A weekly series of foul-mouthed investigations into empty lots, dead-ass proposals and other design phenomena in Philadelphia. Find more stories like this at Philaphilia.blogspot.com.
The Southeastern End of Eakins Oval.
How the fuck does a ROAD become an empty lot? Who thought this would ever be a good idea? This shitbag parking lot has infested Eakins Oval for almost 50 years and is finally in the process of being wiped the fuck out. To be fair, it's not like this lot goes totally unused. Though it just parks cars for 99% of the time, its also the jumping off point for charity walks/marathons and serves as the meeting area for tours and shit. Also, the big events on the Parkway often put this ~460 foot long piece of asphalt to good use.
Obviously, this spot had buildings on it before the Parkway existed. This site of this lot used to be part of the 2300 block of Hamilton Street and the 2400 block of Biddle (later Buttonwood) Street, sitting at the base of the Faire Mount. A huge reservoir, the Fairmount Basin, sat where the Art Museum is today. The area was sparsely populated with small rowhouses by the mid 19th Century, no doubt housing the workers that labored at the industrial sites along the nearby Schuylkill.
By the start of the 20th Century, those industrial sites expanded to capacity, causing mills and factories to be scattered through this formally residential neighborhood. It must have been a smelly, foggy, noisy place to live by that point... but its days were numbered. The brand-new Fairmount Parkway was planned as part of grand revitalization of the city, a branch of the City Beautiful movement. This new wide-ass Parkway would mean the total elimination of this entire neighborhood. I wonder if it had a name?
The 1910 G. W. Bromley map showed exactly where the Parkway would be plowing through based on an early version of the plan. Image from Philageohistory.org.
Once the Parkway was fully complete in 1926, the site of this surface lot was part of that road. The original oval that moved incoming and outgoing traffic in front of the Art Museum was originally called Fairmount Plaza. The Washington Monument and the fountain to its northeast sat on their own isolated islands.
1936. Image from PhillyHistory.org, a project of the Department of Records.
In 1937, the name of the Fairmount Parkway/Philadelphia Parkway was changed to the Ben Franklin Parkway, because we didn't have enough shit named after him already. In 1964, the replacement of the Callowhill Street Bridge and the knowledge of an upcoming on/off ramp to/from the Schuylkill Expressway in this location spurred planners to re-engineer the rotary at the northwestern end of the parkway into one gigantic oval, isolating a small section of it. This, then, is the birth of the surface lot. The plan was completed in 1966. The Oval, as we all know, was named Eakins Oval. Originally, the surface lot was much larger, still incorporating a piece of the original rotary.
This aerial shot from 1967 shows the early version of the surface lot. Image from PhillyHistory.org, a project of the Department of Records.
By the early 70s, this lot was already irking the shit out of people. It wasn't even being used as a parking lot most of the time -- just a patch of old asphalt in the middle of this new oval. Penny Balkin Balch, at that time director of the Philadelphia Museum of Art's department of community programs, teamed up with the museum's Urban Outreach program to get artist Gene Davis to come in and paint the World's Largest Painting on the former piece of the Parkway. With help from Dan Kaiser and Clarence Wood (two of the original mural painters in the city), the 414 foot-long painting, called Franklin's Footpath, was completed by the Summer of 1972.
September, 1973. The painting was already fading by this point. Source: U.S. National Archives and Records Administration, public domain.
The painting lasted all the way until the Bicentennial and was gone by the start of 1977. This is when the lot started being used exclusively for parking. All these years later, large parts of the city have changed but this hasn't. Though, as I noted above, the space is used quite often for all sorts of things, parking is its main purpose... but not for long!!
In January of this year, Penn Praxis released their More Park, Less Way plan for re-purposing large parts of the Parkway into, well, a purpose. In it, this shitty surface lot finally meets an end. The lot will become a programmable 7-acre civic space, with temporary art installations, concerts, movable chairs and tables, food trucks, sandboxes, all kinds of crazy shit.
...and I mean crazy shit. There's a built-in Twister game!
It's happening sooner than you think! On July 11, the city will be holding a press conference explaining exactly what will be going on there, and then the programming will begin less than a week later! This is glorious news. It's not very often that a story about an almost five-decade-old surface lot has a happy ending. Assuming you don't get killed crossing the NASCAR-esque roadway that surrounds it, this will be the greatest thing to happen to the Parkway's public space since the fucking Pope visited. It's unclear whether or not the space will go back to being parking in the winter, but fuck it. Check out more renderings here.
From this... (1930, PhillyHistory.org)
... to this ...
...to this. Took long enough!
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