Though arguably lesser-known than Philly starchitects such as Louis Kahn and Robert Venturi, Paul Philippe Cret was an accomplished and influential designer in his own right during the mid-20th century. Beginning in the early 1900s, the French-born architect taught design at the University of Pennsylvania—where Kahn was his student—and was responsible for dozens of iconic works of architecture and industrial design built within a 30-year span. Here, we present Cret’s greatest hits in Philly from the Ben Franklin Bridge to the original Barnes Museum.Read More
10 Philly landmarks designed by Paul Philippe Cret
From Rittenhouse Square to the Rodin Museum, many Philly landmarks are tied to the French architect
Benjamin Franklin Parkway
The Parkway is arguably one of Cret’s most famous contributions to Philadelphia, with his original design going on to forever change the city’s landscape. Cret was commissioned by the city to design a broad boulevard that would connect the city with the bucolic Fairmount Park. Cret presented his plans in 1907, but it took another 10 years before his plans were implemented with some changes and additions by fellow Frenchmen Jacques Gréber. The two later collaborated on the Rodin Museum, also on the Parkway.
Rittenhouse Square was originally known as Southwest Square, one of the original five squares included in William Penn’s plan for the city of Philadelphia. It wasn’t until 1913 that Cret, commissioned by the neighborhood’s wealthiest families to redesign the public park, brought his design prowess to the space. Cret’s French influence remains to this day, from the classical entryways to the stone railings to the formal fountains and pools.
National Memorial Arch
This impressive arch is one of the icons of Valley Forge National Park and was designed in 1917 by Cret, who was influenced by the Triumphal Arch of Titus in Rome, Italy. The single arch serves as a tribute to George Washington and the army he led through Valley Forge during the American Revolutionary War.
University Avenue Bridge
Though far less monumental than other bridges Cret would go onto design, the University Avenue Bridge is noteworthy in its own right. For one, it remains one of the only remaining drawbridges in the entire city of Philadelphia. It’s also a prime example of Cret’s modern classical style, honoring both the Beaux Arts and Art Deco styles. The bridge, which connects University City and 34th Street in Grays Ferry across the Schuylkill, opened in 1925 and was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1994.
Original Barnes Foundation museum
Before the Barnes Foundation made its controversial move to the Benjamin Franklin Parkway in 2012, the enormous art collection of Dr. Albert C. Barnes was housed in the original Barnes Foundation Museum in Merion Station, just 8 miles from its new home on the Parkway. In 1922, Barnes commissioned Cret to design the gallery and residence to promote the fine arts and horticulture. Cret designed a classical building that stood in stark contrast to the Modern works of art housed inside. The building has now been leased out to St. Joseph’s University for a shocking $100 a year, Philly.com reports.
Ben Franklin Bridge
Fresh off the success of his Pan American building in Washington, D.C., in 1920 Paul Cret signed on as supervising architect for what was then called the Delaware River Bridge. The bridge was the first of many for Cret, and when it opened on July 4, 1926, the nearly two-mile structure held the title as the longest suspension bridge in the world for a few years. It was renamed the Benjamin Franklin Bridge in 1955.
The Rodin Museum is a product of Benjamin Franklin Parkway (#1) era, built at the end of the 1920s as hundreds of industrial buildings and structures were razed to make way for the city’s grand boulevard lined with cultural institutions. As architect, Cret worked with landscape architect Jacques Greber again to design the Beaux-Arts gem of a museum to house Jules E. Mastbaum’s impressive collection of works by Auguste Rodin outside of France.
Henry Avenue Bridge
Henry Avenue Bridge (known sometimes as the Wissahickon Avenue Bridge) is just one of the many landmarks of Wissahickon Valley Park, soaring high above the park’s namesake creek. For this 288-foot-long concrete bridge, Cret once again teamed up with engineer Ralph Modjeski after their previous success with the Ben Franklin Bridge. Cret’s design for this bridge included plans for a trolley line to run through it—a feature that never came to fruition.
Original Federal Reserve Bank of Philadelphia
Today this hulking marble building at 9th and Chestnut is part of Jefferson University’s campus. But when it was designed by Cret between 1931 and 1935, the Classical Revival-style building served as the home as Federal Reserve Bank of Philadelphia. Inside, one of the remaining bank vaults—with three-foot-thick walls—has been repurposed into a laboratory.
Philly is full of soaring condo towers and luxury apartment buildings, but Cret’s 2601 Parkway Condominiums hails itself as the large residence of its scale in the city when it opened in 1939. Cret designed the 13-story building on the Benjamin Franklin Parkway, adjacent to Fairmount Park that was meant to meet the highest standard of living in the city, rivaling similar-sized developments in New York.