What’s New With Drexel’s Main Building?

The newly painted doorway of the Chestnut Street entrance of Main Building in 2018.
The newly painted doorway of the Chestnut Street entrance of Main Building in 2018.

If you’ve walked by the Chestnut Street entrance of Drexel University’s Main Building recently, then you might have noticed that it looks a little … different. But to the faculty and staff that first visited the building when it was opened in 1891, things look exactly the same.

Take a look at the doors and archway the next time you’re on Drexel’s University City Campus. The monochromatic color scheme that current Dragons are used to — cream windows against a slightly darker, yellower cream-colored building — is no more. Instead, the doors and nearby woodwork have been painted a rich brown color that resembles the original coloring that the 127-year-old Italian Renaissance-style building featured when it was completed with the opening of the then-Drexel Institute of Art, Science and Industry.

“In 2014, Drexel hired a restoration architect to investigate the condition of particular aspects of the Main Building, including the building envelope, or exterior walls and roof, and the Great Court,” explained Associate Vice President of Project Administration and University Architect Nancy Trainer. “Those studies have helped guide our priorities.”

Main Building in 2009.

The decision to give Main Building’s entranceway a new makeover was formed after a conservator conducted a paint analysis in 2015 that revealed that a dark brown color over a gray primer was the original 1891 finish of the building’s woodwork. Interestingly, the paint analysis detected an astounding 23 generations of paint– in addition to the original finish, interim paint layers include ten layers of black paint (some glossy), one layer each of olive green and light brown, and two layers of light yellow — immediately preceding nine layers of white, off-white and beige paints that were used in the modern era. According to conservators, the lighter paint colors date from the mid-20th century. 

The new paint coat was just one of the construction projects conducted on Main Building before the new academic year. The granite steps on the Chestnut Street entranceway were also cleaned, reset and repaired. In fact, the doors were painted specifically because of the entranceway was going to be closed anyway to repair those steps.

The Chestnut Street entranceway of today's Main Building photographed in 1894. Photo courtesy of Drexel University Archives.

Beginning next summer, the roof will be replaced and the rooftop skylight will be restored. The same restoration architect who previously worked on Main Building has been engaged to document this work, which is expected to begin next summer.

In the early weeks of this quarter, Dragons and visitors to Main Building will see preparation for this work, as protective netting is suspended across the ceiling of the Great Court to catch any debris caused by the roof work.

“The Main Building has been home to Drexel since the University’s founding in 1891 — a vital part of our everyday activities and one our most cherished icons,” said Trainer. “Ongoing work over the next several years will help ensure this building continues to serve the University in the years to come.”