As often as we find ourselves complaining about Philadelphia’s dinginess, it seems that Philadelphia has come a long way on this front in the last fifty years. In the 1940’s, 50’s, and 60’s, Philadelphia’s beautiful buildings had fallen on hard times. Historical preservation was still a relatively new concept and most of the city’s architecture was suffering from a serious lack of attention. Decades of coal burning and car exhaust had made the skyline gray, brown, dark gray, dark brown, and black.

A skyline that is neither bright nor sparkling. Image from

Image from 1965. You can't find City Hall through the grime

More shmutz on buildings. Looking out toward the Ben Franklin Bridge.

These views of Philadelphia might give insight into one of the reasons that people were leaving town in droves during those years. This was the Philadelphia that city planner Edmund Bacon wanted to fix. Unfortunately, the style of the times dictated that the fix should be accomplished with ugly boxy buildings and a layer of concrete over everything. Penn Center was the beginning of this fix. Bacon took down some of the city’s coolest-looking buildings and replaced them with his shiny new boxes.

City Hall, the city’s tallest shining beacon, was dark grey or black for much of this time. After Penn Center was built, City Hall and other older buildings looked even more dingy when compared to their pretty new friends.

The early days of Penn Center. Filthy City Hall in background.

Penn Center makes old buildings look older, but makes them look more attractive architecturally

As Penn Center expanded, the old buildings that still dominated the skyline appeared even dirtier by comparison. As time passed, however, the older buildings that survived were gradually cleaned, renovated, and re-used. City Hall was one of the last to go through this process. After all, it’s a HUGE building. It took 30 years to build, and would take about 30 years to clean.

View from the 1960’s. Masonic Temple in the lower right was restored, and an attempt was made to make City Hall appear less dirty. The Arcade Building on the left was about to be demolished so no cleaning was done.

Image from 1963. PNB Building to the right of the City Hall tower was getting a makeover. Filthy 53-year-old Wanamaker building on the left.

Oh, did we mention that there were waaaay more surface parking lots back then?

Surface Lot right across from City Hall

Big surface lot by Logan Circle. Is that Park Town Place now?

Yup, that's Suburban Station. Surface parking across the street.

Sometime between 1965 and 1975. City Hall was considered clean at this time!

So the next time you think about complaining about how filthy Philadelphia is, consider yourself lucky to live here in a time when it sparkles by comparison to the recent past. Now, if you’re complaining about how filthy Philadelphia politics are…