30 April 08: Long time coming
The Wayne Junction companion piece

Ahh, the good ol' days. Remember when gas was $3.05 a gallon? That must've been fifty cents a gallon, five months or another Exxon Mobil record profit ago, whichever one was longest. According to the timestamp on the photo, it was November 16, the day yr Philly Skyline Wayne Junction fixation officially switched on.

Nathaniel, whose essay yesterday brought us up to date on goings on at that most vital of Septa train stations, and I met at Market East Station that morning and caught the first train outbound. I don't remember which line we took, but it doesn't matter since six of the seven go through Wayne Junction.

We'd heard about Septa's plans to give the station twenty million dollars worth of severely needed renovation (PDF, page 23), which will improve the inbound and outbound platforms, add two elevators, improve safety . . . and demolish the Wayne Junction headhouse, which is on the National Register of Historic Places. Patrick Moran, president of the Germantown Historical Society, had an excellent editorial about why this is unnecessary, and wrong, last week in the Germantown Courier.

We also knew about the Planning Commission's Germantown and Wayne Junction Transit-Oriented Neighborhood Plan, the planning process expected to be completed this summer. The neighborhood master plan is seeking to bridge the divides between North Philly and lower Germantown with development emphasizing the five extant rail stations -- Queen Lane, Wister, Germantown, Chelten and Wayne Junction -- within the district.

That's the back story. Now here are the back photos. Nathaniel and I took a good three hour walk around the circumference of Wayne Junction station, and photos are arranged thusly:

• GERMANTOWN: the old, old neighborhood of history and hard times. The photo essay from 29 May 2004 was the first real neighborhood tour on a burgeoning Philly Skyline. In this small slice of it, we find amazing rowhomes on streets with names like Pulaski and Zeralda, Fairmount Park's Loudoun Mansion, and the heart of Germantown Avenue.

• NICETOWN: You rarely hear it without a "Tioga" suffix. Those two adjacent North Philly neighborhoods were part of an October 2004 tour, but for this visit we stayed along the main Germantown Avenue corridor and underneath . . .

• ROOSEVELT BOULEVARD: The Boulevard/Route 1/Roosevelt Expressway flies overhead through Wayne Junction and surroundings like so many interstates. Nicetown's CDC is looking to turn the unused areas underneath the Expressway into green space.

• ROBERTS AVENUE: Meanwhile, on the other side of the railroad viaduct from Nicetown, Roberts Avenue runs an interesting, short path from an 1885 mill, skirting a heavy residential area with lots of developable areas, overlooking a Septa stock yard to an intersection with Wissahickon Avenue at . . .

• FERN HILL PARK: Your typical park of the hidden gem variety. Straddling -- nay, passing under -- the expressway, Fern Hill Park is your standard neighborhood park with baseball fields and woods and picnic areas and Bob Will Reign.

• STATION NEIGHBORS: This deserved its own sub-category just on the old stock of buildings alone. This is what you'll find on Berkley Street, running between Germantown Ave and Wayne Ave on the north/west side of the station and platform.

• WAYNE JUNCTION STATION: Finally, and most obviously, the station itself. Have a look at the endangered headhouse, the states of the multiple platforms (it's easy to see why it needs renovation), and keep in mind all the connections this single station has.

Matter of fact, I'd recommend starting the tour of these November 16, 2007, fall foliage crazy photos there, found by clicking HERE. Don't forget to check out Nathaniel Popkin's accompanying Possible City pieces:

A Junction that ought to be (4 December 07)
This is not pie-in-the-sky (29 April 08).

Meanwhile, back at Wayne Junction station, it's $3.55 a gallon at the Coastal gas station pictured above. Everyone but the biggest oil companies have had to adjust as gas prices rise and drive everything else up because of it, but at Wayne Junction, the price of gas is not the problem. That a train station that serves nearly every commuter rail line in the city has a gas station tacked onto it is a clear mark of our priorities of the past, oh, four decades or so. The station shows its neglect, and that's why it's being paid some attention now by both Septa and the Planning Commission. The next step in the process is a meeting hosted by Septa on Monday, May 12:
Please attend a SEPTA-hosted community meeting on Monday, May 12th, 6:00 pm at St. Francis Assisi Church's Community Room, 4821 Greene Street and hear SEPTA's most up-to-date plan on their Wayne Junction Station renovation project. The project includes historic rehabilitation of the station, improved amenities for passengers, construction of a high level platform, installation of elevators, complete ADA compliant ramps, among other station improvements.
Best believe: the future of the historically designated Wayne Junction Headhouse is at the top of the agenda.

–B Love

29 April 08: The Possible City
"This is not pie-in-the-sky"

by Nathaniel Popkin
April 29, 2008

Image of Stenton Park and mansion from City Archives, taken 12 April 1910. Collection ID: Public Works-3946-0, accessed at PhillyHistory.org today.

Stephen Hague stands on the open back porch of Stenton, the modest English estate built in 1730 by James Logan. Logan, a polyglot Quaker, managed William Penn's colony, negotiated with Native American leaders, and grew Pennsylvania's first substantial library. Hague has been Stenton's executive director for seven years. He has sandy hair, and an easy but precise demeanor. His diction is slow, careful, his words modest. But after spending an hour on a luminous April morning discussing the framing of history -- its uses, limits, challenges, and hopes -- in the context of uncertain North Philadelphia, his diction has quickened. It isn't history that has excited him. Rather Hague seems inspired imagining a future for Nicetown and Lower Germantown. "There is a lot of opportunity here," he says then pauses. "And a lot of opportunity for missed opportunity."

Stenton sits on a small parcel within a park and playground managed by Philadelphia's Department of Recreation. Stenton's three acres (shrunken from the original 500), are separated from the recreation center by a fence and maintained by the National Society of the Colonial Dames of America in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, which took over the property in 1899 as one of the nation's first house-museums. The house was never severely altered from its original configuration so it looks and feels much as it did in the middle of the 18th century. Indeed, one of the pleasures of Hague's tour is the realization that the rooms don't use electric light. As we come to a dark room, Hague enters first and opens one or two shutters, drawing light inside.

Logan's 2,681 volume library, so critical to the intellectual development of the New World, was in a large second floor space that was also used for bedrooms. Logan left the books to the City of Philadelphia and today they are in the collection of the Library Company. There is only one surviving bookshelf (of possibly 20) on display. Yet the room in its raw proportions speaks. "This is what we call 'the wow moment'," says Hague of the room's power to articulate the combination of Quaker modesty and ambition that was so intrinsic to the formulation of America.

This sort of magic is why we visit a place like Stenton. What's interesting is that the magic isn't produced by an historical purity. Despite what Hague calls the site's high level of "authenticity," Logan's library, for example, is interpreted in part as a pair of 19th century bedrooms; the formal garden is a 20th century Colonial Revival interpretation of an 18th century plot (Stenton hosted the inaugural meeting of the Garden Club of America); the wild hyacinths that adorn the lawn merely suggestive of a more graceful period. Stenton, in the brochures one of the earliest American colonial estates, is really a window onto almost three centuries of change. The view through the window includes a neighborhood mostly built between1880 and 1920 for skilled factory and railroad workers and foremen that today fits the archetype of urban decline. "How do you think about an historic site in a deflated part of the city?" was a question Hague was asked to consider when he took the job. "Stenton was widely regarded as a special place in Philadelphia," he says, "but at the same time there is a big fence around it -- a house built by a white man who had enslaved Africans living there."

Hague's first response was to reevaluate the history told at Stenton; curators have since begun to amplify the story of women who lived there, particularly the early Philadelphia historian Deborah Norris and Dinah, a freed slave who is credited with saving the house from destruction during the American Revolution. The next step was to reinforce ties to the community. A Pew-funded grant from Heritage Philadelphia enabled the development of the History Hunters Youth Reporter Program, a collaboration of Stenton and Wyck, Johnson House, and Cliveden in Germantown. With the goal of making local history relevant to neighborhood children, History Hunters uses Germantown's demographic history, streetscape, public places, and historic houses to teach writing, math, history, business, and critical thinking.

History Hunters led to further collaboration with other historic sites; among the 14 organizations that comprise Historic Germantown Preserved there is as Hague notes, "an incredible richness, the capacity to tell all kinds of stories." Collaboration also creates economic power. "Historic sites are devices," he says, assets that until now haven't produced an ample return to the neighborhood.

So Hague has committed Stenton to an active role in neighborhood planning, much of which revolves around the intended $20 million renovation of the Wayne Junction regional rail station (as I reported in December, the station project is the centerpiece of a concurrent transit-oriented development study being undertaken by the City Planning Commission) . "For us, [really good] public transit would be terrific," he says. One look at a city map tells why. In addition to Wayne Junction, three blocks away and served by every regional rail line but the R6, Stenton is served by two Broad Street Subway stations and the most-traveled bus line in the city, the 23. Accessibility isn't at issue. Rather, of course, it's the perception and reality of decline and crime (there were three homicides in the vicinity of Stenton in 2007 but none directly between it and Wayne Junction).

Safety, above all, drives the station renovation, says Septa project manager Rusty Acchione, a veteran agency engineer who oversaw the Wayne and Gulph Mills station renovations. Acchione, who grew up in Germantown, is gregarious and straightforward. He wears a Villanova class ring and neatly trimmed hair. He explains how his view of the project changed when standing on the station platform he witnessed a murder just below near the entrance to Septa's Roberts Avenue maintenance yard. "The neighbors are telling me, 'We love our station, but we're not comfortable using it.' We want people to use the station."

Thus, in addition to making Wayne Junction ADA compliant and installing an elevator, raising the "inbound" platform, integrating the "outbound" R7 platform, renovating the stationhouse and ticket office, Acchione wants to make the five station entrances and the walkways to the platform feel safe. That means cutting four to five foot site lines, improving lighting, and in the case of the Germantown Avenue entrance, removing the historic headhouse, a brick and stone building with carved relief and terracotta tile roof.

Acchione's hope is that by removing the headhouse, he'll vastly improve the experience of entering the station; it will feel safe. And, he says, where possible Septa will re-use parts of the building throughout the station renovation. The engineer also justifies his approach by citing the cost of renovating the headhouse, which he puts at $750,000. "What can I do for the station with that money?"

"But," he continues, "I understand [preserving the headhouse] is a preference." Jennifer Barr, the city's liaison to the station project and the lead planner on the Germantown-Wayne Junction transit-oriented-development study, thinks that demolition of the headhouse is the wrong approach. "I suppose removing the head house would add to the perception of safety for passengers entering the inbound tracks from Germantown Avenue," she says. "But is that worth it? The walk up the stairs will still be dark and partially enclosed, just like all the other entrances. My main purpose is to reflect the needs and desires of the community. At this point, preservation, rather than demolition, is the community's consensus."

Noting that the station is listed on the National Register of Historic Places, Stephen Hague agrees. "There's lots of ways of addressing safety and security besides knocking down a beautiful building." Hague sees the headhouse as an opportunity -- potentially to bring retail life to the station -- one which is irreversible once the wrecking ball arrives.

Acchione thinks retail on the station platform, raised high above street level, would be a difficult challenge. (Barr and community leaders are exploring the idea of placing vendors on the Windrim Avenue sidewalk in front of the station. Although the city has agreed to repave the sidewalk, it is owned by the railroad CSX, which hasn't returned Acchione's calls.) But his idea of using parts of the headhouse seems a stretch. Careful demolition is expensive. Moreover, though he says Septa builds to last, the agency is incapable of constructing anything as elegant or graceful as the current headhouse. Recently erected headhouses, including one at 30th Street Station, are shamefully, almost laughably, poor.

Philadelphia's awareness and interest in historical preservation goes back to the early part of the 19th century, when the City purchased the old State House -- Independence Hall -- to prevent its demolition. Ever since and all at once, we've proven to be careful stewards of architectural heritage, habitual backward-thinkers stuck in the past, neglectful of worthy jewels, sloppy and imprecise renovators, forward-minded soldiers of Modernism, and mean-spirited, eleventh hour bunglers. John Gallery, the city's first housing director and present executive director of the Preservation Alliance of Greater Philadelphia, underscores the schizophrenia. He estimates that this past decade while NTI wreaked havoc on the industrial streetscape, the Civic Center and the buildings in the way of the Convention Center expansion were demolished without public debate, and acres of row houses were lost to poverty and lack of resources, $3 billion in major preservation was completed. But Gallery, who has had a hand in much urban policy in Philadelphia these last 35 years, and who still retains a New England accent, says it's time for Philadelphia to develop and implement a preservation plan. Only a plan, with a careful historic context statement and a comprehensive survey of neighborhoods, would properly allow officials and community members to make an informed decision about a project like Wayne Junction. Does the station support an historical theme? Is there a context for preservation in Nicetown/Lower Germantown? Are there other station headhouses in Septa's inventory of equal or greater historic value?

The Preservation Alliance, along with its partners the Historical Commission, Penn's School of Design's graduate program in Historic Preservation, and the Planning Commission, have reached the second phase of a pre-plan study. This phase is funded in part by the William Penn Foundation and Heritage Philadelphia (a grant of $100,000 was just awarded), with additional funding sought from the Barra Foundation. In a short time, a steering committee will be formed and the Alliance will expand the project's realm of community partners. An historic context statement, which Gallery says is critical to a meaningful plan, will be devised and associated historic themes developed. Frankford will serve as a test neighborhood for the development of survey methodology.

Historic preservation, so fraught with nuance (for a review of some of the intangibles in preservation, see a Philadelphia-esque story in today's New York Times), is never on sure political footing. Gallery says his greatest present concern is that the Historic Commission is not adequately funded. Beyond that, he'd like to expand the number of city historic districts -- Parkside has been proposed -- but even those lack teeth. He says Diamond Street in North Philadelphia, an historic district that includes the Church of the Advocate, is literally falling down. Only some 20,000 buildings in Philadelphia are protected; still, neighbors across the city fearful of gentrification oppose historic designation. Meanwhile, the greatest preservation crisis we face, the slow, steady deterioration of row house blocks across much of the city, continues unabated without a policy solution.

One of the shortcomings of the Wayne Junction project is caused by Septa's infamous bureaucratic divisions. Acchione is charged with repairing the station. Someone else is in charge of Regional Rail scheduling (does it make sense to run more trains to and from a revamped station?), someone else oversees bus operations (is there a strategy to move riders off the slow 23 and onto fast regional rail?), someone else manages the three neighboring maintenance yards, someone else promotions and advertising, someone else station maintenance (Wayne Junction is notoriously dirty and there is no maintenance plan for the station once it is renovated), someone else again ticket office operations. All of these separate functions inform the overall project, but in the community's hopeful scenario each function would follow a larger vision for the station as an economic engine.

"This is not pie-in-sky," insists Stephen Hague, but if vision -- and not bureaucratic division -- is to lead it will require more than a philosophy change at Septa. A renovated station will be a nice community asset. Ridership at the station will increase (it already has -- by 27% 2005-2007). But as an envisioned economic engine, Wayne Junction ought to be the gateway to historic Germantown -- for its richness of themes and sites one of the most compelling historic destinations in America. Once that vision is articulated the question of whether to save the station headhouse doesn't have to wait for a preservation plan in order to be answered. The still-used 1885 Glen Echo Mills just behind the station gains protection; the evocative and shuttered Loudoun mansion, just above the mill, becomes the Germantown historical interpretive center; and the massive abandoned industrial complex at 18th, Windrim, and West Courtland Streets that was once in part a gun factory and is now a community trouble spot, is razed to create a visual and pedestrian connection between the station and Stenton.

Glen Echo Mills. For more on this site, visit Workshop of the World.

Then, as one reader recently proposed, return the classic trolley to the 23 by dividing the line into sections with already built-in turnarounds. In this case a Germantown section meets the North Philly-Center City section at Wayne Junction reinforcing the train station's hub status. The reader, who requested anonymity, recommends returning the classic PTC trolley to the Germantown section, extending preservation into the realm of tourist-friendly experience.

Acchione says that he is hampered by limited resources -- despite the promise of dedicated funding, the Market Street Elevated reconstruction continues past schedule and over budget. The El may or may not be the ogre in the room but Acchione's point is valid; under current funding formulas visionary ideas and ambitious preservation plans can't be implemented. This might cause us to examine the way we'd like local government to work.

John Gallery wants preservation to provide a frame for neighborhood renewal. He doesn't use far-fetched economic analysis to qualify the success of preservation rather he would argue that Philadelphia's greatest and most unique asset is its urban fabric. It's irreplaceable and therefore needs to be protected. We might call his a capital intensive approach to urban policy. Everyone benefits when the physical environment of the city is nurtured. Large projects employ lots of people; a more attractive city attracts smarter and better educated people. The above-vision for historic Germantown becomes possible with a capital intensive approach.

Starting in the 1960s, with economic and racial justice as municipal goals, city planners began to question the sustainability of this approach. Resources ought to be invested in people instead -- and the notion of human capital was invented. Educate, train, and nurture people, raise their income-potential, and they'll make the city better. This notion held sway among academics well into the 1990s. Mayor Rendell understood the drawback of this approach: it failed to produce physical symbols -- landmarks -- of change and so he preferred to build (repeating the strategy at the state level as Governor). Now, a decade into a building boom, we're enamored again of capital-intensive physical projects that promise to make the city more fun and attractive to investors, businesses, and tourists. Mayor Nutter is faced with more ideas for projects than he could build with unlimited resources in a 100 year term. But Nutter's resources are severely limited, in part because we still expect local government to follow both strategies. Thus his budget increases funding for Fairmount Park (capital) and Community College of Philadelphia (human capital). And there are many observers, including my longtime friend Len Ellis, who support a much stronger human capital approach. Ellis wrote three weeks ago in the Daily News that Nutter's education goals fall far short of what it will take to increase Philadelphia's income potential. Noting that Philadelphia ranks 92 of the largest 100 cities in college attainment, he says the best thing we can do for Philadelphia is get more people to go to and graduate from college. A smarter workforce will attract better firms.

Public sector spending follows the dual-strategy approach. Philadelphia's proposed 2006 $3.5 billion operating budget designated $830 million for social service programs. (Approximately $2 billion, 58% of the 2006 budget, was to be spent on salary, pensions, and benefits, arguably a stabilizing investment in human capital.) Among the city's Capital Program Office ($50+million), the Airport ($100 million), and Septa ($426 million), Philadelphia spends less than $600 million on capital projects each year, leading us to believe that if there is an imbalance it favors the human capital approach (the state of our sidewalks might offer useful evidence).

But no true comparison between human services and capital is possible; much of both types of spending is hidden throughout the budget. The two approaches employ distinct sources of funds -- tax revenue for human services and bond revenue for capital -- meaning that it's impossible to borrow from one approach to bolster the other. Government programs are also vertically connected federal-state-local, so no city controls its revenue or its spending, which is shaped in part by mandates. Nor can we sincerely imagine abandoning either one. So we'll have to look ahead to a change in federal government philosophy, to one that would exchange lower taxes for higher quality of life. It has been ages since Washington took a leadership roll addressing the nation's infrastructure. Some prognosticators think global warming might change that, in which case dreams about Wayne Junction won't seem so pie-in-the-sky.

–Nathaniel Popkin

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

28 April 08: Keystoned agin

It's time for another edition of that semi-regular feature on your Philly Skyline in which we expand our sense of place and see a lot more of who we are right here in our home state: Pennsylvania Love. Bro' Mark and I hit twenty-one counties in three days which, if I do say so, ain't bad at all. Nor is two Phillies wins out of a three game series in the Burgh, but an effective Brett Myers and a sweep would've been nice. But then a blowout sweep wouldn't keep in line with Pennsylvania Love, would it? There's enough to go around.

It's good to get out of the city now and then . . . even the strongest and most optimistic among us can take a beating from the Negadelphia monster when it hangs around long enough. The cool mountain air we're breathing above is at Tytoona Cave, a six acre natural sinkhole and spring in Blair County, uh, between Tyrone and Altoona. The cave is 'owned' by the National Speleological Society and is therefore naturally popular with spelunkers, as it is walkable for a good 900' beyond the mouth of the cave.

Further west, on the north shore of the Allegheny River, a couple hundred feet from where it joins the Monongahela to form the Ohio River, stands the best ballpark in Major League Baseball.

As a Phillies season ticket holder, it's fascinating and bittersweet to visit PNC Park. The place is beautiful. The field, the views, the constructed building itself. HOK Sports' design doesn't feature hokey "throwback" red brick (or worse, imitation paneling like at Citizens Bank Park), but rather, large chunks of the kasota stone from Minnesota that was once supposed to adorn the walls of Comcast Center. The Roberto Clemente Bridge is closed to cars a couple hours before game time and remains open only to pedestrians until an hour or so after game time. People actually walk to the games, and this is in Pittsburgh, where no one lives downtown and the place empties out at 5 on Friday. Can you imagine if Daniel Keating's vision of a ballpark at 30th & Walnut (south side of Walnut, across from the Left Bank) was built? Smack between Center City and Penn? Two easy blocks from 30th Street Station, where Amtrak, New Jersey Transit, the Market-Frankford el, and every single Septa regional rail and trolley line converge? Oh, the could've beens. Don't even think of bringing up traffic and parking, either. For one, 30th & Walnut is directly above one exit to 76 and two blocks to another which also merges with 676. For two, the Schuylkill Expressway is always backed up, yes, but it's also moving. You may only be going 20 mph, but you're going. Heading into Pittsburgh Saturday afternoon, we hit gridlock about 45 seconds after getting onto 376 into the city and sat there for over an hour.

Meanwhile, back at picture perfect PNC Park, pity the Pittsburgh Pirates. Their fans have endured fifteen straight losing seasons since Barry Bonds and Bobby Bonilla bailed, and with sole possession of last place in their division, they're staring at 16. Is it a matter of not paying the right players to field a winning team? Derek Bell, Pat Meares and Matt Morris -- who was released immediately after his RyHo meatball and who was the highest paid player in Pirates history -- shockingly didn't do the trick. And with the second lowest attendance in baseball (only the haphazard -- and first place -- Marlins are worse), it's hard to expect the revenue that would justify paying for top tier players. It's a chicken or the egg situation out there, and you have to feel for Buccos fans.

But hey hey, whattaya say, it's a new day back here in Philadel-phi-A, the home city of your home state. From County Erie to County Pike, back to Greene and home on Turnpike, it's nothing but love for Penn's Wood. Er, Penn's Woods.

–B Love

PS: Thank you, German smorgasbord at Oakhurst Tea Room in Somerset PA. Thank you very, very much.
PPS: If you're interested, there are 14 photos of the Phillies' 8-4 victory over the Pirates

25 April 08: Casual Skyline Umpdate Bites
Lookin' Up Calendar of Events Fest

Mellow greetings on this mellow morning, mellow fellows.

Didja hear? It's official now: The Gross Clinic is staying in Philadelphia. Thomas Eakins' masterpiece was finally pulled from Wal-Mart's death grip, sparing its removal from its rightful hometown. (The Wal-Mart museum in Arkansas that it was to be moved to is called Crystal Bridges, the name of a gal I went to high school with.)

Inquirer art critic Edward Sozanski detailed the purchase by the Philadelphia Museum of Art in an excellent piece in yesterday's paper. To keep Gross, the PMA had to unload two other Eakins, which in the grander scope of things is well worth it.

The Gross Clinic is currently on display at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts, whose beautiful Frank Furness foyer is pictured above. If you haven't been to PAFA recently (or ever), go now. Admission there is free (as opposed to PMA's $14) and the building itself is a treasure. In addition to Gross, whose graphic detailing of a surgery was a little too real for the art board of the 1876 Centennial Exhibition, the PAFA's collection also includes John Vanderlyn's Ariadne Asleep on the Island of Naxos, an extremely sensual five and a half by seven foot painting of the wife of Dionysus which, in 1814 when it was completed, featured far more skin than the people of the day were accustomed to.

Also worth mentioning: longtime Skyline friend Charles Cushing's reproduction of The Gross Clinic, which helped raise money and awareness about the painting's threatened move, is available for purchase, rent and use in lectures. Visit Charles' web site for more info.

* * *

Meanwhile, directly across the street, the Odd Fellows Temple is going the way of the PLICO. Windows are almost entirely removed an interior fittings are being stripped in preparation of the building's demolition. That will leave only the Race Street Firehouse to be razed, making way for the expansion of the Convention Center.

* * *

On the demolition tip, this is what's left of the circa-50s post office annex and its footbridge over Chestnut Street on the left shore of the Schuylkill River. The building should be fully removed by summer, at which time Brandywine Realty will begin construction on the early stages of Cira Centre South.

* * *

Eight blocks west and one north from Cira South, the latest building of the Science Center nears completion. My impression of the eight story, Zimmer Gunsul Frasca designed, new building has migrated from "ugh, it's hideous" to "you know, that's not bad" to "wow, taking in the sunset light, this building borders on stunning." The latter of those is when viewed from a block or two east on Market Street, when the sun is about 15 minutes from dipping past the horizon. It caught me very much by surprise just last night en route to Marigold Kitchen. [Science Center.]

* * *

Back in Center City, a block southeast of Rittenhouse Square, where the benches have recently spurred a GHASTLY GROWTH -- an anti-homeless "arm rest" whose wood doesn't even match the rest of the bench they've so uglily been attached to -- they're shoring up the foundation of 1706 Rittenhouse. The deceivingly-but-accurately named condo appears to be moving forward as fast as Driscoll's construction will allow. The 31 story tower, designed by Cope Linder, will feature individual units on every floor, like that scene in Major League where Tom Berenger takes the elevator up to what he thinks is Rene Russo's apartment, only to find it's her yuppie boyfriend's, and he's throwing a cocktail party with people who aren't wearing jeans like he is. 1706 Rittenhouse is exactly like that. [1706rittenhouse.com.]

Some other construction Casual Observations:

• Glass is being installed on the ground floor of Murano right now this second.
• The "Locust on the Park" sign is being dismantled from that building with a picture perfect location at the Schuylkill River Trail's (current) southern terminus. Don't get your hopes up though -- it's not being removed, it's being replaced. With a new sign. Reading "Locust on the Park". I'm sure it will be . . . lovely.
• Waterfront Square's third tower is now up to its fourth floor. Nothing to report next door at Chump Tower.

* * *

Don't ask me, I'm just the photographer.

Jest kiddin' -- this is one of the 100+ entries in the poster competition for this year's Shad Fest just up the Delaware in Lambertville. The 27th annual arts/crafts/food festival celebrates that most celebrated of native Delaware River fish, the (delicious) shad. It runs from 12:30 to 5:30 tomorrow and Sunday in Lambertville. Pop Pure Guava in the tape deck, park in New Hope and walk across the 104 year old bridge into Shadfest 08.

* * *

After you've filled your belly with shad on Sunday afternoon, come back down to Fishtown and give it some company with a plate of octopus before heading upstairs at Johnny Brenda's for the Big Horn Cavaliers. The 14 piece orchestra presents the first show of its kind on the stage that has seen Clap Your Hands Say Yeah, The National, Jonathan Richman, Grizzly Bear, and hometown heroes Dr Dog, the Capitol Years, and the A-Sides, who also play there this weekend. It's the debut performance by the Big Horn Cavaliers, so get your brass on for Sunday's early show, at 6:30. [JB's.]

* * *

Me? I'm heading west to help Ryan Howard break out of his early season slump. A meatball pitcher like Matt Morris and the friendly confines of the Allegheny River, into which RyHo blasted several balls on his way to the 2006 derby championship, sounds like just the ticket. I'll be rooting for the good guys, but I'll also be soaking up that hilly city on the Three Rivers. Y'all have a nice weekend now.

–B Love

24 April 08: White lines in the Park, or,
once upon a time, it was a john-y Dock

Walking from Independence Square toward 2nd Street the other morning, I noticed a bunch of white lines on the cobblestones of what would be Sansom Street if it continued east past 6th Street. "Good god," I thought, "PGW is going to deface a National Park while it decides when it'll be good to jackhammer and re-asphalt this alley." Then I realized the lines extended much further than even PGW is capable of ripping up in a single day. No, these white lines are here on purpose.

That purpose is to draw awareness to the late, great Dock Creek. Drawing Dock Creek is an outdoor art exhibition within Independence National Historical Park that would make Jeanne-Claude and Christo proud. With a tinted whitewash composed of lime, salt and powdered alum, hand painted lines by artist Winifred Lutz trace the route of what once flowed through the center of Philadelphia. Come September, the white lines will be accompanied by 48,000 feet (nine miles!) of blue elastic, recreating the water in the creek.

Drawing Dock Creek is part of the American Philosophical Society's current Undaunted and Unexpected series, which looks at five American explorers from different periods and features contemporary artists. It is one of three by Lutz using different methods of mapping. Invisible Sky, an installation which closed three weeks ago, featured glass orbs which acted as mirrors in the daytime and interior-lit LED "stars" at night, forming the winter constellations on the ground at Jefferson Garden (SE corner, 5th & Chestnut). She has a third exhibition within the APS' Museum examining different interpretations of the Mason-Dixon Line.

Winifred Lutz is a professor of sculpture at Temple's Tyler School of Art, so it's interesting that she's taken such a large liking to cartography. (As an aside, construction of a new home for Tyler, designed jointly by Carlos Jimenez Studio and H2L2, is well underway at 12th & Norris on Temple's main campus, with 40% more space than is available at the Elkins Park campus.) To see some of her previous installations, including the garden at Pittsburgh's Mattress Factory and the courtyard landscape at the Center for Disease Control in Atlanta, is to see Dock Creek as a progression of a theme.

"These installations are all examples of mapping strategies," she says, explaining Mason's and Dixon's astral surveying across a thick forest to determine the boundary of Pennsylvania and Maryland, and then colonial Philadelphians' dealing with the tidal Dock Creek that, thanks to themselves, became a nuisance.

After thousands of pristine years as Coocaconoon, as the Lenni Lenapes called it, Dock Creek has been extinct, or at least buried, for some two hundred years. Exactly when the creek was filled in and made a street is difficult to pinpoint precisely, but between John Thomas Scharf's and Thompson Westcott's History of Philadelphia, 1609-1884, Richard Miller's 'Federal City 1783-1800' chapter of Philadelphia, a 300 Year History, and Bob Alotta's Mermaids, Monasteries, Cherokees and Custer, let us assume it happened gradually in the latter part of the 18th century into the early 1800s.

Three branches of the creek flowed from the areas near the present day Independence Visitors Center, Washington Square and Society Hill Towers, flowing south and eastward past the Merchant Exchange toward the Delaware River, into which it emptied near present day Foglietta Plaza. There was a drawbridge along Front Street over the creek here. The original map of Philadelphia by William Penn and his surveyor Thomas Holme famously employs the grid system so many American cities would follow, but though it was interrupted by Dock Creek, it did not indicate the off-the-grid growth that would happen on its desirable banks, banks which would eventually both house narrow streets connected by bridges at 2nd & 3rd.

PhillyH2O.org, whose webmaster-guru-big-kahuna Adam Levine was a consultant to Lutz on the project, explains that the Creek was arched over in brick in two phases, in 1765 and 1784, connecting the two into a single Dock Street. During the same time, older higher class homes gave way to industry operating on its banks, in particular leather tanneries which stunk and which polluted the creek already polluted by residents dumping their refuse there. As always, USHistory.org has an excellent piece on Dock Street, reprinted from a 1919 story in the Evening Bulletin -- it is HERE.

Dock Street was home to the Blue Anchor Tavern (at Front Street), already in operation at the time of Penn's arrival in 1682. As such, it lent its name to the Dock Street Brewery, one of the modern success stories of American craft beers, dating back to 1985, a lifetime in microbrewery terms. It once had three locations -- Reading Terminal (where the Independence Brew Pub recently closed), the Airport, and Two Logan Square (where Public House is now) -- and now holds fort at 50th & Baltimore in West Philly.

Centering around 2nd Street, Dock Street was in the 19th and early 20th centuries home to the large wholesale market seen in the penny postcard at left (which I've been unable to obtain in my postcard hunting). This market gave way to Society Hill's urban renewal in the 1950s. In its place now are the Ritz 5 cinema, the Positano Coast restaurant, the Sheraton Society Hill, and the lower embankment of Society Hill Towers.

The Drawing Dock Creek installation does not extend this far, but one can continue tracing the creek's original path from the artwork's southern end at the arch bridge across the swale, across 3rd Street and following Dock Street to Foglietta Plaza. The installation itself is contained wholly within the Park. Doris Fanelli, Independence Park's chief of cultural resources, says that the Park is happy to help Lutz and the Philosophical Society recreate the creek, "because it helps to emphasize the different layers of history. And, it's historically accurate," she says, citing the approval of Levine.

Perhaps more important, Fanelli notes that the project helps to raise awareness about the APS Museum, which even in spite of its location adjacent to Independence Hall, comes across as well under appreciated. (Have you ever been there?) Its home building, along 5th Street just below the old Supreme Court along Chestnut, has also been home to the University of Pennsylvania, Charles Willson Peale's personal museum, and a number of other institutions in its nearly three centuries of existence. It is now one of the more progressive history-contemporary bridges in the Park.

This contemporary APS display runs throughout the summer, during which a 'creek' of grass will grow between Winifred Lutz's hand painted white lines. In August, a series of blue bungee shock cords will be stretched across the same area to signify the original Dock Creek.

For further reading, please see:

Undaunted: Dock Creek, American Philosophical Society
Professor Winifred Lutz, Tyler School of Art
Dock Street, reprint of a 1919 Evening Bulletin story on USHistory.org
Dock Street Brewery
NPS.gov: Independence National Historical Park
Blue Anchor Tavern, an essay in The Pennsylvania Magazine of History and Biography, c. 1896.

–B Love

23 April 08: Lime Kool-Aid

. . . has nothing to do with this post, but boy is it refreshing, especially on a day as gorgeous as this.

The scene at Love Park in the photo above keeps with the recent springtime theme and is part of the latest update out in construction photo land. Taken yesterday, both Earth Day and Election Day, the Love Park fountain was doused in a mutated earthy green while Comcast Center soaks up the blues above.

In the grand scope of Philly Skyline things, it's one of the last photos that'll be entered in this part of the site already well over 3,000 deep, as the Comcast Center section will be retired when the building officially opens next month. Just in time for a new American Commerce Center section, mayhap?

Speaking of CC, the Biz Journal is reporting that the Perrier-Scarduzio collaboration Table 31 -- named for the most coveted table at Brasserie Perrier, where Scarduzio became Perrier's top chef -- is scheduled to open on May 18. [PBJ.] Table 31's official web site is HERE.

Pirouetting 90° counterclockwise from our Comcast viewpoint at Love Park, we find ourselves observing a pretty damn tall Residences at the Ritz-Carlton.

With an official topping out ceremony loosely scheduled for May 9th, Pietrini & Sons are almost there. The concrete massing is now on the 46th of 48 floors, while glass is 28 high. The private garden that will connect the residences with the Ritz's rotunda bar and lounge (in the domed former Girard Bank Building) has yet to begin construction, but a portal has been taken out of the west wall of the old building and portions of The Vault have been sectioned off for the forthcoming construction.

Both buildings have new updates which are found thusly:

Comcast Center § Residences at the Ritz-Carlton

How 'bout them Flyers? How 'bout that Burrell?

–B Love

22 April 08: Once again, springtime in Philadelphia,
presented without (much) comment

Today, post-ballot-casting this morning between 8:30 and 10, to be precise, we find ourselves in "America's most historic mile." While there's enough at Independence National Historical Park to stay frustrated -- the severe disappointment that is the Liberty Bell Center, the underused First National Bank and Merchants Exchange, wrapping Washington Square with police tape when it snows, and of course the bike rack barriers that have been "temporary" since about noon on 9/11/01 -- the gardeners there are not among them.

These bloomin' photos are the fourth installation of the Philly Skyline Springtime Skyline series, all clickable, all enlargeable. In addition to the newish, re-landscaped (by Olin Partnership) Independence Hall-Mall vista above, please also enjoy views of Carpenters Hall, the '18th Century Garden', and the Christ Churchyard garden.

Both myself and Nathaniel are working on new features which will be rolling out in the coming days.

Today? Forget Election Day, you've already voted, right? It's now Earth Day and Ma Nature came to celebrate. Mellon Bank Center, One Liberty Place and Love Park are already all lit up in green this week, it's perfect hiking weather, and the trails aren't limited to the Wissahickon (though its trails are far and away the best in the city). Pennypack, Juniata, FDR, East and West Fairmount Parks, and the Schuylkill Center all have well kempt trails too, so pick one, pack a water bottle and go breathe, breathe in the air.

–B Love