The walls were torn down outside of City Hall early on the morning of Sept. 4.
The foreboding construction barriers that wrapped the entire north side of the building for more than two years were finally been packed away.
A crowd gathered at 11 a.m. as Mayor Nutter prepared the scissors for the official cutting of the ribbon ceremony, with Temple’s Diamond Marching Band alongside him. In a fraction of a second the ribbon was cut, and Philadelphia gained a re-amplified Center Square by the name of Dilworth Park.
Visitors were welcomed to the common space with ample seating, a recycled-rainwater public fountain that’s open for play and Rosa Blanca, a daily café catered by Chef Jose Garces. The Center City District has programmed free events through the end of October in order to transform Dilworth Park into a hub for community gatherings and the local art scene.
“You can sit there quietly and read a book, or check Wi-Fi, or go listen to music,” said Paul Levy, president and CEO of the Center City Planning District. “We’re not going to program this with Parkway-style events. There will be nights where we close [the fountain] and people will put chairs there, and have events. There are lots of different ways to gather in small groups or large groups.”
Pictures in the Park will kick off the relaxed programming on Sept. 9 with a screening of “Captain America: The Winter Soldier,” followed by a weekly series on Tuesdays at dusk. Wednesdays will be taken over by Live @ Lunch. From noon to 2 p.m. local musicians gain exposure by performing for the Philadelphians on their lunch break, whether they choose to stop and listen or just pass by.
“The entire Live @ Lunch series is an amazing showcase and a great step for Philly towards bringing better quality and more music and arts in general to the forefront,” artist Brian LaPann, who is billed for Sept. 10, said. “Open air, free musical entertainment
AS for the weekends, Stylepop will host a designer pop-up market on Thursdays from 11 a.m. – 7 p.m., DJs will take charge of the park on Thursdays from 5-7 p.m. and Grooves in the Groves will wrap up the lunch time hours on Fridays and Saturdays by hosting local violinists, harpists and cellists.
Exclusively in October, interactive art, live music and a beer garden will add a Fall spice to the park for OctoberFest on Oct. 18 and 25 from 12-6 p.m. and Oct. 23 from 6-8 p.m.
The newly renovated Dilworth Park is home to a dynamic, open floor plan that began underground. The main motivation for the massive renovation was in order to simplify City Hall’s subway network, and allow public transportation users direct access to the Broad Street line, Market-Frankford line, trolley lines and the Suburban Station concourse.
“The park sits above a network of rail transit that was really not recognized by the last plaza design,” Richard Maimon, principal of the architecture firm in charge, Kieran Timberlake, said. “It was completely circuitous and difficult to orient in any way, whether you lived here for your life [or] were a visitor.”
After receiving a $15 million Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery (TIGER) grant from the Obama administration in 2010, and other public and private funds, the Dilworth Park Design and Construction team began to prepare. The team, consisting of KieranTimberlake and OLIN architecture firms and Urban Engineers, had two goals in mind.
“Number one was recognizing the transit below, and giving it an appropriate entrance that had the magnitude for the center of a major city,” Maimon said. “Number two was making it completely legible, simple and easy to follow with natural flow. What that meant was converting the previous maze of spaces below grade that were difficult to orient – I think probably even for SEPTA’s own staff – and converting that to a single access [point].”
Two glass head house fixtures now frame the focal point of City Hall, sloped in such a way that the facing entrances to the new subway concourse form a geometric circle with the center of the building. The design serves as an implied monument that pays respect to the historical center of Philadelphia, and hopes to revitalize it’s purpose, Levy said.
“City Hall showed up as a gap in the fabric, a building that people loved but [it] didn’t connect,” Levy said. “One of the pride design aspects of this project, besides what happened with the architecture, was to draw the city together to its original center square.”
Although the project was not completely finished before being opened to the public, Levy projects that both the walkway to the Ritz hotel, and the Southwest tree grove will be finished by Oct. 15.
When the Fall comes to an end, the livelihood of the park will not. Dilworth Park will be home to an ice skating rink for the winter season, beginning in November.
Brianna Spause can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and on twitter @BriannaSpause