Happy 100th Birthday, Rittenhouse Square

This month’s Ball on the Square celebrates 100 years of Rittenhouse’s best park. But you don’t need a ticket to share the love.

Rittenhouse Square in Philadelphia celebrates its 100th anniversary. Photo by Sam Oberter.

There are other squares, of course, scattered about the city like so many verdant postage stamps, their benches weathered and welcoming. But there is only one Rittenhouse Square. It dwarfs the others not in size, but in prestige. It is imbued with a particular grandeur. It speaks its own refined patois.

One hundred years ago, a fretting group of 80 neighbors gathered in the parlor of Miss Charlotte Siter, looked out her window at their dilapidated green, and decided something must be done. So they retained a French architect named Paul Cret to redesign their fraying common. His vision included a reflecting pool inspired by the Luxembourg Gardens in Paris and lawns as soft as Easter grass. That vision, like the village green he left us, was exquisite.


To walk through Rittenhouse Square today is to feel glamorous. Its cathedral of trees towers; its cement urns stand like sentries at the corners, overflowing with ivy and blooms. Every time you visit, it’s as though you’ve entered a grand garden party. Which, of course, you have. Look here and see the spiffy doormen of the Rittenhouse Hotel. Over there, the louche and the fashionable converge to enjoy aperitifs alfresco on the sidewalk between Rouge and Parc. Young mommies escaping their houses, old men playing chess, young lovers, old friends—you see them all. The Square is one of the last places where people sit and read newspapers, in print. Where every June, men in black tie and ladies in gowns gather for a ball. Fairs and farmers’ markets blossom with the spring plantings, buskers create a soundtrack in guitar and violin, and Billy the bronze goat still keeps watch, head down, horns up.

You can walk Rittenhouse Square your whole life and never do so the same way twice. Its winding pathways curve like ribbons, promising to lead you somewhere wonderful. For there is always someplace to go. But an even more compelling reason to stay.

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