Independence Gall

If imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, this patriotic carbon copy of Independence Hall here in Portland, Oregon is unabashed worship. Bank of America, indeed.

There are no metaphorical inferences here; this is, simply, America in the year 2012. Or, if you will, America at age 235½.

In its first 50 years, Andrew Hamilton’s State House did little more than eschew a distant, outdated monarchy, give birth to a new nation, and oversee the stability and growth of that young nation while its permanent capital was built on a marsh farther south. Independence Hall Jr. here isn’t quite 50 yet, but as you can see, its spirit of 76 is alive and well.

Independence Hall replica at Knott's Berry Farm

Bank of America wasn’t always the tenant of this knockoff. It was built in 1971 by Portland’s Benj. Franklin Savings & Loan during a patriotic construction spree which also included a new flagship in suburban Hillsboro, Oregon, an exact replica of Mount Vernon. Of course the Benj. was declared insolvent and seized by the government in 1990, a seizure which has since proven illegal, resulting in shareholders suing the government — and winning. Nevertheless, Bank of America took over the Benj.’s operations and has since the 90s been at this location, with convenient access to Mall 205, several gas stations, and Denny’s.

It’s not the only replica of Independence Hall, though. The 1939 New York World’s Fair lays claim to the original replica, home of the Pennsylvania Pavilion at the fair, since demolished. Knotts Berry Farm in Orange County, California opened its replica in 1966 at its California Marketplace, which also includes a TGI Friday’s and a 7,000 sq ft Snoopy Store. In 1971, Florida’s Walt Disney World opened its Hall of Presidents, modeled after, but not explicitly copied from, Independence Hall. And down in Montevallo, Alabama at the American Village theme park, whose mission is to “strengthen and renew the foundations of American liberty and self-government,” they’re raising the funds to build their own Independence Hall.

Hall of Presidents, Walt Disney World

But these are, clearly, schlock reproductions with an admission fee and a gift shop. Hell, you even need a timed ticket to see the real thing in Philadelphia with its newly restored tower, the one protected by armed Wackenhut guards and surrounded by permanent bollards and chains and the occasional bike racks decorated with bunting, these the result of the great National Park Service compromise of the post-9/11 Bush Administration.

As specimens of what it means to be American go, the replica in East Portland makes a pretty strong case as being ‘most authentic.’ A branch of the largest bank in the country, this Bank of America exists by, and for, capitalism. And while you, the American citizen, could for roughly 250 years stroll freely through Independence Hall’s arcades between Chestnut Street and the public square where the Declaration of Independence was first read to the public, since 9/11/01, you cannot without an authorized ticket.

Out in the Portland replica, however, no ticket is needed to use the drive-through teller and ATM in the arcades. Now that’s freedom.


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About the author

Bradley Maule is co-editor of the Hidden City Daily and the creator of Philly Skyline. He's a native of Tyrone, Pennsylvania, and he's hung his hat in Shippensburg, Germantown, G-Ho, Fishtown, Portland OR, Brewerytown, and now Mt. Airy. He just can't get into Twitter, but he's way into Instagram @mauleofamerica.



11 Comments


  1. A CORRECTION: Alex Feldman pointed out to me that there is an Independence Hall replica at the Henry Ford Museum in Dearborn, Michigan. There is no explicit mention of ‘Independence Hall’ on thehenryford.org, but that may just be a poor internal search engine.

    At any rate, I called their PR department and discovered that theirs was built, at the behest of Henry Ford himself, as the main entrance to the museum in 1929, which of course predates it 10 years ahead of the NY World’s Fair.

    When discussing replicas, one ought demand authenticity; I certainly regret the error.

  2. I believe that the Knott’s Berry Farm Independence Hall was used in the ’70s in an episode of the Six Million Dollar Man, in which the Liberty Bell was stolen from there and Steve Austin had to locate and recover it. Unfortunately, the Liberty Bell didn’t even look like the real thing, and the episode was filled with several serious historical errors about the bell that weren’t essential to the plot. But our man Steve says them so convincingly and heartfelt (from his non-bionic heart)… A ludicrous episode, but worth watching.

  3. wasn’t everything that was on tv in the 70s ridiculous?

  4. Isn’t everything on TV today still ridiculous? The 70s had Steve Austin, we have MSNBC.

  5. If you care so much about Independence Hall being chained away from the public that it is the subject of your “about the author” you should probably be more knowledgeable about the topic.

    You do not need any ticket at all to stroll through the arcades of Independence Hall. You do have to go through a security checkpoint but that checkpoint has nothing to do with a ticket. Once it is determined you are free of weapons and do no pose a harm, you may enter the complex that is chained away from the public and you are free to walk anywhere outside of the building you wish whether you have a ticket or not; including through the aforementioned arcades.

    In fact today your freedoms are perhaps more numerous than they were 15 years ago before the chains went up as not only are you allowed to walk anywhere you want outside of the building, you are also able to go inside of the west wing and see historic copies of the Declaration of Independence and the United States Constitution as well as the inkwell used to sign famous copies of each document as well as an historic copy of the Articles of Confederation. You can also head next door and check out congress hall where congress met while Philadelphia was the capital and where the Bill of Rights was signed.

    The ticket is not to enter the chained part of the square where Independence Hall sits, but rather to take a tour of the Hall itself. These timed tickets have a lot less to do with security than do with simple logistics. In the past 20 years Historic Philadelphia went from being a niche travel destination to competing with Disney World and Times Square as one the top 25 most visited places America. In order to somehow even attempt to give tours of Independence Hall to a fraction of the millions that visit the area time tickets have been used to expedite the process. So in other words, even if they got rid of the bollards and chains, the timed tickets would still remain for the tours of the Hall.

    So getting up to Independence Hall is not nearly as hard as the picture you paint, you do need to enter a security checkpoint but I think it is fairly naive that you think that such a measure is not needed. The copy of the Declaration of Independence preserved inside Independence Hall is the very copy that was used to read the first public proclamation of the document on July 8th 1776. It was printed for the public and was to be read and posted for the public to see. Today no one can touch the document as it sits behind glass in a controlled environment. Should we pull it out from under the glass and let people hold it in the name of freedom?

    Independence Hall is an extremely important place and I personally am just fine with taking a few reasonable security measures to ensure it is around for generations to come. Even if I have to get my bag checked before I can walk through the arcades of Independence Hall I much prefer that than freely walking through the arcades of a knockoff bank in Portland.

  6. So what you’re saying, Clark, is that you’re willing to give up essential liberty to purchase a little temporary safety. Sorry, I am not.

    Here’s the most important part of what you said: “chained away from the public”. We ARE the public. Independence Hall IS the public. The public as we Americans know it was formed in that building, and separating it is an affront to the ideal. They are one and the same.

    And no, unless the Park Service has changed its policy, you cannot just freely stroll through the arcades without a timed ticket. That’s my point: I used to stroll freely across the Mall, cutting across Chestnut Street’s cobblestones, under the arcade, and through to the Square. I didn’t have to hop any bollards and chains, nor discuss with any guards why I wanted to, nor be inspected at some security checkpoint.

    Has freedom changed in the past 11 years? Or were we just getting it wrong for 250 years by forgetting ‘reasonable security measures’?

  7. The park service has not changed it policy. You have never needed a ticket to stroll through the arcades. The timed ticket is for a tour of the hall and nothing more. You are able to enter the secure area without a ticket and you do not need to answer any questions about who you are or what you are doing. You seem to have gotten most of your information from the article you cited and do not seem to have much first hand information. I have plenty of firsthand information so allow me to help you out.

    An essential liberty? Give me a break. Walking through part of a park is NOT an essential liberty. Independence Hall is the Public? It was built as a Brittish Government building for the colonial assembly and to the best of my knowledge people have NEVER been able to just walk into the building as they wished.

    Sure you might not have been able to enter the building itself as you pleased in the past, but you could at least walk up to it and touch it, walk though the arcades as you apparently so loved to do. That freedom is no longer yours. Mourn it if you wish but personally you seem to be mourning this experience while not properly looking at the big picture.

    When I talk about the safety of the Hall I am not talking about terrorist attacks, they don’t even factor into my thinking. This threat was simply used as opportunity to quickly make changes that were long coming anyway. I mean honestly the security checkpoints are more about people not bringing open food and or chewing gum into the halls than weapons!

    Please understand that there are now roughly 1 million more people a year visiting the Independence Mall area today than just 11 years ago. Have you been down to the mall on a summer day recently? The area is packed with tourists from all over the world. Do you really want those millions of people to be able to simply walk through Independence Hall, not on a tour, with no supervision, carrying with them big gulps and cheesesteaks? Do you really think that is a prudent way to preserve our history?

    The Franklin Underground Museum is just a small fraction of the age of Independence Hall and yet it is currently being completely torn down and redone because it was so utterly destroyed by not even 40 years of the public being allowed to enter and exit as they pleased with no security or external watch. When I fear people destroying our history and Independence Hall I am far more fearful of your average American child with an ice cream cone than a terrorist.

    It’s sad that people can’t enjoy the simple pleasure of walking through the arches of independence hall whenever they want without a security checkpoint as you once did, but the reality in which that was possible is no more and it is replaced by a reality in which MANY times more people enjoy the Hall and its surrounding environs.

    Personally I’m glad that so many more people are able to enjoy the area now even if the many more people make the experience somewhat less intimate and requires a bit more of a hassle to enjoy. I’m happy that Philly sees many more visitors, and those time tickets that you so malign are totally free and allow people to receive an excellent tour from a knowledgeable park ranger (most of whom are not paid and volunteer their services). You complain so much about a few bollards and chains as though waiting a few moments in a security check point was the worst thing in the world, obviously most people disagree as the area is more popular today than it has ever been.

    When you push to take down the bollards and chains and get rid of time tickets so you can walk about the area freely, but offer no alternate plan as to how the Hall should attempt to deal with a tourist capacity that is now MANY times larger, you sound like someone with a singular goal and little real understanding of the actual issues at hand.

    You push your views forward as though you are pushing forward the idea of free speech or a similar high minded ideal and that anyone who opposes your views is a fool willing to trade their freedom for safety.

    Sorry, but there no essential freedom associated with being able walk wherever you want whenever you want to. You sound like less of champion of freedom and more like a petulant child that is told to eat their diner before they can have dessert.

  8. Brad Maule ftw. Neat article.

  9. 10 million visitors or 10 visitors, there’s no real reason to have the sidewalk and part of the State House Garden chained off around Independence Hall (the art museum sees a large number of visitors, but if you just wish to climb the stairs and sit on the elevated plaza or wave your arms like Rocky, you can, there are no bollards and chains). Tickets can be issued for entrance into the building and otherwise, one should be able to walk up to the building, through the arcade, and across the city, as Philadelphians did for generations. Indeed, it is (was) one the great joys of being a Philadelphian–to know that the nation’s potent symbol of liberty was part of the fabric of your city and of your life. To imprison it in bollards and chains has the opposite effect.

    We all know that the chains and bollards were the work of a hard-won compromise, that in its determined vision to de-urbanize Independence National Historic Park it would have built a 6 foot high fence around Independence Hall. That was the plan post-9/11.

    This de-urbanizing of the park is real–very few Philadelphians actually ever use it. In turn, it’s become a tourist ghetto–and that’s a shame of course because of all the wonderful, intimate spaces. Why the park is so poorly used–even despite the 10 million–is a subject for us at the Daily to cover.

  10. I was working as a tour guide in Independence Park before 9/11 and still work there today. Before 9/11 citizens could stroll through the arcades and sit on the benches next to the Hall to read newspapers and have lunch. I had a tour group a few days after 911 – all that changed. There were fences, police and metal detectors everywhere. It was like Eastern Europe in the 60s. I cried. Remember, it was Philadelphia’s own Ben Franklin who said, “He who sacrifices freedom for security deserves neither.” I agree with Mr. Franklin. Each year security has lessened. Metal detectors have given way to a cursory look in backpacks and purses. As for Independence Square itself, when it was laid out in 1735, it was with the proviso that it “remain a publick green and walk forever.” That’s pretty expicit.
    Lastly, re all those Independence Hall clones around the country, I recommend Encyclopedia of Philadelphia co-editor Charlene Mires book, “Independence Hall in American Memory.” It explains the Hall’s iconic influence on everything from 1920s public school architecture to the same era Howard Johnson’s cupola and weathervane.

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