The statue of William Penn has stood at the very top of Philadelphia City Hall in Center City for well over a hundred years, facing northeast. The large figure of the Quaker was crafted by sculptor Alexander Milne Calder, who also produced the smaller statues just above the clock house and around the entire building. The 548-foot-tall Philadelphia City Hall was designed by John McArthur Jr. and Thomas Ustick Walter, renown architects of their time. In this feature, Philadelphia YIMBY takes a look back at the original southern direction the statue was supposed to face and at the subsequent change.
The design of the tower was finalized in the 1880s, nearly after 10 years of construction on the lower office floors. In 1886, the statue of William Penn was assembled, and then taken apart in 47 pieces. The statue was transported to the courtyard of City Hall in 1893, where it was put together and sat on display for citizens to gaze upon. The public was waiting to see William Penn lifted to the top of the tower, where he was supposed to face south and be drenched in sunlight all day.
On Thanksgiving Day in 1894, the head of the statue was fastened to the structure and the public immediately noticed that the sculpture was face the “wrong way,” which a large number of people found to disrespectful. The work was done without the approval of the Building Commission, and Alexander Milne Calder was also not a fan of the change. The statue faces Penn Treaty Park on the Delaware River waterfront, where William Penn first settled and signed treaties for peace. But, in old newspaper clippings from the time, the media states that the work was also done for architectural reasons.