My favorite green spaces in Philly: Blanche P. Levy Park

levy_park_post_coverHello and welcome to the second post of the series!

Like the Kaskey Memorial Park, Blanche P. Levy Park is also located on the University of Pennsylvania campus. What can I say, I spend a lot of time on campus, and fortunately for me (and everybody else), there are a lot of wonderful green areas around here! I do promise, though, that the next post will be about a site away from campus (about a 40 minute drive, to be precise)…

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The funny thing is that until I started writing the post, I didn’t even realize this was an “official” park! I was planning to come up with some form of identifier, like “the green square next to the Van Pelt library” or “that square with a giant broken button”. When I looked closely at the campus map, however, I noticed that it has an official name, and it’s Blanche P. Levy Park.

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This is a more “traditional” campus park: mostly tall trees and lots of green lawn grass to chill on.

img_05941The park gets its name from its benefactor Blanche Paley Levy and is more widely known as the campus green, College Hall green, or simply The Green. Located in the center of UPenn’s campus, the Blanche P. Levy Park was established in the late 1970s under Sir Peter Shepheard, Dean of the School of the Fine Arts*. I could not find any old photographs or proper descriptions of the area before the Park was set up, but some sources called it “an unpleasant network of dirt paths”** or simply “a wasteland”***. In fact, in lieu of a picture, let me include a citation: “In 1975, College Hall Green, at the heart of the Penn campus, was a wasteland. Paths criss-crossed the Green, but many of them did not lead where people wanted to go, so students and faculty trampled dirt tracks across the grass. Mud washed off College Hall Green with each rain, and every April, grass sod was rolled out and seeds spread to create a new lawn. This poor appearance did little to attract students and did not match Penn’s stature as a world-famous university.”

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These “dirt paths” have since been converted into pedestrian walkways of pale blue and red stone (Penn colors).
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Hamilton walk
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Woodland walk

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The improved campus appearance led to dramatic results: the following year, admissions increased by 250% and continued to rise over the next several years.

The campus green is populated by masterpieces of architecture and sculpture.

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 Claudia Cohen Hall

Possibly the most popular sculpture on campus: one of the copies of Robert Indiana’s LOVE.

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There are always people taking pictures by the LOVE sculpture.
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My favorite reading of this sculpture is that in addition to many shapes, sizes, and colors, love also has many sides. Including the back side.
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What’s a shade garden without a few hostas?
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Maybe a memento from this year’s Hey Day?

Another candidate for the most popular sculpture: the Split Button. It’s sitting at the base of the stairs of the Van Pelt Library.

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The Button was created by Swedish-American artist Claes Oldenburg and his wife, Coosje van Bruggen in 1981, and its “four holes recall Philadelphia founder William Penn’s design for laying out the center of the city around four symmetrically placed parks”.
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As many sources like to point out, the sculpture also doubles as a slide***.
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Just in case you were wondering how it looks like under the Button…

Penn’s founder Benjamin Franklin watches over the Button and Van Pelt Library entrance.

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The statue was created by John J. Boyle in 1899.

Easy to overlook on the run, the Peace Symbol humbly resides in this quiet shady corner of the Park.

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The Pease Symbol was designed and fabricated by  eight Penn students from the School of Fine Arts and supervised by R. Engman in 1967.

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The vast green lawns of the Park beckon students to sit down and make for great spots for lunches and group studies.

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Maybe I’m being overly poetic, but I like to think of these intertwining and branching pathways as a metaphor for all the many ways that students can take after graduation.

And there always is one option available to anyone: take a break, sit down on the grass, lift your head up and just gaze at the sun peaking through the leaves.

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Final point: while doing research for this post, I also discovered the West Philadelphia Landscape Project (WPLP). This project was inspired by the immense success of the Penn’s Landscape Development Plan (improvements of the campus green constituted a major part of the Plant), which demonstrated “landscape development can have an enormous impact upon the image of an institution or community and can engender other investment”. I plan to read about the WPLP in more detail and share what I learn in future posts!

 

Resources:

*”Building America’s First UniversityAn Historical and Architectural Guide to the University of Pennsylvania” by George E. Thomas and David B. Brownlee, University of Pennsylvania Press, 2000

**http://web.mit.edu/wplp/plan/blp.htm

***https://roadtrippers.com/us/philadelphia-pa/nature/blanche-levy-park

 

 

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