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City of Philadelphia
 

History

At the turn of the twentieth century, an outcry was heard from a broad coalition of citizens and organizations who were outraged by the ugliness and unsightliness of American cities. Their concerns and sustained efforts resulted in the City Beautiful Movement - the motivating force in American urban design from the 1890s to the 1920s. One legacy of this movement was the creation of municipal design review boards in cities across the country to insure that the aesthetic implications of development were properly addressed.
In 1907 the Pennsylvania State Legislature enacted Public Law 249, allowing Cities of the First Class to establish Municipal Art Juries. Philadelphia's first Art Jury was appointed in 1911.

It was soon determined that the Art Jury could "be of greater service to the City ... if the designs for all public and semi-public structures, such as buildings, bridges, street fixtures and plans for public grounds, parks, parkways and playgrounds, are also submitted to it by the several Departments of the City Government...." Consequently, in 1913 the State law was amended to include these additional responsibilities as the mandate of the Art Jury.

In 1924, Philadelphia's Art Jury described its role as follows:

“The function of a municipal art commission is to do for the appearance of public buildings and structures what the Bureau of Building Inspection does for their strength. Such commissions are essentially critical in character and the purpose of their appointment is to insure the erection of structures that will improve the values of their neighborhoods because of their attractiveness, instead of reducing such values because of their ugliness. A bridge always increases or decreases values of adjacent property, this increase or decrease depending upon whether the bridge attracts or repels.... The purpose of art commissions is to be helpful to the public in preventing the ugly and creating the beautiful.”

In 1952, with the adoption of the Philadelphia Home Rule Charter, the Municipal Art Jury became the Art Commission. The duties of the Art Commission were essentially those of the Art Jury, expanded to include oversight responsibility for the care and maintenance of all City monuments and works of art.

Since that time no changes have been made to the Commission’s Charter mandated jurisdiction, however the Zoning section of the Philadelphia Code has expanded its responsibilities by adding requirements for Art Commission approval of projects in a number of Special Controls Districts.

Now, after more than 100 years, the Art Commission’s mission is much the same as it was at its founding, to insure that the “physical development of the City takes place in a manner that is aesthetically pleasing, orderly and appropriate so that Philadelphia might be a more
desirable place to live, do business and visit”.