Before One Liberty Place topped the Philadelphia skyline in 1987, a larger skyscraper, also designed by Helmut Jahn, was proposed in the city of Houston, with a design that featured striking similarities to the future Philadelphia tower. Known as the Bank of the Southwest, the supertall was planned to count 82 floors, with an angled crown capped with a sharp spire that would rise 1,404 feet high. The larger office floors were to have angled cuts on each corner. The firm of Jahn/Murphy, Inc. was chosen after a design contest in 1982 and the tower was projected to be completed by 1986. The tower was cancelled by 1983 due to a lack of funding, but elements of the design were later integrated into the Philadelphia skyscraper.
In the 1950s, Philadelphia was starting to see a rise in new development as developers focused on Center City, particularly after the demolition of the “Chinese Wall” opened up a large swath of space from City Hall to the Schuylkill River. A wild proposal called the City Tower was revealed in the late 1950s at 1400 Arch Street, where the Philadelphia Municipal Services Building currently stands. The 30-story tower would have stood just to the north of City Hall. The tower was designed by Louis I. Kahn in a dramatic Futurist style, as the building’s design and form were way ahead of its time.
In the 1960s, Philadelphia observed a rise in development with ample space available for new buildings in Center City. The William Penn statue at the pinnacle of City Hall still topped the Philadelphia skyline with a height of 548 feet, though it was surrounded by high-rises that stood nearly as tall. Today YIMBY presents massing renderings of the skyline as it appeared in 1965, when a new batch of modern and blocky towers were rising, with still more proposed.
In the late 1980s, in rapid succession, a series of skyscrapers broke through the long-held “Gentlemen’s Agreement” that unofficially restricted Philadelphia’s buildings from rising above the 548-foot-tall pinnacle of City Hall, creating the now-iconic skyline of Center City. While the skyscraper cluster transformed the area to the west of City Hall, the Market East district to the east continues to lag behind in terms of an imposing skyline. However, East Market Phase 3, developed by National Real Estate Development as part of the East Market complex and currently under construction at 1101-53 Chestnut Street, will boost the local skyline with a pair of towers rising 364 and 288 feet tall. The buildings will bring one million square feet of medical office, residential, and retail space to the neighborhood, and add a sizable public plaza. Today we take a detailed look at the transformative project.
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.