History of the building

Main content

Navigation for "Collection scope"

Frank Furness & Penn

The University of Pennsylvania's first library building was designed by Frank Furness in consultation with library authorities Melvil Dewey and Justin Winsor. The collaboration produced a technologically advanced and utilitarian facility which, thanks to Furness's flamboyant style, was anything but mundane. The cornerstone was laid in October 1888, and the University of Pennsylvania Library was formally dedicated on February 7, 1891. The window mottoes and other inscriptions in the building were chosen by Horace Howard Furness (Frank's older brother), a Shakespearean scholar and prominent member of Penn's faculty in the late nineteenth century. Though destined to accommodate decades of collection expansion as projected in the 1880s, the building already was becoming crowded by the first decade of the twentieth century. Over the next thirty years, several major alterations and additions were made to accommodate heavier-than-expected use and to house various special collections, including the Horace Howard Furness Memorial Library, and the Henry Charles Lea Library. In 1962, the main and special library collections moved to the newly-constructed Van Pelt Library.

The former University Library, renamed the Furness Building after its architect, was home to the Fine Arts Library and an array of architectural studios, including that of Louis I. Kahn. The building was listed in the National Register of Historic Places in 1972 and was declared a National Historic Landmark in 1985. Major restoration work, planned and directed by the firm of Venturi, Rauch and Scott Brown, was carried out from 1987 through 1990, with rededication taking place on the centennial of the original ceremony. In 1992 both the building and the library were formally renamed the Anne and Jerome Fisher Fine Arts Library to honor the principal donors to the restoration project.