Grand Opening Events: Will Bush Land Here?

Corrections or additions?

This article by Sally Friedman was prepared for the July 2, 2003 edition of U.S. 1 Newspaper. All rights reserved.

For the 4th, Let Freedom Ring

Mickey Mouse is enshrined in the National Constitution

Center. So is Muhammed Ali. And so is Larry Flynt.

Larry Flynt???

Yes indeed. The spanking new building that’s been merely a vision

since it was created by the Constitution Heritage Act in 1988 has

turned into a reality, and the sprawling limestone and granite structure

at Sixth and Arch streets in Philadelphia is full of surprises. If

you think it’s just a repository for dusty old documents, you might

want to head on over to the building designed by Pei Cobb Freed &

Partners, one the nation’s most prestigious architectural firms, to

remind us all that the Constitution is a living document, and one

that touches all our lives.

Slated to open on Friday. July 4, this $185 million, 160,000 square

foot, private nonprofit museum will offer everything from tours and

lectures to performances and ongoing special events.

As work crews struggled to finish the stately building, media tours

were conducted recently under strict guidelines: work boots, hard

hats, and steady nerves to endure the constant sound of construction.

The end result promises to be a remarkable living history museum where

interactive exhibits coexist with grand bronzes of the signers of

the Constitution.

The museum’s unusual circular design allows visitors to roam through

a grand entrance hall with a vaulted ceiling, experience an introductory

17-minute show in the Center’s Kimmel Theater that combines a live

performance with multi-media, and then wander through a permanent

exhibit called the American Experience, which dramatically emphasizes

the words of the Constitution itself. The document is printed out

on a 450-foot long glass wall above the exhibit space, a constant

reminder of what this Center is all about.

If it sounds like sensory overload, it is. But in the best sense.

"The structure and its surroundings were designed to have people

feel swept up and involved in the space," explains Liz Barszczewski,

public relations manager for the Center and tour guide to pre-opening

visitors over the last several weeks.

"Even the expansive windows become a metaphor for the openness

of government, and for uniting those inside and outside the building

so that no one remains passive and uninvolved," she explains.

The heart and soul of the Center is the American Experience space

where a National "Family Tree" contains "branches"

that tell the story of our expansive American family — and our

constitutional rights — through individual profiles of the famous

and not-so-famous. Here’s the spot where Mickey Mouse coexists with

Larry Flynt for important reasons: Both have been involved in groundbreaking

legal decisions. In Mickey’s case, the issue was copyright protection.

Flynt’s concerned free speech and First Amendment issues.

"The idea of dissent is one of our hallmarks, and we don’t expect

everyone to agree with the choices we’ve made for the first 100 on

our tree," said Barszczewski, noting that the people on the tree

will change periodically. Suggestions from the public about who belongs

on the Family Tree are welcome.

Visitors can "participate" in government with

all the American Experience’s interactive features:

"*"Taking the Presidential oath of office on the steps of the

Capitol, thanks to video technology

"*"Donning the robes of a Supreme Court Justice

"*"Voting for their favorite U.S. President — and seeing

the results in a constant tally.

For many visitors, the culminating experience may be Signers’

Hall, where 42 life-sized bronze figures represent the 39 men who

signed the Constitution — and the three who dissented. Gathering

information on the signers and dissenters wasn’t always easy, according

to Barszczewski.

"We had the greatest difficulty with signer Jacob Broome of Delaware.

We could find absolutely nothing about him — no descriptions,

no medical records, no drawings. So the designers gave him the average

height and weight of the period and have him covering his face with

his hand since we know so little about his looks."

In the Signers’ Hall, visitors are encouraged to sign their own names

to a replica of today’s Constitution in special parchment books or

to note their dissent and outline their concerns about the words and

ideas in the Constitution. "Dissent is still alive and well in

this country and at the National Constitution Center," said Barszczewski.

"It’s actually very American."

As visitors leave Signers’ Hall, they are treated to a spectacular

straight-shot view of Independence Hall, the Center’s close neighbor.

A nearby Citizens’ Cafe allows visitors to E-mail their congressmen

and watch Congressional issues unfold on a giant screen.

The Center’s "amenities" include the full-service Delegates’

Restaurant, which is open for breakfast and lunch and features an

eclectic menu and partial self-service; a Family Theater where parents

and children can see the Bill of Rights in a lighthearted Top Ten

format complete with music and animation; and a parking garage under

the building. The Center is also available for private parties and

functions and is already accepting reservations for weddings.

With all there is much to see and do, the typical visitor can plan

to spend about one and a half hours touring the Center. However, if

that visitor were participate fully in every interactive exhibit and

see every artifact and item, the visit would stretch to over 17 hours.

"Our hope," said Barszczewski, "is that people come back

again and again. Just as laws and governments change, so will our

short-term exhibits. And we’ve left plenty of space for any new amendments

to the Constitution because we understand even more now that it’s

definitely a living document."

National Constitution Center, Sixth and Arch Streets,

Philadelphia. 215-409-6600. www.constitutioncenter.org Open

9:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily. Admission is $6, $5 for seniors 62 and

over and children aged 4-12. Children under 4 are admitted free. The

Center is handicapped accessible.

Top Of Page
Grand Opening Events: Will Bush Land Here?

The doors to the National Constitution Center swing

open on Friday, July 4, with opening events continuing through July

10. A dedication ceremony will take place at 9 a.m. on July 4, in

conjunction with Philadelphia’s annual Independence Day Celebration.

Mayor John Street will present the Philadelphia Liberty Medal to Supreme

Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor. President George Bush is expected

to officially open the building. The Philadelphia Orchestra will provide

the background music for a themed dramatic reading.

The Center will be open to the public on July 4 from 1 to 8:30 p.m.

On Friday and Saturday, July 5 and 6, it will be open from 9:30 p.m.

to 8:30 p.m. Regular hours, starting Monday July 7, are 9:30 a.m.

to 5 p.m. Tickets for opening weekend are available on a first-come,

first-served basis by phone at 215-409-6600 or online at www.constitutioncenter.org,

and a limited number will be available at the door.

From July 4 to July 6, the Center will present special performances

including plays, magicians, storytellers, and period crafts and games

for children.

On Wednesday, July 9, at 5 p.m., a segment of National Public Radio’s

"Justice Talking" will be taped at the Center. The topic is

"U.S. Supreme Court Review from Left to Right." The event

is free to the public, but reservations are required (215-898-7757).

On Thursday, July 10, from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m., the American Bar Association’s

Section on Individual Rights and Responsibilities will sponsor a program

in the Center’s Kirby Auditorium. The topic is "The Bill of Rights

in a Time of Crisis." There is limited free public seating (215-923-0004).


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