Monument for Center City Philadelphia

Philadelphia’s answer to the Eiffel Tower. It’s a park! it’s a transit hub! It’s an antidote to corporatization of public space!

After Philadelphia dug a hole in the ground and then left it fenced off for years as part of a stalled effort to lure a Disney theme park to Center City, artist-activist Albo Jeavons staged an exhibition of alternative proposals for the use of the site.

While Philadelphia has not yet built the monument — the site is a parking lot as of this writing, 18 years later — the proposal stands as a vision for a city built for human desires rather than corporate profiteering.

The full text of the original zine promoting the project follows:

Moe & Company Proposal to the Philadelphia Industrial Redevelopment Authority

for the construction at 8th and Market streets of a world-class monument inspired by the Eiffel tower, which shall be integrated with a hub for aerially-suspended gondola transit, and which shall be accompanied by an ‘underground’ cultural center, a series of public benches and gardens, and a french fry vendor

  1. Rationale / Overview: The current condition of the site at 8th and Market streets provides little use to anyone, and is just plain ugly.  Moe & Company proposes to redevelop this important site in the heart of our city’s commercial/tourism district with a project that will beautify the city, attract tourism, revitalize the regional transit network, offer a much needed snack to hungry citizens, and offer formal venues for underserved cultural activities such as all-ages music shows, skateboarding, alternative cinema, puppet workshops, etc.
  2. Major Elements:
    • The Tower – The tower design is inspired by the steel beams of the Eiffel Tower, but with twisted, curving lines reminiscent of DNA strands or twisted tree trunks.  These steel elements will gain structural strength by winding around each other and intersecting with platforms, staircases, and an elevator.  They will lean over Market and Eighth Streets and flirt with the existing building at Ninth and Chestnut.  The strands of steel will grow thinner and approach each other at they climb, but will not meet or converge at the top.  The height of the tower will be equal to the height of the brim of William Penn’s hat in the sculpture atop City Hall: 546 feet.  A viewing platform near the top of the tower will be accessible to the public for no charge, though there will be a 25¢ charge per minute for using binoculars mounted near the railing of the platform. Unlike other monuments, the tower will not carry an obvious message like “our city was the gateway to the west” or “these men were so great that we carved a mountain into the shape of their heads.”  Instead, the tower will be an ambiguous monument to the people – who will in turn develop the meaning and significance of the monument over time.  Eventually, it is hoped that this tower will replace the permanently damaged “bell of liberty” as the icon representing our city on children’s jig-saw puzzle maps of the United States.
    • Gondola Transit Hub and Network– Integrated with the tower will be a gondola transit hub to be operated by the Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority.  Escalators, and wheelchair-accessible elevators will lead up the tower to a north-south platform six stories above street level and an east-west platform nine stories above street level.  The proposed initial North-South route will have an endpoint at the Philadelphia International Airport (with dramatic views of planes taking off and landing under the gondola cables) and a northern terminus at a point in Northern Philadelphia to be determined after an expedition is sent to that territory and a report is written on its general landscape and resources.  The proposed initial East-West route will begin in Camden, New Jersey and end on the campus of the University of Pennsylvania with stops at the top of Liberty Place and just below the historic scrolling PECO energy sign. The gondola system will be designed such that cables can be attached to existing SEPTA busses – thereby decreasing costs and allowing for express land/air routes that will bypass center city traffic.
    • Underground Cultural Center – A marquee and a set of doors leading to an elevator and stairs will be the only surface evidence of this center for all things ‘underground.’  Beneath the street-level activities of tourists and businesspeople, young people in scarves and black berets will take part in activities that have previously not had stable venues and have not enjoyed support from the city.  Because constructing and operating this facility will be costly and government funding likely to be contentious, the center will generate revenue by selling naming rights.  Examples of possible names include The AOL/Time Warner Anarchist Cultural Compound, and The PNC Bank Wack-Ass Place 2B.  Facilities at the cultural center will include:
      • Four-Screen Cinema – dedicated to the display of independent and repertory film.
      • All-Ages Music/Dance Venue – No alcohol will be served.  Standing room will be strictly allocated on the basis of height.  State of the art footlights will be installed to ensure optimum shoe-gazing.  Race and gender of performers will be audited quarterly to assure that it isn’t all about white boys rocking out.
      • Skateboard Park – Proposed design is an exact replica of Love Park circa 1985.
      • Puppet workshop/multi-purpose space – The puppet workshop in particular would benefit from the central location of the site: currently puppet-activists who seek to provoke civic discourse at City Hall rallies and disrupt Center City traffic during major events at the Philadelphia Convention Center must move their large creations across town in the hours before a rally – often on foot or bicycle.  Also, anarchists would sleep here.
    • French Fry Vendor – Alongside the base of the tower will be a single high-volume french fry vendor serving hungry tourists and commuters with the essential snack food they crave.  Design for this stand will include many small white light bulbs and other illuminated signage inspired by 1920’s amusement park and boardwalk vendors.  Fries will be of the long, freshly-cut variety and will be cooked in 100% vegetable oil.  Ketchup will be dispensed from stainless steel pumps into small paper cups or directly on top of the fries – never in plastic pouches.  In addition to providing snacks, a retro-aesthetic, and an olfactory theme for the site, this french fry vendor will further strengthen the link between the proposed tower and the Eiffel Tower, which is in France.
    • Landscaping, Benches, Gardens – By developing the all ages music venue/cinema/skate park/puppet workshop aspect of the development underground and constructing a high tower with a minimal surface footprint, precious street-level open space will be retained and developed as parkland.  This new parkland will serve to partially restore William Penn’s initial vision for a city in which enjoyable open space is easily accessible to all residents – a vision that has too often been blighted by buildings and high-speed roadways.  Beneath the curving steel beams of the tower will grow trees, shrubbery and flowers.  In the grass, it will be common to see young men tossing a base-ball – sport coats thrown aside.  In the pathways, women with short hair and tattoos will walk dogs.  On the wooden benches women in wide-brimmed sunhats will use the dogs as a good excuse to strike up a conversation and aging men will read periodicals or sleep as SEPTA busses silently sway overhead on the gently sagging high-tension cables. Amongst the shrubbery, squirrels and pigeons will grow plump on discarded french fries. 
  3. Budget:
    • Overall costs – This project will cost more than a book of matches and less than a trip to the moon.
    • Additional costs associated with the project – Claus Oldenberg must be commissioned to redesign his sculpture Clothespin to be integrated aerially with the high-tension cable connecting the gondola stops atop Liberty Place and the PECO Energy Tower.

—Erik Moe, Summer 2002