A love story that began—as many great ones have—in secret (by Natanya DiBona)

Natanya DiBona
Favorite Spot: Logan Circle
Neighborhood: Center City
Address: 19th St. and Ben Franklin Parkway

I am: The daughter of parents who both grew up in South Philadelphia in a time when, as my mom said, you knew you would marry someone within a six block radius. I was raised in the suburbs, but valued my trips with my grandparents to the Italian Market and to Penn’s Landing to watch fireworks. We frequently visited Philadelphia on trips to the Art Museum, the Academy of Music and Saturday morning classes at The Franklin Institute. I guess with this childhood, my love note really comes as no great surprise.
Current Home: I live in Chadds Ford and work in Philadelphia.


(B. Krist for GPTMC)

My love note:

Dear Logan Circle:

Our love story began—as many great ones have—in secret. It developed over a period of months and sadly, as my love grew deeper, I was unable to gush about you by name. I would cryptically say to friends how absolutely amazing “you” were and recount how the very sight of you one June afternoon had brought tears to my eyes, but I was forbidden to let your name cross my lips for months. That was, until Thursday, August 23, 2012.

It had all started rather innocently last April. My co-host and I had been charged with finding the “perfect” location for the first Dîner en Blanc in Philadelphia. You were on a list of six, having been casually added almost as an after-thought, amongst the many more “obvious” choices that had come to mind. The most pressing part of our mission was to find the one spot that— in this inaugural year— would scream “Philadelphia!” if only one picture were taken.

I first went to see you in the middle of the afternoon. To be honest, I wasn’t exactly sure where to find you. I knew the general vicinity, but were you on the Parkway? Should I go down 18th? Or was it 19th? Is there a train stop nearby? Maybe I should just take a cab? When I finally arrived, I saw a magnificent space being prepared for an evening of tango dancing sponsored by the Fairmount Park Art Association. I returned later that evening to see the party in full swing.

What initially grabbed me was your history. You were originally known as “The Northwest Square” — one of William Penn’s original five planned squares designed to provide green space to be enjoyed by all. Over the years the space had been used as a burial ground, a spot of public hangings, and even as a pasture. In 1825 you were renamed for James Logan, a statesman who had served as secretary to William Penn. But it was in 1917 that you were transformed into a circle and your magnificent new life began.

In that year, the Fairmount Park Commission appointed Jacques Gréber, a French landscape architect, to update a 1907 design of the diagonal boulevard then known as Fairmount Parkway. Gréber’s vision saw the Parkway transformed into an American Champs-Élysées with you as the anchor, designed to replicate the stunning Place de la Concorde in Paris. Almost immediately you became the center of attention and “Parkway Dances” were held there regularly beginning in July of 1921.

For the centerpiece, a fountain designed by sculptor Alexander Stirling Calder and architect Wilson Eyre, Jr., was installed in 1924. Named to honor the founder of the Philadelphia Fountain Society, Dr. Wilson Cary Swann, the fountain’s three Native American statues depict the Delaware, Schuylkill, and Wissahickon rivers.

Over the course of those four months, I visited you often: under the cloak of darkness, in the middle of the afternoon, and in the morning, as people rushed past you with their coffee. I observed couples on blankets embraced in a kiss, I saw kids dance with glee in your fountain, and I even assisted a few tourists as they captured your beauty on camera. As I studied you and envisioned the swath of white tables and chairs that would hold our dinner, I marveled at how perfectly symmetrical and carefully planned you were.

But, most importantly, I was in awe of your 360-degree view of everything that is Philadelphia. The Franklin Institute, The Academy of Natural Sciences, The Free Library of Philadelphia, City Hall and the Philadelphia Museum of Art can all be spotted from your benches. This magnificent view reflects the commitment and dedication of so many Philadelphians who came before me—people who believed so passionately in arts and education and their central role in shaping a truly great society.

When that magical day in August finally came, I couldn’t wait to share my love with our 1,300 guests. And, as I looked at the thousands of pictures that were posted in the days following, you did your part to show your love back. There wasn’t a single bad picture taken that night— in each one you shined and glistened, offering a glimpse of what Philadelphia has to offer in each frame.

Still now, I can’t resist the sight of you. Coming from an event at the library one October night I take a picture—do I have a picture of you from this side of the street? Or the evening I passed you on the way to see Open Air on the Parkway, I surely must not have a picture from this angle. I also can’t help filling with pride the time I saw a film crew shooting right in front of the Franklin Institute, knowing that you have been there in all of your glory for this group of visitors to admire.

I am also happy to know that I’m not alone in my love. One of our participants recently posted on our Facebook page: “every time I pass Swann Fountain my heart smiles.” I couldn’t have said it better myself!

Natanya DiBona

(photos by Sean Corbett)
(Natanya is the fourth from the right)

Posted on by Emma Fried-Cassorla in Center City 3 Comments

3 Responses to A love story that began—as many great ones have—in secret (by Natanya DiBona)

  1. Steve G.

    Very nice.

    Logan Circle is very photogenic, whether for bicycle races, casual tourist pics, or a gorgeous event like that one.

  2. Laura Blanchard

    One part of Logan Circle’s past that should also be remembered: for three glorious weeks in June 1864 it was the site of the Great Central Sanitary Fair, a fundraising event that raised $1.1 million for the relief of wounded soldiers — not exactly small change even now and a huge amount of money during the American Civil War. The Fair was visited by President Abraham Lincoln and his wife. While there, President Lincoln signed specially-printed copies of the Emancipation Proclamation, which were then sold as a fund-raiser. Copies of this document are in the collections of the Heritage Center of the Union League of Philadelphia, the Historical Society of Pennsylvania, and others.

  3. Patricia Gallagher

    I knew your mom Andrea and your dad Danny
    and you when you were about 2 years old. You are quite a writer. I am so proud of you and seeing all that you have accomplished. Wishing you the best always.


Reply to Steve G.