Most visitors and locals of Philadelphia agree that the Athenaeum stands out because of its impressive architectural structure. Recently, the Athenaeum of Philadelphia underwent interior and exterior renovations in preparation for its 175th anniversary in their home at Washington Square. The newly renovated facade refreshes the exterior and highlights the building’s architecture.
The Athenaeum of Philadelphia was founded in 1814 as a subscription library, decades before the advent of free public libraries. According to the Athenaeum, the institution continues its founding mission to provide access to “general knowledge” through archival material, special collections, and books for “research, exhibits, public forums, and lectures,” as well as a “congenial space for conversation and learning.”
The Athenaeum occupied several spaces within prominent institutions across Philadelphia, including the American Philosophical Society. After outgrowing these spaces, the Athenaeum moved into its own building in 1847 on Washington Square. The building was designed by architect John Notman (1810 – 1865) and is recognized as the “seminal American structure” in the “Italianate Revival Style” and one of the first buildings in Philadelphia constructed of brownstone. In 1977, the building was declared a National Historic Landmark.
The Athenaeum embarked on major interior and exterior renovations in preparation for its 175th anniversary in the building on Washington Square. According to Kimberly Hass from Hidden City: Exploring Philadelphia’s Urban Landscape, Yoder and his colleagues at Kreilick Conservation worked on the exterior renovations. In 2021, a roof replacement led to full exterior renovations, a “$1.3 million project” to repair “deteriorated stone and stucco, restore rotted wooden elements, and clean the facade,” which was “soiled from exposure to pollution and weather.” Lighting was also added to highlight the building’s exterior and to deter vandals.
In an interview with Kimberly Hass, Yoder explained that the physical work took about six months. The campaign required “planning” and “getting all of the groups involved and on the same page.” The groups included “masons with Premier Building Restoration, structural engineers Keast and Hood, the carpenters at 18th Century Restorations, and Sun Precast Company.” The two most prominent features of the Athenaeum are the stone balcony and the wooden cornice, which required “complete disassembly” to repair.
The result looks beautiful. The exterior renovations and repairs highlight the building’s historical architecture within Philadelphia’s historic district.
For detailed information on the exterior restoration, follow Kimberly Haas’s story, “The Athenaeum of Philadelphia Refreshed With Facade Renovation,” for Hidden City: Exploring Philadelphia’s Urban Landscape. Roger W. Moss contributed a piece titled “Athenaeum of Philadelphia” for The Encyclopedia of Greater Philadelphia.