The Penitentiary Greenhouse

The rear wall of the greenhouse has remained nearly intact, retaining most of its glass shingles.
The greenhouse façade as viewed from the tour route. Missing glass shingles, peeling paint, rotted wooden elements.
Mike Smith and Ray Tscheope are inspecting the defunct electrical system in order to more closely approximate the construction.
Sally Elk scrapes away years of debris to inspect the condition on the windowsill. (Summer 2004)
Shelley Perdue sketches measured drawings in the field and records building conditions. (Summer 2004)
Ray Tscheope digs through layers of collapsed glass shingles and fallen window frames. (Summer 2004)
Students layered digital photos in order to create a montage of each façade. (Summer 2004)
This view of the roof system includes one of the four trusses in the foreground.
A view of the greenhouse after removal of the glass shingles, rafters, and ridge beam. (January 2005)
The crew is disassembling the truss system. (January 2005)
A view of the greenhouse from the southeast corner after excavation of debris and removal of the trusses. (February 2005)
The bolts that once held the wooden beams in place have rusted and caused cracking of the concrete piers. (February 2005)
2004, $18,000
Status: Complete

Stabilization of the Penitentiary greenhouse including repair of the concrete base and restoration of the roofing structure.

Eastern State Penitentiary appears to have always maintained a greenhouse on site. Although the relatively small buildings were not capable of supplying food for the large prison population, they were used to train inmates in job skills. Gardening also provided an enjoyable activity for many prisoners and was used to reward inmates for good behavior. These buildings represented a tranquil, meditative space within the relatively harsh environment of the penitentiary.

There are believed to have been at least three generations of greenhouses constructed on the prison site. Drawings from 1860 show a long, narrow greenhouse running east from the corner of Cellblock Four, and a report from January 1889 confirms that the penitentiary contained "a piggery and a greenhouse." By 1900 the original building had been removed, and a new "hot house" was located in a long building running north of Cellblock Six. This second building was situated along side of a garden complete with a large, round fountain. By 1936, a third greenhouse appears in drawings produced by the Works Progress Administration on the site of the current building located between Cellblocks Two and Ten. This last greenhouse was constructed with a poured concrete base and a glass shingle roof and remains partially intact.

This structure has been selected for restoration because of its proximity to the tour route and its level of severe deterioration which prevents close examination by the visitor. Planning for the project began in the June of 2004 under the direction of Sally Elk - executive director of ESP, Ray Tscheope - director of conservation at Fairmount Park Historic Preservation Trust, and Laurie Arnold - wood conservator. A team of interns from the Historic Preservation Master’s program at the University of Pennsylvania are aiding the professional team, including: Shelley Perdue - project manager, Jorge Danta, Sophia Jones, Jeremy Leatherman, Laura Mass, Sarah Shotwell, and Kelly Wong.

The project began with an investigation of the building materials and their structural integrity. From this analysis we were able to determine the amount of salvageable material for the restoration and the level of reconstruction required for the stabilization of the building. It was estimated that over one third of the original materials are in fair to good condition, warranting their conservation and reuse. In fact, the rear glass wall was found to be nearly intact which has encouraged us to preserve it in its current state with minimal intervention.

During 2004, interns from the Graduate Program in Historic Preservation at the University of Pennsylvania, along with a wood conservator and a historic preservation carpenter, thoroughly surveyed all aspects of the Greenhouse materials. Their work included an analysis of the historic paint colors. We completed the analysis in January 2005 and began the restoration. We started by disassembling the building in February 2005. New wooden elements were created from salvaged yellow pine to match the original material. They were installed along with the conserved elements. The surviving glass shingles and windows were been catalogued and cleaned. Selected replacement panes were crafted by artist Judith Taylor as part of a new art installation at the prison. The reconstruction was completed by April 2005. The goal of this project was to retain the nostalgic, aged appearance of the greenhouse through the careful conservation of its original parts while strengthening the structure and repairing the building envelope in order to protect it from accelerated decay.

Funded by: 2004 Annual Appeal.

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