Decolonize Your Bookshelf
Looking for something classic to read from a voice outside of the often white and male-dominated Western literary canon? Check out one of the selections from This is the Canon: Decolonize Your Bookshelf in 50 Books. With additional entries to complement each featured title, this book is an excellent guide to diversifying your reading list. Whether you’re interested in novellas, books in translation, or short story compilations, there is something for everyone. Come to the Reading Room and check out our display!
We are working to make even more titles available in our print and digital collections or through our partnership with The University of Pennsylvania. Check out the Franklin catalog or look on cloudLibrary to see what’s available from This is the Canon.
June is Audiobook Appreciation Month
Did you know that Athenaeum members at all levels have access to a collection of over 18,500 downloadable audiobooks through the cloudLibrary app? Audiobooks allow you to listen to a book rather than read it. Some titles are read by their authors, others are performed by actors or experienced narrators. Why listen rather than read? Audiobooks are great for the visually impaired, tired eyes, or those who just want variety. A talented narrator can add to the experience of a book with the rhythm of dialog, or their pronunciation of foreign names. Resource Description and Access Librarian Lois Reibach enjoys listening to audiobooks while in her car or on days she goes to the eye doctor.
When using cloudLibrary the app bookmarks your place in an audiobook, so you pick up right where you left off, even if you had to return the audiobook and check it out again at a later date. When searching in the cloudLibrary app Audiobooks are designated by a small set of headphones in the upper right corner of the book cover image. You can limit your search to only audiobooks using the funnel icon at the top right of the app. Click on it and you will have the ability to limit your search by format (eBook or Audiobook). Don’t forget to save your choice! Audiobooks borrowed through cloudLibrary have an initial lending period of three weeks and may be renewed if not requested by another patron. The cloudLibrary app is free with your membership and should be available to download wherever you normally get apps for your device (such as the App Store or the Google Play Store). Curious about downloadable audiobooks but don’t know where to start? Schedule an in-person or phone appointment with Lois (lreibach@ PhilaAthenaeum.org). The Athenaeum also has a collection of audiobooks on CD. You may search these holdings online using this link. Contact Librarian Jill LeMin Lee (jilly@PhilaAthenaeum.org) to borrow an audiobook on CD.
New in the Library: All Things Birds!
Looking for a new hobby this spring? Why not try birdwatching!
In the Members' Lounge, you'll find a shelf dedicated to all things birds. Bird guides from David Sibley and Cornell Ornithology, ideas for hikes in the area, and best of all, a pair of binoculars that members can check out, just like they would a book!
Philadelphia has a number of great birdwatching spots. Whether you take the binoculars across the street to Washington Square Park, or further afield to John Heinz National Wildlife Refuge at Tinicum, you're bound to find some interesting friends of the feather variety. And if you do go birdwatching, we WILL ask you about it, so come back prepared to tell us what you found!
The Athenaeum Celebrates 74th Year of Literary Awards with 2022 Recipients
Philadelphia Inquirer journalist Will Bunch won the prestigious Athenaeum of Philadelphia 2022 Literary Award. The Athenaeum of Philadelphia, among the nation’s oldest membership libraries, announced the recipients of its 74-year-old Literary Award at its 208th Annual Shareholder Meeting on April 17.
The Literary Award honors books published in the calendar year of outstanding merit by Philadelphia area authors or that focus on the city of Philadelphia. Winners are chosen by a panel of Athenaeum shareholders who serve voluntarily, reading scores of books and meeting regularly to deliberate. The committee evaluates each book on its literary quality and accessibility, whether it offers a fresh point of view and its distinct capacity to invite conversation about our city and our world.
In his acceptance speech, Bunch said, “I am honored, humbled, and grateful to the selection committee to join the list of remarkable Philadelphians who’ve won this award in the past. It’s especially gratifying because what I was trying to promote in After the Ivory Tower Falls – an America that embraces liberal education and critical thinking – is exactly what the Athenaeum of Philadelphia has been doing every day for 209 years.
The literary award comes with a $1,000 cash prize. The recipient is invited to speak at a public lecture at The Athenaeum with a reception. Bunch’s lecture is scheduled for September 14, 2023.
The short-listed books this year included After the Ivory Tower Falls; Fellowship Point, by Alice Elliott Dark; Benjamin Franklin’s Last Bet: The Founder’s Divisive Death, Enduring Afterlife, and Blueprint for American Prosperity, by Michael Meyer; and Gangsters of Capitalism: Smedley Butler, The Marines, and the Making and Breaking of America’s Empire, by Jonathan Katz.
Athenaeum Awards Art & Architecture Book Award to John Lobell and Laura Wolf-Powers
John Lobell, author of The Philadelphia School and the Future of Architecture, and Laura Wolf-Powers author of University City: History, Race, and Community in the Era of the Innovation District, received The Athenaeum of Philadelphia’s 2022 Art & Architecture Book Award. The Athenaeum, among the nation’s oldest membership libraries, announced its 2022 Art & Architecture Book Award winners at its 208th Annual Shareholder’s Meeting on Monday, April 17, 2023.
The Art & Architecture Book Award honors the year’s most outstanding book on art or architecture written by a Philadelphia-area author or about Philadelphia. The award comes with a public lecture and reception. Lobell and Wolf-Powers will speak on a moderated panel in the Fall of 2023.
Facing several impressive books this year, the committee charged with choosing The Athenaeum’s Art and Architecture 2022 award has decided that two books merit the award. In its decision, the jury noted that Lobell and Wolf-Powers’ books “concern Philadelphia, its built environment, its architectural and urban history, and the influence of its architectural teachers and theoreticians on the city's built fabric. They also suggest some of the many relationships between Philadelphia's architectural and urban planning pedagogical history and its recent and ongoing redevelopment projects to national and international practice and conditions. Both well written, they consider topics central to interests of The Athenaeum and its membership.”
The Athenaeum of Philadelphia, among the nation’s oldest membership libraries, Previous recipients of The Athenaeum’s Art & Architecture Award include Therese Dolan and Lynn Miller for Salut: France Meets Philadelphia (2020); Witold Rybczynski for Charleston Fancy: Little Houses and Big Dreams in the Holy City (2019); Carol Easton Soltis for The Art of the Peales in the Philadelphia Museum of Art: Adaptations and Innovations (2017); and Barbara Miller Lane for Houses for a New World: Builders and Buyers in American Suburbs, 1945–1965 (2015).
In recognition of his role in establishing the Literary Award, presentations are usually part of the Charles Wharton Stork Memorial Lecture program which was endowed in 1983 by his children. Dr. Stork (1881-1971) was a member of the board of directors of the Athenaeum from 1919 until 1968.
The Missing Piece
Our story started a year ago, when we decided to renovate our members' lounge, gallery, and update our gorgeous library. We closed for the summer and fundraised to pay for our dream. Would members return in the fall? Yes! You attended our glorious re-opening party in November and new members joined. The Athenaeum bustles with energy. But our annual fund appeal fell short of our operating budget goal. What could we do?
This week, our story takes a dramatic twist. An anonymous donor presented us with a challenge: they'll give $40,000 if donors like you match it, dollar for dollar, by May 31, 2023.
Sidewalk South of The Athenaeum Closed
Until further notice, the sidewalk to the south of The Athenaeum on Sixth Street will be closed due to the construction next door. If you are approaching The Athenaeum from that direction, either cross Sixth Street, then cross back, or go down Locust Walk, to Randolph St, to St. James, to Sixth Street. There is also no parking in front of the building.
Further Reading for Your Upcoming Travels
The travel guides have been flying off the shelves recently, so we've put together an additional shelf of companion reading. From The Collected Traveler to A Literary Companion, you'll find a number of titles to read to inspire your next trip. Not sure where to go? We've also got guides with suggestions on where to travel based on you're favorite books, across the 50 states and throughout the UK.
Staying close to come this season? We've even got a number of books about Philadelphia and Pennsylvania highlighting all the best places to visit, hike, and eat. Learn about Philadelphia trees and animals, or the secret places you've never thought to visit.
These books are all found in the first floor Members Lounge.
New Vitrine Display: Railroad Maps
Our rotating vitrine exhibit in the second-floor Reading Room has been updated for March to include two items from our Rupp Transportation Collection. We are featuring a map from the 1888 Hand-Book of the Pennsylvania Lines by L.G. McPherson. You can see railroad and street car lines from the time against a map of Center City Philadelphia. Check out our other display to see the Summer Excursion Routes  and track the railroads across the Lehigh Valley.
Now Open: THE VIEW FROM WASHINGTON SQUARE: AN ATHENAEUM LOOK AT NEIGHBORHOOD, CITY & NATION
In October 1847, the Athenaeum of Philadelphia opened a building like this city had never seen – the first public building in the Italianate Renaissance Style, and the first public building to sport a brownstone façade. The quiet dignity and understated palette of John Notman’s staid building stands in stark contrast to the tumultuous times in which it opened. As part of our celebration of the 175th anniversary of the Athenaeum’s National Historic Landmark, this exhibit will examine not only the building, but the tumultuous years that flank its opening. Architecturally, economically, politically and racially---these were years of dramatic, and often violent, change.
The Athenaeum Games Cabinet
In the Members Lounge you'll find our antique chess board, but you'll also find additional chess sets, puzzles and mahjong! Athenaeum Members and visitors are encouraged to start up a game of chess, take a stab at a puzzle, or set up a game of mahjong. We also have a small Lego set for the child (or child-at-heart) visiting the library.
Interested in a chess group? Stop by the front office or email Tess Galen email@example.com. We are working on getting a chess group together to meet and play chess a few times a month! Chess and mahjong sets can also be brought into the board room (as long as it is available) if you'd like to be able to talk more freely while playing.
Have extra puzzles laying around? We will happily take a donation of a puzzle that is in good condition! Please only 1 or 2 per person, we only have so much space. Anything else you'd like to see available? Let us know!
From Hidden City: The Athenaeum of Philadelphia Refreshed With Facade Renovation
Among the city’s many, old institutions, The Athenaeum of Philadelphia is not the oldest, but certainly is one of the most venerable. It was founded 1814 as a subscription library before the establishment of public libraries. In addition to providing its members with access to books, the Athenaeum was also chartered to collect historical materials focusing on American arts such as architecture. Today, it houses significant archives of hundreds of thousands of architectural drawings, photographs, and manuscripts. Read more.
Children’s and Young Adult Books Available at The Athenaeum
Come to the Second Floor Chess Room to find our Youth Collection. Whether you want to dive into the newest releases or revisit a literary classic, our ever-expanding shelves are waiting for you to browse. The young and the young at heart are welcome to check out our fiction, graphic novel, audio, or nonfiction youth titles to share with their family or read for themselves.
Childhood might be universal, but every person’s experience is unique. We are committed to including as many voices and perspectives as possible. Whether it’s making sure our authors represent a diverse range of identities and backgrounds or providing a variety of reading-level options, we want this collection to feel accessible to and reflective of our community. If you notice a gap in our selections, feel free to tell our librarians or write it down in our suggestion box.
If you need some recommendations for yourself, check out one of these titles in honor of Black History Month. Each of these books was written by authors of color celebrating real-life African Americans or featuring fictional Black protagonists. Sample a series, peruse some poetry, consider a classic, or appreciate the artwork available in this collection.
The door of no return / Kwame Alexander
King and the dragonflies / Kacen Callender
Bud, not Buddy / Christopher Paul Curtis
Say her name / Zetta Elliott ; illustrated by Loveis Wise
You should see me in a crown / Leah Johnson
Harriet Tubman : toward freedom / Whit Taylor & Kazimir Lee ; with an introduction by Carole Boston Weatherford
Announcing The Athenaeum's 2022 Literary Award Finalists & A Giveaway!
The Athenaeum of Philadelphia's Literary Award honors each year’s most outstanding literary work by a Philadelphia-area author or a work that is about Philadelphia. The winner will be announced at The Athenaeum’s annual Shareholder Meeting on April 17, 2023 and subsequently to the public. The Athenaeum has print and eBook copies of the finalists in its circulating library for member check-out. Members are encouraged to read the books and submit their unofficial votes for the best of the four. One entry will be drawn at random on April 17; the winner will receive a signed copy of the book that wins the Literary Award. Ballots and a ballot box are in The Athenaeum’s member lounge.
The four short-listed works for the 2022 award are:
- Fellowship Point, by Alice Elliott Dark (Simon & Schuster, 2022), which The New York Times praises as “rich with social and psychological insights, both earnest and sly, big ideas grounded in individual emotions.”
- After the Ivory Tower Falls: How College Broke the American Dream and Blew Up Our Politics – And How to Fix It, by Will Bunch (William Morrow/Harper Collins, 2022), longlisted for the PEN/John Kenneth Galbraith Award for Nonfiction.
- Benjamin Franklin’s Last Bet: The Founder’s Divisive Death, Enduring Afterlife, and Blueprint for American Prosperity, by Michael Meyer (Mariner Books, 2022), praised by Philly Magazine for providing “a glorious wealth of information on Franklin’s family life, work, dedication to the common man, and determination to see the great American experiment in which he was so intimately involved grow and thrive.”
- Gangsters of Capitalism: Smedley Butler, The Marines, and the Making and Breaking of America’s Empire, by Jonathan Katz (St. Martin’s Press, 2022), called out by The Washington Post as “far more extraordinary than even the life of Smedley Butler... a compelling and insightful meditation on the trauma people still feel as a result of Butler’s career and the American ambitions it represented."
Travel Guides in the Members' Lounge!
From New England to Norway, Peru to Paris, Egypt to Edinburgh...and many places in between, The Athenaeum has a wide variety of travel guides available for members to check out! Located in the Members' Lounge, come see what we have to offer. We have been adding to and updating this collection recently as members start planning their 2023 travels. Not seeing what you're looking for? Let us know where you're planning to travel, and we can look into finding the perfect guide for you.
Books Reviews and Journals Available at The Athenaeum
In the First Floor Members' Lounge, you'll find book reviews and journals from across the globe. From New York to Paris, these local and international publications offer a variety of writings. Whether you're looking for new books suggestions, curious what others are saying about a book you loved, or just interested in reading some interesting fiction writing, pick up one of these periodicals!
Inside the New England Review and Paris Review you'll find stories and poems. Inside the New York Review you'll find articles on literature, culture, economics, science and current affairs. In the London Review you'll find long essays, and in Kirkus, book reviews written by top literary critics. Interested in a specific journal you don't see here? Let us know!
Tom Crane, retired architectural photographer, has died at 82
From the Philadelphia Inquirer, January 23, 2023
"Ralph Thompson Crane III, 82, of Bryn Mawr, retired prolific architectural and interior photographer, Peace Corps volunteer, and self-described “obsessive handyman,” died Jan. 9, of multiple system atrophy at St. Francis Center For Rehabilitation and Healthcare in Darby.
Known professionally and by his family and friends as Tom, Mr. Crane’s photographs were published in many publications, including The Inquirer, for decades. His work is also found in books, online, and elsewhere, and he teamed with writer Roger W. Moss to publish Historic Houses of Philadelphia in 1998, Historic Sacred Places of Philadelphia in 2004, and Historic Landmarks of Philadelphia in 2008." Read more.
In 2006, Tom took photographs of The Athenaeum (pictured on the left) that we have used in our marketing materials ever since.
Now Available for Public Use: The Record of Strangers
What can you learn from a stranger passing through Philadelphia one, even two hundred years ago? We invite you to explore that question through our newly launched database, The Record of Strangers.
At today’s Athenaeum we encourage anyone to visit us to see our rotating exhibition in the Haas gallery, to peruse the architecture focused hall exhibitions curated by Bruce Laverty, and to experience talks and concerts held in the Busch Reading Room. Now, we also invite those visiting our website to peek into the past of this institution, neighborhood, and city through the newly released online catalog The Record of Strangers.
For much of its history, visitors to the library were signed in by an active member. The record of these signatures was maintained from 1814 through 2006 and was given the name The Record of Strangers. The many volumes of the record have long been a favorite item of Librarian Jill LeMin Lee since it was introduced to her by her predecessor Ellen Rose and former Executive Director Dr. Roger W. Moss.
The record has now been digitized and indexed with biographies and historical context given for over 1000 identified visitors. We are excited to present anyone using our website with the opportunity to take a step back in time and get to know some of the “strangers” that have passed through our collections. The Athenaeum’s The Record of Strangers is a collaboration across time between members, employees, and visitors of the library since its inception in 1814.
“My hope is that, as well as being entertaining, this index may be used as a research tool. Perhaps it will confirm a suspicion that someone was in Philadelphia at a particular time. It can also be used to see who a particular member met with over the years, or to see the geographic diversity of visitors to Philadelphia. It is our hope that researchers may be led to the full digitized volumes to make their own discoveries,” Librarian Jill LeMin Lee said of the endeavor.
You can peruse the Record here.
2023 Reading Challenge
Looking for a book suggestion to jump start your 2023 reading?
Head to the bookshelves in the Members' Lounge to see our '2023 Reading Challenge'. Challenge yourself to read a book you may not have thought to, or something you missed from past years. We'll keep adding to this shelf as books get checked out, so keep stopping in to see what we pull next!
- A book from 1923
- A translation
- An Athenaeum author
- A memoir
- An award winner
- And more...
Let us know what your 2023 reading goals are!
Download eBooks through cloudLibrary!
Athenaeum Members of all levels have full access to 'cloudLibrary' our eBook app! As part of a consortium of area libraries, cloudLibrary has thousands of titles of eBook and audiobooks to choose from. eBooks are a great option for members who don't live locally, are out of town, or just prefer the convenience of an app!
In the app you can also find curated collections like Notable Books of 2022, Short Stories, or Mysteries! New titles are added almost daily, so keep an eye out for the latest popular titles.
To get set up, search for cloudLibrary in your device’s app store and download the app. Have your Athenaeum library card and email available. If you do not yet have a card, please contact the librarian. You may have out a maximum of 5 e-books at a time, and they can be renewed if nobody is waiting.
King of Prussia Blue
Did you know that you can view remnants of an ancient Ocean from the comfort of our newly renovated Member’s Lounge?
580 million years ago the same Valley Forge where George Washington and his continental Army wintered for six months in 1777-1778 was part of the coastline and beaches of Ancient North America. This dynamic history has left Valley Forge, and Pennsylvania as a whole, with unique geologic features, formations, and opportunities for mining architectural materials, including a marble called King of Prussia (KOP) Blue or Pennsylvania Blue.
With the recent renovation of our building comes new opportunities to showcase the materials used in the construction and decoration of the Athenaeum. This includes KOP Blue, which had a short-lived bout of fame and widespread popularity across the city in the early 19th century. In our Member’s Lounge, it can be seen adorning our fireplace in white and gray swirls of calcium carbonate and graphite.
If you have taken a stroll down any street in Old City, you will see slabs of KOP Blue Marble utilized as steps and windowsills. It was also used as a primary building material for several notable buildings including the Second National Bank of the United States, John Haviland's Franklin Institute (Atwater Kent Museum), and Thomas U. Walter’s Founder’s Hall at Girard College.
Over time, it became clear that KOP Blue was more susceptible to erosion and degradation than other exterior marbles. This, in addition to an ease of access to hardier marbles from New England and Georgia, ushered in the end of KOP Blue’s popularity just a few decades after it was introduced.
We are pleased to have a well-preserved piece of geologic, architectural, and regional history on display in our Member’s Lounge and hope to see you soon!
The Front Entrance is Now Open!
If you have visited The Athenaeum in the past few weeks, you've had the pleasure of a rare opportunity; entering through the old side door on St. James Street! While that was fun and exciting, we're happy to announce the front entrance on 6th Street is now open!
When you come in, look for the freshly painted lampposts and book drop in the vestibule. We look forward to seeing you again!
To our new members: welcome!
More than 60 new members joined The Athenaeum in November 2022, making it our best month for new enrollment in living memory! We are so excited to welcome our new members into our growing Athenaeum community.
Did you join the Athenaeum during or after November 2021? Are you a longtime member, but haven't familiarized yourself with the Athenaeum yet? Save the date for a New Members' Reception on Tuesday, January 17 at 5pm. You can learn more about The Athenaeum's history and member benefits available to you, all while meeting other new enrollees.
RSVP for the reception here. We hope to see you in January!
Image: Birds in Flight, Robert M. Campbell Collection, The Athenaeum of Philadelphia
Get a limited edition tote bag and mug while they're available!
Our limited edition tote bags and mugs are the perfect gifts for the Athenaeum member, Philadelphia history enthusiast, or book lover in your life. Stop by our Member Lounge to scoop them up before they're gone! Bags are $20 and mugs are $15, or save $5 by purchasing both! These make a great accompaniment to a gift membership. Click here to explore our membership options.
The Perfect Gift: An Athenaeum Membership!
Looking for a gift for someone who has everything? Give the gift of an Athenaeum Membership! Prices start at just $35 for an annual membership that includes the use of our workspaces, access to our circulating library, and free/discounted tickets to programs. Click here to explore our membership options and click "Is this a gift?" at checkout to fill out the lucky recipient's information!
Members Did You Know?: The Periodicals are now available in the Member Lounge
Did you know?
The Athenaeum's collection of circulating periodicals has moved down to the first floor member lounge. There are two racks on each side of the room that hold over 20 different publications! For news, pick up The Atlantic or Philadelphia Magazine, for a British escape, pick up Country Life or Gardens Illustrated. To go back in time pick up Antiques, or 19th Century Magazine. While we encourage you to curl up with a magazine and cup of tea in the new lounge, you may also check these out to enjoy at home!
On the coffee tables you'll find The Inquirer, The New York Times and Philadelphia Business Journal. These items do not circulate.
Not seeing what you're looking for? Please let us know what types of magazines and newspapers you like to read and we will take them into consideration as we expand our offerings.
We're open, and we've been featured on WHYY!
After months of renovations, we're open and so thrilled to welcome you back to the Athenaeum! Our first week back was an exciting one: we kicked things off with a feature on WHYY that details our progress. Scroll through the article for some photos showing our final preparations for reopening!
We've been busy all week saying hello to old friends and welcoming first-time visitors. Close to 300 people joined us for our Renovation Celebration reopening party, and it was an absolute joy to celebrate with all of our attendees. The Athenaeum came alive with partygoers enjoying our new Member Lounge, perusing the Matisse exhibition, and gathering in the Reading Room to engage in lively conversation over a drink.
If you haven't stopped by yet, we can't wait to see you! Our exterior restoration project is ongoing, so the front entrance is currently inaccessible. Walk to the back entrance off of St. James Court and up the ramp to enter the building.
Photo courtesy of Matthew Krissel, KieranTimberlake
Special Announcement: Rhythm and Meaning, our Reopening Exhibition!
75 years ago today, Henri Matisse’s Jazz was published for the first time in an edition of just 250 copies. This groundbreaking artist’s book has been inspiring readers, writers, and artists ever since, and we are thrilled to be displaying Matisse’s Jazz illustrations in full once we reopen in November!
The exhibition, Rhythm and Meaning, will explore Jazz as an intermingling of the written word, bound volume, and work of art. This will be the first time all 20 of Jazz’s illustrations have been exhibited in Philadelphia since the mid-20th century. This exhibition will be free and open to all of Philadelphia’s book lovers to enjoy. We can’t wait for you to stop by!
Special thanks to Athenaeum members Frances and Michael Baylson, who have generously lent their copy of Jazz for display.
Shims Added to the Reading Room Floor
Over the course of construction so far, plenty of people have asked us: "Have you encountered any surprises while renovating the building?" Fortunately, any surprises our contractors have come across are fairly interesting—and at worst, are easy fixes!
One such surprise has been the discovery that one of the iron bolts used to support the Reading Room gradually popped up over time as the timbers surrounding it shrank, causing an unmistakeable lump in the floor. You probably never noticed it, however, since someone strategically placed an antique globe over the lump long ago! In order to alleviate the issue, our contractors have laid wooden shims over the original timbers to create a more gradual slope. Once the floorboards are returned to their original place, the lump will be less noticeable. We'll have a reading table placed over it to prevent any tripping hazards—but see if you can spot the slope once we reopen!
Gallery Windows Revealed
"What light through yonder window breaks..."
That would be the light from Washington Square Park. If you've ever been inside The Athenaeum's Haas Gallery, you would have seen four walls adorned with paintings, photographs, architectural drawings and maps. But from the the outside...is that a window? And from the stairwell, another? Yes!
One of the most obvious changes to our first floor gallery is the opening of the two windows; one that looks out onto 6th Street with a view of Washington Square, and one that opens to our grand stairway, letting light in from the clerestory. These changes will enhance the gallery experience by brightening and opening the space. They will also open the Athenaeum to the neighborhood by allowing a sneak peak of our amazing exhibitions from the street.
Stay tuned for information on the exciting exhibition we have planned for our reopening!
Architectural Team Highlight, Part 3: A 21st Century Athenaeum, in KieranTimberlake's Words
Scroll down to see August 8th and 15th's posts for parts 1 and 2 of our series highlighting members of the 21st Century Athenaeum's architectural team. For the 3rd and final post in this series, we asked the KieranTimberlake team for an architect's perspective on the ongoing renovations they helped us plan:
"KT has enjoyed working with the dedicated Athenaeum leadership and staff members to enhance the design and quality of the existing building. From the beginning, the goal was to work carefully within the existing building design to improve the member, visitor, and staff experience, starting with the first impression as one walks through the door. How might we create more presence on the street? Where and how should we target improvements to maximize the impact with minimal disruption to the historic building? How might key spaces within the Athenaeum evolve to advance the Athenaeum's capacity to build a vibrant community, fostering discourse and the pursuit of knowledge?
The modifications currently underway begin with a more expansive and welcoming entry and reception area for everyone, directly from the front door and adjacent to the Haas Gallery, providing new places to meet, socialize and relax. The new reception and lounge, coupled with improvements to the gallery lighting, seating, and finishes, will enhance the quality and atmosphere to present, view, and share the collection and other works of art. We have also carefully uncovered historic windows along the ground floor to 6th street and the park, expanding the visual connectivity to the gallery and new lounge with the street and park, revitalizing the dialogue between the city and the Athenaeum. These targeted and impactful improvements on the first level will welcome the community into a new sequence of rooms that are emblematic of the Athenaeum’s mission to nurture one’s curiosity and strengthen community through learning and discourse.
The second-floor reading room, a gem of a space in the city, is flooded with natural light and layered with 175 years of history. In a space of this inherent quality, the role of the design is to be quiet and subtle, carefully inserting support for everyday activities while honoring the existing fabric. Improved seating options and worktables, lighting, and more electrical outlets will provide members additional comfort, convenience, and enjoyment.
In addition to improvements for members and visitors, the third-floor workplace areas for staff are also being updated with new furniture and other improvements to ensure a comfortable, functional, and well-organized environment. A commitment to the team, their ongoing contributions, and their capacity to enrich the Athenaeum with creativity, focus, and dedication."
Image: Athenaeum staff and Board members meet with KieranTimberlake staff and Haverstick-Borthwick contractors for a weekly construction progress meeting.
Athenaeum Members Visit to the Wagner Free Institute of Science
On Friday, August 26, a group of Athenaeum Members paid a visit to the Wagner Free Institute of Science. The group got a brief lecture on the history of William Wagner and the early days of the institute in their lecture hall, followed by a view of their library, complete with a few special items on display. Last, the upstairs museum, which contain Wagner's collection of everything from the tiniest of minerals, to an entire horse skeleton!
Like the Athenaeum, the Wagner comes from a time in Philadelphia's history where knowledge and learning were of upmost importance. The building, also a National Historic Landmark, looks nearly identical to how it looked when it opened in 1865. Whether you're a lover of Philadelphia, history, science, or all three, the Wagner is well worth a visit, it's truly one of Philadelphia's greatest gems!
Architectural Team Highlight, Part 2: Andrew Cronin, KieranTimberlake
Scroll down to see August 8th's post for part 1 of our series highlighting members of the 21st Century Athenaeum's architectural team.
While the many enhancements proposed and refined by KieranTimberlake are taking shape now, we would like to focus on team members who have worked tirelessly to improve your Athenaeum!
Over the last two decades, Andrew Cronin, team leader, has focused on campus renovation projects including the Morse and Ezra Stiles Colleges at Yale University and Lowell House at Harvard University. He served as the Project Architect for the Consortium for Building Energy Innovation, a retrofit of a former recreation facility at the Philadelphia Navy Yard. Andrew was also the Project Architect for High Horse Ranch, a sustainable, award-winning private home in rural Northern California, and Congregation Rodeph Shalom, a renovation and addition that expanded a historic Philadelphia synagogue to accommodate its growing congregation.
The full project team is listed below. Many thanks to each team member for their care and consideration in envisioning a 21st Century Athenaeum!
Full KT Project Team:
Matt Krissel, AIA, Partner* **
Stephen Kieran, FAIA, Partner
Andrew Cronin, AIA, Principal* **
Tim Peters, AIA, Principal
Leah Kendrick, Architectural Staff**
Elizabeth Harris, Architectural Staff**
* Indicates project team leads.
** Indicates actively working on the project
Floorboards Raised in the Reading Room
Work began this week in the Reading Room to raise the floorboards and add new electrical wiring throughout the space. Bringing electricity up through the floor creates minimal disturbance to the appearance of the Reading Room, but maximum impact for our members once the space reopens! New and improved electrical access throughout the Reading Room will allow members to write their next novel, tackle a work project, or listen to an audiobook without worry for their device's battery life. Once electrical work is complete, the floorboards will be restored to their original position. To learn more about the improvements in the works in the Reading Room, visit our 21st Century Athenaeum campaign page.
Architectural Team Highlight, Part 1: Matt Krissel, KieranTimberlake
Since 2018, Athenaeum Staff and Board members have worked with the Philadelphia-based architectural firm KieranTimberlake to develop a plan for maintaining and enhancing the distinctive beauty of our Italianate Revival space. Four years into the process, this plan is underway as the 21st Century Athenaeum Campaign.
While the many enhancements proposed and refined by KT are taking shape now, we would like to highlight team members who have worked tirelessly to improve your Athenaeum! Stay tuned for part 2 of this series of posts.
Matthew Krissel, team lead, is an architect and partner at KieranTimberlake. He designs places, buildings, and environments, connects people with ideas, and creates new methods and platforms for thinking and making. He has combined his interest in computation and technology with a deep understanding of how to connect people, programming, and design aspirations in a handful of notable projects. As the chair of KieranTimberlake’s Digital Design Visioning Group, Matthew helps foster digital innovation, visualization, and knowledge sharing throughout the firm. He has lectured at AIA Technology in Architectural Practice (TAP), AIA Committee on Design, Facades+, Harvard University, National Institute of Building Sciences, and elsewhere.
The full project team is listed below. Many thanks to each team member for their care and consideration in envisioning a 21st Century Athenaeum!
Full KT Project Team:
Matt Krissel, AIA, Partner* **
Stephen Kieran, FAIA, Partner
Andrew Cronin, AIA, Principal* **
Tim Peters, AIA, Principal
Leah Kendrick, Architectural Staff**
Elizabeth Harris, Architectural Staff**
* Indicates project team leads.
** Indicates actively working on the project
Demolition Begins on the Athenaeum's First Floor
As part of the 21st Century Athenaeum Campaign, demolition has begun to create a beautiful new lounge, which will more than double space for our members on the building's first floor. Our general contractor for this campaign is Haverstick-Borthwick, a PA-based firm that has undertaken countless construction and restoration projects in the Philadelphia area for 100 years.
Haverstick-Borthwick's Principal, Bill Cobb, has worked at the company for more than 50 years and oversees all of its projects and clients, including the University of Pennsylvania, the Curtis Institute of Music, the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts, Merck, Verizon, and many more. Cobb has been HB's president since 1984, during which time he has built relationships with repeat clients and cultivated extensive involvement with the Philadelphia-based General Building Contractors Association.
One of HB's Project Managers is Edward Weinlein, who brings a wealth of historic construction and restoration experience to the Athenaeum. Weinlein's projects include St. Peter's Church and Christ Church, just steps away from Washington Square. He has worked at the firm for over 30 years.
John Farrell another Project Manager, has won awards from the Preservation Alliance of Philadelphia and the General Building Contractors Association for his involvement in historic restoration. Over the course of his career, Farrell has undertaken projects at locations on the National Register of Historic Places, including Philadelphia's Chemical Heritage Foundation and the Church of St. Luke and the Epiphany. He has also overseen several projects at the American Philosophical Society, just a few minutes away from the Athenaeum.
We are thrilled to have such an experienced team behind the exciting enhancements unfolding in our space. Our staff, architects, and contractors have worked hard to operate well within the high standards set by the National Historic Landmarks Program. Click here to see renderings of what you can expect when construction is complete. Stay tuned for more updates on our progress!
Athenaeum Members Visit to the Kislak Center for Special Collections, Rare Books and Manuscripts
On Thursday, July 21st, Athenaeum Members took a tour of the Kislak Center for Special Collections, Rare Books and Manuscripts at the University of Pennsylvania. The staff pulled for us a selection of items pertaining to early Philadelphia and the founding of the University of Pennsylvania. An Athenaeum favorite, the Thomas Holme map of 1682, the original charter of the University (signed by Ben Franklin!) and the early rules students were forced to follow were all on display.
Attendees also got a brief tour of their current exhibition, Marilyn Monroe: From Stage to Silkscreen which features a number of exhibition posters depicting Andy Warhol’s famous 1962 photo silkscreen paintings of actress Marilyn Monroe.
Also at the Kislak Center is their state of the art conservation lab, research facility, and the Furness Shakespeare Library. Thank you to the Kislak staff for showing us around your wonderful library, we WILL be back!
Athenaeum Shareholders and use their library card to access Van Pelt Library, but appointments are required to view items held at the Kislak Center.
Athenaeum Members Visit to the American Philosophical Society
On July 15th, Athenaeum Members took a visit to see the American Philosophical Society's current exhibition "Becoming Weatherwise: A History of Climate Science in America." Museum Educator Ali Rospond gave a guided tour of the exhibition, highlighting some of the particularly interesting items on display like James Madison's weather journal, a wall length map of a tornado's path, and an ex-APS-fellow's scientific studies. The exhibition takes visitors on a tour of climate history and how the work early scientists did is still being used today. The exhibition is open until December.
APS recommends reserving a time to see this exhibition, RSVP here.
Brownstone Conservation Begins at the Athenaeum
If you walked through Washington Square last week, you may have noticed that scaffolding was being constructed around the Athenaeum. This marks the start of an extensive effort to conserve our 175-year-old building, including maintaining the beautiful and historically significant brownstone that helps to make the Athenaeum so distinctive. Additional components of the project include replacing deteriorated brownstone at the base of the building, conserving exterior metalwork, repointing all of the mortar joints, and repairing or replacing damaged stucco.
Kreilick Conservation is undertaking the project, and their team boasts an impressive resumé of local preservation projects, including 30th Street Station, Founder's Hall at Girard College, the Philadelphia Museum of Art, City Hall, and the Second Bank of the United States. When the project is complete, you can expect to enjoy a newly preserved exterior that will last for another 175 years—and beyond! Thanks to a new lighting system to be installed by electrical contractor Marc Hoyer, the expertly-maintained facade will be visible even at night.
This restoration of the Athenaeum's brownstone is supported by the William B. Dietrich Foundation.
"In Her Own Right" Project Receives C.F.W. Coker Award
"The “In Her Own Right” project, conducted by the Philadelphia Area Consortium of Special Collections Libraries, Inc. (PACSCL), is the 2022 recipient of the C.F.W. Coker Award from the Society of American Archivists (SAA). The award recognizes finding aids, finding aid systems, innovative development in archival description, or descriptive tools that enable archivists to produce more effective finding aids." Read more from the SAA...
The “In Her Own Right” project, completed in 2021, involved twenty-four partner institutions digitizing and describing manuscript and print materials from the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries leading up to the ratification of national women’s suffrage in 1920.
The Athenaeum of Philadelphia contributed to this project with its collection of letters and correspondence from Sarah Josepha Hale. Hale (1788-1879) was a major literary figure of the 19th century. In 1828 she began editing The Ladies’ Magazine of Boston (later Godey’s Lady’s Book in 1837), the first magazine for women to be edited by a woman. Godey’s was based in Philadelphia and eventually she moved to Philadelphia to become more involved in her editorship of the magazine. Hale is also the author of Mary had a Little Lamb and the main person responsible for making Thanksgiving a national holiday. The collection contains letters relating to both her professional and personal life and spans a 43 year period. It also contains a small number of letters between her close relatives.
Learn more about Hale from our event with Melanie Kirkpatrick from November, 2021.
Atelier Fine Art Services at the Athenaeum
On Wednesday, June 1, Atelier Fine Art Services came to the Athenaeum to help us move the more complex, delicate and priceless art objects in preparation for our renovations. Atelier handled these pieces with much care and consideration. The large stone in our 19th Century water cooler took all three movers to handle, and the Bouvier Desk was nicely tied up so nothing would come loose!
While most objects will spend the summer safely tucked away onsite, King Alexander and the Stag by Charles Robert Leslie (after Benjamin West) was moved offsite to the Atelier storage facility. Here it is being moved across Sixth Street into the awaiting truck.
Thank you Atelier for your assistance in this part of our project. We look forward to seeing our collections in their new locations throughout the building in the fall!
Summer Research Hiatus
In-person research will be closed from Monday, May 9 through Friday, November 4. Research inquiries should be directed to Bruce Laverty. All email research requests will be answered in a timely fashion remotely. For those requiring access to non-digitized archival collections, we will be pleased to set up in-person appointments as soon as we reopen.
Our digitized collections are available for browsing 24/7.