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This Gift Wrapping Won't Be Removed Until Long After Christmas


The decorative scrim help disguise the scaffolding surrounding the tower. NPS photo.

Countless packages will be unwrapped in homes across the country this week, but thanks to a generous gift from one park's Friends group, a famous American landmark got a special wrapping job—and this very large "package" won't be opened until later next year.

The tower of Independence Hall in Philadelphia is one of the iconic landmarks in our nation's history, but the structure has been in serious need of repairs for a number of years. Rot and decay on the exterior wood and brick along with rusting of the structural framing had reached crisis proportions. The good news is that work to correct those problems is now underway, but there's no escaping the fact that the scaffolding necessary for the project isn't very attractive.

Thanks to a donation from the Friends of Independence, visitors to the park can at least enjoy some colorful and informative images of the tower while it's hidden away behind that giant metal framework.

The images are displayed on a decorative scrim, large pieces of fabric that wrap the scaffolding. According to the Friends website, "On the north, west and east sides of the tower, an architectural rendering of the tower will be shown on the scrim to allow visitors and locals an un-interrupted view of Independence Hall. On the south side of the scrim, the rendering will depict the inside of the tower, giving onlookers a peek at the architectural complexities that reside within the four brick walls. The scrim will not only serve as a safety and protection function but will allow for the visitor’s experiences to be unchanged during the fourteen month construction period."

A park spokesman notes that the drawings are both decorative and educational: temporary waysides nearby offer information about the measured drawings on which the image is based. The donation by the Friends group covered the $38,600 cost of creating and installing the scrim.

Photos and video of the decorative fabric being installed are available on the Friends website and at this YouTube link.

So, what is going on behind those giant "curtains"?

Work on the tower includes "repointing and replacing damaged brick masonry, installing or replacing wood shingle roofing and flashings, restoring and painting window sashes, frames and doors. Carpentry repairs include painting and caulking on all exposed wood decorative building elements over the full height of the tower. This project also requires reinforcing new clock faces and bracing at all building elevations, refurbishing historic copper urns, replacing the supporting weathervane structure, providing borate fungicide treatment of interior structural elements, and replacing the tower's outdated lightning protection system. The current tower dates to 1828 and was designed by architect William Strickland."

The rehabilitation project began in July 2010, and is expected to take about 14 months.

Independence Hall remains open for tours while work on the tower is underway; the park website includes information about schedules and free tickets.

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