Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Good Guy Loses on the Mall

It's not every day that the chiefs of the two ruling Philadelphia tribes - politics and trade unions - come out to mark the passing of a building. Then again, the gathering on Monday in front of Mitchell/Giurgola's 1976 Liberty Bell pavilion was really more of an occasion to thump chests and do a unity dance around the funeral pyre. Everyone was there: Gov. Rendell, Congressman Brady, Mayor Street, U.S. District Court Judge Edward Becker (a Republican!), the electricians' Johnny Doc, uber-union chief Pat Gillespie and eight other union leaders. Even Philadelphia head plunger, Edward Keenan of Plumbers Local 690, attended, after making sure no one was trying to install any waterless urinals on the mall.

The politicians and building trades hated the old Independence Mall, and with good reason. It was sterile and barren. Plus, a complete overhaul guaranteed years of construction work. What they hated most about the mall, though, was the swoopy glass curves of the bell pavilion. Its crime was daring to be modern on a colonial stage-set. So when the U.S. Park Service cried poverty and said it couldn't afford to tear it down, the unions offered to do it for them, gratis. The union chiefs and pols generously patted themselves on the backs for their effort. And just to make sure no one got the wrong idea about their motivations, Pat Gillespie took pains to assure the sparse crowd that the dismantlement would be done right: "We're going to do it legit. We promise," Gillespie said. Does mean no overtime charges?

Of course, as with most Philadelphia ground breakings, no ground was broken Monday. Which was a good thing, from our point of view. Someday, we'll have to face the person who asks: So tell us again why you had to demolish the best building on the mall? And we'll have answer: You see, we had to destroy the axis to preserve the axis. For what it's worth, the pavilion's stone and wood will be saved and sent to Anchorage, Alaska's Unity Park, a garden being designed to promote unity, diversity, freedom, and all good things. They just wanted to hold onto to a piece of Romaldo Giurgola's old pavilion. Philadelphians will have to remember in a different way. Starting April 19, an exhibit charting the design evolution of the bell pavilion will open at Penn Archives, in the Furness Library. Enter from 34th Street.


Blogger mark said...

I'm not all that upset about the Liberty Bell Pavillions removal, to me its didn't seem to quite connect with it's surroundings.

Now two entire blocks of barren wasteland between Independence Hall and The Constitution Center, that bothers me.

Why not do something with that real estate? This isn't Washington, people aren't going to be wowed by being able to see the Constitution Center from Independence Hall.

Why not replicate a series of Elfreth's Alley on that empty stretch. You could build a mini neighborhood of 1 story houses and shops that connect the two landmarks instead of having the current monotonous lonely voyage. Plus it gives the unions some more construction work.

11:11 AM  
Blogger Arthur J. Petrella said...

liberty bell pavillion
although the pavillion was the essence of good desing, it enclosed and at the same time opened a visual link between the hall and the bell. I always thought i looked cheap, i.e., mostly because the meaterials seemed cheap,

12:22 PM  
Anonymous Paul Tioxon said...

I am 4th generation citizen of this city. I have worked at the Curtis Building during thr mid 1970's. I recall well the park across the street with benches where I could eat a hoagie the size of my arm and watch school children and tourist line up. I remember seeing the famed director John Houston, sit anonomously on the stoop of Independence Hall facing Market St. He was filming an all star Bi-Centenial production. And I remember when they brought the Liberty Bell out of its veiled seculsion, to be on 25/7 viewing. I believe the point was not that it was or was not modern, but its 4 glass walls allowed you visual access. I seem to remember Mort Krim, a local TV news anchor, recording some historical snippents which would broadcast at the touch of a button on the outside of the building. I had a friend from out of town who had never seen the Liberty Bell, although he spent many years going to school here. On the way to airport, in the middle of the night, parked by the curb your could see the lighted relic. That was really the point, a transparent pedestal for our heritage. It was what was in the content, clearly visible night and day not the container that I or most people noticed. That was the point.

12:28 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Oh god, no more fake re-creations of colonial times! Spare us, we are not Williamsburg. We should preserve our inventory where possible, and forge ahead with new visions elsewhere. No More Crap!

12:30 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I know! How about some giant multi-story parking garages on the mall? Wouldn't that just be the ultimate urban iconography? Historic relic and convenient parking right across the street. Those quasi-museums didn't do the trip of making the space user friendly -- just giant civic versions of McMansions.

I would like to see what designs might be created by some elementary school students. Bet they could come up with something fabulous.

9:14 PM  
Blogger bobgantor said...

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12:30 PM  
Blogger bobgantor said...

It's just a shame that they couldn't at least find some place to store the building, perhaps reconstructing it somewhere, like perhaps in Centennial district in the future.
I can understand they're desire to complete the vista, the master plan that has been in the workds for decades...much like the masions that were originally destroyed to make room for the first version of the mall, this too will be lamented and then eventually forgotten.
Just tired of Politicians and the like trumpeting and patting themselves on the back for doing they're jobs.
photo-op anyone??

12:32 PM  
Blogger Stealth43 said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

1:49 PM  
Blogger Stealth43 said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

1:54 PM  
Blogger Stealth43 said...

From a purely asthetic standpoint, I believe that it was the right decision, though of course,(as with anything politicians have their hands in) it wasn't necessarily done for the right reasons. I believe that modern, post-modern, and classical architecture can coexist peacefully, even harmoniously, but at least in this case, and immho, the execution failed, and while we could debate the merits of the LBP architecturally all day long, the simple fact is that Independce hall has been around slighty longer, and would be a bit more impractical to move ;)

As for there being "two blocks of barren wasteland", I simply must object to that statement. It isnt requisite to fill every inch of every block with buildings, however pleasing they might be architecturally. Remember the value of negative space? It allows us to more deeply comprehend the whole. A competent landscape architect, (something increasingly rare these days) would do wonders with the area. Imagine an extension of the park on which Independence Hall sits, with tall trees, and wooden benches. Simple yet elegant. Faced on one end by the aforementioned, and on the other by The Constitution Center.

any thoughts or disagreement? my email is

1:56 PM  

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