Last week, the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts finally broke ground on the long-awaited remake of the 1400 block of Cherry Street, imbetween the original Academy of Fine Arts museum (America’s first major art museum) and the Academy’s Hamilton Building. The project has been planned for many years and is finally going forward in time for the opening of the Broad Street expansion of the Pennsylvania Convention Center. The remake will be called Lenfest Plaza, in honor of the well-known benefactors who contributed $2 million of the $7.5 million cost of the project, Marguerite and H.F. “Gerry” Lenfest.
The new plaza, designed by landscape architecture firm OLIN, is intended to be a dramatic and artistic new focal point for North Broad Street, across from the new Convention Center entrance, and a new gateway to the Ben Franklin Parkway. The big artistic focal point, however, is a 53-foot tall paintbrush sculpture, called Paint Torch, by reverse miniaturist, Claes Oldenburg, who created the iconic Clothespin nearby at Center Square. The paintbrush was funded by the Academy and private donors to celebrate the obvious mission of the Academy and the great collection of American art in the historic nineteenth century museum (and perhaps paint some giant murals 😉 …sorry, couldn’t resist!) There will, also, be a “blob of paint” on the ground directly underneath the top of the brush. The plaza will have wavy shaped benches that will light up underneath and outdoor seating for a cafe in the Hamilton Building. At the 15th Street end there will be an exhibition space for student, faculty, and alumni artistic works.
The plaza will start street work this week, after the ceremonial groundbreaking last week, which was held indoors and involved the use of giant ceremonial paintbrushes instead of shovels. The sculpture is being fashioned in San Francisco and will be shipped to the site later this year. The work will likely be done by autumn. It is hoped that this will be a gateway to the Parkway and its many museums. Some people are afraid that the garage entrance and loading docks of the new Family Courts Building will harm that, but I doubt that the docks would be enough to prevent tourists from walking down Cherry Street. It would be a dramatic change for that stretch, just as the Convention Center expansion is finishing up. As a former resident of New Jersey, I used to wait there for the bus (because the bus schedules would say that Broad & Cherry was the last stop) and I used to look across the street at the great Academy museum, designed by Frank Furness and built in the 1870s. Once I had to wait there for two and a half hours, because I didn’t have the bus schedule and didn’t realize that there is no bus to Glassboro between 8 and 10:30 PM, and I became even more familiar with the structure as I stood there. It is an amazing, one of a kind Victorian style structure! The renovation of the Hamilton Building, expansion of the Convention Center, and Lenfest Plaza will certainly make this area much more of a central location rather than the lonely, deserted area it was back in 1997. And it will be another great public space improvement in that part of the city that complements the many improvements on the Parkway, that I discussed last week, and a new redevelopment of Love Park (that I found out about a day after my Parkway post!).
More info can be found on the links that I provided in the post and I have some pictures here.