‘Pocket park’ a serene oasis in Center City

The lushly appointed Chestnut Park, Philadelphia’s urban pocket park. — PHOTO SUBMITTED

In the shadow of One Liberty Place sits a small quiet oasis off busy Chestnut Street in Center City Philadelphia — the modestly named “Chestnut Park.”

For over three decades, the park has served as a respite for harried office workers or just casual strollers seeking a spot for lunching, reading or just enjoying a beautiful day. And while it is quite easy to simply walk past the tiny park, the unique urban space has received many honors for its standout features, especially its distinctive ornamental iron gates, ivy-covered walls, moveable furniture and its very own water feature.

Chestnut Park was inspired by New York City’s Paley Park, a true pocket park that opened in 1967 and is often cited as one of the finest urban spaces in the United States.

In the 1970s, Philadelphia philanthropist Dorothy (Mrs. F. Otto) Haas proposed the Chestnut Park, and the William Penn Foundation funded its construction. Like its Manhattan cousin, Chestnut Park offers a quiet urban oasis in the midst of the bustling city by the careful use of falling water, airy trees, lightweight furniture and simple spatial organization.

Designed principally by John Collins of the Delta Group, the original Chestnut Park was dedicated on June 5, 1979. For 20 years, the park was owned and maintained by the PenJerDel Regional Foundation until January 2010, when it was transferred to the Center City District Foundation.

One of the key attractions of Chestnut Park is the flora and fauna depicted on “The Wissahickon Gate” on the Chestnut Street side. The animals and plants rendered on the gates are native to the Wissahickon and Delaware valleys. The dynamic entrance was created by Philadelphia area sculptor Christopher T. Ray (1937–2000).

Ray was a very talented and complex artist who worked in many different mediums: metal, music, dance, poetry, drawing, computers and the Internet. However, he tends to be best known for his metal work. On the main gate, 13 birds, insects and fish are shown in a re-creation of the Wissahickon Valley. 

“The Estuary Gate” at the Ranstead entrance is a tribute to the marshlands of New Jersey and Delaware, depicting moving water and islands, turtles and fish, a sky filled with migrating birds and sculpted reeds gently curved by the wind. The fountain is a tribute to Native American totems.

While the park eventually won an award from the American Society of Landscape Architects, over the decades it suffered periods of disinvestment.

This year, Chestnut Park has been revived with a restored  fountain, benches, landscaping and lighting. Great care has been taken to select plants, shrubs and trees that are native to the Delaware and Wissahickon valleys.

Visitors can now also purchase food treats on site at the Bike Caffe, an Earth-friendly, fully equipped rolling café. Now through October, live music can be enjoyed each Wednesday and Friday, 12 p.m.–1:30 pm.

Chestnut Park is located at 1707 Chestnut St. (between Chestnut and Ranstead), and is open weekdays 9 a.m.–6:30 p.m.; Saturdays 10:45 a.m.–6:30 p.m.; Sundays, noon–6:30 p.m.


Contact Tribune staff writer Bobbi Booker at (215) 893-5749 or bbooker@phillytrib.com.

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