A Museum Milestone—A Gateway to the Future
With its gleaming rows of windows, bright interior, and twin cathedral-like entrances, the landmark Art Deco building on Fairmount and Pennsylvania avenues was called "the Gateway to Fairmount Park" when it opened in 1927 as the headquarters for the Fidelity Mutual Life Insurance Company. It has now been dramatically recast in a new role as the gateway to the future for the Philadelphia Museum of Art, the first phase of a master plan to expand and modernize the Museum.
Set within a lively urban neighborhood, commanding a spectacular view of Fairmount Park, and just across the street from the main building, the new galleries and study centers showcase some of the Museum's most comprehensive, colorful, and cutting-edge collections. In addition, the new spaces offer a variety of other wonderful new amenities. Among them are a library open to the public and offering a wealth of resources, including ever-changing displays of rare books, precious documents, and graphic arts; a café overlooking a landscaped terrace; a new bookstore; a soaring skylit walkway; and a succession of other spaces in which to stroll, linger, and explore the visual arts.
The building occupies a two-acre site bordered by Pennsylvania and Fairmount Avenues and 25th and 26th Streets in Philadelphia. It faces the main Museum building across Kelly Drive and is among the most distinctive architectural structures along the Benjamin Franklin Parkway, featuring one of the city's most elaborate Art Deco facades.
In 2001, Gluckman Mayner Architects was selected for the Perelman project. In October 2004, following a groundbreaking celebration for its donors, the major construction began in earnest and the original building was expanded by a 59,000-square-foot addition. As a focus for learning, connoisseurship, and sheer enjoyment of works of art, the Perelman Building is an important catalyst for the Philadelphia region's ongoing cultural renaissance.
History of the Building
The Ruth and Raymond G. Perelman Building is lavishly decorated with sculpture, color, and gilding, and is regarded as one of the finest Art Deco structures in Philadelphia. The sculptor Lee Lawrie (1877–1963), whose work adorns such notable American public buildings as Rockefeller Center, the Library of Congress, and the National Academy of Sciences, is principally responsible for its decorative scheme.
In style, it reflects the moment of transition from early twentieth-century historicism to the geometric Art Deco design of the 1920s and 1930s. Originally the headquarters of the Fidelity Mutual Life Insurance Company (until 1972), the building featured a polychrome facade adorned with Egyptian-inspired sculpture of flora and fauna symbolizing attributes of insurance: the owl of wisdom, the dog of fidelity, the pelican of charity, the opossum of protection, and the squirrel of frugality. With numerous other reliefs such as the Seven Ages of Man and the Perils of Land, Sea, and Air on the Earth's Four Great Continents, the Perelman Building remains the most elaborately sculpted facade of any twentieth-century building in the city of Philadelphia.
Constructed of Indiana limestone highlighted with color and gilding, the Perelman Building's north and south pavilions are joined by a soaring, arched main entrance facing the Benjamin Franklin Parkway, a celebrated example of Philadelphia's inspired urban planning of which the building was designed to be an integral part. In 1973, the structure was listed in the National Register of Historic Places, and in 1980 in the Philadelphia Register of Historic Places.
The Perelman Building is located at the intersection of Fairmount and Pennsylvania Avenues, just across from the Museum's main building. It occupies a trapezoid-shaped, two-acre site; the original structure contained 125,000 square feet of interior space.
The Perelman Building was designed by Zantzinger, Borie, and Medary who, together with architects Horace Trumbauer and Julian Abele, also designed the Museum's main building, which was completed in 1928. Leon Solon, the scholar who advised the Philadelphia Museum of Art on the color scheme of its celebrated glazed terracotta decoration and pediment, also served as color advisor for the Perelman Building.
Like the main building, the Rodin Museum, and two historic houses in Fairmount Park—Mount Pleasant and Cedar Grove—the Ruth and Raymond G. Perelman Building is owned by the City of Philadelphia.