Look Up! The Spirit of ’76 on Chestnut Street

“Look Up!” is a PlanPhilly feature that encourages appreciation of our architectural and historical environment. The photo essays focus on different Philadelphia areas and their distinctive building styles and details, all of which make up the physical fabric of the city and region.

The single block of Philadelphia that probably gets more visitors than any other, particularly on the week of July 4th, is the 500 block of Chestnut.

They come to see an outstanding example of Georgian architecture that has become an international icon of freedom.

The design of Independence Hall is attributed to lawyer Andrew Hamilton, though not all historians agree. Hamilton was the Speaker of the Pennsylvania House of Representatives in the 1730s, and he purchased the Chestnut Street land and donated it to the public for construction of what was then known as the Pennsylvania State House.

According to John Gallery, in his book “Philadelphia Architecture,” Hamilton worked with master carpenter Edmund Wooley on the government complex from 1732 to 1748.

The main building was designed as a horizontal brick rectangle of modest scale and restrained decoration. Two secondary buildings to the east and west were joined to the main building by arcades. The tower that would give the building its bold identity was erected in 1750 by Wooley, who also added the handsome eight-day clock on the west side of the building.

Inside the main building’s Assembly Room, the representatives considered the costs and benefits of liberty, and eventually signed the Declaration of Independence. The building served as the capitol of the new United States from 1790 to 1800.

Independence Hall underwent numerous alterations, including a restoration in 1830 by Greek Revival architect John Haviland, who would later design Eastern State Penitentiary and the Franklin Institute.

The building was returned to its original style in more recent decades. This year, the Preservation Alliance for Greater Philadelphia presented a grand jury award to the city’s Department of Public Property for the most recent, painstaking restoration of Independence Hall Tower.

“Look Up” Eyre design in Chestnut Hill

“Look Up” St. Charles Hotel

“Look Up” Beaux Arts beauty at Penn

“Look Up” Moderne and Machine Age Schools

“Look Up” Frank Miles Day mansions
“Look Up” Thomas Ustick Walter’s columns

“Look Up”  Jacob Reed Building

“Look Up” Ronald McDonald House 

“Look Up” Jeweler’s Row

“Look Up” Abington’s flirtation with Hollywood

“Look Up” Rittenhouse Square’s stables

“Look Up” Fairmount’s contribution to the row home dynamic

“Look Up” Drexel’s Poth Dynasty

“Look Up” Wright’s Ardmore Experiment

“Look Up” Contemporary neighbors in Society Hill

“Look Up” Imaginative Eyre on Locust Street

“Look Up!” Elfreth’s Alley has issues

“Look Up” Architectural exercises on Boathouse Row

“Look Up!” John Notman’s brownstone temples

“Look Up!” 19th Century luxe on Locust St.

“Look Up!: 20th Century evolution in East Falls

“Look Up!” Rural retreats in Northeast Philly

“Look Up!” Modernist lines on Haverford Ave.

“Look Up!” Chestnut Hill’s modernist gems

“Look Up” Furness Chapel
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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