Of the three buildings Cass Gilbert had hoped to design for the east end of Tappan Square, the Allen Memorial Art Museum was the only one to be realized. Constructed in 1915–1917, the Renaissance Revival design retains strict symmetry throughout with lunettes, rondels, classical arches, and a loggia supported by Corinthian columns at the principal facade. The hipped roof is clad in red terra-cotta tile.
In 1976, Venturi, Rauch, and Scott Brown designed an addition to the museum. Set slightly back from Gilbert’s palazzo-like museum block, the addition plays off the earlier building’s formal character to become a decorated shed par excellent. The over-scaled checkerboard pattern of the front facade employs sandstone sourced from the same quarry as the decorative trim in Gilbert’s museum. An oversized window, a Venturi/Scott Brown trope, stands at ground level, while a stubby, wooden Ionic column at the rear of the modern art gallery serves as the symbolic meeting point of the two buildings. This concentration of decorative historical allusions largely ends at the entrance walk: the rest of the addition is treated as a utilitarian, International Style shed. For some, the design was an alarming addition to the much-revered Art Museum, but in general it represents a more subtle, restrained version of postmodernism than the cartoon-like historicism that typified the movement in the 1980s and 1990s.
In 2011 the museum was awarded LEED gold certification following a two-year renovation of its infrastructure.
Blodgett, Geoffrey. Oberlin Architecture College and Town: A Guide to Its Social History. Kent: Kent State University Press, 1985.
Fedelcheck-Haley, M., L. Previll, and Ohio State Historic Preservation Office, “Tappan Square,” Ohio Historic Inventory. Columbus, OH, Ohio Historic Preservation Office, 2000.
Mendinghall, Joseph S., “Oberlin Collegiate Institute,” Lorain County, Ohio. National Register of Historic Places Inventory-Nomination Form, 1978. National Park Service, U.S. Department of the Interior, Washington, DC.