The Please Touch Museum, a popular children’s museum in Philadelphia, had outgrown its space. Instead of building a new space, the museum moved out of Center City Philadelphia to Fairmount Park and into Memorial Hall, an empty building constructed in the late 19th Century that is three times larger than the museum’s previous location.

Please Touch Museum Relocation, Philadelphia
Photo Courtesy Don Pearse
Please Touch Museum Relocation, Philadelphia
Photo Courtesy Don Pearse

To bring the space up to museum standards—and back to life—the joint venture of Daniel J. Keating Co./Bittenbender/McCrae renovated the 157,000-sq-ft Memorial Hall into space for a children’s museum, which not only now holds the previous site’s displays and exhibits but also added exhibits, including a 9,000 sq-ft Carousel House with a reconditioned Denzel Carousel.

Memorial Hall was originally built as the main art museum hall for the 1876 U.S. Centennial Exposition. Before the $88 million Please Touch Museum project moved in, the historic hall, which is a registered Historic Landmark, was empty and neglected.

To change it into a museum space, the project team stripped and gutted the building and added new electrical and mechanical systems, marble and plaster, roof, handicap access, landscaping and parking lots.

Key Players
Owner: Please Touch Museum, Philadelphia
General Contractor: Daniel J. Keating Co., Narberth, Pa.; Bittenbender, Philadelphia; McCrae, Philadelphia (joint venture)
Design Firm: Kise Straw Kolodner, Philadelphia
Structural Engineer: Bala Consulting Engineers, King of Prussia, Pa.
MEP Engineer: Bala Consulting Engineers, King of Prussia, Pa.
Civil Engineer: Hunt Engineering, Malvern, Pa.

The project team also kept the original feel and look of Memorial Hall. For example, all HVAC units were crane-lifted and installed on the roof of the building and were engineered not to change the public look of the building.

The project team found a surprise, a below-grade theater space, which has been excavated and restored and is now the Please Touch Playhouse Theater.

The Please Touch Museum has surpassed visitor expectations, welcoming about half a million visitors a year, and is now one of Philadelphia’s top 10 tourist-visited sites.