30 January 08: Lightning round

Philly Skyline Spring Garden Station Skyline. Won't you click it?

Hello, friend. Got about fifteen half finished projects we're working on over here, so let's have a tide-over snack between here and there.
  1. PACC ON THE PLICOOOOO POWER PLAY: The Commonwealth Court's ruling spells the end of the two Philadelphia Life Insurance Company (PLICo) buildings along North Broad Street, despite the agreement signed years before it. While the buildings themselves aren't the masterpieces you'll find in coffee table architecture books, even those on Philadelphia, they absolutely help to tell the story of the city's growth, especially since they're so close to City Hall. The PLICo two are indeed significant enough to save, clearly noted by their inclusion by the PACC's original expansion plans and even renderings which still exist on PACC's web site.

    That's the bigger issue here: they were included because they were a part of the 2000 agreement between PACC and the Pennsylvania Historic and Museum Commission (PHMC) before the state Department of General Services (DGS) came on board and undermined PHMC's decision. Even if PHMC's ridiculous claim that it would take $10M to save two existing buildings were true, that's barely more than one percent of funding on the project, and again, they were planned to be retained all along. DGS clearly acted insidiously by issuing its work order at 4:30 on a Friday, the Friday before Christmas, and had crews working overtime to begin demolition without approval at 6:30 on a Saturday morning . . . and they got away with it.

    If there's any positive to come out this ruling (the PACC expansion doesn't count), it's that it shows a problem with the process, and perhaps future PHMC rulings for preservation can be made binding.

  2. THE PHILLIES GOT PEDRO FELIZ, THE METS GOT JOHAN SANTANA: Wow. We get another marginal chump for our third base committee and our hated archrival gets the best available pitcher in the game. Pedro Feliz has a career on base percentage of .288. The Mets got a two-time Cy Young winner and the best lefthander in baseball, and the Phillies won't even pay Ryan Howard what he wants. If RyHo loses his arbitration on February 20th, start thinking about how he'll look in Yankee pinstripes or Los Angeles California Angels of Mighty Anaheim Disneyland red. Pat Gillick's mind is already into retirement -- the Phils made the playoffs, his job here is done -- and Ruben Amaro, a career .235 hitter, appears to be calling the shots.

    It's high time Ruben and Dave Montgomery and the magical inner ownership circle puts down the MLB handbook on service time and arbitrary self imposed spending limits. This town wants a champion, and most of us would like to see it be the Phillies. With a young core of Rollins, Utley, Howard, Hamels and Myers, you need to do better than piecemeal additions like Geoff Jenkins, So Taguchi and Pedro Feliz. They're all OK, but they're just OK . . . never mind that we've got Adam Eaton locked up for two more years. I just can't ever see a team put together by Ruben Amaro and Mike Arbuckle and paid for by Dave Montgomery and friends winning a World Series, and that is what they should be going for every year. The iron is hot, boys, think maybe we can strike it? Mayor Nutter, can YOU make them do something???

  3. HEADS UP: MANTUA HALL DEMOLITION IS SCHEDULED FOR . . . Sunday, March 30th. Mark it down now -- details are coming, but PHA spokesman Kirk Dorn indicates that he'd like to do something ceremonial and more interesting than 3-2-1 boom. Now we're talking!

  4. ONE LIBERTY PLACE'S CROWN LIGHTS HAVE BEEN OFF FOR FOUR MONTHS AND COUNTING: Word is they're finally changing out to LEDs . . . but well, Two Liberty was able to do it effectively in the blink of an eye. C'mon One Liberty, you're still number One in so many people's hearts . . . chin up over there guys. You can do it. We want you to do it. Like, say, before the completion of . . .

  5. COMCAST CENTER'S LIGHTS: They're getting closer. The corner lights now go all the way to the top floor, and the cutouts are now lit too. All that's left on the evening lighting scheme is the crown, which is coming soon. Also, in the lobby of the tower, work has begun on installation of the giant television that will span the width of the lobby behind the security desk and employee turnstiles. You can see each of these in the latest Comcast Center update, o'er HERE.

Welp . . . hope this lightning round finds you well and will suffice for a five day break, cos Philly Skyline's taking a little va-to-the-ca. We'll be back on Tuesday, so y'all have fun out there, and I'll have fun out here.

–B Love

30 January 08: Is this your car?

Hey! Is this your car? What are you doing??? You can't park here! Go back to Jersey!


29 January 08: Our! Prices! Are! INSANE!

Yessirree friends, everything must go! If it's taken you an entire month into 2008 to realize you still need a calendar, well is Philly Skyline ever the site for you. Our one-of-a-kind calendar of original photos, facts and Philly birthdays is now 50% off, the low low price of $10! ($12 with shipping.) Click the graphic above to learn more about Philly Skyline, The Calendar: 2008 and to order via Paypal.

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While we're here shilling for shillings, let's also take this moment to mark our calendars for the second annual Philly Chili Skyline Cookoff! It has been determined, after much deliberation, that Wednesday, March 12th is the winning date for your shot at this year's Chili Chalice. Circle that date in Sharpie and ready up your recipes, friends. More details are coming soon.

–B Love

29 January 08: Popkin on progress

by Nathaniel Popkin
January 29, 2008

At a party this past weekend, an acquaintance was telling me about her house in Wash West. "Of, course a lot has changed there since we moved in [a few years ago]," she said.

"Well, the neighborhood was bombed out when they moved in," chimed in her mother-in-law, who isn't from Philadelphia.

I didn't respond, only smiled and nodded politely, but I found her comment telling, nonetheless. There is a tendency to disguise a lack of understanding about a place by simplifying its trajectory, often assuming things have only recently begun to improve (or decline). That's risky business, of course, but it's a conceit so tempting to devise.

The conceit -- that today is day zero -- has installed itself at City Hall, encouraged in no small part by our expectations of the new administration. The Mayor himself, who hasn't made a false move yet, seems to revel in the sui generis moment. "What kind of city do we want to be?" he asked in his Thursday casino press conference, no doubt aware that he was speaking a kind of rational language that most of the men whose portraits hung on the walls around him wouldn't have understood.

But the Mayor isn't the only one asking. It's a moment reminiscent of 1992, when young Clinton staffers colonized the White House. Fresh faces, with overflowing inboxes but as of yet no business cards, have already set to work reinventing the Mayor's Action Center in City Hall. A veteran lawyer from the Law Department, newly energized and having just filed against Sugar House, saunters down a fourth floor hall. A new member of City Council puts a stop to the automatic issuance of L&I demolition permits in her district. Hold on! You can't do that anymore. It's a new day! Up on the seventh floor meanwhile, Department of Public Property officials berate a Verizon crew, the message simply, We're calling the shots now.

There isn't a thing wrong with a fiery and determined desire to remake the city. After all, Philadelphia allows us this conceit; these guys are only running with it. Let them run and run.

But it's worth reminding ourselves that every idea, every step forward, every novel policy approach, every solution, reform, plan, every brilliant maneuver, is derived from and responds to complex and dynamic forces. The possibility of a reform mayor itself is a product of Nutter's own determined stance as a member of Council, of Sam Katz's campaigns, of Philadelphia's mid-Twentieth Century role as the Mecca of municipal reform.

There is precedent for a strong Planning Commission, for careful fiscal management, for lowering taxes, for major education reform, for celebrating parks and art and culture. Philadelphians have been hard at work trying (in vain, perhaps) to make this city great for three centuries and a quarter. I was reminded of this today when I spoke with Penny Balkin Bach, who heads up the Fairmount Park Art Association (FPAA), the progressive body formed in 1872 that curates and manages much of Philadelphia's public art (in true Philadelphia form this responsibility is shared by several agencies, including the Public Art Program). Bach says that every project the FPAA undertakes is guided by precedent. Her 1980s project, "Form and Function," for example, which sought to redefine public art in America, had its antecedent in the FPAA's own 1950s installation along the Schuylkill River.

Bach was flipping through the book of proposals from Form and Function, when she stopped on an idea that came from the artist Robert Irwin. Irwin proposed a "Philadelphia stoop" for the center of City Hall's courtyard, really a plinth of terraced seats in a square formation with a tree growing in the middle. This was a radical idea at the time (1982): not only was the skirt of Centre Square used then for parking, but the interior courtyard too. Irwin's site photo shows four parked buses used by the sheriff to transport prisoners for court as well as a handful of other vehicles. Of course, my proposal of a year ago to enliven the public spaces in and around City Hall was an oblivious recasting of Irwin's idea. I suggested a Franklinia tree in the center of the courtyard surrounded by a circle of benches.

Irwin's idea, as are many that come from artists, was merely avant-garde. It came from the future. Now we've caught up. But the act of catching up is itself the act of moving forward, looking back, and dreaming all at once. It may be that parts of Philadelphia have disintegrated so much that there is nowhere to go but up. (If our salvation is this very demise, it's also worth positing that the demise of so many places across the US has been seeded these past ten years by the real estate boom itself.) As Inga Saffron noted recently, this is the case in South Kensington. Tim McDonald, whose firm Onion Flats is finding the vacant land in Kensington, the Northern Liberties, and Fishtown to his liking, might agree. Out of newly bulldozed lots a new city is born. Perhaps, but then we'd better give some credit to John Street and NTI. But then we'd also better realize that the same was said of much of South Street, Society Hill, Center City, Old City, and University City two generations ago. Weren't those "bombed out places?" Just look at them now.

–Nathaniel Popkin

For Nathaniel Popkin archives, please see HERE, or visit his web site HERE.
For The Possible City, please see HERE.

28 January 08: Whispering Pines

The mighty, mysterious Pine Barrens. It's alleged that the South Jersey Pine Barrens is the largest undeveloped area on the entire east coast, at least in the megalopolitan east coast, between Boston and DC (or Portland, Maine to Richmond, Virginia if your Megalopolis is bigger).

The Jersey Devil, sugar sand, Hammonton blueberries, pygmy pitch pines, Jukes and Kallikaks . . . the Pine Barrens glossary reads like the character sheet to a black comedy / horror film. And perhaps it could be . . . the Pine Barrens was the location of one of the more amusing Sopranos episodes.

Last July, when the call first went out for the far out Philly Skyline (26 July and 24 July 07), submissions rolled in from Boyertown (Berks County), Council Rock High School (Bucks County) and the Helicopter Museum (Chester County). I finally got out to my personal favorite, Route 476 (PA Turnpike Northeast Extension) near Lansdale in Montgomery County last month (17 December 07).

Rob in York wrote in in December to suggest that a fire tower on Apple Pie Hill in the Pine Barrens might beat that. The very same day, CDoc said the same, and last week a photo of that very tower appeared on his site The Necessity for Ruins. Watching the winter sun move across the clear sky yesterday, I had an itch to get out, way out, so I grabbed Pete and we headed east, deep into Burlington County.

Peeling off of County Route 532 onto a dirt sugar sand road under the natural strobelight of bright late sunlight and long tree shadows, we could almost hear the Jersey Devil's shriek or picture Valery the Russian stumbling out onto the road, but more accurately it had the vibe of a place "Piney" teenagers come to let loose, drink a few Miller Lites and toss old televisions off the fire tower on the hill. Apparently, record of why it is called "Apple Pie Hill" is lost to history, but there was a doctor named William White who once wanted to build a sanitarium there, getting as far as building the initial infrastructure and a well, but it was never finished. The NJ Pine Barrens and Down Jersey web site has an interesting back story HERE.

The pitch pine (Pinus rigida) is a beautiful tree with a thick, chunky bark, soft, long needles, and small, spiky cones. If they make the Pine Barrens a foreboding, shadowy place when viewed from a car en route to the shore, they likewise make it a solemn and mesmerizing place when viewed from 60 feet up. The millions and millions of trees show no signs of the small towns and townships like Medford and Tabernacle and Chatsworth beneath their cover. The uninterrupted canopy of green, pine green, or yellow-green, depending on the direction of the sun, stretches to the horizon, where on clear days the Atlantic City skyline peers at you from the south and the Philly Skyline from the west. The former is above and the latter is just below, a double shot of Philly Skyline Pine Barrens Skylines. Click both, enlarge both.

Looking at a map, I can't tell whether the 476 view or Apple Pie Hill is further out, but they each look to be 32 miles. The 476 view has more to see, what with the highway cut from the hill and the cars and eighteen wheelers whizzing by, but the Pine Barrens view is a more rewarding journey, and you're offered Atlantic City as a bonus.

There are 24 photos in this mini-essay of Apple Pie Hill and the Pine Barrens. To launch it,


–B Love

26 January 08: Blinded by the light

Mama always told me not to look into the eyes of the sun. But mama, that's where the fun is.

Finally made it into the Comcast Center wintergarden on a sunny day after being there on cloudy days, shady days and after dark. The forms and shadows from the glass, mullions, support and indeed beam walkers across the lobby is nothing short of spectacular. It's going to be even better in warmer months when the sun is higher in the sky and more of the atrium is lit. The Philly Skyline Beam Gleam above is one of a bunch of new photos in the Comcast Center section.

Back to that song for a second, "Blinded by the Light" . . . Now, Philadelphia is a Springsteen town, there's no disputing that. But for this particular song, I have to go with Manfred Mann's version. There are some songs whose covers are just better than the originals: Hendrix's "All Along the Watchtower" is the king of cover versions, clearly better than Dylan's, David Byrne's "I Wanna Dance With Somebody" is better than Whitney Houston's, Ike & Tina's "Proud Mary" is better than CCR's (so is Elvis', for that matter). It's kind of funny with these guys too, because though Manfred Mann has had a long and relatively successful career, they're only known for their covers. Their three biggest hits -- "Do Wah Diddy Diddy" in 1964, "Quinn the Eskimo" in 1968, "Blinded by the Light" in 1976 -- are all cover versions (The Exciters, Dylan, Springsteen).

Bruce Springsteen didn't become an international phenomenon until 1975's Born to Run, so it's probable his earlier music missed the radar of the London-based Manfred Mann. It's easy to picture Mann and his band collecting Springsteen's back catalog (Greetings from Asbury Park and The Wild, the Innocent & the E Street Shuffle) and simply stopping on the first song on the first record. But hey, good music is good music, and their version of "Blinded by the Light" climbed the Billboard charts in the US as Bicentennial fever was winding down, reaching #1 in February '77. Hard to believe the only Springsteen song to reach #1 wasn't even performed by him.

–B Love

25 January 08: Work on Friday? Pfffft.

Greetings, salutations, konichiwa, namaste, a hoy hoy, et cetera et cetera. Hope you are well on this Friday of Fridays. There's a lot of Serious Business to tend to on the back end of things today, so yr Philly Skyline is taking the day off but shall return this weekend. Though we don't often have a lot of weekend content, we do chime in from time to time, and this weekend is one of those: Steve Ives following up on his thoughts from For The Curious, new photos, RyHo and the arbitration ahead of him, and the grand unveiling of our latest construction infatuation.

Ah what the hell, we'll see you Monday.

The Philly Skyline 2 Year Old Skyline above is indeed that, exactly two years old. That photo not only of the South Street Bridge skyline view, but also South Street Bridge itself, was one of the first dozen or so photos taken on my Canon Digital Rebel XT, taken January 25, 2006. We've come a long way in two short years, all things considered.

HEY! Y'all take care out there now.

–B Love

24 January 08: Ritz bits

Special thanks to Amber and the fine folks down at Residences at the Ritz-Carlton for the hand in making the above photo possible. It's one of 13 news entries from today's update o'er RATR-C way, on this cloudy day, hey hey hey, hip hop hooray!

–B Love

24 January 08: The travelin' winger
Live from Bangkok

(Click to enlarge Bangkok Skyline Bangkok Skyline.)

by Angelia Fick
Philly Skyline international correspondent

Bangkok is pretty much a craphole besides the temples and palaces. It's a huge, spawling place, filled with large roads, small back streets and tons of people. While riding around, people definitely took notice that I was a white female foreigner and when children would see me they would start yelling "Hello!, Hello! Hello!" and I would then wave back and say hello to them and they would giggle and then yell "Bye!" Very cute.

But it is very slummy, with the majority of the people living in cramped rundown shacks next to impossibly polluted canals. Don't get me wrong, there are some very beautiful places, but as one of the people on my tour pointed out, "How can the Thai people be capable of creating such beautiful wats and other buildings, but live in the most run down of cities?"

Bangkok is also extremely hard to get around as there is no obvious city center and the buses run whenever so the last thing I wanted to do was get on a bus to God knows where. Tuk tuk drivers frequently take people to places for scamming instead of the intended destination so I was afraid to get on one, thus I didn't venture further than my feet could take me in a day.

Oh well, at least I'm already making friends!

Ed. note: yo man . . . FUNK DAT.

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Angelia Fick is a star winger on the Philly Women's Rugby team and lives on Jewelers Row. She's on a 14 week journey through southeast Asia and promises to take pictures -- and maybe eat -- a Philly Cheesesteak if she sees one on the menu. Read about her travels at her blog, Wonderful World of #14.

24 January 08: Sunsets are nice.

I like them.

–B Love

The Skinny needed more Awesome,
so we added more Awesome.

Shhhh. Just go.

But for real for real for real for real for real, and again, infinite thanks go to Michelle Schmitt for her Skinny programming knowhow, and now a big thank you is due to Michael Shannon for the chic, sleek tweak you see in the even newer Skinny.

The Skinny: now with more Awesome.

–B Love and Michelle and Michael

23 January 08: Philly Skyline Stamp of Approval,
or, The Art of NIMBY

The term NIMBY -- not in my back yard, of course -- is thrown around architecture/planning/urban circles maybe as frequently as "scale" and "traffic", but like most clichés, the term has a discernible starting point.

There are plenty of NIMBY heroes in our Philly Skyline past: Tubby Combover complained about the parking problems Toll Bros' 2400 South Street plan would create, only to leave SOSNA's meeting about it and nearly hit me with his SUV, which he was pulling into his garage three blocks from the meeting (which is to say he drove . . . three blocks . . . to a meeting to complain about parking). There was Yellow Sweater Guy, complaining that rezoning the weed-cracked giant lot at Broad & Washington used once a year by Cirque du Soleil would create a domino effect of rezoning all over Hawthorne, the neighborhood he had just moved to. There was Sweaty Armpit Lady, who was worried that her house would be in constant shadow because of Bridgeman's View Tower, the tower north of her house (which is to say that she would never, ever be in shadows since, well, the sun's in the southern half of the sky).

It is not that expressing concern at neighborhood meetings is ever a problem, quite the opposite in fact. When large developments come down the line, every side needs to be heard, not least longtime neighbors. It's important, it's truly American, and it's right. Where it becomes a problem is where paranoid myopia starts outweighing considerate practicality, and the complaints start registering in the downright absurd.

Backhoes and Bobcats have been moving dirt at 1706 Rittenhouse over the past month or two, after years of complaints that a highrise doesn't belong at the site . . . from people in the highrise next door. Some residents in Vineland have already lined up to protest the concert that could have otherwise been held in FDR Park (and NOT the Belmont Plateau as proposed, which is why the Fairmount Park Commission balked), going as far as forming the aptly named NARCS (Neighbors Against Rock Concert Site). Meanwhile, Coachella is planning a three day festival concert just upstate in Jersey at Liberty State Park, which stands to reap the spoils Vineland will probably throw away.

Jannie Blackwell's opposition to the much-needed Youth Study Center move . . . "Save Our Square" . . . CasiNO . . . plenty of NIMBYs to choose from, good and bad.

But the bad ones, our antagonist here, go back to a recurring, central Philly Skyline theme: their unreasonable gripes are of the me over we variety. The sense of entitlement that pervades neighborhood meetings is tired and outdated. Mayor Michael Nutter has us believing in us, so let us make things the best they can be, even if -- especially if -- that means taking a deep breath and actually stopping to hear the other side. It is Philly's New Day. Let's talk.

That is exactly what Bridgeman's Development has done in their two large scale projects: Bridgeman's View Tower and now Stamper Square. Through a number of community meetings held in junction the Northern Liberties Neighborhood Association, the developers crafted the vision for Bridgeman's View Tower that was overwhelmingly approved. (The 66 story, 950' tower hasn't started construction yet, but the team is confident that it will move forward soon. Sugar House's planned location directly across Delaware Avenue is almost certainly a consideration.)

The we is exactly what Bridgeman's is also doing now for Stamper Square, which it presented to the Society Hill Civic Association last week. SHCA's zoning committee has not yet voted an opinion on it, and last week's meeting was simply to initiate a conversation with the neighborhood at large (i.e. not just SHCA's zoning team), after already having brought the site's immediate neighbors and the City Planning Commission to the table and having discussed the design with the SHCA's zoning committee and the site's immediate neighbors for months.

Stamper Square would assume the site once occupied by the failed 70s era New Market mall development -- between Front and 2nd, Pine and Lombard -- which was finally demolished in the late 90s and which remains a giant, fenced in concrete lot. Way back in 2000, Will Smith wanted to build a 30 story W Hotel there, on a plinth with no public access (but for the typical public hotel area). At the time, people were excited for any development, but the Fresh Prince never did get the financial backing the project needed and it eventually died. More recently, Sant Properties' 40 (and later 24) story, Daroff-designed tower was met with a brick wall of opposition from the neighbors. Bridgeman's Development, H2L2's senior designer James Templeton, and Starwood Hotels kept all of this in mind when approaching the development.

Stamper Square Hotel & Condominium, as viewed above from 2nd Street, would need several zoning variances. This much is true. But, not falling in line with a famously antiquated code is hardly a reason to immediately red light anything in Philadelphia, let alone something produced by public conversation. Society Hill's precious colonial scale is understandably one of the draws of living in the mostly rich, mostly white neighborhood. At the same time, the very icon of the neighborhood's rebirth is neither the (demolished and then rebuilt in the 60s) shambles at Headhouse Square nor Mayor Richardson Dilworth's home on Washington Square. No, it is IM Pei's triplets: the Society Hill Towers.

At 30 stories and 292' (from the ground, mind you -- if you factor in the hill on which they stand, they're well over 300'), the boxy, modernist, landmark Society Hill Towers command your attention from a good portion of the neighborhood. Penn Mutual Towers, Independence Place, Hopkinson House, the Hyatt at Penn's Landing are all within eyesight too. So, Stamper Square, which has an irregular shape with multiple floor counts (4, 6, 16 & 17) and a peak roof height of 184', doesn't set some new precedent.

Here is how it breaks down:
• In terms of scale, there are really only two places of significant concern to Society Hill residents: 2nd Street and Front Street, the only two places the project meets the street. On 2nd Street, far more important thanks to the activity at Headhouse Square (not only the Shambles, but the Dark Horse, Artful Dodger, Cafe Nola and Cosi, which are all on the same block, and South Street a block away, less so if you count parking and spillover), an entrance and walkway takes visitors and pedestrians from 2nd Street into a courtyard and the hotel lobby. Meanwhile Front Street -- which faces front end parking and a concrete wall with I-95 below -- balances low lying colonial with a five story brick façade treatment with the modern tower stacking above. As well, the Front Street side includes two enormous windows: one for the condo entrance and a bigger one for a high end restaurant that would be on the first floor.

• If scale is the primary buzzword of the NIMBY, parking is the second. (Realistically those two are probably reversed.) Stamper Square puts its parking -- and loading areas -- underground. There are a whole two curb cuts: on either side of the Front Street portion of the development, each one vehicle wide (one goes in, the other comes out). Underground, there is a curve specifically designed to handle loading trucks turning and maneuvering before exiting back out onto Front Street (the side facing 95, not the side with all the Headhouse people). Access to the underground parking is gained by elevators in the hotel and condominium, and by stairs to . . .

• A public courtyard area. While another of Society Hill's beloved aspects is its Ed Bacon greenways, there aren't a lot of gathering areas with benches. The center of Stamper Square is a large open space with trees, ivy and benches which one side of the units looks over. (The others look toward the Delaware River, South Philly, Center City and north to Society Hill Towers.) The courtyard park would be open to the public, would link 2nd & Front via its walkway, and lead into both a ballroom at the facility and the restaurant on Front.

• Perhaps Stamper Square's most impressive feat as a Society Hill neighbor is the Headhouse piazza. The piazza is the result of efforts led by Center City District -- whose president Paul Levy lives a block away from the site -- to do over the block of 2nd Street between Lombard and South, whose angled front-end parking is an eyesore that effectively leaves the fountain on its corner pointless. (Nathaniel Popkin wrote about the shortcomings of Headhouse Square in his January 10th Possible City.) While the piazza is in no way connected to the development itself, Bridgeman's Development is open to committing a portion of the funding of its project to help facilitate replacing the ugly parking area with a wide green space with benches, trees, wide widewalks and art, effectively an extension of, or complement to, the shambles. When a neighbor at the meeting expressed concern that Stamper Square would adversely affect the farmers market at the shambles, Levy said "this project will not affect the farmers market, but will actually amplify it." On that notion, an immediate influx of residential density might actually encourage the farmers market to be open more than once a week.

• Regarding tenants, it breaks into three: 1. A 150 room Luxury Collection Hotel by Starwood, 2. 85 condominiums designed by H2L2 and Gensler, and 3. The aforementioned high end restaurant along Front Street.

As we've watched the last five or so years unfold, we've witnessed Philadelphia passing the "well, anything's better than a parking lot" mindset. Scrupulous eyes are combing through proposals and combing through them again, and doing this openly magnifies the community process and thereby the end result. Everybody wins.

As well, one of H2L2's partners, Barry Eiswerth, is one of Society Hill's longest tenured residents, having purchased a home there in the 60s, when the concept of "Society Hill" itself was a baby, and has worked on a number of projects in the neighborhood. It seems highly unlikely that he would put his name and firm onto a project inappropriate for his home neighborhood.

It seems that, more than anything else, the sticking point for Stamper Square is its height -- a whole 17 stories at its tallest point. Fear of heights, acrophobia. This is a city who refused to build taller than the colonial cap atop City Hall for more than eighty years, after all. When a project blends, melds, addresses and embraces its streetscape, what matter is it if it's even 50 stories? This building, whose orientation positions its taller portion along a street that separates an active commercial and residential area from an interstate highway, will cast shadows on its neighbors for at most a couple hours in the morning in the winter. After high noon, the shadow will move east, across parking and I-95. In the warmer seasons, the sun is high enough that the building's orientation mid-block between Pine and Lombard will make shadows a non-issue.

New Market has been dead long enough. It's time that a thoughtful project fill this important void, and Stamper Square does this. Headhouse Square and indeed South Street, as active as ever, have zero options for hotels in the immediate vicinity. The Sheraton Society Hill is a good four blocks away, but feels even further thanks to the hill and plaza at Society Hill Towers. With the residential component, the neighborhood is instantly given X new residents to help bolster local business, potentially prop up the farmers market, and makeover the Wawa block of Headhouse Square.

Some people actually like contrasts of styles. The colonial nature of Society Hill is an asset, there's no doubt about it. But there's room for architectural diversity, particularly when it rises out of that colonial style. Sometimes saying "Yes In My Back Yard" can actually work out for all of us. To see the alternative, just scroll back to the top of this post for the image of the New Market hole.

–B Love

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All Stamper Square images courtesy of H2L2 and Bridgeman's Development.

22 January 08: Rad moon rising

All right all right all right. Gotta tell you, it feels pretty good to have The Skinny online. Phase One, that is -- the others are on their way, yes they are.

But in the meantime, it's back to basom over here at yr Philly Skyline, and that means photo updates. The Philly Skyline Full Moon Skyline above (click it and bark at the moon) is but one of thirty-six new photos in the Comcast Center section (approximately 3,600 total). Murano got itself a dozen noobs (362 total). Residences at the Ritz-Carlton, it's slowly but surely building with six new ones (204 total). One other construction jawn that snuck on the scene through the back door? That's yr 10 Rittenhouse Square, which with no fanfare already has 87 photos from the past year. Consider this that section's soft opening, with an official ribbon cutting being prepared for some time in the next week or so.

So if you like construction update photos, these construction update photos are something you might enjoy:

These updates were compiled from a long walk in the southwestern quadrant of Center City on a super clear, super cold, Super MLK Day, which ended with a full moon sunset from South Street Bridge. That old familiar haunt will take this jam on home with a Philly Skyline Twofer Tuesday Skyline.

For the record, that's not my lager bottle. 1, I don't litter and 2, if I'm drinking in public it's with a flask, not with a backpack of bottles. However I will use this Yuengling moment to comment on Budweiser's new ad campaign: GET BENT. Who knows how many millions Anheuser-Busch spent on airtime with The Daily Show's Rob Riggle promoting the "All American Lager" . . . but it clearly shows that A-B is threatened by DG Yuengling and Son, who produces what this half of the country knows simply as lager. And that's to say nothing of Sam Adams Boston Lager, probably the most respected lager brewed in the US.

While the King of (Piss) Beers may technically be a lager, it is of the light, American variety, and not of the flavorful, traditional kind. The ad campaign jabs at pretty much the rest of the brewing industry by saying darker beers have more room for error and imperfection, but that just seems like an attempt to excuse Budweiser's taste and the fact that it's only drinkable when ice cold. (And that it has ice beer offshoots just further proves its pedestrian-ness -- you won't see Yuengling Ice or Sam Adams Ice.)

Anyway, this Bud ad campaign is pointless: the people who drink the Bud-Miller-Coors beers across the country don't care that it's a (light, American style) lager, and people from the eastern US aren't going to stop calling Yuengling Lager "lager". If nothing else, it's a nod to the little brewery from Pottsville who could: you go on ahead, Yuengling.

–B Love

PS: One final word on Sunday night's For The Curious: an element of thank-yous I forgot yesterday: a hearty thanks to all the outlets who helped to promote the event in spite of not really knowing what it was about: City Paper, Metro, Daily News, Dig Philly, Phillyburbs.com, Fishtown Spirit, Foobooz, Metroblogging and anyone else I might've forgot. Thanks!

21 January 08: The morning after

Lawda mercy, now that was a blaze. It happens every winter and every time it's sadder than the last: it's bitter cold and furnaces and space heaters and circuits work double time and bam, something shorts and the next thing you know a six alarm fire has engulfed damn near the entire block of 1300 North Front Street, between the Girard and Berks el stations. Septa has a shuttle bus operating between Spring Garden and Berks stations, and apparently that's going to be the case indefinitely, as the fire was pretty much directly under the el and all sorts of safety inspections will need to happen before any trains cross that path again.

Last night is what firefighters are all about: there were over 200 men and women battling the blaze in temperatures so cold that the sprayback from the hoses was freezing instantly on the street and creating black ice. My hat's off to all you good people for doing what you do. Best thoughts also to the owners of the furniture warehouse that was destroyed.

All that said, a fire that shut down Girard station, sub-freezing temperatures, and the NFC Championship game (Eli Manning in the Super Bowl??? AGH) was no deterrent For The Curious. Seriously: many many thanks to all who came out to Johnny Brenda's in spite of the forces against us for a great conversation on the home city that drives this here web site. Penn, Temple and Drexel, Marple, Manayunk and Moyamensing, South, West and Northeast Philly: it was quite a crowd, and myself and certainly Nathaniel and Steve thank you all for coming out.

But in the event you were unable to attend, there's one small thing you should know . . .


No, really. Honestly. It's true. Look:

Now, before you check it out, just a couple words up front:
  1. This is just the first phase of the new (and final, authoritative) Skinny: new construction. Though the statuses vary, all of the entries are new construction only. The second phase (coming very soon) will bring back all the conversion projects (like Two Liberty and Parc Rittenhouse) as well as new ones (like the State Office Building). Following that will be the transit and infrastructure phase (like Patco's extensions and South Street Bridge's reconstruction), the demolition phase (it's amazing that there is enough large scale demolition to warrant an entire Skinny section), the park and open spaces phase (like the Schuylkill Banks and the Delaware Ave hike & bike trail), and finally the large parcel/sprawl/development phase, to include all of Westrum's developments and things like the Park West Lowe's. It's all coming soon . . . the amount of work that went into this makes future phases a whoooooole lot easier.

  2. Eventually, each project will (like the first Skinny) pop open its own description with renderings and, where applicable, construction photos. (Please give it some time -- this version alone has 125 entries with 12 columns of data, so right off the bat there are 1500 things that had to be entered by hand, spell checked, fact checked, double checked . . . and then images that had to be resized to 50x50 pixels to fit within the table.) We're getting there.

  3. The "N/A" links in the web site column mean that a web site for that project is, at least for now, not available, so the links dead end. Sorry about that, that's some php something or other we'll get around to fixing.

  4. The Google Map pushpins will soon have all the info in the table, and the table's color coding will soon match Google Map's pushpins.

  5. Most importantly, The Skinny will never cost you anything. It is FREE. It's not lost on us that this could very well be a subscription-only service that realtors, developers and investors would pay for, but that's not what Philly Skyline is about. By the same token, it's the only one of its kind, so if some parochial glossy magazine decides to rip it off and pawn it off as their own (again), you know damn well where you -- and they -- saw it first. Also, because it is FREE, let's keep the complaints at a minimum, shall we? But indeed, if you have constructive suggestions, something to add to The Skinny (e.g. a web site that's missing or even a new project that needs to be added), let me know.
Finally, and most importantly, all the Philly Skyline thanks in the world go to Michelle Schmitt for making The Skinny happen. Conversations of php tags and semi-colons and includes and holy crap look The Skinny is live. The Skinny is alive. Welcome home, Skinny.

In honor of Dr Martin Luther King, we're going to go be productive and do something the rest of the day.

–B Love

18 January 08: Don't forget:

Come out and join myself, Nathaniel and Steve to talk Philly Skyline, the Philly Skyline, photography, geography, cartography and biography on Sunday night up in our neck of the woods. Frankford & Girard is the place to be, baby. See you there?

–B Love

18 January 08: The Possible City
Estuary of Dreams

Empress of China by Raymond Massey

by Nathaniel Popkin
January 18, 2008

There is a city along a river a hundred miles or so inland from the ocean. At times grand and ambitious -- it has been a trading center for centuries -- the city boasts a growing skyline. It is a large and bustling place but has been careful to preserve its traditional streetscape too, ancient architecture, and a neighborhood-based culture. It has one famous university but is renowned as a center for medicine. Nevertheless it lives right in the shadow of another city, this one a world capital of culture and finance.

In the last decade and a half of the eighteenth century, Philadelphia merchant shipman found this city indispensable in establishing trade independent from Britain. They also found its waters eerily familiar, for the path in from the sea then up the river to the city's port appeared identical to that of the voyage through the Delaware estuary and up the tidal river to Philadelphia. They delighted in this doppelganger, so much so that trade with this city soared, bringing sought after items like porcelain, tea, and silk and making the Quaker City rich.

Guangzhou, the energetic city on the Pearl River, is this double.

The city once known as Canton is a provincial capital of seven to 10 million people that lies in the shadow of Hong Kong. The improbable duplication of form was mere coincidence, of course, but it gave Philadelphia firms and financiers a sense that they controlled the nascent trade, and all the global connections it implied. In fact, Robert Morris along with Daniel Parker of New York sent the first American ship, the Empress of China, to Guangzhou and by 1800, forty Philadelphia-owned and based ships worked the China trade exclusively.

Not insignificantly, this early predominance in trade with China made Philadelphia the largest city in the new world. In his essay on "The Athens of America," the historian Edgar Richardson says that the China trade not only brought Chinese goods to America (much of which were already available through the East India Company), but access to the ancient, wealthy culture of the East. This was critical because trade builds relationships; it is the basis of a cosmopolitan city -- in this case, a profound one.

There have been a handful of attempts, including "world trade" and "free trade" schemes and zones, to reestablish Philadelphia's predominance in trade. As of the late1950s, our port handled 45 million metric tons of goods, much of it export; today the port (not including Gloucester City) moves 5.3 million metric tons, most of that import. The folks who manage the Philadelphia port, however, are ambitious dreamers who believe Philadelphia offers advantages over other ports (inter-modal connections in particular). They actively seek business, a tenacity that is beginning to pay off with extensive South American and now Mediterranean shipments. This growth is fueling the Port's desire to expand the Packer Marine Terminal -- a project called South Port -- onto the environmentally sensitive eastern portion of the Navy Yard once sought by the Produce Distribution Center.

One of the obstacles to early trade with China was that while the Chinese were producing goods in great demand in the West, America had little to send in return. Philadelphia shippers were forced to triangulate trade -- that is to find a third party -- so that when they arrived in Guangzhou they would have something to exchange for tea and silks. Currency and power (what the Chinese get today from trade with the US) wouldn't satisfy the Chinese appetite, so shippers like Mordecai Lewis and James Large Mifflin made stops through Europe, the Mediterranean, and even the Pacific, where they traded for things the Chinese desired: hides and furs -- nearly making sea otters and seals extinct -- sandalwood, tin, and opium.

Today's one-way shipping industry puts our port promoters in a similar situation. Ships leave Philadelphia empty; contemporary shippers too are forced to triangulate so that ocean voyages aren't wasted. But trade is supposed to be just that, an exchange, a way to bring people together, the way for cultures to learn from and build upon each other. Of course thanks to globalization, migration, and mass media this is happening already; and what the Chinese desire from us nowadays is market-share, access to all those American consumers. So, is there room for the old-fashioned act of exchange? And if so, how can Philadelphia benefit?

There is room, of course: the hundreds of acres of the vast Naval Shipyard, really our city's door to the world. The Navy Yard is a strange and wonderful place, as architecture students here at Philadelphia University came to realize this fall semester. About 45 students led by architects Sean Dougherty and Troy Leonard, and Bennur Koksuz, chief of the City Planning Commission's urban design unit, interrogated the site. Some were left dumbfounded by the scale of decay, the sense of loneliness, an eerie place adrift. Others saw the water and sky, sensing not isolation but connection -- from this city through the lens of its historical position -- to the rest of the globe.


. . .

–Nathaniel Popkin

For more on The Possible City, please see HERE.
For Nathaniel Popkin archives, please see HERE, or visit his web site HERE.

17 January 08: Family Court, nothing but LOVE

Dan Hirschhorn reported in yesterday's Bulletin(!) that Vince Fumo, the state senator so popular in both Philadelphia and Harrisburg, from whence funding would come, has appropriated $200 million into an omnibus capital budget bill to construct a new central Family Court. It's no secret that the one on Logan Square -- along with the central branch of the Free Library, our replica of Paris' Place de la Concorde -- is outmoded and unpopular, and its little brother at 11th & Market is no more popular.

The parking lot on the northwest corner of 15th & Arch, directly across the street from Love Park, has long been kicked around as a replacement, and this bill takes that concept one step closer to reality. It's hard to find any drawbacks in this.
  1. It centralizes the Family Court both figuratively (in combining the two outmoded buildings) and literally (being in the heart of Center City, it has access to nearly all of Septa's transit lines).

  2. With the Youth Study Center also leaving the Parkway (and perhaps someday being replaced by the Barnes Museum), Family Court's move relocates unpleasant realities from an otherwise tourist drawing museum and academic region. What would replace the Family Court in John T Windrim's neoclassical building from the 1930s (pictured above, which was not finished before his death in 1934) is anyone's guess at this point, but you can be certain that the words "condo" and "hotel" will be the first muttered. I suppose one potential drawback is that a vacated Family Court could make it easy for the Free Library to abandon its expensive Moshe Safdie expansion and grow naturally into its twin already built right across the street.

  3. It finally realizes something better than a parking lot for 15th & Arch.

That site is no stranger to big development. When One Liberty Place spawned Philly's original skyscraper craze in the 1980s, loads of proposals came down the line: some were built at their grand scale (One & Two Liberty), some were built more modest (Mellon Bank Center originally would have had a taller roof than One Liberty but One Liberty's spire would still be highest), some weren't built but refuse to go away (Philadelphia World Trade Center), and some weren't built -- like Park Tower.

The building on the left is Park Tower, an 18 and 32 story project designed by Skidmore Owings and Merrill. Though never built, it's a fine example of how art feeds art, or art steals from art; architecture feeds architecture, or architecture steals from architecture. (This is really applied across any art form, whether music or writing or sculpture . . . people have natural tastes and those tastes feed their influences, whether cognizant or otherwise. This has been The Psychology of Art, by Bee Love.)

The shorter half of Park Tower is similar in form and context to Two Pennsylvania Plaza, the planned second phase of Comcast Center (which Philly Skyline Rumours suggest will not be built as such, but instead much taller). But where Two PA Plaza mimics One Penn Center (Suburban Station), the lower Park Tower mimics the Phoenix. The taller portion of Park Tower reminds me of Pittsburgh's Dominion Tower, designed by Kohn Pederson Fox, who designed Mellon Bank Center and who once had a plan for a large tower on the site where Comcast Center now stands. Dominion Tower stands across Liberty Avenue from the tall, figure-8 shaped black tower built in 1975 called Two PNC Plaza. It's one of the buildings in the complex of that bank's headquarters. PNC has a strong branch in Philadelphia, too, headquartered at 16th & Market. In a tall, figure-8 shaped black tower built in 1983. The designer of each? Skidmore, Owings and Merrill. Round and round we go.

The building on the right in the graphic above is Parkway Plaza, the last proposal to fall through, or at least stall. How big a new Family Court building would be is not yet determined, but it's probably a safe bet that it would be along the same scale as One Parkway (1515 Arch) next door or the Criminal Justice Center, each in the squat, 15-18 story range. So given its size and scale, Parkway Plaza could probably work for the Family Court. It too was designed by Skidmore Owings and Merrill, but the Oliver Tyrone Pulver Corporation -- the company behind the Tower Bridge development in Conshohocken -- didn't originally have a justice facility in mind. Parkway Plaza was originally pitched to Towers Perrin, who ended up staying in Centre Square. Later, when Viacom was shopping for a new home for CBS and UPN, it came very close to signing onto Parkway Plaza before going with 1500 Spring Garden. (PBJ, Natalie Kostelni.)

Nothing's final yet, not least the financing, but it'll be interesting to see how the Family Court move develops.

* * *

Related reading:
Farewell Logan Square, Hello Love Park, Inga, Ocotber 2007
New skyscrapers in Philadelphia, Phillyblog, March 2005 (about Parkway Plaza)
Thanks to Marcus in G-Ho for the heads up.

–B Love

16 January 08: Introducing the traveling winger

It is with great pride that Philly Skyline introduces to you on this, her last night in town, our new international correspondent Angelia Fick. Long time friend and star wing of the Philadelphia Women's Rugby team, she has spent the last several years watching over Jeweler's Row from her living room window, and watching over the city from her job 25 stories up at One Liberty Place.

Tomorrow, Angie begins feeding her wanderlust on a 14 week trip most of us don't even dream about. Tokyo, Phuket, Bangkok and Kuala Lumpur are among the places on her itinerary, and she will graciously be dropping us the occasional line (and per my request taking pictures of any cheesesteaks she comes across in Asia . . . although I might not recommend that she actually eat one).

In preparation of the nearly three months abroad, she spent her new year in Dublin, as seen above. So! To Miss Fick: godspeed, good luck, and safe travels. We'll see you back right back here in Illadelphia in April.

–B Love

16 January 08: Out and about

OK then, a few things you'll want to mark on your Philly Skyline, The Calendar: 2008 (which by the way will be marked down to half price on Friday . . . everything must go!):
  1. PHILLY SKYLINE, FOR THE CURIOUS: Just a friendly reminder here that Philly Skyline is kicking off Johnny Brenda's new salon series For the Curious this Sunday night. Now, I must take a moment to acknowledge the extremely inconsiderate people behind the scheduling of the NFL's conference championship games this Sunday. You follow a format all year of games at 1 and at 4, and then you pull a fast one for the championships for 3 and 6:30 pm. Fortunately, the Packers will be rolling up the Giants by halftime, so you should be safe to miss the second half of the NFC Championship. There are no TVs at JB's, but Murph's is right across the street, so finish your football fix there and come upstairs to JB's. Or, if you're among those who hate sports, you might arrive at JB's early to have dinner with Matt behind the bar. Tell him B Love sent you.

    But yeah, Philly Skyline for the curious: myself, Nathaniel and Steve will be there to talk Philly Skyline. It's all very open ended and discussion oriented. Not quite a town hall meeting, but not necessarily a lecture, either. Admission is free, and there will be booze, so if Philly Skyline is yr thing, come hang out and talk shop with us. If enough people come out, we might even make good on a promise that's been a really long time coming. You have to be there to find out what it is though.

    Sunday 1/20, 8pm-?, Johnny Brenda's, Frankford & Girard (Fishtown) / johnnybrendas.com

  2. IMAGINE PHILADELPHIA: The City Planning Commission continues its series of Imagine Philadelphia events that look for your input to help determine the future of planning in the city. The ultimate goal is a much needed new comprehensive plan for the entire city -- to borrow from PCPC themselves, "what the City's neighborhoods, skyline, parks, and business districts might look like in 2035." The river wards get their shake this evening at the Lithuanian Music Hall in Port Richmond. (No word on whether kielbasa and pierogies will be provided.) The long awaited Center City session is Tuesday at the Convention Center.


  3. PHILLY BIKE SHARING: You might recall from our last city toilet roundup that Clear Channel has proposed a bike sharing program not unlike Philly Car Share as part of its outdoor advertising program which would also get the city some much needed public toilets -- and, alas, more advertising on benches and kiosks and signs and such. But it seems like a fair trade if these are programs that get off the ground and actually work. How could a bike sharing program not work if they were strategically placed in cyclist hot spots like the Schuylkill River Park, the river drives and Fairmount Park?

    Melissa Dribben has a nice write-up of the concept in today's Inquirer, and a public forum is scheduled for tomorrow at the Academy of Natural Sciences.

    Thursday, 1/17, 6-8:30pm, Academy of Natural Sciences, 19th & The Parkway (Logan Square) / sustainablephiladelphia.com

  4. PATCO, THE FUTURE OF RIVERFRONT TRANSIT? It would certainly seem that way, and this is good for three reasons: 1. The riverfront will get the transit it has long needed, with the initial phases planned between Penn Treaty Park and Pier 70 (Wal-Mart), which should be familiar because it's also the first phase of CCD's hike & bike riverfront trail, which itself is an early action of the Riverfront Civic Vision. 2. Two of the three options would reopen Franklin Square station. (See our thoughts on that HERE, 14 December 07: False alarm: no tram yet (thank god).) 3. It's not Septa.

    With Delaware Avenue traffic already the number one concern of riverfront neighborhoods in light of the casinos which will probably never be built, it will be interesting to see how DRPA approaches that very topic at the two meetings open houses planned for next Tuesday and Thursday.

    One plan would bring riverfront (Del Ave) service from Franklin Square (presumably via Race Street?), another would extend Septa's subway-surface line from 13th Street to Franklin Square underground via Arch and Cherry Streets, and a third would would extend the subway-surface line to the waterfront via Market Street. Naturally, the most desirable plan is the most expensive one. Stay tuned.

    PATCO open house: Tuesday, 1/22, 6-8pm, Painted Bride, 230 Vine St (Old City); Thursday, 1/24, 6-8pm, Emanuel Evangelical Lutheran Church, 1001 South 4th Street (Queen Village)

–B Love

16 January 08: Bart Blatstein, checkerboard SOB

Well now this was a little unexpected. While it's been known that the State Office Building, at Broad & Spring Garden, has been for sale by the state for nearly two years (26 June 06), that Bart Blatstein and Tower Investments would be the buyer is a little . . . interesting. [Inquirer, Joseph DiStefano.]

It's understandable that Bart would want a large, noticeable landmark that close to Center City, but the State Office Building doesn't scream young and trendy (as the Northern Liberties and Avenue North, and anything with Erdy-McHenry signed on do). Let alone residential. That's what's weird about the SOB: it was clearly built as an office building.

It was also clearly designed in the modern style of 1958 by a team led by H2L2 and Carroll, Grisdale & Van Alen. The subtle checkerboard pattern on SOB's windows make it one of my personal favorite buildings in the city; when the sun is shining, the shadows add a depth around every other window, which protrudes maybe six inches from the rest of the façade, ultimately producing a Magic Eye effect on an otherwise normal looking building. ("Wow, it's a schooner." "Hahahaha. You dumb bastard. It's not a schooner, it's a sailboat." "A schooner IS a sailboat, stupid head!")

One of the most interesting features about the 19 story, 351' building is its mechanical floor on the roof. Its polished aluminum finish features a zigzag pattern with a roof that acts as a cornice of sorts the whole way around, and the shadows produced in early and late day sunlight are a brilliant up-top complement to the windows' checkerboard below.

The Inquirer article says that Tower plans to build stores along Spring Garden, where there is currently a dirty plaza and food trucks which are very well used. The actual state offices for which the building is named -- including the departments of Health, Public Welfare, Military and Veterans Affairs, Labor and Industry and so forth -- will need to move out before any work by Tower begins, and the Inquirer piece suggests that the former Strawbridge flagship could support that move. If that happens, protests to the state won't have the cushy space the SOB's plinth and plaza do, but hey, they'll have a nice Disney Hole parking lot right across the street.

With Tower on board at the State Office Building now, it will be extremely interesting to see which takers bite the bait at the proposed sale of the Inquirer Building right down the street. A lot of the rumors seem to think Drexel's going to be the buyer, but a building as significant as the Inquirer Building could surely be better suited as condos than dorms and hospital management. Or, let's get crazy here, as the home of a newspaper.

–B Love

16 January 08: Up on the rooftop
Click click click

Breathe in that crisp winter air out there, bubba. Feels nice, donut?

All righty, it's a beautiful morning, and you've all been very patient with your Philly Skyline as we've suffered from growing pains over the last couple weeks (the recent slowness you've seen isn't just you) and the features have been long. So today, this Hump Day of Hump Days, an onslaught of bite sized rapid fire Umpdates is on the way.

So please, put on another pot of black (or pull on some pot of green, whatever your pleasure), kick back and relax as this train pulls out of station. The Philly Skyline HQ Rooftop Skyline above was taken at 8:57 this morning. Residences at the Ritz-Carlton has what, five floors to go till it surpasses its namesake?

–B Love

15 January 08: Spectrum Sunset Serenade

Regarding the potential demolition of the Spectrum, I'd like to apologize to the Delco Daily Times. I had a whole "you go 'head, Delco Daily Times" angle, since Anthony SanFilippo broke the story in their Saturday paper. Well then don'tcha know yesterday's Daily News (Christine Olley and Phil Jasner), last night's Channel 6 Action News (story's not online), and today's Biz Journal (Natalie Kostelni, heeey) and Inquirer (Joseph DiStefano) all went and brought different angles to the Spectrum question, which as of now has no definite answer. When that's answered just might be next week, according to the Baltimore Sun, the hometown paper of record of the Cordish Company, the developer lined up to build whatever plan is chosen.

Anyway, the Spectrum. OK, the Wachovia Spectrum.

Once upon a time, in 1926, Philadelphia celebrated the sesqui-centennial of the Declaration of Independence written, deliberated and signed in this city with a fair that they hoped would be as successful as the 1876 centennial in Fairmount Park. For the fair, an 80 foot replica of the Liberty Bell (which can be seen on the cover of Thomas Keels' Forgotten Philadelphia, which Nathaniel Popkin reviewed for Philly Skyline on September 25th) was constructed and straddled Broad Street at what is now Marconi Plaza, and the 100,000 seat Municipal Stadium (renamed JFK Stadium in the 60s) was built for opening ceremonies and a Jack Dempsey fight. To get to the fair, people rode trolleys which terminated at Pattison Avenue, on the very spot where the Spectrum would be built.

Skip ahead to the late 60s. While Philadelphia had had professional basketball for years (the Warriors were here until 1962, the year after which the Syracuse Nationals moved here and became the 76ers), it didn't have a hockey team until 1966, when Ed Snider convinced the NHL that Philadelphia needed a team and convinced the city that it needed a new arena -- next to JFK Stadium and across the street from the forthcoming Veterans Stadium -- and that it could house both the expansion Flyers and the 76ers, who drifted between Convention Hall, Philadelphia Arena and the Palestra.

Architecture giants Skidmore Owings and Merrill, legends in America for New York's Lever House and Chicago's John Hancock and Sears Towers, and nowadays recognized internationally for the still-under-construction tallest building in the world, Burj Dubai, designed the Spectrum and it opened in 1967, in time for the Flyers' inaugural season.

Not that the wrecking ball is guaranteed to line up tomorrow morning or anything, but presuming the Phillies don't win the World Series this year (they're spending money like they're not going to, which is to say they're not spending money), and assuming the big neon dollar signs that the Cordish Company flashes in the faces of Comcast-Spectacor are bright enough that they will in fact want to develop a Philly Live! complex that has a hotel directly on the site where the Spectrum stands . . . well, then not only will Philadelphia have not had any major sports championships in over 25 years, it won't even have any landmarks left of them. (Well, OK, Franklin Field is still standing, but who in Philly Skyline's demographic is actually old enough to remember watching the 1960 Eagles championship team?)

State-of-the-art changes every day. A new car, it is true, loses value the moment you drive it off the lot. But does that automatically make it a lemon? The Vet was a dump, no one will argue against that. Multi-purpose stadiums had their moment, and then retrospect suggested that that moment was incorrect. Three Rivers Stadium, Riverfront Stadium, Fulton County Stadium, Busch Stadium, The Vet . . . gone, gone, gone, gone, gone, and all in less than 40 years. The Metrodome (Minnesota Vikings and Twins), Oakland Coliseum (Raiders and Philadelphia A's) and Joe Robbie Stadium (Miami Dolphins, Florida Marlins) are still used by two teams, and the baseball half of all three have wanted their own ballparks for years.

With hockey and basketball though, it's a little different. Though there are a few exceptions, across the country, most markets' basketball and hockey teams share an arena: Madison Square Garden, Staples Center, Continental Airlines Arena, United Center . . . The size, schedule and workload make them the perfect fit. All the same, these arenas don't enjoy the same loyalty baseball parks do. Where baseball has Fenway Park (1912), Wrigley Field (1914) and Yankee Stadium (1923, being replaced next year), the oldest arena in hockey is Pittsburgh's Civic Arena (1961), which they've been trying to replace for over a decade. The NBA's oldest is Madison Square Garden, from 1968, a year after the Spectrum opened.

Boston Garden was demolished in 1995, leaving the Celtics' 16 championships on its parquet floor a memory. The Montreal Canadiens won nearly all of their 24 Stanley Cups at the Forum, but in 1996 (less than three years after their last), they moved into the Bell Centre. The Forum just kind of sits there now.

But the Spectrum is different than those well loved, bygone arenas: adaptive reuse works here thanks to the greater sports complex. The 18,000 seat arena is not only still used for monster truck jams and circuses, it's still the home of two professional (though lesser) sports teams, indoor hockey's Kixx and the AHL's Phantoms, who've had a pretty sweet arrangement with the parent Flyers right next door.

As well, the Spectrum is legendary in the concert world. The Grateful Dead played there 53 times; Billy Joel 40+ times and Bruce Springsteen 30+ times. If you liked Phish, you might recall the December '99 run as their last good one, and the Spectrum show on the 11th (conveniently archived for your download at nugs.net) as the peak of that tour. Wolfgang's Vault, an official web site of Bill Graham Promotions, has loads of concerts archived online, and they're free to listen to after registering with an email address. There are half a dozen Spectrum shows HERE, including heavy hitters from The Who in 1973 (between Who's Next and Quadrophenia) and Stevie Ray Vaughn in 1984. According to an interview with Rolling Stone (and picked up by Philebrity yesterday), Roger Waters wrote the lyrics to "Comfortably Numb" a fter getting sick at a 1977 Pink Floyd concert there.
Waters based one of the saddest drug songs ever written on a sleazy Philadelphia doctor who injected him with tranquilizers before a gig when he was suffering from hepatitis. "That was the longest two hours of my life," Waters said. "Trying to do a show when you can hardly lift your arm."
It's understandable that Comcast-Spectacor would want to fold an entertainment district into the sports complex. Chickie's and Pete's, a good ten minute walk from the stadiums, might not be too keen on an ESPN Zone type facility opening, but if there's a place that could support one, it's the sports complex. Lord knows I've whined a number of times that something was not built in place of The Vet but for a stupid surface parking lot that has two entrances on Pattison Avenue which cross the extremely well used sidewalks to the subway station. But do they have to tear down The Spectrum?

(Click, enlarge the parking.)

Come on now. Just look at all of that room. Saving the Spectrum is more about practicality than nostalgia. Slam Sports, Canada's premier hockey resource, has an excellent piece on what happens to the Phantoms should the Spectrum be torn down. It is HERE.
If razing the Spectrum did come to pass, such a move would leave the Phantoms, two-time winners of the Calder Cup and among the AHL's flagship franchises, at least temporarily homeless and in search of a new locale.

. . .

The only nearby centres with AHL-ready arenas are the New Jersey cities of Atlantic City and Trenton, plus Reading, Pa., a city located an hour west of Philadelphia. But Reading and Trenton both host ECHL clubs, and Reading is located just 70 kilometres from Hershey, an AHL stronghold that pulls in fans from much of the Central Pennsylvania region. Trenton management, meanwhile, just rebranded its franchise to reflect a budding relationship with the New Jersey Devils and would seem to be a very unlikely fit for the Flyers.

Atlantic City was a bust as a hockey market, losing its ECHL club in 2005 just two years after winning a Kelly Cup championship.
And the circus and the monster truck jams and the motocross and the concerts . . . (and all right, this is the only time I'll mention this by name, American Idol tryouts, which are the subject of that show's season premier tonight). Fo' fo' fo'. Broad Street Bullies. Rocky beating Apollo Creed.

Come on, Mr Snider. You built this arena. You don't have to tear it down.

* * *

I wanted to end this Spectrum song by yankin' on YouTube but, well, since there are so many Spectrum memories from which to choose, I'll leave it multiple choice:

• Christian Laettner's last second shot in the 1992 NCAA East Regional
• Kate Smith singing God Bless America before game 6 of the 1974 Stanley Cup Finals
• The 1983 champion Sixers NBA recap led by Moses Malone's fo' fo' fo'
• Shootin' at the walls of heartache, BANG BANG, Charles Barkley is The Warrior
• Slash's . . . love for Philadelphia at a 1991 Guns & Roses show

Actually no. The correct answer is this video of the 1974 Flyers Stanley Cup victory and parade. Bye BYE.

–B Love

14 January 08: FREEDOM (I won't let you down)
FREEDOM (I will not give you up)

The long train coming that is the reconfiguration and new landscaping of Independence Mall took one huge step toward completion this morning with the dedication of People's Plaza at 5th & Market.

You might recall from the November 9th Philly Skyline "Pardon Our Appearance" Skyline that the corner on the opposite end of the same block as the President's House was to be set aside for a new First Amendment public assembly area. Welp . . . here it is, freshly paved and sodded, and with electrical hookups for all your mic and podium needs.

Independence National Historical Park's acting superintendent Darla Sidles (whose position will be filled permanently by Cynthia MacLeod in mid-February, replacing Dennis Reidenbach, who was promoted to Regional Director for the National Park Service's northeast region) gave a brief background explaining the role the Park Service plays in maintaining a site on which the public can assemble, and more importantly, that the content of the message is never a consideration when filing the permits.

Said she, "the content of the message is protected under the First Amendment guarantee of freedom of speech." That's the point of People's Plaza: it's your officially sanctioned Free Speech assembly area, specifically located thanks to its historic symbolism in front of Independence Hall and the Liberty Bell and thanks to its high visibility (lots of tourists, lots of passersby and onlookers).

Still in the first week of his new job, this guy shows up:

Mayor Michael Nutter thanked the Park for the space, and commented that dissent is at its heart American, and healthy for the public dialogue. It is after all what led to the negotiation of a Declaration of Independence.

Picking up where Mayor Nutter left off, National Constitution Center president Joseph Torsella explained that one of his favorite questions that visitors have in visiting the center is, "why are there 42 statues in Signers' Hall but only 39 signatures on the Constitution?" The answer to which is: because there were three dissenters who refused to sign the Constitution because there was not a bill of rights included in it. Others still only signed it because of the promise that one would be amended (and they got their wish -- four years later). He also used the opportunity to invite folks to attend a lecture this evening at the Constitution Center by two time Pulitzer Prize winner Anthony Lewis, who is on hand to discuss his new book Freedom for the Thought That We Hate at 6:30. [See also, NCC.org.]

The marble and granite plaza was paid for by the Friends of Independence National Historical Park, whose chair Tom Caramanico was in attendance. At the end of the ceremony, Superintendent Sidles signed the permit to the first demonstration to be held at People's Plaza, a war protest being staged by Chestnut Hill Friends Meeting next Sunday. You're welcome to attend whether you agree or disagree.

* * *

It's also worth noting that elsewhere on the same block -- Block 1 of INHP, as described by Darla Sidles -- the landscaping to the mall along the 5th Street side (between Chestnut and Market) is now mostly finished and open to the public with new benches for your Bourse eating convenience.

That leaves the President's House on the corner of 6th & Market as the last piece of the puzzle to the Independence Mall redo. The redesign by Kelly/Maiello approved in December will incorporate the archaeological findings that attracted over 300,000 people last summer. It is fully funded and is scheduled to be completed in 2009. For more on the President's House, please see ushistory.org.

–B Love

PS: Umm . . . on an unrelated note, please consider this an all points bulletin for all you kind people in Old City: There is a reward of one six-pack of any beer brewed by Yards Brewery if you find a black ski cap with a boognish on it. It somehow fell out of my back pocket this morning somewhere between Old City Coffee (whose coffeecake is outta sight, by the way), the Liberty Bell and Constitution Center. It look a lil' something like:

So if you find it, please drop me a line and I will gladly meet you with your favorite six-pack of Yards beer. If you don't drink . . . uhh, a Gatorade maybe? Thanks for listening.