Sunday, October 27, 2013

Philadelphia's City Hall

Philadelphia's Enduring Treasure

After a day enjoying the historic area around Independence Hall, I spent my next couple of days admiring Philadelphia's historic City Hall, its thriving Arts District and Rittenhouse Square.

My day began by aiming my walking shoes toward John McArthur Jr's amazing City Hall. You really can't miss this building. City Hall resides on the center square site selected by William Penn himself and, with 700 rooms, it is the largest municipal building in North America.

Philadelphia's City Hall

Penn's 1682 plan for his City of Brotherly Love set aside five city squares with "Center Square" reserved for a monumental public building. Center Square would otherwise be the intersection of Market and Broad streets, but instead creates a driving circle with all traffic diverted around the building.

A site Designed to Interrupt Two Major Boulevards

Construction on City Hall took 30 years (1871 to 1901) and delivered a second empire masterpiece. It 's north tower is crowned with the 27 ton statue of William Penn himself.

When it was completed its north tower made the building the tallest occupied building in the world. The tower rests on 14' thick bearing masonry bearing walls.

The Main North Tower

Of course such an elaborate building was expensive to build and continues to be costly to operate. High on-going costs have resulted in obvious signs of neglect. Pigeon droppings and homeless encampments are barely concealed behind every major column.

Of course any building of this magnitude was born in controversy. In fact, controversy raged to the point that 50 years after its construction the city seriously considered the option of tearing it down.

Sometimes we just don't appreciate what we have…..

In building's of this era sculpture is richly integrated into the design itself. Arguably the best place to view its sculpture is within the main (North Portal) entrance where all of the column capitals symbolize concepts like the arts, science, voting rights, architecture and engineering. In the next hall Philadelphia's founding ethnicities are portrayed, European, African, Native Americans etc.

The Native American Column Capital 

The Magnificent Mosaic Column Bases

The stonework on the exterior is particularly radiant as it emerges from a cleaning that removed over 100 years of grime from its facades.

In this building seemingly every detail right down to the otherwise mundane was considered. I found my self stopping dead in my tracks admiring those little details. Even the smallest things like door handles and fire connections were richly embellished.

Bronze Fire Connection

A Snake Door Handle

Then there is that big old moose adorning one of its archway.

Moose Capital

The quality of this building is starkly demonstrated by the truly awful "Municipal Services Building" directly across the street complete with its sculpture of former mayor Frank Rizzo waving (which is, of course, scary on so many levels).

Philadelphia has many treasures. Its magnificent city hall is one that I could explore for days.

When I have more time in Philadelphia I will make time to do just that!

Roadboy's Travels © 2013

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