Thursday, April 12, 2012

Butt-Fugly Public Art of the Week-- April 12th

Bicentennial Bell Tower by Cambridge Seven Associates, Inc.

113 South Third Street

It was the 70's... what did you expect?
                       This is a bell tower? Quite pathetic. This has to be Independence National Historical Park's greatest living blunder, and that's saying something. This piece of shit has uselessly stood here for 46 years years, making millions of tourists over that period of time look up and say, "Huh?". It is the spawn of a bad idea that stemmed from more bad ideas. Fuck you, Bicentennial Bell Tower.
                       People love that goddamn Liberty Bell. For years, Philadelphians have especially gone bananas over this thing. Before it was an oversaturated image that everyone was sick of, the bell was a sacred shrine that existed within another sacred shrine, Independence Hall. Every time the bell was removed from the Hall, people protested... even when it would be paraded around town and returned the same day. In the mid 20th Century, the shit got real.
                       The new Independence National Historical Park, destroyer of some of  Philadelphia's greatest architectural treasures, was going to bring a lot more visitors to the bell, located in a little hallway at the bottom of a stairway in Independence Hall. It would need to be moved. The first idea was to move it to its own building at 3rd and Chestnut in 1958. People went fucking nuts and the National Park Service delayed the project.
                       By the early 1970's, preparations for the Bicentennial celebration began. At this point, Philadelphia was trying to put on a Bicentennial Exhibition and World's Fair, assuming that the entire world would be descending on the city. The Liberty Bell would have to be moved to keep Independence Hall from being overrun. The planners went back to 3rd and Chestnut, where a new Visitor's Center would be built... this could be the new location for the Liberty Bell. In 1972, the NHP commissioned the Cambridge Seven firm to design the new center with a bell tower that would house the world's most famous bell.
                       It was the 70's, so the cutting edge design Cambridge Seven came up with was asinine. An 106-foot rectangular brick tower, suspending the bell from cables all the way down to street level. Special windows would reflect sunlight inside the tower and onto the bell.

The rendering of the Visitor's Center with a slightly different Bell Tower. 

This is how the bell would be displayed.
                        Philadelphians went FUCKING APESHIT when they saw the design. They complained that it looked like a prison turret. They complained about the Visitor Center's crappy 1970s-style design. They complained about the bell being too far away from Independence Hall. Frank Rizzo, mayor at the time, endorsed the bell's move but got crushed by the public outrage over the horrible look of the tower.
                         Eventually, the park folks caved and moved the bell onto Independence Mall, right across the street from Independence Hall. The ugly Mitchell Giurgola Liberty Bell Center was a huge improvement over Cambridge Seven's shitty tower. Despite the bell not moving to the Visitor's Center, the tower was built anyway! It would house a replica Liberty Bell (the Bicentennial Bell) that was gifted by the Queen of England in 1976.

The ceremony on July 6, 1976.
                        The tower was different from the original design.. the windows were gone and the bottom section was opened up. Smaller rectangular openings were placed at the top-- seemingly to accommodate the Bicentennial Bell. The replica bell was to be rung at the time of presidential inaugurations and coronation of British monarchs, but ended up just being rung every day at 11am and 3pm. After the bell broke in 2005, it was never fixed, letting the world know how forgettably useless that stupid bell tower is.
                        This dark cloud has a silver lining, however. Bicentennial Bell Tower's days are numbered. The new American Revolution Center is to be built in place of the failed Visitor's Center/Living History Center. The butt-fugly, stained-up, outdated tower is to be demolished. Of course, there is some NIMBY opposition. The destruction of the building and tower will signal the total erasure of the super-ugly bicentennial-era additions to the Independence National Historical Park/Grass Lot Collection. Boo fucking hoo.
                        I, for one, will be glad to see this motherfucker go down. Hopefully, I can be there when it happens. Its not every day that a piece of butt-fugly public art gets destroyed. Hooray!       

It only looks good from this angle. Up its ass.

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