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Franklin Square: A Place for Everything, Everything in Its Place

By Kevin Burrows, LASN assistant editor and Jim Illigash, RLA, Pennoni Associates Inc.




Philadelphia was once the carousel-making capital of the world. To celebrate this history, a new 30-animal Merry-Go-Round patterned from some of Philadelphia’s famous original carousels was added to the square. Designed by Chance Morgan of Wichita, Kansas, the Liberty Carousel is an Americana-style 36-foot carousel. In addition to the “Philadelphia Style” animals, the menagerie includes an eagle, a sea dragon, a lion, an elephant, a seal, and chariots for younger riders or those needing extra accessibility. Philadelphia scenes decorate the interior of the carousel, which is topped off with a glorious traditional lighted finial and beautiful nighttime lighting.

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Franklin Square is a historic park that was planned by William Penn as one of Philadelphia’s five city squares to be preserved for the community. Throughout generations, all five squares changed in upkeep, name and shape, mostly for the better. Franklin Square unfortunately, was forgotten and over time took a turn for the worse. Before its recent renovation, the park had become destitute and known more for its negative elements than a place to take your kids. The redevelopment, designed by Pennoni Associates landscape architect Diana Mancini, had many challenges, including making a traffic-heavy area pedestrian-friendly. But thanks to the careful layout and execution of its renovation the park is now as vibrant as it had been intended to be when it was originally designed over 300 years ago.

Looking at Philadelphia’s Franklin Square today, it is hard to imagine the dilapidated condition it was in only a few years ago. Located between the Vine Street Expressway and the entrance to the Benjamin Franklin Bridge, the square had become an afterthought, enveloped by modern day hustle and bustle over the years. A far cry from what was imagined by William Penn when he designed it over three centuries ago, Franklin had become the black sheep of the five original squares planned in the city’s layout. It was meant to be preserved as a public-used green space, like the other four–Logan Circle, William Penn, Rittenhouse and Washington Squares. The other squares were maintained and used by picnickers regularly through the years, and while some may have changed shape, their landscapes have been kept pristine and green.






New entrance ways and signage were constructed and styled to fit with the rest of the park. “Gateways” were put in at both 6th and 7th Street, which help draw foot traffic from the nearby National Constitution Center.The shrubs at the entrances along Race Street were added to create welcoming gateways and define a ‘front door’, creating a sense of arrival to the park. Trees that were planted include Red maples (Acer rubra ‘October Glory’), sugar maples (Acer saccharum), honeylocusts (Gleditsia triancanthos var. inermis), black gums (Nyssa sylvatica), sourwoods (Oxydendrum arboretum), London Planetrees (Platanus x acerifoliz ‘Bloodgood’), red oaks (Quercus rubra) and black oaks (Quercus velutina), fringetrees (Chioanthus virginicus), Franklinias (Franklinia alatamaha) and sweetbay magnolias (Magnolia virginiana).


As the other parks grew in popularity, the pedestrian foot traffic slowed at Franklin Square, and consequently, so did its maintenance. Unsightly and dense patches of crabgrass, unkempt plants and shrubs, as well as overgrown and hazardous low hanging trees were now staples of the park. On top of that, an unwelcome criminal element occupied the square at night.






Pennsylvania Governor Ed Rendell (along with Benjamin Franklin, himself) was present at the Square’s grand re-opening in July of 2006 after undergoing a three year, $6.5 million restoration.


Call for a Change

With the park in dire need of a change, Once Upon A Nation, a non-profit group that works to preserve and promote history in Philadelphia, leased the square from the Fairmount Park Commission, and an initial concept plan was procured from noted designer Ralph Applebaum. Preliminary plans were made by Synterra and Urban Engineers, and the Philadelphia-based firm, Pennoni Associates was hired as the prime consultant for landscape architecture and civil, structural, mechanical, and electrical engineering. Sub-consultants included Paul Elia of Elia Architecture and Interiors and Grenald Waldron Associates for lighting design.

The overall goal was to revitalize the square and bring it back to the original glory intended by William Penn. In addition to replacing the walkways with bright and attractive brick pavers, a large classic carousel and Philadelphia themed mini golf course were brought in as attractions. The square’s playground, which had become known more as a place to find used drug paraphernalia than a place to find children playing, was completely rehabbed and divided into two age appropriate playgrounds.






The walkways were laid in the same orientation as originally designed by William Penn. They conveniently run from the corners of the park toward the historic fountain in the middle. The new park also incorporated a number of environmentally friendly aspects. These include using all native species of plants to eliminate the possibility of invasive species “overtaking” the park. Additionally, a seepage bed was incorporated into the drainage system to decrease the runoff from the site.


Redevelopment

A lot of hard work went into the redevelopment. Overcoming obstacles like digging up a site that included the burial ground of an old church as well as a underground New Jersey transit subway tunnel was no easy task. And if things could not be any worse, there was also the challenge of making a place surrounded by busy roadways accessible to people on foot and getting the park’s rundown central fountain up and running again, without completely replacing it.






Shrubs along the rear of the miniature golf course were planted mainly for screening purposes from Vine St. Expressway. The grasses utilized were a hardier species that would be tolerable to heavy use, as well as shade. Guests can putt through favorite city icons including Benjamin Franklin Bridge, Independence Hall, Philadelphia Museum of Art with the Rocky Steps, the LOVE statue, Chinatown, and the crack in the Liberty Bell.


Challenges

While these additions might appear simple, there were several challenges that Pennoni encountered during the revitalization. One of the main goals of the design was to retain the park’s atmosphere created by large shade trees and open lawn areas. In order to save as many of the existing shade trees as possible, the new paths were carefully regraded to improve drainage and rebuilt in the same location as the previous paths. Much of the new electric and stormwater piping was installed under the paths to limit the disturbance of tree roots. Many new shade trees were added as well, along with ornamental landscaping around the entrances. Another challenge Pennoni faced in rehabbing the park was protecting the First German Reformed Church’s burial ground, whose site is in the square. An on-call archeologist was retained to identify historic artifacts if unearthed. And if watching out for graves was not enough, there was also the issue of an underground New Jersey Transit subway tunnel that traverses the park. By designing improvements, stormwater management, new utilities serving the park’s attractions, and an ADA compliant comfort station around the known and expected grave sites, Pennoni was able to limit conflicts.






The bricks utilized are red in color and were laid in a herringbone pattern with banding. The color of brick used helps to tie in the history of architecture commonly found throughout the City of Philadelphia. Also, a native bluestone paver was utilized to provide an accent in the area around the historic fountain. Unlike any of the other major squares in Philadelphia, Franklin Square has bathroom facilities. As part of the renovation, the bathrooms received a complete facelift, adding wheelchair-accessible facilities and a family facility with changing table.


Fountain

What required the most effort in revitalizing the square was the park’s central attraction, the marble fountain. Having not run since the 1970s when the park was temporarily rehabbed for the centennial celebrations, there was a lot that needed to be done. As the park’s focal point, the plan was to restore, not replace, the fountain, which had become overrun with plants and weeds. All of the mechanical systems, filters and piping had to be replaced while the original marble fountain basin and perimeter iron work fencing were cleaned and renewed. In addition, with the assistance of Jon Favreau of Aquarius Waterworks, the fountains original spray formation was able to be restored to its original grandeur.

While replacing all the original mechanical systems supplying the fountain was difficult, the real design challenge came in dealing with the park’s storm water management system. As renovations were going on, the requirements for the system changed, so Pennoni had to come up with a “Plan B.” Excavation in the square was limited by existing trees and archaeologically sensitive areas, so putting in a second new stormwater system was not a simple or inexpensive option. The Fairmount Park Commission knew of a large unused sewer pipe located beneath the square. Pennoni re-analyzed the runoff conditions and modeled an outlet structure to provide new code required detention. Drainage patterns had to be adjusted and the design coordinated with city agencies, all in an expedited manner during construction.






To get children interested in colonial Philadelphia, storytellers are employed to tell tales of Franklin, the Square’s varied past, Chinatown, and other communities touched by the Square. In addition, a Franklin Square fun brigade plays Colonial and modern games with children. In the first five months of operation, 250,000 guests experienced the renovations first hand.


New Entrance

From the current look of the park, it is hard to imagine that it was ever a desolate and abandoned blot on the landscape. New entrance ways and signage were constructed and styled to fit with the rest of the park. “Gateways” were put in at 7th Street, as well as 6th Street to help draw in foot traffic from the nearby National Constitution Center. Picnic tables and park benches for story tellers were set up to provide for more passive recreation, in addition to the other attractions. Along with the other many renovations most notably the two age appropriate playgrounds, Franklin Square is now on par, if not better then its four sibling parks.






Two age-appropriate playgrounds were added for the benefit of residents, area day care centers, and visitors to the Square. The first playground, designed for ages 2-5, has a group seesaw, a sliding board, bridge, playhouse, monkey bars,fireman’s pole, and several levels of climbing fun. Swings include a handicapped-accessible swing, toddler bucket swings, as well as traditional swings.


Ensuring a Strong Future

Several steps have been taken to ensure that the park does not fall into disrepair again. To guarantee safety, security guards will be in service during the parks operational hours, as well as enhanced lighting to brighten the twilight hours. In addition to any money brought in to the square by concessions and attractions, there is also a “Franklin for the Fountain” brick campaign in which people donate a “Benjamin” ($100) and get their name engraved on a brick in the square.






“Some of the tree species (utilized in the design) were originally in the park so it was our intention to utilize these existing species in our design, while also introducing ornamental trees that would increase the aesthetics of the park,” said Jim Illigash, of Pennoni RLA who assisted on the project. “The Franklinia trees were introduced to tie in the history of the park, which was named in honor of Ben Franklin.” To increase the amount of shady areas, 153 shrubs, 34 large trees, and 27 small trees were also added throughout the square.


On The Horizon

Additional landscaping and an improvement to the already refurbished Police and Firemen’s Monument have been talked about for the future. In its first five months alone, the park had 300,000 visitors. Pennoni Associates and its team are proud to be a part of turning a city eyesore into a must-see city landmark.






The centerpiece of the square includes this beautifully restored 1838 marble fountain. As the park’s focal point, the plan was to restore, not replace, the fountain, which had become overrun with plants and weeds. All of the mechanical systems, filters and piping had to be replaced while the original marble fountain basin and perimeter iron work fencing were cleaned and renewed. It is thought to be the longest surviving fountain of William Penn’s original five squares.


Firm Profile: Pennoni Associates, Inc.

Pennoni Associates Inc., established in 1966, is a multi-disciplined consulting engineering firm which provides services and solutions to meet the needs of clients. Pennoni employs 800 professional, technical, and administrative personnel in 22 offices throughout Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Delaware, New England, Tennessee, Maryland, and New York. Services are provided to local, state, and federal governments, private, commercial, industrial, and construction clients as well as to other professional firms.

Headquartered in Philadelphia, Pennoni is ranked as a Best Place to Work in both Pennsylvania and New Jersey and offers services in Site Design and Landscape Architecture, Transportation Engineering, Civil/Municipal Engineering, Environmental Engineering, Inspection and Testing, Land Surveying, MEP Engineering, Geotechnical and Structural Engineering. Pennoni Associates is proud to be an ENR Top 500 Firm, ranking #133 for 2007 as well as ranking #91 on the Top 100 Pure Design Firms list.






Designed for ages 5-12, the second playground is a fun, bright, colorful, design with climbing and spinning elements. This unique and modern play set is also accompanied by an age-appropriate swing set. On the surface of both areas, colorful special turf designed for playground safety was installed. In between the two areas, seating is available where families can take a respite while observing their children at play.


Landscape Architect Profile: Diana Mancini, RLA

Diana Mancini is a Senior Landscape Architect whose 18 years of professional experience covers all aspects of landscape architecture and site planning, from conceptual design through project development, construction documentation and observation. Her project experience includes recreation facilities, large and small urban parks, streetscape revitalization projects, trail projects, and various landscape design projects. She is a graduate of Michigan State University, and a member of the American Society of Landscape Architects. Some of her landscape projects include work on the Microsoft School of the Future in Philadelphia, Christina School District landscaping in Delaware, and WRAT Radio landscaping in New Jersey.

Sources: www.ushistory.org, boomertowne.com






Penn’s Plan of 1681

William Penn envisioned Philadelphia as a “Green Countrie Towne.” Prominent in his design for the “towne” was a central square, with four other squares equidistant from the center. The five public squares, open green spaces to be shared by all, would be havens of respite in a busy world. Initially given humble directional appellations, northeast square, centre square and so on, today the squares bear the names of inspirational individuals in the city’s history.

300 years after Penn completed his city plan, the five squares are lush urban landmarks, places of retreat, refuge and even inspiration. The fourth is the hub to which all roads in the city lead to City Hall. Franklin Square, closest to the historic district, is a lovely park, with miniature golf, a playground, its old fountain, and a carousel.

Franklin Square

Franklin Square, does not have the fame of the other four Philidelphia squares, but has a rich history nontheless. In 1741, a portion of the square, which was then known as Northeast Square, was released to the German Reform Church for use as a burial ground. Before 1815, it also served as an open common, providing pasturage and a site for horse and cattle markets. During the Revolution the square held a powder house, and in the War of 1812 it served as a drilling ground for troops. In 1825, ten years after the city began to level and plant the ground, the square became “Franklin Square” in honor of Benjamin Franklin.

The park was at the heart of a major court case In 1935, when the state Supreme Court declared a case involving the release of a portion of the square to the German Reform Church invalid, leading to many of the congregation’s graves to be moved. However, many still remain to this day along with the Living Flame Memorial, which honors Philadelphia police officers and firefighters who sacrificed their lives in the line of duty. Today it is surrounded on two sides by well-traveled roads and expressways and located by the base of the Benjamin Franklin Bridge.

Logan Circle

Northwest Square is today round in shape and has been renamed Logan Circle. After serving briefly as a pasture, burial ground, and scene of public executions, the “square” was renamed in honor of Penn’s learned secretary, James Logan.

Rittenhouse Square

Southwest Square is today Tony Rittenhouse Square. Surrounded by hotels, restaurants, and shops, this square, named for colonial scientist David Rittenhouse, contains many fountains and is a popular destination for families.

Art exhibitions and flower shows are among some of the events held here throughout the year. Rittenhouse once led a group of astronomers charting the transit of Venus from a platform built behind Independence Hall.

Washington Square

Washington Square, once known as Southeast Square, was named in Presdient George Washington’s honor. Since Philadelphia was the nation’s first capitol, Washington spent many years in the city.

Centre Square

Centre Square is today named for the founder of Philadelphia, William Penn. In the early 19th century it was a favorite recreational spot, located on then, the outskirts of town. For a time home to a water works, today the square is the home to City Hall.


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June 18, 2019, 6:38 pm PDT

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