Burning public art question, Where could Rizzo go?

In his essay, Dave Kyu looks at various placements for the contentious Frank Rizzo statue, which the city promised to relocate after angry public outcry. Dave ponders three new locations for the monumental sculpture to the racially-divisive former Mayor and Police Commissioner and one new placement at its current location. The relocation of the Rizzo statue is an important civic conversation that continues to need public input. What do you think is the best possible placement for the controversial statue?

Philadelphians looking to pay a water bill, receive a building permit, or register a new business, can achieve all this and more with a visit to the Municipal Services Building, at 15th & JFK Blvd. Out front, visitors are greeted by a nine foot bronze statue of a man stepping down from this civic tower with his arm extended, a gesture of grace towards you dear visitor, and to the City at large. Problem is, that the figure who welcomes you is Frank Rizzo, a man whose tenures as the Philadelphia’s Police Commissioner (1968-1971) and Mayor (1972-1980), have left a complex legacy.

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Rizzo Statue on thr Municipal Services Building Plaza steps, John F. Kennedy Boulevard between 15th and Broad Streets.

In September, 2017, in response to a growing public outrage, spurred by a national movement questioning monuments and the histories they symbolize, Mayor Kenney’s office solicited ideas from the public for what to do with the Rizzo sculpture. In November, 2017, after receiving hundreds of submissions, Mayor Kenney announced that the statue will be moved to a different location. No details were given about where or when. So while Rizzo and his messy legacy will no longer be the face of the Municipal Services Building, we must note that Rizzo will still be reinstalled somewhere else in the City. While we’re waiting for Rizzo’s big move, let’s look at some of the sites suggested by the public, and how the legacy of Rizzo may or may not fit into his new home.

Marconi Plaza, Broad & Oregon

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Rizzo Statue at Marconi Plaza in South Philadelphia.

The Submission
Please remove this statue from city land/property and move it to where the Rizzo superfans want it: in their own backyard (this seems to be primarily in South Philly). I suggest Marconi Plaza, somewhere on Passyunk Ave., or atop Geno’s.


The Context
Let’s focus on this commenter’s first suggestion. Marconi Plaza is a public park in South Philadelphia that straddles Broad Street, south of Oregon Avenue. Officially named in 1937, the plaza honors Nobel Prize Laureate & Italian Inventor Guglielmo Marconi, responsible for the wireless telephone, telegraph, and unidirectional radio. There are two existing monuments in the Plaza: Guglielmo Marconi himself, and the Italian explorer Christopher Columbus.

Frank Rizzo was born in 1921 in South Philadelphia to Italian immigrants. Although South Philly has become (and arguably always has been) much more diverse since then, now home to Mexican immigrants & South Asian refugees, the Italian American presence and cultural impact is still recognizably South Philly.

The Verdict
Rizzo’s standing as a prominent Italian American would fit a neighborhood that still celebrates its Italian American heritage. His tarnished legacy may fit well alongside Columbus’ decaying legacy. But at 9’ tall, Rizzo’s sculpture is monumental in scale. It’s hard to imagine not having to re-christen the park as “Rizzo park.” Expanding Rizzo’s naming footprint would increase, not placate, public outrage.


But for a City park, Marconi is pretty big, just under 1 million square feet. As long as Rizzo plays second fiddle, maybe an obscure in-the-park location, Marconi Plaza could work. There must be better options.

Atop Geno’s steaks, 9th & Passyunk

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Rizzo Statue on top of Geno’s Steaks.

The Context
When it’s not being used as a stage set in a Meek Mill video, Geno’s is known for its overpriced cheesesteaks and its explosion of neon signage. In 2006, the shop caused an outrage when it placed a window sign that read “This is AMERICA: WHEN ORDERING PLEASE SPEAK ENGLISH,” and received attention from the Commission on Human Relations for possible violation of Philadelphia’s ordinance on discrimination on the basis of race, ethnicity, or sexual orientation. Founder Joey Vento is a third generation Italian American.

The Verdict
The thing about the Rizzo statue is that the stoic expression, outstretched arm, and classic contrapposto pose in bronze engenders a quiet dignity. Perhaps it is this dignified remembrance that enrage those that deem Rizzo a racist.


But Geno’s, and it’s garish, circus-like atmosphere, would evoke the Rizzo that once said, “When I’m finished with [the anti-police demonstrators], I’ll make Attila the Hun look like a fag.” Geno’s Steaks also sits in the Italian Market (near the long-standing, and also controversial mural of Rizzo by artist Diane Keller), and is a tourist attraction, not an important civic building. I cringe when I think of a tourist’s itinerary as the Rocky statue & Rizzo @ Geno’s, but perhaps the circus is where Rizzo belongs. Surprisingly, a good option.

Constitution Center

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Rizzo Statue at the National Constitution Center.

The Submission
Art can be a powerful form for change. I think the Rizzo statue should be relocated to the Constitution Center and should be a part of a larger artistic/historical display on the history of police relations and brutality in Philadelphia. I think this would be an opportunity as a city to reflect on our past in order to be understand our current political climate. … For me, I grew up with stories about how terribly violent, almost evil Rizzo was. I imagine there are many Philadelphians with just as intense stories – some positive, some negative- but nonetheless intense stories. As the grand-niece of a police officer, I have had many opposing stories presented to be about Rizzo. Part of this project should gather those testimonies.

The Context
Although this suggestion is for the Constitution Center, a mayor of Philadelphia may not have any direct thematic ties to the national constitution. But, a museum location is an interesting idea, because it is so radically different than a public space. While public space can be loaded with implicit historical meaning, museums have the ability to spell out that meaning, and control the presentation and context of the display. A museum can safely contextualize Rizzo into a learning experience.

The Verdict
While the Constitution Center may not be the best choice, a museum space offers the duality of continued display, acknowledgement of a troubled legacy, and a learning opportunity. A top option, if any museum will have it.

Put my thing down, flip It & reverse It

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Rizzo Statue in the same spot, flipped upside-down and on his head.

My Suggestion
Let’s de-install the statue, flip it upside down, and re-install Rizzo in the same spot, on his head.

The Context
When the City solicited ideas for the Rizzo statue, they asked submitters to consider the cost and reasonableness of ideas, which eliminated my idea.

But hear me out. This idea extends an olive branch to all parties. For those who love Rizzo and think removal is an erasure of history, Rizzo will remain visible in the same spot. For those who believe Rizzo oppressed minority communities, his upside-down installation recalls the systematic disenfranchisement practiced by the most powerful institutions of City government. And for those, like me, who think one of the dangers of the current Presidential Administration is promoting a culture of “winning” above all others, at any possible cost, this is a celebration of compromise.

The Verdict
Everyone will hate this idea. See you at the Geno’s Rizzo dedication.

Read the top 100 hundred submissions here.