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From the archives: Rizzo statue to gaze upon art he hated

The Rizzos praised Mayor Rendell and Thora Jacobson, chairwoman of the Arts Commission, for their work in finding a home for the Rizzo statue.

This story was originally published on Oct. 6, 1994. It was reposted after debate ensued over whether Frank L. Rizzo's Center City statue should be changed or removed.

He hated the way it looked. Hated what it cost. Hated the idea that it was some sort of fancy junk that snobs called art.

Yet with a fitting kind of Philadelphia irony and justice, Frank Rizzo's bronze likeness will stand for the ages near a spot he loathed.

The 9-foot statue will be set in front of the steps to the Municipal Services Building. It will be across the street from City Hall, facing JFK Boulevard and near one of the former mayor's least-favorite sculptures – the Lipchitz Government Of The People.

The Arts Commission gave tentative approval yesterday to place the Rizzo statue in full view of the Lipchitz, which towers 40 feet above JFK Plaza.

Rizzo had much to say about the Lipchitz statue, erected in 1976, while he was mayor.

"Maybe I don't know anything about art; it's not my background. But I looked at it and tried to be fair. It looks like some plasterer dropped a load of plaster," Rizzo said the first time he saw a model of the statue.

The mayor maintained that he was not being a rube. He knew art when he saw it. This wasn't it.

"I like art," he said, "It was us Italians who started most of it. "

Rizzo was so displeased with the Lipchitz that he refused to provide city

funds needed to complete and install the sculpture. His decision led to a controversy in his first term, and private citizens were forced to finance the completion of the project in 1975.

But Frank Rizzo Jr. said last night that his father's distaste for the Lipchitz had faded over the years and that he had grown fond of it.

"He didn't understand art back then and related to things like art much like the average person related to such things," he said. "To be honest, over time he truly grew to like it, and I know he'd approve of the location of his statue. "

Rizzo Jr. and his mother, Carmella, said the Municipal Services Building, which is being renovated, was their "first choice" because Councilwoman Joan Krajewski had introduced a bill to name the building after the former mayor.

"If my father stood for anything, it was service to the citizens of this city and its visitors," said Rizzo Jr. "We're thrilled. "

Said Carmella Rizzo: "At last, it's going to be done. I'm sure (my husband) would be thrilled, too. "

The Rizzos praised Mayor Rendell and Thora Jacobson, chairwoman of the Arts

Commission, for their work in finding a home for the Rizzo statue.

Much like the life of the former mayor himself, the decision over a site stirred plenty of controversy.

During the summer, the Arts Commission approved the original site on the northwest corner of JFK Plaza, looking onto the Benjamin Franklin Parkway. But the Fairmount Park Commission said that location was too good for Rizzo.

The JFK Plaza falls under the authority of the Park Commission. And some

commission members complained that placing Rizzo at the plaza put him in the same league as George Washington and William Penn. Not to mention, they moaned, the statue would block the scenic view from City Hall to the museum.

That's when the Frank Rizzo Monument Committee, made up of members from the Park and Arts commissions, went to work. They narrowed the choices to three sites, and the Rizzo family picked the Municipal Services Building.

"The experience has been a valuable one for the arts commission and Philadelphia, especially in understanding what Frank Rizzo meant to the city," said Jacobson, adding that final approval is expected Nov. 2 at the

commission's next regular meeting.

"It also showed us what a public sculpture can and cannot do," said Jacobson. "A sculpture can celebrate the memory of Rizzo as a man, but it can't capture the range of his wit and wisdom, or his impact."