The model for Benjamin Franklin Parkway is the Champs Elysees in Paris, France ― a wide, pastoral avenue connecting City Hall to the world’s largest municipal park, Fairmount Park. It did not come easy. When formal planning got underway prior to World War I there was a mass of buildings between there and there.
The designers of the Parkway were Paul Cret and Jacques Greber and the mass removal of those buildings - and the displacing of the people who lived in them - was a startlingly bold stroke for a conservative city often accused of preferring to live in the days of the Founding Fathers. By 1919 a stretch of Parkway could be seen and within a decade fountains, small parks, statues and monuments and formal public buildings began to take their place on the Parkway. By 1935 the Franklin Institute, the Free Library of Philadelphia, the Philadelphia Museum of Art at the head of the avenue, and the Rodin Museum could be seen along the mile-long parkway.
Our walking tour will begin in the heart of Center City and head out along the Benjamin Franklin Parkway...
John F. Kennedy and Benjamin Franklin parkways
LOVE Park was designed by Vincent Kling in 1965 as the anchor space for Benjamin Franklin Parkway. It covers an underground parking garage. The main features of the plaza are curved granite steps and a single spout fountain which was added in 1969. The now famous LOVE sculpture, designed by Robert Indiana, was first placed in the plaza in 1976 as part of the United States’ Bicentennial celebration.
WALK WEST ON ARCH STREET, TOWARDS THE SCHUYLKILL RIVER.
Insurance Company of North America
1600 Arch Street
Since 1925, this 16-story, steel frame, brick-and-stone structure has been the home of the oldest capital stock insurance company in America. Incorporated in 1794, INA pioneered many forms of insurance, in particular marine underwriting.
Arch Street Presbyterian Church
1724 Arch Street, southeast corner of 18th Street
Regarded as a magnificent example of the classical revival influence in American architecture, Joseph C. Hoxie of Camden designed the West Arch Street Presbyterian Church. The cornerstone was laid in May, 1853 and the church was dedicated in October, 1855. The large copper dome surmounts a Corinthian-porticoed corner building that is one of Philadelphia’s most beautiful.
TURN RIGHT ON 18TH STREET.
Cathedral of Saints Peter and Paul
18th and Race streets
The reddish brownstone Cathedral of Saints Peter and Paul was built between 1846 and 1864 under the direction of Napoleon Le Brun, who designed the Academy of Music, and John Notman, one of the leading cheerleaders for the new Italianate style. Notman tapped the Italian Renaissance for the exterior Palladian facade with its copper dome. Most of the decorating work was performed by Constantino Brumidi, who painted the Capitol Dome in Washington, D.C.
TURN LEFT ON RACE STREET.
Academy of Natural Sciences
southwest corner of Race and 19th streets
America’s first natural history museum was founded in 1812 in John Speakman’s apothecary shop as a way for members to “occupy their time in the fashionable interest of Nature.” The Philadelphia Academy of Natural Sciences was chartered by the Pennsylvania legislature four years later and opened its collections to the public in 1828. Three times it outgrew its buildings but in 1876 the collection moved into this space that has managed to corral its 17 million specimens. The Academy of Natural Sciences was the first museum in the world to display a mounted dinosaur skeleton.
TURN LEFT ON 20TH STREET.
St. Clements Episcopal Church
20th and Cherry streets
This land as part of the expansive country estate of manufacturer William S. Wilson in the 1850s when he turned it over to the St. Clements congregation which was chartered in 1855. Celebrated architect John Notman was hired to build a grand house of worship, not so much for any great devotion to the Episcopalian church but to attract new home buyers - much as golf courses are constructed today. The cornerstone for the Romanesque-inspired church, rendered in fashionable brownstone, was laid in a mostly deserted field on May 12, 1856. When completed three years later the church boasted a grand spire almost 200 feet tall but it was removed in 1869 to prevent damage to the foundation.
The Franklin Institute Science Museum
222 N 20th Street
The Franklin Institute opened in 1824 in Independence Hall and is the oldest organization in the United States devoted to the study and promotion of mechanical arts and applied sciences. The current building, braced by Corinthian porticos dates to the early 1930s and was designed by John T. Windrim. In the museum’s rotunda is the Benjamin Franklin National Memorial, with a 20-foot-tall marble statue of the Boston-born scientist and Philadelphia icon, executed by James Earle Fraser.
Logan Circle is one of Penn’s original five squares planned by William Penn - the generically monikered Northwest Square. Like the others, save today’s Rittenhouse Square, it was once used as a burying ground and site of public hangings. On February 7, 1823, William Gross was hanged here ― the last public execution held on the spot. In 1825 it was renamed for James Logan and 17 years later, after being an open pasture for 150 years, it was a punishable offense to take a cow, horse, cart wagon or carriage into the square. Eventually the graves, mounds and hillocks were removed or leveled. The square became a circle and in 1924 the Swann Memorial Fountain by Alexander Stirling Calder was dedicated as its centerpiece. William Cary Swann was the founder of the Philadelphia Fountain Society whose mission was to install drinking fountains and horse troughs across the city. The three figures in the center represent the trio of waterways that define Philadelphia - the Delaware River, the Schuylkill River and the Wissahickon Creek.
Free Library of Philadelphia
1901 Vine Street on Logan Circle
The Free Library of Philadelphia was founded in 1894, housed in City Hall. Horace Trumbauer, one of America’s finest practitioners of classically-inspired buildings, designed this building in 1917. It opened in 1927 and today with more than 100,000 books and manuscripts, it is one of the country’s great libraries. The Rare Book Department, which has holdings spanning 5000 years, is housed on the third floor in a handsome Georgian room that was removed from William McIntire Elkins’ home in Whitemarsh, on the outskirts of Philadelphia, and installed in the library in 1949. Richly paneled, the room contains Elkins’ fine library, a notable collection of Dickens’ letters and editions, Dickens’ desk and candleholder and even his pet raven which was stuffed in 1841.
TURN LEFT AND WALK UP BENJAMIN FRANKLIN PARKWAY.
Benjamin Franklin Parkway
More so than most, Philadelphia is a city of well-ordered right angles, much as William Penn envisioned it in 1682. But when the World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago in 1893 ushered in a “City Beautiful” movement in America some began to dream of a wide, park-like boulevard to connect City Hall with Fairmount Park. Paul Philippe Cret was hired in 1907 to make the dream a reality, laying a diagonal vector across the city’s checkerboard. Demolition cleared away scores of residences in a massive urban renewal effort. Several of the city’s biggest institutions - the library, museums and some government buildings moved to the new Parkway but many are sited at an angle leaving chunks of open space along the avenue.
22nd Street and Benjamin Franklin Parkway
This is the only building that Paul Philippe Cret designed along his Parkway. It houses the largest collection of sculptures - more than 120 - by Auguste Rodin outside of France, brought together by Jules Mastbaum, an early film exhibitor in Philadelphia, who began assembling the works in 1913 with the idea of eventually donating them to the city. Mastbaum hired Jacques Greber, the French landscape architect responsible for the layout of the Benjamin Franklin Parkway to design the elegant gardens. He died before the project was completed in 1929.
22nd Street and Pennsylvania Avenue
Erected in 1953, this colossal apartment complex that blends elements of Art Deco and International styles, steps down to the Parkway. It is not without its detractors, one of whom observed that the city allowed its crown jewel, the Museum of Art to be “overshadowed by the most monstrous apartment building ever to disfigure the skyline and physiognomy of Philadelphia - or perhaps of any great city.”
2600 Benjamin Franklin Parkway
The plaza is named for Thomas Eakins, Philadelphia’s premier painter who is best known for The Gross Clinic and The Agnew Clinic, and leads to three fountains. The center fountain by Rudolf Siemering in 1897, dedicated to George Washington, was erected by the Society of the Cincinnati of Pennsylvania. The four figures and the animals overlooking the pools at the base symbolize four great riverways of America ― the Mississippi, the Potomac, the Delaware and the Hudson. Flanking the Washington Monument are twin fountains designed by the architects of the Philadelphia Museum of Art, Horace Trumbauer, C. Clark Zantzinger and Charles L. Borie, Jr. One is dedicated to the inventor John Ericcson who designed the great Civil War ironclad Monitor; the other to Eli Kirk Price who spearheaded the movement to create the Parkway. Across the roadway, Auguste Kiss’s Mounted Amazon Attacked by a Panther and Albert Wolff’s The Lion Fighter flank the museum steps.
Philadelphia Museum of Art
2600 Benjamin Franklin Parkway
Founded during the nation’s first centennial in 1876 as an exhibition of decorative arts, the Museum soon outgrew its quarters in Fairmount Park’s Memorial Hall. Horace Trumbauer, C. Clark Zantzinger and Charles L. Borie, Jr. collaborated to create “Philadelphia’s Parthenon” atop a rise at the end of the Benjamin Franklin Parkway. Trumbauer devised the scheme of three linked Greek temples facing in toward a common court. Begun in 1919, the first section of the Beaux Arts building, finished in golden Minnesota dolomite with blue tile roofs, opened in 1928. Movie-lovers will remember the long set of steps in front of the museum as the spot where boxing underdog, Rocky Balboa, made his triumphant run ― arriving at the top with hands raised aloft in triumph. There is a ground floor entrance on the river side of the museum for those not similarly inspired.
WALK AROUND THE MUSEUM OF ART TO THE SCHUYLKILL RIVER.
east side of Schuylkill River below the Museum of Art
Perched on the banks of the Schuylkill River, the Water Works was not only a source of the City’s water, its rambling Classic architecture and cutting-edge engineering made it a world famous 19th-century tourist attraction. Built between 1812 and 1815 by Frederick Graff, the waterworks comprise a dam, pumphouse and reservoir. Water was pumped from the river into a reservoir (where the Art Museum now stands) and then distributed through the city via wooden water mains. Graff was a draftsman on the city’s first waterworks built between 1799 and 1801 after which he became superintendent of the Philadelphia Waterworks. He remained at the post 42 years, becoming America’s foremost authority on delivering fresh water to the people.
TURN LEFT ON KELY DRIVE.
Kelly Drive on the Schuylkill River
Historically, the Schuylkill River became attractive to rowers after the construction of the Fairmount Water Works, where the dam slowed the water down to a calmer current and provided space for a wide, mile-and-a-quarter course that still exists today. Boathouse Row, home to Philadelphia’s rowing community, boasts a long honor roll of national and Olympic medalists. Philadelphia hosts nearly twice as many regattas as the closest competitor city, Boston. The picturesque boathouses are simple, roomy and functional. The Undine Barge Club, erected in 1882, was designed by Frank Furness, America’s leading Victorian architect. The clubs outline their landmark boathouses with lights at night, creating one of Philadelphia’s most enduring images.
WALK UP THE HILL ACROSS KELLY DRIVE INTO FAIRMOUNT PARK AND LEMON HILL DRIVE.
Lemon Hill Avenue above Boathouse Row
The estate was known in 1770 as The Hills, and from that year until 1799 it was the home of Robert Morris, Declaration of Independence signer, and a major financier of the Revolution. Morris built a greenhouse on the property, one of the first such in the country. He later went bankrupt due to his land speculations, and Henry Pratt, a Philadelphia merchant, purchased the main part of the property at a sheriff’s sale in 1799. Pratt constructed the stucco house with granite trim and planted lemon that came to define the property. When Pratt died in 1838 the City purchased the estate as the first of the mansions in Fairmount Park.
RETURN TO KELLY DRIVE AND BACKTRACK TO FAIRMOUNT AVENUE. TURN LEFT.
Fidelity Mutual Life Insurance Company Building
Fairmount and Pennsylvania avenues
Zantzinger, Borie, and Medary designed this building with its monumental entrance arch after the Philadelphia Museum of Art for the Fidelity Mutual Life Insurance Company in 1926. The naturalistic carvings adorning the building were sculpted by Lee Lawrie. The Museum of Art came calling in 2007 and opened an expansion in the building that sported the same architectural pedigree as its own.
Eastern State Penitentiary
N. 22nd Street and Fairmount Avenue
Eastern State Penitentiary has been called the most influential building constructed in the United States. When Eastern State opened in 1829, visitors from around the world marveled at the medieval fortress created by John Havilland. But it was the Quaker-inspired belief that solitary confinement could reform criminals that made Cherry Hill Penitentiary, as it was then called, a model for prison design. An estimated 300 prisons on four continents are based on Eastern’s distinctive “wagon-wheel” floor plan. Once the most expensive building in the United States, Eastern State was finally abandoned in 1971 after 142 years in use. A National Historic Landmark, the prison is open for tours that include include a restored 19th-century cell, the warden’s office, several cellblocks, exercise yards, death row and critically acclaimed art installations.
WALK SOUTH ON 22ND STREET. TURN RIGHT ON GREEN STREET.
2201-5 Green Street
This Renaissance Revival mansion was built in 1889 for People’s Bank president William Kemble and later bought by the Bergdolls whose brewery on Girard Avenue was one of Philadelphia’s largest and best known. Prohibition in 1920 caused the brewery to go out of business. The brownstone house was designed by James A. Windrim.
2223 Green Street
This Green Street rowhouse with the unusual brick and tile facade was designed by Willis Gaylord Hale. It was one of several in the area owned by the Fleisher family, wealthy textile manufacturers and one of several on the block done by Hale, a Seneca Falls, New York native known for his flamboyant designs.
St. Francis Xavier Church
northeast corner of 24th and Green streets
This impressive Romanesque house of worship, with its 152-foot tower, is the oldest church in the neighborhood. Dedication took place on December 18, 1898; the parish itself began in 1839.
TURN LEFT ON 24TH STREET AND TURN LEFT ON PENNSYLVANIA AVENUE. TURN LEFT ON HAMILTON STREET. TURN RIGHT ON 20TH STREET.
Reading Company Grain Elevator
411 North 20th Street
Philadelphia was once a distribution center for grain grown in the farmlands of Pennsylvania. For a long time grain elevators were a common sight in the city, but only this one remains. The Reading Company Grain Elevator was built in 1925, replacing a predecessor that had stood since the Civil War but was leveled in a grain explosion. The hulking grey structure was designed by staff architects of the Reading Railroad and was built using a continuous poured in place concrete process. Grain was delivered by wagon to the entrance then stored in the silos until it was loaded onto trains and taken to the Port Richmond on the Delaware River. Abandoned in the 1950s, the building was purchased in 1976 by an interior designer, who converted the lower floors into offices. The silos were left untouched, but the machinery towers were transformed into a penthouse apartment. The site was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1982.
CONTINUE TO THE BENJAMIN FRANKLIN PARKWAY AND RETURN TO THE TOUR STARTING POINT.