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Whatever Happened To: Buildings

The only buildings remaining on site at the Centennial grounds today are Memorial Hall, Ohio House, and two small brick outbuildings just south of the present Horticultural Center. Several buildings have been moved to other locations.

The Main Exhibition Building
A group of Philadelphia businessmen headed by Clement M. Biddle determined to keep the Centennial alive by purchasing the Main Exhibition Building and turning it into the Permanent International Exhibition. On December 1, 1876, when most of the Exhibition buildings were auctioned off, the Main Exhibition Building was bought by this group for $250,000. The new Exhibition, which included mostly foreign merchants and manufactures, opened in May 1877 along with the Art Gallery in Memorial Hall. It quickly ran into financial difficulty but continued to remain open through 1879, when the Park Commission complained about the nature of some of the exhibits, which included an animal farm show. The building was finally demolished in 1881. The site now serves as a concourse fronting Memorial Hall. The John W. Welsh Memorial Fountain occupies the site of the interior Music Pavilion.
Machinery Hall
We know that the building was still standing in 1879 because it was used as a storage facility for frames of smaller buildings taken down after the close of the Centennial, and at least one was advertised for sale during this year. When it was actually demolished we do not know. Most of these buildings had no central heating or good lighting system, so they were of limited value. Today there is a small lake occupying most of the central area of Machinery Hall. The present Carousel Building beside this site does not date from the Centennial.
Memorial Hall
Memorial Hall remains today as the single most significant reminder of the Centennial, as it was intended to be. It became the Pennsylvania Museum and School of Industrial Arts, during which it continued to display some of the art objects of the Centennial. In the 1920's most of these objects were moved to the new Philadelphia Museum of Art, and an auction was held in 1954 to dispose of remaining exhibit material. The building was restored in 1968 as headquarters of the Fairmount Park Commission and the Fairmount Park Guard, including a public recreation center and a social hall for civic functions. The Columbia statue atop the dome, by A.J.M. Muller has undergone several changes, and was completely replaced after a storm, so the present version is not the original. The eagles at the corners of the great structure are missing. No one knows what happened to them. In October 2008, a gloriously restored Memorial Hall reopened as the new home of Philadelphia's Please Touch Museum. A model diorama of the Centennial is still nestled in Memorial Hall's lower level and is the centerpiece of the Museum's "Centennial Exploration" exhibit which features a number of photos drawn from the Free Library's Print and Picture Collection.
Horticultural Hall
Horticultural Hall was supposed to remain as a permanent structure; it had central heat and a good lighting system, and remained as a botanical conservatory. Park maps as recent as 1921 show formal gardens planted in front of Horticultural Hall for quite a distance, but aerial photographs from 1928 show mature trees in random patterns all around the building. Horticultural Hall fell into disrepair. Damaged beyond repair in 1954 during Hurricane Hazel, it was finally demolished in 1955. There is now a functional Horticultural Center built in 1973, occupying the site. Just south of the Center are two small brick buildings used as public toilets during the Centennial. They were no doubt built in brick to remain with the "permanent" Horticultural Hall.
Agricultural Hall
Agricultural Hall was probably demolished along with the other large buildings. Its lumber was purchased by a developer who sold half of it to Spring Lake, New Jersey beach developers James and Thomas Hunter. The lumber was used for eight homes, a railroad station and a 900-foot-long bridge over Wreck Pond Inlet. Ashling Cottage, at 106 Sussex Avenue in Spring Lake remains as one of the houses constructed from lumber salvaged from Agricultural Hall. Baseball fields now occupy the site of Agricultural Hall.
English Building
There were several "English" buildings, but this is probably St. George's House, the large half-timbered structure. It remained for many years as a park maintenance office and residence for park employees. It was finally razed in 1961. There were several smaller buildings in the English area beside St. George's House. Some sources suggest that these remained also until 1961. [Another view]
Portuguese Government Building
The Portuguese Government Building, designed by Schwarzmann, was moved to Atlantic Avenue in Spring Lake, New Jersey in 1877. It became a guesthouse and was eventually demolished in 1983.
German Government Building
This building, just northwest of the Judge's Pavilion was still present in 1897, but missing in park maps by 1921. We can find no mention of its use after the Centennial.
Japanese House
There is a Japanese House today in Fairmount Park near the Horticultural Center. The Shofu-so, or Pine Breeze Villa, was originally a part of a display in the courtyard of the Museum of Modern Art in New York from 1954-55, and moved to Philadelphia shortly after. On the same site as the Shofu-so there used to be a Japanese temple gate. This gate was constructed in the early 16th Century and brought to the United States for the 1904 St. Louis Exposition, where it was purchased by two Philadelphians who moved it to Fairmount Park. It burned in 1955. Neither of these structures have anything to do with the Japanese Dwelling at the Centennial.
Swedish School House
The Swedish School House was moved to Central Park in New York. It still stands near the Shakespeare Garden where it serves as an indoor puppet theater.
Ohio State Building
Today the only significant structure remaining in its original location besides Memorial Hall is Ohio House, built of stone sent from various Ohio quarries. It became a park employee residence, then a Fairmount Park Information Center. It is now in a state of great disrepair.
Rhode Island Building
The Rhode Island Building remained for quite a long time, still present in 1921. We do not know exactly when it was demolished or what it was used for after the Centennial.
Maryland State Building
Moved to Druid Hill Park, outside of Baltimore, Maryland. It was used as a sort of natural history museum in the 1930's. In 1978 it was still there; today it is probably one of the buildings on the grounds of the Baltimore Zoo.
Wisconsin State Building
Purchased by a private investor, it was moved about half a mile and then left to stand for over a year. Someone else bought it and moved it to Bala where it became the Wisconsin House Hotel. It was finally razed in 1961.
Michigan Building
Moved to Atlantic City, New Jersey where it became a private home, then a guesthouse called the States Villa. It burned down in 1961.
New Hampshire Building
Purchased by John Goddard in November 1876, and moved to Shore Road in Spring Lake, New Jersey. It was destroyed by fire on April 12, 1962.
Missouri State Building
This building was relocated to Ocean Road in Spring Lake, New Jersey in 1877. It is supposed to be the only remaining Centennial building in Spring Lake, although Ashling Cottage, built with lumber from Agricultural Hall also remains.
Department of Public Comfort
The main comfort station between the Main Exhibition Hall and Machinery Hall was moved to Spring Lake, New Jersey, where it became the Lake House Hotel, opened in June 1877, with 92 rooms, large dining parlors, and a bowling alley. It was demolished in 1904 and replaced by a public park.
Centennial Catalog Building
The Catalog Building to the southeast of Horticultural Hall was moved to Strafford on the Main Line of the Pennsylvania Railroad west of Philadelphia where it became a railroad station, now under historic renovation at a cost of $4.3 million.
United States Life Saving Building
This small building behind the Restaurant Trois Frères Provencaux was moved to Cape May Point, New Jersey. Here is where it gets complicated. Several sources say that it became the Episcopal Church St. Peter's By-the-Sea. This church has been moved five times due to beach erosion and now stands at the corner of Ocean Avenue and Lake Drive just inside the beach dunes. However, John Mather, the Senior Warden of St. Peter's says that the Life Saving Building was moved to the old Coast Guard station near the Cape May Light House, and later destroyed in a hurricane; he remembers it. The building that became St. Peters itself, was advertised for sale as a "fine southern yellow pine frame" in 1879. The Episcopal diocese purchased it and modified it by extending one end and adding interior paneling in 1888. The structure uses tongue and groove siding on the exterior and originally had two large sliding doors at each end, suitable for moving large crowds through or large objects in and out; only one remains. The church members are not certain today which building they purchased, but some local historians think it might have been the Froebel Kindergarten. Recent restorations have revealed an original coating of gray paint with red trim.
Observation Tower
There were two observation towers at the Centennial. One of them stood outside the grounds to the north. The larger tower had a steam-powered elevator. It was moved to Coney Island, New York, where it stood for many years. At the time it was the tallest structure in the United States.
Roads and Railways
Many of the present roads remain or follow the path of Centennial roads. Belmont Avenue is essentially unchanged. Avenue of the Republic is now North Concourse Avenue at whose eastern entrance, near the Centennial police and fire stations now stands the Smith Civil War Memorial, erected after the Centennial. Fountain Avenue is a walkway leading from the new Horticultural Center to the Mann Music Center on George's Hill. Most of State Avenue remains. A Fairmount Park Trolley used to run from a station west of Memorial Hall, following the route of the West End Railway but then extending northward. It was still in operation in the 1940's. [Another view]


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