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4/22/09

Washington Square Park ~ Philadelphia, PA



On many occasions, I’ve had the opportunity of taking leisurely walks through Washington Square Park, in Olde City Philadelphia. Yet, I’m almost ashamed to admit that until recently, I had never known about the plaza’s rich history, nor about the architecturally fascinating buildings that surround it.

Exploring this neighborhood was a real treat. It was hard to imagine that the park itself was once the scene of a cattle market and camp meetings hundreds of years ago. Learning about the “sacredness” of the park (in regards to the square’s Tomb of the Unknown Soldier and the revolutionary soldiers who lost their lives in battle and were buried there, along with yellow fever victims during the late 1700’s) was nothing short of intriguing.

The bordering points of interest, such as the Egyptian-styled 1838 Penn Mutual façade on Walnut Street designed by John Haviland, and the site where the old Walnut Street Prison once stood, or the charming brownstone Italian revival-styled Athenaeum building with its decorative quoins, were also fascinating. But the site that captivated me most during this tour was the opulent and magnificent Curtis Publishing Building.

As soon as I saw the Curtis Publishing Building, I knew immediately that it had to be one of the most beautiful buildings in the city, with its Colonial-Neoclassical design and the grandness of its façade. I entered the building and was in complete delight of its magnificent interior. The Marble Hall (with marble walls, marble floors, and even a marble security desk) was stunning. The hexagon and diamond pattern on the floor is remarkable. I have never seen so much marble displayed in one room! Then, I looked up and there it was - covering one complete wall - the famous and truly beautiful “Dream Garden.”

What a treasure. The Tiffany Dream Garden, a 15X49 foot mosaic of over 100,000 pieces of glass in approximately 260 colors, is extraordinary. There is a sense of peacefulness in the landscape scene illustrated in the mosaic. The pieces that depict the water, the flowers and even the mountainside are brilliant. I know that Maxfield Parrish created a painting from which the mosaic derived, but I would love to know where that original painting is housed, if it still exists. I would also love to know if this scene is an actual location somewhere in the United States.

As I moved on through the building, I was in awe of the six-story atrium! An office with a full view of the atrium would be nice! The tall Arica palms that trim the sides of the atrium stand elegantly alongside massive urns. The floor, consisting of various marbles, is almost too precious to walk on. The unusual fountain, which seems to be the focal point of the atrium, is also very striking. I love how it was designed to have various levels.

The Curtis Building is a pleasure to visit, and I am already planning to return for the Holidays. I can’t wait to see it donned for Christmas!

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