GPA celebrates International Day for Monuments and Sites

On April 18, GPA celebrated the International Day for Monuments and Sites (IDMS) with a walking tour of Philadelphia’s historic Washington Square District. IDMS was established by the International Council on Monuments and Sites (ICOMOS) in 1982, to celebrate and promote cultural heritage in all its diversity.

The walking tour was led by Preservation Alliance for Greater Philadelphia expert Jim Feeney, and photographed by Urban Engineers’ Dave D’Alba.

Jim chose the theme of ‘continuity and change’ for the IDMS tour. While Washington Square is a constant in Philadelphia’s landscape, starting off as part of William Penn’s original plan for the city in the 1680s, it has been used in many different ways at different times, and the area’s architecture is incredibly diverse.

Jim started the tour with a summary of Washington Square’s history.

William Penn arrived in America less than 20 years after the Great Fire of London. The Great Fire had been exacerbated by London’s narrow streets and clustered buildings, so Penn laid out Philadelphia on a neat grid with planned open spaces, in order to prevent a future disaster. One of those open spaces would go on to become Washington Square.

Washington Square’s role changed a lot over the years, even as its physical location remained the same. At one time it was a potter’s field, and later became a burial ground for British and American soldiers during the British occupation of Philadelphia in the Revolutionary War.

It wasn’t until the early 20th century that it was reimagined as a manicured society park, and became the beautifully kept green space we know today. It was named for George Washington in the mid-1800s, but the modern memorial to Washington, and the soldiers buried in the park, wasn’t installed until 1957.

The diversity of architectural styles in the buildings that make up the Washington Square district reflect the area’s many different roles. They include a 1750s-style home, which Jim revealed was actually built in the 1950s for Mayor Dilworth.

There are fine townhouses built for wealthy businessmen in the first decade of the 19th century, and a glamorous Art Deco office block that has since been converted to apartments.

Washington Square has also preserved some rare survivals from times past - like an 1830s facade in the then-fashionable Egyptian style which has since been incorporated into a modern skyscraper; and the Dream Garden mosaic installed in the Curtis Building in 1914-15, made up of 100,000 pieces of Tiffany glass in 260 colors.

GPA would like to thank its members for making this fascinating tour happen - Jim Feeney from Preservation Alliance gave up his time to share his expertise on the area, whilst Dave D’Alba of Urban Engineers captured stunning photographs on the day, which you can find on our Flickr.


Article written by Alice Krainock on behalf of Global Philadelphia Association.

All photographs taken by Dave D’Alba for Urban Engineers.