Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts
118-24 North Broad Street
Built 1871-1876
Frank Furness and George Hewitt (firm 1871-1875)



Photos: Jack Boucher (1965). From the Historic American Buildings Survey. HABS PA-1095-1.





 

 

On April 22, 1876, Philadelphia’s Academy of the Fine Arts (now the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts) dedicated its new facility at the corner of Broad and Cherry Streets. The oldest arts organization in the United States, the Academy was founded in 1805 as a combined museum and arts school. The new building replaced the Academy’s original 1806 facility, which had been located at 10th and Chestnut Streets until it burned in 1846. Clearly influenced by the fate of this structure, Fairman Rogers, the chairman of the building committee remarked in his dedication address (published in The Philadelphia Inquirer on April 24, 1876), “The building is fire-proof, or more properly speaking, incombustible throughout, no wood having been introduced….Everything else is iron, brick or stone, and we may feel certain that the works placed within our walls will be as safe as human care can render them.”

Frank Furness and his partner, George Hewitt, worked on the building from 1872 to the end of 1875. The building committee was one of the most sophisticated in Philadelphia, and allowed Furness and Hewitt great freedom to create a truly unique architectural statement. The overall design, a reworked version of Furness’s unsuccessful 1867 submission for Philadelphia’s Masonic Temple, incorporates elements of Second Empire massing, the colored surfaces of Venetian Gothic, and elements of French Neo-Grec functionalism, including visible iron girder construction in the interior galleries. The building’s interior is organized around Beaux-Arts principles, with a series of galleries progressing from a central stair, encouraging motion through the building.

Influenced by the polychromy of the High Victorian Gothic, Hewitt and Furness chose richly colored materials for the building, creating a façade of red and cream sandstone with purplish bluestone. In his speech at the dedication , Rogers described the building’s decorative interior:

In the main entrance hall and staircase the principal ornamentation of the building has been concentrated. The stone used therein is Ohio sandstone from Cleveland quarries, the shafts of the columns under the stairs being of Victoria and rose crystal marble and Jersey granite, and those of the upper hall of Tennessee marble. The capitals of all the interior columns are of French escaillon marble, the rail of the main staircase is of solid bronze. On the interior of the base stone is the red sandstone from Hummlestown Pennsylvania, and the upper work is buff Ohio sandstone from the Worthington quarries.

Although a series of renovations in the twentieth century simplified the building’s ornate interior and exterior and reconfigured the gallery space, the building retains much of its original spirit and today continues to serve as the primary exhibition space of the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts.

Sources Cited:

  • Lewis, Michael J. Frank Furness: Architecture and Violent Mind. New York: W.W. Norton and Company, 2001
  • Thomas, George E. and Michael J. Lewis and Jeffrey A. Cohen, Frank Furness: The Complete Works. New York: Princeton Architectural Press, 1991.
  • Webster, Richard J. Philadelphia Preserved. Philadelphia, Temple University Press, 1976.
  • “Academy of the Fine Arts,” The Philadelphia Inquirer, April 22, 1876
  • “Academy of the Fine Arts,” The Philadelphia Inquirer, April 24, 1876
  • Historic American Buildings Survey HABS/HAER/HALS list for Philadelphia and surrounding counties: http://memory.loc.gov/ammem/collections/habs_haer/
  • Philadelphia Architects and Buildings web site: http://www.philadelphiabuildings.org/pab/app/pj_display.cfm/20387






For additional information and references, see the Philadelphia Architects and Buildings web site: 
http://www.philadelphiabuildings.org/pab/app/pj_display_citations_holdings.cfm/20387