Camp Martin Travels

These entries will be a combination of historical day trips, graduate level travel courses, and just little stops along the way. I have been teaching 8th grade American History for over 25 years. I am also a Civil War Reenactor and have traveled to Germany and Austria with several groups of exchange students and written about our adventures. Please check all my posts by using the monthly Blog Archive tabs shown below. I have posted over 150 Blog Episodes since 2009... Please explore them all!

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Phila. / City Hall

Round About Philly Series
Philadelphia's City Hall

Welcome back campers!  Today we are off to the City of Brotherly Love! My wife was called to federal jury duty and she wanted me to come along for the ride.  A full day of me, myself, and I... exploring the city without kids. (Sorry)  I was free, at least until my wife was released and called my cell to end my adventure.  I decided to get off familiar Independence Mall and head deeper into the city.  A building that has always caught my eye is the City Hall building located directly in the original city's center.  Let's go find it...   

The building is striking to the eye, out of place with the modern skyscrapers that surround it.  I like how the traffic patterns round the building, which disrupts the criss-cross grid of busy streets.  The position of the building designated it as the center of the city, like the middle of a compass rose on a map.  The space was originally set aside by William Penn as one of the five spaces he reserved for a park within the young city's plan.  The entire structure is like one gigantic marble monument resembling something historic transported from Europe.  It kind of reminds me of the White City of Gondor from Tolkien's Lord of the Rings trilogy.

The official style of the architecture of the grand building is the French Second-Empire style that was widely used at the turn of the century for government buildings.  The building was designed by Scottish architect John McArthur Jr. and adorned with sculptures by artist Alexander Milne Calder who also created the statue of William Penn on top of the structure's tower.  When it was built, the intent of the tower was to make Philadelphia's City Hall the tallest building in the world but it was first surpassed by the Washington Monument in Washington D.C. and later the Eiffel Tower in Paris as it was being constructed.  However, for eight years it reigned as the tallest occupied structure in the United States until the Singer Building was completed in New York City in 1909. 

City Hall by the Numbers
  • Building took 30 years to complete 1871-1901
  • Cost to construct City Hall was 25 million dollars
  • Final cost was more than 3 times the original estimate
  • Structure contains over 88 million bricks and 695 rooms
  • Building's floor space covers 260,000 square feet 
  • Contains 30 individual courtrooms used for civil trials
  • 250 sculptures adorn the building including William Penn
  • The base weight bearing walls are 22 + feet thick
  • In 1891 the building contained 10,400 electric lights

The exterior of the building was amazing to explore, almost a city within a city.  The center of the complex opens up to an expansive courtyard buzzing with activity.  People criss-crossed through the four pedestrian tunnel openings as a shortcut to continue their way along Market and Broad Streets. The ground beneath my feet occasionally rumbled as subway trains ran below. The building itself is the size of four city blocks (4.5 acres) and today remains the largest municipal building in the United States.  In fact, it is larger than the Capitol Building in Washington D.C.  It also holds the distinction as the tallest freestanding masonry building in the world.  

The building of City Hall was the most controversial construction project in the city's history.  It is often called "The Marble Elephant" and "The Monumental Folly" because of the twenty-five million dollar price tag and thirty years of ongoing construction. It is the most expensive municipal building ever constructed in the United States.  It took so long to build, the designs were constantly altered to make room for new technological advances such as elevators and electricity that had to be incorporated into the final plans. It took five years for workers to chisel the holes for electric wiring.  Rumors of corruption, bribes and scandals tainted the building's reputation before it was ever officially occupied.  

The structure continues to be the home for the Mayor's office, City Council, and the Court of the Common Pleas.  The building continues to be controversial as it has become outdated and is in need of repairs.  In 1993 a consulting firm estimated the cost to update the building would exceed 175 million dollars.  In 1987 the tower was reinforced at a cost of 25 million dollars.  One of the biggest problems facing the building was caused by some uninvited visitors.  pigeon squatters were taking up residence in many of the building's exterior nooks and crannies.  Pigeons and their guano (poop) can damage buildings.  In 1993 the city contracted a company to remove an estimated 37 tons of guano from the structure.  Today much of the building is encased in black netting to prevent pigeons from roosting and a pair of falcons now live in the tower to control the local pigeon population. 

Later we will venture up 500 feet in the tower to get a 360-degree view of the city from the observation deck at the feet of William Penn's statue. 

Please See My Additional Photos of City Hall at...

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