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William Penn’s Emancipation Finally Complete

August 24, 2011

Philadelphia City Hall

Tourists and local aesthetes alike can now admire the architectural marvel that is Philadelphia’s City Hall without obstruction. As of this week, the building is free of scaffolding for the first time since the 1980s, when a painstaking restoration effort began. The scaffolding first went on as a safety measure, but local activists, including 76ers great Julius Irving, quickly began a private fundraising effort to rehabilitate City Hall’s tower sufficiently to remove the eyesore. Most visible of those efforts were the $1 buttons sold at Reading Terminal Market proclaiming, “Free William Penn.” Ultimately, the scaffolding did come off, but ended up migrating around the building as the rest of City Hall was restored. The process is now close enough to completion that the last of the scaffolding is gone.

Free William Penn button
These buttons were sold at Reading Terminal Market to help fund restoration of the iconic statue atop City Hall.

An impending companion upgrade is the total overhaul of City Hall’s Dilworth Plaza—from a cratered concrete slab to a vast green space, courtesy of Philadelphia’s own Field Operations, the firm that designed the beautiful new Race Street Pier and New York City’s acclaimed High Line Park. Also just arrived to beautify the beating heart of Center City is Claes Oldenburg’s massive “Paint Torch” sculpture, which graces the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts’s Lenfest Plaza. The idea is that the piece will help draw people across North Broad Street, from the recently completed convention center expansion to the cultural corridor of the Benjamin Franklin Parkway, which will soon add the Barnes Foundation to its strand of institutional jewels.

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