Driveway to the Arts


 

Cutting diagonally across William Penn’s original grid-like plan for Philadelphia’s streets, the Benjamin Franklin Parkway is center city’s connection to recreation and cultural resources.

When planners first entertained the idea of building a parkway through the city, this street was intended to be a direct and interesting link between City Hall and the Art Museum. It would be at the same time an enjoyable drive down a wide grass and tree lined street as well as a quick way to escape the congestion of the city. Drivers could use this road to take in the healthy fresh air of Fairmount Park (interestingly, the parkway is a part of the Fairmount Park system), to view art, or later to peruse the holdings of the Free Library.

Originally, the parkway was expected to be lined with large civic buildings and centers of education, much like Paris’ Champs d’Elysee. Some even went so far as expecting to one day have new campuses for Temple University and the University of Pennsylvania lining this new thoroughfare. However, this did not happen.

Construction began on the Parkway in 1917 following the plans of urban Planner Jacqués Gerber, who went on to become the chief architect and planner for the 1937 World Exposition in Paris. The parkway was completed in 1926.

Eventually more impressive buildings were added to the path of recreation, education and culture created by the parkway. The Free Library opened its doors at its current location along it in 1927, followed by the Franklin Institute’s move from its location on 7th street (now home to the Atwater Kent Museum) to its current site on the parkway at 20th street in 1934.

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