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EXCLUSIVE: Architect Frank Gehry Speaks About Plans For Changes To Famous ‘Rocky Steps’

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(credit: CBS) Pat Ciarrocchi
In addition to anchoring and reporting news for CBS 3, Pat Ciarro...
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By Pat Ciarrocchi

PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — Philadelphia’s Museum of Art is about to undergo a transformation.

Today, Museum leadership and a world renowned architect unveiled for the public a master plan to upgrade the interior, create extensive new gallery space, and re-imagine the exterior steps that “Rocky” made famous.

That architect, Frank Gehry, who is celebrated for his design of the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao, Spain; walked among the models that present in scale the Philadelphia Museum of Art for the future.

In an exclusive one on one with CBS3’s Pat Ciarrocchi, Gehry shared the thoughts behind his vision.

“I think we got to take it over the moon and put it where it belongs…in the panoply of the great museums of the world,” said Gehry.

The project is multi-year and multi-phased.

It opens the interior, removing the current auditorium, building a public space that’s more like a forum and allowing for the vertical excavation under the East Plaza that faces Center City. That opening will create a new, 55-thousand square foot gallery at street level.

“Removing the Plaza and putting it back is not a big deal,” said Gehry. “It sounds like a big deal. The excavation is not a big deal. The problem with building under the plaza is, how do you make gallery space so it doesn’t look like you’re going in the basement?”

Gehry says he’ll do that by adding light – a broad skylight incorporated into a fountain on the East Plaza, sunken gardens on either side of the gallery and then, a window carved out of the center of the steps that thousands of tourists come to climb.

Reginald Phillips, of Philadelphia, believes people would be sad to see the steps change though.

“A lot of people from all over come here to climb these steps that Rocky climbed,” said Phillips. “And if they’re not here, they’ll say … ‘Awwww.’”

Though he admits to liking actor Sylvester Stallone, who created “Rocky,” Gehry says an art museum of this caliber deserves more.

“The Hollywood interventions are cute,” said Gehry. “But they don’t resonate really with an art museum. I think this place has a mission, and it’s a world mission.”

Initial plans had no exterior changes. But a desire to create more light and a visual opening to the city, lead to the window in the midst of the steps. The idea wasn’t Gehry’s, but came from a Museum board member.

“That is an intervention with the exterior,” said Gehry. “So we’re crossing a line there that maybe we should or shouldn’t…I don’t know.”

Kelly and Paul Aguirre of Denver believe the story of “Rocky” as the underdog, rising up to become a champion resonates with Philadelphia, as the birthplace of the Nation that now leads the world. So, a run up the steps is meaningful for the average guy looking symbolically to become more.

For that matter, so is the Museum. The ambitious and expensive modernization has a first phase that will cost $150 million.

Museum Director, Timothy Rub, says the Master Plan embraces both expansion and growth. “And that’s how it should be,” said Rub before the news media and museum friends.

“It’s part of the fabric of Philadelphia and it’s part of its history,” said Rub. “We believe it’s an essential part of its future.”

Snaith Rodriguez, a museum visitor from Costa Rica, came to see the art by way of the famous steps from the movie, which could change dramatically in years to come.

“This history they have, that’s not just from the movies,” said Rodriguez. “I think it belongs to everybody else.”

The Master Plan has been laid out in a summer-long, public exhibit, where a Philadelphia icon attempts to help visitors envision its future.

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