Enjoy 3 magnificent buildings in 3 different styles … all within 300 steps of each other

Most of us know our city is chock-full of historic Colonial buildings, such as Independence Hall, Carpenter’s Hall and Christ Church.

But few realize Philadelphia is home to three architectural masterpieces – as eclectic and extraordinary as you’ll find anywhere in the world – all bunched together on N. Broad Street.

What’s more, these three marvels are all designated as U.S. National Historic Landmarks.

The buildings include:

  • Philadelphia’s City Hall
  • The Masonic Temple of Philadelphia
  • The Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts

A tourist’s dream

Begun within just three years of each other, the three structures are completely different in looks and style. Yet by my count, these remarkable neighbors are only 285 steps apart.

Here’s a quick rundown on all three. Each is well worth an individual guided tour.


Philadelphia’s City Hall

Broad and Market Streets

Claim to Fame: Built in French Second Empire style at a cost of $24.5 million over a 30-year period, City Hall is the largest all-masonry load-bearing building in the world. It has no steel frame. With a floor space of 630,000 square feet, it’s larger than the U.S. Capitol Building and may be the largest municipal building anywhere. Some walls are 2 feet thick. Until 1987 no building in the city could rise higher than City Hall’s 548 feet. Architect: John McArthur Jr.

What to See:  Over 700 rooms; 250 sculptures by Alexander Milne Calder, including: William Penn, a 37-foot-high, 27-ton statue thought to be the largest atop a building in the world; and clock faces visible for miles that are 3 feet larger in diameter than London’s Big Ben. (They look smaller, though, because they’re twice as high.)

Phone: 215-686-2840. Reservations are available in-person or by phone the day you visit, not before. Website: phlvisitorcenter.com/attraction/city-hall-visitor-center 

Philadelphia’s Masonic Temple

1 N. Broad Street

What to see: A “robust Norman-style” exterior that becomes “a fantasy of Renaissance-inspired neoclassicism in the corridors and stairs and nineteenth-century ‘eclectic revivalism’ in the lodge rooms.” So says a coffee-table book published by the Masonic Temple in 2013. Visiting the seven magnificent lodge rooms – all decorated ornately in different styles – is like taking a mini-trip around the world. You’ll see Egyptian, Greek, Gothic, Corinthian and more.

Claim to Fame: The lavish interior took 15 years to complete. Architect: John Windrim. Interior designer: George Herzog.

Phone: 215-988-1917. Website: pagrandlodge.org


The Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts (PAFA)

118 N. Broad Street

What to see: A façade that is a spectacular amalgam of Renaissance, Gothic and Second Empire styles. The exterior is described by John Andrew Gallery in Philadelphia Architecture as “a riot of forms” executed in “rusticated brownstone, dressed sandstone, polished pink granite, red pressed brick and purplish terra-cotta.” The inside is “an explosion of color.”

Claim to Fame: PAFA is the oldest art school and museum in the U.S. Designed mostly by famed Philadelphia architect Frank Furness (pronounced “furnace”), PAFA’s magnificent Historic Landmark Building includes features later used in virtually every modern skyscraper, plus a passive ventilation system and industrial touches not seen in any other museum. Look carefully and you’ll see Furness’ unique industrial touches throughout this “Factory for Art”: pistons, gears, cogs, drive shafts and more. It’s my all-time favorite Philadelphia building.

Phone: 215-972-7600. Website: pafa.org