Looking Back at the Construction of One Commerce Square at 2005 Market Street in Center City

Commerce Square from Spring Garden Street Bridge. Photo by Thomas KoloskiCommerce Square from Spring Garden Street Bridge. Photo by Thomas Koloski

In 1984, the unwritten Gentleman’s Agreement that forbade building above the 548-foot-high statue of William Penn atop City Hall was about to be eliminated when, in April, developer Willard Rouse proposed a skyscraper development that eventually became Liberty Place. The proposal apparently influenced more developers and architects to build towers above the former height limit. The Commerce Square twin towers were revealed at 2005 Market Street in Center City at the end of the year. Designed by I.M. Pei and Partners and developed by IBM and Maguire/Thomas Partners, the 41-story towers were not built simultaneously, as One Commerce Square was the first building finished in the complex.

Commerce Square groundbreaking. Photo by Philadelphia Daily News

Commerce Square groundbreaking. Photo by Philadelphia Daily News

One Commerce Square topping out. Photo by Philadelphia Daily News

One Commerce Square topping out. Photo by Philadelphia Daily News

The project was announced on November 13, 1984, and images of the design were shared by The Philadelphia Inquirer on December 2. The towers were shown to rise slightly above City Hall to a height of 565 feet, once again stirring outrage among those opposed to towers that would rise above the unofficial height limit. The first building was projected to start in June 1985 and complete construction in early 1987. The groundbreaking took place on June 10, 28 days after the groundbreaking of One Liberty Place. At the very end of July, the development team announced that only one building was to be constructed at a time. The steel structure started rising shortly after.

One Commerce Square in the skyline one month after topping. Photo by The Philadelphia Inquirer

One Commerce Square in the skyline one month after topping. Photo by The Philadelphia Inquirer

The steel structure was well underway by the end of 1985, and the tower was shooting upward by early 1986. One Liberty Place already stood above ground at the time, but One Commerce Square has topped out its diamond topped crown on June 6, 1986, ahead of the former. The east diamond was the last structural piece placed on top of the tower, and the crane was taken down by the next month. The exterior was completed by the end of 1986, and the building opened on October 23, 1987. Two Commerce Square was projected to start in the next year, but was delayed for a few more years.

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3 Comments on "Looking Back at the Construction of One Commerce Square at 2005 Market Street in Center City"

  1. I recall wondering why those twins were just slightly taller than the former height limit.

    It looks so short because without those ornaments, it appears no taller than the surrounding buildings.

    Very good and well written article, Thomas! 😉

  2. John L Hemphill | September 23, 2021 at 9:42 am | Reply

    I sure remember those days well; there was a lot of excitement in the air and people wondered if Philadelphia would start to look like New York; I’m happy to say that Philadelphia did develop a fantastic skyline and it is uniquely Philadelphian. There was a good bit of tension in those days over City Hall and the height of buildings but for many I suppose there were 3 camps; those who wanted to retain Philadelphia the way it looked; those who wanted to look forward with taller buildings; and those who understood that while City Hall is an amazing skyscraper the city would never look the way it did in the Victorian era so when change came it had to be tasteful.

  3. Michael DeSantis | September 24, 2021 at 9:04 pm | Reply

    I’m old enough to remember Fidelity Mutual Life Insurance Building aka.
    Girard Bank/PSFS (merged later and magically became Citizens Bank. But anyway, yes tons of new and exciting projects Commerce Square kinda hit it off. Liberty Place project was stirring alot of people who still remained steadfast on the height remaining broken. I thought those people had died out. At any rate, Liberty Place ground breaking with all of the hoopla was overshadowed by the headlines that took up the whole page of the Inquirer the same day. The aftermath tragedy of the Move era and 11 people including innocent children took the talk of that period in time. I looked at the bottom of the page and in the corner of the newspaper were photos of the project, so small that I almost became a skeptic thinking the project will be ditched because of the feeling that Philadelphia was going to show more corruption etc. And the way it was handled. Everyone, well alot of people were calling the police murderers and divided the city pretty much. Somehow,Philadelphia moved on, no pun intended. But numerous proposals were being shown Bell Atlantic, Mellon Bank, which I think was the old Girard/PSFS/ETC. BANK building, and you showed the article I saw seeing that it was going to be almost the height of One Liberty, but had 6 floors lopped off of it before ground was broken. Darn it. That would have been my favorite, but Bell Atlantic is still my favorite, I refuse to call it 3 comcast. I hate comic comcast. But I won’t go into that. But Tom, I have one question about Commerce Square? I really seem to Forget which was built first, I thought that the West tower 1st and the east 2nd? I know that the address is 2001 and 2005, maybe the addresses are throwing my train of thought off. 2005 was built 1st? I really am confused other than that great articles, as always.

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