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Philadelphia City Hall is the seat of government for the city of Philadelphiamarker, Pennsylvaniamarker. 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, granite, and marble.

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 Towermarker. It remained the tallest building in Philadelphia until the construction of One Liberty Placemarker (1984-1987) broke the informal "gentlemen's agreement" that limited the height of tall buildings in the city. It remains the tallest masonry building in the world.


City Hall from South Broad Street, facing north

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. Originally 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 Towermarker, 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 Gizamarker.

With close to 700 rooms, City Hall is the largest municipal building in the United Statesmarker and one of the largest in the World. The 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 Fishtownmarker section of the city, which commemorates the site where William Penn signed a treaty with the local Native American tribe. Beyond Penn 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 Parkwaymarker 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 that team.

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 Westminstermarker). [57690]

The observation deck located 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 city.

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 Hall. In 1987, it lost this distinction when One Liberty Placemarker 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 Historic Landmark. In 2006, it was named a National Historic Civil Engineering Landmark by the American Society of Civil Engineers.


City Hall at the start of the Mummers Day Parade.
City Hall at night

City Hall is built on the area designated by William Penn as Centre Square. It was a public square 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 be

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

See also


  1. Philadelphia City Hall, Philadelphia
  2. Hornblum, Allen M.: Philadelphia's City Hall, page 63. Arcadia Publishing, 2003.
  3. Weigley et al. 1982:7.
  4. 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

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