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Philadelphia City Hall


Philadelphia City Hall

Philadelphia City Hall
Philadelphia City Hall
Record height
Tallest in the world from 1894 to 1908[I]
Preceded by Ulm Minster
Surpassed by Singer Building
General information
Status Complete
Location 1 Penn Square
Philadelphia, PA 19107 USA
Completed 1901
Antenna spire 548 ft (167 m)
Technical details
Floor count 9
Philadelphia City Hall
Philadelphia City Hall c1899
Location Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
Area 630,000 ft² (58,222 m²)[1]
Built 1871-1901
Architect John McArthur, Jr.
Thomas U. Walter
Architectural style Second Empire, other
Governing body Local
NRHP Reference # 76001666[2]
Added to NRHP December 8, 1976

Philadelphia City Hall, located at 1 Penn Square, is the seat of government for the city of Philadelphia, in the commonwealth of Pennsylvania.

At 548 ft (167 m), including the statue of city founder William Penn atop it, it was the tallest habitable building in the world from 1894 to 1908. It remained the tallest in Pennsylvania until it was surpassed in 1932 by the Gulf Tower in Pittsburgh; it was the tallest in Philadelphia until the construction of One Liberty Place (1984–87) ended the informal gentlemen's agreement that limited the height of buildings in the city. Today, it is the state's 16th-tallest building.

City Hall has been the world's tallest masonry building since at least the 1953 collapse of the pinnacle of the Mole Antonelliana in Turin .[3][4] Its weight is borne by granite and brick walls up to 22 feet (6.7 m) thick. The principal exterior materials are limestone, granite, and marble.

In 2007, the building was voted #21 on the American Institute of Architects' list of Americans' 150 favorite U.S. structures.[5]


  • History and description 1
  • Site 2
  • See also 3
  • References 4
  • External links 5

History and description

The building was designed by Scottish-born architect John McArthur, Jr., in the Second Empire style, and was constructed from 1871 until 1901 at a cost of $24 million. City Hall was topped off in 1894, although the interior wasn't finished until 1901. Designed to be the world's tallest building, it was surpassed during construction by the Washington Monument and the Eiffel Tower, though it was at completion the world's tallest habitable building. It was the first modern building (excluding the Eiffel Tower) to be the world's tallest and also was the first secular habitable building to have this record: all previous world's tallest buildings were religious structures, including European cathedrals and, for the previous 3,800 years, the Great Pyramid of Giza.

William Penn statue atop City Hall tower
The N. Broad Street arcade leading to the building's courtyard

With almost 700 rooms, City Hall is one of the largest municipal buildings in the United States and one of the largest in the world.[6] The building houses three branches of government, the Executive (Mayor's Office), the Legislative (City Council), and the Judicial Branch's Civil Courts (Court of Common Pleas).

The building is topped by an 11.3 m (37 ft), 27-ton bronze statue of city founder William Penn, one of 250 sculptures created by Alexander Milne Calder that adorn the building inside and out. The statue is the tallest atop any building in the world.

Calder wished the statue to face south so that its face would be lit by the sun most of the day, the better to reveal the details of his work. The statue actually faces northeast, towards Penn Treaty Park in the Fishtown section of the city, which commemorates the site where William Penn signed a treaty with the local Native American tribe.[7] Beyond Penn Treaty Park is Pennsbury Manor, Penn's country home in Bucks County. Yet another version for why the statue pointed generally north instead of south is that it was the current (1894) architect's method of showing displeasure with the style of the work; that by 1894 it was not in the current, popular Beaux-Arts style; that it was out of date even before it was placed on top of the building. During the 1990s, whenever one of Philadelphia's four major sports teams was close to winning a championship, the statue was decorated with the jersey of that team.

The tower features clocks 8 m (26 ft) in diameter on all four sides of the metal portion of the tower (larger than the Clock Tower, Palace of Westminster).[8] This clock was designed by Warren Johnson.

The city's only observation deck is located directly below the base of the statue, about 152 m (499 ft) above street level. Once enclosed with chain link fence, the observation deck is now enclosed by glass. It is reached in a 6-person elevator whose glass panels allow visitors to see the wooden superstructure that supports the tower. Stairs within the tower are only used for emergency exit. The ornamentation of the tower has been simplified; the huge garlands that festooned the top panels of the tower were removed.

Penn's statue is hollow, and a narrow access tunnel through it leads to a small (22-inch-diameter (56 cm)) hatch atop the hat.

In the 1950s, the city fathers investigated tearing down City Hall for a new building elsewhere. They found that the demolition would have bankrupted the city due to the building's masonry construction.

For many years, City Hall remained the tallest building in Philadelphia by the terms of a gentlemen's agreement that forbade any structure from rising above the William Penn statue. In 1987, it lost this distinction when One Liberty Place was completed.

City Hall is a National Historic Landmark. During 2006, it was named a National Historic Civil Engineering Landmark by the American Society of Civil Engineers.[9]


City Hall is built on the area designated by William Penn as Centre Square. It was a public square from the city's founding in 1682 until the construction of City Hall began upon the site in 1871. It was one of the five original squares laid out on the city grid by Penn.[10] It lay at the geographic heart of the city from 1682 until the Act of Consolidation, 1854 (although it was never the social heart of the city during that long period).

Penn planned for Centre Square to be:

a central square or plaza of ten acres to be bordered by the principal public buildings, such as the Quaker meetinghouse, the state house, the market house, and the schoolhouse. Despite the two riverfronts [Delaware and Schuylkill, Penn's city had an inward-facing design, focusing on this central plaza.[11]

However, the Delaware riverfront would remain the de facto economic and social heart of the city for more than a century.

[…] hardly anyone lived west of Fourth Street before 1703. Consequently Penn's design of a center square as the hub of his community had to be abandoned. The large Friends meeting house which was built in 1685 at the midpoint between the rivers was dismantled in 1702. Efforts to develop the Schuylkill waterfront likewise collapsed. Of the merchants, tradesmen, and craftsmen who can be identified as living in Philadelphia around 1690, 123 lived on the Delaware side of town and only 6 on the Schuylkill side. One of the latter, a tailor named William Boulding, complained that he had invested most of his capital in his Schuylkill lot, 'so that he cannot, as others have done, Remove from the same.' Not until the mid-nineteenth century, long after the city had spilled northward and southward in an arc along the Delaware miles beyond its original limits, was the Schuylkill waterfront fully developed. Nor was Centre Square restored as the heart of Philadelphia until the construction of City Hall began in 1871.[11]
The south facade as seen from S. Broad Street at Locust Street (2013)

See also



  1. ^ Technical specs of City Hall
  2. ^
  3. ^ Sources differ on the original height of the Mole Antonelliana's pinnacle, and while the current structure is higher, it was rebuilt and reinforced with steel, ending its claim as a masonry structure.
  4. ^
  5. ^ Other Philadelphia buildings on the list included the Philadelphia Museum of Art, the Fisher Fine Arts Library at the University of Pennsylvania, 30th Street Station, and Wanamaker's department store."America’s Favorite Architecture". (February 9, 2005). American Institute of Architects. Retrieved April 23, 2014
  6. ^
  7. ^
  8. ^
  9. ^
  10. ^
  11. ^ a b

Further reading

  • Gurney, George, Sculpture of a City—Philadelphia’s Treasures in Bronze and Stone, Fairmount Park Association, Walker Publishing Co., Inc., New York, NY, 1974.
  • Hayes, Margaret Calder, Three Alexander Calders: A Family Memoir by Margaret Calder Hayes, Paul S. Eriksson, publisher, Middlebury, Vermont, 1977.
  • Lewis, Michael J. “‘Silent, Weird, Beautiful’: Philadelphia City Hall,” Nineteenth Century, vol. 11, nos. 3 and 4 (1992), pp. 13–21

External links

  • Official site
  • Philadelphia City Hall at
  • Philadelphia City Hall at
  • Philadelphia City Hall at
  • Philadelphia City Hall - historical information from Philadelphia Architects and Buildings
  • Google Street View
  • "Layer Cake (City Hall)" by James G. Mundie
Preceded by
Ulm Minster
Tallest building in the world
548 ft (167 m)
Succeeded by
Singer Building
Preceded by
Park Row Building
Tallest building in the United States
167 m
Succeeded by
Singer Building
Preceded by
Milwaukee City Hall
Tallest building in the United States outside of New York City
167 m
Succeeded by
Chicago Temple Building
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