Philly’s Hidden Masterpiece: Visiting the Dream Garden in The Curtis Center
Hidden in almost plain site is one of Philadelphia’s best public art projects. In fact, it’s so special that it was almost bought for $9 million and moved to Vegas. However, despite sitting just steps from some of Philadelphia’s most popular tourist attractions, few know that it’s there.
That’s because this large glass mosaic sits in the lobby of a turn-of-the-century office building, relegated to near-forgotten status by even the most savvy locals. For the few that find it, however, it’s a hidden gem worth visiting again and again.
“The Dream Garden,” as the piece is known, sits in the lobby of The Curtis Center in downtown Philadelphia. The Curtis Center sits a mere block away from Independence Hall and was built in 1910 as the headquarters of The Curtis Publishing Company, the publisher of The Saturday Evening Post, Ladies Home Journal, and several other publications.
Building designers felt that a large white wall in the lobby needed some sort of mural, and hired artist Maxfield Parrish to design the mural. While not widely known today, Parrish was one of the most popular artists of the early 20th century. In fact, Norman Rockwell, whose work often graced the cover of Curtis Publishing’s Saturday Evening Post, once referred to Parrish as “my idol.”
The story of the long and strange process to get to a final design is a bit too complicated to get into here, but, several years after being asked to design a mural for the lobby, Parrish’s second design was accepted by Louis C. Tiffany.
Six months and one million pieces of glass later, The Dream Garden was put on display in New York City. After being seen by thousands and getting rave reviews from the New York art community, the piece was disassembled and carefully reassembled in the lobby of The Curtis Center in Philadelphia. The Dream Garden had finally been installed in its home 6 years after the building was completed.
Today, The Dream Garden still sits in its original location; a location that seems like a neglected corner of this still beautiful building. The mosaic is 15-feet high, 49-feet long, and comprised of over 100,000 pieces of Tiffany glass in 260 different colors. The mosaic is fronted by a marble fountain that seems to no longer be filled.
Until 2007, when the Wing Lung Bank Mural in Alhambra, California surpassed it, The Dream Garden was the largest glass mural in the country. And it still stands as one of only three glass mosaic projects completed by Tiffany and is arguably the company’s largest piece.
With the main entrance to The Curtis Center having moved to Walnut Street, The Dream Garden feels hidden away inside the building. In some ways, though, it makes the piece feel that much more special. In fact, the neglected feeling of the area in many ways fits the hidden garden imagery in the mosaic.
So, the next time you are in Philadelphia’s Old City, take the short walk over to The Curtis Center and check out one of the least known and most amazing pieces of public art in the city: The Dream Garden.
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How to Get to the Dream Garden
The Curtis Center and The Dream Garden are less than a block from Independence Hall, near the corner of 6th Street and Walnut Street and across the street from Washington Square.
If coming from Independence Hall, turn left onto 6th Street, and look for the entrance to The Curtis Center on your right about 3/4 of the way to Walnut Street. The entrance to the building is up a few stairs and through a row of grand marble columns. Above the columns the word “The Curtis Publishing Building” are carved into the stone.
If you enter through the door here, The Dream Garden will be directly in front of you.
Should you enter through The Curtis Center’s main entrance on Walnut Street, just ask at the guard’s desk how to get to The Dream Garden.
It’s worth noting that since The Dream Garden is located in an office building, you need to make sure you visit during hours that the building is open. Hours for The Curtis Center are Monday – Friday, 8am-6pm, and Saturday from 10am-1pm. The 6th Street entrance closest to The Dream Garden is often closed on Saturdays. If you should find that entrance closed during operating hours, walk around to the Walnut Street entrance.
While in The Curtis Center, take a few minutes to also check out the atrium, which is quite impressive in its own right.
Looking for more free things to do in Philadelphia? Check out of full list of free things to do in Philly!