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Philadelphia fetes Benjamin Franklin Parkway as it turns 100

Posted September 3

— Philadelphia's grand cultural boulevard, the Benjamin Franklin Parkway, is gearing up for its 100th birthday.

The mile-long artery connects the city's business district with sprawling Fairmount Park, and is a corridor of world-renowned museums, imposing monuments and splashing fountains.

The city has a full roster of yearlong celebrations planned for the parkway, starting Sept. 8 and continuing through November 2018, when the Parkway officially turns 100.

Some things to know about one of the nation's earliest showcases of urban renewal:

HISTORY

As early as the 1850s, civic organizations, politicians and prominent Philadelphians wanted to create a boulevard to link the heavily industrial city with bucolic Fairmount Park. It was part of the "City Beautiful" movement sweeping the nation at the time, a response to overcrowded, tenement-filled neighborhoods. The idea was to use urban planning to create monuments and boulevards, beautifying the city and creating vistas to cultural landmarks, in the spirit of the Champs Elysees in Paris.

Philadelphia voters approved a loan for the project in 1908 and architects Paul Cret, Clarence Zantzinger and Horace Trumbauer produced the original plan for what was then called the Fairmount Parkway.

After delays and politics stalled it for nearly a decade, France-born landscape architect Jacques Greber was assigned to revise the original plan in 1917. More than 1,300 homes and other properties were destroyed to make way for the parkway. After it was completed, The New York Times called the parkway an example of "civic magnificence."

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PERMANENT HIGHLIGHTS

The parkway starts near City Hall and cuts a diagonal swath across the city's grid street pattern, leading to the Philadelphia Museum of Art. Museums along the route include the Academy of Natural Sciences, the Barnes Foundation, the Franklin Institute, and the Rodin Museum.

Other architectural highlights include the Cathedral Basilica of Saints Peter and Paul and the Free Library of Philadelphia, with special collections from ancient cuneiform tablets to one of the world's top Charles Dickens collections.

Green spaces, parks and fountains dot the center line. Just across from City Hall sits Love Park, named after the Robert Indiana sculpture that sits inside. Toward the art museum at Eakins Oval, a monument of George Washington astride a horse stands atop a fountain portraying Native Americans and animals.

Art museum visitors can stand in the Great Stair Hall underneath a mobile created by Alexander "Sandy" Calder, and gaze out a window at a Swann Memorial Fountain created by his father Alexander Stirling Calder and behind it, City Hall, crowned with a statue of William Penn created by his grandfather, Alexander Milne Calder.

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PARKWAY TODAY

The outdoor staircase to the Philadelphia Museum of Art got its Hollywood close-up in the "Rocky" movies, and they're ascended countless times each day by visitors re-creating the fictional boxer's run.

The parkway's central location and open spaces has led to it becoming a go-to spot for big events. The NFL draft was held on the parkway last spring, with the steps serving as its backdrop. In 2015, Pope Francis celebrated Mass in a similar location during his visit to the city. In 1979, St. John Paul II held Mass on the parkway at Logan Square.

One of the largest free July Fourth celebrations in the country is held each year on the parkway. The Made in America music festival, curated by Jay Z, is a Labor Day tradition there. It's also the start and finish of the Philadelphia Marathon.

The popularity of the location, combined with current construction along the parkway, can lead to frequent road closures and blocked sidewalks, frustrating pedestrians and drivers.

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CELEBRATION PLANS

The celebration gets started Sept. 8 with a "cultural crawl" featuring 100 free activities including museum admission deals, guided tours, crafts and community art projects.

Artist Cai Guo-Qiang has been commissioned to turn the parkway into a dreamscape from Sept. 15 to Oct. 8 with his "Fireflies" work. He's created about 900 colorful lanterns in whimsical shapes like emojis, hamburgers and aliens that will adorn 27 pedicabs. The public can get free nighttime rides around the parkway on these pedicabs, transforming the parkway with the glowing, moving clusters of color.

In December, artist Jennifer Steinkamp's outdoor installation called "Winter Fountains for the Parkway" will illuminate the boulevard with her five "fountains" glowing with animated video projections.

Other events include plantings, concerts, and more activities will be announced as the year goes on.

For the grand finale, museums, institutions and attractions will open their doors to the public on Nov. 16, 2018, for what's being billed as a "visit-them-all" experience.

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