ben franklin parkway

Could it stick around for good?

At the Art Museum end of The Parkway, a parking lot in the middle of Eakins Oval once represented a missed opportunity in a wonderful location. Last summer though, the Parks and Recreation department transformed and animated that parking lot into a public park complete with games, food trucks and events.

Site plan from last year's edition of the Oval

This summer, a second round of transformation will again turn the parking lot into The Oval. The Oval 2.0 jumped off last month with the opening event for Philly Tech Week where people were able to play Tetris on the Cira Center. It picked up a few weeks later with the Farm Festival. Later this month, PHAIR, the open air artisan market that usually takes place in HeadHouse Square each Saturday, will make a special appearance at the Oval. Events will continue throughout the summer, with a full slate described here on the calendar.

Rising From the Ashes of the Past

The Benjamin Franklin Parkway cuts diagonally through Center City, offering a stretch rich with museums, hotels and high-rises.  Case in point, the 16-story building at 1600 Arch Street, just south of the Parkway, is situated perfectly at the intersection of all this culture and commerce.  But before the Parkway’s initial appearance in the early 20th Century, this area was just another part of Philly’s grid layout, dotted with single residences and small businesses.  The image here below, taken from G.W. Bromley’s Philadelphia Atlas, shows the southwest corner of 16th and Arch Streets at a time when planning for the Parkway was in its infancy.

16th & Arch with the anticipated arrival of the Parkway, 1910

The image above even shows faint markings indicating the intended location of the new thoroughfare.  As for 1600 Arch, its pre-Parkway life was largely as a series of nondescript businesses such as the one shown in the 1912 Department of Records photo here below. 

‘Reductions’ for all! We’re not sure of what, but they’re only $17.99 in 1912

The southwest corner of 16th and Arch is shown here below from an alternate angle, also taken from the Department of Records.

Sometimes you don't really appreciate a public space until it's gone. Like, for example, the Oval. This summer Parks and Rec. took the parking lot in front of the Art Museum fountain and animated it with chairs and games and hosted public programming six days a week from mid-July through mid-September.

Over the summer

When we passed by the artist formerly known as the Oval last week, the space looked as bleak as a parking lot in autumn, which is exactly what it is. After their Farewell Festivities a few weeks back, the lot was repainted, transitioning away from a public space and back into a parking lot. Still, the creation of the Oval was an interesting and worthwhile exercise for a couple of months- and to keep the interesting going, Parks and Rec. is hosting drive-in movies every Friday night at The Oval through November. Did you know the first drive-in theater was located in Pennsauken, just over the bridge in Jersey?

A reader checked in recently, wondering about 2337 and 2339 Pennsylvania Ave., two vacant lots near the Ben Franklin Parkway. According to this individual, the lots have looked like this for the two decades he's lived in the neighborhood. Because we love a good mystery and hate unused vacant land, we figured it would be a good idea to investigate.

The lots

According to public record, 2337-41 Pennsylvania Ave. is owned by Joseph J. Murphy, who purchased the property in 1973. The parcel, which is over 4,700 sqft in size, includes

the vacant lots in question as well as the home pictured above on the left. It's unclear to us whether the lots were vacant when Murphy purchased the property several decades ago, but it's at least apparent that a home stood at 2337 back in 1960.

Last week, the City announced that beginning on July 17th, Eakins Oval in front of the Art Museum steps will be playing host to an inviting park and exciting project.

From the Parks and Recreation's announcement on their website, "eight acres of public space at the base of the Benjamin Franklin Parkway" will become a place to meet, play, and engage in activities offered by participating organizations. There is more information and renderings here.

Site plan

Running through August 20th, the currently paved parking lot space will convert to large open blocks of pedestrian-friendly turf with inviting benches, a stage for free live entertainment and movie nights, and the city's best food trucks coming through every day. According to the drawings, there will be seating for eating, lawn games to play, sandboxes to dig, and sprinklers for hot days.

Philadelphia’s Rail Park is an effort by three dedicated Philadelphians to transform an unused rail line into a grand pubic space that connects Fairmount Park to the cultural spine of Philadelphia along the Parkway down to City Hall. The space begins at the far end of Pennsylvania Avenue near 28th Street near Lemon Hill. That’s where a rail line runs underneath a tunnel that heads toward City Hall. Could that tunnel be of one Philadelphia’s next great civic spaces?

Map of the Rail Park

The Friends of Rail Park is the newly rebranded incarnation of the group formerly known as Viaduct Green. The group recently partnered with the OLIN studio to develop a vision for half a mile of the three mile former rail line that begins at Broad Street and runs three blocks west. The group calls it the park’s City Branch. The proposed park runs along an old rail line along Pennsylvania Avenue until part of it emerges below street level behind the Rodin Museum near 22nd and the Parkway. Around 18th and Callowhill, the part of the space that can be seen now is overgrown brush. The tunnel eventually connects with the proposed Reading Viaduct.

Since last May, Sister Cities Park, the easternmost patch of green space that makes up Logan Square, has been under construction. As we told you about back then, this renovation project is part of Mayor Nutter’s Green 2015 initiative as well as a part of a plan to spruce up the Benjamin Franklin Parkway.

Site plan

With a design from DIGSAU architects, Pennoni Engineers and landscape architect Bryan Hanes, this re-imagined, kid-friendly park will include a pavilion with a cafe and community space, new greenery, a boat pond, new lighting, and a new fountain that pays tribute to Philadelphia’s ten sister cities.

Below are some renderings as well as photos of the progress to date. Is it us, or do the renderings for this new space have a similar feel to the plans for Dilworth Plaza?