From Above: Franklin Square and Monument Plaza, 1926

Today Jim Saksa has a story about efforts to turn Monument Plaza into a more inviting public place. What’s Monument Plaza? It’s that wedge between the Benjamin Franklin Bridge approach and 6th Street where the Isamu Noguchi sculpture stands. Here’s a look back at Monument Plaza and Franklin Square from above in 1926.

Back in 1926, the Benjamin Franklin Bridge was so new it was called the Delaware River Bridge. Bridge construction involved razing several blocks – from the river to 6th Street. It also required rationalizing the juncture of the bridge ramp and local traffic. Enter the refined design hand of the bridge’s designer Paul Philippe Cret, who designed Monument Plaza in response. The plaza is a truncated semi-circle that splits entering and exiting bridge traffic, helps resolve the changing grade, and separates the bridge flow from 6th Street. Cret being Cret, Monument Plaza was bore restrained civic Art Deco design features, including its large lanterns.

In a way Monument Plaza is Cret’s attempt at making public space out of a proto-highway design – nothing compared to the multi-lane, multi-level knot we know today uniting bridge traffic, Vine Street Expressway and I-95. In this 1926 view we see little vehicular traffic, pedestrians walking over the bridge, and what appears to be a wee traffic signal where bridge lanes separate.

The bridge approach and the new plaza are an element of rational 20th century planning inserted to the old, dense, fine-grained city. Look at the blocks around Franklin Square – more an oasis than the island we know today, walled off by 676, and large-footprint buildings – and you see the jumble of the historic city: rowhouses and churches sit cheek by jowl with factories (including Wilbur and Whitman’s chocolates) and warehouses.

Much as the bridge construction razed a piece of the city, here we can see what the construction of 676 and I-95 replaced, but also what strikingly remains the same, like people gathered around Franklin Square’s fountain. 

Click here to enlarge the aerial above, see what you can see.


This image is part of the Free Library’s Print and Picture Collection, and is used by PlanPhilly/Eyes on the Street with the express permission of Aerial Viewpoint, which owns these aerial images. For reproductions contact Aerial Viewpoint. 

To learn more background about these aerial photographs, head over here.

UPDATED 3/23/15 10:19am: This story refered to Monument Plaza incorrectly as Memorial Plaza.

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