Philadelphia City Hall is
the seat of government for the city of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.
At 167 m (548 ft), including the
statue, it is the world's tallest masonry
building: the weight of the building is borne
by granite and brick walls up to thick,
rather than steel; the principal exterior materials are limestone
It was the
tallest habitable building (although
surpassed by monuments) in the world from 1901 to 1908 and the
tallest in Pennsylvania until 1932 when surpassed by the Gulf Tower. It remained the tallest building in
Philadelphia until the construction of One Liberty Place (1984-1987) broke the informal "gentlemen's
agreement" that limited the height of tall buildings in the
It remains the tallest masonry building in the
City Hall from South Broad Street,
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.
designed to be the world's tallest building, by the time it was
completed it had already been surpassed by the Washington Monument and the Eiffel Tower, though it was indeed the world's tallest habitable
building at the time of opening. It also was the first
modern building (excluding the Eiffel Tower, see above) to hold the
record for world's tallest and also was the first secular building
to hold this honor: all previous holders of the position of world's
tallest were religious structures, whether European cathedrals or,
for the previous 3,800 years, the Great Pyramid of Giza.
to 700 rooms, City Hall is the largest municipal building in the
States and one of the largest in the World.
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, all the better to reveal the
details that he had included in the work. The statue actually
faces a little 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.
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 way 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. A joke among
Philadelphians that results from Penn's position is that when
viewed from Ben Franklin
Parkway the statue appears to be engaged in a lewd
activity, due to the scroll in its hand.
Starting in the
1990s when one of Philadelphia's four major sports teams
were close to
winning a championship, the statue was decorated with the jersey of
Close up of architecture of the upper
northeast portion of the building.
The tower features clocks in diameter on all four sides of the
metal portion of the tower. (larger than the Clock Tower,
Palace of Westminster). 
The observation deck
directly below the base of the statue, approximately 500 ft
(152 m) above street level, offers visitors an expansive view of
the city and its surroundings. It is accessed via a 6-person
elevator which has glass panels so visitors can see the wooden
superstructure inside the tower. Stairs are also provided within
the tower, but are only used for emergency exit. Once enclosed with
chain link fence
, the observation
deck now uses glass
as its enclosure. It is
currently the only publicly accessible observation deck in the
Penn's statue is hollow, and a narrow access tunnel through it
leads to a small (22-inch-diameter) hatch atop the hat.
For many years, City Hall remained the tallest building in
Philadelphia under the terms of a "gentlemen's agreement
" that forbade
any structure from rising above the William Penn statue atop City
1987, it lost this distinction when One Liberty Place was completed.
(The breaking of this
agreement is said to be the cause of the so-called Curse of Billy Penn
, under the supposed
influence of which no major-league Philadelphia sports team won a
championship between 1983 and 2007.)
City Hall is a National
. In 2006, it was named a National Historic
Civil Engineering Landmark by the American Society of Civil
City Hall at the start of the Mummers
City Hall at night
City Hall is built on the area designated by William Penn
as Centre Square. It was a
from the city's founding
in 1682 until the construction of City Hall began upon the site in
1871. It was one of the laid out on the city grid by Penn. It lay
at the geographic heart of the city from 1682 until the Act of Consolidation, 1854
(although it was never truly the social heart of the city during
that long period).
Weigley et al. tell us that Penn planned for Centre Square to
However, the Delaware riverfront would remain the de facto economic
and social heart of the city for over a century. Weigley et al. go
on to explain that
- Philadelphia City Hall, Philadelphia
- Hornblum, Allen M.: Philadelphia's City Hall, page 63.
Arcadia Publishing, 2003.
- Weigley et al. 1982:7.
- Weigley et al. 1982:16.
- Gurney, George, Sculpture of a City—Philadelphia’s
Treasures in Bronze and Stone, Fairmont 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