Parrish's 'Dream Garden' gets a historical marker

The “Dream Garden” was constructed by artist Maxfield Parrish in collaboration with Louis Comfort Tiffany for Cyrus Curtis’ 1910 headquarters. (CHARLES FOX/Staff Photographer)

A state historical marker will be installed in front of the Curtis Center at 11 a.m. Wednesday honoring artist Maxfield Parrish, who attended the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts in the 1890s.

The Curtis Center, at Sixth and Walnut Streets, is home to Parrish's celebrated Dream Garden, an enormous glass mosaic created in collaboration with Louis Comfort Tiffany, and the subject of one of the city's most contentious preservation battles.

The 15-by-49-foot mural was designed as the crown jewel of Cyrus Curtis' 1910 headquarters, where such magazines as the Saturday Evening Post and Ladies Home Journal were published. Consisting of more than 100,000 pieces of glass tinted by Tiffany in 260 shades to match Parrish's design, it was installed in the lobby facing Washington Square in 1916.

In 1998, it was reported in The Inquirer that the mural's owner, the estate of wealthy arts patron and developer John W. Merriam, planned to strip the mural from the Curtis lobby and sell it to an unnamed buyer, later revealed to be the casino mogul Steve Wynn.

An enormous public outcry arose. In addition to Merriam's widow, four of the region's preeminent educational institutions were to be beneficiaries of the sale - the University of the Arts, the University of Pennsylvania, Bryn Mawr College, and, ironically, the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts.

The outcry became so rancorous that the city Art Commission refused to approve removal and the city invoked a never-before-used section of the preservation ordinance to declare Dream Garden a protected "historic object."

Wynn, stunned by the controversy, backed away, and the Merriam estate began a lengthy court battle to extinguish the historic designation.

In 2001, the Pew Charitable Trusts stepped in; it bought out the Merriam estate for $3.5 million and bestowed the mural on the Pennsylvania Academy.

There are now several designated historic objects in the city, among them the Wanamaker Eagle, and Dream Garden remains in place, where next year it will celebrate its 100th anniversary.