A Century Of Public Events On The Benjamin Franklin Parkway

 

On February 8, 2018 perhaps the largest public event in Philadelphia’s history unfolded along the city’s iconic Benjamin Franklin Parkway, as fervent football fans from around the region flocked to the city to watch their beloved Eagles hoist the Vince Lombardi Trophy in front of the Philadelphia Museum of Art’s photogenic steps. One expert estimated that 700,000 revelers attended.

While smaller in scope than the Eagles celebration parade, plenty of arts and civic events boasting massive turnouts have taken place on the Parkway in recent years. From Pope Francis’ 2015 visit to the 2016 Women’s March, not to mention annual events like Made in America, Philadelphia’s famous boulevard has hosted an incredible number of public gatherings that have attracted untold multitudes of visitors. And it’s been doing so for 100 years.

This October marks the centennial of the Parkway’s opening. Conceived during the 1870s and 1880s, the initial plan for the Parkway was formally integrated into Philadelphia’s official city maps in 1892 following an ordinance passed by City Council. Economic turmoil delayed its initial planning and construction. This postponement ultimately benefited the Parkway’s final design, as the increasing popularity of the City Beautiful Movement throughout the 1890s sparked new interest in urban beautification, grand architectural design, and open spaces.

Bankrolled by the city’s elite, the Philadelphia Parkway Association issued a plan for the Parkway in 1903, which kicked off four additional years of bureaucratic holdups before construction finally began in 1907.

Various plans and a map of the Benjamin Franklin Parkway circa 1880-1900. From the Philadelphia Record photograph morgue collection, Historical Society of Pennsylvania.

Though many architects and urban planners had a say in the Parkway’s design, architects Paul Cret and Jacques Greber stand out for their contributions to the project. Cret drafted the initial layout for the Parkway in 1907, which Greber modified at the behest of the Fairmount Park Commission in 1917. Inspired by the Champs-Elysées in Paris, these two French nationals shaped the Parkway into a grand boulevard that could accommodate impressive cultural and civic structures. The two would later collaborate on one of these structures, working together to design the Rodin Museum, which was completed in 1929.

Although the Parkway officially opened in 1918, its full realization would take decades. Many of its integral landmarks, such as the Free Library and the Franklin Institute, would take years to complete (their doors opened in 1927 and 1934, respectively). Even the Philadelphia Museum of Art did not open until 1928, a full 10 years after the Parkway’s inauguration.

Despite the long saga of the Parkway’s construction, it began serving as a key civic gathering ground almost immediately. Among its earliest public events occurred during its opening year, when soldiers returning home from the trenches of WWI marched down the Parkway in front of cheering Philadelphians. In 1937, pilots landed planes directly on the Parkway as part of a transportation parade, perhaps setting the stage for the complex logistics of modern-day events.

All images appear courtesy of the Historical Society of Pennsylvania.

Area northwest of City Hall before the construction of the Benjamin Franklin Parkway. Undated. Photograph. From the Philadelphia Record photograph morgue collection [V07], Historical Society of Pennsylvania.

A view of an empty Benjamin Franklin Parkway. Undated. Photograph. From the Philadelphia Record photograph morgue collection [V07], Historical Society of Pennsylvania.

The 28th Infantry Division Parade on Benjamin Franklin Parkway in one of the earliest civic events to take place on the boulevard. 1918. | Photo: from the Philadelphia War Photograph Committee collection, Historical Society of Pennsylvania.

A wintertime view of Logan Circle. Undated. Photograph. From the Philadelphia Record photograph morgue collection [V07], Historical Society of Pennsylvania.

An aerial view of the Benjamin Franklin Parkway from City Hall. 1936. From the Philadelphia Record photograph morgue collection [V07], Historical Society of Pennsylvania.

An aerial photograph showing the Benjamin Franklin Parkway. 1934. Photograph. From the Philadelphia Record photograph morgue collection [V07], Historical Society of Pennsylvania.

A view of Logan Circle on the Benjamin Franklin Parkway. Undated. Photograph. From the Philadelphia Record photograph morgue collection [V07], Historical Society of Pennsylvania.

A shot of the Franklin Institute. Undated. Photograph. From the Philadelphia Record photograph morgue collection [V07], Historical Society of Pennsylvania.

A view down the Parkway looking at City Hall. Undated. Photograph. From the Philadelphia Record photograph morgue collection [V07], Historical Society of Pennsylvania.

A view from the Art Museum steps looking down the Bejamin Franklin Parkway. 1936. Photograph. From the Philadelphia Record photograph morgue collection [V07], Historical Society of Pennsylvania.

A plane lands on Benjamin Franklin Parkway as part of a transportation parade. 1937. Photograph. From the Philadelphia Record photograph morgue collection [V07], Historical Society of Pennsylvania.

About the author

This article was produced in collaboration with the Historical Society of Pennsylvania and written by Patrick Glennon. Located at 1300 Locust Street and open to the public Tuesdays through Fridays, HSP is one of the nation’s largest archives of historical documents, with over 21 million manuscripts, books, and graphic images encompassing centuries of US history. Find upcoming public programs, start your own research project, and learn more about HSP.



5 Comments


  1. Interesting photos. #5 needs a new caption.

  2. Frank J Bradley III

    My grandfather was owner of 2223 Spring Garden St from the 30’s.While living there I graduated St.Francis Xaviers & RCHS.I worked at ITE 42 yrs.Let me know if I can help with any facts & figures

    • Frank,
      The Friends of Baldwin Park (former site of ITE) runs a website which you can find by Googling us (references to websites not allowed here). On the home page dashboard is a link for “History” to which we add one article a month about hyperlocal history, i.e. within two blocks of Baldwin Park. Can you take a look at it and send me at the contact on the website any comments or corrections or additional info? Thanks.
      Joe

  3. The Parkway was not only used for the Eagles Super Bowl Parade but also the 2017 NFL Draft held April 2017. It was very popular with the NFL brass that they considered having the 2018 Draft on the Parkway!

    I hope the Parkway celebrations of 2018 will inspire donors to provide funding to finish completely the PMA improvements by 2026.

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