The Sincerest Form of Flattery
YOU CAN’T HAVE TOO MANY INDEPENDENCE HALLS
The Lego micro-brick version of Independence Hall, above, reduces Philadelphia’s iconic building to its elementary architectural forms: the formal, red-brick Georgian symmetry, the bell tower with the clock, the balustraded roof and the central entrance way. Even at this micro-scale, this could be nothing else but Independence Hall.
AN ICON IS BORN
Beginning with General Lafayette’s visit in 1824, the building that was commonly known as “The Old State House” in Philadelphia took on a new name and a new symbolism as “Independence Hall.” No longer just an old building, it now filled a solemn and sacred function as the place where America was born. By the end of the 19th century, it had reached iconic stature as the most prized emblem of both the city Philadelphia and the state of Pennsylvania. When Pennsylvania participated in the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair, it only seemed right that its state building, above, should be a version of Independence Hall, enlarged, surrounded by porches, and adorned with massive Victorian sculptures.
The iconography of the Hall shows its influence next in the 1903 Methodist Orphanage in Raleigh, North Carolina, above. The structure was replaced by a modern administration building in 1933 and demolished in the 1980s. I’m not sure how the symbolism of Our Nation’s Birthplace applies to an orphanage, Methodist or otherwise.
The Pennsylvania State building at the Jamestown Exposition in 1907, below, was a much closer copy of Independence Hall, reproduced in three-quarter scale, with small porticos added at each end. The porticos vaguely echoed the covered walkways that linked the east and west wings to the original State House. The Reynoldsville, PA Star reported that “Everybody is at home in Independence Hall, because Independence Hall belongs to everybody.”
Finished in 1915, the Jonathan Maynard building, below, was built as a school in Framingham, MA. It still stands on the Framingham Town Common.
For the 1915 Panama Pacific Exposition in San Francisco, Pennsylvania turned to the old State House again for inspiration for its state building. This time, it left off the tower entirely and added a two story open loggia along the façade, above, which the Official Guide claimed “was closely copied from the central portion of Independence Hall.” California state senator A. E. Boynton enthusiastically supported bringing the Liberty Bell out the Exposition, stating “Bringing the Libery Bell out here will give us, here on the western coast of the country, a chance to see an object that all patriotic Americans wish to view. Building a replica of Independence Hall will complete the picture.” Touted as “The Nation’s Most Treasured Relic,” the Liberty Bell left Philadelphia for the last time on July 6, 1915, to travel by train on a nationwide tour, then displayed in a steel vault within the building.
A HALL OF LEARNING
Dartmouth was one of the first universities to model a campus building after Independence Hall. Its Baker Memorial Library, below, opened in 1928. From the 1920s through the 1950s, the formal dignity of Georgian architecture seemed particularly appropriate for America’s academic buildings.
INDEPENDENCE HALL II
When industrialist Henry Ford constructed a museum complex in Dearborn, Michigan in 1929, his centerpiece, below, was the first exact replica of Independence Hall constructed anywhere. Except for the vast expanse of lawns, it could easily be mistaken for the original.
From 1920 to World War II, nostalgic Colonial Revival architecture showed that futuristic Art Deco was not the only game in town. Harvard University’s Lowell House, above, was built in 1930. Even chain restaurants like Howard Johnson’s, below, sprouted Independence Hall inspired central cupolas.
In New York, Brooklyn College continued the patriotic trend in academic architecture when it modeled its 1935 LaGuardia Hall library building, below, after Independence Hall.
1937 saw the construction of Draper Hall at Berea College, below. The tower was remodeled in 2000 to hold a 56 bell, 11 ton carillon, the largest in Kentucky.
1937 also saw the cornerstone laid for The Founders Library, below, at historically black Howard University in Washington D.C., built under the supervision of African American architect Albert I. Cassell. When asked about its resemblance to Independence Hall, Louis Frye, an employee of Cassell, said “since the Library was dedicated to liberty, there was no more appropriate design for Howard University’s major building to emulate.”
ANOTHER WOLD’S FAIR
For the 1939 New York World’s Fair, Pennsylvania eschewed the sleek Streamline Moderne style that characterized much of that fair’s architecture and again turned to Independence Hall for its state building, below.
Here’s a description from the 1939 World’s Fair Guide Book:
An exact model of Philadelphia’s famous Independence Hall, the Exhibit comprises displays which are modern in spirit. In the center of the tower-entrance, the visitor sees an enlarged replica of the Liberty Bell, while to the left and right, walls are draped with the flags of the 48 states. . . From the Unity Bridge, a curved steel structure suspended from the ceiling, the visitor is provided with a clear view of displays in both the Hall of Democracy and the Hall of Tradition.
TIME STANDS STILL
Bellarmine- Jeffeson Catholic High School in Brubank, California, below, opened its doors in 1944. Not only is the façade of the main building inspired by Independence Hall, but the tower clock facing east is permanently set at 8:00 pm to commemorate the signing of the Declaration of Independence on July 4, 1776. The clock facing west is permanently set for 4:00 pm, the hour that the Constitution of the United States was signed on September 17, 1787.
The Edmon Low Library at Oklahoma State University opened its doors in 1953. Unlike its inspiration in Philadelphia, the library has six floors and contains over two and a half million books.
In 1958, the Moose Association built this modest version of Independence Hall, below, at its Mooseheart, Illinois headquarters, making the stolid patriotism of the Loyal Order of Moose unquestionable. Both Bud Abbott and Lou Costello were Moose members.
Our neighboring state, Delaware, got its own Independence Hall when it built Independence Mall, below. Billed as “a place to make your own history,” it opened next to a cemetery in Wilmington on July 4, 1964.
INDEPENDENCE HALL III, OR IS IT IV?
Not to be outdone by Henry Ford, Walter Knott made sure that his 160 acre Knott’s Berry Farm, which opened in 1966 in Buena Park, California, had its own Independence Hall, above. Knott’s claims that it’s the “only brick by brick replica of the original,” although its Liberty Bell, which sits in the vestibule of the building, weighs five pounds less than the one in Philadelphia. In 1979, the Knott’s location was used to film “The Rebels,” for TV, with Tom Bosley as Benjamin Franklin, below. Photo courtesy Orange County Archives.
Here’s a Bank of America, below, complete with a drive through window. It’s in Portland, Oregon. Of course.
Just last year, this Independence Bouncy Hall, below, showed up at the Gilbert, Arizona Constitution Fair. Let Freedom Bounce!
THE SHAPE OF THINGS TO COME
The proposed design for the new American Revolution Center on Third Street, below, features a cupola, “echoing but not reproducing the cupola of Independence Hall,” says architect Robert A.M. Stern. The low slung façade is of conservative red brick with mullioned windows and a row of arches topped with keystones. PlanPhilly called Stern’s traditionalist offering “just one more pale imitation of the great Independence Hall.”
These are just a handful of the many replicas and buildings inspired by Philadelphia’s Independence Hall that dot our national landscape. I’d bet there’s one in every state, including Alaska and Hawaii. Let me know if you know of others.
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● For a fine history of the Hall and its iconography, I recommend reading “Independence Hall in American Memory,” by Charlene Mires: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2002.