It might not be the kind of opulent display befitting a royal, but it’s a start.
The first-ever permanent exhibit to pay tribute to Philadelphia’s own Grace Kelly, actress and late Princess of Monaco, has found a home in East Falls.
The modest array of artifacts and collectibles is tucked away in a dimly lit hallway at the historic Woman’s Medical College of Pennsylvania building (now One Falls Center) at 3300 Henry Ave.
Along the gallery corridor, fans will find framed movie posters, vinyl album covers and photographs.
At its end, a glass display case houses numerous invitations and cards issued by the Palace in Monaco. Also in the hall is a display of several porcelain dolls dressed in miniature replicas of gowns and fashion Kelly wore in key moments of her life.
A small alcove houses a number of textiles and plates which were designed by Kelly to benefit her charity organization, the Princess Grace Foundation. There is also a substantial collection of stamps from Monaco and kitschy souvenirs aplenty.
Three years in the making
Plans for an exhibit began nearly three years ago, when the East Falls Historical Society received a sizable donation of Grace Kelly memorabilia from a super-fan in Maryland.
And so began the search for a suitable location to house the collection.
“We wanted it to be some place where Grace had a connection,” explained EFHS president, Ellen Sheehan.
The historical society found it at the Falls Center, where space was given to them by real estate developer Andrew Eisenstein, whose firm Iron Stone Strategic Capital Partners owns the property.
The building once housed the world’s first degree-granting medical school for women and shares a deep association with the Kelly family. Margaret Kelly, Princess Grace’s mother, was development chair at thecollege.
Struggle to honor to Philly’s own princess
A successful traveling exposition of relics from Grace Kelly’s life made a stop at the James Michener Museum in Doylestown back in 2013.
Sheehan says putting together something more lasting in Kelly’s hometown has been a challenge.
Acquiring her childhood home at 3901 Henry Ave. to create a publicly accessible historic site is currently not possible, though that would be an optimal location, Sheehan noted.
The home, privately owned by Marjorie Bamont since 1973, has been off-limits to any public tours. Two years ago, EFHS was successful in getting a historic state marker placed in front of the house.
It was hoped that the property would soon be put up for sale. Instead, Bamont has continued to hold on to the house despite a cat hoarding discovery which later led to an animal cruelty conviction.
Sheehan says she has sent a proposal to Kelly’s son, Prince Albert II of Monaco, which details a plan to create a repository as well as a space where art and performance can take place.
Doing so would keep with the ideals behind the Princess Grace Foundation, which fosters art among young people.
“We would very much like to see something happen,” Sheehan said.
The official response from Monaco, however, is that the prince is still considering options.
For now, the smaller-scale Grace Kelly Gallery will do, though its permanence would dissolve should EFHS’ proposal get the royal nod (and bankroll).
Grand opening day event
For the grand opening, EFHS has planned a High Society tea party, named in honor of the 1956 film in which Kelly starred. The event will take place Sunday, May 3 from 2 p.m. to 4 p.m. at the Falls Center.
In addition to tea, scones, petit fours and sandwiches, the catered affair will serve wine from Grace Winery. The vineyard is owned by Kelly’s nephew, Christopher LeVine.
The event will feature a special viewing of five gowns worn by Kelly in some of her movie roles. Recorded oral interviews with some of Kelly’s family members will also be played for guests.
EFHS is expecting 100 attendees to turn out for the tea, including two of Kelly’s nieces. An invitation was mailed to Prince Albert II, but none of the Grimaldis are expected to show.
Following the opening, the gallery will be the newest stop on a EFHS tour of local landmarks pertaining Princess Grace’s Philly roots. Sheehan says she gets a few requests each year from folks hoping to learn more about her origins.
Though she died more than three decades ago at the age of 52, Grace Kelly is still well known — even among younger generations, said Sheehan.
“Her charisma is still out there. People love her.”