Stained-glass panels to get a second life at Chestnut Street bus shelters

At the beginning of 2017, the Philadelphia Art Commission slammed the brakes on a plan to scrap Pablo Tauler’s stained-glass Chestnut Street bus shelters as part of the proposed installation of 600 upgraded, and advertisement-bearing, transit sheds across the city.

On Wednesday, the Office of Transportation and Infrastructure Systems (OTIS) and the city’s public-art director, Margot Berg, presented an alternative plan that would save panes of Tauler’s distinctive public artwork by installing them behind the benches in the new shelters.

Still, many Art Commission members voiced continued skepticism of the plan, as did public-beautification advocate Mary Tracey, of Scenic Philadelphia.

“We are losing so much here,” said Tracey.  “The intersection is gaining two [digital advertising] signs, where previously it had none. We are losing the beautiful filigree and the ironwork on top of the shelters.”

Instead, Tracey proposed that the stained glass be kept in a position that mirrors its current placement on the east end of the new shelters, rather than behind the benches.

That idea would disrupt the current plan to place ads on the 11 shelters, but she did not seem overly concerned about that. The city will be getting 600 new digitally adorned sheds across Philadelphia — what’s 11 more or less?

Some panel members seemed swayed by the idea. But OTIS’s deputy managing director, Mike Carroll, quickly worked to nip it in the bud. The Art Commission, after all, had already approved the design of the new shelters, and voting in favor of Tracey’s idea would require the city to order a handful of custom-designed shelters distinct from all the rest.

“There is a time factor involved,” Carroll said. “The structures out there are in really bad shape. It took us six or seven months to come up with a good-faith good solution. I worry that if it takes another six to  eight months, the clock will just keep ticking on the integrity of these structures.”

The Art Commission voted, 3-2, to give final approval to the new plan, with one member abstaining.

Public-art director Berg assured the commissioners that she has spoken with Tauler and received his support for the plan. The Art Commission’s earlier stand against a proposal to fully remove the stained-glass structures gained ballast from the artist himself, who voiced his opposition in an interview with PlanPhilly.

Now, the city plans to seek capital funding to hire a conservator to repair the panels and install them in the new shelters. Tauler will be hired as a subcontractor to touch up the glass elements, some of which have been tarnished by vandals.

The city expects to begin removing the old stained-glass shelters in the fall.

At Wednesday’s meeting, the Art Commission also considered a proposal that would allow the Phillies to install a network of security bollards around Citizens Bank Park, hidden within tall grass and other vegetation. The bollards are meant to deter vehicular terrorist attacks, such as those that have been carried out in Toronto and London.

The commission gave unanimous approval and praise to the proposal, which seeks to obscure the bollards with plant life as much as possible.

A bus stop at 7th and Chestnut streets, with stained-glass at its eastern side. | Ashley Hahn
A bus stop at 7th and Chestnut streets, with stained-glass at its eastern side. | Ashley Hahn (Ashley Hahn)

A rendering of the bus shelter at 12th and Chestnut streets, with restored stained-glass panels.
A rendering of the bus shelter at 12th and Chestnut streets, with the stained-glass panels restored. (Office of Arts, Culture and the Creative Economy and Office of Transportation and Infrastructure Systems)

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