Art Travelogues

Walking Around Philadelphia

The nice thing about Philadelphia is it’s of a very manageable size for walking. It’s a “full featured” town that has all the amenities and attractions, yet you can get to all the good stuff just on foot. Last week we spent a couple of days there, and in addition to the murals here are some of the other sights.

We started out at City Hall. It’s an incredibly elaborate building in the high style of the 19th century. Under renovation for several years, it’s been cleaned up a lot since I last saw it. The tower positively shone in the sun.

As we walked through the center courtyard my friend (who has this great way of drawing people out) asked a security guard about exploring the inside. He gave us the skinny on tours, as well as a great deal of good historical background.

As we continued walking and making plans to get there the next day, here’s this enigmatic little piece on street level as you walk lengthwise through it.

No plaques, no explanations, just a hallway with two unmarked doors on either side, decorated with these lavish pink granite columns and carved stone capitals. The capitals of the four columns depict people of four continents, Europe, Asia, Africa and North America, holding up the ceiling. Along the walls, smaller sculptures depict children of those same continents. This being the 19th century and all, the laborers are separate but equal. Over the four doorways are carved heads of representative large animals — elk, lion, bear.

This is all fairly obvious if you look at it for a few minutes. But we just couldn’t figure out why.

As befitting any incredibly elaborate civic building, there are lots of sculptures. At Philadelphia City Hall, they were done almost entirely by Alexander Calder. No, not that Alexander Calder, his grandfather. Here are some bas reliefs that are near the east-west axis.

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We took some pictures from the tower, naturally; but they’re not especially informative so I’m not going to include them here. On the way back down we decided to break off from the officially designated tour route and see what else we could see inside.

But alas, it was not meant to be. Just as we were about to make our move to an area we had spotted from the outside the day before, we heard the dreaded, “may I help you.” So that was that.

Immediately adjacent to City Hall is Love Park. I don’t know if that’s the official name or not, but this is why it’s called that:

[A confession: A couple of the letters were chipped, or had gum stuck to them, or something. I’ve photoshopped them up for your viewing pleasure. I know, I know, it detracts from the gritty realism of it all, but it just looked kind of bad.]

Once a Mecca for skateboarders, Love Park is heavily policed now so the kids don’t get to use it much. My son A. used to love to go down there and grind on the various benches and borders. You can still see the skid marks along the edges of much of it. Right next to Love Park is a great example of art deco Philadelphia:

And just a block away, another example with beautiful glazed tile on the facade. This material is also used under the windows up near the top, visible from the tower.

Walking up northwest towards Logan Circle, there’s a lovely fountain with more sculptures by Calder the elder.

And finally up at Eakins Oval near the Museum is a grandiose monument to George Washington. This is truly a wonderful piece of civic statuary, it shouldn’t be missed. There’s an incredible amount of detail, and executed with artistry.

Just one small example, the head of the native American depicted above. His gaze is intense.

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