Broad and Market Sts., 215/686-2840
HOURS: Mon.–Fri. 9:30 a.m.–4:30 p.m.;
building tours offered once daily Mon.–Fri. 12:30 p.m.;
Tower Tours offered throughout the day, reservations recommended
City Hall stands proudly on the site of Center Square, one of William Penn’s five original squares in his 1682 plans for the city. The city was originally concentrated in Old City along the Delaware River, where its earliest residents settled, so it made sense that local government offices were located nearby in Independence Hall , formerly the State House.
But Penn predicted the city would eventually expand westward towards the Schuylkill River, and he envisioned this space at its geometric center as the perfect locale for government. Even though Penn left the city for good in 1701, his well-laid plan came to fruition two centuries later, when construction of the current City Hall was completed for city offices in 1901.
Renowned architects John McArthur Jr. and Thomas U. Walter designed the masterpiece that stands today at the city center—one of the world’s finest examples of French Second Empire architecture. Construction began in 1871 and took 30 years and at least 1,000 people to complete.
The design was influenced by the Palais des Tuileries and the New Louvre in Paris, evidenced in the turreted courtyard stair towers, slate mansard roof with dormer windows, and the paired columns that create the cozy illusion that the building is just three stories high instead of eight. A solid-granite ground floor is 22 feet thick in some areas, strong enough to support the brick structure faced with marble. The 548-foot center tower stands as the tallest masonry structure in the world supported without a steel frame.
Famed sculptor Alexander Milne Calder designed the more than 250 sculptures on the building’s exterior. The symbolically rich sculptures include representations of seasons, continents, allegorical figures, and of course, the crowning jewel—the 37-foot-tall, 27-ton William Penn statue at the top.
There was an unofficial but long-respected agreement that no building would be built taller than Penn’s head, but the city’s growth eventually demanded that it grow up (both literally and figuratively). In 1987, Liberty One was built, the first of a series of skyscrapers that now tower high above Billy Penn.
While City Hall looks small in today’s skyline, it remains one of the most impressive and unique buildings. It is also the largest municipal building in the country, covering more than 14.5 acres of space on its eight floors. Just as Independence Hall  once housed the three branches of national government when Philadelphia  was the nation’s capital in the early 19th century, City Hall today houses segments of all three branches of city government as home of the mayor, city council, and civil trial courtrooms.
While the vast majority of the 700 rooms are standard offices, several of the spaces are truly spectacular. City Council Chambers, the Mayor’s Reception Room, Conversation Hall, the Caucus Room, and the Supreme Court Room are lavish, impressive meeting rooms. Security measures require that you visit as part of a tour.
The 12:30 p.m. weekday tour covers all the impressive rooms of the building that are not in use, including a Tower Tour to the base of the Penn statue. The full tour takes about 1.5 hours, but if you’re short on time, you can just stop in for a Tower Tour throughout the day.
A small elevator (capacity of four) takes visitors to an observation deck at the base of the Penn statue for a panoramic view of the city. The view from the top makes the site’s prime location at the very center of Penn’s original Philadelphia  apparent.
Stop into the Visitors Center and Gift Shop in Room 121 of the East Portal for more information and for tours. Summer months can be busy, so plan to stop early in the morning to reserve a tour spot for later in the day.