From the Executive Director features news and reflections on the work of PHMC by its chief administrator.

When I talk with others about the new Pennsylvania State Archives building that is being constructed in Harrisburg, the most frequent follow-up question I get is, “So what is happening with the old archives building?”

I must admit that for many the 1964 building is a love it or hate it resource. The sleek State Archives tower, with its companion drum-shaped State Museum of Pennsylvania, is a quintessential example of the Midcentury Modern style. In fact, the State Museum and Archives Complex, with its streamlined limestone facades, geometric massing, simple aluminum trim, and glass block accents, was listed in the National Register of Historic Places for this very reason.

At the Pennsylvania Historical & Museum Commission, stewardship is central to our mission. We care for artifacts, buildings and landscapes, documents, and other historic resources that are permanently valuable and preserve them for future Pennsylvanians. Thus, we have undertaken a study to determine the best reuse of the older archives building. This reuse study combines many aspects of stewarding our collections.

In accordance with our Pennsylvania State Historic Preservation Office, we are responsible for preserving and reusing existing significant historic resources in ways that sustain their integrity. The iconic 19-story tower is largely windowless, and the floor-to-ceiling height is low, making it ideal for storage, while the base of the building, windowed offices surrounding elegant modern courtyards, is ideal for habitation.

In terms of collections stewardship, we know we need additional space for the agency’s archaeological and historical collections. We also know different collections have different environmental needs. We are evaluating which collections may be best suited for the tower and the space they will require. We are also evaluating the agency’s employee and programming needs for the office areas in the base of the archives. We are entertaining more creative reuse strategies, while remaining conscious of the associated costs of these more involved interventions.

We realize that sometimes we do need a new building to accommodate demands that we are unable to meet otherwise, as with the commonwealth’s new archives. At PHMC, however, we strive to make use of the past for the present, whether that is finding relevance in the interpretation of our historic collections, using collections actively to benefit the lives of Pennsylvanians, or as in this case, embracing the adaptive reuse of an older building.

We look forward to developing a reuse strategy for this iconic structure that highlights our stewardship of these resources with an eye toward public service, public engagement, and a forward-looking approach to our mission: collecting, preserving and interpreting the commonwealth’s cultural and natural history.

Andrea Lowery
Executive Director, PHMC