PAFA’s first two buildings, both white marble structures in the neo-classical style, stood on Chestnut Street between Tenth and Eleventh Streets.
The first building opened to the public in the spring of 1806. Designed by John Dorsey, an amateur architect and a member of PAFA’s board, the building had a domed rotunda about fifty feet in diameter. Over the doorway was a wooden American eagle almost certainly carved by William Rush. This structure was enlarged in 1810 with a north gallery for expanded exhibition space. By 1823 a library and a statue gallery had been added. This structure was almost completely destroyed in a fire in 1845.
In 1847, after a fundraising effort, a new building opened, constructed on the surviving foundations of the 1806 edifice. Engineer-architect Richard Gilpin designed a larger, but still classically inspired, structure. PAFA’s second home was illuminated by skylights and surrounded by a shaded lawn. By 1870, both the museum and the school had outgrown these quarters, and planning began for the construction of a larger building in a different location.