Even today there’s no comparison between Rittenhouse and Washington Squares. The two parks might as well be in different cities. Washington Square was chipped away at piece by piece and what remains has been museumized. Washington Square flatlined and its vitals are coming back very slowly. Rittenhouse has history but it’s much more recent than Washington Square and it’s by no means a finished product. A lot of things contribute to its vitality but it’s better just to see it than listen to my commentary.
Here’s a bit of the history and a description as told by the Fairmount Park Commission
Unlike the other outlying squares, the early Southwest Square was never used as a burial ground, although it did offer pasturage for local livestock and a convenient dumping spot for "night soil".
By the late 1700's the square was surrounded by brickyards because the areas clay terrain proved better suited for kilns than for crops. In 1825 the square was renamed in honor of David Rittenhouse, a brilliant Philadelphian astronomer, instrument maker and patriotic leader of the Revolutionary era.
By the 1850's a building boom began, and in the second half of the 19th century the Rittenhouse Square neighborhood became the most fashionable residential section of the city, the home of Philadelphia's "Victorian aristocracy." Some of the mansions of that period still survive on the streets facing the square, although most of the grand homes gave way to apartment buildings after 1913.
Paul Cret's Design: Rittenhouse Square was enclosed by a fence in 1816 when local residents loaned funds to the city for that purpose. In the decade before the Civil War, the Square boasted not only trees and walkways, but also fountains donated by local benefactors - prematurely, it turned out, for the fountains created so much mud that City Council ordered them removed. The square's present layout dates from 1913, when the newly formed Rittenhouse Square Improvement Association helped to fund a redesign by Paul Philippe Cret, a French-born architect who contributed to the design of the Parkway and the Rodin Museum. Although some changes have been made since then, the square still reflects Cret's original plan.
The main walkways are diagonal ones that begin at the corners and meet at an oval in the center. The plaza, which contains a large planter bed and a reflecting pool, is surround by a balustrade and ringed by a circular walk. Classical urns, many of them bearing relief figures of ancient Greeks, rest on pedestals at the entrances and elsewhere through the square. Ornamental lampposts contribute to the air of old-fashion gentility. A low fence surrounds the square, and balustrades adorn the corner entrances. Many trees - oaks, maples, locusts, plane trees, and others - stand within and around the enclosure, and the flowerbeds and blooming shrubs add a splash of color in season.
Rittenhouse Square is the site of annual flower markets and outdoor art exhibitions. More than any of the other square, it also functions as a neighborhood park. Office workers stop by to eat their lunch on the benches; parents bring children to play; and many people stroll through to admire the plants, sculptures, or the fat and saucy squirrels.
Sculptures in the Square: Like Logan Square, Rittenhouse has become the setting for a number of the city's best-loved outdoor sculptures. The central plaza holds the dramatic Lion Crushing a Serpent by the French Romantic sculptor Antoine-Louis Barye. Originally created in 1832, the work is Barye's allegory of the French Revolution of 1830, symbolizing the power of good (the lion) conquering evil (the serpent). This bronze cast was made about 1890. At the other end of the central plaza, within the reflecting pool, is Paul Manship's Duck Girl of 1911, a lyrical bronze of a young girl carrying a duck under one arm - an early work by the same sculptor who designed the Aero Memorial for Logan Square. A favorite of the children, is Albert Laessle's Billy, a two-foot-high bronze billy goat in a small plaza halfway down the southwest walk. Billy's head, horns, and spine have been worn to a shiny gold color by countless small admirers.
In a similar plaza in the northeast walkway stand the Evelyn Taylor Price Memorial Sundial, a sculpture of two cheerful, naked children who hold aloft a sundial in the form of a giant sunflower head. Created by Philadelphia artist Beatirce Fenton, the sundial memorializes a woman who served as the president of the Rittenhouse Square Improvement Association and Rittenhouse Square Flower Association. In the flower bed between the sundial and the central plaza in Cornelia Van A. Chapin's Giant Frog, a large and sleek granite amphibian that parents point out to their toddlers. Continuing the animal theme, two small stone dogs, added in 1988, perch on the balustrades at the southwest corner entrance.