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Historic Overview & Documentation


The Benjamin Franklin Parkway is a broad, diagonal boulevard that bisected a portion of the City of Philadelphia in the early twentieth century. In the plan for the Fairmount Park Art Association developed in 1907 by Trumbauer, Zantinger and Cret, this historic designed landscape was initially envisioned as a generous, urban avenue connecting the proposed Art Museum and City Hall.

Arial Photo
Aerial photograph, ca. 1950s of the Benjamin Franklin Parkway. (Courtesy Aero Service Corporation, Philadelphia, PA)
According to a publication of the Fairmount Park Art Association, the plan's intent was "to furnish a direct, dignified and interesting approach from the heart of the business and administrative quarter of the city, through the region of educational activities grouped around Logan Square, to the artistic center to be developed around the Fairmount Plaza, at the entrance to Philadelphia's largest and most beautiful park." In essence, it was the American equivalent of the Parisian Champs d'Elysee, lined with impressive, civic buildings. A grander plan, never fully realized, anticipated that institutional, cultural, and religious buildings would line the Benjamin Franklin Parkway. The planners envisioned that buildings such as a new Episcopal Cathedral, and new campuses for Temple University and the University of Pennsylvania would be built along the parkway.

Historic View to Museum
The proposed Parkway. View from Logan Square, towards the Philadelphia Museum of Art. Note the multiple tree rows. Drawing by Gréber, 1918. (The Fairmount Parkway, 1904-1919)


However, in 1917 the Fairmount Park Commissioners adopted a more formal plan by Jacques Gréber, a prominent figure in urban planning and design. Perhaps he is best known for the World Exposition of 1937 in Paris where Gréber was chief architect and planner. He was later commissioned to develop a plan for the Canadian capital, Ottawa and his comprehensive plan of parks, parkways, monuments, squares and streets shaped this city as the work was developed and implemented from 1937-50.

Gréber Plan border=
The Benjamin Franklin Par kway as shown on the plan prepared by Gréber for the Commissioners of Fairmount Park in 1917. (The Fairmount Parkway, 1904-1919)
In the Gréber plan for Philadelphia's new parkway (right), two linear segments of the parkway were designed with Logan Square as the central anchor. The wider portion runs from the Philadelphia Museum of Fine Arts in Fairmount Park to Logan Square while the narrower proceeds from Logan Square to City Hall.

Gréber's design for the Benjamin Franklin Parkway can also be seen in a national context as one urban parkway in a broader context of similar pleasure drives laid out with generous green medians, tree allées, and a palette of streetscape furnishings. In the late 19th and early 20th century, such cities as Brooklyn, Buffalo, Louisville, Minneapolis, Kansas City and Seattle had urban parkway systems constructed as formal and informal green, linear spaces that were distinct from the standard, narrow city streets. Designed by such landscape architects and planners as Frederick Law Olmsted, Sr., Calvert Vaux, Olmsted Brothers, Charles Eliot, Horace W.S. Cleveland, George E. Kessler, Ralph D. Cornell and (in Philadelphia) Gréber, these parkways shaped city form as a type of linear, urban landscape.

Philadelphia's Benjamin Franklin Parkway was constructed from 1917 to 1926. The broad section includes a central avenue flanked by two medians, with two rows of red oak trees (Quercus rubra) on each median. These were each flanked by secondary drives edged with up to five rows of plane trees (Platanus acerifolia). Logan Square, the terminus of this wide section of the parkway was a circular space with a central fountain surrounded by trees and lawn. A double row of trees on the surrounding streets framed the center circle with eight circular water fountains framing the views in and out of the square. From Logan Square to City Hall, the parkway section is of a narrower right-of-way, and limited to a single row of red oak trees (Quercus rubra) on each side of a broad avenue. This more modest portion ended at a small, circular lawn in front of City Hall.

The evolution of the parkway design from the plan of 1907 to the plan of 1917 is well documented in the records of the Fairmount Park Commission. Historic photographs show the parkway route prior to parkway development, during construction and after completion. A chronology of aerial photographs document the design and original construction. The historic documentation in reports, drawing and photographs, and the parkway itself, yield a comprehensive record that limits conjecture. (see bibliography for these historic and contemporary references)