Correcting the Record:
Lower Merion Township's Relationship with The Barnes Foundation
While there are many aspects to the present "crisis" facing the
Barnes Foundation, the claim that has received the least critical
scrutiny has been the ruse that the institution is being forced
from its present location by hostile residents. The following
two letters expose this fallacy for what it really is: a feeble
attempt to cover the fact that the Barnes trustees and their financial
backers want to move the collection for reasons that have nothing
to do with preserving Dr. Barnes' legacy, the aesthetic statement
he made or the educational work he pioneered.
I read with great surprise and even greater disappointment a
statement made by Dr. Bernard Watson, president of the Board
of Trustees of the Barnes Foundation, in a press release recently
issued regarding the consideration of an alternative access
to the Foundation from City Avenue . Dr. Watson stated, in part,
“Such a road which leads to our back gate – already exists .
In fact, we have attempted to utilize that road in the past
to minimize traffic impacts on our neighbors. When we did so,
we received a violation notice for Lower Merion Township”.
As the Commissioner from Merion, PA the home of the Barnes Foundation,
I am writing this letter in an attempt to set the record straight
with respect to that statement and address the commonly held
misconception that the Township of Lower Merion and, more specifically
my neighbors, want the Barnes to move.
It is, in fact, just the opposite.
Statements such as this merely fuel the fires of misunderstanding
which lead to erroneous conclusions. The record is clear that
at no time was the Barnes ever cited by the Township for it’s
use of Lapsley Lane as an alternative access from City Avenue.
The fact is that Lapsley Lane is a private road jointly owned
by the Barnes and St. Josephs University. It’s use is governed
by the rights of the parties that own it.
Yes, there have been difficulties. Yes, the Barnes apparently
has financial difficulties. And yes, there is a need for greater
access to the gallery. There aren’t many who would dispute those
facts although there may be differences of opinion regarding
the degree and alternatives to resolve them.
It’s not too late.
Before taking steps that are unalterable, alternatives must
be carefully examined. There’s no doubt that a move to a more
visible sight would have certain advantages and, if the primary
purpose of Albert Barnes’ indenture was to create a tourist
attraction, then this would be one way to do it. However, educational
institutions exist and, more importantly, co-exist in residential
areas throughout Lower Merion and have done so throughout its
history. Certainly not without challenges. But, for the most
part, these challenges have been met through compromise and
This is the home of the Barnes and as the signs on a growing
number of residents’ lawns read, “THE BARNES BELONGS IN MERION.”
James S, Ettelson, Esquire
Commissioner, Township of Lower Merion
Ward 12, Merion
MERION CIVIC ASSOCIATION MAKES CLEAR "THE BARNES
BELONGS IN MERION."
The media has frequently portrayed the Merion neighbors of the
Barnes as being at best, indifferent to, or at worst, overtly
hostile to the presence of the Foundation in this community.
This communication will attempt to correct this impression.
For over eighty years the Barnes Foundation has existed harmoniously
with both the residential and institutional members of the Merion
community. We believe the relationship can and should be continued,
with the school, the galleries and the arboretum remaining in
their present location.
The Barnes is renowned for its outstanding art and sculpture
collections; but it also represents the thought and aesthetic
of a particular individual at a particular time and in a particular
location. Dr. Barnes situated the foundation in Merion, engaged
the services of an outstanding architect to construct the building
and brought in the famed Henri Matisse to paint the murals which
adorn the spacious entry hall. He placed great emphasis upon
the gallery's relationship to the arboretum and to the surrounding
community. Several years prior to the construction of the galleries,
Dr. Barnes purchased land in the area and arranged for construction
of a group of fine houses which were sold at fairly modest prices
in an effort to protect the integrity and appearance of the
neighborhood. It was not mere happenstance which located the
Barnes Foundation in a largely residential setting. Were the
Barnes to move, we think it unlikely that this building and
its particular harmony with its surroundings could be preserved.
Not only would an essential part of Dr. Barnes' vision be lost,
but a valuable piece of social history as well.
It has been argued that moving the Barnes to the Parkway, placing
it in closer proximity to the other art institutions in the
city would be more attractive to tourists. No other city concentrates
all of its treasures in one location. London has its Soane¹s,
Paris its d'Orsay and Pompidou, Rio its Castro Mayo, each located
at a distance from the respective city¹s major art institutions.
There are decided advantages to both the tourist and city having
its resources in a number of locations.
On May 25, 2004, the Merion Civic Association¹s Board of Directors
adopted the following resolutions:
Whereas the Barnes Foundation was established in 1922 by Dr.
Albert C. Barnes, to promote the advancement of education and
the appreciation of the fine arts;
Whereas the mission of the Barnes Foundation is "to promote
the advancement of education and the appreciation of education
and the appreciation of fine arts and horticulture;"
Whereas the Barnes Foundation carries out its mission through
teaching, research, and publications related to its Art Department
and Arboretum, as well as through public access to the Gallery
which houses its main collection of paintings, sculpture, and
other works of art;
Whereas the Barnes Foundation is internationally recognized
for possessing one of the world's greatest collections of Impressionist
and Post-impressionist art; Whereas the Barnes Foundation is
located at 300 North Latch's Lane in Merion, Pennsylvania;
Whereas before his death in 1951 Dr. Albert Barnes left strict
instructions that the Foundation and its collection not be moved;
Whereas the Barnes Foundation has petitioned Montgomery County
Orphan's Court for permission to relocate to a new facility
on the Benjamin Franklin Parkway in downtown Philadelphia;
Whereas three Philadelphia area foundations have pledged up
to $150 million to underwrite the relocation of the Barnes Foundation
to downtown Philadelphia;
Whereas the Montgomery County Orphan¹s Court has asked the Barnes
Foundation to devise a plan for the "least drastic deviation"
from Dr. Barnes wishes;
Whereas the Merion Civic Association is organized to advance
and protect the interests and concerns of residents and institutions
located in Merion, Lower Merion Township, Montgomery County,
NOW, BE IT RESOLVED, THAT THE MERION CIVIC ASSOCIATION
(1) Acknowledges the extraordinary contributions to the education
and appreciation of fine arts and horticulture that have been
made possible by the Barnes Foundation;
(2) Believes that the gallery's relocation from its present
site would not only change the aesthetic nature of its collection,
but also severely compromise its founder's stated mission;
(3) Welcomes a process by which all parties of interest work
toward a goal of maintaining The Barnes Foundation in its present