honoring the modernized Neoclassical style that Horace Trumbauer and his chief designer Julian Abele, along with the noted architectural firm of Zantzinger, Borie and Medary, had chosen for their design, and retaining even the hand-painted directional signage from a bygone era that once pointed visitors to elevators and bus routes. The aging structure also required significant attention to features the team wanted to let recede from public view, leading to the placement of extensive networks of piping under floors and planning to enable maximum ceiling heights. For its public-facing features, Gehry Partners paid close attention to the warm tones of the original Kasota stone, spotlighting historic doors and columns and matching existing features with complementary ones, creating subtle contemporary notes. The finishes, notably bronze, glass, wood, and stone, convey warmth and luminosity.

Visitors will pass through two sets of bronze and glass doors to enter a voluminous lobby (3200 sf), with ceiling heights of more than 24 feet, to arrive at the new admissions desk, coat check, the Main Store, and the nearby Vaulted Walkway. Four sets of original wooden ornamental Tiffany doors, massive in scale, were restored and repositioned in entryways. Four imposing Doric columns, also original to the space, were cleaned and repositioned. The lobby contains three large, graceful arches built into the wall facing the entry doors, two of them historic to the building. Gehry added a third archway, which will one day lead to the Gehry-designed auditorium that is planned for a later phase. It currently contains the coat check.

The floors, also new, are of Kasota limestone, sourced from the Minnesota quarries that provided the building with its stone in 1928, and selected for the subtlety of its patterning and tone. The furniture designed by Gehry—including the extensive gently curving visitor services desk—was finished in Douglas fir and bronze. The new ceiling, finished in white plaster, is coffered and backlit, adding to the overall illumination of the space. Kasota stone walls have been cleaned and restored. Signage has been designed by Pentagram in collaboration with Gehry Partners.

Vaulted Walkway
The opening of the North Entrance invites visitors into a significant length of an impressive Vaulted Walkway; it was built into the original structure to span the entire width of the museum, from north to south. Nearly a third of this walkway has been reopened to the public today, leading visitors to the 1928 public elevators near the center of the building to galleries above. In what formerly served as a metal-grated lightwell, visitors will discover a skylit espresso bar along the way, complete with seating where they can enjoy coffee and pastries offered by Constellation Culinary Group. Twenty-four feet above, Gehry has designed the steel framing for the skylight, with graceful crossings that echo the walkway’s vault design. Looking up, visitors will notice that the long skylight frames an unexpected view—the east portico with its decorative polychromed roofline—while also casting daylight into the walkway where new bronze-encased LED lighting spotlights herringbone patterns of the ceiling tile. Original to the building, this tile was often used to decorate such public spaces as New York’s Grand Central Station. The remaining length of the Vaulted Walkway, extending through the Forum to the south side, will open next year.

Main Store
The new store (2600 sf) has been relocated from the first floor to make way for new galleries of American art, opening next year. From the North Lobby, visitors may now enter the Main Store at street level, passing through a pair of monumental Tiffany doors, historic to the museum and newly conserved; in a dramatic note, Gehry requested that they be placed at the threshold to the store. In a wall dividing the store from the walkway, the architect also created a bank of large rectilinear openings, capturing reflected daylight and increasing transparency within the interior. Other contemporary touches by the architect include selection of red oak flooring and finishes in Douglas fir and bronze on the cashier’s desk. These elements echo the treatment of the dining facilities, Stir and the Café, which opened on the first floor last year. Two additional store locations are planned for the first floor, adjacent to Lenfest Hall and opening next year.

North Wing
Gehry has also designed a studio/classroom for school children as well as restrooms and a nursing station in the wing. These spaces are entered from a hallway opposite the Main Store and accessed from the Vaulted Walkway. As the museum welcomes up to 65,000 school children every year, this new classroom, which will be expanded to two in several months, will serve as the starting point for school visits, with convenient bus drop-off just outside the North Entrance. The Bache-Martin students become the first users today. Eventually the museum’s Education offices will move to an upper floor of this wing.

Admission to the Philadelphia Museum of Art is Pay What You Wish all day today, from 10:00 a.m. until 8:45 p.m. Also beginning today, the West Entrance will close for renovations as part of the Core Project, reopening in 2020*.


*As a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, completion of the Core Project, originally scheduled for Fall 2020, will be delayed. A new completion date will be announced.