In the meantime, his magnificent collections were available for public perusal at the Alverthorpe gallery, the fireproof wing of his mansion in Jenkintown. This perusal was by appointment only, but appointments were made steadily at first and gradually came in fast and furious, as many thousands visited the gallery. Heir to the Sears & Roebuck fortune, Rosenwald opened Alverthorpe in 1939, shortly after he retired from his position as chairman of the board of Sears and Roebuck, in order to devote himself full-time to his collections and philanthropy.
When at home, Rosenwald often greeted visitors to the gallery, shook their hands, inquired about their visit, and joked with them; he was thrilled by the great interest in his collection, not only from art connoisseurs and scholars, but from groups of adults and school children who arrived with little knowledge and left stimulated by what they had seen.
Rosenwald received the Philadelphia Award, not for amassing a great collection, but for making that collection available to the public, especially at Alverthorpe. He was also honored for his “dedicated intelligence,” which he had demonstrated by his work developing the print and drawing department of the Philadelphia Museum of Art, expanding the rare book department of the Free Library, and founding the Print Council of America.
Sources: Obituary, Philadelphia Inquirer, June 26, 1979; “The Lessing J. Rosenwald Collection,” Library of Congress, http://www.loc.gov/rr/rarebook/coll/211.html; “Rosenwald Honored with Philadelphia Award,” Philadelphia Inquirer, April 12, 1967; “Philadelphia Award to be Given to L.J. Rosenwald,” Philadelphia Bulletin, Feb. 7, 1967; “Lessing Julius Rosenwald,” Wikipedia, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lessing_J._Rosenwald. The following are collected in Philadelphia Award Records: Series 2 (Recipients & Nominees, 1965-1999), Box 7, folder 6: program, clippings, letters, press release; Series 3 (Award Ceremony), Box 19, folder 11: Report of Proceedings, Philadelphia Award, April 11,1967; Series 4 (Miscellaneous), Scrapbook, Box 20, folder 13. Photo:Philadelphia Record Photograph Collection, Historical Society of Pennsylvania. Comment: Rosenwald had willed his treasures to the National Gallery of Art and Library of Congress, because of his concern over the Philadelphia Museum of Art’s operating deficit, and his conviction that his collections would reach the most people in Washington, DC. Yet, Rosenwald had been very much a part of the city’s fabric, serving on the boards of, and helping to cultivate, numerous cultural organizations, including the Philadelphia Museum of Art, the Friends of the Free Library of Philadelphia, and the Rosenbach Museum and Library. He was vice president of the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, dean of the Wistar Society, and Knight First Class of the Royal Order of Vasa in Sweden. Who can begrudge a Swedish knight for wanting to leave his collections to the nation?