STORY WRITTEN BY BRIAN BINGAMAN
@brianbingaman on Twitter
It’s Philly from the top.
The hot, new, first-stop destination for tourists visiting the area is at the top of one of Philadelphia’s tallest buildings.
The enclosed One Liberty Observation Deck is at the peak of the distinct, 57-story Center City skyscraper One Liberty Place, and offers a breathtaking, bird’s eye, panoramic view — as well as easy-to-absorb information about points of interest — of a surprisingly large swath of the region. On a clear day from 883 feet above street level, you can see as far as Wilmington, Del. to the south, Trenton, N.J. to the north, and a keen eye will spot the Limerick Generating Station and Longwood Gardens to the west. FOR A PHOTO GALLERY, CHECK HERE
“I’m still getting used to it,” said observation deck guide Blake Skverski during a media preview a few days before the deck opens to the public Nov. 28.
Whatever you can’t see with the naked eye, the “Go Find Your Philly” touchscreen stations — featuring 3-D, zoomable, 360-degree views of practically anywhere in the area — offer various vantage points.
“We feel like we tell the entire city story in a quick moment, but it’s also for the locals,” stated One Liberty Observation Deck general manager Evan Evans. “It’s hard to imagine how beautiful the city is until you see it from here. The city’s evolved dramatically in the last 25 years.”
All in one place, you can see Philly’s iconic cultural institutions and landmarks, planes coming in for landing at Philadelphia International Airport, the sports complex, the bridges into New Jersey, and the sites across the Delaware River in Camden.
“Each area (of the observation deck) focuses on either sports, culture or music,” said the observation deck’s marketing manager, Jessica Blank. Take a seat in either of the three Chair Zones to figure out which is which, with narration by former WXPN morning host Michaela Majoun, Jerry “The Geator” Blavat, and 97.5 The Fanatic sports talk personality Mike Missanelli.
Well, the sports zone is not hard to figure out. It’s the ice hockey penalty box, with a heartstrings-tugging audio montage that includes 76ers PA announcer, the late Dave Zinkoff, announcing Dr. J’s name; dearly-departed Phillies play-by-play announcer Harry Kalas leading a sing-along of “High Hopes;” the truly strange Flyers talisman of Kate Smith singing “God Bless America;” and a censored version of the infamous proclamation by Chase Utley during the 2008 World Series trophy ceremony.
Sports fans will remember that once upon a time One Liberty Place was blamed by the superstitious for the major pro sports championship drought of 1983-2008 because of the so-called curse of Billy Penn’s hat.
“We felt this was an important building because it was the first building to go over the statue of William Penn (atop city hall),” said Mark Brungo, senior associate at the New York office of the design firm Gensler, which was responsible for bringing the “Philly from the Top” observation deck concept to life. The observation deck is owned and operated by Montparnasse 56, the group behind observation decks in Paris, Berlin and Chicago.
The view is different at night, of course, so a “Sun & Stars” ticket is available for an option to make two visits in 48 hours.
Pay attention to the musical soundtrack. Making appearances are Todd Rundgren, Hall & Oates, The Hooters and others. “Every (song) is related to Philadelphia in some way,” noted Blank.
Before you board the second-floor elevator to get there, though, there’s that mysterious giant pair of green feet. After looking up at the neon kite string, seeing the simulated lightning flash and feeling the loud rumble of thunder, you realize those feet belong to famous Philadelphian Benjamin Franklin, whose head is all the way up on the north side of the observation deck.
“One of the things we see people rushing to is to take a picture with Ben,” Evans said of the Franklin bust, encouraging selfies and sharing them on social media with the hashtag #PhillyFromTheTop.
The elevator ride to the 57th floor takes 75 seconds, and features aerial drone videos of Philadelphia for you to watch, one for the trip up and another for the trip back down.
If you have a while to wait before your turn to board the elevator, there’s a gift shop to check out (as well as The Shops at Liberty Place) and artistic installations featuring “The Real Philly” images spotlighting the Founding Fathers, Rocky, the massive Alexander Calder mobile at the Philadelphia Museum of Art, the Mummers, DJ Jazzy Jeff and “Fresh Prince” Will Smith, “American Bandstand,” Allen Iverson, Billie Holiday, The Roots, the Phillie Phanatic, Grace Kelly, artist Keith Haring (who was a native of Berks County) and more.
Located at 1650 Market St., the One Liberty Observation Deck is within walking distance (with access to Phlash, Big Bus, Trolley Works and Philadelphia Sightseeing) of some of the major attractions you’ll see from the top down.