Independence Mall (Philadelphia)
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|Neighborhood of Philadelphia|
Independence Mall in 2012, looking south from the National Constitution Center.
|Area code(s)||Area code 215|
Independence Mall is a three-block section of Independence National Historical Park (INHP) in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. It lies directly north of Independence Hall, and is bounded by Chestnut, Race, 5th and 6th Streets. The south block is called the First Block, the middle block is called the Second Block, and the north block is called the Third Block.
Buildings and structures on the Mall include the National Constitution Center (3rd block); the Independence Visitor Center and the Free Quaker Meetinghouse (2nd Block); and the President's House Memorial and the Liberty Bell Center (1st Block). A multi-level underground parking garage lies beneath much of the Second Block, and a small open-air café opened on the east side of the block in 2008. Public restrooms and the "Peoples' Plaza" (First Amendment Area) are located on the First Block.
Buildings surrounding the Mall include Congress Hall, Independence Hall, and Old City Hall to the south; the Philadelphia Bourse, the National Museum of American Jewish History, Christ Church Burial Ground, and the Philadelphia Mint to the east; the approach to the Benjamin Franklin Bridge to the north; and WHYY-TV, the Federal Reserve Bank of Philadelphia, the James A. Byrne Federal Courthouse, and the Rohm & Haas Building to the west.
Independence Mall was the idea of architect Roy F. Larson, and was strongly backed by the Independence Hall Association and its president, Judge Edwin O. Lewis. In 1947, as a national park was being assembled around Independence Hall, Lewis advocated that the federal government purchase the three blocks north of the historic building for the park. The National Park Service (NPS) was only interested in purchasing the First Block. His plan rejected, Lewis took the idea of a three-block mall to the Pennsylvania General Assembly, convincing legislators to build it as a state park and a monument to Pennsylvanians who had died in World War II.
Independence Mall State Park was created in the 1950s with the intention that the land would eventually be turned over to the NPS, and become part of Independence National Historical Park. Funded by 40-year state bonds, its construction was a joint venture between Pennsylvania and the City of Philadelphia, and was overseen by Edmund Bacon, director of the Philadelphia City Planning Commission. A couple hundred 18th-, 19th-, and 20th-century buildings were purchased and demolished for the project. Among these were the surviving walls of the President's House – the "White House" of George Washington and John Adams during the decade (1790-1800) that Philadelphia served as the temporary national capital. The only building not demolished was the Free Quaker Meetinghouse at the southwest corner of 5th & Arch Streets. It was relocated 30 feet to the west, so that 5th Street could be widened.
The First Block was landscaped with a 100-foot wide center lawn from the Chestnut Street sidewalk to the Market Street sidewalk. To the east and west of this were rows of oak trees and terraced plazas, providing benches and shade.
Responsibility and maintenance for the Mall was turned over to INHP in 1974, and the last of the land was deeded over to NPS in the 1990s.
The first building built on the Mall by the federal government was the Liberty Bell Pavilion, which housed the Liberty Bell from January 1, 1976 to October 9, 2003. The pavilion was demolished in 2006.
An extensive redesign of the Mall was undertaken in the 1990s and 2000s. All the structures except the Free Quaker Meetinghouse were demolished. The major buildings constructed were the National Constitution Center (2003) on the Third Block, the Independence Visitor Center (2001) on the Second Block, and the Liberty Bell Center (2003) on the First Block.
- Constance M. Greiff, Independence: The Creation of a National Park (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1987).
- Inga Saffron, "Changing skyline: Adding coffee to the culture," The Philadelphia Inquirer, July 4, 2008.
- Larson's original plan was a for a 5-block mall, extending from Chestnut to Callowhill Streets, and incorporating the approaches to the Benjamin Franklin Bridge. Roy F. Larson map (1937) from Bryn Mawr College.
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