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August 11, 2022

African American Museum to move into former Family Court building

The historic property on the Benjamin Franklin Parkway had been slated to become a boutique hotel, but the city scrapped that plan two years ago

Development Museums
Family Court AAMP Street View/Google

The African American Museum of Philadelphia is relocating to the former Family Court building, above, at 1801 Vine St. The move is part of a larger redevelopment project along the Benjamin Franklin Parkway.

The former Family Court building will house the African American Museum of Philadelphia in the years to come as part of a redevelopment plan for the Benjamin Franklin Parkway, city officials said Thursday.

The historic building at 1801 Vine St. has sat vacant since the family court relocated to 1501 Arch St. in 2014. The city had planned to transform it into a luxury hotel, teaming up with Peebles Corp., but the project took years to get underway. It was ultimately shelved amid the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Since then, city officials have searched for a new development team to renovate the 247,000-square-foot building, which was constructed in 1941 as a twin to the Free Library of Philadelphia, which sits next door. They did not have a preferred use for the building, but wanted it to involved underrepresented groups. 

"When the city of Philadelphia launched the African American Museum during our bicentennial celebrations nearly 50 years ago, we became the first city in America to fund and build such an institution," Mayor Jim Kenney said. "The redevelopment of this historic building to house AAMP marks a significant moment in the life of our city and its most celebrated cultural thoroughfare, the Benjamin Franklin Parkway." 

The exteriors of the former Family Court building and the Free Library are each listed on the Philadelphia Register of Historic Places. But the former Family Court building is just one of four buildings with interiors that have been designated as historic. The others are City Council Chambers, Wanamaker's Grand Court and the main waiting room at 30th Street Station. 

Moving AAMP from 701 Arch St. to the Parkway is meant to "reaffirm" the city's commitment to the museum's mission ahead of the 250th anniversary of the United States' founding, Kenney said. AAMP aims to bring diverse communities together to celebrate and appreciate the Black experience through art, culture and historical education. 

"We are thrilled to be a part of the reimagining of one of Philadelphia's most prominent public buildings at 1801 Vine St.," AAMP President Ashley Jordan said. "As the African American Museum in Philadelphia further positions itself to become a world-class attraction, this move — minutes away from the Benjamin Franklin Parkway and renowned institutions — will complement our efforts and affix our museum to Philadelphia's cultural landscape." 

The redevelopment project is expected to take up to five years to complete, WHYY reported. It also includes turning the 88,000-square foot lot at 1901 Wood St., operated by the Philadelphia Parking Authority, into an extension of the Parkway Central Library. It will house a Children and Family Center, auditorium, administrative offices and storage space. 

"The Free Library is thrilled with these new spaces and our new neighbors on the Benjamin Franklin Parkway," said Kelly Richards, president and director the Free Library. "The possibilities for even stronger collaboration between the Library and the African American Museum are incredibly powerful." 

The city has named four development teams as finalists for the project, as part of a request made by Philadelphia's Industrial Development Corporation in 2021. 

• Trammell-Crow, Badger Group and Salamander Hotels
• Tishman Speyer and Jair Lynch Real Estate Partners
• National Rea Estate Development, Frontier Development with Method, Smith and Roller, and BKP Development
• Lubert-Adler and Mosaic Development

The development teams are expected to submit proposals by the end of the year. Some of them have worked on other major projects in Philadelphia, including Market East, the Navy Yard, the Aramark building and the ongoing Penn's Landing Delaware River Waterfront project.