During the planning for the Centennial Exposition of 1876, expo organizers put forth a bold proposal for an incredibly tall structure called the Centennial Tower in Fairmount Park, where two buildings still remain from the expo. The tower was planned at 1,000 feet tall, well before any skyscrapers were built in the city. The tower would have risen as large cross-braced tube that slims down at the top, capped with a short cone top and lightning rod, and would have featured four observation levels. The metal structure was designed by Clarke, Reeves and Company, which had also designed an older bridge that stood at then site of the current Girard Avenue Bridge.
The tower would have been seen from many miles away. At this time, the City Hall was well under construction, with the lower floors being erected. City Hall would share the skyline with church steeples and the Masonic Temple, which was the tallest building in the city. The Centennial Tower would have possibly stood where one of the two foundations currently exist today, which are the Catholic Total Abstinence Fountain and the John Welsh Memorial Fountain.
Located to the west of the Schuylkill River, the ground at the site is significantly elevated above sea level, which would have made the structure appear even taller. If built, the tower would have become Philadelphia’s analog of the Eiffel Tower, though the latter did not start construction until 11 years after Philadelphia’s Centennial Exposition. The observatory would have become the exposition centerpiece, soaring high above the top hats and fancy bonnets of the fair-going public and the 200 other structures that were built for the event. Though the proposal was not realized, three other observatories were erected around Fairmount Park in time for the exposition.