Semiquincentennial Will Bring a New Icon to Independence Mall

Philadelphia has a deep connection to the founding of the United States, as some rather important gatherings took place here in the late 1700s, and some dudes in powdered wigs signed a fairly significant document here on July 4th, 1776. This being the case, July 4th is always a great party in this town, so much the more so when America celebrates a milestone birthday. Millions visited Philadelphia for the centennial celebration in 1876, with grand buildings going up in the Fairmount Park area thanks to years of planning and construction. In what remains one of the biggest architectural tragedies in the city’s history, most of the buildings associated with the Centennial Exposition were demolished over time, with the building housing the Please Touch Museum standing as a notable exception. Let’s hop in the way-back machine and check out some of the awesomeness that stood on the expo grounds.

Poster for the Centennial Exposition in 1876 showing the huge scale
Another aerial showing layout of the Expo
Main Building was once the largest building in the world
Horticulture Hall showing off its ornate facade
The Women's Pavilion showcased achievements to the world
Memorial Hall is the only building to remain and is now the home of the Please Touch Museum

Philadelphia again held an exposition for the sesquicentennial in 1926, this time in South Philly. The fair was not nearly as much of a success as its predecessor, with fewer visitors than expected and a loss of $20M by the summer of 1926. That’s, uh, $320M in 2022 dollars. On the plus side, the first South Philly stadium appeared as a result of the 1926 expo, surviving as JFK Stadium til the early 1990s and famously hosting the US Live Aid show in 1985. Also, we got a huge Liberty Bell replica over Broad Street, so that’s hilarious.

Biggest bell ever

We are coming up on another milestone birthday for our country in 2026, and it should come as no surprise that America is planning something exciting, of course with a major focus on Philadelphia. The United States Semiquincentennial Commission, in collaboration with America250, the Pennsylvania Semiquincentennial Commission, and Philadelphia250 will work to put Philly’s best foot forward for the nation’s 250th birthday. Fun fact, the word for a country’s 250th birthday is semiquincentennial, a word that’s so uncommonly used that spellcheck thinks we spelled it wrong.

Sadly, the semiquincentennial won’t entail the construction of a collection of amazing new buildings, nor will it result in a huge new stadium. But it will surely entail an upgrade over the biggest attraction of the bicentennial in 1976, when we got a Liberty Bell replica from the Queen of England. For the semiquincentennial, we’ve learned that Philadelphia will celebrate with a sizable and lasting landmark, right in the heart of Old City. The aforementioned organizing groups are partnering with the City and several of the largest businesses in town, including Comcast, Independence Blue Cross, PECO, and Aramark, along with the William Penn Foundation, to mark the occasion with a prominent marker that will be tough to miss from New Jersey, let alone Independence Mall. Behold, the TwoFifty Tower!

The TwoFifty Tower rising above everything on the east side of the city

This new tower, essentially a super-sized and extra-patriotic interpretation of the Washington Monument, will be located in the middle of Independence Mall, which fortunately has the space to accommodate this kind of thing. The flat area north of Independence Hall has served as a gathering spot for countless events, but for most of the year it remains woefully underutilized, even with the cafe and gardens filling up much of the eastern side. You’ll see the occasional Tai Chi group or frisbee being tossed, but otherwise it is glorified pathway system. But not for much longer.

Schematic shows the scale when compared to tiny little Independence Hall. Whoa.

The TwoFifty Tower will, quite simply, redefine the Philadelphia skyline. It will serve as a global destination, and at 1776 feet it will exactly equal the height of One World Trade Center, the tallest building in the country. And in a cool little nod, the top of the tower will also be 1776 feet from the top of Independence Hall. We imagine this will be a major tourist draw in 2026 and beyond, and will add a new and more contemporary energy in this part of town. Crucially, the involvement of heavy hitter businesses plus big donor money means that only a fraction of the costs will be covered by City funds, which feels like a huge win considering what will be a hefty price tag.

Will we be celebrating America at the base of this giant monument in four years? It’ll be a sprint, but the organizers are putting in the time and effort and money to plan and execute this huge task with a hard deadline of July 4th, 2026. So it’ll definitely be a sight to watch this thing get built over the next several years. But once it’s done, Philadelphia will boast a new beacon of liberty, one that we’d like to think would get the thumbs up from Benjamin Franklin and all his Continental Congress buddies.

Update: Sadly, this ain’t true. Happy April 1st!