Wednesday, April 28, 2010

A National Historic Landmark

Did you know Please Touch Museum's beautiful home, Memorial Hall, is a National Historic Landmark? I recently chatted with our Curator of Collections, Stacey Swigart, about just that. Read on for more!

"A grand Memorial Hall…A structure of perfect proportions…
The amount of details of such a building is stupefying."
The New York Times
Wednesday, September 20, 1875

National Historic Landmarks are nationally significant historic places designated by the Secretary of the Interior because they possess exceptional value or quality in illustrating or interpreting the heritage of the United States. Today, fewer than 2,500 historic places bear this national distinction (Source).

Buildings can tell stories and Memorial Hall is full of them! Millions of people have stood inside the Great Hall (now Hamilton Hall) and have experienced being inside an architectural gem! It wasn’t always as beautiful as it looks today, though. Years of use took their toll on the building and by the time Please Touch Museum was ready to move—extensive renovations needed to be made.

Decorative plasterwork was damaged by water. Marble floor tiles were shattered and damaged. It took almost two years to complete, but Memorial Hall was restored as you can see today.

Check out some of these photos for more of the story:

This area above is the West Gallery, now known as Roadside Attractions. This space had to be completely stripped of scoreboards, bleachers and sound baffles that were on the walls. The sound baffles were used when the Philadelphia Orchestra recorded “Swan Lake” here in 1984.

Some of the floors in the Wonderland area were just dirt (above)! On the left you can see the base of the swimming pool where the ramp is now located. The old building systems of pipes and vents were removed and new systems installed.

The staircase above was discovered when drop ceilings were removed from various office spaces. The lower and upper portions of the staircase was removed many years ago, so the staircase literally goes to nowhere! Originally, the staircase was used in 1876 for visitors to climb to the roof and look down off the arcade and the garden that was located where the Kids Store now is. The staircase was not removed—it was shut off and walled in, so the original structure still remains in the building, hidden from view.

The Philadelphia Police Department had offices in what is now the Program Room (above). A drop ceiling had been installed here, so some of the architectural detail remained intact…but very dirty!

A mezzanine was built for extra offices above what is now Rainforest Rhythm. Scaffolding and the "Denka Lift" sit where the River Adventures water play area is now located. If you look closely, you can see the structure of the "wall" where the Walk in the Pennsylvania Forest mural by Eurhi Jones was installed above the ramp (behind the Denka).

The Kids Store used to house offices of the Philadelphia Police Department. There were four jail cells and many walls that were built below the drop ceiling—to accommodate the various offices of the police force. The walls were all removed, and for a time, piles of debris sat in the Kids Store before the windows were removed and all of the debris removed.

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We're all about learning through play.

Join Pinky, one of Please Touch Museum's resident puppets, on an inside look into all the fun, educational things happening at Philly's Children's Museum. This blog is not just about what we do at the museum, but about the educational philosophy behind why we do what we do.