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Art on City Hall

Hundreds of sculptures by a single artist

William Penn stands on top of City Hall

William Penn stands on top of City Hall Credit: G. Widman for GPTMC

Description

Today it seems an unimaginable feat. Alexander Milne Calder, the first of the famous Calder family, created not only the statue of William Penn on City Hall Tower, but also most of the other 250-plus sculptures that adorn the massive building.

William Penn

More than 36 feet tall, the bronze Penn atop the tower commands the city that the man himself founded. Until the 1980s no local building rose higher than “the brim of Billy Penn’s hat.” The figure faces northeast, toward Penn Treaty Park — the site where, legend has it, Penn signed a treaty with the native Lenni Lenape. With his right hand he gestures in that direction, while his left hand holds the Charter of Pennsylvania.

Other sculptures

On the tower below William Penn, the south corners feature large bronzes of Swedish adults and children. (Swedes settled the southern parts of the region before Penn arrived.) The north corners show Native Americans. Four eagles perch between the human figures. The hundreds of sculptures on the building proper cover a wide range of subjects: symbolic figures, animals, individual people, ethnic groups. The central pavilions have both allegorical and continental themes:

North side: Philadelphia government and history; Europe
West side: Rehabilitation of lawbreakers; America
South side: Justice; Africa
East side: Philadelphia history and attributes; Asia

Insider Tip

After William Penn was installed on the tower, Calder claimed angrily that the figure was supposed to face south, not northeast. But no one has ever offered to move it, perhaps because it weighs more than 53,000 pounds.

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