Philadelphia City Hall is a Cat Tourism Attraction

Photo of Philadelphia City Hall, a cat tourism attraction.
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Philadelphia City Hall is a cat tourism attraction, indeed an unlikely place to get a big dose of cat.

But needless to say, Cat Lovers take note. You can see a band of cats chasing a mouse,  one of 250 sculptures that adorn Philadelphia City Hall inside and out.

Photo of one of the statues and carvings that can be found at Philadelphia City Hall.
One of the many carvings and sculptures that can be seen at Philadelphia City Hall. Paws was unable fo find a photo of the cat statue; however, we will take photos of the cats next time we visit Philadelphia.

These sculptures range from lobsters to Easter eggs, a 37-foot statue of William Penn (the founder of the city) towering on top of the building, political figures,  animals, and other motifs that don’t get much attention.

Cat dividing line on August Cat Holidays

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Keep in mind, Philadelphia City Hall isn’t just any city hall. It is a monolithic structure that has been the subject of controversy and an architectural wonder for years. City Hall is incredibly expansive, covering four and a half acres in the heart of Center City.

With about 27 acres of floor space (some accounts say more) this structure is bigger than any other municipal seat in the nation, all 50 state capitols, and the National Capitol.

At one time, City Hall was ranked as the tallest building in the world. It held that record until 1908 when the Singer Building in New York City surpassed it. The American Institute of Architects called it “perhaps the greatest single effort of late-19th-century American architecture.”

Some of the sculpture’s messages are direct enough, depicting history, government, and law. Wagons with prisoners headed for trial would pass under compositions of artwork talking about becoming a better person: admonition from a mother scolding her child and forgiveness being granted by a father. The face of Sympathy gazes down.

There was some talk of demolishing the structure in the 1950s, but the city council found that the demolition would have bankrupted the city due to the building’s masonry construction.

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    In 1992, Philadelphia City Hall underwent a comprehensive exterior restoration. The majority of the restoration was completed by 2007, although some work has continued, including the installation of four new ornamental courtyard gates, based on an original architectural sketch, in December 2015.

    Where to find the cats at Philadelphia City Hall

    Given the grandiose iconography of the exterior statues, there’s one that’s very different from the rest – a clowder of cats — chasing a mouse.

    You’ll find them through the south side gate, going into the courtyard. The story goes that Samuel C. Perkins, then on the board of Commissioners for the Erection of the Public Buildings, an entity created in 1870 for overseeing City Hall’s development, had a fondness for felines.

    Philadelphia City Hall is an unusual cat tourism destination

    Paws learned of this interesting fact when researching The Feline Historical Museum’swebsite for a future post about the Cat Fancier’s Association Foundation’s Feline Historical Museum.

    Samuel Perkins was a true cat lover and his scrapbook can be found at the CFA’s Feline Historical Museum in Alliance, Ohio. (Photo property of the CFA History Project)

    Architect John McArthur Jr., who passed away before the building was complete,  and Commissioner for the Erection of the Public Buildings (an entity created in 1870 for overseeing City Hall’s development) Samuel C. Perkins grew close over the decades of planning, and in the approval of the design for south gate, Perkins included this cat and mouse game — for no other reason than Perkins was fond of felines.

    Given the grandiose iconography of the exterior statues, there’s one depiction that sticks out from the rest.

    A bunch of cats — a clowder of cats, if you will — chasing a mouse.

    Cat dividing line on August Cat Holidays

    What you need to know:

    Address: 1400 John F Kennedy Blvd, Philadelphia, PA 19107

    Directions to the cats You’ll find them through the south side gate, going into the courtyard.

    Height of the building: 548 feet

    Opened: 1901

    Floors: Nine

    Hours: Closes 5 pm

    Phone: (215) 686-1776

    Other interesting info:  City Hall’s observation deck is located directly below the base of the statue, about 500 feet (150 m) above street level. Once enclosed with chain-link fencing, the observation deck is now enclosed by glass. It is reached by a six-person elevator whose glass panels allow visitors to see the interior of the iron superstructure that caps the tower and supports the statuary and clocks. Stairs within the tower are only used for emergency exit. T

    Architects: John McArthur Jr., Thomas Ustick Walter

    Architectural styles: Second Empire architecture in the United States and Canada, Second Empire architecture in Europe

    Website: https://www.phila.gov/

    However, if you are looking for info about the cats, check out:

    https://www.jstor.org/stable/20088511

    https://www.mentalfloss.com/article/83196/11-facts-about-philadelphias-city-hall

    Cat dividing line on August Cat Holidays

    Why is Philadelphia City Hall a cat tourism attraction?

    According to the Cat Fancier’s Association Foundation’s Feline Historical Museum’s website:

    ‘Thanks to Mr. Perkins, and architect John McArthur, Jr., there are carvings of Mr. Perkins’ cats (all eight of them) carved out of stone in a chamber in Philadelphia’s City Hall.

    Photo of Samuel Perkins, the reason the cats are included in the 250 sculptures at Philadelphia City Hall.
    The cats at Philadelphia City Hall came about from Samuel Perkins’ love of felines. (Photo property of the CFA History Project)

    If you live in Philadelphia or visit that city, be sure to go to City Hall, enter from the south and the cats can be found inside the chamber with “JUSTICE” above the doorway.‘

    The history of Philadelphia City Hall as a cat tourism attraction

    More on Mr. Perkins’ carved cats, again from The Cats on City Hall:

    ‘That is why today one can walk into Philadelphia’s City Hall from the south and see Mr. Perkins’ cats—eight of them—carved out of stone around the walls of a chamber which bears above its doorway the single word “JUSTICE.” Just why Justice and eight cats go together is something that has baffled casual observers ever since a writer for the Evening Bulletin strolled into that same southern entrance one day in 1876—around a quarter of a century before the Hall was “finished”—and reported what he found:

    ‘In the interior of the judiciary vestibule, which is made up of marble, granite, and sandstone not harmoniously arranged, the sculptor’s art has made greater strides. Eight times around the walls, nearly on a level with the eye, is what is called an ‘ornament on pedestals of columns.’

    This is an oblong block of sandstone on which is carved the head of a fierce cat about to spring through a hole upon a mouse hiding in a flower. The symbolism of this work as a multiplied ornament for a temple of justice has not been explained. Perhaps the cat is the Building Commission, the hole a Ring, and the mouse the helpless tax-paying people that it preys upon.’

    How Philadelphia City Hall became a cat tourism attraction

    This scrapbook was discovered at a cat show vendor booth in Erie, PA by Karen Lawrence in 1999. The vendor confided that if he didn’t sell it that weekend, his intention was to take it apart and sell individual pages on eBay. It was immediately purchased by Peace Bridge Aby Fanciers and donated to the CFA Foundation.

    Others works are baffling, including a series of fierce cats pursuing mice. “Catch me if you can?” Mr. Myers wondered, noting their proximity to the prisoners’ entrance.

    Another theory has it that they were a gift from Calder to the project’s overseer, Samuel Perkins, who loved cats. Others have suggested that the cats represent city government and the mice city taxpayers.

    In 1953 Roger Butterfield, in The Cats on City Hall (PDF), wrote:

    Samuel C. Perkins was fond of cats. When he was not attending to his large law practice or his duties as president of the Commission for the Erection of the Public Buildings of Philadelphia, Mr. Perkins was likely to be found at home, pasting up clippings about his new City Hall in leather-bound scrapbooks, while a feline pet or two arched against his legs, or nestled happily in his lap.

    The scrapbook itself is filled with a multitude of newspaper articles, each one dated and source identified in Mr. Perkins’ own handwriting, that even so much as mention the subject of cats. Among the many articles about 3-legged cats and miscarriages of justice regarding cat ownership are gems of immense interest to the history of the Cat Fancy, such as a review of the Madison Square Garden Show in 1896, that mentions Mrs. Brown and her cat “Cosey” being a big winner at the previous years’ show, along with notations about the importation of English Shorthairs and Persians from Eng lend, reports on cats shows held in the UK and USA, etc. Also found in the scrapbook are several personal letters, addressed “Dear Sam” or “Mr. Perkins“, which only confirms the origin of the scrapbook.

    The Historical Society of the City of Philadelphia owns several of Mr. Perkins’ scrapbooks, all related to the erection of City Hall. To our knowledge, this is the only scrapbook that has been located on the subject of cats.

    Thanks to Mr. Perkins, and architect John McArthur, Jr., there are carvings of Mr. Perkins’ cats (all eight of them) carved out of stone in a chamber in Philadelphia’s City Hall. If you live in Philadelphia or visit that city, be sure to go to City Hall, enter from the south and the cats can be found inside the chamber with “JUSTICE” above the doorway.

    More on Mr. Perkins’ carved cats, again from The Cats on City Hall:

    That is why today one can walk into Philadelphia’s City Hall from the south and see Mr. Perkins’ cats—eight of them—carved out of stone around the walls of a chamber which bears above its doorway the single word “JUSTICE.” Just why Justice and eight cats go together is something that has baffled casual observers ever since a writer for the Evening ^Bulletin strolled into that same southern entrance one day in 1876—around a quarter of a century before the Hall was “finished”—and reported what he found:

    ‘In the interior of the judiciary vestibule, which is made up of marble, granite and sandstone not harmoniously arranged, the sculptor’s art has made greater strides. Eight times around the walls, nearly on a level with the eye, is what is called an ‘ornament on pedestals of columns.’ This is an oblong block of sandstone on which is carved the head of a fierce cat about to spring through a hole upon a mouse hiding in a flower. The symbolism of this work as a multiplied ornament for a temple of justice has not been explained. Perhaps the cat is the Building Commission, the hole a Ring, and the mouse the helpless tax-paying people that it preys upon.’

    This scrapbook was discovered at a cat show vendor booth in Erie, PA by Karen Lawrence in 1999. The vendor confided that if he didn’t sell it that weekend, his intention was to take it apart and sell individual pages on eBay. It was immediately purchased by Peace Bridge Aby Fanciers and donated to the CFA Foundation.

    Because of the fragile condition of the scrapbook, the Foundation has had the individual pages photographed by Larry Johnson to preserve the information they contain. Read more about the scrapbook on The History Project page.

    Cat dividing line on August Cat Holidays

    f you are enjoying this post, check out some additional places you can get a big dose of cat on vacation.

    Cat dividing line on August Cat Holidays

    We hope you enjoyed this post on a not-so-typical cat tourism attraction in the United States. Paws invites you to share photos or stories about some of your favorite cat tourism places and events, and upload your photos under the comments sections. If you want to keep up to date on cat news and cat tourism, sign up for our email list below and get your FREE Guide to Stop Kitty from Destroying Your Sofa. It’s chuck full of tips to keep your kitty scratching where you want them to scratch.

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    2 COMMENTS

    1. That is so interesting and raises questions as to whether there was a deeper symbolic meaning to the presence of the cats, or were they just there as decoration, or just as a celebration of cats by Perkins because he liked cats. Whatever the reasons it’s always fun to find people in history who liked cats, as well as any and all inclusion of cats in the life a city or town.

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