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A Virtual Walking Tour of Philadelphia – Love Park and the Ben Franklin Parkway

A Virtual Walking Tour of Philadelphia – Love Park and the Ben Franklin Parkway

It’s not the only LOVE sculpture, and it’s not the first, there are a couple dozen around the country. It’s a work of the Pop Art movement, and like Andy Warhol’s thousands of Marilyn Monroes, mass production is kind of the point. There’s another one across the Schuylkill on the University of Pennsylvania’s campus, in fact.

Still the sculpture means something special to Philadelphia. The LOVE sculpture was installed here for the city’s Bicentennial celebration in 1976, and it was originally meant to be temporary, but people made such a stink when it was taken away that a local businessman bought it and donated it back to the city.

It means something special to Philadelphia because of the name the city’s founder, William Penn – that guy we put on top of City Hall – gave to his city, literally in Greek “The City of Brotherly Love”. But just as the good Quaker William Penn might squirm at the thought of being a 36-foot bronze statue, he also wouldn’t know what to make of this grand boulevard, the Ben Franklin Parkway, leading out from Love Park.

When William Penn planned out this city, all the streets would be evenly spaced and they would all meet at right angles. There’s a certain Quaker logic to this: it means that no view would stand-out more than any other, just like no good Quaker should try to stand above another. Even when William Penn designated the Central Square as the site for all the public buildings of the city, he expected them to be built around the square, with the focal point at the intersection of Broad and Market Streets to be left as empty parkland.

Well, Philadelphia was no longer a Quaker City when then City Hall was built, and it was no longer a Quaker City when the Parkway was laid out in 1917. With a grand City Hall in the French Second Empire style, the city decided it needed a grand French boulevard in the style of the Champs Elysees. This was a product of the City Beautiful movement, when these kinds of boulevards were popping up all across the country, with the idea that they would inspire civic virtue and the appreciation of beauty in the populace.

Commanding the Parkway on one end is City Hall with its Statue of William Penn, on the other end is the Museum of Art with its famous steps and a statue of that other great Philadelphian, Sylvester Stallone. Take a seat on the Museum’s steps and you’ll see dozens of people blowing past you imitating Rocky’s famous run. There’s even a statue of him in the bushes to the side of the museum – the one that was placed at the top of the steps at the end of Rocky III. Like the LOVE sculpture it was meant to be temporary, and like the LOVE sculpture many residents wanted to keep it permanently. Unlike the LOVE sculpture though, just as many residents thought it was unseemly too keep a movie prop in front of an art museum. In the end, after a lot of wrangling, a compromise was reached and the statue was put in the bushes.

The Parkway was planned as a place for cultural institutions in the city, and in addition the Art Museum there’s the main Public Library, the Cathedral, the Franklin Institute, one of the world’s premier science museums, the Academy of Natural Sciences, which houses the bones of the Hadrosaurus Foulkii, the first dinosaur ever discovered with enough bones intact that scientists actually knew what it looked like, and the Barnes Foundation, one of the greatest collections of modernist painting. Even the Mormons have begun building a temple on the Parkway, which from its plans looks like it will end up looking like a gleaming white version of Independence Hall.