Look Up! South Philly’s historic green space

“Look Up” is a PlanPhilly feature that encourages appreciation of our architectural and historical environment. Each week, the photo essay will focus on a different Philadelphia area neighborhood and its distinctive building styles and details, all of which make up the physical fabric of the city and region.

Sports fans know FDR Park mainly as a place to park the car while attending a game in the next-door stadium complex.

South Philadelphians know the park as “The Lakes” –348 acres bordered by Broad Street, Pattison Avenue and the columns of I-95 — a place to hike, jog, golf and unwind.

The park also has a distinguished history and design.

In 1914, the city hired the preeminent landscape architecture firm, the Olmsted Brothers, to plan what was originally called League Island Park. Frederick Law Olmsted Jr. and John Charles Olmsted were the son and step-son of the creator of Central Park, Prospect Park and many other urban green spaces.

To build the park in South Philadelphia, 300 acres of marsh were filled and regraded. The Olmsteds designed tree screens to wall off the city, and developed winding paths and beautiful, natural views from one area of the park to the next. Their park was completed in 1921.

In 1926, new structures were added for the nation’s Sesquicentennial Exposition.

The original boathouse on Edgewood Lake was transformed into what was called the Russian Tea House, with steps leading up to a horizontal, arched brick structure. The John Morton Memorial Building, the first Swedish history museum in the U.S., was built on the other side of the great lawn, opposite the Tea House. (The museum is now the Amerian Swedish Historical Musem.) A graceful gazebo to the east of the Tea House is another remnant of the 150th birthday celebration.

In the late 1940s, the park was renamed for the Depression-era and wartime president.

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“Look Up!” Chestnut Hill’s modernist gems

Contact the writer at ajaffe@planphilly.com.

“Look Up!” The Art Deco Palace of Mt. Airy
Look Up! An architect’s legacy on Spruce Street
Look Up!” The French Village in Mt. Airy
“Look Up” and check out the nouveau mansions of North Broad

“Look Up” and check out elegant Southwark
“Look Up” and check out Henry Disston’s company town
“Look Up: and check out Spruce Hill
“Look Up” and check out Green Street
“Look Up” and check out West Laurel Hill
“Look Up” and check out Parkside
“Look Up” and check out Awbury Arboretum
“Look Up” and check out Nicetown
“Look Up” and check out Overbrook Farms
“Look Up” and check out Girard Estate
“Look Up” and check out Rittenhouse/Fitler Square

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