The Philadelphia History Museum Is Closing Its Doors (Maybe for Good)



A museum dedicated to the history of Philadelphia is closing its doors to the public, and it is unclear when — or whether — it will open them again.

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The Philadelphia History Museum has been struggling to increase revenue for years. City officials were in talks with Temple University to form a partnership that might keep the institution afloat. But this week, they learned that the university had abruptly pulled out of the partnership discussions, leaving the museum’s future uncertain.

Michael DiBerardinis, the city’s managing director, said he learned about the university’s decision from news reports. “I’m still wondering what happened,” he said. “I still don’t have clarity.”

As of next week, normal public visiting hours will no longer be in effect. That closing is expected to last for at least six months, and it could be indefinite. In the meantime, the museum will hold on to its collection and city officials will try to chart a new way forward, Mr. DiBerardinis said.

Though it is not as well known as other tourist attractions like the cracked Liberty Bell, the Valley Forge National Historical Park or the bustling food stands at the Reading Terminal Market, the Philadelphia History Museum on South Seventh Street is home to some of the city’s most valuable artifacts.

Housed in its imposing Greek-Revival building are a desk used by President George Washington, the preserved body of a small dog named Philly who once served on the front lines during World War I, and boxing gloves worn by Joe Frazier during a championship match in the 1970s.

“There are over 100,000 objects in the museum’s collection that span 334 years of the city’s history, ranging from 1682 to the present day,” said Deana Gamble, the city’s spokeswoman. “The setting is intimate, and people really enjoy the atmosphere of the 1826 historic building, located just steps from the Liberty Bell.”

But for years, that has not been enough.

“Revenue generation has been shrinking over time, and then the city subsidized — in a significant way, for years — the operation of the museum,” Mr. DiBerardinis said.

He said that Philadelphia had allotted $300,000 to subsidize the museum for the current fiscal year and $250,000 for the next, which begins on Sunday. City officials were hoping that a partnership with Temple would lead to a more sustainable business model.

Joe Lucia, the dean of libraries at Temple University, did not immediately respond to requests for comment on Friday.

But in an email to The Philadelphia Inquirer, he said that “after careful study, Temple has decided not to pursue an alliance with the Philadelphia History Museum at this time though we will continue to engage in some collaborative activities.”

“We wish this important institution all the best as it moves forward with restructuring plans,” Mr. Lucia added.

This is not the first time the Philadelphia History Museum has tried to find a partner. In 2015, there were talks about a merger with the Woodmere Art Museum. Those fell through, too.

“We’re still committed to trying to figure out the best way to display the major parts of this collection,” Mr. DiBerardinis said on Friday.

“How do we continue to interpret the history of this wonderful city? And how do we engage the public in that process and use those artifacts to deepen people’s understanding of our history and our present?”