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Meet in Philadelphia

Published: 19/12/2011 - Filed under: Home » Archive » 2011 » December 2011/January 2012 » Destinations » Home » Features »

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It all started in 1682, when a Quaker by the name of William Penn had a vision for a colony and a city which could become a shining example of freedom and religious tolerance. The original plot Penn laid out for the town had five park squares in which citizens could congregate, whether members Penn’s group, the Religious Society of Friends (“Quakers”), or anybody else of any other religious persuasion. He dubbed his experiment “The City of Brotherly Love,” which when translated into the Greek renders one word: Philadelphia. 

A century later, with bigwigs (literally and figuratively) meeting everywhere, the city produced the US Marine Corp in 1775, the Declaration of Independence in 1776 and the Constitution in 1787. By 1790, Congress Hall in Philadelphia replaced Federal Hall in New York as the official seat of the US government, and Philadelphia as a meetings mecca really took off.  With such a rich and colorful history, it’s little wonder the meeting places that were part of the city’s original raison d’etre have since become a part of Philly’s DNA. 

Today, the city is known as a haven for foodies, the arts (the city has about 3,000 murals — more than Paris) and “Rocky” fans, who live to strike a pose in the likeness of Sylvester Stallone atop the stairs of the “Parthenon on the Parkway,” better known as the Philadelphia Art Museum.

The three sides of Philadelphia stretch north and south along the Delaware River and westwards deeper into the state of Pennsylvania. The Delaware River represents the furthest point east of the city; on the other side of the river lies the state of New Jersey.

 

The Soul of Philly

Whether in town for just a day trip, or if your visit extends for a few nights, pedestrian-friendly Rittenhouse Square is the premiere address to call home. Originally established as Southwest Square, it was renamed in 1825, after David Rittenhouse, son of the city’s first papermaker. 

The accomplished, the affluent, the drop-dead gorgeous and everybody in between will find plenty to see and do throughout the five-block radius that surrounds this historical landmark between 18th and 19th Streets. 

Naturally, Rittenhouse Square is the home of the city’s top offerings in lodging with The Rittenhouse Hotel the reigning monarch.  The Rittenhouse has a total of just 98 guest rooms including 11 suites, and prides itself on the finest personalized service in the city. That includes greeting guests in their native tongue and delivering their hometown newspapers directly to their rooms. The Five Diamond property is also known for the most spacious accommodations in the city, and Lacroix restaurant, one of Philadelphia’s premiere dining establishments, where Chef Jon Cichon, sommelier Eric Simonis and the staff bring the progressive international cuisine to life. 

Just a few blocks down and on par with The Rittenhouse is the Five Diamond-rated Ritz Carlton. Located on the Avenue of the Arts, the Ritz Carlton claims among its neighbors the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts, the Academy of Music and a number of theaters.  The domed marble lobby of this former bank is accented by luxurious colors and fabrics to create a décor that positively radiates modern day grandeur against a backdrop of the past. 

The Ritz Carlton Philadelphia boasts a total of 300 guestrooms and 26,000 square feet of luxurious event space including a 6,100-square-foot ballroom with abundant columns, marbled walls and an all-eyes-on crystal chandelier. Culinary craftsmanship at 10 Arts Bistro is under the direction of the iconic Eric Ripert of New York’s famed Le Bernardin. Upscale minglers will want to meet and greet among the bold, rich colors and gothic marble of 10 Arts, the hotel’s lobby bar.

Around and about the area, renowned culinary offerings abound as visitors discover eats by such greats as Iron Chef Joe Garces, mouthwatering Israeli cuisine by Michael Solomonov, classic French dishes by Frances Georges Perrier at the legendary Le Bec-Fin and more.  You can see the sights at the Liberty Bell, Independence Mall, the National Constitutional Museum, the first presidential home of George Washington at 6th and Market Street, the now-one- year-old National Museum of American Jewish History and so much more. But in this culinary capital, you’d be remiss not to include time to indulge in some tourisme gastronomique.

With architecture dating back to the beginning of time here in the USA, event space is as varied as a meeting planner could wish for, ranging from whimsical to high-tech to secretly chic. All in all, the options are endless for the creation of jowl-dropping events.

 

The Franklin Institute Museum

If you can imagine 16 soaring Corinthian columns, reminiscent of the Roman Pantheon, holding up an 80-foot dome ceiling beneath which rests a massive, stark white 30-ton, 20-foot-high marble statue of Ben Franklin – then you’re on the right track for a larger than life event inside the Franklin Institute Museum’s Benjamin Franklin National Memorial. 

The privately owned national monument offers nearly 5,200 square feet of visually captivating space with room to host a reception for up to 700, or provide dinner arrangements for 400 or theater-style seating for 670. 

A 2008 renovation introduced state-of-the-art technology, with colorful smart lights and an A/V system capable of accommodating company logos, videos and PowerPoints, on a total of four acoustical tile screens – each measuring 16 feet tall by 9 feet wide. The refit included acoustical panels that were built into the walls and windows to dampen the echoes amidst the grandeur.

Have something smaller in mind? The circular space housing Fels Planetarium will bring cosmic elegance to events for 220 dinner guests, 250 in theater-style seating or receptions for up to 300. Nearly 4,000 square feet of functional space beneath the stars makes a moonlit event at the second oldest planetarium in America absolutely flawless, whatever the weather conditions outside. 

The Franklin Institute, 220 North 20th Street, (215) 448-1275. Visit www.fi.edu.

 

Please Touch Museum

In 1876, the first official “World’s Fair” was held in Philadelphia’s Fairmount Park, along the Schuylkill River. Created to celebrate a century since the signing of Declaration of Independence, the event was officially titled “the International Exhibition of Arts, Manufactures and Products of the Soil and Mine. ” To the 10-million in attendance, which was roughly 20 percent of the US population at the time, it became simply know as the Centennial Exhibition. 

Of the many buildings constructed to house the fair, Memorial Hall was the showcase for all the exhibition’s art to be displayed, including 3,256 paintings and drawings, 627 sculptures, 431 works of applied art, 300 groups of photographs from 20 nations – and Peter Rothermel’s gigantic 32-by-16-foot depiction of the Battle of Gettysburg. With so much art on its hands, the building became the home of the Pennsylvania Museum of the School of Industrial Art in 1877 and the first home of the Philadelphia Museum of Art. By 1929, the art museum moved out, and for a time thereafter the building went through a variety of uses; parts of it housed a gym, a swimming pool and even a police station.  Then on Valentine’s Day 2005, an 80-year lease was issued to the Please Touch Museum. What was created to dazzle the senses of children ages zero to seven is now a top spot for whimsical kids-of-all-ages events in the city.

“Curiouser and curiouser” would probably be the best words to describe the 156,000 square feet of event space that encompasses five areas housing colorful attractions and accommodating up to 3,000 guests at one time. A good example would be the East Gallery, where Alice’s Wonderland guests can physically enter the rabbit hole and exit amidst the greenery of the Mad Hatter’s colossal tree. Cocktails will never be the same for the 1,000 or so guests who can pass through a 70-foot flowing River Adventure with a backdrop of lily ponds and grass fields. 

In a more intimate glassed-in space at the center of it all – perfect for a 200-person reception or to host 150 for dinner – is the most captivating of all: A larger-than-life Woodside Park carousel. Built in 1908 by Philadelphia-based Dentzel Carousel Company and currently on loan from the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission, the carousel never fails to ignite a smile on every face.

Please Touch Museum Memorial Hall in Fairmount Park, 4231 Avenue of the Republic, (215) 578-5786.  

www.pleasetouchmuseum.org

 

Masonic Temple of Philadelphia

At the Masonic Temple of Philadelphia, majestic Doric columns frame the Grand Foyer of the Philly meeting spot for one of the world’s oldest fraternal organizations. Operating in peak condition since 1873, this National Landmark and historic icon serves as the state headquarters of the Grand Lodge of Pennsylvania Free and Accepted Masons. 

Highly ornate inside and out, with granite cornerstones weighing 10 tons, the Masonic Temple is acknowledged as one of Philly’s true architectural wonders. The meticulous, if elaborate, interior design of each room bears a unique style befitting a society of master builders, and it became open to the general public for tours and events in October of 2010.

The Grand Foyer offers space to host receptions for up to 150. Should any of them venture up the Tennessee marble Grand Staircase to the second floor, they’d find themselves in the Corinthian Hall, which seats up to 250 for a lecture or presentation, or Renaissance Hall which holds 200. Under the staircase lies a stunning discovery: The Seal of the Grand Lodge, the Great Seal of Pennsylvania and the cardinal virtues of Temperance, Fortitude, Prudence, and Justice. However, the most stunning room by most accounts is the Egyptian Hall, where the painstakingly copied hieroglyphs that adorn the walls were brought directly from Egypt to complete the décor in 1889. With seating for 125, it’s the Temple’s most popular choice for presentations, lectures, speeches and weddings. 

Most will agree that it’s hard to find a poor choice among the many rooms at the Masonic Temple. But take note: Red drinks and sauces are forbidden, on account of the need to preserve the priceless historical marble and porous tiles throughout. Thus the organization is reputed never to have applied for a liquor license. So it’s BYO champagne, wine and beer – and in light colors only!

Masonic Temple of Philadelphia, One North Broad Street, (215) 923-6000. 

www.pagrandlodge.org

 

The Battleship New Jersey Museum and Memorial

Built at the Philadelphia Naval Shipyard, the USS New Jersey (BB62) was launched on December 7, 1942 – one year to the day after the attack on Pearl Harbor. 

New Jersey received nine battle stars for World War II, four for the Korean conflict, and two stars for Vietnam, where she also earned the Navy Unit Commendation for her service there. She then went on to earn three Campaign Stars for service off Beirut and in the Persian Gulf prior to Operation Desert Storm. With a grand total of Nineteen Battle and Campaign Stars, New Jersey is America’s most-decorated surviving battleship. 

On January 20, 2000, Secretary of the Navy Richard Danzig announced that New Jersey would be donated to Home Port Alliance of Camden, NJ, to be moored in the Delaware River on the east side of Philadelphia, for use as a museum. It is now open to the general public for daily tours and events. 

Three football fields long, New Jersey offers plenty of room for socials, cocktails and overnight encampments for up to 3,000. But the most stunning space onboard is still outdoors, on the forward section of the ship called the forecastle. Able to accommodate 1,000 for a reception, 500 for dinner and approximately 250 in theater seating, the foredeck offers a dramatic setting – with its two forward-facing 16-inch gun turrets framing panoramic views of the Delaware River, New Jersey State Aquarium, Benjamin Franklin Bridge and in the distance, the skyline of Philadelphia. 

The Battleship New Jersey Museum and Memorial, 62 Battleship Place, Camden, NJ. (866) 877-6262. 

www.battleshipnewjersey.org 

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