29 August 08:

Between fighting with technology, trying to drive out of New York City at rush hour after the final Red Sox game ever at Yankee Stadium (which I will readily admit is my own fault), presidential political coverage and taisetsu ice dome sake till 1 in the morning . . . hot diggity, I could use a brain squeegee. Anyone have any skydiving recommendations in the Philadelphia region? Hookah bars?

How are you today? Feeling well? Going downtheshore for Labor Day weekend? To Chicago to watch the Phils at Wrigley and soak up a model city?

Here at Philly Skyline, we're going to spend the weekend staring at the night sky, contemplating the tides of the Delaware and listening to Earth Wind & Fire. Oyasumi nasai!

–B Love

28 August 08: Spared

You'll have to forgive me -- I realize this news is a couple days old now, but server technology was not on yr Skyline's side yesterday (hence the slow loads / outage / non-umpdate).

Anyway, I did want to comment on the signage story that this web site started back in April. As you've surely heard, the Zoning Board of Adjustment unisysly unanimously rejected -- 5-0 -- Unisys' bid to affix a 16' x 57' version of its logo two-thirds up the east and west sides of Two Liberty Place. And that is great relief.

I've offered my opinion until I've been Two-Liberty-blue in the face on why allowing it would be bad: Unisys leases only a small part of the building; Cigna has been there since the building's inception and does not have signs anywhere on the tower (but it does at the ground-floor entrances, where signs belong); Two Liberty was not designed to include a sign, and Helmut Jahn said as much in a letter to the ZBA; the other buildings around town with signs -- PSFS, PNB, Aramark, Blue Cross, GlaxoSmithKline, PNC Bank (with perhaps the exception of ExcellRx, which looks bad) -- were all either intended to have signs or were designed tactfully, unlike the Unisys sign; who ever heard of a sign two-thirds up a building, as opposed to the crown or an intentionally designed setback?; a giant red sign on a giant blue tower just looks bad.

And it seemed the ZBA agrees -- in spite of support from a lot of the business community, in spite of support from Mayor Mike Nutter and Deputy Mayor for Commerce & Development Andy Altman, and in spite of an all-out effort by the Philadelphia Inquirer board.

The editorial board's opinion on the matter, carrying the blunt title "What's the big deal?" illustrates the disconnect between its board and its readers. Over 67% of over 1,000 philly.com readers voted against Unisys being allowed to hang its sign. (Even the Business Journal's readers voted 55-45 against in a similar survey.)

What's the big deal, indeed.

While Inga Saffron and Mike Armstrong did a good job of staying evenhanded, my perception of the Inquirer's coverage was one blindly in favor it (with headlines like "Refused its sign, Unisys reconsiders move to city" and profiles of outraged, outrageous millionaire condo owners), the other side be damned.

Well, the other side won. In fairness, the same editorial board has a decent follow-up this morning in light of the ZBA's ruling. As Mayor Nutter said (in so many words), he didn't like the ruling, but the system worked -- the system run by five people he appointed. As this morning's editorial says,
[N]ot having its sign on the building is a minor detail in the scheme of things. Unisys and the city still have plenty to gain from working together.
True indeed. Here's hoping that what happens from here forward finds Unisys happily moved into its three floors at Two Liberty Place, with a sign at the entrance next to the Cigna sign and the Residences at Two Liberty signs.

Here's hoping that the relationship works out well enough that, someday, Unisys can move more than just 225 employees into the city. Hell, here's hoping that they can reverse their company drain and grow back to a point of building a brand new tower, with an appropriately sized, appropriately placed sign at the top of the building.

Until these fantasies can unfold, we can be thankful to the ZBA for exercising its best sense to reject an ill-conceived sign on one of the Skyline's signature towers not meant for one, and more importantly, for rejecting the precedent approving it would have set.

–B Love

27 August 08: Coste with the most

Boy, you know . . . spotting the Mets a seven run lead four innings into a game is like spotting the Mets a seven game lead with 17 games left.

What a beautiful night at that ballpark down South Philly way. Five and a half hours, 13 innings, 44 players, and 45,000 worn out vocal cords, and we had ourselves another Mets-Phils classic. We've got another one tonight with Johan Santana and Kyle Kendrick, and then we're heading to Wrigley for four with the best team in the league, but as of 9 o'clock this morning, the Phillies are back in first place. They're frontunners! Hot damn.

I have never bought into the Charlie Manuel hype, but the end result last night worked out because he was out of reserves. Seeing Carlos Ruiz playing third and Brett Myers pinch hitting may have been humorous, but they were a tad unsettling. (Although Clay Condrey's double was humorous in a good way.)

Bottom line is the good guys won, thanks to amazingly clutch performances from Chris Coste (4-for-4 including the game winner in the 13th, seen above and just below), Eric Bruntlett (2-for-2 with a game-tying double in the 9th), Jayson Werth (3-for-5, threw out David Wright trying to stretch a single into a double after a long at-bat with poor umpiring) and Jimmy "MVP! MVP!" Rollins (5-for-7, 3 RBI, 3 SB).

We'll give Pat a pass for his 0-for-7 and 4 Ks and Jamie a pass for his worst outing of the year in return for that victorious victory for the victors and Victorinos. Right on. Let's do it again tonight!

OK, it's a Hump Day and a general Umpdate has been sitting on my desktop collecting dust for too long now. Be back shortly, but as a Phillies Skyline bonus, enjoy the view during yet another great sunset from the Arcade . . .

–B Love

26 August 08: Which direction is it?

by Nathaniel Popkin
Philly Skyline Central American Correspondent
August 26, 2008

In the airplane on the way to Managua, my wife Rona and I were chatting with a Nicaraguan-American bringing his family home for an annual visit. He was a particular kind of exiled Latino, whose middle class family fled during revolution -- preppy, with a well-coifed wife, and spoiled children. I was reading Salman Rushdie's 1987 literary embrace of the Sandinista revolution, The Jaguar Smile, while he was touting his country's new casinos, malls, and foreign investment. "You'll see," he said, "[despite Daniel Ortega and the Sandinistas] the country's really progressing."

But which direction is it?

On Friday, we found ourselves in front of the National Palace, in the middle of the celebration of the 30th anniversary of the August 22, 1978 ceding of power by the dictator Somoza. Red and black Frente flags were everywhere and union members chanting "the people united will never be defeated." Daniel Ortega, on the usual pink reconciliation banner, hand raised. The following day, Saturday the 23rd, was to be National Student Day and the celebration of the relative success of the Sandinista literacy campaign, a point of melancholic pride in this country of poets: huge progress had been made in campesino literacy, but success has fallen back so that at present the rate of illiteracy is still among the highest in the world.

The National Palace had been the site, six years before the revolution, of the December 23, 1972 earthquake, which cost 10,000 their lives and destroyed the entire old city center. (Roberto Clemente was flying in aid on December 31 when his plane crashed.) Much international aid was pocketed by Somoza, only one of many stunning and brutal acts that fueled the revolution.

Just outside the National Palace is a small photography exhibition, "Managua in my memory." Here is the San Francisco-like capital, the most modern in Central America. Here are busy commercial streets and here are highrises; here is urban form buffered by volcanic hills and swept by the wide expanse of Lake Managua. Now, in its place: the sense of nothing, of emptiness (the National Palace is surrounded by empty lots and building skeletons.) One-story neighborhoods are busy, as any small city or pueblo in Nicaragua, and the city's markets are legendary, but otherwise the city hasn't form.

Below the hill inside of which Somoza kept his worst jails stands the un-city of trees, monumental traffic circles, and deep, defensive set-backs. ("This looks like Managua," observed my daughter as we drove through South Jersey on the way home from the Atlantic City airport.)

Though set back a football field from the street, Managua's new cathedral is worth mentioning. (It's at bottom right.) The earthquake ruins of the old one stand next to the National Palace; it is top right, behind the pink and orange banners. But the new Cathedral of Immaculate Conception, funded by the right wing former owner of Domino's Pizza, Thomas Monahan, and designed by the Mexican architect Ricardo Legoretta, is a hair-raising homage to Louis Kahn and a stunning piece of religious architecture. Incidentally it's the pulpit of the Nicaraguan cardinal Miguel Obispo y Bravo, whose own political progression, from Somozaite to Sandinista, has bewildered Nicaraguans of every political stripe.

I wrote earlier that one of the reasons for traveling to a place like Nicaragua (beyond Managua) is to experience a kind of pre-Modern sensation, to immerse oneself in a much less mediated and sanitized world.

As we imagine it, progress has tidied things up a little too much. And so I emerge from this thoroughly captivating, enervating nation, wondering how we in Philadelphia might find ways to push back through time; how we might learn to use our streets not just for cars but for people (and their bicycles); how we might embrace quotidian street noise and music; how we might emerge en masse from our row houses and offices, not only when the weather is this good, but at all times of the year.

City life, which so often enforces rigidity, ought also to let things go.

–Nathaniel Popkin

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

26 August 08: The Possible City --


Dear friends, family and readers,

The Possible City: Exercises in Dreaming Philadelphia, my second book, hits stores today. The book is illustrated by photographs taken by Brad Maule, my compatriot and editor of PhillySkyline.com. It's published by Camino Books (who recently published Joe Sixpack's Philly Beer Guide).

City Paper will excerpt the book on September 4. It will be used for first year writing at Philadelphia University, where I am writer-in-residence.

A public book launch will take place at Johnny Brenda's Tavern, in Fishtown, on Sunday night September 21, 8PM, followed by:

• Headhouse Books/Athanaeum reading/signing in late October, TBA

• Central Branch Free Library, Skyline Room, reading/signing November 8, 2PM

• Penn Bookstore, reading/signing November 19, 6PM
We'll have more information on the book launch at JB's in the days to come. In the meantime, stop by your friendly neighborhood bookstore or friendly corporate bookstore web site and pick up a copy today, hot off the presses.

–Nathaniel Popkin

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

26 August 08: At Dawn

6:23 this morning in Fishtown.

–B Love

25 August 08: Walk this way

I'd be remiss if I did not thank Ian in Society Hill up front for initiating this post. Ian sent me an email last week asking if I'd ever been to the Nature Walk on the Jersey side of the Delaware River. I had not, and knowing there was a nature reserve over there, I'd kept it on the Summer of the Delaware short list. Yesterday seemed like a perfect day to finally check it out . . . thing is, I didn't realize there were two nature reserves.

The 250 acre Palmyra Cove Nature Park, which was officially dedicated in 2003 with the opening of its interpretive center, has been in the news a good deal this year as the recipient of some of the spoils from dredging the River downstream. We'll come back to Palmyra later another day . . . right now, we look at a place even more under the radar (and with a closer, if not better, view of the Philly Skyline), the Nature Walk at Fish House Cove.

Pennsauken, like most of the tidal Delaware River, saw its riverfront occupied by industry from its earliest days. It incorporated in 1892 in part to manage the industrial development. For about a mile, Pettys Island splits the Delaware River in two: the main channel lining the Port Richmond side (where Cramp's shipyard and freight/coal loading piers occupied the riverfront) and the back channel snaking behind Camden and East Camden toward Pennsauken. Where the two meet back up, a cove is formed by the tide, making for some of the best fishing on the River. (MAP.) At least six shad fisheries operated on these banks in 1892. (Jeffery M. Dorwart, Camden County New Jersey, 2001.)

Prior to that, in the mid-1800s, a social club of Philadelphians called the Tammany Pea Shore Company went fishing and swimming and drinking at the cove. Their clubhouse was called the Fish House, and the name was adapted to the cove.

The club changed hands a number of times, but the recreation attraction and industrial development around it led to a railroad station and post office. The only remaining building from these times is the Vennell Tavern (left), now reimagined as a historical center and art space. Its web site, HERE, has a nice history of the area. The railroad tracks are now owned by New Jersey Transit, who helped finance the Nature Walk. NJT's Riverline passes through on the tracks, though unfortunately it does not stop at the Cove. (It has a stop at 36th Street, about a half-mile south.)

The Nature Walk itself is a 400 foot boardwalk, made of timber and recycled plastic, which starts at the railroad tracks and ends at an observation platform in the middle of the reclaimed marshland. The vantage point at the back end of the cove makes the river view over a mile wide to the Philly side; from here, one can see the Zooballoon, the 36th Street bridge (owned by Citgo) onto Pettys Island, the skyline and the flora and fauna inhabiting the cove.

To launch a mini-gallery (13 photos) of the Nature Walk at Fish House Cove in Pennsauken, please click


–B Love

22 August 08: Franklinia Alatamaha

While our summer season is coasting downhill to its final days, egg cup season is only beginning to peak. The sunny side up flower we see here belongs to the "Franklin tree" -- the common name for a tree even more commonly known by its genus, Franklinia Alatamaha, or for our purposes, simply Franklinia.

John Bartram and his son William discovered the "very curious shrub," as John described it in a journal entry, in 1765 along the banks of the Altamaha River in Georgia very near to where I-95 now crosses the River. They were so taken by the unique plant that the younger Bartram returned to the Altamaha several times during his southern explorations that are the subject of his landmark 1791 book Bartram's Travels.

William brought several seeds home to his father's Schuylkill River spread when he returned from the south in 1777, and within four years they had flowering trees. The first American scientist to document the tree, he named the species Franklinia Alatamaha -- the latter a spelling variation of the Yamassee Indian name of the Georgia river; the former a tribute to a friend of the elder Bartram called Benjamin Franklin, about whom little is known.

It's fortunate that the Bartrams were so fascinated by the tree, too. Though the plant, a member of the Tea family, is native to a small region of rural Georgia -- about 60 miles south of Savannah -- it was on the verge of extinction when the Bartrams began cultivating it in the late 18th century. The last known spotting of a Franklinia in the wild was in 1803; exactly why it became extinct in the wild is not known, but theories include flood, over-collection (after Bartram's publication) and disease. It's believed that all Franklinias in existence today are descendants of the seeds cultivated at Bartram's Garden.

Interestingly, the acidic soil of the Philadelphia region has proven better for the tree's roots than the clay-heavy soil of the south, and generally speaking the Franklinia has performed well here when cared for.

The growth of the Franklinia can be unpredictable. It can grow up to 30' tall, symmetrically like most trees, but its multi-trunking growth can also lead to a more spread out, asymmetrical shrub-like appearance. It can thrive upwardly when well manicured; it can also thrive outwardly when the trunk is bowed or bent.

It is a deciduous tree. The leaves that bud in the spring grow to about 6 inches in a spring-green color and turn orange-red in the fall. Its blooms? They are the subject of this essay.

In our region, Franklinias bloom beginning in late July and tend to peak in mid-August. Blooming from a bud the size of a super-ball, the flowers have white petals and golden yellow stamens. They are fragrant, but not overpoweringly so. Todd Greenberg, head gardener at Bartram's Garden, says that a group of chemists last week came to the garden for samples, possibly for an end result as a fragrance. (Eau de Ben!)

With some assistance from Bartram's curator Joel Fry, Todd and I hit the Franklinia trail last weekend in hopes of finding the best blooms the region has to offer. While it would be close to impossible to visit every single tree in the region -- a census conducted by the Garden in 2000 indicate there are 559 specimens in PA alone -- we did our best to hit all the most visible, notable spots.

  • BARTRAM'S GARDEN, Southwest Philly: It only made sense to start at the source. Two trees -- one in front of the house (next to the public bathrooms) and one prominently featured adjacent to the upper garden next to the Bartram house -- share space with the oldest gingko tree in America and lots of holly trees. Both of these Franklinias are (obviously) healthy, thriving trees.

    Bartram's Garden.

  • BARNES FOUNDATION, Lower Merion: In an arboretum that contains over 3,000 species and exotic trees from Japan, China and the California coast, the tree that welcomes visitors into the Barnes art gallery is the Franklinia. Two trees occupy the lawn of the Barnes' main entrance, magnificently juxtaposed with the stone house.

    Barnes Foundation arboretum & garden.

  • HORTICULTURE CENTER, Fairmount Park: A perfect example of the tree's contrasts in symmetry and predictability, the Hort Center has two vastly different Franklinias next to one another in a meadow between the reflecting pool and the Japanese house. The one pictured at right is a tree's tree, a young, symmetrical, upward tree. The other is older, having grown almost straight outward, forming an arch, and blooms just as well as the younger one.

    Fairmount Park Horticulture Center.

  • 42ND & SPRUCE, private home in West Philly: This single tree on the southeast corner of 42nd & Spruce, across the street from the Furness block, is probably the finest example of a Franklinia in Philadelphia. It's lush, healthy, wide (from several sub-trunks comprised as one large trunk) and about 25' tall.

  • PENN BIOPOND, aka James Kaskey Memorial Garden, Penn Campus, West Philly: In this particular bloom season, the weakest Franklinia I found was at Penn's Biopond, a sad ode to that University's founder. The puny tree had no blooms at all and is hidden on a back path of the garden (as opposed to a prominent location on the pond, next to Louis Kahn's landmark Richards Medical Lab). An interesting aside: the oldest documented Franklinia still living dates back to a 1905 planting -- at Harvard University! Due to its higher latitude, it peaks at the Arnold Arboretum there in Cambridge in September.

    Penn Biopond.

  • MORRIS ARBORETUM, Chestnut Hill: Speaking of affiliated Penn projects, the amazing Morris Arboretum is home to two Franklinias. I could only find one, in the Azalea Meadow, a small but lovely specimen. The other is allegedly in the area nearest the Rose Garden and Herb Garden; unfortunately none of the gardeners I spoke to the morning of my visit were familiar with the plant and I ran out of time before finding it.

    Morris Arboretum.

  • PENNSYLVANIA HOSPITAL, 8th & Pine, Center City: Penn certainly redeemed itself back in Center City. The gardens at Pennsylvania Hospital (accessible only by the entrance on 8th Street), the May subject in the 2008 Philly Skyline calendar, is home to what I think is the second best specimen in town after 42nd & Spruce. Its context may even give it an edge -- the hospital's Franklinia is the gateway between the landscaped Pine Street side of the garden (with the William Penn statue) and the Physic herb garden closer to 9th.

    Pennsylvania Hospital Gardens.

  • AWBURY ARBORETUM, Germantown: Talk about Philly's hidden jewels. Awbury Arboretum occupies an incredible 55 acres in the otherwise well-developed eastern section of Germantown. Located on what is now the R7 Chestnut Hill regional rail line and centered around the Francis Cope House, the arboretum dances around private estates between Haines & Johnson Streets, Chew Avenue and Ardleigh Street. Washington Lane is the only thoroughfare to pass directly through the arboretum; it's here that you'll find a mini-grove of Franklinias -- if you know where to look. Awbury's grouping of three Franklinias is not along any trails or sidewalks -- one must walk through brush to get to them. (Or if you're me, a giant spider web.) If you set out to find these trees, head north on Washington Lane above Chew (right past the Septa station) and look on your left for the sign to Weaver's Way Farm. As soon as you enter the gate, walk into the woods about 20 feet on your right. There is the hidden-most of the Franklinias at the hidden-most of the region's arboretums.

    Awbury Arboretum.

  • CLIVEDEN, Germantown: Speaking of Chew, the family whose name marks the Avenue lived for seven generations at Cliveden, the home built by the Penn family's attorney, Benjamin Chew, in 1760. The 1777 Battle of Germantown centered around the house, as the Philadelphia-bound British army holed up inside when it received word that Washington's American army was near. The grounds where 53 Americans died unsuccessfully trying to capture the house is now home to two large Franklinias. Though they share the same soil, they grow in two completely separate directions, arching outward from one another.


  • INDEPENDENCE HALL, 5th & Chestnut: Finally, our youngest Franklinia, found at our oldest claim to freedom. The National Park Service planted this specimen named for the influential fellow who used to walk these grounds two years ago. While small in stature, its blooms are already vibrant. It's found on the south grounds of Congress Hall, closest to 6th Street.

    Independence National Historical Park.

    * * *

    The Franklinia in Philadelphia, 2008. There are supposedly two trees at the Zoo, but a representative for its horticulturist was unfamiliar with the tree. I didn't make it to the farther out arboretums like Tyler and Scott, nor to gardens like Chanticleer, Winterthur and Longwood.

    Elsewhere, there has been an effort to cultivate it, even reintroduce it into the Georgia wild near its native Altamaha River. The Franklinia at the Atlanta History Center was awarded 'state champion' status by the Georgia Forestry Commission for being the largest in its home state. "At least for us," Center Curator John Manion says of the southern location, "it blooms sporadically across the summer and into September." Manion, who once worked at Scott Arboretum in Swarthmore, personally nominated the Center's Franklinia, found in their Quarry Garden.

    The largest known specimen is the oldest one mentioned earlier, found in Massachusetts at Harvard's Arnold Arboretum.

    These things may be true, but the Franklinia will always hold its Philadelphia affiliation closest, thanks not just to its iconic name, but to the Bartrams, who saved the plant from extinction.

    To start the Franklinia tour, let's go to Bartram's Garden

    * * *

    Bartram's Garden, "The Franklinia Story"
    US Dept of Agriculture, Franklinia classification report
    Tree Trail, "Lost Franklinia"
    Franklinia at Wikipedia

    –B Love

  • 21 August 08: ALL ABOARD

    Some gripes, some praise, some things to come . . . it's a Monday Mornin' Lookin' Up Umpdate Casual Observations Train Edition with a month to go in the calendar summer on yr Philly Skyline, so there's no time to waste!

    Let's start above. What we see here is the reconstruction of Germantown Avenue in Mount Airy (which Nathaniel Popkin wrote about in July for the City Paper. Disruption of the city's longest avenue and its associated longest bus route, the 23, is no small undertaking. PennDOT is spending $17M to rebuild a half-mile section of the avenue, which in addition to improved road structure and utility lines (water, gas, electric) also includes new trolley tracks for Septa. That longest of Septa bus routes was of course once the longest of Septa's trolley routes, discontinued in 1992.

    As Nathaniel wrote last month, it is extremely far-sighted for Septa to insist on retaining the trolley tracks (this before the recent announcement of service expansion), but one has to wonder how real -- or even practical -- their movement to restore the 23 trolley is. While the people of Chestnut Hill, Mount Airy and Germantown seem most eager to see its return, it hardly seems that anyone south of 12th & Germantown in North Philly is clamoring to bring the trolley back to mostly narrow streets.

    The trolley is very much an icon of West Philly, where the streets it rides are mostly wide and accommodating (think Baltimore, Woodland, Lancaster). Same goes for the 15, which Septa finished restoring in 2005. For the most part, Girard Avenue is four-lane wide, so the annoying tradition of double parking is rarely an obstacle. 12th & 11th Streets in South Philly, though, are not as generous as upper Germantown Ave or, for example, Erie Avenue:

    The 56, which follows Erie and Torresdale Avenues, was 'temporarily' discontinued in 1992 with the 23 and 15. With a dedicated trolley right-of-way for a decent portion of the route, it seems more readymade for the trolley's return than does the 23. But, Septa made a promise to bring both back . . . some day.

    For more info on the Germantown Ave restoration project, visit SaveTheAve.org.

    * * *

    Speaking of rail transit, KYW reported this morning that Amtrak has yet again set a record high for ridership. Shocking! It's quite a race for record highs, these gas prices vs train ridership. Yet Amtrak has not added any new passenger cars to its struggling route since the 90s.

    Two Fridays ago, as the wife and I looked forward to an evening at the club suite at the Ritz-Carlton at Battery Park, we waited at 30th Street Station for close to two hours for our train to board and depart. An outage within the power lines just north of the station occurred, blocking all trains in and out of the station. While the repair team can be commended for restoring service so quickly, that it happened at all on the most traveled corridor in the entire country is sad, and we can thank our federal government for that.

    Even before the Bush administration gave the oil industry free reign and regular record profits, Amtrak was being slashed and slashed again, with cries from its slashers, led by one John McCain, that Amtrak is nothing more than capital waste. What these people, who orchestrated the greatest capital waste of the new millennium over in the oily sand, fail to realize is that rail lines are not exactly meant to be cash cows. McCain, who has voted against subsidizing Amtrak over and over again -- the Boston Globe had a decent rundown of his history with Amtrak in July HERE -- continues to run ads touting alternate energies, but he doesn't even have a policy on trains or transit. Visit McCain's energy policy page HERE and try to find a single mention of trains or transit. I would wager a guess that he's never ridden Amtrak, as Joe Biden does regularly between Wilmington and Washington, and we all know he's never lived in a city (Phoenix does not count), as his opponent (whose transit policy has a group HERE) has.

    Amtrak needs dedicated funding, as Septa was recently granted from the state . . . after years of bad news and service cuts, Amtrak deserves better. It is faster to ride the train -- even the regular regional lines, not just Acela -- between Philly and Baltimore and DC than it is to drive on perennially congested 95 with its multiple tolls in Delaware and Maryland, and all Amtrak stations are conveniently located.

    I've been riding it since high school and will attest to its benefits and general pleasantry, but especially in the northeast and west coast, it is simply a matter of convenience, a convenience the government has for the most part failed to recognize.

    * * *

    Speaking still of trains and transits and tra-la-las, Alfred Lubrano reports in this morning's Inquirer that a prototype of the future of Septa's passenger cars has come to port. If you squint, you can sort of make out what it looks like in the photo in that story. The image, by Clem Murray, is a fine photo indeed, but you can barely see it. While I don't expect philly.com to routinely offer wallpaper sized images as this site does, it would be nice if, say, you could click on the image to enlarge it and actually see it. Philly.com does occasionally create image galleries . . . so does the New York Times, at twice that size. (Original comparison of those two examples found in the mind of The Illadelph.) I've said it before, but the Inquirer and Daily News are shortchanging their photographers. PMH has put so much emphasis on the internet, yet its photographers don't get to showcase their goods as they should, occasional blogs such as Tom Gralish's Scene on the Road aside. The Boston Globe, I recently discovered via Albert Yee, who knows a thing or two about photography, has a feature called "The Big Picture", a cleverly named blog of relatively large images pulled from the wire; it is stunning, probably the best internet photography offering I've seen from any major news outlet.

    Anyway, the Septa prototype. It looks sharp, and it will be fun to watch these rolled off the line and onto the rails. New Jersey Transit's double decker trains, which NJT us calling "multilevel trains", carry 20% more passengers than the regular car, but has been met with relative apathy since, well, it only has 143 cars in service on a system of hundreds of trips per day. According to the Hudson Valley Times Herald-Record (Ed. note: sheesh, pick one name and stick with it), NJT will have 329 multilevels by 2010.

    That New Jersey Transit double decker is gonna take us on home with this companion photo to Monday's Toke Remnants Summer of the Delaware study. The two streaks of light we see here are from a 30 second exposure of the NJT multilevel crossing the Morrisville-Trenton Railroad Bridge. The stone bridge opened in 1903 and carries all Amtrak trains on the Northeast Corridor and Septa's R7 into Trenton. Empty New Jersey Transit trains like this one cross it to rest at the NJT storage facility in Morrisville.

    Click enlarge enjoy.

    –B Love

    20 August 08: PSA

    It is way too nice outside and way too late in the summer to be at a computer today. Put it on sleep. Go outside. Take your shoes off. Smell some flowers. Have a nice day.

    And don't forget: Gildon Works and the Capitol Years are playing at Rittenhouse Square this evening. For free!

    –B Love

    19 August 08: Expansion Joint

    by Steve Ives
    Skyline Straphanger

    Service Expansion.

    SEPTA increases service.

    Late-night service.

    These are foreign terms to the average Septa rider. After two decades of gradual cutbacks in service times, coverage and routes, Septa has announced its intention to embark on a magnificent journey towards self-sufficiency and customer satisfaction.

    Service expansion.

    There is much to look forward to this fall as Philadelphia area residents find their buses coming more often, their trains running later into the night with more available seats and the promise of a new attitude towards the source, directly and indirectly, of The Authority's finances -- its riders. The fact that Septa is in a position to do this is no small thing. In a state that notoriously gives short shrift to the needs of urban constituents, like public transit, a perfect storm of events finally led to the state securing the golden ring for Septa: stable, dedicated funding.

    It was this issue more so than anything -- more than fiscal mismanagement, growing labor costs, entitlements, system upgrades (or lack thereof) -- that kept The Authority in its hole for most of this decade. Costs always go up, workers always retire and it seemed that Septa, its employees and its facilities, never stopped finding new ways to turn people off. Even with these problems, however, the stabilizing factor of a dedicated revenue stream could have insured that at least Septa's head always stayed just above the water but the lack of that source pushed them to do some (occasionally) painful housekeeping. The fact that Harrisburg has finally come through gives them the opportunity to express genuine optimism about the future. Executed correctly, Septa may finally be able to remove the last of its 80's vintage "We're Getting There"-isms and replace them with a new slogan that represents, physically and idealistically, the new 'age' of Septa -- "Closer".

    Most regular straphangers could probably tick off a list of things they'd do if they had a blank check and a mandate to improve the image and efficiency of our transit infrastructure. A trolley here, a subway station there. Trash cans at this bus shelter. The small signs of improvement we've been seeing over these last few years have given way to a remarkable new era of possibility for the growth of our rather impressive system.

    As it stands now, Philadelphians are able to get around this region in a way people can in only a handful of US cities. Effectively servicing an area of 2,200 square miles requires a commitment of human and mechanical resources that would require an enormous chunk of even the most generous budget and this is a fact we would all do well to remember. While we all agree that growth is the linchpin of the future of this system and the continued health of our region, we need to realize that much of what currently exists needs to be firmed up. On its heretofore shoestring budget, Septa has maintained its commitment to keeping things from falling completely apart.

    It has already invested nearly three-quarters of a billion dollars in rehabilitating the Market Street El, a section of by far the busiest route it runs, which literally connects to everything that carries people into, out of or around Philadelphia by rail. Every year brings continued renewal of the subway-surface system -- replacing track on heavily trafficked city streets and maintaining an environmentally friendly transit option. Efficient movement of commuter trains has become a high profile priority, making the train a viable option for suburban commuters fed up with traffic and gas prices while making the city a more viable option for potential employers.

    What we see so far should give us hope for what's to come. Firm words have been followed by firm action towards becoming a transit agency that doesn't just "get people from point A to point B". When we clamor for a 'world class' transit system, we don't mean subway stations with tile mosaics and buses with velvet seats. The best transit systems in the world get people where they're going efficiently.

    Time and communication are of the utmost concern because like any other 'business', a rider who feels respected will continue to be a rider even when it becomes optional. Service coverage is paramount because a region that is not interconnected does not see its success penetrate its every corner and keeps it from reaching its full potential. 'World class' does not necessarily mean hundreds of miles of track. 'World class' doesn't necessarily mean talking maps. It's a superlative that gets attached to systems that reflect the quality and the reputation of the place they serve.

    Septa and the Philadelphia region's futures are intractably intertwined and as billions of dollars of public and private investment continue to, piece by piece, renew the vigor of this giant of a city, the new healthy outlook for its transportation infrastructure, its circulatory system, ensures that the collective momentum being created continues to grow and keeps this region and our hopes for the future on the right track.

    –Steve Ives

    For Steve Ives archives, please click HERE. For his photo essays, please click HERE.

    18 August 08: Sweet treat

    Here is a photo of a treat I enjoy. It starts with Breyers vanilla ice cream and ends with sweet, fresh berries. Pretty easy, pretty great. (By the way, when did they convert from half-gallons to 1.5 liters and keep the same price? Don't think I didn't notice, chumps!) Breyers, though now owned by the European based Unilever corporation, is the oldest ice cream company in the US. It takes its name from its Philadelphian founder, William A Breyer.

    Breyer made his first gallon of ice cream at home a year after the Civil War, in an effort to support himself. Thanks largely to word of mouth, it worked -- he sold the product first out of his home, then out of a horse and wagon, before opening his first store in 1882 on Frankford Avenue just above Lehigh. Sadly, he died that same year, but his family ensured that the product bearing his name would continue to grow.

    In 1896, with the family operating four walk-in shops across the city and manufacturing the ice cream out of the Frankford Ave store, the Breyers moved manufacturing operations to a plant at 21st & Somerset. A second plant opened at 9th & Cumberland in 1904, and in 1914 they surpassed a million gallons of ice cream per year. It was a third plant, a state-of-the-art, largest-of-its-kind facility in 1924 at 43rd & Woodland where the University of the Sciences is now, that put Breyers over the top.

    By the end of the 20s, Breyers was incorporated with the National Dairy Products Corporation and had plants in New Jersey and Long Island. Since that time, the trail of corporations reads like a business school lecture, with stops at Kraft and Good Humor before the current brand, the US unit of Good Humor-Breyers owned by Unilever.

    Breyers is certainly a Philly success story, even if their only remaining local affiliations involve your grocer's freezer and my kitchen table, seen above. Vanilla may be vanilla, but Breyers' all natural vanilla is in a league of its own . . . especially with fresh, in-season blackberries and raspberries.

    Business Network, "Breyers celebrates 135 years of ice cream innovation" (from September 2001)
    Workshop of the World, Breyers Ice Cream Company (originally printed in 1990)
    Reference for Business, Good Humor-Breyers Ice Cream Company - Company Profile

    –B Love

    18 August 08: For your consideration

    Of the many bridges crossing the Delaware River in our storied region, the one with highest seniority is one that everyone knows but that few take. The "Trenton Makes Bridge", also known as the Lower Trenton Bridge and Warren Street Bridge, has the official name of Lower Trenton Toll Supported Bridge, a clever name considering it's the last free crossing of the Delaware heading downstream.

    Though it's been renovated a number of times since then, including the last full rebuild in 1928, the original structure of the Trenton Makes Bridge opened in 1806, just thirty years after General George Washington crossed the river a few miles upstream on Christmas Day 1776 to take the Hessians in Trenton and reinvigorate the Revolution cause.

    It eventually became the first bridge used for interstate train travel, and prior to the 1950s construction of the Trenton-Morrisville Bridge, it carried US Route 1.

    The "TRENTON MAKES, THE WORLD TAKES" sign was first installed as neon in 1935. In 2005, the neon was replaced with more efficient and dynamic LEDs. It's one of three bridges carrying automobiles between Trenton and Morrisville PA (the Amtrak/Septa/NJT bridge is two bridges downstream), and pedestrians are permitted to cross the north side.

    For more info on the Trenton Makes Bridge, visit the Delaware River Joint Toll Bridge Commission's web site HERE.

    We'll be along with more bridges later in the Summer of the Delaware which, by the way, follows summer by the calendar, not by Memorial-to-Labor Day. The original version of the above photo is here as yr Monday morning Philly Skyline Trenton Skyline.

    UPDATE: Oh man, did I totally space on this one. A huge, Yo MTV Raps thank you to my man Jeff in Fairmount for this reminder: you know what Trenton makes and a 14 year old B Love takes? Classic hip-hop, man. Ladies and gentlemen, lovers of the Delaware River, Philadelphians, Trentonians and especially Youtube user kimbaby4, Trenton's own Poor Righteous Teachers, in the cipher right about where I took the above photo last night.

    –B Love

    17 August 08: The broad side of a Barnes

    Renoir, Cézanne, Matisse, Rousseau, Gauguin, Toulouse-Lautrec, van Gogh, Modigliani, Monet, Manet, El Greco, Seurat, Soutine, Picasso. These modern masters -- many of them French Impressionists, those who inspired them and those they inspired -- are linked together not by the marble walls of the Louvre or the Fifth Avenue confines of the Met, but by a seemingly endless collection of metal bric-a-brac in the seemingly endless galleries of a simple building on the Main Line . . . for now?

    The Barnes Foundation's seemingly endless attempt to relocate from North Natch's Lane in Merion to the site on the Ben Franklin Parkway currently occupied by the Youth Study Center (see the YSC story two posts below this one) continues to this day and into tomorrow, though now it feels closer than ever with the YSC relocating next semester.

    The multi-billion dollar art collection, meticulously arranged in ensembles envisioned by Dr Albert Barnes, was explicitly designated by Barnes' will to stay in Merion. In 2004, the Montgomery County Orphans Court, which oversees any changes to the Foundation's operating rules, approved breaking that will, permitting a move into Center City.

    Dr Barnes died tragically in a car accident in 1951, but it's safe to say that he lived a full life, arguably to a degree of heroism, having been an early outspoken advocate for racial and cultural diversity. After making a fortune on the antimicrobial medicine Argyrol (decades before the discovery of penicillin), Barnes in 1922 purchased a small arboretum owned by Civil War Captain Joseph Wilson, one block from City Line Avenue and modern day St Joseph's University. He commissioned Paul Cret (who had recently redesigned Rittenhouse Square and had a hand in the Parkway) to design a gallery building and Jacques Lipchitz to adorn it with his modernist sculpture. Barnes retained Wilson as the arboretum's director until his (Wilson's) death, and Barnes' wife Laura established a horticulture program to go along with the art education program that was the doctor's primary mission at the Foundation.

    The art and horticulture education programs carried on while public visitations were limited to two days a week until 1992, when Barnes' will was first broken: the art contained at the Foundation was not to leave the premises (i.e. to not tour), but with the building in need of serious repair, it did just that, touring the world with proceeds going to the repair. By the end of the same decade, the Foundation was near bankruptcy.

    The continued need for financial stability and sustainability brings us to today. Given the stringent rules surrounding the Foundation, namely the limit on visitors to its Merion location (co-opted by Lower Merion Township zoning restrictions), the current Foundation has effectively declared that it can only survive if it moves into Philadelphia, as the current method of fundraising is thwarted by its limited accessibility, both in numbers and in location. On the Parkway, it can accommodate a quarter of a million visitors a year -- over four times what it handles now -- and within walking distance of the Philadelphia Museum of Art, the Rodin Museum (also designed by Cret), the Franklin Institute and Academy of Natural Sciences. That is to say: in Center City, amongst the other institutions, it would have no trouble finally making money.

    The new space on the Parkway, currently in design by Tod Williams and Billie Tsien, would also accommodate classrooms, which currently do not exist at the Barnes. They're not supposed to -- the existing building galleries double as the classrooms for the Foundation's students, so that they may be taught from the artwork itself, not from a textbook.

    If the Barnes' art collection moves to a new home on the Parkway, the building would, according to Foundation president Derek Gillman (NYT via barnesfoundation.org), become home to an 'archive for scholars'. The arboretum would remain on the grounds, as would its horticulture program. (For as delicately as one can transport a massive Renoir, it's a little difficult to move a living, 150' redwood tree, as the one pictured at right.)

    One has to wonder, though, if a scholarly archive and the arboretum would be enough to sustain a Barnes Foundation in Merion without the Barnes art collection. The 12 acre arboretum and garden -- home to over 2,000 species of plants including over 200 types of roses, as well as a fernery, herbarium, tea house, koi pond and greenhouse -- is stunningly beautiful. But it's even less visited than the art collection. Of the half dozen or so people I've recently spoken with who've actually been to the Barnes, only one of them has strolled the grounds of the arboretum.

    I'm a little embarrassed to say that it took me until Saturday to visit the Barnes Foundation. I'd never heard of it before moving to Philadelphia in 2000, and even since then it's been a pretty well-kept secret -- outside of the courtroom headlines, that is. You really have to be there to appreciate the place. I certainly do now . . . so much so that I'm also a little embarrassed that I've been so unquestionably pro-move.

    As a city resident, of course I want a world renowned art collection to be on the Parkway, making it a better place while at last replacing a poorly chosen adolescent prison. And I certainly trust that Olin Partnership, the landscape architect selected for the Parkway location, would be as sensitive as possible in honoring the green grounds of Merion.

    But if the move happens, it'll be easy to look at it as two halves of a greater whole. An established art collection will find itself in an all-new building on an all-new campus, while the established building on the established campus will find itself an all-new emptiness.

    There are merits to both sides of the argument, but the question is: whose merit is worth more? According to Montgomery County Orphans Court, the pro-move side -- the one endorsed by the Foundation itself and its financial supporters in the Pew, Lenfest and Annenberg Trusts -- has more merit. But even as we await the Williams-Tsien design unveiling, we can expect a continued fight against the move, from the Friends of the Barnes, the Foundation's alumni, art historians, critics and collectors, Merion and Montgomery County residents, and even some of the politicians representing them.

    In the meantime, the Barnes Foundation, on North Latch's Lane in Merion -- a short walk from the R5 -- remains off the beaten path, thanks to the vision of its founder. It truly is a reward to be there, as I was on Saturday. Visitors are understandably not allowed to take photos of the priceless paintings and other artworks inside the Cret building, but they're encouraged to do so in the arboretum and garden. My photos of those are, like other recent essays, assembled on a single page befitting our high-speed internet age. There are 42 photos, about 7M in size, so just give them a moment to load. They will pop open in a new window by clicking


    –B Love

    * * *

    Barnes Foundation
    Friends of the Barnes
    Barnes Foundation at the New York Times
    The Independent (UK)
    Barnes Foundation at Wikipedia

    * * *

    16 August 08: Summer, summer, summertime

    I mean, seriously. Could there be a more perfect summer weekend? If there is, I'd like to see it. August perfection, Septa's expanded service (!!!), Michael Phelps' 8th gold medal, Franklinias in bloom, word that production at the new Yards Brewery will begin next week, a picnic at the Plateau . . . brother, life is grand. You enjoy yourself out there.

    –B Love

    15 August 08: Youth Study Center Study

    Last Thursday, Bruce Schimmel and Inga Saffron wrote two very different stories on the Youth Study Center. His brings a first person view to what goes on behind its very large walls; hers tells of the walls themselves. They're both excellent and worth a read. Also worth a read is Chris Dougherty's "Sleeping in the Tents of Our Fathers", his May 2007 examination of why the YSC is a failed Modernist project.

    The classes at the YSC -- a teenage prison on the Parkway -- will next semester begin in East Falls as a new permanent facility is prepared in West Philly. The building itself will be demolished probably next year, after the Williams-Tsien design for the Barnes Foundation is at last unveiled and a new round of lawsuits appears to try keeping the Barnes in its cramped Merion digs.

    Inga mentioned that the two powerful sculptures by Waldemar Raemisch, the Great Mother and the Great Doctor, are being moved to the School of the Future in Parkside. I've photographed the two sculptures probably no more than any other artwork on the Parkway, but it's the shadow of the Great Doctor that makes one of the best photos I've ever taken.

    With photography, I don't set out to intentionally record something 'meaningful' or 'allegorical' or some such; thing is, if you take a lot of photos -- if you don't leave the house without a camera bag slung over your shoulder -- a scene that compels you is bound to show itself. The YSC's back side -- front side? -- has always been one of the more noticeable homeless encampments in the city. They were definitely set up there the day before New Year's Eve last year, when the sun was low somewhere over near Cira Centre. Most of them were over by the Mother . . . this man here, though, was off by himself by the Doctor.

    * * *

    Tom Gralish won a Pulitzer for a series on the homeless he made for the Inquirer in 1985. Incredibly, it's been archived online, found HERE.

    The Youth Study Center, meanwhile, will stand unoccupied until the permits have been filed and the Barnes is given the final go to move to the Parkway. Where we'll lose one of the finer examples of homegrown modernism, we'll more thankfully be ridding our little Champs-Élysée of a jail. (Ain't no jails on the real Champs-Élysée.)

    Anny Su did her thesis at Penn on the YSC -- it's incredible, and it's archived online HERE.

    –B Love