Building the City Beautiful: The Benjamin Franklin Parkway and the Philadelphia Museum of Art
September 9, 1989 - November 26, 1989Between 1871 and 1929 Philadelphia planned and substantially executed a grand scheme to build a broad Parkway, cutting diagonally through the existing grid-pattern of William Penn's 17th-century plan, connecting the crowded center of the business district with the open spaces of Fairmount Park, and providing an avenue for automobile transportation to the developing northwest suburbs. The Philadelphia Museum of Art still houses 170 architectural drawings that document Philadelphia's important contribution to the "City Beautiful" movement, tracing the development of the Parkway (Philadelphia's "Champ-Elysee") as the intended site of major cultural and commercial monuments which literally culminated in the building of the Philadelphia Museum of Art, completed in 1928. Among the drawings, many of which have been conserved over the last three years with funds from the National Endowment for the Humanities, are splendid large-scale watercolors by French urbaniste and landscape architect Jacques Gréber. Other drawings record the transition of the Museum's exterior from a classical French structure to the Neo-Grec temple envisioned by Trumbauer, Borie, and Zantzinger, and the final changes to the interior by director Fiske Kimball that transformed the Museum into a telling monument in the history of progressive museum planning. The exhibition will also include architect Paul Cret's model for the Rodin Museum, photographs from the Museum's archives, and about 100 additional drawings, borrowed from local collections, for the other buildings of this cultural complex. The illustrated catalogue of the exhibition will trace the history of the Parkway as one of the "City Beautiful" movement's most notable successes, giving attention to architects and planners who have not been properly examined, and detailing the legal, financial, and political problems that accompanied the aspirations of some of the city's most prominent citizens.
David B. Brownlee