On Thank Goodness Thursdays, we like to revisit previous plans and projects and consider just how lucky Philadelphia is that they did or didn’t happen. Can you imagine Philadelphia without City Hall? Or maybe with just its tower left standing? It sounds a little post-apocalyptic now, but this was a thought championed by Philadelphia’s leadership in the mid-20th century.
Many Philadelphians were outraged by the high cost of construction and how long it took to build City Hall. By the time it was completed in 1901, the Second Empire style of City Hall was passé. The style only seemed more antiquated (as did the interior layout and capacity) as the 20th Century progressed. Demolition seemed like a great idea that would remove this ugly monstrosity and make room for a lovely traffic circle right in the middle of Center City. Both Paul Cret and Vincent Kling came up with designs (more in this great article by GroJLart). Thankfully, City Hall was just too well built and the costs were too high to make demolition feasible.
One idea about City Hall from a previous plan that we really love is using the first floor of City Hall for public uses. The 1988 The Plan for Center City states, “The squalor at the street level of City Hall mocks the grandeur of the structure and the public’s respect and obvious love for City Hall Tower.The interior spaces on the ground floor of City Hall are dark, ineffectively used, and poorly maintained. Today, the most active uses of the open space around City Hall have become hawking, parking, sleeping, and urinating. The Plan envisions Penn Square as an exciting and vital public meeting place, the first stop for visitors to Philadelphia, and a popular destination for Center City workers and residents.” Now with the transformation of Dilworth Plaza well underway and the restoration of the exterior of City Hall complete, the picture is not so dim.
However, as the Central District Plan is underway should the Planning Commission resurrect the ideas of the 1988 plan to enliven the first floor of City Hall with such uses as a public performance space, a library, exhibit spaces, a museum shop and bookstore, a ticket booth, a restaurant, currency exchange, and public bathrooms? The numerous doorways into City Hall certainly make creating discrete uses along its first floor easier then needing to blast though thick stone to make new entrances. We hope to hear your thoughts on Center City at our upcoming public meetings on October 22nd and 25th.
The Central District Plan Team recently went to the top of City Hall Tower to view our domain - we mean get better perspective of the district – and we recommend it for everyone. The tower tour is only $6 for adults and the full tour of City Hall is $12. Here are some photos from our visit to the tower: