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Saturday, November 24, 2012

Edmund Bacon

Edmund Bacon (1910-2005) was an American urban planner, architect, educator and author. He was born in Philadelphia and received a bachelor's degree in architecture from Cornell University in 1932. He then studied at the Cranbrook Academy with Eliel Saarinen.

Bacon worked as an architect in China and in Philadelphia before accepting the position of city planner in Flint, Michigan. He was hired as managing director of the Philadelphia Housing Association in 1947 and was promoted to executive director in 1949, a position he held till he retired in 1970, at which time he served as vice president for Mondev International Ltd., a private planning firm. He also produced Understanding Cities, a series of films on city planning.

He taught at the University of Pennsylvania and at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and won numerous awards, including the American Institute of Planners Distinguished Service Award and the Philadelphia Award.

His most obvious mark on the city of Pennsylvania came during the 1950s and 1960s with the planning of Penn Center, a huge development of the city's downtown, which was comprised of offices and hotels and was the largest project in the city since the 1920s. He was also responsible for the planning of Market East, Penn's Landing, Society Hill, Independence Mall and the Far Northeast. "It mixed the bulldoze-and-rebuild philosophy of urban renewal with the tentative beginnings of the historic preservation movement," according to Paul Goldberger in The New York Times in 1988.

Bacon was not without his detractors, however. In 1998 critic 1998 Herbert Muschamp wrote in The New York Times that Penn Center was "reviled as a prime example of disastrous modern city planning: lamentable in the spare geometry of its buildings, its disregard for the vitality of the traditional street."

Mr. Bacon had opinions about the design of Philadelphia until his death. In the 1990s he proposed improvements to Independence Mall, Penn's Landing and the Benjamin Franklin Parkway. Then in 2002 he protested the ban on skateboarding in the city's LOVE Park by illegally skateboarding through the park himself.

An interesting bit of trivia is that Bacon was the father to six children, including actor Kevin Bacon and father-in-law to Kyra Sedgwick. Kevin Bacon told a story about his father's influence on his own career that provides insight into the elder Bacon's personality. According to the younger Bacon:

My father was actually a very big influence on me and on my career. He really embraced his fame, his notoriety, his celebrity, if you will. While he was mostly fueled by this love for the city of Philadelphia and a desire to change the city . . . he also was very into fame. . . . It was a big part of his life. He used to save all of his [magazine and newspaper] clippings. . . . And I have to tell you, that certainly was part of what drove me to do what I do.

I'm not going to lie: I think there was a part of me that thought, "I can be more famous than the old man if I work really hard."

Even when he was really old, I would come down to Philadelphia to see him, and we'd go for a walk, and people would call out, "Mr. Bacon! Mr. Bacon!"

And, of course, I'd turn around thinking they were going to ask me for my autograph, and they'd say, "I love you, Ed!" or "Great work, Ed!". . . Nothing made him happier than to be recognized before I was.

From, and

Bacon and staff members

Independence Mall, 1979

Penn Center

Penn's Landing with Center City skyline in the background

Mural of Edmund Bacon in Center City, by artist Gaia

Market East Station

Society Hill

Society Hill street

Protesting the ban of skateboards at LOVE Park

Edmund Bacon with sons Michael (l) and Kevin (r)


  1. A very interesting tidbit of architectural (and celebrity) history!

    1. I found it very interesting that father and son had a bit of a celebrity rivalry. :)

  2. Wow, what a guy!! Skateboarding as a protest at the age of 92 shows some real commitment for his beloved city. That's very impressive!

    1. I think the skateboarding photo is my favorite. It does my heart good to see people remaining so true to their convictions all their lives.

  3. So who knew that Kevin Bacon's father was a famous architect. I find this Wikipedia article about the six degrees phenomena fascinating. I doubt dad really could top that!

    1. I've always been fascinated by Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon, although I'm terrible at playing the game. My daughter, who is much more of a movie buff than I am, can beat me every time.

  4. Thank you for writing about Edmund Bacon. I live near Philly and have heard his name come up. The skateboard photo is fascinating.

    1. So glad you enjoyed this little piece of Philly history.

  5. Replies
    1. I've heard that's what Kyra Sedgwick says too. ;)