The Barnes Foundation has acquired a downtown site for its world-renowned art collection, paving the way for its planned move from the suburbs to a prominent museum area in the city.
Mayor John F. Street signed legislation that authorizes the city to enter into a long-term lease with the Barnes for a site occupied by the Youth Study Center, a juvenile detention facility. That building will be torn down to make way for the Barnes' new home as soon as its population can be relocated, officials said.
"This fabulous collection will be available in a way that it's never been available," Bernard Watson, chairman of the Barnes board of trustees, said Wednesday at a City Hall news conference. "It is a great day for all of us."
The saga of the Barnes collection begins with Albert Barnes, a pharmaceutical magnate and art lover who died in a 1951 car crash. He left a will stipulating that his multibillion-dollar collection never be moved from its home in Lower Merion, just outside Philadelphia.
But that also made the paintings relatively inaccessible to the public. The foundation's board of trustees eventually decided they needed to move the 181 Renoirs, 69 Cezannes, 60 Matisses, 44 Picassos and thousands of other works to a spot near the Philadelphia Museum of Art and the Rodin Museum to avoid bankruptcy. A judge agreed, and in 2004 granted the board permission to deviate from Barnes' will.
The plans have generated much controversy. A group called Friends of the Barnes, which opposes the move, filed a petition last week asking the judge to reconsider his decision.
And the relocation plan for the juvenile detention facility has angered some residents in the city's East Falls section. They say officials want to use the former Eastern Pennsylvania Psychiatric Institute in the neighborhood to temporarily house the youths until a permanent facility is built elsewhere in the city.
The Barnes Foundation has raised more than $150 million to build its new home on the Benjamin Franklin Parkway and establish an operating endowment.
The actual lease for the site will be signed soon, officials said.