Franklin Square (Philadelphia)
The Fountain is at the center of the park; the carousel can be seen on the left (2013)
|Location||Race, N. 6th and N. 7th Streets
|Area||7.5 acres (3.0 ha)|
|MPS||Four Public Squares of Philadelphia TR|
|NRHP Reference #||81000556|
|Added to NRHP||September 14, 1981|
Franklin Square is one of the five original open-space parks planned by William Penn when he laid out the city of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania in 1682. It is located in the Center City area of the city, between North 6th Street and North 7th Streets and Race Street and the Vine Street Expressway (I-676).
The park went through a period of deterioration, but was refurbished and revitalized in 2006. It is now managed by Historic Philadelphia, a non-profit organization.
Franklin Square was added to the National Register of Historic Places (NRHP) in 1981.
Originally called North East Publick Square, Franklin Square was renamed in 1825 to honor Benjamin Franklin, one of the Founding Fathers of the United States. In its early years, the square was an open common used for grazing animals, storing gunpowder during the American Revolution and drilling soldiers during the War of 1812. From 1741 to 1835, a portion of the Square was used as a cemetery by the German Reform Church; some of the graves still remain, marked by a plaque.
In the 19th and early 20th centuries, Franklin Square was at the center of a fashionable residential neighborhood, but beginning in the 1920s, a series of events corresponding with the rise of the automobile began the decline of the Square and its surrounding neighborhood. The construction of the Ben Franklin Bridge, from 1922–26, leveled blocks of row homes, shops and other structures; the Bridge begins at the Square’s eastern boundary, 6th Street. The steady flow of cars over the bridge made Franklin Square’s northern boundary, Vine Street, into one of the city’s busiest thoroughfares, effectively cutting off pedestrian access on two of the Square's sides.
In 1961, writer Jane Jacobs labeled Franklin Square a "skid row park," a description that fit for decades. The neighborhood’s residential character was further eroded when the Federal government established Independence Mall. The government acquired private land around the Square in the 1950s and 1960s and demolished blocks of homes and other buildings. The construction of the Vine Street Expressway in the late 1980s exacerbated the problem. Franklin Square became the least-used of Penn’s original five squares, and served mainly an encampment for the homeless.
From 2003 to 2006 the park was refurbished by Historic Philadelphia, Inc. – a non-profit company responsible for the Betsy Ross House and several other historical sites – in a $5.5 million project paid for primarily by a grant from the state of Pennsylvania. It was reopened and rededicated on July 31, 2006, in Franklin’s tercentenary year. The revitalized park contains a number of family-friendly attractions.
Recent development around Franklin Square has included new housing in the Northern Liberties neighborhood to its north and the redevelopment of the shuttered Metropolitan Hospital as a condominium project. As a result, pedestrian traffic has increased dramatically.
On May 20, 2009, Delaware River Port Authority (DRPA) Chairman John Estey announced that the DRPA would renovate and modernize the PATCO Speedline subway station under Franklin Square. The Franklin Square station was closed in 1979, but is now slated to be upgraded and made compliant with the Americans With Disabilities Act. No opening date has been set.
Bolt of Lightning
Local legend maintains that Franklin Square is where Benjamin Franklin conducted his famous, though misunderstood, "kite and key" experiment in 1752. However, it would have been unlikely that Franklin would have flown a kite near a cemetery, and not all that far from possible observers from town. The legend is memorialized in Isamu Noguchi’s Bolt of Lightning... A Memorial to Benjamin Franklin, a 101-foot tall, 60-ton stainless steel sculpture commissioned by the Fairmount Park Art Association and costing $850,000. It was erected in 1984 in Monument Plaza at the base of the Ben Franklin Bridge, facing the Square across 6th Street, a location personally chosen by Noguchi.
Noguchi had first proposed the sculpture in 1933, but the idea was rejected then as being too radical. The sculpture, which depicts a kite, a bolt of lightning and a key, is not universally admired. In 1984, the Philadelphia Inquirer said about it:
It shrinks in its plaza before the bridge, inaccessible to pedestrians and, for motorists, a sliver out-dazzled by a parade of billboards announcing the sizzle of Atlantic City. It is a crumpled, bent-can of a sculpture, in the end, a symbol more of the dispirited swatch of Vine Street it concludes; a propped-up monument to a city that, like Rodney Dangerfield, has had — and, with this piece of art, may continue to have — one tough time getting respect.
- The Franklin Square Fountain was built in 1838, but fell into disrepair by the late 1970s and was turned off. It was refurbished and repaired during the park's restoration. The fence and stone work of the fountain are original.
- The Parx [sic] Liberty Carousel is located just northwest of the Fountain. Many of the carousel's animals recall Philadelphia's historical heritage.
- Philly Mini Golf, located north of the Fountain, is the only miniature golf course in Center City. The holes are based on some of the city's best-known tourist spots, such as Elfreth's Alley, the Ben Franklin Bridge, and the Liberty Bell.
- In 1976, the city dedicated the Living Flame Memorial, which honors the city's fallen police officers and firefighters. It centers on a sculpture by local sculptor Reginald E. Beauchamp. The memorial is unusual in being one of the few to honor the two groups together. A design competition was held in 2011 to choose a design for a replacement memorial.
- Two playgrounds, one for younger children, and the other for older ones, are located in the park's southeast quadrant.
- A food vendor, SquareBurger, is located near the Fountain.
- "National Register Information System". National Register of Historic Places. National Park Service. 2007-01-23.
- "Visitor Information" on the Historic Philadelphia website
- Lapp, Alison. "Forgotten Philly square gets a facelift — and carousel" USA Today (August 7, 2006)
- Franklin Square PATCO stop to be reopened, Philadelphia Inquirer, May 21, 2009
- Museum of Science, Boston. "Franklin's Kite". Accessed 5 November 2008.
- Descriptive marker on the site
- Mendte, Larry. "The Ugliest Piece of Art in Philadelphia" Philadelphia (June 13, 2010)
- "Lightning Bolt" on the USHistory.org website
- "Bolt of Lightning … A Memorial to Benjamin Franklin" on the Visit Philly website
- "Franklin Square:History" on the Historic Philadelphia website
- "Franklin Square: What To See" on the Historic Philadelphia website
- "Philadelphia Squares – Franklin Square". Fairmount Park Commission. Archived from the original on 2006-06-18. Retrieved 2006-07-27.
- "Philadelphia Squares – Franklin Square". www.ushistory.org. Retrieved 2006-07-27.
- "Forlorn Franklin Park". Philadelphia City Paper. Retrieved 2006-07-27.
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