Philadelphia: 3 Architectural Masterpieces

Image Credit: G. E. Kidder Smith Image Collection
Image Credit: G. E. Kidder Smith Image Collection

Most Americans know Philadelphia is chock-full of historic Colonial buildings, such as Independence Hall, Carpenter’s Hall and Christ Church.


But few realize Philadelphia is home to three neighboring architectural masterpieces as eclectic and extraordinary as you’ll find anywhere in the world.

These gems – all U.S. National Historic Landmarks – are:

  • Philadelphia’s City Hall
  • The Masonic Temple of Philadelphia
  • The Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts

Begun within three years of each other, the buildings are radically different in look and style and sit within 300 steps of each other on N. Broad Street.

Jim Murphy, author of 29 “Exploring the City” columnist for the Society Hill Reporter – an award-winning community newspaper –first noticed the unique cluster of classics while writing a story on the Masonic Temple of Philadelphia.

A certified member of the Association of Philadelphia Tour Guides, Murphy had already published columns on its neighbors, City Hall and the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts.

“They’re hidden in plain sight,” he says. “I don’t know of any city anywhere with three such amazing buildings so close together.” By his count, the three tourist attractions are just 285 steps apart.

Here’s a quick rundown on each:


Philadelphia’s City Hall
Broad and Market Streets

Claim to Fame: Built in French Second Empire style at a cost of $24.5 million over a 30-year period, City Hall is the largest all-masonry load-bearing building in the world. It has no steel frame. With a floor space of 630,000 square feet, it’s larger than the U.S. Capitol Building and may be the largest municipal building anywhere. Some walls are 2 feet thick. Until 1987 no building in the city could rise higher than City Hall’s 548 feet. Architect: John McArthur Jr.

What to See:  Over 700 rooms; 250 sculptures by Alexander Milne Calder, including: William Penn, a 37-foot-high, 27-ton statue thought to be the largest atop a building in the world; and a clock face visible for miles that’s 3 feet larger in diameter than London’s Big Ben. Phone: 215-686-2840

Image Credit:  Wikipedia

Image Credit: Wikipedia

Philadelphia’s Masonic Temple,
1 N. Broad Street

What to see: A “robust Norman-style” exterior that becomes “a fantasy of Renaissance-inspired neoclassicism in the corridors and stairs and nineteenth-century ‘eclectic revivalism’ in the lodge rooms.” So says a coffee-table book published by the Masonic Temple in 2013. Visiting the seven magnificent lodge rooms – all decorated ornately in different styles – is like taking a mini-trip around the world. You’ll see Egyptian, Greek, Gothic, Corinthian and more.

Claim to Fame: The lavish interior took 15 years to complete. Architect: John Windrim. Interior designer:George Herzog.

Website: pagrandlodge.orgPhone: 215-988-1917

Image Credit: G. E. Kidder Smith Image Collection

Image Credit: G. E. Kidder Smith Image Collection

The Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts (PAFA)
118 N. Broad Street.

What to see: A façade that is a spectacular amalgam of Renaissance, Gothic and Second Empire styles. The exterior is described by John Andrew Gallery in Philadelphia Architecture as “a riot of forms” executed in “rusticated brownstone, dressed sandstone, polished pink granite, red pressed brick and purplish terra-cotta.” The inside is “an explosion of color.”

Claim to Fame: PAFA is the oldest art school and museum in the U.S. Mostly designed by famed Philadelphiaarchitect Frank Furness (pronounced “furnace”), PAFA’s magnificent Historic Landmark Building includes features later used in virtually every modern skyscraper, plus a passive ventilation system and industrial touches not seen in any other museum.


Source/Contact: Jim Murphy

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