Council of Independent Colleges Historic Campus Architecture Project


Philip and Muriel Berman Museum of Art at Ursinus College

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Institution Name: Ursinus College
Original/Historic Place Name: Alumni Memorial Library
Location on Campus: front of campus
Date(s) of Construction:
1921-1923original construction; August 1921 - August 1923 Watson, Frank Rushmore
1988-1989renovation into museum Saylor Peter Dagit-Saylor
Designer: Frank Rushmore Watson; Peter Saylor of Dagit-Saylor (Philadelphia)
Type of Place: Individual building
Style: Beaux-Arts classicism, Regionalist/Vernacular (Glossary)
Significance: architecture, culture, education
Narrative: see below
References: see below
Foundation: stone
Walls: wood frame, exterior faced with stone
Roof: slate
ca. 1923-1970memorial site
ca. 1923-1970library
ca. 1970-mid 1980sstudent union (containing lounges, meeting rooms, game rooms, and snack shop)
ca. 1989-present (2006)museum (Berman Museum of Art)

The Berman Museum is the second of two structures at Ursinus designed by Philadelphia architect Frank Rushmore Watson. Originally known as the Alumni Memorial Library, the building was constructed wi funds contributed by alumni as a memorial to classmates killed in World War I and served as the first library building at Ursinus. The building housed the book and periodical collections of the library as well as the offices of the library staff, and provided important study space for students in the main reading room and among the stacks. When a new, much larger library opened in 1970, the building was changed very little, and adapted for use until the mid-1980's as a student union facility containing lounges, meeting and game rooms, and a snack shop.

In the mid-1980's discussions between the College's trustees and alumnus Philip Berman and his wife Muriel, both internationally recognized collectors of art and sculpture, led to a decision to transform the building into an Art Museum. Planning for the new museum was undertaken with deliberate care as a formal art museum was a new venture for the college, and the Bermans' involvement as major donors of art then and in the future would be critical to the success of the project. Assessment of the condition of the existing building, together with a comprehensive program statement, were completed in close and constant consultation with Philadelphia architect Peter Saylor and his colleagues. The construction was a year-long project, begun in 1988 and completed in the early fall of 1989.

Renovations included adding new space, creating a new main entrance facing the campus plaza at what had been the back of the building, completely renovating the interior to transform the original main reading room and former library stacks into galleries, and creating service and storage spaces in the basement, all at a cost of nearly $2,000,000. The building today stores nearly 60,000 items of art, sculpture and artifacts belonging to the College, and provides three exhibition galleries as well as offices for the museum staff. The Berman Museum is host to a dozen exhibitions and is visited by more than 30,000 persons each year.

The building has always been well-maintained because of the importance to the College of its uses- first as a library, then as the student union, and currently as a formal art museum housing important collections of art, sculpture and artifacts. The purpose, programs and exhibitions of the Berman Museum are developed and executed in support of the College's mission in undergraduate liberal arts education. That said, however, the Berman Museum today is widely recognized for its place among the prominent art museums in the Philadelphia region for its varied and high-quality exhibitions, as well as its collections of the Pennsylvania Impressionists, the modern sculpture of Lynn Chadwick and many others, and of the art and artifacts of early Pennsylvania German settlers.


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Last update: November 2006