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History of the Parkway

From Building the City Beautiful:

“The special place that the parkway holds in the imagination of Philadelphians probably owes something to its long and turbulent birthing period. Talked about ever since the Civil War, the actual making of the new avenue occupied Philadelphia for the first third of the twentieth century. Other American cities were planning similar projects during the same years, creating what was called the “city beautiful” movement, America's first important contribution to urban design.

At the core of the “city beautiful” movement in city planning was a “model of an orderly, classical metropolis, crisscrossed by boulevards and dominated by stately groups of public buildings.”

“But while progress on the parkway was slow and dogged at every step by the political skirmishing of the Reform era, it was one of the few such projects to be completed. Philadelphia could rightly claim to have met the urban challenges of the new era, sundering the grid of William Penn’s city with a grand diagonal boulevard that bespoke the energy of the twentieth century.”

A timeline of the Benjamin Franklin Parkway’s development:

  • 1858: Philadelphia’s City Council proposed two boulevards to run between the suburbs and the center of the city.

  • 1864: The Cathedral of Saints Peter and Paul was completed, at 18th Street and Logan Square. (Napoleon Le Brun, architect)

  • 1876: The Academy of Natural Sciences opened its doors at 19th and the Parkway, following 64 years in other Philadelphia locations. (James T. Windrim, architect)
  • 1885: Friends Select School opened at 17th and the Parkway
  • 1891: City Council received the first proposal of a Parkway, along with a petition signed by 500 citizens. The proposal called for a 160-foot wide road connecting center city to Fairmount Park.

  • 1892: The Council unanimously passed a bill to begin plans for building what was then referred to as the Fairmount Parkway.

  • 1901: Philadelphia’s City Hall was completed after 30 years of construction. City Hall remains the largest and tallest masonry building in the world, and the largest municipal building in the U.S. (John McArthur, John Ord and W. Bleddyn Powell, architects)

  • 1907: A Parkway plan developed by Horace Trumbauer, Clarence Zantzinger and Paul P. Crét for the Fairmount Park Art Association envisioned: “ a direct, dignified and interesting approach from the heart of the business and administrative quarter of the city, through the region of educational activities grouped around Logan Square, to the artistic center to be developed around the Fairmount Plaza, at the entrance to Philadelphia’s largest and most beautiful park.”

    After years of starts and stops, ground was finally broken for the Fairmount Parkway. Over the next several years, numerous buildings and homes were demolished to make way for the Parkway, amid much public and legal debate.

  • 1917: The Fairmount Park Commissioners adopted a formal Parkway design plan by Jacques Gréber, a prominent figure in urban planning and design. In the Gréber plan, two linear segments of the boulevard were designed with Logan Square as the central anchor. The wider portion runs from the Philadelphia Museum of Art to Logan Square, while the narrower proceeds from Logan Square to City Hall. Parkway construction officially began this year, ten years after the groundbreaking.

  • 1918: Philadelphia's Evening Public Ledger declares: "Uninterrupted Parkway at last leads from City Hall to Fairmount's entrance." (November 16, 1918 issue)
  • 1924: The Swann Memorial Fountain was completed, as the centerpiece of Logan Square and the Parkway. The fountain was named for Dr. Wilson Cary Swann, founder of the Philadelphia Fountain Society, and was designed by sculptor Alexander Stirling Calder. The fountain’s three Native American statues represent the Schuylkill River, the Delaware River, and the Wissahickon Creek.

  • 1925: Insurance Company of North America opened its headquarters at 16th and the Parkway. (Emlyn L. Stewardson and George B. Page, architects)

  • 1926: The Fairmount Parkway construction is considered “complete.”

  • 1927: The main branch of the Free Library of Philadelphia opened its doors on the north side of Logan Square. (Horace Trumbauer, architect)

  • 1928: The first section of the Pennsylvania Museum was opened, at 26th St. and the Parkway. The institution was renamed the Philadelphia Museum of Art ten years later. (Charles Borie, Horace Trumbauer, and Clarence Zantzinger, architects) The Fidelity Mutual Life Insurance Company building (later known as the Reliance Standard Life Insurance building) was opened at 25th and the Parkway, adjacent to the Art Museum. Currently owned by the City of Philadelphia and called the Ruth and Raymond G. Perelman Building, it is the future home of Philadelphia Museum of Art collections. (Clarence Zantzinger, Charles Borie and Milton Medary, architects)

  • 1929: The Rodin Museum opened at 22nd and the Parkway. (Paul Crét and Jacques Gréber, architects)

  • 1930: The Boy Scouts of America, Philadelphia Council opened their building at 22nd and Winter Streets. (Charles Z. Klauder, architect)

  • 1932: The School Administration Building opened at 21st and Winter Streets, just west of the Franklin Institute. (Irwin T. Catherine, architect)

  • 1934: The Franklin Institute officially opened its new building at 20th and the Parkway, following 110 years of existence in 2 other Philadelphia locations. (John T. Windrim, architect) The Franklin Memorial, with its imposing statue by James Earle Fraser, was dedicated in 1938.

  • 1937: The name of the Fairmount Parkway was officially changed to honor the city’s most celebrated adopted son, Benjamin Franklin. Sulfur lamps were installed along the side of the Parkway, illuminating the boulevard for the first time at night.

  • 1941: The Municipal Court building (now the Family Court) was dedicated on the north side of Logan Square, just east of the Free Library. (John T. Windrim, architect)

  • 1952: The Youth Study Center was constructed at 20th and the Parkway. (J. Roy Carroll, John Grisdale and William Van Alen, architects)

  • 1959: Moore College of Art & Design moves to its new campus on the south side of 20th & the Parkway.

  • 2000: Moore College of Art & Design opens Wilson Hall, expanding its campus on the Parkway.

  • 2007: Philadelphia Museum of Art’s newly renovated and expanded Ruth and Raymond G. Perelman Building opened at Pennsylvania and Fairmount Avenues, across from the Museum’s main building.

  • 2009: The Youth Study Center was demolished to make way for the Barnes Foundation.

  • 2012: The Barnes Foundation opens on the Parkway, between 20th and 21st Streets.

  • 2017-18: The Parkway Council led a 14-month celebration of the Parkway's Centennial ("Parkway 100"), kicking off on September 8, 2017, and concluding on October 26, 2018, the actual date, 100 years prior, when a car could traverse the Parkway, end-to-end.


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