Philadelphia City Hall is a stunning architectural masterpiece that stands tall at the city’s heart. This historic building has been an iconic symbol of Philadelphia’s rich cultural heritage and has played an essential role in shaping the city’s history. Join me for a tour!
The construction of Philadelphia City Hall was monumental, and its completion took decades. Today, it is considered one of the world’s most beautiful and well-preserved government buildings.
The exterior of Philadelphia City Hall is made of granite and marble sourced from all over the world. The granite was imported from Maine, while the marble came from Italy, Greece, and France.
At the time of its completion in 1901, Philadelphia City Hall was the tallest building in the world at 548 feet tall. It held this record until the Singer Building in New York City was completed in 1908.
Today it still holds the title of the tallest load-bearing structure on the planet. Before steel was used to create rigid frames, buildings relied on the load-bearing capacity of incredibly thick solid materials. The impressive clock tower has walls at its base up to 22 feet thick to hold the weight.
In 1869, a design competition was held to select the architect for the new city hall, and Scottish architect John McArthur Jr submitted the winning design. The site chosen for the new city hall was a swampy area, which required extensive groundwork to make it suitable for constructing such a massive structure. The building’s foundations had to be sunk more than 80 feet deep to ensure stability. It took over 30 years to complete the building, costing over $24 million.
The groundbreaking for Philadelphia City Hall took place on May 26, 1871. In his speech at the ceremony, Mayor William Stokley stated that the new city hall would “be the largest and most magnificent public edifice in the world.”
The mayor laid the cornerstone of Philadelphia City Hall on July 4, 1874. This event began a long and complex construction process lasting over thirty years. The cornerstone was made of white marble and contained several items, including a time capsule with documents and artifacts from the period. The time capsule’s contents were discovered during renovations in 1990 and are now on display in the building.
Obviously a place of reverence based on the discarded bag of Cheetos nearby.
Another unique feature of Philadelphia City Hall is the series of thirty-six columns that surround the building’s exterior. These columns are adorned with intricate carvings of figures that represent various cultural groups, including Native Americans, African Americans, and Asians. The figures are depicted holding up the building, symbolizing the contributions of these groups to Philadelphia’s history and culture.
Alright, let’s go up the clock tower to the observation deck.
One of the most popular attractions at Philadelphia City Hall is the observation deck located on the 14th floor. Visitors can enjoy stunning views of the city and surrounding areas from here.
One of the most striking features of Philadelphia City Hall is the statue of William Penn that sits atop its tower. Alexander Milne Calder designed the statue. After winning a competition to select an artist for the project, Calder designed the William Penn statue for Philadelphia City Hall. His design was chosen for its powerful, lifelike depiction of the famous Quaker founder of Pennsylvania.
The statue is over 37 feet tall, making it the tallest statue on any building in the world, and weighs over 53,000 pounds. It was cast in France by the famous foundry Gruet and shipped to Philadelphia in pieces. It took several months to assemble the statue, which was finally installed atop the building’s clock tower in 1894.
The statue faces east, towards the Delaware River, and is said to symbolize Penn’s vision for Philadelphia as a city of religious tolerance and harmony.
Until Calder died in 1923, he remained angry that his sculpted masterpiece was placed on the tower facing the wrong way. He wanted the statue to face south where the sun would illuminate Penn’s dramatic features most of the day.
Philadelphia City Hall is an enormous building that contains over 700 rooms. These include offices, chambers, meeting rooms, and other spaces city government officials and employees use.
Philadelphia City Hall is home to several important government offices and chambers, many of which feature ornate ceilings and beautiful decorations.
Philadelphia seems to love its pipe organs (see Wanamaker’s Organ and the Kimmel Center). You may be surprised to know that City Hall is home to the largest municipal pipe organ in the world. The instrument has over 28,000 pipes and is housed in the Grand Courtroom.
But obviously, I’m obsessed with these ridiculous ceilings and chandeliers – like the one seen in the next photo, the Conversation Hall.
I especially like the ceiling here in the Mayor’s Reception Room. Hanging from the center of the room is a bronze chandelier that was originally lit by gas. The chandelier was made in Philly, and it weighs 1,680 pounds.
Tours inside City Hall are given Monday through Friday at 12:30 pm and begin at the Tour Information Center. The tours last approximately 2 hrs. Learn more about the city hall tour here. Be sure to call ahead to check on any COVID closures/adjustments to the tour.