Building Curtis Pt. 3

A 'Storied' History

Let’s continue our tour of the Curtis campus by stepping out of 1726 Locust Street and, with Rittenhouse Square to our backs,  walking a few paces to the Milton Rock Resource Center, home of  the John de Lancie Library and the Curtis Archives.  Situated in yet another grand historic home, the Center has undergone various transformations as Curtis itself has evolved, today providing a comfortable, welcoming space where the Curtis community can learn, teach, study, and relax.

Announcement of the purchase of the Locust St. properties by the Boks, October 1924

Built in 1908 after a design by renowned Philadelphia architect Horace Trumbauer, the Theodore Cramp residence was purchased along with the Drexel mansion by the Boks in 1924.  Although not of the same architectural style as its neighbor, 1720 displays an equally impressive Beaux-Arts facade, dramatically punctuated by imposing metal-framed glass entry doors embellished with ornate iron grillwork.  This 19th century grandeur carries into the foyer with veined white marble floors and a gracefully curved staircase, while carved wooden paneling and molded plaster ceilings are peppered throughout the first and second floors.

These decorative architectural elements undoubtedly added a certain amount of luxury to Curtis’s Preparatory Department, which was housed at 1720 Locust between 1924 and 1943.   Carlos Salzedo taught in the first-floor front studio known as the “Harp Room” (as it contained a number of harps as well as Mrs. Bok’s Mason and Hamlin grand piano), while a fully equipped recording studio to capture student performances and a cafeteria to feed students, staff, and faculty were installed on the second floor and fourth floors respectively.

However, after the outbreak of the Second World War Curtis, like many other academic and cultural institutions,  was forced to economize, thus 1720 was sold to cosmetic and beauty salon firm Elizabeth Arden. It remained in Arden’s hands until growth-making changes enacted at Curtis (including curriculum expansion and the establishment of an opera department), led the to re-purchase the building in 1970.  As a reflection of the confidence felt by Curtis that 1720 would remain a permanent part of the institute’s real estate portfolio, it was  soon christened Knapp Hall in honor of Mrs. Bok’s mother Louisa Knapp Curtis, whose portrait hangs today in the third floor landing.

Knapp Hall foyer after renovations, 1974

In the summer of 1974, four years after Curtis reacquired the property, the decision was made to move the Curtis library from its cramped quarters in the main building to the underutilized Knapp Hall.  This decision, while ultimately beneficial to the library, required significant interior renovations to make the space suitable for its new purpose.  Most notable was the removal of the  second floor treatment rooms left by Elizabeth Arden, each of which included partitions, a sink, extensive plumbing, and numerous electrical outlets.  Load bearing walls were also removed to create a more efficient use of space,  with deftly hidden steel beams now taking the brunt of the building’s weight.  Finally, the new library was outfitted with a complement of new furnishings, modern lighting, and increased storage.  This work, despite its extensive nature, was mostly completed by January 1975 and the new library was in full use shortly thereafter.

Over its 108 years, 1720 Locust St. has experienced a varied and storied history, and the three decades since the relocation of the Curtis library and archives have certainly added their own chapters. Renamed the Milton L. Rock Resource Center in 2000, 1720 Locust St. continues to evolve, accommodating constant changes in technology, educational theory, and even the collections themselves.  However, despite these changes both physical and theoretical, the venerable facade with the wrought iron embellishments remains unaltered – a shell of the past, housing the present, in preparation for the future.

 

 

Etching of the "Preparatory Dept.", ca. 1925

Etching of the "Preparatory Dept.", ca. 1925

Etching of the "Preparatory Dept.", ca. 1925
Etching of foyer, ca. 1925

Etching of foyer, ca. 1925

Etching of foyer, ca. 1925
Etching of 2nd floor, ca. 1925

Etching of 2nd floor, ca. 1925

Etching of 2nd floor, ca. 1925
4th floor cafeteria, ca. 1930

4th floor cafeteria, ca. 1930

4th floor cafeteria, ca. 1930
Students enjoying a meal, c. 1938

Students enjoying a meal, c. 1938

Students enjoying a meal, c. 1938
Detail of ledger entry recording Arden's purchase of 1720 Locust St., 1943

Detail of ledger entry recording Arden's purchase of 1720 Locust St., 1943

Detail of ledger entry recording Arden's purchase of 1720 Locust St., 1943
"Cramped" library space at 1726 Locust St., ca. 1954

"Cramped" library space at 1726 Locust St., ca. 1954

"Cramped" library space at 1726 Locust St., ca. 1954
Board room (now 1st floor common area), 1974

Board room (now 1st floor common area), 1974

Board room (now 1st floor common area), 1974
Listening area, 1974

Listening area, 1974

Listening area, 1974
Periodicals room (now 2nd floor seminar room), 1974

Periodicals room (now 2nd floor seminar room), 1974

Periodicals room (now 2nd floor seminar room), 1974
Circulation desk, 1974

Circulation desk, 1974

Circulation desk, 1974
2nd floor stacks, 1988

2nd floor stacks, 1988

2nd floor stacks, 1988
Library lounge, 2013

Library lounge, 2013

Library lounge, 2013
Foyer, 2013

Foyer, 2013

Foyer, 2013

 

 

 

 

 

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