By Alan Jaffe
For Plan Philly
The days are getting shorter and the dark hours longer, but Philadelphians were given a few unexpected rays of light tonight.
Five buildings on South Broad Street were illuminated in a pre-holiday festival of visual spectacle, music, food and entertainment. It made the Avenue of the Arts look and feel a bit like Broadway, and offered a hint of what’s planned in 2008, when about a dozen structures will be set aglow in similar fashion.
On Wednesday night, with a Philadelphia Orchestra recording of Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony soaring in the background, Terra Hall, the University of the Arts’ building at Broad and Walnut Streets, was permanently lit with 80 ever-changing LED fixtures, which ran through a rainbow of hues in synchronization with the music.
At the lighting cermony, Paul Levy, president of the Center City District, which coordinated the project, told a crowd of local residents and visitors spilling off the sidewalks and lining Broad Street’s median strip that the current effort follows the 2004 illumination of structures along the Ben Franklin Parkway and the dramatic lighting of City Hall during the 2005 holiday season.
“People kept asking, ‘when are you going to do it again?’” Levy said.
Artlumiere, the French production firm that created the City Hall display, designed the current festival lighting. But Terra Hall, designed by The Lighting Practice, a Philadelphia-based firm, uses a “totally new” technology, Levy said, that is bright, beautiful and ecologically sound. The energy required to light the façade of the 16-story structure for one hour is the same amount used to run the average clothing dryer for an hour, he said.
The other four buildings lit on Wednesday night – the Ritz-Carlton, at Chestnut Street; Merriam Theater, between Locust and Spruce; and UARTs’ Dorrance Hamilton Hall and Anderson Hall, on either side of Broad at Pine Street – will stay on for a month, or longer if the public approves, Levy said. CCD is asking for comment on those buildings and Terra Hall at email@example.com.
Anderson Hall featured a series of six projections designed by the university’s lighting students, explained UARTs’ new president, Sean Buffington. He said the project represents the campus’ effort to work with its neighbors and the larger community “to transform our environment.”
“Tonight, Philadelphia is the hub of the universe,” Buffington said.
Meryl Levitz, president of the Greater Philadelphia Tourism Marketing Corporation, said the lighting enhances “one of the most beautiful avenues in Philadelphia” and makes Broad Street feel safe, more fun, and more inviting.
Enlivening the evening Wednesday were strolling musical ensembles, many dressed in blinking costumes, including the Joy Unlimited Gospel Choir, the Villanova University Marching Band, Mummertime, the Dixie Kings, the Mark Stinger Band, 60’s Sensation, West Philadelphia Orchestra, and Rumble, the UARTS bucket drummers. Roller-skating performers, jugglers, magicians and stilt walkers and stilt dancers weaved in and out of the crowd. Several Broad Street restaurants set up pavilions for sidewalk snacking.
The lighting of the Ritz-Carlton was a subdued design that emphasized the building’s fluted columns and striking Roman architecture. The least successful lighting on Wednesday night was of the Merriam, where the Toulouse Lautrec-like projection was muddy and uneven.
Jen Eisler, a Center City resident walking her dogs during the festivities, thought the Ritz lighting a little too subtle. “I loved the other pretty ones,” she said, pointing down Broad to the UARTs buildings. “They are really colorful.”
Standing across from Anderson Hall, where the designs included a Modernist geometric design and a giraffe pattern of many shades, Jalen Robinson, age 3, gave his highest rating to the student-created work. His mother, Drisana Robinson, agreed that the abstract patterns were the best on the street.
Preparing food outside the Palm Restaurant was chef Christian Richard, who admired the new lighting of Terra Hall directly across from the Bellevue. The entire South Broad project is a terrific way to bring people into the city, he said. Recent violent events have cast a dark pall over the city, he noted, “and it’s great that they’ll get to see the nice things about Philadelphia.”
The lighting project is being funded by CCD, Pew Charitable Trusts, William Penn Foundation, Lenfest Group, the state Department of Community and Economic Development, Avenue of the Arts Inc., and the Broad Street property owners.
Five buildings in black and white and full color
Alan Jaffe is a former Philadelphia Inquirer reporter. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org