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Please Touch Museum (Memorial Hall)

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Memorial Hall
1875–1876, Hermann Schwarzmann; 1974–1976, Hatfield, Martin and White; 2005–2008 adapted as museum, Kise, Straw and Kolodner. 4231 N. Concourse St., West Fairmount Park
  • (Damie Stillman)
  • (Damie Stillman)
  • (Carol M. Highsmith Archive, Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress)

Memorial Hall was envisioned from the first as the permanent memorial of the 1876 Centennial Exhibition, which was held here in what today is West Fairmount Park. The immense Main Exhibition Building and Machinery Hall, both designed by Henry Petit and Joseph Wilson, were intended to be temporary structures, and although they were more progressive in their mass-produced construction, it is the more conventionally classical Memorial Hall that survives. The building was the result of the usual botched competition. An overwrought neo-Baroque scheme was selected in 1873 but proved far too lavish; in the end the commissioners retained Fairmount Park's ( PH129) landscape architect, Munich-born Schwarzmann, to design Memorial Hall, lay out the grounds of the fair, and design many of its secondary buildings. Thus the American centennial, ironically, was marked by a building of decidedly Germanic character, close in spirit to the contemporary designs for the new German Reichstag, known from its well-published competition. At the apex of Schwarzmann's building is its most American gesture, a four-sided glazed dome surmounted by a figure of Columbia, surrounded by subsidiary figures of Industry, Commerce, Agriculture, and Mining, representing the labors of the Civil War era.

After the fair, Memorial Hall was adapted to serve as the city's museum of art, retaining that role until its replacement in the 1920s by the present museum on the Benjamin Franklin Parkway ( PH123). Adapted in the 1970s by Hatfield, Martin and White to serve a variety of uses including a swimming pool and Fairmount Park Police offices, it has since been adapted as the home of the Please Touch Museum, a center for children's interests in concert with the nearby zoo. At 4021 Parkside Avenue is Philadelphia's School of the Future, built in collaboration with Microsoft and designed by the New Jersey firm Prisco Group (2004–2006).

Writing Credits

George E. Thomas


What's Nearby


George E. Thomas, "Please Touch Museum (Memorial Hall)", [Philadelphia, Pennsylvania], SAH Archipedia, eds. Gabrielle Esperdy and Karen Kingsley, Charlottesville: UVaP, 2012—,

Print Source

Cover: Buildings of PA vol 2

Buildings of Pennsylvania: Philadelphia and Eastern Pennsylvania, George E. Thomas, with Patricia Likos Ricci, Richard J. Webster, Lawrence M. Newman, Robert Janosov, and Bruce Thomas. Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press, 2012, 122-123.

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