Would Philly museum plan ruin famous 'Rocky' film steps?

  • Article by: MICHAEL VITEZ PHILADELPHIA INQUIRER
  • Updated: August 8, 2014 - 1:35 PM

Architect Frank Gehry’s proposal might change the famous film setting.

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Banners with architect Frank Gehry’s name hang from the Philadelphia Museum of Art. A massive renovation, designed by Gehry, could change the steps made famous in the movie “Rocky.”

Photo: Matt Rourke • Associated Press,

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Renowned architect Frank Gehry has proposed something that legions of movie fans consider heretical: changing the steps of the Philadelphia Museum of Art that were made famous by the movie “Rocky.”

The museum is about to begin a 10-year renovation. Most changes are inside: excavating beneath the east terrace and fountain, doubling exhibit space, filling it with light.

Gehry has also proposed adding a window, carved into the famous steps, so visitors inside the new exhibit space can orient themselves with the city outside.

Rocky runners, the legions who follow Sylvester Stallone’s famous path up the steps in “Rocky,” could still run up each side, but the sweep of the grand staircase would disappear.

It is merely a proposal, everyone at the museum stresses, and a decision on this last piece of the renovation is years away.

“Ten different ways it could go,” said Gehry. “Not a done deal yet. Something to talk about.”

But there already are plenty of people talking about it. The stairs have become a tourist attraction, both for those who just want to see the famous location and runners looking to re-create Rocky’s dash up the steps.

“I think it’s a real shame,” said Darren Brooks, of London, who had just run the steps and was enjoying the experience a second time by watching video of it on his wife’s phone. “You’ve got the view already. Right here. It’s magnificent.”

Mike Kunda, who runs tours culminating at the steps, isn’t happy about the proposal, either.

“The steps are a symbol of hope and inspiration,” he said. “Even though it’s corny, it is what it is.”

Museum officials said that they hope to make the building less intimidating.

“We need to improve the relationship of the museum with the city,” said Mark Rubenstein, a board member who chaired the master-plan review committee. “It’s a city museum, yet for some reason it’s blocked off from the city. The city can’t see in, and people who view art can’t see out.”

He described the museum as a “formidable institution,” one that “scares the hell out of people in the city. And we have to get over that.”

‘Magical area’

This is exactly how Stallone, who attended Philadelphia’s Lincoln High School, has said he felt when he wrote the screenplay to “Rocky” and created what has become the iconic scene of Rocky running the museum steps.

“The steps were like this magical area, like this intellectual bastion that I would only look at from afar,” Stallone wrote in the foreword to my book, “Rocky Stories: Tales of Love, Hope, and Happiness at America’s Most Famous Steps.” “It almost seemed like another city, like the Acropolis.”

Nobody involved in the original movie expected Rocky running the steps to become a ritual repeated by untold thousands. It just started happening. The Academy Award-winning movie will be 40 years old in 2016, and runners are as prolific as ever.

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  • Rocky Balboa impersonator and tour guide Mike Kunda stood atop the Art Museum steps. “The steps are a symbol of hope and inspiration,” he said. “Even though it’s corny, it is what it is.”

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