In January 2009, when the museum closed for a complete overhaul of its major systems, interior spaces, and exhibition spaces, the plan was to reopen in fall 2010, spiffy, bright, energized.
But 2010 came and went.
Croce joined the museum.
Then 2011 came and went.
Still the museum remained shut, caught in financial limbo - not enough money to complete the renovation, and a bum economy and fading public presence making fund-raising harder by the day.
A controversial decision had been made by the previous administration to sell part of the collection to pay off debt and complete the renovations. A rare Raphaelle Peale still life of fish disappeared into private hands. Charles Willson Peale's portrait of a formerly enslaved Muslim, Yarrow Mamout, was acquired by the Philadelphia Museum of Art and now greets visitors to that museum's American wing.
Croce says there will be no more such sales.
On a recent brief tour of the Atwater Kent building on Seventh Street just south of Market Street, evidence of new life was stirring everywhere.
Immediately upon entering, visitors are greeted by a completely new foyer, dominated by a semicircular information desk clad with wood removed from the interior of Independence Hall's refurbished bell tower.
Two new galleries are already open and welcoming visitors. One, which opened in February, is called City Stories. It uses a few artifacts and a lot of digital technology to both tell Philadelphia's 300-year story and also allow visitors to add their own Philadelphia stories to the constantly changing portrait.
The gallery opened in February.
The other gallery, Philadelphia Voices, opened July 11, with an initial exhibition on the making of the Mural Arts Program's Family Interrupted/Community Connected, a massive four-wall multimedia mural at Dauphin Street and Germantown Avenue. The mural focuses on the destructive impact of the prison system on community, but also highlights the potential for redemption.
Illustrated by a photographic replica of the mural, a mosaic figure, tools of the mural trade, and various stories about the impact of incarceration on families, Family Interrupted is not your usual museum fare.
Exhibitions in the community gallery will change about every four months, and the museum has invited neighborhood organizations to make proposals for shows.
The large central gallery on the museum's first level, a 1,500-square-foot space with a city road map for a floor, will serve primarily as a public space.
It currently holds some of the museum's most recognizable artifacts - Mike Schmidt's batting helmet, the cap Abraham Lincoln wore to disguise himself as he passed through Philadelphia in 1861, Charles Willson Peale's portrait of Benjamin Franklin.
On the second floor, Washington's 350-pound desk will soon be joined by what Croce calls "iconic objects" from the museum's collection: the wampum belt William Penn received from the Leni-Lenape in 1682, Franklin's drinking glass, Joe Frazier's boxing gloves, Gen. George G. Meade's sword.
But "iconic" does not necessarily mean association with the celebrated and famous, Croce noted. Objects can become iconic because they are emblematic of a way of life or of a neighborhood. Bocce balls, firefighter hats, Occupy Philadelphia pamphlets and photographs - all are iconic in everyday ways, and all will be on display at the museum.
The second floor also has two new galleries, one devoted to the city's role as workplace (think brewing and beer), the other to play (think Phillies).
The central area of the second floor, about 1,500 square feet, will be devoted initially to an exhibition dubbed "Face to Facebook." It will comprise portraits of the famous by the famous; and the not-famous everyday folks all around us.
Paintings, daguerreotypes, photographs, digital images will put faces on the city then and now. And visitors will be able to add their own images in one section, which may then be uploaded to the Internet.
The museum will now have about 6,500 square feet of public space, a third more than in its prerenovation days. The construction elements of the $6 million museum renovation have all been completed and paid for, Croce said, and only about $250,000 of the $1 million installation cost remains to be raised.
"We will get there, no question," he said.
Contact Stephan Salisbury at 215-854-5594, firstname.lastname@example.org, or @SPSalisbury on Twitter.