Philadelphia City Hall (1871-1901)
John McArthur, Jr.
1400 John F. Kennedy Boulevard

Photo: Jack Boucher (1963). From the Historic American Buildings Survey. HABS PA-51-PHILA-327-19.

Covering more than four acres with a domed tower rising more than 547 feet above the ground, Philadelphia’s City Hall is the largest municipal building in the United States. Intended as the tallest building in the world, it had already been surpassed by the Eiffel Tower and Washington Monument by the time it was completed. However, the building still retains the title of the largest masonry bearing building in the United States.

Located at Penn Square at the intersection of Broad and Market Streets, City Hall was designed by architect John McArthur Jr. and exemplifies the Second Empire style that became popular in the United States after the Civil War (see the New York Mutual Life Insurance Company for another example of Second Empire architecture). The façade’s elaborate mansards, stacked columns, and bays and balustrades all express the elaborate decoration typical of the style.

City Hall is approximately 486 feet by 470 feet and seven stories tall. The building’s first story consists of granite blocks, the upper stories are brick faced with marble, and the upper tiers of the tower made of cast iron. The building’s square plan is organized around a central courtyard, with entrances to the courtyard (marked by pavilions) on each of the four sides. Towers at each corner mark entrances into the building proper. The elaborate interiors include marble, mosaic, and carved woodwork. The Supreme Court Room and the Judges’ Consultation Room were both decorated by George Herzog, who designed the interior of Philadelphia’s Masonic Temple.

The building’s exterior and interior feature an elaborate symbolic sculptural program, including more than 250 works by noted sculptor Alexander Calder. The building’s crowning achievement is Calder’s colossal bronze of William Penn (cast 1886, installed 1892) which stands at over 36-feet tall and weighs more than 53,000 pounds. Until 1986, a “gentleman’s agreement” stipulated that no building in Philadelphia would be built higher than the brim of Penn’s hat. Although the agreement was broken with construction of Willard Rouse’s Liberty Place, William Penn and City Hall remain Philadelphia icons.

Sources Cited:

For additional information and references, see the Philadelphia Architects and Buildings Web Site: