Please Touch Museum at Memorial Hall

Memorial Hall during the 1876 Centennial World’s Fair

While with the firm of Kise Straw Kolodner (KSK), Kate Cowing was the lead conservator for the rehabilitation of Memorial Hall into the Please Touch Museum, a children’s museum in Philadelphia. Memorial Hall was constructed as the Art Museum for the US Centennial of 1876. After the Centennial ended it became the first location of the Philadelphia Museum of Art. Since 1927 when the Art Museum moved to its present location, this building had been underutilized and suffered from deferred maintenance.

Kate began by completing archival research to develop the history of the building, beyond that of just the Centennial and the changes to the building overtime. This work was submitted to the Philadelphia Historical Commission for approval of the project preservation philosophy and preservation zones.

Kate completed a detailed condition assessment of the entire building and developed restoration treatments. When this project started, Memorial Hall was in poor condition with active roof leaks and plaster failing throughout.

With careful design to ensure the historic character remained, the project team was able to transform this “white elephant” into Philadelphia’s beloved children’s museum. The two main entry rooms were returned to their original grandeur. Originally small galleries, the north rooms had been divided into a maze of office spaces with low acoustic tile ceilings. The restoration returned them to their original size and ceiling height. The former larger gallery spaces were returned to galleries and the ceiling heights restored. The pool edifice became an accessible ramp to the basement but was disguised as an exhibit.

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