Jersey Reflections: Ahead of His Time

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Jersey Reflections


By Vince Farinaccio


A Columnist for the Grapevine Newspaper


Landis planned a Parkway reflecting the sumptuous look of Europe in the City of Brotherly Love.
Unwilling to commit to any new ventures in Vineland in 1884, Charles K. Landis turned his attention to designing a thoroughfare for Philadelphia. Envisioning a roadway that would connect the city’s business and political center with Fairmount Park, Landis planned a Grand Boulevard or Parkway that would reflect the sumptuous look of Europe in the City of Brotherly Love.
The need for such an avenue did not originate with Landis. As early as 1858, the Philadelphia City Council had proposed the construction of two boulevards that would run between the suburbs and center city, but the plan, which included the improvement of streets, never advanced any further.
According to Historic Landmarks of Philadelphia by Roger W. Moss, “a proposal dating from 1871 argued that if the park was truly to benefit the people of Philadelphia, it ‘must be brought within reach of all. It must be connected with Broad Street and with the centre of the city by as short a route as possible; and the avenues which lead to it must be made elegant and attractive.”
Once again, this was as far as the plan would get.
Using the 1871 proposal as inspiration, Landis developed a design for just such a boulevard that would resist the city’s grid structure and cut diagonally from the site of the current City Hall to the southern edge of Fairmount Park. The European look he envisioned reflected the designs from which he created Sea Isle City. But Landis’ approach predated the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair and its French neoclassical White City, a Beaux Arts setting that would give birth to the City Beautiful movement that would follow and provide the initiative to complete Benjamin Franklin Parkway.
Landis was at least 10 years ahead of the movement when he devised his parkway plan.
It appears, however, that Landis’ efforts to sell the idea to the city did not receive his full attention until late 1888 when a map illustrating the design of his intended road began arriving in the mail of businessmen and city leaders at the start of 1889. For nearly three years, Landis courted these Philadelphia connections in an attempt to earn the city’s approval for his plan.
In 1892, during Edwin Sydney Stuart’s term as Philadelphia mayor, Landis stepped aside from the project, having never successfully navigated the political waters of the city to win the support he needed. One of the deterrents of his plan was the need for the city to acquire and destroy approximately 1,300 buildings that stood in the path of the parkway, and opposition from citizens led, in turn, to opposition from politicians.
According to Moss, “proponents of such a boulevard succeeded temporarily in gaining political support for an 1892 refinement of the Landis scheme created by James H. Windrim, the City director of public works. Windrim’s plan called for a 160-foot-wide boulevard boldly sundering the rigid grid of Philadelphia streets from City Hall, across Logan Square, and on to Fairmount Park. Then the scheme fell afoul of Philadelphia’s notorious Republican political machine”
Cities in American Political History, edited by Richard Dilworth, points out that “as with other major cities, what truly ran Philadelphia during this period was a corrupt political machine. In Philadelphia’s case it was a Republican machine. Political corruption was in fact, rife throughout Pennsylvania, and perhaps the worst excess in the city [was] the thirty-year-long construction of Philadelphia’s City Hall from 1871 to 1901 at the cost of $24 million.”
It’s possible Landis ran into the Republican machine as well during his attempts, but by the time the parkway project finally met approval in 1907 amid continued debate, Landis’ name had receded and would soon disappear from the project altogether.
Yet his contribution, a design for a boulevard completed without him in 1917, demonstrates that his plans were the first serious attempt at building such a grand avenue.
At the city’s 1926 Sesquicentennial International Exhibition or World’s Fair, Vineland bestowed upon a representative of Philadelphia’s mayor one of Landis’ maps of the proposed parkway. If the representative and the mayor actually took a moment to examine it, they may have been surprised to find it closely resembled their relatively new grand boulevard.

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