The Central Library and Logan Circle: New Public Spaces
The impressive collections housed at the Free Library's Central Library have advanced Philadelphians educationally, culturally, and economically. The imposing library building itself, besides enriching viewers with its instructive architecture and ornamentation, has contributed to the significant civic center at Logan Circle. Along with its twin, the adjacent Family Court, and nearby Franklin Institute buildings by architects John T. Windrim and W. Morton Keast, the Free Library building forms an important communal gathering place at the midpoint of the Fairmount Parkway.
Until the late teens, Logan Circle had been a square. In 1917, the Fairmount Park Commission appointed Jacques Gréber, a landscape architect and associate of Horace Trumbauer from Paris, to update the design of the diagonal boulevard. Although he respected the 1907 Parkway plan by Trumbauer, Clarence Zantzinger, and Paul Cret, Gréber made several significant alterations to the boulevard design. Most notably, he converted Logan Square into a circle similar to the Place de la Concorde in Paris.
Since the late nineteenth century, Logan Square had been advanced as the site for a monument to Philadelphia's war heroes. In 1902, a jury selected a 250-tall obelisk by New York architects Lord & Hewlett as the winning entry in a competition to design a Soldiers and Sailors Monument for the square, but it was not erected. In 1914, the New York architects revised their design, proposing instead a winged victory atop a stout pedestal. It too was not erected. Finally, in 1921 Lord & Hewlett collaborated with sculptor Hermon Atkins MacNeil on two colossal, upright stone slabs. These were raised, not on Logan Circle, but flanking the Parkway west of Twentieth Street.
For the prominent spot at the center of the circle, the Philadelphia Fountain Society erected a monument to its founder, Dr. Wilson Cary Swann. Designed by sculptor Alexander Stirling Calder and architect Wilson Eyre, Jr., the monumental Fountain of the Three Rivers, depicting the Delaware, Schuylkill, and Wissahickon, began operation in 1924. The Shakespeare Memorial by Calder and Eyre, located directly across Vine Street from the library's principal entrance, was dedicated in 1929. Despite the addition of the Vine Street Expressway after World War II, the home of the Free Library remains one of the city's most dignified and noteworthy public places.
In early 1927, before the new library building opened, a local newspaper proclaimed the potential of the great structure that had started as a dream more than three decades earlier:
"The transfer of books to the new Free Public Library has begun. An institution whose importance and usefulness have not been fully appreciated is about to begin its work. The building at Logan Circle is far more than a book storage, to which the public can go to read and borrow. It has unique facilities for the spread of culture. Properly supported, it will perform service of incalculable value."
For 75 years the imposing, elegant library building on the Parkway at Logan Circle has more than satisfied that ambitious prediction.
Founding, 1889-1898 | Quest for a Home, 1894-1910 | Initial Plans, 1910-1912 | Delays, 1912-1919 | Construction, 1920-1926 ||
Opening Day, June 2, 1927 | Central and Logan Circle