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Widener Lecture Hall is part of phase two of the museum’s three-part renovation plan. The hall will now be a multi-function space.

Credit: Courtesy of Penn Museum

After almost a century of serving different purposes, the Widener Lecture Hall will finally be restored to its original function.

Set to officially open on May 10, the completion of the Widener Lecture Hall marks the end of the second phase of the Penn Museum of Archeology and Anthropology’s $15 million renovations of its west wing, which began in 2010.

Most of the renovations for this hall were done by late April, Jennifer Wetzel, director of Design and Construction at Facilities and Real Estate Services, said. “The museum actually already had an event there a few weeks ago.”

The lecture hall has many new features.

“The space is air-conditioned for the first time in its history,” Melissa Smith, chief operating officer at the museum, said. The hall also has new windows, window lighting, as well as a “state of the art” audio visual system, she added.

There are also new restrooms adjacent to the space, as well as a service vestibule where caterers will be able to prepare food for events held in the hall.

The space will be used for a variety of functions.

“We’ll use it for certain classes that are associated with the teaching that occurs in the laboratories that will be renovated downstairs,” Smith said. “Sometimes it will be used for teaching, sometimes for museum lectures, and sometimes it will be used for student performing arts groups that often rent spaces in the museum.”

The space can also be used for private events, including dinners and cocktail hours.

Smith added that “it’s possible that it could be used as an exhibition space in the future, but that is not our current intention.”

While the Widener lecture hall had been built as a lecture hall when the museum opened in December 1899, the space has been most recently used as a woodshop for exhibitions.

“They use it to build casework for our exhibits and mounts for the objects, so it was really an industrial-looking space,” said Smith.

In the past, it was used as a “beautiful” lecture hall, Smith said, until approximately 1916, when it became a space for collection storage and sometimes public exhibitions.

Then, in the ’60s and early ’70s, the room was used as office space, housing the University’s department of Anthropology. In the ’70s, the Anthropology department was moved to the newly constructed academic wing of the museum, and Widener Hall was again used as storage. In the 1980s it was converted into a woodshop, which has since been relocated to another location in the museum.

The doors that lead into the lecture hall are actually the original doors, which were restored from “very poor condition,” according to Smith.

The budget for the Widener Hall renovation was approximately $3.1 million. Fundraising was achieved primarily through individual donors.

“The museum’s development office worked very hard to cultivate donors for this project,” Smith said. She added that the renovation was possible because of gifts from Ingrid and Donald Graham as well as A. Bruce and Margaret Mainwaring. The renovations were executed together with the Museum and FRES, according to Wetzel.

The space can hold up to 100 people for a seated dinner and 180 people for a lecture, including balcony seating.

The first phase of the renovations of the west wing of the Museum was the renovation of the second and third floor galleries. Following the completion of the Widener Lecture Hall, the third phase of the project will be the renovation of the conservation labs and teaching labs, which are on the first floor of the building.

College sophomore Nate Leisenring added, “I’m glad the university is creating new modern spaces for special events and learning.”

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