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Tuesday, 10 August 2010

Museum Mile

Courthouse to New PMA Gallery?
By Richard Carreno
Writers Clearinghouse News Service

It's uncanny how the Family Division Courthouse on Vine Street, across from Logan Square, resembles the Hotel de Crillon, on the Place de la Concorde in Paris. Actually 'resembles' isn't quite right. Duplicates is a better descriptive. Down to its 11 columns, slung over 11 arched entrances to a frontal arcade, the Family Court building, designed by John T. Windrim and built in 1939, is a spitin' image of the Paris original. As far as I can tell, the only significant detail that differs in the facades of the two structures is their main entrances. The Crillon's entrance is offset to the left. The courthouse has a centred entrance.

Given this this resemblance, er, duplication, it's easy to understand why Governor Edward G. Rendell remarked a few months ago that the courthouse could make for a great hotel site when and if the Family Division were to move from the location.

In fact, when Rendell made that statement he was already pushing hard to move the courthouse to a new site, and had promised $200 million in state moneys to construct the new facilty.

Enter Ron Castille.

Castille, chief justice of the commonwealth's Supreme Court, soon made a hash of the deal when he took charge of the new courthouse's siting, arranging through a series of brokered deals in cronyism for land at 15th and Arch streets to be the preferred site. In the process, Castille, slippery like the eponymously-branded soap, was able to let $7 million slip through his fingers to his golfing buds. Oops! He got caught by The Inquirer.

It's unfortunate that Castille gummed up the works. Reconverting the existing courthouse to a new dedicated purpose is a necessity. But hotel? Maybe.

Even under the most optimistic scenarios, only part of the 247,000 square-foot palace-like building, could be dedicated to hotel use.

That's why there's a growing sentiment to retool the courthouse as another member of Museum Mile.

With the Pennsylvania Academy for the Fine Arts at Broad Street as the Mile's eastern anchor, that lower stretch of the Benjamin Franklin Parkway is blossoming. Not to forgotten, of course, is the much-awaited opening of the Barnes Foundation at its new nearby Parkway site in 2012. Hotel+museum=more reason for visitors to abandon kiddyland at Independence Mall and head uptown.

Conversion of the courthouse to museum/gallery space also makes sense because it looks increasing clear that plans by the Philadelphia Museum of Art to build an underground, Frank Gehry-designed addition to house its modern and contemporary collections won't be happening anytime soon.

If a courthouse developer is ever found, it would behoove the PMA's Timothy Rub to start thinking about linking the the hotel vision with a revised museum vsion for its modern and contemporary collections. As always in Philadelphia, a city that can never find its specs, it's the vision thing.

Film at PMA
Michael McGonigle, the PMA's film guru, will lecture about 'American Women in the 1950s, as Seen in the Movies,' at 1 pm Saturday, August 21, and then screen, at 2:30 pm, The Prize Winner of Defiance, Ohio. The event is free to members.

Deal on 'Late Renoir'
The PMA is offering a $4 adult ticket discount, from $20 to $16, to view 'Late Renoir,' the museum's current 'centre ring' show. But hurry! The discount is only good from 10 August to 13 August. Late Renoir runs to 6 September.

Academy of Natural Sciences gets homey
The Academy of Natural Sciences will sponsor a workshop on how to create a Condo Green Committee from 6 pm to 8:30 pm 27 September at the academy's building on Logan Square. The workshop is jointly presented by the Center for Environmental Policy in collaboration with the Green Condominium and Co-op initiative.