At the crossing of Broad and Market Streets is Philadelphia’s City Hall. When William Penn laid out his plan for this city he designated that a central public square, the focal point of his plan, be placed at this intersection. At that time most of the city lived along the eastern border of the Delaware River, and the idea for a town center equidistant from the two rivers was not realized until the construction of City Hall in 1871.

Designed by John McArthur, Jr. the building took nearly 30 years to construct. It was to be the world’s tallest building, though by completion the Eiffel Tower had surpassed it. However, it remains the largest municipal building in the United States, housing all three branches of government. Until 1987 it was the tallest building in Philadelphia. At its peak is a statue of William Penn with his hand outstretched. Viewed from the Ben Franklin Parkway, he appears to be pissing on the city below.

The building is in the ornate style of the Second Empire and has wonderful Baroque features, including mansard roofs, double columns, Palladian windows, and assorted statues and figurines. The tower is offset to the north of the building’s inner courtyard, which can be accessed from archways in each of the city’s principal axes. The vaults in these passages are equally impressive; the one from North Broad Street has columns with entangled figures and animals at its capitals, and the one from the south has a delicate globe chandelier hanging in the center. Even the building’s standpipes are highly decorative, like sea creatures mounted to the inner walls. By contrast, the inner court is more serene and subtle in its ornament.

In the 1950s, Ed Bacon, father of Kevin Bacon and mini-Robert Moses of Philadelphia, led the charge to tear this building down. Fortunately, Bacon lost his battle and eventually came around to the building. By 1984, the long standing gentleman’s agreement to respect the height of Penn’s statue as the tallest point in the city was broken by the planners of One Liberty Place, a project Bacon opposed. Superstitious Philadelphians claim that this resulted in the Curse of Billy Penn, which kept all major Philly sports teams from winning championships. Hoping to lift the curse, steel workers in 2007 topped the Comcast Center, now the tallest building in town, with a small figure of Penn. In 2008 the Phillies won the World Series. Coincidence? We think not, but then again, if Omar Minaya had been around earlier, maybe the curse would've been moot long before.