The Memorial to the Six Million Jewish Martyrs, at 16th Street and the Benjamin Franklin Parkway, has sat at the same spot – pretty much unadorned – for 40 years now.
Those who know of its meaning and purpose cherish it; however, many other Philadelphians and visitors to the city may not even take notice of the memorial while bustling through that busy part of Center City. But soon, after a planned renovation of the spot, missing it should become a thing of the past.
The approximately triangular-shaped, 10,000 square-foot space currently boasts the Nathan Rapoport sculpture, along with a grassy area that extends back to the Verizon building at 1631 Arch St. The renovation calls for the grass to be removed, making room for a garden, a plaza and six to eight columns – each 18 feet tall – according to Stuart Appel, president of Wells Appel, the firm that has been contracted for the redesign.
Also in the works is a rendition of the Western Wall done in golden tones, with cascading waterfalls, along the side of the Verizon building, which – along with the columns – is set to display notable Jewish quotations. If the plans go forward, the finished product will be renamed the Philadelphia Holocaust Memorial Garden.
"I personally believe we have an obligation to maximize the importance and visibility of the site," said Jeffrey Schwartz, president of the Philadelphia Holocaust Remembrance Foundation, during an unveiling of the group's plans for the site at an April 30 brunch at the law offices of Blank Rome in Center City.
"It's very important to bring another element to the Holocaust activities," stated Abram Shnaper, the longtime president of the Association of Jewish Holocaust Survivors.
Cary S. Tye, whose father-in-law, Dalck Feith, helped establish the original monument in Philadelphia, said that he was happy with the projections for the new design.
"The Jewish community has a certain obligation to present something this important in a way that is inviting and is of quality," he said.
Mark Focht, executive director of Fairmount Park, said that with the Parkway being overhauled in the coming years, it was the perfect time to upgrade the monument site.
"As everyone has acknowledged, the monument is kind of invisible now," said Focht, "and we really look forward to this project to really enhance the setting and make it much more respectful of the monument than it is now."
The stated goal is to raise $10 million, which will go toward the renovation and toward an endowment fund to provide Holocaust education and tolerance programs around the region.
Elaborate public structures honoring the Shoah exist in cities like Boston, Miami and Baltimore – which have plazas and significant urban real estate dedicated to honoring the Six Million – and newer institutions have been established in New York City and Washington, D.C. – namely, the Museum of Jewish Heritage and the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, respectively.
Clearly, the Philadelphia Jewish community has decided that now is the time to update the original Holocaust memorial in North America, erected in 1964.
"You have to put it in a timeline: Philadelphia was the first city in North America to have a memorial for the Holocaust," said Tye. "It's time for the original memorial to get the treatment that it needs."
The renovation project is a joint effort of the Philadelphia Holocaust Remembrance Foundation, the Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia and the Fairmount Park Commission.
With the fundraising campaign just getting underway, Schwartz said that he "hopes to complete [the project] in two years."
While the memorial will still be located along the same main thoroughfare, Appel said the new design will also reduce unwanted sounds.
"The water will attenuate the sound of the city noise and provide a beautiful backdrop for the monument itself," he said.
Appel contends that the renovations will make the memorial a more integral part of the Parkway. "The foundation is looking to create a space that's going to last for 100 years, that's going to be meaningful and memorable to everyone who lives by there [and] works by there – and for visitors that come to Philadelphia."