Bolt of Lightning... A Memorial to Benjamin Franklin by Isamu Noguchi
Located on the plaza at the foot of the Ben Franklin Bridge on the Philadelphia side, Bolt of Lightning is a 101-foot tall tribute to the most famous scientific experiment ever conducted by Philadelphia’s favorite Founding Father (and the bridge’s namesake), Ben Franklin. You’ve probably seen the stainless steel lightning bolt as you whiz by, but may never have noticed the 23-foot kite at the top or the key at the bottom.
Japanese-American artist Isamu Noguchi, known for landscape architecture and furniture design as well as sculpture, first drew a design in 1933 for an international exhibition held in Fairmount Park. The design resurfaced during a Noguchi retrospective at the Philadelphia Museum of Art in 1979, and the Fairmount Park Art Association (now the Association for Public Art) commissioned the sculpture as a gift to the City of Philadelphia for its 1982 tricentennial. Noguchi himself chose its site, Monument Plaza.
The sculpture, weighing 58 tons, is anchored by four steel cables — which aren’t an afterthought. The cables are shown in the 1933 sketch, and symbolize, Noguchi said, the eternal and essential contact between air and earth.
City in Retrospect by Jared Bader
Commissioned by the City of Philadelphia’s Mural Arts Program, the mural portrays a late 19th-century street scene. Though the artist, Jared Bader, worked from historic photographs, he didn’t try to recreate the exact buildings that were on Vine Street at that time.
Motorists exiting the Vine Street Expressway at 6th Street can enjoy the mural as they wait at the light to go around Monument Plaza to get on the eastbound Ben Franklin Bridge. The long wall along the side of the ramp exiting the bridge was painted first, in 2004, and the section to the left, under the underpass along 6th Street, was added in 2005.
Decorative lighting on the bridge was first installed in 1987, with halide spotlights at the bottom and a reflector at the top of each of the bridge’s 256 vertical cables, outlining the beautiful structure in lights visible up to ten miles away. The design was the result of a collaboration between Steven Izenour, an architect at firm responsible for the design (Venturi, Rauch and Scott Brown) and his father, theater designer George Izenour.
Colored LED lights were added along the deck of the bridge in a 2000 upgrade. These lights, connected to a computer, can be programmed to provide a variety of effects, such as the “Chasing Rainbow” effect with lights that “chase” PATCO train cars as they cross the bridge, or colorful light shows themed to holidays and other special events. This lighting was designed by Grenald Waldron Associates.
Decorative tiles by Enfield Pottery and Tile Works
When the Ben Franklin Bridge was built in the 1920s, the designers expected it to become a crossing for many different forms of transportation, including trolleys. Because the trolley systems in New Jersey and Philadelphia had different gauges (they used different widths of track), it would be necessary to provide a transfer station. These were built in the anchorages, those big towers on either end of the bridge. Each has a beautiful waiting room adorned with large decorative tiles celebrating the history of transportation.
The waiting rooms were never used — by the time the bridge opened in 1926, the public transportation had begun its massive shift from trolleys to buses, and they weren’t needed — but the tiles are still there. They were made by Enfield Pottery and Tile Works, located in Springfield, Montgomery County, Pennsylvania from 1906-1930. The designs show different modes of transportation, from Columbus’s ship the Santa Maria to Robert Fulton’s steamship. Ground transportation is represented with the Conestoga wagon and the “Flying Machine,” an 18th-century stagecoach that could get from New York to Philadelphia in only two days.
Winged Victory by Leon Hermant
These four identical bronze statues once stood on flagpoles at the toll plazas on either end of the Delaware River Bridge, now known as the Benjamin Franklin Bridge. They were installed in 1926 when the bridge opened. According to the French-American sculptor, Leon Hermant, they celebrated man’s triumph over nature, referring to the fact that when the bridge opened, it was the longest suspension bridge in the world.
When the roadway was widened after World War II, the flagpoles were removed and the statues banished to storage, where they remained for more than 50 years. The DRPA restored the statues and returned them to public display on July 1, 2001 at the celebration of the Benjamin Franklin Bridge’s 75th anniversary. They are now on view in the lobby of One Port Center, the DRPA’s Camden headquarters.