15 December 08: Walking in a Nittany wonderland

And greetings from Happy Valley!

This wintry scene finds us high on Tussey Mountain, contemplating the What Ifs of Penn State's football season that ended one piddly point in Iowa City shy of a championship run. Not that many people would expect them to be able to beat Florida or Oklahoma, let alone USC, but man that interception, drive and field goal stings.

Anyway, though the solstice may be a week away, winter has officially kicked in in Central Pennsylvania, the setting for this small series of Philly Skyline Happy Valley Skylines. The Mid-State Trail is Pennsylvania's own 327 mile hiking trail through the wooded hinterlands upstate. It passes through Rothrock State Forest along the ridge which PA Route 26 crosses between State College and Huntingdon. There is a vista named for former PA State Senator Jo Hayes that offers a look across Happy Valley, which puts State College into its agricultural perspective, with Beaver Stadium, Bryce Jordan Center and Penn State's Old Main as exclamation points on the view.

The rainstorm that couldn't interrupt Philly Skyline's calendar party on Thursday night turned a number of mountaintops in Centre, Blair and Huntingdon counties into glass forests before dusting them off with a coating of snow. These photos were taken in the late day sun on Saturday.

–B Love

12 December 08: PHEW

Now that was a party. A very huge Thank You to all of you who braved the ungodly elements last night to come and hang with yr Skyline and talk 2009. What is it about Philly Skyline parties that makes it either rain like the Amazon, be as hot and humid as the Congo, or bring winds from the Arctic while the NFC Championship goes into overtime? Who plans these things anyway? Probably the same person who waits until December to finish production on a calendar.

Anyway, a great time was had by all at Conspiracy, and the wet socks and shoes and pile of umbrellas made for an easy icebreaker. A special shout to Jessica and her man Scott, with whom I go way back, way back to the freshman year dorm at Ship when his roommate would skip class to play Sony Playstation and suck on gummi bears to get them all sticky and then throw them at the window. Good stuff.

As is, of course, Phillyskyline.com, The Calendar : 2009! For the low, low price of $20, you can have the newly red calendar of original photos and Philadelphian birthdays for your home, your office, and your den. Matter of fact, buy one for each!

Another calendar note I forgot to mention is the new year's marriage of print and internet. As I mentioned last week, the month-by-month photo descriptions were removed because they were a pain in the ass to write and make fit within a confined space, figuring out leading and kerning and blank space to make room for additional photos of the month-by-month subject. So, on the first of each month, we'll do a description of the new month's calendar subject right here on this web site. Deal?

* * *

This concludes Calendar Promotion Week on Philly Skyline. I'm gonna take a nice weekender up in Happy Valley and the Highlands. There's a lot of stuff backloading that we'll get to next week. Popkin's cooking something up somewhere along the El, there's a photographic retrospective on South Street Bridge that's been a long time coming, and even as the economy's drain is trickling down everywhere, construction continues across Philadelphia. On a related note, the rezoning of the American Commerce Center flew through City Council yesterday -- unanimously -- so basically that leaves the only obstacle for construction the ink on the contract of a lead tenant. Chris Brennan has a write-up of yesterday's Council session and a perfectly flattering picture of Councilman Darrell Clark for the Daily News, HERE.

* * *

You have a nice weekend out there. I'm catchin' the 5:15 outta town.

–B Love

11 December 08: Do you like parties? Yeah.
We can invite all our friends, and have soda and pie. YEAH.
I hope no bad people show up.


All right, last post on the party, lest I give the impression I've spent the past entire week of my life consumed by calendar production and other things. One thing I forgot to mention in yesterday's announcement is one that was mentioned last week: there will be stocking stuffers, on the cheap, in the form of take-home printed photos.

The seven photos in the graphic above are each available, 8" x 10", so they fit ready made frames from the cheap ones at Target and CVS to the ornate ones your neighborhood framer has in stock. The prints are in living color (I haven't done black and white since I photographed in what we used to call "film"), are on matte paper, and each one comes with a nice envelope and backing board, since it's looking like rain tonight. Rain is not even an issue when it comes to a good time with yr Skyline, just like $15 is no issue when you're looking for something nice for your B Loved beloved.

Party. Tonight. 7-9pm. Conspiracy Showroom. 2nd & Poplar. Calendars. Prints. Beers. Party.

* * *

If you can't make it to the party, you can buy it online, with Paypal . . .


Phillyskyline.com, The Calendar: 2009 is, like last year, $20, and like last year, shipping is $3, for a total of $23. No recession/depression price increases at yr Skyline, no way. If you place your order by Saturday the 20th, we'll make sure you get it in time to wrap it up and stick it under your Christmas tree. Besides, you really only need it by the first of the new year, which is three weeks from today. Plenty o' time to get ready for it.

It's Phillyskyline.com, The Calendar: 2009.

–B Love

10 December 08: SAVE THE DATES


Ladies and gentlemen, friends and fiends, Philly Skyline connoisseurs: the time is now. Well, the time is tomorrow. Believe me, as the producer/editor/designer/photographer/dude who does the annual calendar, I know full well that it's December 10th, three weeks away from the end of an incredible 2008, two weeks of shopping left in a shopping season where no one is shopping. If I'd had my druthers, Phillyskyline.com, The Calendar: 2009 would have rolled off the press before Hank Paulson became a household name (which, somehow, was not known by any of the three Jeopardy contestants the other night when the category was Current Events . . . I mean, seriously).

But such is life. The Phillies steamroll the playoffs and win the World Series, and life and Skyline matters are postponed. How's that old disco song? We love you, Phillies. That love comes through in the new year's calendar -- it's red, it's exciting, it's the World Fucking Champion.

As always, it contains original Philly Skyline photography (which is up to date, unlike the mass produced calendars in mall kiosks), 12 months of big pictures supplemented with little pictures of variegated Philadelphia subjects, from the Southwest to the Northeast, from Saint Adalbert, Nativity Blessed Virgin Mary and Our Lady Help of Christians in Port Richmond to the Sedgwick Theater, stately stone manses and wooded roads I can't even find on a map in Mount Airy.

As always, this year's calendar contains all the Philly Birthdays you need to know, with plenty of advance to prepare your e-card for the likes of Mayor Nutter, Michael Smerconish and Alycia Lane (and Larry Mendte, who will read your e-card!).

And, as always, we're throwing a big ol' party to celebrate the new calendar for the new year. Whattaya know -- it's tomorrow night! As hinted last week, this Thursday, December the 11th, is the night yr Skyline would like to hang with you. From 7 to 9 pm, Phillyskyline.com, The Calendar: 2009 will be on display at Conspiracy Showroom, the finest ladies' boutique and indeed showroom at 910 North 2nd Street in the Northern Liberties. The solar powered Christmas tree is already lit a block and a half away at Liberty Lands Park, Standard Tap has already rolled out its lamb sandwich, and Cantina Dos Segundos has joined in the nighttime fun that already includes North Bowl, Bar Ferdinand, 700 Club and many other places within a five minute walk. Tis the season.

There's no reason you shouldn't want to spend a Thursday night in the Northern Liberties, especially at this time of year when you can get the calendar you need for next year, the calendar your friends and family need, and some clothes for your lady (or yourself). Best of all? THERE'S FREE BOOZE. Philadelphia Brewing Company's Kenzinger, Newbold, Walt Wit and Rowhouse Red will be there to wet your whistle while you decide which of the aforementioned watering holes suit your fancy.

For those of you ordering online, we'll guarantee Christmas delivery up to the 22nd for local orders (the five counties and Jersey), and the 20th for you Philly ex-pats. I swear to the Lord Almighty that the Paypal button will be live by the end of the week, preferably today. But even then, isn't New Years Day a more important deadline? Plenty of time. Let's do this, friends.


Yeah, you see that right. This year's calendar will make you fall into a swoon. It will make you behave like a teenage girl at the opening of Twilight. You'll be so smitten you'll offer your calendar love unconditionally.

Please: come celebrate and drink with us. Most importantly? (Besides the free beer?) For the night of the party only, the calendar will be FIFTEEN DOLLARS. You can't even get a CD for that price any more. (Not that you would buy a CD, but still.) The night of the party, the calendar is fifteen bucks, fifteen bones, fifteen beans, fifteen hard earned American Dollars, just like it was in its inaugural year (has it already been over two years?) before inflation/recession adjustments. Thenceforth, it shall be the regular twenty bucks, bones, beans, dollar dollar bills, y'all. Your entire year rests on this. Come party.

Like the flyer says, the 2009 calendar at the 2008 party for the 2007 price. We wanna see ya. Seven to nine post-meridian. Thursday, December 11th. Phillyskyline.com, The Calendar: 2009. Conspiracy Showroom. 910 North 2nd Street, Northern Liberties. Free beer. $15 calendars. Love. Mad, mad love.

Preview? Dig.

All right then, let's boogie.

–B Love

PS: A very special extra thanks to Hill International Real Estate Partners and Kohn Pederson Fox for their permission to use the likeness of American Commerce Center on this year's cover!

9 December 08: On HDR, on SSB

Given the snail's pace at which big projects actually get done here on yr Skyline, what this image above represents is a grand finale from which we'll work backward.

With South Street Bridge officially closed as of 9:30 yesterday morning, it's high time I sort through the hundreds or thousands of photos I've made there, in addition to some archival stuff I've come across along the way. Expect one of those so-long-it's-broken-onto-two-pages posts some time soonish. But here today, let us have a look at the classic-est of classic Philly Skyline views, the last one we'll have from mid-span on the SSB over the Schuylkill River for two years. Our frozen moment, with 10 Rittenhouse's spaceman-antennae cranes and the glint of the sun that is the reason for Murano's curve.

This last effort from the bridge is also my first attempt at HDR. While sunset's light on the skyline isn't the highest of high dynamic ranges, I still thought it might be fun. I haven't spent any time with HDR as it requires learning all new software (Photomatix), hauling a tripod everywhere you want to shoot HDR photos, and spending hours tweaking layered images that might ultimately either not look much different from a regular photo or look fake. Time commitment aside, the un-reality of so many HDR photos has been my biggest hesitation, but as the technology improves, so too does the work of the people who've made the commitment to learn it. Old City's Michael Penn (whose work you may have seen on Phillyblog) is one of these -- check out his web site HERE, and pay special attention to the incredible 'Under Philadelphia' set, a series of HDR photos from the pedestrian concourse under Center City.

So here's my first shot. Or should I say first five shots . . . With a tripod set up on the west turret of the north side of SSB, the five RAW images merged here (using Photoshop's 16 bit HDR component, by the way -- no 32 bit tone mapping in Photomatix just yet) were taken at 4:07pm on Sunday with a Canon 5D, fixed length 50mm lens, ISO160, f14, shot at 1/80, 1/30, 1/15, 1/8 and 1/3. I think I like the final output, but again, it doesn't look drastically different from a regular photo. You can see the merging of the movement of the clouds over the course of the five photos, but that's about it. Maybe a wee bit of definition from the shadows on the lower right. For comparison's sake, at the end of this post is a regular photo -- ISO100, f16, 1/15 -- taken from the same tripod mount just before bracketing the five.

Another tripod observation, especially pertinent to windy days, is that for the utmost precision, you need a remote control to trigger the shutter. (I had a nice one but left it in the fifth pocket of my pants when I did laundry . . . it no longer works, but it's very clean.) I mention this only because, for this SSB exercise, the regular photo and the HDR image are very slightly shifted, simply from my finger hitting the shutter.

Philly Skyline Standard Skyline (click, enlarge, put it on your desktop but don't use it on the cover of your newspaper) applies to the images above and below. Enjoy.

For a real photo vs HDR image comparison, click

–B Love

8 December 08: One last look

That title has less to do with sentimental mushy-mushies (though it's that too) than it does with my senior yearbook in high school. After years of being called simply The Eagle (since Tyrone High's sports team is the Eagles), the yearbook staff started adding a subtitle in the 90s, and our class of '94 got One Last Look. I was involved in making a survey for it for our class's favorite things, like TV show (Beavis and Butt-head), band (Aerosmith), movie (Rudy), sports team (Steelers, duh) and saying ("you go, girl"). Oh, 1994, you so crazy!

Anyway, up over the Schuylkill River yesterday, the cutting wind made the 30° afternoon feel like 10°, but that didn't stop me or at least a dozen other photographers from One Last Look at, and from, the South Street Bridge. At 9:30 this morning, the barriers will go up along 27th Street, Convention Avenue and the on- and off-ramps of the Schuylkill Expressway as the long anticipated deconstruction and reconstruction of that bridge begins.

I was hoping that the Streets Department would have thrown us a bone and left the manholes at the north side's turrets open for a final exploration, but no dice. The western one was welded so poorly that a crowbar would have easily popped it off, but as a crowbar didn't fit into my camera bag, alas I was without one, and I actually broke the file tool on my leatherman trying to get it open. Ah well.

So here we are then, South Street Bridge, Sunday December 7, 2008 . . . sixty-seven years to the day that Pearl Harbor was attacked. South Street Bridge was already a spry 18 years old by that date which will live in infamy.

As I sat shivering on the scenic lookout, taking in the view made famous by so many postcards, tv spots, logos, ads (remember the "Fila-delphia" ad from Jerry Stackhouse's rookie season?), stock photography companies and this web site, I considered that I'm now in my ninth year of Philadelphia living. I was familiar enough with the SSB view before moving here, but after moving to the western end of G-Ho in January 2001, I made the bridge a regular stop for photography. Panning 360°, I took note of just how much has changed since Y2K, when Mayor Ed Rendell partnered with PECO to light the Schuylkill River's bridges in Center City, from the Septa bridge and JFK to South Street, for the millennial madness -- only to have South Street's destroyed by vandals within three months of the celebration. City Paper had a story about this in March 2000, online HERE.

Starting with SSB's short-lived millennial lighting of January 1, 2000, a list of changes in plain sight before the SSB visitor might look something like . . .
• Penn's Module 7 (the water chiller off of University Ave)
• The St James
• Schuylkill River Trail & Park
• Cira Centre
• Naval Square
• Southbridge, a.k.a. the blighting of the Kennedy Vo-Tech building
• Rosenbluth Building's transformation (in anticipation of Mandeville Place?)
• Two Drexel dorms (one of which is still under construction)
• Symphony House
• Murano
• Comcast Center
• demolition of the Post Office Annex (in anticipation of Cira Centre South, or at least its parking garage)
• the AT&T logo on the substation at the eastern foot of the bridge
• the sign on top of Locust on the Park
• UPenn Health System expansion (under construction)
• Children's Hospital of Philadelphia expansion (under construction)
• 10 Rittenhouse Square (under construction)
• Weave Bridge (under construction)
• 1706 Rittenhouse Square (under construction)
One last look at the new construction in Philly Skyline's time. Again, all of this is just what you can see with the naked eye atop the South Street Bridge. The list really serves as proof of the strides the city has made in just eight years, more so since the inception of the SSB reconstruction project in 1995. And when you consider that Penn's eastward expansion will take the campus literally to the edge of the new bridge, it frustrates the Might Have Beens.

Even though it's too late for all of that, it was hard not to think of it while trying to stay warm and taking in the view. But before I dug myself too deep into that thought, I was brought back by the sound of cars honking at the intersection of South Street and I-76, which made me laugh. One last sound of aggressive drivers being impatient with hesitant drivers unfamiliar with South Street's notorious intersection and acceleration ramps, known 'round these parts as the Death Ramps.

One last roll of the eyes at those same sissy drivers braking, then stopping, at the bottom of the ramp, causing a headache for everyone behind them.

One last unsettling feeling of vibration and sway from just being on the bridge.

One last peeling of the thick, light mint paint to reveal the rust on the 85 year old ironwork. I wonder if all that ironwork is being salvaged, or at very least recycled.

One last laugh at the bridge's erosion that's caused chunks of concrete to fall into the river and onto the Expressway, amazingly killing or injuring no one.

One last marvel at the street art that turns up on the girders time and time again in spite of Streets' efforts to paint over it.

One last contemplation of how hard an impact the Schuylkill River's surface would make if one jumped. Couldn't be that bad . . . the clearance of the bridge at high tide is 35 feet, and an Olympic high dive is ten meters, or about 33 feet.

One last wow at the breathtaking view of the skyline, bathing in magic hour gold as the sun sets in the distance.

* * *

Well it's all right . . . we're going to the end of the line. As the sky turned purple, I'd finally had enough of the cold and wind and started walking east off the bridge, where I noticed an NBC10 van was parked and its cameraman was filming me and everyone else walking. The reporter -- I believe Byron Scott (I never watch NBC10 so I don't know for sure) -- asked me if I'd talk to him about the bridge. Sure, I said. He asked me what I was taking pictures of (the skyline, the sunset, the river, the traffic) and what I thought of the situation. I told him the reconstruction was a long time coming and was very necessary. I also made it known I was displeased with the bridge we're getting in the old one's place. Think my comments made the cut?


As usual, network media makes the story about traffic -- "if you think traffic on the Schuylkill Expressway through Center City is bad now . . ." the news segment begins. Bicycles and pedestrians get a passing mention from the reporter before cutting to an uncredited Clarena Tolson (Streets Department Commissioner) talking about the traffic. The segment features two interviews with drivers, including the one pictured here (click to go to the full video on nbcphiladelphia.com), whose response to the city's request for patience is "my patience is very thin as it is," after noting that "these roads [already] can't handle this traffic." Homie, this bridge has been slated for reconstruction for 13 years. You've had time to figure out an alternate route. And if you think two years for reconstruction is bad, just think how long it would be if they kept one lane open for traffic while trying to rebuild the bridge.

It's all part of the South Street Bridge discussion, maybe the most controversial a bridge's reconstruction could be. The city neighborhood, the major university and its hospitals that the bridge connects have grown. Odunde's annual procession to the river for the offering of fruits is going to have to find another temporary location, and it won't be a bit surprising if the G-Ho gentry tries to parlay that into Odunde's relocation, which absolutely must not happen. The expressway's on-ramps aren't up to the federal standard because they were built before there was a standard, yet the reconstruction does not include a standardized ramp system. While vehicular traffic is the bureaucracy's top priority, cyclists and pedestrians have just as much stake in the bridge, thanks primarily to the neighborhood, university and hospitals mentioned above, and the wildly popular river trail that will connect to it when it opens.

South Street Bridge, you beautiful old complicated bitch. We'll see you again in a couple years.

We leave you with one last sunset and a noisy serenade from Philly band King Kong Ding Dong, called . . . "South Street Bridge".

–B Love

5 December 08: Hi, how are you?

I hope you are well, friends. If you are ill, get well. If you are well, stay well. (Or GET ILL.)

Three very quick Philly Skyline heads ups for yr weekend:

1. The Historical Society of Pennsylvania is this evening hosting a reception for an exhibition of archival photos at the Art Institute of Philadelphia, similar to last year's one for the launch of phillyhistory.org. The current exhibit, titled Philadelphia Stories: Yours, Mine, Ours, runs through January 23 and is FREE. There are 40 photographs that have never been exhibited, including some from the Sesquicentennial Celebration in 1926, which has been prominently featured on Philly History's blog recently. The show serves as a preview to philaplace.org, a web site currently being developed which "will tell the story of Philadelphia's oldest immigrant and African-American neighborhoods and how they have changed over time." (Art Institute: 1622 Chestnut, now through January 23. More HERE.)

2. As noted here at length, the South Street Bridge is closing -- FOR TWO YEARS -- at 9:30 Monday morning. If you want to say your farewells to the 85 year old holdover from a long past era that is about to be reborn as a modern day version of a more recently past era, speak this weekend or forever hold your peas. There is a "final walk" being orchestrated by the South Street Bridge Coalition on Monday morning, with participants assembling at Hollenback Hall at 8:45am. And this just in from the Facebook front (please do not construe this as Philly Skyline having a Facebook), there is a SSB Going Away party being held on Sunday night from 8pm to midnight. That's a long time to be hanging out on a bridge's sidewalk, but hey, if you love the South Street Bridge, go say g'bye with a New Orleans style funeral. (South Street Bridge: South Street Bridge.)

3. If you're an R. Crumb fan, you've probably already been to the show at the ICA. If you're not a fan, you might be after visiting the show at the ICA. In either case, the show at the ICA, R. Crumb's Underground, closes on Sunday, so get there this weekend. It's an incredibly thorough and vast exhibition spanning Crumb's entire career. Allow yourself a couple hours if you want to see (and read) everything. (ICA: 36th & Sansom, West Philly.)

Whoomp, there it is. Hope your weekend is safe, sound, productive and positively positive. Keep on truckin'.

–B Love

4 December 08: Philly Skyline Bites

HEY THERE, skyscraper fans! By now you've shirley heard that City Council's Rules Committee voted unanimously -- 9-0 -- in favor of approving the rezoning of the surface parking lot at 1800 Arch Street to, pardon the expression, pave the way for the construction of American Commerce Center. City Council will vote in full soon, possibly next week, but considering 9 is more than half of the 17 total members, it will pass. If it doesn't, I'll go on a vegetarian diet for all of 2009. Hold me to that.

This is certainly good news for ACC fans, and fuel for skeptics. "The economy would never support such a building; it will never be built; go ahead, I dare you to build it." Mmhmm. As has been reported on this web site, all it's going to take, after clearing the Philadelphian bureaucracy hurdles, is a strong anchor tenant. Even in a questionable business cycle, there are more than enough suitors for such a claim.

Doubt its likeliness if you will, but bear in mind, curmudgeonly self-aware business writer, that Hill International doesn't exactly take on big dreams from pie-eyed local yokels. A sampling of their portfolio finds them overseeing the development of buildings, bridges, even nuclear power plants, in Dubai, New York, Australia and Brazil, to name a few. Besides, with a headquarters just across the bridge in Marlton, doesn't it stand to reason that an extremely successful international construction management corporation would want a signature structure within plain view right in is home region?

ACC is going to happen . . . just give it time.

* * *

Earlier this week, the Chester Soccer Stadiuzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz . . .

Karen Heller spoke the painful truth in Tuesday's Inquirer: all the good intentions toward Chester's revitalization are not going to make a soccer stadium, used for 18 home games and maybe a half a dozen concerts a year, in the United States of America, do anything for Chester. It's not that I wouldn't love to see Chester, Pennsylvania's oldest -- and poorest -- city, turn around into the Next Big Thing.

But let's be honest.

Major League Soccer? Look, I'm happy the Sons of Ben got their wish for a soccer team. Sincerely. And largely by their own doing -- credit where it's due, no doubt. Their hearts are in the right place and they've already initiated fund drives against hunger benefitting a Chester non-profit organization. I also appreciate that SOBs' colors are this city's azure and maize.

But the team is in Chester, not Philadelphia. Think they're going to call the team the "Chester Somethings"? Yeaaaah, no. Chester will host this team, probably the "Philadelphia Somethings" ("Pennsylvania Somethings" would be a nice compromise), and the team's supporters will pipe up about all the jobs the stadium will create -- but how many Chester residents will be among the contractors building it? When it's open, how many Chester teenagers will be clamoring to spend three hours of let's say 25 nights a year serving up Aramark issued fries and Sierra Mist? Above all else, how many Chester residents are going to, oh I dunno, attend a soccer game? Using the Columbus Crew as an example (as opposed to big market New York, Chicago and LA), the cheapest individual seats are around $13, and sideline (non-box-suite) seats are $21, neither of which is that bad. But will this new Philly Chester team draw buyers from Chester? Guess we'll see, but somehow I think Chester County residents are more likely to buy tickets than Chester City residents.

The stadium, right next to the Commodore Barry Bridge, will have easy in-and-out highway access from 95 (Philly/Delaware), 322 (Delco/West Chester) and the CB Bridge itself (South Jersey burbs). And the Blue Route (Main Line, north suburbs) is just up the way. Septa's closest regional rail station is a good twelve blocks away. I'm sure suburbanite soccer moms will enjoy a nice walk through Chester on the way to a game with their kids, and especially after the game, after dark, when they're guaranteed to wait for the next Septa train after the nice walk back to the station.

PA taxpayers are surely confused as to why $47M of our money is funding a stadium for the World's Sport here in Our Country. (On the other hand, a Chester soccer team will probably outdraw the Sixers, at least while the inaugural year novelty is still fresh.) Delco residents will wonder doubly why $30M more of their money is being used for the stadium. In fact, that's just one of the Delco Daily Times' editorial concerns in today's paper.

I love Chester, for all its hard times. (Click that image to visit my photo essay of it from a few years ago.) I wish it the very best, and if an MLS stadium is the very best, well . . . all righty then. I realize it's supposed to be the jewel in a much larger revitalization effort for Chester's Riverfront, and as a Delaware River cheerleader, I welcome that revitalization. But soccer? Wasn't David Beckham supposed to be the new savior of Major League Soccer? How's that working out? As this person, an admitted soccer fan, points out, attendance in Beckham's first year in MLS actually went down. Maybe it had something to do with his being injured, maybe not. DC United, often cited as a success story for the MLS, averages less than 20,000 per game in a stadium that holds over 56,000.

Somehow I have a feeling this stadium will do about as much for Chester's comeback as the dreadful Harrah's slot-house and Ben-Hur racetrack already is, which by the way is also on the 'new and improved' Chester waterfront -- 2.1 walking miles away from the soccer stadium by the Barry Bridge.

Unrelated item 1: Jimbo and other regular readers, I have not in fact forgotten about the Bridges of the Tidal Delaware series, and am hoping to have it finished by the end of the year.

Unrelated item 2: I wish Jeff Deeney had his own blog because Phawker's search function is too clunky (says he with the web site that has no search function at all). Deeney's writing is some of the most compelling in Philadelphia today, and his recent series on the streets of Chester City was absolutely breathtaking. Find it HERE -- the 'Town Without Pity' essays in particular paint a brutal picture of modern Chester.

* * *

In the Local Gals Done Good category, it's hard to say that there is a woman more on top of the world right now than Upper Darby's Tina Fey. We'll forgive her for the misappropriation of Philadelphia in Baby Mama.

30 Rock was already a pretty decent success, but this year's Sarah Palin impersonations put her over the top. You may have heard that she'll be on the Barbara Walters special this evening (I hope to god that is the first and only time the name 'Barbara Walters' appears on Philly Skyline), but you definitely heard all the hype about her scar in the new Vanity Fair. Uhh, wha? Am I the only person to have never noticed a scar on her face?

Anyway, it's a tiny portion of the article, written by Maureen Dowd and photographed by Annie Liebovitz, that is about as thorough and perfect a collaboration of those three women one would expect. Much like Tara Murtha was the perfect person to write the Zoe Strauss book review, MoDo and Liebovitz writing and photographing Fey is about as good as it can get.

Tina's conquered the world and motherhood in New York, but back home we're all very proud of her. Probably her most Philadelphian moment was on SNL's Weekend Update when the Eagles and Patriots were in the Super Bowl. She and her co-anchor Amy Poehler had a Philly-New England back-and-forth, with the thickest Delco and New Hampshire accents ever seen on national television from the respective natives of both.

Finally, I would be remiss to not admit that I am using this entire section of this update to post that Liebovitz photo of Tina Fey. Hubba hubba. And also, I would be remiss to not admit that this Tina Fey opportunity is a total shill for . . .

* * *


Tina Fey's birthday is among the repeats on next year's all-important Philly Birthdays, but this year has more than ever, almost double last year's total. This year, we'll learn the all-important birthdays of industrialists Matthias Baldwin and Atwater Kent, find out that Marty Moss-Coane and Terry Gross share a birthday (what you learn just may shock you!), and accept that, though stage names/pseudonyms/PKAs have their place (yo Bee Love!), given birth names are most appropriate on birthdays. For example, we learn that rapper Freeway's birth name is Lesley Pridgens -- who knew? The one notable exception to this new calendar rule is Bee Love's cousin Monie Love, birth name Simone Wilson. There are probably more Simone Wilsons in the world than even Google could sort, but Chubby Checker's Ernest Evans is easily tracked. It's a new calendar Google-game!

One other break in next year's calendar, aside from the switch from navy blue to red, is the removal of descriptions for each photo. They didn't really add much that you didn't already know, and they took up room that could have been better served -- like next year -- with additional pictures of the subject of the month.

Most importantly, all your Philly Skyline, The Calendar: 2008 photos are originals, mostly taken within the past year, and the skyline is up to date, as it damn well should be. The one calendar I've seen circulating in the big chain bookstores and calendar kiosk at the Cherry Hill Mall is Browntrout Publishers' annual Philadelphia calendar. If I might be so frank, it's awful. The cover, of a 2009 calendar, uses a pre-Comcast Center photo of the skyline at dusk from the Ben Franklin Bridge. The only other photo of the skyline is taken from the exact same spot on the bridge, without Comcast Center, but in the morning. There are also photos of Boathouse Row before it switched its lighting to LEDs four years ago, City Hall with Calder's statues still colored with a patina, six years after their cleaning began, and Swann Fountain before the paulownia trees were removed from Logan Circle three years ago.

We're talking about calendars, man. Not a game. Not a game. We're talking about calendars. Calendars indicate dates. Do you want dated photos on your new-date-maker, or would you like something a little more contemporary? OK then. That's all I have to say about that.

But I will say two more things about Philly Skyline, The Calendar: 2009! First, the hard copy proofs have been approved and these babies are gonna roll off the printer within a few days. That said, the tentative target date for the calendar launch party is next Thursday, one week from today, December 11th. Tentative is the operative word for now because I want to make sure, you know, I actually have the calendars for a calendar party. Once that is guaranteed, the date will be confirmed (or worst case scenario, which should not happen, rescheduled). The party will again be from six to nine pm at Conspiracy Showroom, at 910 North 2nd Street, conveniently located across the street from both North Bowl and Standard Tap (who, by the way, has already rolled out the lamb sandwiches for the season). Also conveniently, Conspiracy is a ladies clothing boutique with handmade dresses, shirts, sweaters, jackets, jewelry and accessories that are perfect for your special lady -- or yourself! -- this holiday season. Also worth noting, Conspiracy is participating with their 2nd Street Northern Liberties compatriots Art Star and Arcadia this Saturday in a 'shopping spree' sale whose deal starts at 10% off your first purchase and increases as you go. While you're in the hood on Saturday, swing by Liberty Lands Park for the second annual solar-powered Christmas Tree lighting at 4:45. State Representative Mike O'Brien will be there, and don't act like you haven't been meaning to strike up a conversation with him about Harrisburg BYOBs anyway.

CORRECTION: The 2nd Street Shopping Spree is Saturday, December 20th, NOT this Saturday the 6th. Regret the error. The Northern Lights II tree lighting jawn IS this Saturday at 4:45, northern lights not included.

So that's what's up . . . I think. Circle next Thursday, December 11th on this year's calendar so that you can come celebrate next year's calendar with all your Philly Skyline friends. In addition to calendars, there will be collectible, framed large prints (20" x 30") for sale, as well as 8x10 prints for the stocking stuffers among us. Come out to stuff some stockings, then stuff your stomach over at the Tap. Oh! Almost forgot to mention that the Philadelphia Brewing Company's signature beers will be aplenty for the 21 and older among us, as free as the day you were born.

Party date subject to change; birthdates on calendar are fixed and are NOT subject to change. The second half of that statement was tautological.

Tautologically yours,
–B Love

3 December 08: The end is nigh

So nigh now, in fact, that the South Street Bridge's days are numbered. And that number is FIVE.

Thirteen years worth of promises are at last seeing their delivery, as the South Street Bridge will close to all vehicular, cycling and pedestrian traffic at 9:30am on Monday (December 8). The 85 year old bridge will be completely demolished, from Convention Avenue all the way to the ramp at 27th Street. The South Street Bridge Coalition will be holding a "Final Walk" across the bridge at 8:45 that morning, meeting in front of "I Ain't No" Hollenback Hall, the gorgeous red brick building that opened the same year as the bridge and which was built with both an elevated opening (to meet the bridge) and a ground floor opening.

When it's finished, students will be able to access Hollenback Hall via Penn's incredible Weave Bridge -- currently under construction -- from the Athletic Fields. Eventually, this area (between the High Line and Amtrak railroad lines) will become Penn Park, one of the signature pieces of Penn's eastward expansion initiative. Design wise, the Weave Bridge will embarrass the new South Street Bridge, which was really sold short, as this web site has said ad nauseam.

Oh well. It is what it is, and what it is is yet another highway overpass type bridge, despite Penn's eastward expansion (and lack of input, support or financing on the bridge), despite the desirability of residential living on the east bank of the Schuylkill, despite the southward expansion of the Schuylkill River Trail, despite the bold statement the bridge could have made about the city's rebirth -- even in the thirteen years this bridge's reconstruction has been discussed. The great What Might Have Been, the new South Street Bridge.

That new South Street Bridge is about two years away, and there are still five days of life in the old South Street Bridge. On the north side of the bridge -- the one that the Streets Department just gave up on a few years ago and fenced off, rather than repairing it -- the views from the top of the turrets are some of the best of the city, as evidenced by nearly every skyline photo used by every marketing firm ever. NOT THAT I WOULD EVER ENCOURAGE YOU TO DO SO, BUT you can hop the big blue girders on the east end -- i.e., if you walk up the bridge from 27th Street on the north sidewalk, right past where it's fenced off you can hop over the girder and see exactly how much erosion there is. The south side -- the one that's open -- has been macadam'd over several times in the past few years, but the north side reveals the weathering of an 85 year old bridge not built to support the traffic it carries. There are holes so big a baby or small dog would fall through them. It's no wonder chunks of the bridge have fallen onto 76, nor that a whole plate fell off the bridge into the River.

The last time I was there, in September, the usually-welded manhole on the west turret was popped off, allowing access to the buttress underneath. Lemme tell you, there is a lot of pigeon guano down there. A lot. There's a lot of graffiti and broken glass there, too, so if you do choose to go rogue and take a look for yourself, be careful. Who knows what else, or who else, lurks beneath. Trolls, man, trolls! Not to mention that there have been a bunch of G-Ho muggings lately. But there's also a glimpse into the past you can't see from passing over SSB, namely the workings of what was once a drawbridge. There's a giant crank wheel (tagged up) and a lot of silent mechanism machinery that will probably be removed and sent to the scrapyard in the next year.

As a matter of practicality, the University City Septa station will remain open on the Convention Ave side. Likewise, Septa's 40 bus has been rerouted for well over a year, and will return to South Street once the new bridge is complete. (Before the bus, the 40 trolley ran the same route down South and up Lombard.) During reconstruction, the westbound 40 turns north at 22nd & Lombard (Doobies!) and crosses the Schuylkill at Walnut. Eastbound, it turns north at 33rd and crosses the Schuylkill at Chestnut before turning back down to South Street along 23rd.

Despite doing nothing to make the new South Street Bridge better other than to say "yes yes, it looks fine, just hurry up and build the damn thing", Penn has created a web site under their Division of Public Safety offering resources for students and commuters who usually take it, HERE. They've also hung posters across campus which, right now this minute, go under the microscope in this mini-edition of Philly Skyline Skyline Critiques.

Here they are:

The one on the left, taken from a helicopter (but NOT the Lovecopter), is very nice. Nice photo, taken on a nice day, shows Comcast Center and Murano, albeit under construction. The one on the right? Good lord. Which graphic designer made this? The skyline is not only so old to not include Comcast Center and Murano (which both feature prominently in the modern SSB view), but it's not even close to the right view. This Art Museum view has a bridge that exists neither now nor in the future flying across the top; on the other hand, it features a fancy trifecta of construction imagery in the orange cone, the yellow hard hat and the yellow/black Cliffs Notes construction tape. All it's missing is an animated stick figure with a shovel.

Speaking of SSB web sites, the Streets Department's official site for it is at the aptly named potholes.phila.gov. Go there for reconstruction and detour specifics, and as of last week, a FAQ . . . that talks reconstruction and detour specifics.

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One bit of new news on the SSB front is that out of the Schuylkill Banks camp. The southward expansion of the Schuylkill River Trail is basically waiting for the South Street Bridge. Knowing the very narrow geography between the CSX railroad tracks and the River itself (a few feet below the tracks' retaining wall), we've known that the next phase southward (not including the DuPont crescent in the Forgotten Bottom) will have to have a cantilevered boardwalk above the river to work. What we've not seen, though, is how this will work.

Now, thanks to a community presentation by the Schuylkill River Development Corporation, CHPlanning and URS Corporation, we have.

Click that image to view the PDF that was presented last month in Fitler Square, with images of the proposed boardwalk trail. It's interesting that it only relates to the new South Street Bridge via a spur. That is, the trail itself continues unimpeded from the Locust Street circle southward (to the DuPont Crescent and, eventually, Bartram's Garden), and to access SSB you'll have to get off the main trail and use the ramp that goes to it. In the presentation, you can also see the proposed AND TOTALLY UNNECESSARY, WASTE OF MONEY bridge across the CSX tracks into the Schuylkill River Park. The courts brokered a deal between the City and CSX to maintain at-grade crossing at Locust Street. Why in the hell is this footbridge necessary? Why is so much money being spent on it?

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Here's a view that does originate from the Lovecopter, a handy dandy guide of what's at stake in the demolition and reconstruction of the South Street Bridge. Click it, enlarge it, try not to think about what might have been. (Ha ha.) Shout to Springfield Beer Distributors.

This is the end, you ol' South Street Bridge, you. We've had a lot of good memories, you and me. And most of them were legal! Of course there was that one time you jacked up my bike (the bridge itself, not the traffic on it that pays no regard to people on bicycles), but we had a laugh about that, didn't we. There was another where I was coming back from the eye doctor with dilated pupils, wearing those plastic old man sunglasses they hand out, and I almost got hit by that SUV trying to cross the interstate intersection. Oh, and remember when my pet snail Simon died? I came to your lookout at low tide and sent his shell off to be taken home, back out to sea. Lots of amazing art wheatpasted to your girders, too, from El Toro & Bob to cartoon monsters to 9/11 conspiracies to those xeroxes of that girl giving a blowjob to the ex-boyfriend she must have spurned for him to print them out and paste them on the South Street Bridge. Good times.

We'll miss you SSB. Fare thee well, classic Philly Skyline from South Street Bridge. Fare the well, for a couple of years at least.

–B Love

2 December 08: They're shooting hoops?
Yeah, yeah, yeah, they're playing basketball

Over 8,000 people dressed as red seats at the Wachovia Center, Sunday night.

Lawda mercy. What I saw Sunday night might have been the saddest thing I've seen in my Philadelphia days. Well, the saddest of marginal import anyway . . . I imagine that murders of police officers, murders of working immigrants, murders surpassing the days in a year, crumbling neighborhoods, and the closure of libraries and rec centers may hold a heavier sadness.

But Sunday night, Mark and I attended the 76ers game, my first since Allen Iverson was traded. That day, I gave up on basketball. When I moved here in fall 2000, the Sixers were embarking on their Eastern Conference championship, the highest athletic jubilation this city would see until Donovan McNabb puked, and again until finally Brad Lidge struck out Eric Hinske at the end of a 46 hour baseball game to get us all over William Penn's hump.

When Allen Iverson was traded, it was the final straw across a camel's back of boneheaded wheels and deals by Billy King that kept making the Sixers worse. It's basketball, I thought. Who cares. Jordan is retired now, and with him went the glory days of the NBA. Iverson is gone now, and with him went my, and most of the city's, interest in basketball.

Last year, the Sixers signed local boy Ed Stefanski to replace Bozo King. Since then, he's quietly put together a nice little squad. They backed into the playoffs last year and took a 2-1 lead in the first round before being bounced by the Detroit Pistons, who've made the Eastern Conference Finals six straight years. But no one noticed.

And this year, it seems no one even notices we still have a team. Elton Brand was brought on in the offseason, a new marquee name . . . from the Clippers . . . the year after he played only six games because of an injury to his achilles tendon. His face is on all the billboards, "run with us."

But who's he running with on his bad achilles tendon? Andre Iguodala? Nice player, big dunker, 6 year, $80M contract . . . 13 points per game. Andre Miller? He's a decent leader, but he's 32, and the Bulls' Derrick Rose is 20, looking every bit of it as he swatted Miller's breakaway layup and broke his ankles at the top of the key on Sunday night. Thaddeus Young? OK, this kid is truly an exciting budding star, so it'll be interesting to watch his career develop . . . if we watch the NBA at all.

That's the thing: the NBA is just not what it used to be, and maybe Philadelphia is the perfect example of that. League attendance is down, way down. And Philly? We're dead ass last. Attendance is so bad in Philly that Sixers tickets are popping up on Travelzoo's Top 20 for 65% off and the Wachovia Center is unloading tickets for ten beans.

With the economy "officially" in a recession now, how many NBA teams are going to be able to ride it out? So many sports teams survive on the luxury suite box. At Sunday night's Sixers/Bulls game, I counted 18 empty boxes, and that doesn't include the ones directly behind me whose partitions I couldn't see over. The Sixers have four guys making eight figures and on a weekend after the Eagles had already played and the Flyers were off, the Sixers still had over 8,000 empty seats. On the bright side, the Chickie's and Pete's inside the Wach had the Steelers/Patriots game on huge HDTVs.

The NBA in general is hurting post-Jordan. Kobe Bryant had his chance to take the reigns, but he blew it when he bent the bellhop over in Colorado. Lebron James is toiling in Cleveland obscurity, and his saying so to the New York and ESPN media isn't earning him any favors in his hometown. Dwyane Wade and Dwight Howard are good players, but they don't have the star power. The Spurs? Pffft.

Here, Andre Iguodala is often fun to watch, but he just doesn't have the draw his AI predecessor did. Brand? Nah.

Ed Snider should have sold the Sixers to Pat Croce when he wanted to buy them, Croce's bad uniform choice aside. (Love that the Sixers have gone back to the classic 80s unis, btw.)

That the Sixers have lost four straight does not help. That they turned a 15 point lead into a 19 point deficit and ultimately an 11 point loss doesn't, either. I think it's actually been over four years since I saw the Sixers, but I still think I could have offered Mo Cheeks some pointers Sunday. (Play Young more. Play Dalembert less. Sit Iguodala when he's not producing. Double up Rose.)

The Flyers aren't having any trouble drawing fans in the same building, but the hardwood five are struggling down there. The city's hoops legacy runs from Wilt and Billy to the Doc and Mo and Moses to Sir Charles to the Answer, to the Big Five to Charlie Mack's Parties 4 Peace, to the blacktop runs in every corner of the city. And if no one cares, its professional rendition could be on the line.

It's probably way too early to say so, but it's probably a good idea to go catch the Sixers while they're still around. Or at least while tickets are wicked cheap.

–B Love

1 December 08: Colors

The time, she flies. That fall just came and went, didn't it? Boom. This year in Philadelphia, we didn't have fall, we had the Phillies. And thank god for that!

Fortunately, the hippies among us who need a day or two of immersion under the colorful canopy fall brings have an extra week or two to do that in our low-lying city. This year that window was especially short, as the rain and cold set in and washed the colors away quickly. As the Phillies charged toward the title, I kept my eye on the sky and on the leaves on the trees at Palmer Cemetery, waiting for the perfect clear day and perfectly peak fall foliage, because this year I wanted to take my annual fall photo series to a higher level, 1,500' to be exact. Whattaya know, the first and only perfect marriage of clear & colorful happened the day over a million people packed Broad Street to celebrate that title.

Booking a helicopter in advance based on the weather forecast is a total roll of the dice. On top of that, the closest helicopter joyride one can take in Philadelphia is all the way out in Medford, New Jersey. Past Medford, actually, in an office in a hangar on a wing of a tiny airport called the Flying W, which is well past the South Jersey Regional Airport. There's a heliport at Penn's Landing with a flashy mural along Delaware Avenue, yes, but there is no joy(riding) there. It's more Donald Trump Private Charter than Recreational Afternoon Photo Shoot. They used to offer tours -- about six years ago, and for $200 per fifteen minutes.

The next time the sky was clear enough to fly, Monday November 10th, the leaves had already begun to drop, but there was still enough color to go for it. I called the candidly named Helicopter Flight Services that morning to see if there were any flights available, and the person I spoke to said he could squeeze me in at 1. Book it.

After finding the place, past the farms with Phillies flags and election signs in the front yard, I waited in the Flying W's office decorated with two signed portraits of John McCain, a framed LOLcat and a jukebox with Elvis, Anka and Orbison before someone said that I wasn't in the right building and to just walk all the way to the back of the hangar at the back of the runway. When I got there, the guy who greeted me was also the guy who booked me, also the guy who would be flying me. Rich Sottile, a South Philly pilot no older than me, assured me he'd logged over 700 hours in the air and that he did this for fun. Right on.

Once we signed all our proper papers, we rolled out the Schweizer 300 CBI, a lollipop-looking two-seat chopper on a flatbed trailer pulled by a pickup truck. The cockpit has a bubble-shaped window whose doors are detachable, but as cold and windy as it was, we weren't about to detach them. (That said, I apologize for the slight glare that appears in a few of the photos.)

It being my first time in a helicopter, I was unaware that there was a proper runway takeoff, since you see so many helicopters just lifting off from their pads on top of hospitals and the like. After taxiing for a minute, up we went, up and over South Jersey on our way to the Philly Skyline.

Leaving Medford, we headed across Moorestown, Maple Shade and Cherry Hill before approaching Camden and tuning into FAA traffic. The controller told us there was heavy traffic and to stay around 1,500', but that the space was ours (along with CBS3's chopper). We crossed the Delaware River just below the Ben Franklin Bridge, paying attention to Independence Park, which was probably the most colorful of the city's tree sections. From there, we went north across the Convention Center and headed west above the skyline, above Vine Street and the Parkway. At the Art Museum, we turned south along the Schuylkill River to about South Street, heading back east below the skyline, where the light on the buildings and Rittenhouse Square was magnificent before ducking behind a cloud. We finished the loop back near Independence Park and skirted the Delaware River north to about the Betsy Ross Bridge before finally heading back to the airport along the Rancocas Creek.

* * *

I see the shapes . . . I remember from maps.

There's a lot to see when you're hovering over your city . . . The relationship of Passyunk Avenue to the grid through South Philly. The alarmingly huge amount of surface parking lots, especially on the riverfront(s -- Camden is included here). The way the Appalachians' lowest tree covered foothills dissipate from lower Montgomery County and the Wissahickon with the decreasing elevation on the city's blocks and blocks of rowhomes; the tree cover going from thick in Spruce Hill to almost non-existent in South Philly. Just how huge the Anderson and Conrail Yards on the Port Richmond riverfront are.

In three attempts at aerial photography, I've learned that sunny days make for heavy contrasts from shadows on the ground. If you have the perfect reading on what you're focusing on, you can still have washed out backgrounds. And no matter how low the pollution level may seem, there's still a lot of haze to shoot through, even on clear days. I need one of those Monday Night Football HDTV cameras or something. It is what it is, and what it is is Philly Skyline's latest photo essay.

Come along for the ride, if you like. There are 100 photos from the flight, in chronological order from liftoff to touchdown. A heads up, this particular essay's photos have watermarks, which I absolutely hate to do, but . . . well, you know. They're not that obtrusive, though, so find some relaxing music -- tis the season, why not Vince Guaraldi's Charlie Brown Christmas -- and see if you can see your house from here. Buckle up, babe. We're going for a ride . . . in the


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–B Love