A Philadelphia legend passes

Edmund Bacon, a longtime city planner responsible for shaping modern Philadelphia, died Friday at his Center City home. He was 95.

Although surpassed in mainstream notoriety by his son, actor Kevin Bacon, the elder Bacon was the man behind a number of Philly landmarks, including Society Hill, Independence Mall, Penn Center, University City, Penn’s Landing, Market East, and the Far Northeast.

Bacon served as executive director of the City Planning Commission from 1949 to 1970 and his genius landed him on the cover of Time in 1964.

Here are some excerpts from a Philadelphia Inquirer story on Bacon’s passing (registration required):

“Philadelphia has lost one of its greatest citizens,” Gov. Ed Rendell said in an interview. “The landscape of this city would have been miserably different and decidedly poorer had Ed Bacon chosen not to be a Philadelphian…”

…An almost heroic, if not maniacal, force of will guided Mr. Bacon, a man born and raised in Philadelphia, a city that he viewed on the eve of World War II as “the worst, most backward, stupid city that I ever heard of.” But almost in the same breath, he resolved then “that come hell or high water, I would devote my life’s blood to making Philadelphia as good as I could…”

…Like Robert Moses, his sometimes rival in New York, Mr. Bacon shaped the urban landscape with grand – and sometimes grandiose – schemes. But unlike Moses, who controlled hundreds of millions of dollars and wielded the authority conferred by such wealth, Mr. Bacon achieved his stature and power from the force of his ideas and rhetoric, the clarity of his vision, the support of powerful reform-minded political patrons, and sheer stubbornness…

…Architect Vincent Kling, who worked with him on Penn’s Landing and Penn Center – which replaced the Chinese Wall, a monumental stone railroad trestle that blockaded Center City from the Schuylkill to City Hall – described Mr. Bacon as “the brightest, most energetic city planner we’ve had here since William Penn…”

Sure, Bacon had his share of bad ideas…with his call to tear down Philadelphia’s beautiful City Hall — except for its central tower — being one that even he would later regret. However, by all accounts, it is hard to imagine what Philadelphia would have been like without the visionary touch of Edmund Bacon.