However, in the 30 years it took to be built, it had already been overshadowed by the Eiffel Tower and the Washington Monument.
That’s no reason why City Hall shouldn’t strive to be the best. Mayor Michael Nutter has said he wants to make City Hall more visitor-friendly as part of his “New Day, New Way” initiative. This could include weekend farmers markets, movie screenings or cafes, spokesman Doug Oliver told The Temple News this week.
City Hall, the largest municipal building in the country – yes, apparently larger than the U.S. Capitol – is the geographic center of the city William Penn mapped in 1682.
The building boasts more than 700 rooms. Its 37-foot bronze statue of Penn stands on top of its north tower, 548 feet above ground. The structure is one of the world’s largest and tallest all-masonry structures without a steel or iron frame.
Penn designed the city with citizens in mind. He created the gridiron street system, considered revolutionary at the time. The original layout of Philadelphia included five squares in an X-pattern throughout the city reserved as gathering places for recreational use. The Center Square, as it is called, was chosen for City Hall.
Clearly, the building itself is something to be celebrated. But in recent years, it’s been plagued with unflattering scaffolding and tarps covering the intricate architecture for overdue renovations. Renovations that haven’t seemed to be getting finished in recent years.
At a time when the city is plagued with a homicide rate of unacceptable proportions and the school district’s dropout rate is more than 50 percent, the city needs an area where citizens can gather like a community would – a place other than street corners in neighborhoods where families fear for their lives.
Oliver told The Temple News that the goal of a visitor-friendly City Hall is to show not only Philadelphians, but people across the nation that the city is a great location to start a business or even raise a family.
If Nutter is serious about improving the appeal of the city amid all of the negative publicity it garners, City Hall is the place to start.
He took steps in the right direction when he invited all Philadelphia citizens to attend an open house at City Hall on his first full day in office. Thousands of visitors stopped by Jan. 8 to shake the mayor’s hand, offer advice or simply welcome him to Room 215.
Nutter seems to understand that it’s important to uphold Penn’s original visions for the city. Center Square was initially intended to be a place where citizens could congregate, enjoy the day and create discussion.
It’s Nutter’s turn to try and make City Hall the place it was meant to be more than 325 years ago.
Chris Stover can be reached at email@example.com.