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.