30 June 08: And then there were three

With yr Philly Skyline's Comcast Center section retired, that leaves the Big Four as the Big Three, and that number will too soon be reduced as the Murano nears its move-in date. A Big Three update go a lil something like . . .

  • 10 RITTENHOUSE SQUARE: Ugh. Oh my. Gasp. If you've had this reaction when looking up whilst walking down Sansom Street in the past week, you're not alone. In a surprising move, the brickwork at 10 Rittenhouse Square is not, as previously thought (and hoped for), real masonry, but prefab panels straight outta Citizens Bank Park. Maybe this is just for the lower floors where the parking garage will be, but that's doubtful . . . why would you save the best materials for the parts of the building you can't see from the street?

    I understand the market is tight, but the selling point for top-tier condos like 10 Rittenhouse is that the market does not affect them. Why, then, would you build with something that is not only fake, but worse, which looks fake? When the most recent renderings were hung on the fence wrapping around the construction site, its similarity to the largely derided -- and largely prefab -- Symphony House did not go unnoticed.

    Well, as the prefab fake-brick climbs up the newest walls of Rittenhouse Square, the city's most desired and exclusive address, it's hard not to be disappointed by what could've been. Where Robert A.M. Stern Architects' conservatism works as elegant at Comcast Center, it really comes across as trite at 10 Rittenhouse, at least as long as the brickwork is fake. With any luck, the Castleway project a block away will make the corrections it needs to (in regards to zoning and height matters) but not lose any of the daringness its design carries. That's what Rittenhouse Square needs -- not another el cheapo could-be-anywhere tower.

    10 Rittenhouse Square

  • RESIDENCES AT THE RITZ-CARLTON: Down at 15th & the Clothespin, the Ritz glass install is wrapping things up. I like how the windows open outward from the bottom; when they're open as viewed from straight-on on a clear day, they give the optical illusion that you're looking at the skeleton of a building wrapped in clear glass, despite its obvious dark blue tint. Or maybe that was the drag I took off of what that dude in Dilworth Plaza was smoking . . . whatever the case, it's looking pretty good. Also, the wooden box around The Triune appears to be coming down, so that sculpture could be free sooner than we thought.

    Residences at the Ritz-Carlton

  • MURANO: Up at 21st & Market, the protective walkway has been removed, but the walking pathway has also been removed. It's only temporary, as the sidewalks and Murano driveway were poured last week. The white paint & weather coating has been finished, further pronouncing the concrete spandrels every four floors. Apparently these high-gas-prices, low-car-buying days have affected the prospect of landing Mercedes-Benz as the ground floor retail tenant. Calls to find this out were not returned, and there are signs in the windows of that ground floor retail space advertising the space as available.


    * * *

    Looking elsewhere around our green country towne at the construction scene, we find . . .

    The Radian is also nearing completion. When it opens in time for fall semester, the Erdy-McHenry trilogy will reach completion. Temple, Drexel and now Penn will each have handsome, mid-rise buildings with student housing that clearly came from the same drawing board. (That's not a bad thing, it's just a thing.)

    Checking back in on the sole residential riverfront development, we find the third tower at Waterfront Square movin' right along, footloose and fancy free. This view is from the British fort, I mean sacred Indian ground, I mean Sugar House casino, I mean giant empty lot. It's the one right next to the other empty pier, the one next to the abandoned, burnt out boat. All this can be yours for a measly 700 grand. And right on the other side of WFS,

    We find that frequently asked question: what's up with Trump Tower? Welp . . . there's our answer.

    However, just a couple blocks to the west, The Bart is full steam ahead.

    Tower Investments' Hancock Square / Piazza development is taking shape on the south/west side of Germantown Avenue, and a block west of that, the next phase of Liberties Walk is moving forward, too. Neil Stein was spotted on site last week, perhaps to open the next destination restaurant in Northern Liberties?

    * * *

    Not pictured but also happening about town: Dranoff's 777 South Broad has broken ground; the hole at 1706 Rittenhouse is wicked deep and we can expect to see the shape of the robot-parking-thing any day now; the hole at 5th & Market is also deep and ready for a National Jewish Museum; and the Western Union Building at 11th & Locust is now open.

    –B Love

  • 27 June 08: Welcome to the

    As the solstice came and went last Friday and weekend long with overnight Goodtimes Quizos and Plan Grillys and sunrise drum circles, Philly Skyline's summer solstice was pushed back a few days to . . . right now this second! Happy Summer of the Delaware Solstice, friends.

    What is the Summer of the Delaware? Well . . . to be honest, that's what we're here to find out. We're looking for an answer, and to find the answer, we're going back to the dawn of the city. William Penn and the Quakers, the Swedes and the Lenni Lenapes, Ben Franklin and his London Coffee House cohorts, George Washington, Stephen Girard, the US Navy . . . the very reason for Philadelphia itself runs 23 miles on the eastern shore of the city, from above the mouth of the Poquessing Creek and past the international airport. With our corporate headquarters a mere three blocks away, it's time for Philly Skyline to show some love for our big river.

    Truth be told, the Summer of the Delaware is itself a series of questions: What is the Delaware River? What does it mean to us? What have we done to it? What will we do to it? For it? With it?

    They're the very same questions an Argentine delegation came to Philadelphia two weeks ago to ask, as they're identical questions they're asking about the Río de la Plata ("Silver River"), the Delaware River to their home Buenos Aires. (Where we have Camden on the other side, they have Uruguay, whose capital Montevideo is to Buenos Aires what Cape May is to Philadelphia, at the mouth of the estuary.)

    Jorge Colla, a real estate manager for Ernst & Young in Buenos Aires, is a board member of Grupo Techint, a development association of private and public persons -- government officials including Baldomero Alvarez de Olivera and Francisco Gutiérrez, the mayors of two sectors of Buenos Aires, Senator Roberto Ravale of Buenos Aires province, as well as planners, architects and investors. In researching riverfront reclamation projects, Colla came across the efforts being made in Philadelphia and New York, and decided to come check it out for himself. Interestingly, the organization he found was not Penn Praxis, but the Delaware River City Corporation (DRCC).

    Several emails, phone calls and an initial visit later, Colla brought his Grupo 5,000 miles north, from the eve of the South American winter to the eve of the North American summer (of the Delaware!). A coalition led by DRCC including the Philadelphia Industrial Development Corporation (PIDC) and coordinated by the city's Commerce Department (in particular Carol Brooks, Manager of International Trade) hosted the delegation two weeks ago today for a daylong exploration and examination of the state of the Delaware River. Former Congressman and current DRCC chair Bob Borski and PIDC president Peter Longstreth (who spoke entirely en español) welcomed the delegation before Mayor Mike Nutter presented them with the mini-Liberty Bells the city gives to diplomats. In doing so, the mayor admitted about the Delaware, "we haven't done as much as we can, but we're trying." (More on this shortly.)

    As the delegation set out from City Hall for a tour led by DRCC executive director Sarah Thorp including stops at Waterfront Square, the Tacony-Palmyra Bridge (under which DRCC is developing a 4 acre park to include a wetland to match the one across the Delaware) and Pennypack Park, Mayor Olivera remarked that "Philadelphia is a very important city to South American cities for the ground it broke, especially with the Declaration of Independence." Appropriately enough, before the bus' wheels even reached I-95 -- the Delaware Expressway -- it passed, really slowly, by Independence Hall and the Liberty Bell. Plan Philly's Kellie Patrick Gates has a take on the visit with the delegation and what they are trying to accomplish HERE.

    The tour was, for me, the physical execution of a totally unexpected Buenos Aires trifecta. That same week, Philly band The War On Drugs (pictured, left) released its first album Wagonwheel Blues on Secretly Canadian Records. After signing the band, Secretly Canadian made the Drugs' EP Barrel of Batteries available, with the anthemic/acoustic "Buenos Aires Beach".

    Then, sometime-contributor to Philly Skyline and recent Penn grad (and hiree at architecture powerhouse Skidmore Owings and Merrill) Mike Burlando dropped me a note of greetings from America del Sud, where he and four of his fellow grads are traveling for two months before settling into real life. This picture below, of Santiago Calatrava's Puente de la Mujer ("Bridge of the Woman"), across the narrow portion of Río de la Plata in Buenos Aires, appears on the blog the five travelers are keeping HERE.

    BUENOS AIRES SKYLINE: Imagine a Calatrava as the new South Street Bridge. Better yet, don't.

    At a stroll along the riverfront at Pennypack on the Delaware Park, snug between the river and Holmesburg Prison, the delegation took pictures, refreshed and learned of DRCC's work that includes a riverfront greenway from Torresdale's Glen Foerd all the way to Pulaski Park in Port Richmond (the northern terminus of Penn Praxis' Central Delaware study) and the extension of Delaware Avenue.

    The afternoon then concluded with a thorough tour of the Navy Yard led by PIDC's Mark Seltzer and Liz Gabor, making stops at the Aker Shipyard, the dry dock, Liberty Property's business park (where, right now, Tastykake's new corporate headquarters are being developed as the second LEED platinum building at the Navy Yard) and, of course, Urban Outfitters' acclaimed headquarters.

    While at the Navy Yard, the tour's organizer was able to reconnect with her past, as DRCC executive director Sarah Thorp was once US Naval Aviator Sarah Thorp. In training, the Iraq War veteran landed her first plane, a T-2 training fighter plane, on the aircraft carrier John F Kennedy, docked immediately behind Urban Outfitters.

    Mario Ferodki, representing Acumar, an Argentine environmental government agency, tells me, "I like Philadelphia . . . very unexpected, and beautiful." (This is the second time in a week I've heard an out-of-towner say how beautiful Philly is, the other being an elderly couple on a visit to the City Hall tower from California. Mayor Nutter is right: the city's best ambassadors are people not from here. "Philadelphia is not as bad as Philadelphians say it is," after all.) "But," Mario says in his Spanish accent, "there is lot of work to be done."

    All of this in the way of positive impression -- Mario is right on both counts, of course -- and the delegation didn't even get to see the Action Plan for the Central Delaware.

    * * *

    As covered by just about every single media outlet in the city (for our purposes, let's go with our favorite), Penn Praxis' latest public presentation was held at the Seaport Museum last night, with the biggest announcement not even being their incredible ten-step implementation plan, but that Mayor Nutter supports it enough to make a 30 minute speech (replete with musical snippets from the Fifth Dimension and, if I may borrow from Tara Murtha, the radio-friendly version of "Let's Get Retarded").

    AXIS OF PRAXIS: Mayor Mike Nutter, Harris Steinberg, Deputy Mayor Andy Altman.

    The Mayor's Declaration on the Delaware was itself was as big an endorsement as Penn Praxis could have gotten, but it came with three incredible wins for the entire Central Delaware process:

  • That the long troubled Penn's Landing Corporation would be reconstituted with an entirely new board, as well as an entirely new name: the Delaware Waterfront Corporation. (Councilman Frank DiCicco later clarified that only the board would be reshuffled, and he thanked the staff and employees at Penn's Landing who do things like plan events at the Great Plaza and Festival Pier and maintain the landscaping in the median of Delaware Avenue and the sculpture park next to the Hyatt.) This announcement fulfills the very first of Praxis' actions: appointing an "open, accountable and effective waterfront manager."

  • That the city not only supports Paul Levy and Center City District's plans for a much-needed hike-and-bike trail, but that it will match the money CCD and the William Penn Foundation put forward, totalling over half a million dollars to begin construction on the trail immediately. (It will run at first from Pier 70 -- Wal-Mart/Home Depot -- to Penn Treaty Park, which itself is set for a makeover in the coming days.)

    As well, the Mayor said that money will be allocated for the renovation of Pier 11, the city-owned pier at the foot of Race Street where, as the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society's Joan Reilly said, "hundreds of tourists get their first impression of our riverfront from Ride the Ducks." (She left off "for better or for worse.") Reclaiming Pier 11 as a municipal park -- or, as Mayor Nutter described it, "the lighthouse for the Riverfront's development" -- at that location, is a no-brainer. Think Hoboken's Pier A, but with a towering view of the Ben Franklin Bridge instead of the wide view of Manhattan.

    PHILLY SKYLINE FILE PHOTO SKYLINE: Comcast Center's construction is now done, but Pier 11's is just about to begin. Click to enlarge (without red arrow).

  • That the Foxwoods and Sugar House casinos, as designed, simply do not fit within the vision for the Central Delaware. That, of course, drew the most raucous applause from the capacity-overflow crowd. He also charged Penn Praxis with initiating an independent, third party study to determine if the casinos would work along the riverfront at all.

    While this is certainly good news to the anti-casino crowd, which has been extremely vocal and successful in blocking the casinos' development, this stands to be a matter of certain stickiness between Mayor Nutter and Governor Ed Rendell. Rendell has driven the slot barn bus since its inception, and has been none too pleased with the multitude of delays. The key phrase, used by both Nutter and Praxis director Harris Steinberg, is "as planned." This implies that Sugar House and Foxwoods could, in fact, retool their windowless, car-invited casinos to use the principles set forth by Praxis and the Central Delaware Advisory Group, the coalition of 15 neighborhood groups from Port Richmond to Whitman, South Philly . . . but who really sees that happening? Certainly not the petitioners asking for signatures supporting the outright re-siting of the casinos. But the casinos are a matter for another time.

    Something else that could come between Pennsylvania's highest Hillary homies is . . . well, this:

    The 60' concrete Penn's Landing Pi is, probably above everything else -- Mayor Street's 2003 Penn's Landing forums, the sentencing of Seaport Museum director John Carter, the seas of surface parking -- the biggest symbol of failure, the manifestation of what is wrong at Penn's Landing. And, unfortunately, it's still there because Governor Rendell still wants an aerial tram that even the Delaware River Port Authority, who would pay for it, does not want. (See HERE -- 14 December 07: False alarm: no tram yet (thank god) -- for more of Philly Skyline's seemingly endless thoughts about the stupid, stupid, stupid, aerial tram that cannot, should not, must not happen.)

    If I were to have one single request to add to the immediate action plan, it would be for the demolition of Penn's Landing Pi to coincide with any ribbon cutting for a riverfront trail. Harris: Call me, I have a sledgehammer.

    This is the Central Riverfront. (Speaking of Philly Skyline File Photo Skylines, click that to enlarge it as well.) This image has made the rounds, from the Action Plan's official booklet to CBS3. I took it from the passenger seat of a Cessna in October 2003, when the St James was under construction. Incidentally, that set was one of the first photo essays I posted on the young Philly Skyline -- see it HERE (old formatting and all). It really shows the mélange of thoughts that has gone into planning Center City's riverfront, but most effectively the sheer amount of concrete, asphalt, and vapid topography. The challenges facing Praxis' ten-point, ten-year Central Delaware plan are many . . . but they can be overcome, and their approaches, officially announced last night, are doable.

    But, it's also important to remember that the Central Delaware plan covers seven miles; Philadelphia's Delaware Riverfront runs for more than twenty-three. The Delaware River City Corporation is already doing on the North Delaware Riverfront. PIDC has been building on Liberty Property/Robert A.M. Stern's Navy Yard master plan on the South Delaware Riverfront for over four years. Nathaniel Popkin and I last year visited the Packer Avenue Marine Terminal, which is set to expand southward -- Southport -- very soon, while the food distribution center will relocate to Southwest Philly, making even more room for development.

    If you'll pardon the wordplay, there's a lot of ground to cover on the Delaware River. As far as Philly is concerned, our Delaware River begins behind the Franklin Mills Mall at the Poquessing Creek and ends just below Fort Mifflin, inhaling the exhaust of a US Airways Airbus A321 touching down at PHL. Our Delaware River is our line of defense against the great Jersey unknown.

    Our 23 miles, though, account for less than 7% of the 360 miles the mighty Delaware rolls, beginning in the northwestern corner of New York's Catskills, flowing south as the only border between PA and NJ, making neighbors of the Shawnee and Kittatinny Mountains, of Easton and Phillipsburg, of New Hope and Lambertville, of Morrisville and Trenton, of Philadelphia and Camden, of du Pont Wilmington and du Pont Penns Grove, of Lewes and Cape May.

    Much like our Argentinean friends, we're looking for our river. Delaware Valley Regional Planning Commission executive director Barry Seymour said last night, "Schuylkill River means 'hidden river', but for years it's been the Delaware River that's been hidden." From boats and bridges, through photos and features, Philly Skyline aims to find it in this, the Summer of the Delaware.

    –B Love

  • 26 June 08: The Possible City:
    The Mother of Invention

    by Nathaniel Popkin
    June 25, 2008

    "Having never seen a city," writes Charles Mann in his seminal 1491: New Revelations of the Americas before Columbus, "its citizens had to invent every aspect of urban life for themselves." Mann was referring to the people who built the Mississippian city of Cahokia, near present day St. Louis. Cahokia, predominant from 950-1250 A.D., was the largest of the Indian cities of middle America, the only city north of the Rio Grande.

    I bring this up not to discuss ancient America, but to imagine the conceit of invention. Cahokia lasted only 300 years, and as Mann points out, it was more of a collection of agrarian interests than mercantile or cultural ones. Our own city has lasted about that long, and it probably won't disappear any time soon, but its survival certainly doesn't feel assured. Quite the opposite, in fact. There is no evidence that the population decline that began in the mid-1950s has abated, or reversed.

    Necessity is supposed to be the mother of invention. And thus, the need to survive ought to command a torrid new public policy. From Washington to Harrisburg to City Hall, we are seeing signs of it emerging around us. In yesterday's New York Times, former Senator and foreign policy expert Gary Hart says the new 30 year political cycle has started. The Democrats, he says, carry expansive new energy. Perhaps the cycle began here already, in January with the election of Michael Nutter as Mayor.

    Well, then, it's time to start inventing. If a new Philadelphia needs more people to survive -- and it does -- and the only likely major source is foreign immigration, let's talk about how we're going to get more people to come here. The murder of two bright new Philadelphians, Beau Zabel and Fassara Kouyate, isn't helping. But neither is the dearth of ideas on immigration. There are an estimated 10 million externally-displaced refugees world-wide, 24 million or so more cast out within the borders of their own countries. Would 50-100,000 or so inject new energy into our neighborhoods? Certainly. Would some fill labor shortages in some fields? Pretty likely. Would a great number benefit? Yes. Would it cost something? Enormously. Can a city without native constitutional powers actively pursue immigrants and refugees? Sure, and some do.

    At our recent For The Curious salon at Johnny Brenda's, City Commerce Director Andy Altman said that he was interested in forming alliances with the other, traditionally competitive (or hated), large cities of the east coast. The idea -- that Philadelphia's natural partners aren't necessarily regional but super-regional -- strikes me as a bold revelation in a world of $5/gallon gasoline. Together Boston, New York, Philadelphia, Baltimore, and Washington, DC have an awful lot to say to the nation about energy, transportation, trade, tourism, poverty, and education. And of course they have more in common than not. Creating such a block -- we'll call it the Atlantic Alliance -- would be a powerful hope for reasserting big, traditional cities into the American national narrative. Critically, dynamic new economic relationships would result. (It's worth comparing our five cities to the major cities of northern Europe and Scandinavia, where intricate business relationships keep those cities rich and productive.)

    Both these ideas -- the aggressive pursuit of immigrants and the formation of an Atlantic urban alliance -- posit a much broader-minded city. That sounds like a kind worth saving.

    –Nathaniel Popkin

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

    25 June 08: Chemical substance

    Philadelphia's next major museum opening will not be the Barnes, nor the Calder, nor even the new Please Touch Museum at Memorial Hall in Fairmount Park. No, our next museum is set to open this fall as an understated, underrated, and perhaps even unexpected permanent display of that less sexy science: chemistry.

    The Chemical Heritage Foundation (CHF) has stood amidst the most historic mile in America for the past 13 years, quietly growing into an institution that many tour groups -- and locals -- pass by with little more than a notice of the Center City District sign indicating it's there, right next to the entrance to Franklin Court and across the street from Carpenters Hall. That should change this fall, when the Museum at CHF opens with the Making Modernity exhibit in the former First National Bank Building.

    Using LEED principles, including new insulation, wall tile made of recycled glass and bathroom floors made of recycled cans, historic renovation specialist architects Dagit-Saylor (now Saylor Gregg) have reinvented the Civil War era bank, which CHF purchased in 1995, as an airy and tall two-story gallery, the exhibit design being done by Ralph Appelbaum Associates. Construction of the 17,000 sq ft space (pictured, right) is ongoing as we speak, its arched front windows looking out at Independence National Historical Park and its rear windows watching over Franklin Court and Ben's ghost house.

    But what is it?

    The Chemical Heritage Foundation is a fully operating non-profit which, according to its mission, "serves the community of the chemical and molecular sciences, and the wider public, by treasuring the past, educating the present, and inspiring the future." But basically, CHF exists as a celebration of chemistry -- chemical engineering, molecular technology, instrumental inventions -- and how it applies to everyday life, from medicine and plastic to textiles and computers. And, as it relies entirely on donations and is still growing, it has the backing to support such a celebration.

    The current organization is an outgrowth of 1982's Center for the History of Chemistry, a joint project between the University of Pennsylvania and the American Chemical Society. The American Institute of Chemical Engineers joined them in 1984 as a sponsor and they were incorporated as a non-profit in 1987.

    After years of renting space at Penn (and collecting donations from the likes of the Haas of Rohm & Haas and the du Pont family), CHF finally moved in '95 to their current location in the old Bank, designed by City Hall's architect John McArthur, Jr. Continuing its growth, CHF built an annex to the east of the Bank, the handsome six story office building and its adjacent conference room, designed by Philly's Purdy O'Gwynn. It opened in 2002. The old and new buildings are connected by a tall atrium with abundant natural light and private offices that open outward to it (pictured, left).

    With Making Modernity, the Museum at CHF, appropriately, makes a modern use out of the oldest portion of its space. The idea of the permanent exhibit is to apply an artistic eye to the scientific object; for example, take a look at the kaleidoscopic illustrations that have been made from CHF's collections HERE.

    What's got to be the pièce de résistance, though, is the Periodic Table of Elements. Affixed to the support columns -- "media columns" -- will be a digital representation of the Periodic Table with videos showing the elements' practical uses. What they'll use for Einsteinium (that element named for the legendary scientist of a different field) remains to be seen.

    The Museum at the Chemical Heritage Foundation opens on October 3 -- First Friday in Old City -- and admission is free. Normal hours start after that, Monday-Friday, 10am-4pm. While the Museum is being prepared, its curators are operating a blog called Collective Voice HERE.

    –B Love

    25 June 08: Hi, how are you?

    And greetings from scenic Fishtown! Pretend the murders aren't happening and that Mendte-Lane matters and the Phillies haven't imploded and racism is over and let's take a ride on the historic Route 15 trolley. It rules the road on Girard Avenue, the subject of a nice profile by the Daily News' Becky Batcha in today's paper.


    –B Love

    24 June 08: 44 down, 4 to go

    That's what it's looking like up top early in the morning on the clear blue sky.

    As the title implies, the Residences at the Ritz-Carlton has only four more floors to go before the exterior of the building is completed and the next addition to the Philly Skyline wraps up its far away view. The up close view should be done late this year some time when residents begin to move in and the construction barriers are removed, once again freeing Robert Engman's Triune sculpture, the last remnant from the late Fidelity Mutual Life Building, or One Meridian Plaza.

    This photo is one of ten new photos in the RATR-C construction photo section, the first update there in a few weeks. Haven't been by Murano or 10 Rittenhouse lately, but I'm sure they look nice. Since Comcast Center is open, the construction photo thing will taper off a bit here so that yr Philly Skyline can get back to exploring long-promised neighborhoods like Olney, East Falls, and the peculiar lands of the Great Northeast.

    –B Love

    23 June 08: Soda Popped

    As planned, Daniel Johnston closed out the second annual Popped Festival over the weekend, with the support of the hometown's Capitol Years. After a short set by the Capitol Years warmed up the surprisingly young World Café crowd, DJ came out for a three part set: his own solo set with his funny guitar, followed by an acoustic set with his college buddy from way back in his West Virginia days, and after a 10 minute set break, the billed set with the Capitol Years. They launched right into it with the Beatles' "Help!" and a set list of DJ originals "Man Obsessed", "Walking the Cow" and "Speeding Motorcycle" as well as another Beatles cover, "I'm So Tired" (which DJ performed with TCY at the Trocadero back in February and which is archived on YouTube.

    The highlight of the evening, "Help!" notwithstanding and in spite of DJ losing his voice, for which he apologized profusely but quickly followed by saying "sorry, there's no refund so i'm just going to keep singing even though I sound bad," was the closer "Rock & Roll EGA". After the line "all the girls already had boyfriends", a girl in the front yelled "I'd be your girlfriend, Daniel!" Mid-song, he replied "where were you then?" and then, after the last line of the verse, "just kidding, see me backstage" before raging into the chorus "oh that rock & roll . . . saved my soul!"

    Not bad for a bipolar, unlikely hero who drinks soda on stage. And a hell of a way to close out the Popped Festival.

    To launch a mini-set of photos (nine total) from Daniel Johnston and the Capitol Years at World Café Live, please click


    –B Love

    23 June 08: That's sensational news!

    Perhaps you caught the news of plans for the tallest building in America to be built right here in Philadelphia. You may have read this in the Daily News or the Inquirer. You may have also caught this on CBS3 or Fox 29 or its national colleague or Fox News.

    And, surprise!, you would have been subjected to incorrect information.

    The 1,510' American Commerce Center would be the tallest building in Philadelphia by 535', nearly a full City Hall to-the-top-of-Billy-Penn's-hat over Comcast Center. It would even be taller than the Sears Tower, the tallest building in America since it opened in 1973. But even this is a tricky designation: the roof height of Sears Tower is 1,451', while the height to the tip of its iconic twin-antennae is 1,730', 220' taller than the proposed ACC.

    Even Jim Gardner led his 11 o'clock Friday ACC segment with news of it being the tallest building in America, but the 6ABC web site was quick to add this minor detail: that there are two buildings already under construction that will be taller than ACC. The controversial, ugly, delayed, lesser-than-the-Twin-Towers Freedom Tower -- One World Trade Center -- is being built ever so slowly in New York right now. The building with the cheesy, jingoistic name will have the cheesy, jingoistic height of 1,776'. GET IT? 1776? See the discussion and photo updates at Skyscraperpage.

    But, the Spire is higher. Out in the windy city, the Chicago Spire is also underway. Designed by Santiago Calatrava, the Spire will corkscrew its way to an astonishing 2,000'. Again, check the discussion and photo updates at Skyscraperpage.

    All of this is NOT to speak anything disparagingly about the ACC. Just as when this web site broke the news about ACC in March, we are quite looking forward to seeing it move forward. The beef here is, predictably, with the lazy media. If the ACC -- a proposed project with minimal, but vocal, opposition -- broke ground right now this second, it would still be beat out by the Chicago Spire and the Freedom Tower.

    More on ACC later this week.

    * * *

    Speaking of stories Philly Skyline broke, the Unisys-Two Liberty debate is reaching new levels.

    CBS3 ran a segment this morning about Unisys' controversial plans to affix enormous versions of their logo two-thirds of the way up the east and west sides of an iconic building never meant to incorporate signage. And over the weekend, the respected and national Salon.com ran an AP piece by Sara Ganim indicating the same. (Thanks for the link, Oona!) Ganim's story had something none of the previous stories (including mine) had: a city official on the record in support of the sign.
    The signs are "not an unreasonable request, in light of everything that this company is bringing to the city," said Deputy Mayor Andy Altman. "The last thing we want is to lose this company."
    Oh ho ho! When the Director of Commerce / Deputy Mayor for Economic Planning and Development, Onion Flats and I had our conversation at Johnny B's a couple weeks ago, economic incentives were one of the topics of conversation . . . unfortunately, corporate signage on extant buildings did not come up.

    As I've said previously, everyone in Philadelphia, and perhaps even the region (save for those in Blue Bell) is happy that Unisys has moved to Center City. But, tacking a giant sign onto a skyscraper never meant for one -- let alone one where homeowners have spent millions of dollars above the proposed sign -- is, I think, in fact an unreasonable request. It's like Richie Sambora said: Two Liberty Place would become the 'Unisys Tower' in no time.

    More over, it sets a terrible precedent. The way I see it: a building with tactful signage built into the design -- PSFS, Aramark, Blue Cross, PECO -- is perfectly fine. But when you place a sign onto a building clearly not meant for one -- look at any of Philly's tallest buildings, or the Sears Tower, or Empire State Building -- it looks like you placed a sign onto a building clearly not meant for one. (See also, my thoughts on Los Angeles' tallest building once known as the Library Tower and now cheaply known as the US Bank Tower HERE.)

    Please, ZBA, shoot this stupid Unisys sign down.

    –B Love

    23 June 08: On Big Daddy Vladdy

    Just a few thoughts on Vladimir Guerrero the Phillie Impaler. More than Brian McCann and Chipper Jones, the dude just rips the Phils, even now, five years after leaving our eastern division, our National League, and after his former Montréal Expos have even left existence.

    Look at his career batting splits HERE. These stats include the Angels' three game sweep at Citizens Bank Park over the weekend. That's 31 homeruns and 84 RBIs in 91 career games against the Phillies. If that were a full season of Vlad vs the Phils, that would be 55 HR and 150 RBI. Mind you, all but three of those games were at either The Vet or Olympic Stadium, not homer happy Citizens Bank Park.

    In my Shippensburg days, I'd make the occasional trip to City Island to watch the Harrisburg Senators, the Expos' AA team, do battle against the likes of the R-Phils and B-Mets. I remember one game in particular, in the summer of '96, where the Sens had a team with future Major Leaguers Jose Vidro and Rondell White. They also had a 6'3" 20 year old monster with the funny name Vladimir Guerrero. The Harrisburgers loved him, even as he dropped two fly balls in the outfield that game; he made up for it with a blast on his way to a Harrisburg triple-crown season of .360/19/78 for the Sens.

    He made his name known quickly in the Majors, not bad for someone on the dying Expos. In addition to the ridiculous numbers he put up, he became known for his cannon arm and for, well, swinging at just about anything, in the strike zone or out of the strike zone. In spite of that, he doesn't strike out a whole lot -- he's never tallied more than 100 Ks in a single season -- unlike his Homerun Derby champion predecessor Ryan Howard. Vlad and RyHo made nice and held a special homerun derby for a forthcoming Powerade commercial at FDR Park while the Angels were in town.

    It's good to see the eight-time all-star (and 2004 MVP) keep mashing for the Mighty Ducks of Anaheim, a team we east coasters rarely get to see. Fortunately, the Phillies also rarely get to see the Angels. Here's hoping they get a chance come October -- but with better results.

    –B Love

    Minor league photo from SenatorsBaseball.com.

    20 June 08: A Pennsylvania Spy in Tunis

    by Nathaniel Popkin
    June 20, 2008

    On Sunday I picked up the new reprint of The Algerine Spy in Pennsylvania, a funny little novel that illuminates early tensions between the United States and the Muslim world. Published originally in 1787, during the closed-door Constitutional Convention, The Algerine Spy was written by Peter Markoe (known in the cafés of Philadelphia as Peter the Poet), a polyglot born to a rich Hugenot family in St. Croix. Markoe was an Antifederalist, who worried that a strong federal government would restrict the new nation's brilliant personal freedoms. He was particularly enamored of Pennsylvania's 1776 super-liberal constitution, its heightened sense of anti-imperialism, and its unicameral legislature.

    Markoe's protagonist is Mehemet, an Algerian selected by the despotic Osman Dey to go as a spy to the US. At the time, having caught two American ships off the coast of Gibraltar, Algiers had taken twenty-one Americans hostage (it was thought for a time that Benjamin Franklin, en route from Paris to Philadelphia, was one of the hostages). This was one of America's first foreign policy crises, and interestingly one that revealed the weakness of the original Confederation of states. America couldn't afford the ransom demanded nor could it muster a military attack against Algiers.

    But Markoe believed that America's strength was to be found in a virtuous freedom, which Mehemet encounters on the bustling, pluralistic streets of Philadelphia. There, pretending to be from the south of France, he happily disappears into the crowd of people too busy with commerce to care if he is a Muslim, Christian, or Jew. Ultimately, Mehemet is declared a traitor by the Dey and he renounces the Five Pillars of Islam for Pennsylvania "freedom, justice, friendship, and religion."

    The American relationship with the Islamic states of Northern Africa took a few turns in subsequent years. In order to gain access to the shipping lanes of the Mediterranean and to avoid further ransacking of American merchant ships, beginning in 1786, America signed treaties with Morocco, Libya (Tripoli), Algiers, and Tunis. But in the first years of the 19th century, several more ships, including the USS Philadelphia, were taken and ransom demanded by the Dey and Pasha of Tripoli. Another set of treaties were signed, ransom paid, and the sailors from the USS Philadelphia released, only to have more ships taken in 1807. Eventually, after the war of 1812, the US Navy invaded Northern Africa, freeing the remaining merchant seamen.

    And so it was that in Tunis the other day, taking a photograph at the intersection of Rue de Palestine and Rue de Jerusalem, a man driving a taxi stopped in front of me, wagged his finger, and shouted threatening words. Perhaps still angered over that last Barbary war, he must have imagined I was a Pennsylvania spy in Tunis.

    (Tunis has a benevolent despot for a president, a man who has ruled 21 years. There isn't freedom of press, nor is there complete freedom of speech or movement. It is strictly prohibited to photograph government buildings, my indiscretion at the time. But Tunisians enjoy free health care and university education. The Tunisian economy is open and forward-looking. Women have equal rights by law and some religious diversity is tolerated.)

    In Tunis at times I felt like a spy. The confrontation with the taxi driver occurred right away, within the first few minutes of my initial foray into the city. It was only a preview for the next few days. Later, I was questioned by police for wandering down a street in a nice neighborhood after dark, stopped and forced to reveal my passport (and to claim, Je suis juif! over and over) after taking a photograph of what's probably the city's main synagogue. The guide for our group of students, faculty, and staff from the University International Scholars Program at Philadelphia University checked in with police at every stop. The spy was being spied on, I suppose.

    Mehemet claims that "a Pennsylvanian was less known to us, than a Greenlander or a Chinese." To be sure, we might say the same of Tunisians, whose country is overshadowed in our imagination by Libya and Egypt, Algeria and Morocco. But there is much for us here in Philadelphia to learn about and from Tunis, for it is a city that has found a way to grow, testing new urban forms, while protecting its most ancient sections, among which is the oldest medina in the world.

    French cities -- and Tunis was one for a time -- have benefited from a planning technique that allows a city to grow without demolishing and building over the old. Critically, Haussmann ignored this technique when he built Paris's 19th century boulevards, but more modern planners have embraced it. In Paris this means the contemporary corporate city La Défense was built outside of the central city, leaving it intact. In the northern city of Lille more recently, the adjacent Koolhaas-designed Eurolille was built in stark contrast to the old. One form contrasts the other and each is allowed to follow particular symbiotic functions. In the Moroccan city of Fez, the ville nouvelle was built adjacent to the medina. As in Tunis, the administrative center of the city moved there, but otherwise the old city was left in its traditional labyrinthine form.

    French planners nearly forgot this principal when they planned the Tunis ville européenne in the 1920s. A Champs Éllysées was planned -- and built -- from the eastern gate of the medina toward the Lac de Tunis. But planners initially wanted to extend the boulevard in the other direction from the Porte de France through the medina to the gate opposite at the Kasbah, in effect eliminating chunks of the old city fabric, precisely as Haussmann had done to medieval Paris. Happily, it didn't happen -- and now Tunis has three -- soon perhaps four -- visually and functionally separate cities: the medina, the ville européenne (still the administrative center of the nation and filled with treasures of colonial architecture), the ville du lac (a contemporary city with wide streets, apartment blocks, and corporate offices), and The Century City (Mediterranean Gate), a skyscraper city proposed and envisioned by investors from Dubai.

    The hope, of course, is that by building each new city, you not only leave the others intact, but you don't diminish them economically or socially. This has been a challenge in American cities, where a place like King of Prussia very clearly diminishes central Philadelphia as much as it enhances it, and each new proposal feels in the end like part of a zero-sum-game. In Tunis they put a check on this by enacting a preservation strategy for the medina in 1967 and attention is now being paid to the ville européenne. The Association de Sauveguarde de la Médina de Tunis has twice won (in 1983 and 1995) the Aga Khan award for architecture in the Arab world for the reconstruction of the Hafsia, the old Jewish quarter. When I asked the architect Sémia Akrout-Yaïche (pictured below), who directs the medina preservation agency, why it was awarded the prize twice, she said it was for two things: reestablishment of the quarter as central to the economic and commercial life of the city (and in doing so maintaining a balance between residential and commercial uses) and for the architecture itself, one that celebrates traditional forms and materials without fetishizing them. Rather, forms are paired down to their essence and materials aren't mimicked, they're used. The result is a contemporary architecture that enhances the feeling of the old around it.

    Critically, too, the medina has not been allowed simply to gentrify. Allowances have been made to keep it a place of economic diversity.

    What can we in Philadelphia learn from this? Foremost, we might allow ourselves to imagine a new city, one that's separate but symbiotic with the old. I'd put that new city at the Navy Yard.

    At the same time, we'll need a real neighborhood preservation strategy, one that thinks carefully about the forms and materials of the contemporary row house in context of the old and one that encourages mixed uses and density. Our neighborhoods can be mini-economic centers again if density is allowed to be high enough to support commercial uses. The modified suburban style of much neighborhood new construction achieves none of these goals, ultimately devaluing the neighborhoods. I'd like to see the Design Advocacy Group turn its attention from ameliorating the Center City streetscape to imagining a new neighborhood architecture, one that's respectful of the traditional form but also forward-looking and inspiring.

    Can you imagine Philadelphia winning an international architectural award for the preservation of a neighborhood the size of Center City? I'm certain that a time not long ago most Tunisians couldn't either. Regarding both a new city Navy Yard plan and a preservation plan, it will not hurt us to be ambitious. Ambition attracts investment.

    One last testimony from the Pennsylvania spy. Tunis' Champs Élysées is about the same length as our Benjamin Franklin Parkway. It too is punctured by a traffic circle with an iconic fountain. But there are two differences. First, it is lined with cafés, hotels, and retail stores (and therefore it enjoys some evening vitality). Second, the center of the avenue is for pedestrians, not cars. A few more cafés along the Parkway might address the first difference. The second is both easier to achieve -- close the center car lanes -- and more difficult. It will take some political will. The payoff from trying to achieve what Tunis already has would be a lasting change in the way we use our city.

    Well then, meet me at the Tunis Café for pizza Neptune and a few puffs of the hookah? We'll watch carefree lovers saunter down the middle lane. I'll be the one with the fake mustache and funny glasses.

    –Nathaniel Popkin

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

    20 June 08: Joba Joba Joba Joba Joba

    If this is the house that Ruth built, the Babe wasn't a very good contractor.

    Yankee Stadium is dingy, very steep in the upper levels, and way too expensive for sanity. Yeah yeah, it's New York and it's entrenched in history, but $9.75 for a Miller Lite is asinine. As is, mind you, having a bleacher section with no beer. Being a season ticket holder at Citizens Bank Park (which, though it's in the last place I would have built that ballpark, is pretty damn fantastic on the inside) really makes it easy to see why George Steinbrenner would tear down history in favor of something a little more modern and accommodating. (I can't imagine how much a Miller Lite will be at New Yankee Stadium, let alone something I would actually drink, say a Brooklyn Brown.)

    All the same, watching the $200M New York nine manufacture a win over the Padres was a heck of a way to spend yesterday afternoon, I'll tell you what.

    –B Love

    19 June 08: The Drinkers and Daniel Johnston

    The Capitol Years are a good band.

    On November 29, 2001, they opened a show at the North Star for Daniel Johnston, who at the time was, for lack of a more concise description, a cult favorite, the weird singer Kurt Cobain liked so much. In the years between that bill and their lauded reunion this past February at the Trocadero, where they killed "I'm So Tired" by the Beatles, a documentary called The Devil and Daniel Johnston went and won a Sundance award and told the world Daniel Johnston's story.

    The Capitol Years' story, it seems, is still being written. Since 2000, when Shai Halperin pulled a Beck or a Jason Lytle to self-record and self-produce the first TCY release, Meet Yr Acres, the band has released two full albums, an EP and another Shai self-production with a country flavor. Their tours -- which include dates in Israel and screaming teenagers in Spain -- have shared billings with the likes of the Walkmen, Brendan Benson, David Cross and Fat Joe(!).

    And well, this . . .

    Just before that week-long stint as Carson Daly's house band on his late night NBC show, the Capitol Years played the biggest gig of their touring career when they were handpicked to open the first Pixies show in over 12 years.

    They're about to top that Pixies gig though, as the success of the Troc show in February -- which itself had largely to do with the band's arrangement of Johnston's "True Love Will Find You In The End" (which you can hear at TCY's Myspace) -- has led to a mini-tour. The Capitol Years begin a four-night run as Daniel Johnston's band this evening in New Haven, working their way back to Philly, where they will close out this year's Popped Festival that also features Slick Rick, Vampire Weekend and Gogol Bordello, among others.

    The Daniel Johnston and Capitol Years homecoming starts around 9:45 Sunday night at World Café Live.

    [hihowareyou.com (Daniel Johnston)]
    [The Capitol Years]
    [Popped Festival]

    –B Love

    18 June 08: "Sbarro this is not," or,
    the market down below

    OK, I guess this means Comcast Center is complete now. Of course if we wait till the Arch Street Presbyterian Church's entrance is finished in July, only then it will be finished . . . we can have multiple endings, a collectors edition DVD of Comcast Center!

    The above photo was the scene at the Marketplace at 20 past noon today, nearly all shops in heavy lunchtime action. I had a slice of sirloin, portobello and caramelized red onion pizza from La Scala, while the missus had a crab cake and a scallop cake(!) from Under the C. (Get it?)

    Brothers DiBruno and Termini were bumpin', and Tokyo Sushi had a line practically into the lobby. My own first impression was that, for everything included in the physical space beneath the plaza, it felt small. That could have had more to do with the amount of curious patrons than with a single area shared between sixteen retailers.

    Some actual quotes from the court:
    "It's mad nice, but they will have to work on congestion and circulation issues in the dining area; maybe lord some tables."
    — A Philly Skyline contributor

    (Ed. note: This quote was from Monday, the first day the Marketplace was open. I actually did not see any circulation issues today at the height of the lunch rush.)

    "At least at Liberty Place, you're not underground. Down here, I feel a little trapped."
    — A businesswoman in line at Sookhee's Produce.

    "This is upscale, baby. Sbarro's this is not."
    — An investor looking fellow in line behind me at La Scala.

    "This place is so nice, I feel like it's not in Philadelphia . . . I love those moments!"
    — A fashion designer.
    Susanna Foo is opening another location, this one called her Dumpling Kitchen, to be open this summer. Bucks County Coffee, Govberg Jewelers and L'uomo clothier are among the other tenants in the new Marketplace.

    I also noticed that the new headhouse closest to 18th & JFK is also open, so if you really wanted to, you could go underground at 18th & JFK, keep walking and not come back above ground until 12th & Locust or 7th & Market, depending on your directional fancy.

    –B Love

    18 June 08: Stagnant Changing Philly Skyline

    Now that Comcast Center is officially complete, skyline images and graphics need updating where they have not already gotten it. (Which reminds me: if you are looking for images of the skyline and/or Comcast Center for use in your advertising or marketing materials, drop me a line and we'll talk. Also, a big hello and thanks to those of you who already do!)

    One of the many semi-regular-but-never-planned features on Philly Skyline is observing the use of the Philly Skyline in graphics across the region. The image above was taken at the Phillies/Red Sox game the other night -- during the Hooters' acoustic performance of All You Zombies -- promoting tomorrow's Rooftop Thursday game against the California Angels. (I absolutely refuse to use the "Mighty Ducks of Anaheim" naming structure they use.) The skyline graphic looks good, and even somewhat accurate, looking from left to right at Mellon Bank Center, Comcast Center, One Liberty Place, City Hall and the Citizens Bank Park sign. Well done, Phillies scoreboard graphics team.

    Not everyone is as up to date though. Because I'm a Philly Skyline nerd, I keep a folder on my desktop of skyline graphics used across the region. A sampling of them looks a little something like . . .

    This first one indicates how long I've been keeping this thing. (Bee Love, you're a nerd!) Mayor Nutter's citywide cleanup, so successful and positive for one whole day before my street was back to being covered with newspapers, empty chip bags and dog shit, had a nice FDR Park like view of the skyline with Comcast Center, but no Murano. Still, it's a pretty cool graphic so I'll give the graphics team an A for effort on this one.


    Sorry for all the blue space here, this one is tiny -- and prominently featured on about a million blogs in Philly. They've been around a while, long enough that their skyline graphic does not include Comcast Center. Time to update, Philly Ad Network! If you are looking for images of the skyline and/or Comcast Center for use in your advertising or marketing materials, drop me a line and we'll talk.

    [Philly Ad Network.]

    My absolute favorite Philly news site is KYW1060.com. It's updated all the time with news stories, they tend to cover things a lot of other news sites do not, and there aren't any comments sections filled with the moronic, unmoderated, racist vitriol you might find on other news sites. Their web site's banner rotates local scenes, the above being one of them. This is the skyline view from the Belmont Plateau, as seen during the St James' construction in 2003. Time to update!


    Another site with rotating header graphics is the City's official web site, phila.gov. When Mayor Street handed over phila.gov to Mayor Nutter (he did this, I was there -- Mayor Street had the phila.gov site in his hand and gave it to Mayor Nutter), he left him the skyline graphics taken during his administration. They still have not been updated -- time to update!


    I have no idea why this was in my skyline graphics folder. This is a picture of me and my mom that my aunt Sally took at Hands Across America in 1986. (Nice Steelers shirt, Bee Love -- you should tuck it in a little further!) The event to raise awareness of hunger and homelessness in the United States was held on May 25, 1986, with seven million people holding hands across the country in a human chain . . . representing the food chain? Man, I got nothin'. I hadn't even turned 10 yet.

    Everyone knows Uwishunu. The GPTMC-backed tourist-friendly site is updated regularly with goings on across the entire city -- right now this second on the homepage are posts from Vietnamese South Philly to West Oak Lane back down to Dock Street Pub in West Philly. You know what's not updated regularly? Uwishunu's skyline graphic -- time to update!


    Finally, let's have a look at the latest version of Google Earth.
    This is the zoomed-in view to Comcast Center with 3D buildings turned on. What we see here, clearly illustrated over the skyscraper's construction site, is the six-story Public Defenders Building, which occupied the spot until its demolition in 2002. The satellite photo beneath it shows Comcast Center further along in construction than the last version of Google Earth, but it's not as up-to-date as Google Maps Street View. Time to update!

    While we're perusing Google Earth, I'd like to thank its developers for their heavy drug use and 3D creations with skyscraper fly-bys. The views here of the Bell Atlantic Tower and Mellon Bank Center are wallpaper-ready, especially for you college kids listening to Pink Floyd for the first time.

    Welp, there you have it. All in good fun.

    Of course, it would be improper to have an entire post about the new skyline without an original effort . . . so, here's the latest nighttime view from the rooftop of Philly Skyline HQ, as seen last night. It too needs an update, one which catches the Mellon Bank pyramid lit up with its skyline companions.

    –B Love

    17 June 08: For your consideration

    * Especially by request for A Damned Clique.

    –L Bevo

    17 June 08: We're not saying "DREEEWWWWWW"

    What a wonderful night at that ballpark down in South Philly.

    When I read Bob Ford's Inquirer column yesterday about Red Sox Nation being a scourge, a disgrace to decent baseball and baseball fandom, I winced a little and wished that we could have just one high profile series (the debut of which is televised nationally on ESPN, with Cole Hamels and a resurgent Bartolo Colon on the hill) without an abounding negativity. But before I even ordered a beer, I was ready to bust some dude's head and agreed with Ford.

    When JD Drew was announced at the plate for the first time since he was a Dodger on opening weekend two years ago, the boos rained down like the severe thunderstorms that never came. Johnny Red Sox Fan, with his standing room only ticket, incredulously asks me why he is so hated. I explained that he and his "super agent" Scott Boras -- whose super accolades include anchoring the Giants with $126M man Barry Zito (who's 2-10 with a 5.88 ERA this year) and announcing during the World Series that Alex Rodriguez (who has never played in the World Series) was opting out of his contract with the Yankees, only to result in A-Rod firing him and negotiating his own contract -- refused to sign with the Phillies when they drafted him in the first round of the '98 draft. Johnny Red Sox Fan turns smug and says, "well, I guess he made the right choice, didn't he?" (By skipping a year in MLB and then famously underachieving for the Cardinals and then having one good year in Atlanta and then cashing in in LA and then opting out of a cush situation there to sign a ridiculous $14M/season deal with the Red Sox despite never even being an All-Star?) Whatever. He got his ring with his $133M teammates. Congrats. Asshole.

    Then there was the guy in the "I'd rather be at Fenway" shirt . . . what's stopping you? Then there were the boys in full Celtics uniforms and Tom Brady jerseys talking loudly about Titletown USA. Charmed, we're sure.

    So to Bob Ford, I say right on. And to Red Sox Nation: how'd that taste? Nobody cares about last year or how Terry Francona just needed a change of scenery or Sweet Caroline or any horrible movies starring Jimmy Fallon and Drew Barrymore. And we definitely don't care about JD Drew, unless he's pictured walking back to the dugout after a strikeout at 1200 x 800 wallpaper size, like he is above. Click and enjoy.

    It was tough to watch the Phillies lose the last two games of the road trip -- especially following their second 20 run outburst of the season -- in which Tom Gordon guaranteed that he would not be brought back next season.

    But, to start a week with two tough division leaders from the league we don't see with a strong win is huge. If the Phils can take 2 of 3 in both series this week, they will be sitting high atop a division that includes the Marlins who will certainly not be able to sustain their surge, the injured Braves, the overpriced and underachieving new ballpark Nats, and of course, the Mets circus.

    But let's not get ahead of ourselves . . . we'll forget about it at 7:05 this evening, but for right now, let's take a moment to enjoy that 8-2 victory with only a brief lapse in performance by the stellar Hamels (back-to-back homers to Dustin Pedroia and some ugly rightfielder worth throwing batteries at). Pat Burrell and Ryan Howard tripled . . . in the same game? Amazing.

    If you're interested, there are 17 photos of the Phillies' 8-2 win over the defending champs

    . . . and a Philly Skyline Phillies Skyline to send it home like Steve Smith.

    –B Love

    16 June 08: How improper

    I went and forgot to celebrate Flag Day! With apologies to the Philly Pride Lady, the good folks at Humphrys Flags and to Ben & Betsy, happy belated Flag Day. I can't wait until the world's tallest flagpole calls Philly home (30 January 07: Heavens to Betsy back up to the heavens).

    –B Love

    16 June 08: Batten down the hatches!

    5pm, Saturday the 14th on Lake Hopatcong, New Jersey . . . now that was a storm. A tree fell into a neighboring roof, the lake looked like a white long-shag carpet, and the lightning made land lubbers out of the jet skiers faster than it takes to expose a lightning photo.

    While we're on a nautical theme here, and with summer solstice but a few days away, I'd like to volunteer that yr Philly Skyline will this summer pay better attention to the Delaware River.

    Let's break this champagne bottle and unofficially christen this Summer of the Delaware with this merry band of shirtless men aboard the Sling Shot for a Monday Morning Philly Skyline Flank Speed Skyline. As seen on the Delaware River from Pennypack Park.

    –B Love

    13 June 08: Thank you, Governor Rendell

    Pennsylvania Commonwealth House Bill 1281 became law yesterday with Governor Ed Rendell's signature. The bill, written by State Representative Robert Freeman (D-Easton) protects the Appalachian Trail through Pennsylvania in perpetuity by requiring the communities along the trail without any protective zoning to enact it within one year, with state aid given where necessary.

    While this bill may seem like common sense, considering the Trail is a designated National Scenic Trail that winds 2,175 miles from Georgia to Maine (with an undesignated 'International Appalachian Trail' picking up in Maine and going through to Canada, to the tip of the Gaspé Peninsula in Québec and across the St Lawrence Gulf all the way to the tip of Newfoundland), it's simply important that it happened at all, since it had not till now. Most AT states, especially those in New England, have already done this.

    I've hiked parts of the AT in nine of the fourteen states it passes through, and I've come to learn that Pennsylvania has a reputation. There are very long, very rocky stretches which have prompted thru-hikers to joke that you need a dedicated pair of boots just for Pennsylvania. I did a fifteen miler just north of Reading a couple years ago that was an all-out assault on the knees, shins and feet. PA is also home to the halfway point of the trail, in Pine Grove Furnace State Park (15 miles or so from Shippensburg, so I know it well), where thru-hikers are encouraged to eat a half-gallon of Hershey's Ice Cream. It's a tradition I've never understood, because the last thing I'm thinking of doing after hiking 15 miles is putting a bowling ball's worth of dairy in my belly.

    PA also has a darker AT reputation, one of . . . well, one which encourages hikers to use extra caution and awareness when hiking, especially near some of the small towns near the Trail. The Appalachian Trail Conservancy's official web site even says in its PA section:
    Pennsylvania can be oppressively hot in summer, and water may be scarce. The Trail crosses many roads, and some shelters are near roads, where scattered crime problems make extra safety awareness a good idea.
    While caution and awareness, again, just seem like common sense, it can be a little intimidating to be several miles into the woods and, for example, come across a couple of 20-something good ol' boys clearly defying posted signs of "foot traffic only" and riding ATVs onto the trail with rifles strapped on their back, only to emerge from the woods at a powerline crossing where they proceed to rev their engines, kick up dirt and dust and pop wheelies. Funny, sure, but who knows what goes through these jackasses' heads?

    It's these sort of things that can happen near places with little enough an appreciation of a national jewel running literally through their back yard that they haven't even done anything to protect it that enable the parent state government to step up to bat. The State Senate approved the bill in May 48-2 (with the two voting against it coming from my home county of Blair . . . gee, thanks guys) and the State House ratified it 10 days ago 190-12. Governor Rendell signed it yesterday, making it official and protecting the Appalachian Trail from encroachment by local municipalities who couldn't care less about folks from the rest of the country just passin' through.

    So: thanks, Governor Rendell.

    * * *

    I'm gonna go see if I can find some of that AT soil and shove it under my boots in North Jersey this weekend, so y'all have fun out there. If you're staying local, might I recommend a sip at the Plaza or a sup at Table 31. You're going to do it sooner or later anyway, why not do it now?

    –B Love