Benjamin Franklin Parkway: Philadelphia, Pennsylvania


Monumental, grand, and expansive, Benjamin Franklin Parkway has changed the face of Philadelphia. Since it was conceived in 1871, the parkway has been an urban planning and architectural triumph, providing Philadelphia with one of the country's most iconic and acclaimed thoroughfares. Today, the parkway has evolved into an economic, educational, and cultural treasure, annually drawing more than 3 million visitors.

Designated Area

The entire boulevard starting from the east at 16th and Arch Street across from JFK Plaza (Love Park) and continuing northwest to the Philadelphia Museum of Art on Kelly Drive.

Benjamin Franklin Parkway is home to some of the most celebrated cultural and educational institutions in the country, including the Philadelphia Museum of Art. Flickr photo by Kansas Sebastian (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0).

Planning Excellence

Welcomed with praise and criticism by turn-of-the-century Philadelphians, implementation of the parkway was "a civic movement of international proportion." Inspired by the late 19th century City Beautiful movement, many residents began advocating for a broad boulevard to connect Philadelphia's business district with Fairmount Park. Since a boulevard on this order was not contemplated in William Penn's 17th century grid-street plan for the city, the new right-of-way would require numerous residences and businesses to be removed, instigating myriad social, political, economic, and legal battles. Nonetheless, Philadelphia's city council unanimously passed a bill in 1892 initiating the development of plans for the parkway.

Comparisons to the Champs-Élysées and references as "a little slice of Paris in Philadelphia" are not without merit. French architects Paul Cret and Jacques Greiber's worked separately on the street's plan, each calling for generous amounts of green space through the use of wide medians, parks and two large traffic circles. Eakins Oval was named after Philadelphia painter Thomas Eakins while Logan Circle was inspired by Paris's Place de La Concorde.

Since its completion in 1926, Benjamin Franklin Parkway has evolved into the city's "cultural mecca" with some of the nation's premier art galleries and educational institutions. The Fairmount Park Art Association, which provided the city's planning initiatives with tremendous support, facilitated the erection of the Franklin Institute, the Free Library of Philadelphia, and the Philadelphia Museum of Art — which anchors the parkway at its western end point. The Rodin Museum, containing the largest collection of Auguste Rodin's work outside of Paris, as well as the Barnes Foundation, an art institution featuring modernist painters from France, further emphasize the parkway's French influences.

The right-of-way also is a neighborhood where 20,000 apartment dwellers live, and a civic space that accommodated more than a million people during one of the Live 8 benefit concerts in 2005.

A couple walks along one of the many sidewalk lanes adjacent to Benjamin Franklin Parkway. The sidewalks are generously shaded and lit by trees and historic lighting. Photo courtesy InShappoWeTrust.

Defining Characteristics, Features

History, Development

  • Developers John Pennington (1871) and Charles Kline Landis (1884) separately introduced the idea of connecting Philadelphia's Center City to Fairmount Park
  • Fairmount Park Art Association created 1872; parkway plan developed by Horace Trumbauer, Clarence Zantzinger and Paul P. Cret (1907); association encourages sculptures in green spaces
  • Jacques Greber creates parkway design (1917); includes two linear roads starting at City Hall, ending at Fairmount Park (1.1 mile long); parkway alignment requires removing 1,300 buildings
  • Logan Square, named after statesman John Logan, converted into a circle in 1924; circle exists within the same bounds as the square; Swann Memorial Fountain added same year
  • Fairmount Parkway complete 1926; name changed to Benjamin Franklin Parkway (1937)
  • Southeastern part of Eakins Oval is part of parkway until 1960 when reconfigured as parking lot
  • Philadelphia's Deputy City Representative's Office displays flags from 90 different countries along parkway (1976); flags represent countries with significant populations in Philadelphia
  • City adopts new design standards for the parkway (2006)
  • Streetscape upgrades, improvements to traffic patterns, re-paving, new landscaping, tree plantings being implemented 2010-2015

Cultural, Educational Institutions

  • The Academy of Natural Sciences of Drexel University (1900 Benjamin Franklin Pkwy) designed by James Hamilton Windrim (1812); oldest natural science research institution in U.S.
  • Friends Select School (1651 Benjamin Franklin Pkwy); one of country's oldest Quaker schools (founded 1833, moved to current location in 1885)
  • The Cathedral Basilica of Saints Peter and Paul (1723 Race St); designed in Italian Renaissance style with vaulted dome (1864); eight side chapels and sanctuary can seat 2,000
  • Free Library of Philadelphia (1901 Vine St) opens its doors on north side of Logan Circle (1927); designed by Julian F. Abele, first African American graduate of Penn Architecture School
  • The Philadelphia Museum of Art (2600 Benjamin Franklin Pkwy) opens 1928; located on 10 acres at north end of parkway in Fairmount Park; museum designed in Greek Revival style
  • The Rodin Museum (2154 Benjamin Franklin Pkwy), designed by Paul Cret and Jacques Greber (1929); building designed in Beaux-Arts style; by entrance is "The Thinker" statue
  • Franklin Institute (222 N 20th St) opens 1934; designed in the Classical Revival style

Sculptures, Public Art

  • JFK Plaza (Love Park) constructed as parkway's eastern terminus (1965); park contains a single spout fountain and the "Love" sculpture by Robert Indiana (1976)
  • The Monument to Kopernik (Nicolaus Copernicus) located next to Cathedral of Peter and Paul; monument created in 1972 to celebrate 500th anniversary of Kopernik's birth
  • Swann Memorial Fountain, designed by Alexander Stirling Calder (1924), located in center of Logan Circle; swimming in fountain is long-standing Philadelphia tradition
  • Bronze and granite Washington Monument in Eakins Oval designed by Rudolf Siemering (1897)
  • The Sculpture of the Martyrs designed by Natan Rapoport in memory of the six million Jewish martyrs who died during Holocaust; memorial depicts victims being destroyed by fire (1964)
  • The Thaddeus Kosciuszko Statue, located near Logan Circle, was designed by Marian Konieczny and dedicated 1979
  • Mark DiSuvero's monumental steel-beam sculpture Iroquois added to Parkway in 2007

Inspired by the Champs-Elysees, Benjamin Franklin Parkway is incredibly expansive, stretching all the way from city hall to the Philadelphia Museum of Art. Photo by Flickr user camera_obscura [busy] (CC BY-NC 2.0).