Bicentennial Bell packed up, auguring changes at Independence Park

Cratingthe bell. Officials at Independence Park must now decide where to exhibit the artifact.
Cratingthe bell. Officials at Independence Park must now decide where to exhibit the artifact. (MICHAEL BRYANT / Staff Photographer)
Posted: February 01, 2013

About 8 a.m. Thursday, in gusty winds, the Bicentennial Bell - a six-ton 1976 gift from the one-time mother country to the people of the United States - was lifted from its home in the Independence Park bell tower at Third and Chestnut Streets, and lowered slowly onto two red steel pedestals at street level.

A few hours later, held firmly by yellow hoists attached to a yellow crane, it was lifted again and guided into a great crate, to be trucked away to storage.

Independence National Historical Park officials must now mull where the bell's next permanent home will be.

The dramatic move from the 130-foot tower at the northern end of the old visitor-center site also marks the most public evidence that change is coming. Independence Park no longer owns the entire visitor-center property. The Museum of the American Revolution will be moving in, and the bell's departure augers the eventual arrival of a new museum building, believed to house the nation's only public museum devoted to telling the story of America's war for independence.

The park service agreed in 2010 to exchange its corner property in Philadelphia for 78 acres the museum owned in Valley Forge. The popular public archaeology lab was moved out of the center soon after.

Park spokesman Adam Dunn said the bell would be in storage for an unspecified period of time.

"We definitely will put it on display for the public," he said. "Exactly how and when and where hasn't been decided."

Michael C. Quinn, president of the Museum of the American Revolution, watched the bell's move Thursday. He said his organization has "just passed $93 million" in its fund-raising efforts, leaving about $17 million to go before construction will begin. At $110 million, the building project will be fully funded. (The museum is also seeking $40 million for programming and endowment.)

"We don't want a hole in the ground" while fund-raising continues, Quinn said. "We want to raise the money before we start."

The plan, he added, is to begin construction next fall, although the vicissitudes of raising money could change that. So could planning and construction on the part of Independence Park.

The museum does not own the entire site at Third and Chestnut. The southernmost wing of the building complex will continue to house park educational facilities, a security command center, and a complex, costly "chiller plant" that provides heating and cooling systems for all park buildings.

The park must now disentangle all the visitor-center building systems so that power and other utilities continue uninterrupted when the museum begins demolition and construction next door. Once the park has separated the systems, which officials said could take several months, the museum can begin demolition.

Rising on the site will be a museum, designed by Robert A.M. Stern Architects of New York, that will hold gallery space for changing and permanent exhibitions, two theaters, and programming space.

Driving fund-raising is a $40 million challenge grant made by H.F. "Gerry" Lenfest, the museum's board chairman. Lenfest is also one of the owners of The Inquirer.

The challenge already has been partially matched with a $10 million contribution from the Oneida Nation and $10 million in smaller grants from private donors. In addition, the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania has authorized $30 million in capital-development funds.

Museum officials said that barring glitches and unforeseen delays, the institution would be open by mid-2016.


Contact Stephan Salisbury at 215-854-5594 or ssalisbury@phillynews.com, or follow on Twitter @SPSalisbury.

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