Thirty years after it opened as the permanent shrine for the most sacred relic of American democracy, the Liberty Bell Pavilion yesterday sat forlorn and deconsecrated, slated for removal, a symbol of the impermanence of modern life.
Officially, it was a morning of celebration — Operation Mall Vista — removal of the structure from which the bell was moved in October 2003 to give visitors an unblocked view from Independence Hall to the National Constitution Center two blocks north.
Moreover, dismantling of the old pavilion — pieces are being shipped to a memorial "Unity Park" in Anchorage, Alaska — is being done with labor donated by Philadelphia unions.
The union contribution — a taxpayer savings of more than $300,000 — was praised as "the most remarkable example of civic heroism that I have seen in over 40 years" by U.S. Circuit Judge Edward R. Becker of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit, a longtime park advocate and member of the Independence Mall Business and Residents Coalition.
"Sometimes subtraction is a great addition," quipped Mayor Street at the ceremony featuring Gov. Rendell, National Park Service officials and park supporters, and officials of the Philadelphia Building Trades Council and nine local unions.
But the celebration did not make the event less bittersweet for a small group of spectators watching on cold, windswept Market Street.
"This was supposed to last forever," said John Q. Lawson, a Philadelphia architect who in 1975, with the firm Mitchell/Giurgola Associates, designed the low, sweeping $1 million showcase for the Liberty Bell.
"I understand," added Lawson, "but still it's a shame to see it torn down... . Every year we throw more things away."
"It's sad," said Alan Greenberger, with MGA Partners, the successor to Mitchell/Giurgola.
As a student working with the firm, Greenberger recalled, he was assigned to build the scale model of the two stanchions on which the 2,000-pound bell and its American-elm yoke were suspended.
"It was made for a different time," Greenberger said of the old pavilion. "But it served its purpose."
Initially, park officials were optimistic the 2,800-square-foot building could be moved intact to a new site.
In 2004 the American College in Bryn Mawr, which trains insurance and financial professionals, said it wanted the pavilion for its campus, which has three other buildings by Romaldo Giurgola.
But the college could not raise the $800,000 needed to move the building, said Dennis Reidenbach, superintendent of Independence National Historical Park.
Instead, parts of the pavilion will be sent to Anchorage, Alaska, where they will become part of a "Unity Park," an idea spawned by Anchorage businessman Robert Halcro and local civic leaders to celebrate diversity and commemorate the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.
Reidenbach said that among the pieces going will be the bell stanchions, which will support a replica of the bell made at the same foundry in Whitechapel in London as the original bell.
The workers also will save all pieces of granite, the copper covers and cladding on the exterior walls, two sets of double-glass doors, all white oak flooring and wall panels, and 10 three-by-five-foot windows and frames.
Reidenbach said the rest would be disposed of, the basement filled, and the site landscaped in time for July Fourth.
Yesterday, workers erected chain-link fences to keep the public from the demolition site.
The work over the next five weeks will be done by 50 union members whose 2,000 hours of work will be donated by the Philadelphia Building Trades Council and nine locals.
The old pavilion was used from Jan. 1, 1976, when the Liberty Bell was moved there from the foyer of Independence Mall in a freezing rain shortly after midnight, until two years ago when the bell was moved to the new facility.
Over the last decade, the National Park Service has overseen the remaking of the three large blocks between Fifth and Sixth Streets, from Walnut to Arch, that delineate Independence park, including construction of the National Constitution Center, a new park visitor center, and a new home for the Liberty Bell.
After removal of the old bell pavilion and new landscaping, the only major unfinished part of the $300 million makeover will be commemoration of the original President's House site. Reidenbach said that project would be done by July 4, 2007.