Logan Circle—or Logan Square?

At last, I have found the answer to a perennial Philadelphia question: Is it Logan Circle or Logan Square?

When William Penn laid out Philadelphia, he set up five public squares precisely arranged as the five spots on dice. In the center is City Hall, and the surrounding four are Logan Square, Franklin Square, Washington Square, and Rittenhouse Square.  Their geometry can be easily seen on a map of Philadelphia.

The confusion began in the 1920s when they constructed the Ben Franklin Parkway, designed by a French architect who—big surprise—copied the Champ-Élysées in Paris.  Philadelphia’s parkway is bookended by two traffic circles: Eakins Oval at the Art Museum and a matching traffic circle in the middle of Logan Square.   So, strictly speaking, Logan Circle refers to the traffic circle inside of Logan Square.

In the center of Logan Circle is the Swann Memorial Fountain with Native American figures depicting Philadelphia’s three rivers, the Delaware, Schuylkill, and the Wissahickon.

And who was Swann to deserve such a memorial?  A founding father, a signer of the Declaration of Independence?  No, he was president of the Philadelphia Fountain Society, which shows Philadelphia politics go way back.  The designer of the fountain, Alexander Stirling Calder of the famous Calder family of artists, all named Alexander, added swans to two of the figures as a pun on Swann’s name.  (With the same first name, the Calders have to be differentiated by their middle names.  Does hubris have no bounds?)   One agitated swan, flapping wildly,  is held by a young girl (the Wissahickon).  A mature woman (the Schuylkill)  is throttling a second swan by its neck.  The swan does not look happy.  The moral is, Always be kind to an artist.  He’ll get you in the end.

Trivia: The statue of William Penn on City Hall was done by Alexander Stirling’s father, and the huge mobile hanging in the Art Museum stairway was done by Alexander Stirling’s son.  The mobile is titled “Ghosts,” so, with the fountain,  the three together are called “Father, Son, and Holy Ghost.”


About Roger Walck

My reasons for writing this blog are spelled out in the posting of 10/1/2012, Montaigne's Essays. They are probably not what you think.
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