The Liberty Place: More than Meets the Eye
by Jamillia Kamara
Let’s face it. If you are a Philadelphia native, you’ve wandered into The Shops at Liberty Place at some point. Maybe you were captivated by the sun-filtering dome covering the foyer, or that chic jacket in the Express window display on Chestnut Street. If you are anything like me, your initial exposure to the Liberty Place was unintentional— the first time I entered, I just needed some lip balm. My epidermal layers were struggling that fall afternoon, and Bath & Body Works had my back. Don’t judge me.
What you may not be privy to is the controversial but rich history behind the construction and blueprints of the Liberty Place complex. And when I say rich, that’s a double entendre. Consisting of two sky scrapers— One Liberty Place and Two Liberty Place— a hotel, a parking garage, and a mall, the complex cost more than 200 million dollars to build, was completed in two stages, and only succeeded after fierce debate. For structures that stand a mind blowing 945 feet and 848 feet high respectively, the Liberty Place complex is a groundbreaking win. Pun intended.
When Helmut Jahn and his Murphy & Jahn firm proposed the plans for construction in 1985, there was an immediate upheaval due to the long standing gentleman’s club agreement that no building should be taller than the William Penn Statue on top of City Hall. Critics argued that the Philadelphia skyline would be drastically altered and negatively impact the livability of the city. Ultimately, plans prevailed due to the estimated 12,000 jobs and 15 million dollars of annual tax revenue Liberty Place would generate. How’s that for rich history?
While it is difficult to decipher this from the ground level, One and Two Liberty Place are shaped differently, and for good reason. Two Liberty Place appears boxier due to requests made by Cigna, who initially leased 1,200,000 square feet of office space. One Liberty Place has a linear, more angular construction and is the taller of the two towers. That design was inspired by the Chrysler Building in New York. While Cigna has since downsized their office space, other companies with offices in the towers include the Westin Hotel, JP Morgan Chase, and elite law firms. Five star restaurant R21 and condominiums starting at $7.25 million dollars are located in the very top floors of One Liberty Place. Due to slow condo sales, there is speculation that a boutique hotel may spring up soon.
Most folks know the Liberty Place for The Shops. There are approximately 40 stores available, from Claire’s to Jos. A. Bank. However, the Liberty Place is more than a mixed-income-meets-high-end-retail hub. The rotunda is available to rent and has hosted everything from holiday performances to professional conferences. From March 25th to March 27th, it will house the City of Hope “Let Them Eat Cake” event. Attendees will meet top cake chefs, and yes, eat cake! For more information about the event, visit the City of Hope website.
The Comcast building superseded the Liberty Place towers in 2007, ending their 19 year reign as the tallest skyscrapers in the city. The towers set precedence for notable buildings like the Mellon Center to be constructed. If there is any lesson to be learned from the Liberty Place Complex, it is that innovation will always be challenged, but genuine value speaks for itself. And if you think that’s a fairytale fallacy, just take a look at the Philadelphia skyline, named by the New York Times as “one of the most appealing skylines of any American city.” You’re welcome.