Major Projects and Concepts
Major Projects and Concepts
A great number of projects were planned and carried out during Bacon’s administration. Perhaps more than most administrators of the time, Bacon actually conceived of physical concepts, while managing the agency. However, his talented staff and numerous consultants were the ones who put these ideas to paper and developed them. Bacon’s work was done in concert with the City’s active Redevelopment Authority, as well as powerful business and civic groups. The following projects are some of those most closely associated with Bacon.
In 1952, the Pennsylvania Railroad committed to act on its long-standing plan to demolish its enormous “Chinese Wall” railroad viaduct that cut through Center City, and redevelop the land. Bacon worked with architect Vincent G. Kling to create plans and models for developing the site. Although it was a private real estate transaction, Bacon convinced the Railroad to adopt the Bacon/Kling vision for “Penn Center” of a transit-connected office and retail environment, with a sunken, open-air concourse. In 1952, the City Planning Commission produced the Plan for the Penn Center Redevelopment Area, with Kling as a consultant. This plan addressed the Railroad’s property, as well as proposed additional development for the surrounding blocks.
The Railroad brought in a private real-estate consultant (Robert Dowling), developer (Uris Bros.), and architect (Emory Roth) from New York. The City established a committee that included Louis Kahn to review the developer’s proposals. Penn Center was changed dramatically from the original Bacon/Kling plan -- with the below-ground level covered over, and the buildings enclosing, rather than straddling the concourse. Despite these changes, Penn Center serves today as the core of what has become the city’s downtown business district. In connection with Penn Center, the city built several adjacent developments and plazas, including LOVE Park, Dilworth Plaza, and the Municipal Services Building.
The Far Northeast
In the early 1950s, the Far Northeast section of the city, north of Pennypack Creek, was over 16,000 acres of sparsely developed property and farmland. Seeing development pressure to build on this land, Bacon created a design concept for a new type of urban neighborhood that used dense rowhouse blocks, but sited them along a curved street network, based around retail and recreation hubs, connected with bus lines. The intent was to maintain the existing streams and open space. The planning of the Far Northeast was accompanied by City Council enacting the City’s Subdivision Ordinance, and the adoption of a new zoning classification, specifically for this new development. Irving Wasserman of the Planning Commission was responsible for the subdivision planning of the Far Northeast, and working with developers.
Due in part to Bacon’s delegation of the parcel planning, constraints of the land, and development pressures, again this plan turned out very differently from its original form. The commercial hubs were never built, and today while the Far Northeast is a cohesive residential environment, it is auto-oriented with suburban, strip-malls. Nonetheless, looking at a map of the city’s remaining waterways, it is striking how the Far Northeast plan preserved dozens of streams and adjacent open space.
Society Hill is often considered Bacon’s crowning achievement. A rundown and disinvested area in the 1950s, this neighborhood in the southeast of Center City contains a remarkable collection of Colonial homes. Called at the time the Washington Square East Urban Renewal Area, Bacon created the preliminary plans, and the Redevelopment Authority worked with the business community’s Old Philadelphia Development Corporation to invest Urban Renewal dollars into brick sidewalks, period lighting, and streetscaping, while creating a process for transferring properties to new owners who could afford to rehab and live in these homes. Bacon designed a network of pedestrian walkways, called the Greenway System, to tie the neighborhood together. In 1957, the Planning Commission issued its Washington Square Redevelopment Plan, based on the work of Wilhelm von Moltke from the Commission staff, with Stonorov and Kling as consultants.
While most of the 18th and early 19th century houses were restored, late 19th century buildings were not valued as much as they are today, and many were demolished. The Redevelopment Authority held a national competition for developers to build several high-density parcels. New York developer William Zeckendorf won, with a plan by architect I.M. Pei. Pei’s Society Hill Towers and surrounding townhouses are today an iconic element of the restored Society Hill neighborhood.
In the 1950s Bacon conceived the idea of creating a new retail center on Market Street, east of City Hall, connected with transit, parking, and a bus facility. At the time, five department stores lined this corridor, but the business climate was seen as declining. In 1958, the Planning Commission released its first plan for the area, called Market East Plaza. This concept was treated skeptically by the business community, and three different plans were created by the City Planning Commission staff before a fourth, designed by Commission staff and consultant Romaldo Giurgola, was endorsed by the Old Philadelphia Development Corporation’s Market East Committee.
The Redevelopment Authority retained Skidmore Owings and Merrill to develop the urban renewal plan, and obtained federal funds for the project’s implementation in 1969. In 1975, after nearly 25 years and after Bacon had retired from the Planning Commission, the Rouse Company partnered with the Redevelopment Authority to break ground on the Gallery at Market East. The first phase was completed in 1977 and the second phase in 1983. The Gallery became and still is one of the most successful inner city shopping malls in the U.S.
Other Major Projects
Bacon is largely associated with the conception of Penn's Landing, the City's waterfront development and esplanade. Much of the City's highway system was planned and built during Bacon's tenure, including the Delaware Expressway (I-95), the Schuylkill Expressway, the Roosevelt Boulevard Expressway, and the Vine Street Expressway. Bacon pushed for the Commuter Rail Tunnel, that in 1978 connected the lines of the then-defunct Pennsylvania and Reading Railroads, giving Philadelphia a unified commuter system running underground through Center City. Bacon acknowledged that this project was originally the idea of Damon Childs of his staff.
Bacon conceived the idea of Schuylkill River Park, included in the 1963 Center City Plan, and released as a Redevelopment Area Plan in 1964. However, that project was not developed until the late 1990s. He also proposed closing Chestnut Street to automobile traffic and creating a pedestrian mall and transitway. The idea was implemented, though again differently from Bacon’s concept, in the late 1970s, and was considered a major failure. Bacon is often credited with Independence Mall; however, that project was planned in the 1930s, and was largely a fait accompli by the time Bacon became planning director, with enormous support, as well as allocated federal and state funding. Nonetheless, the development of the mall and other buildings as part of the Independence Mall Redevelopment Area were implemented during Bacon’s tenure.
Bacon and his staff worked with the Redevelopment Authority on over two dozen redevelopment area plans for neighborhoods across the face of the city, including East and West Poplar, Eastwick, Germantown, Mill Creek, Temple University, and Queen Village. Bacon was involved in the planning of Yorktown, the first community in America developed for middle-class African-Americans. He led the creation of the highly visual 1963 Center City Plan, and also oversaw the drafting of the City’s Comprehensive Plan in 1960.