Spring Garden: Rocky Statue Draws Visitors from Near and Far

When the statue was installed in its current location, thousands of people came to the ceremony, despite having three days' notice.
When the statue was installed in its current location, thousands of people came to the ceremony, despite having three days' notice.

The Rocky statue is widely considered an interesting tourist attraction in Philadelphia.

Not by Ryan Schweiger.

On May 4, the Gilbertsville, Pa., native brought three German people – his wife Thalia and her friends, Svenia Beighues and Moneka Andres – to see the statue because they are planning to see Rocky: The Musical on Broadway.

Schweiger, however, said he went to the statue mostly because the nearby Philadelphia Museum of Art had free admission that day.

“I think it’s kind of stupid,” Schweiger said of people who come to solely visit the statue.

Despite Schweiger’s pessimism, the 9-foot-11, 1,300-pound statue remains a popular tourist attraction. People visit the statue and run up the Art Museum steps every day. When the statue was installed at its current location next to the steps on Sept. 8, 2006, thousands of people attended the event.

The statue was cast in 1981 and given to Sylvester Stallone, the actor who played Rocky Balboa in the eponymous film series. It was installed at the top of the Art Museum steps for the filming of Rocky III. After filming ended, Stallone donated the statue to the city of Philadelphia.

There are many visitors from outside the country, as the film is popular worldwide.
The statue attracts visitors from inside and outside the U.S., as the film is popular worldwide.

Shortly thereafter, controversy arose about whether the statue was considered “art.” Some felt the statue was a movie prop and did not belong near the Art Museum, widely considered one of the best in the world.

Others felt the statue drew people to the Art Museum who wouldn’t otherwise go there, arguing that Rocky was an icon for the city’s working class. Dick Doran, Philadelphia’s commerce director at the time, said Stallone had done more for the city’s reputation than “anyone since Ben Franklin.”

The statue was eventually moved to the front of the Spectrum in South Philadelphia, which at the time was where the Philadelphia 76ers and Flyers played. It was seen as an appropriate location because it was a setting in the first two movies of the Rocky series. In both films, Balboa fought rival Apollo Creed in the Spectrum.

For the most part, the statue remained at the Spectrum for the next 20 years. It was moved back to the top of the Art Museum steps for filming of the movies Mannequin (1987), Rocky V (1990) and Philadelphia (1993).

In 2002, the statue was taken down because of the pending demolition of Veterans Stadium, and it remained in storage even after the stadium was imploded. In August 2005, filming of Rocky Balboa, the sixth film in the series, began. This renewed the debate about the statue’s artistic merit.

On Sept. 5, 2006, the Philadelphia Art Commission voted 6-2 to move the statue back to the Art Museum. Instead of being installed at the top of the steps, it would be set to the side of the museum near the foot of the steps. Three days later, the aforementioned ceremony was held. It included an appearance by Stallone, the premiere of the first full trailer of the sixth installment and a free screening of the original movie.

The Rocky statue was originally produced for Sylvester Stallone. He donated it to Philadelphia after the filming of Rocky III.
The Rocky statue was originally created for Sylvester Stallone, who donated it to Philadelphia after the filming of “Rocky III.”

John Mitchell, a native of Scotland working in Washington, D.C., spent $500 to visit Philadelphia for one day – half of that on a hotel room and half on a train ticket. He said the main reason he and a friend came to the city was to visit the statue and eat at DiStefano’s Victor Cafe, an Italian restaurant in South Philadelphia that was used as a shooting location in Rocky Balboa. In the film, Rocky owns an Italian restaurant called Adrian’s, named after his late wife.

“I only stayed in my hotel for about four hours last night because we got here, slept and woke up,” Mitchell said.

Mitchell, 20, said he was inspired to box after watching the Rocky films and has been doing so casually for the past 10 years. He said the films are popular in Scotland, and apart from some basic historical knowledge, doesn’t know much else about Philadelphia.

They’re also well-known in Australia, where Yasmin McIntyre is from. McIntyre and her family – her husband and two children – live in San Diego and came to Philadelphia for two days. They didn’t do so specifically for the Rocky statue, but to see other tourist attractions like the Liberty Bell and the Art Museum.

The statue has remained next to the steps since September 2006, drawing a steady stream of tourists and film fans. Two months after its installation next to the steps, then-Director of Commerce Stephanie Naidoff told The New York Times that she didn’t see a downside to the statue’s location. Naidoff drew a comparison to the wedding dress of Philadelphian Grace Kelly, which is displayed in the Art Museum, saying that if that was in the museum, there should be no problem with the Rocky statue being outside.

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– Text and images by Joey Cranney and Evan Cross

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