As chief engineer for the Centennial Exhibition Grounds, Hermann Schwarzmann transformed Fairmount Park into a world-class venue for the 1876 fair celebrating America’s 100th anniversary.
Schwarzmann immigrated to America from Germany at the age of 22 and found work as a designing engineer at Fairmount Park, becoming responsible for planning, ornamentation, drainage, and planting in the park. To prepare for his work on the Centennial Exhibition, Schwarzmann visited the Vienna International Exhibition in 1873 to study the buildings and the layout of the grounds.
Upon his return to Philadelphia, he supervised workers as they moved 500,000 cubic yards of earth, graded and surfaced three miles of avenues and 17 miles of walks, built a railroad with 5.5 miles of double track, erected 16 bridges, and put up three miles of fence with 179 stiles and gates. Seven miles of drains, nine miles of water pipes, and 16 fountains and water works with daily pumping capacity of six million gallons were constructed, along with eight miles of gas pipes and three separate telegraph systems with underground cables. The landscaped grounds featured 153 acres of new lawns and flower beds and over 20,000 trees and shrubs.
Although trained as an engineer, not an architect, Schwarzmann designed 34 of the 249 large and small structures for the exhibition grounds, including the only two permanent structures: Memorial Hall and Horticultural Hall (destroyed by Hurricane Hazel in 1954). Designed as the exhibition’s art gallery for the Centennial, Memorial Hall was the largest hall in the country when it opened, with a massive 1.5-acre footprint and a 150-foot dome sitting atop a 59-foot-high structure. It provided 75,000 square feet of wall surface for paintings and 20,000 square feet of floor space for sculptures.
The design for Memorial Hall became the prototype for other American museums, including Art Institute of Chicago, Detroit Institute of Art, and the Brooklyn Museum. It is now the home of the Please Touch Museum for Children.