31 December 08: Circle of life

The ups and downs, the goods and bads, the ins and outs, the floods and droughts. 2008 was all of these, and with our world champion Phillies hats on our heads, we send it on its way. Thanks for the memories, now get the hell out of here!

Jess kiddin'. It's worth commemorating 2008 here in Philadelphia, so I'd like to take this moment to thank all of you for another fun year here on yr Skyline. Though there were a few downs -- mostly the economy and the agony it's wrought -- we're surely going to remember 2008 for its ups. Michael Nutter, Comcast Center, Dr Dog, Tina Fey, Barack Obama, the World Fucking Champions.

So long, old buildings in the way of the Convention Center's expansion, St George's Hall, Mantua Hall, Youth Study Center, old South Street Bridge. And soon enough, Spectrum.

Welcome, Comcast Center, Murano, Radian, American Loft, L'eau, more Liberties Walk & more Hancock Square, Park West Shopping Center, Chemical Heritage Museum, new Science Center, Perelman Center for Advanced Medicine, Pennypack-Delaware Trail, Drexel Park, Julian Abele Park, Center for Architecture, Residences at the Ritz-Carlton.

See you soon, 10 Rittenhouse, 1706 Rittenhouse, 777 South Broad, new Drexel dorm, Tastykake HQ, Tastykake bakery, UPHS research building and proton center, National Museum of American Jewish History, Lardners Point Park, new South Street Bridge.

We've got our eyes on you, American Commerce Center, Stamper Square, Barnes Foundation, Cira Centre South, Chester Soccer Stadium.

Peace out, Trump Tower, Jumbo Theater, Unisys Sign on Two Liberty Place, bike rack barriers at Independence Hall.

Lights on at South Broad Street, lights off at PECO.

Welcome, Philadelphia Brewing Company. Welcome back, Yards.

Me love you long time, Delaware River.

Brad and Rachel sittin' in a tree, m-a-r-r-i-e-d.

Ha ha, I-95 shutting down for three days. Ha ha, three years later still no casinos. Ha ha, that dude wanted a spinning Olive Garden on the 17th floor of a Days Inn at Beer City.

Fate. Wagonwheel Blues. Rising Down.

Myers' walk, Victorino's grand slam. Stairs' moonshot. Ruiz's squibber. Blanton's blast. RyHo's blasts. Pat's blast. Hamels' hardware. Utley, Rollins, Feliz, Werth, Moyer, Jenkins, Dobbs, Romero, Bruntlett. Charlie Manuel. Brad Lidge. A PARADE DOWN BROAD STREET.

Philly Skyline & Johnny Brenda's For the Curious: us, Andy Altman, Onion Flats, Mark Alan Hughes.

The Chili Skyline Cookoff.

Nathaniel Popkin, The Possible City.

Philly Skyline, The Calendar: 2009.

There I go. Turn the page.

* * *

It's been a great year, so thanks for riding shotgun. Thank you, thank you, thank you. With a final Philly Skyline 2008 Philly Skyline, from our hearts to yours: Happy New Year. See you in 2009, baby.

–B Love

30 December 08: PECOOOOOOOOOOO power off

Philly Skyline Time Warp: June 2001. (Enjoy this really old, really compressed scan of a 4x6 print.)

It's warm out, it's about an hour from tipoff in the NBA Finals, and I am loving life, grillin' burgers and drinkin' beers out on the roof at 21st & Fitzwater. The Good Year Blimp flies past, the skyline twinkles, and the PECO Building announces that it too is rooting for the home team: BEAT LA . . . GO SIXERS!

The Crown Lights have said a lot of things since they went live for the Bicentennial. They will say no more after midnight tomorrow, at least in their current, incandescent life. After hosting a countdown to the new year, PECO's Crown Lights will go off for good, as the sign is getting a makeover to bring it into the energy-efficient 21st century. Appropriate enough for the region's primary provider of energy; the new LED sign, which will conserve 20% of the current one's energy usage, is part of Exelon 2020: A Low-Carbon Roadmap, PECO's parent company's $15 million green initiative which also includes a green roof on the lower half of their building at 23rd & Market.

PECO spokesperson Cathy Engel says the mood at PECO this week is a mix of nostalgia and excitement. "It's been such a signature of what we've done here for so long that naturally people are a little sad." She was quick to add, though, "we're excited to see the change and add some color, as well as the energy we're saving."

Engel stressed that the Crown Lights -- which they'll still be called -- will continue to be a "community message board", which is to say that they will NOT be selling ad space. The sign's announcements, in between announcing the time, have always centered around civic and non-profit types of organizations. The new sign, which will be live in summer 2009, will do the same.

Mine was a love-hate relationship with the Crown Lights at the ol' 21/Fitz place. I loved the south-southwesterly G-Ho view of the skyline, but because of that, PECO stood out on its lonesome, as seen in the view above. The scrolling sign had its moments, but it was also really distracting. Since it was non-stop all-night, it always let you know it was there. Hanging out on the roof staring at the stars with a buzz? THIS WEEKEND, GIVE BLOOD AT THE LOCAL RED CROSS BLOOD DRIVE. That comfortable silence after hanging with friends for a couple hours? THE PHILADELPHIA ORCHESTRA INVITES YOU TO ITS 2002 SEASON OPENER. Wake up in a haze, I have no idea what time it is. 4:21.

It was always fun, though, to try counting the bulbs that had burnt out. The jokes wrote themselves: how many PECO employees does it take to change 2600 burnt out incandescent light bulbs? I'd sometimes take long exposure photos of the scrolling sign to see how many were out.

All that fun will be a memory, come 2009. The darkening of PECO's Crown Lights guarantees an empty spot on the evening skyline, seen from the Schuylkill Expressway and from the Schuylkill Banks and from the regional rail trains pulling out of 30th Street about to head underground . . . at least until next summer.

It's a little weird to think of the PECO Building without its lights, but it existed for its first six years without them. The 25 story, 384' building, designed by H2L2, opened in 1970 amid a black steel craze that also brought about Chicago's Sears Tower and John Hancock Center, and Pittsburgh's US Steel Tower. The Crown Lights were added later, and went live for the Bicentennial, July 4th, 1976.

If they time it right, the new LED board, designed by Yesco and installed by C Erickson, could turn on for the first time on July 4th, 2009.

Do your thing, PECO. And thanks for the memories, ol' Crown Lights.

–B Love

30 December 08: Construction update update

Hallelujah, lord have mercy, merry christmas and a happy new year -- Philly Skyline's 10 Rittenhouse and Residences at the Ritz-Carlton have been updated!

Since the last update, the Phillies won their first World Series in 28 years, the country got its first black president, the Lovecopter flew high, the Eagles' season tanked and then rebounded with an unbelievably satisfying thrashing of the Cowboys, 10 Rittenhouse topped off and the Residences at the Ritz-Carlton opened its doors to the first residents at the Ritz-Carlton. So then here we are, the next to last day of two thousand eight.

As has been the custom here in the past (with Murano, Cira Centre and The St James), we'll unceremoniously wrap up the Ritz' construction section to coincide with their first movers-in. Comcast Center was obviously a little different, as the significantly-storied, skyline-changing, new-tallest-building it was.

Now mostly completed, the Residences at the Ritz-Carlton is the tenth tallest building in the city, at 518' and 48 stories. Congrats to all parties: developer Craig Spencer, architect Gary Handel, builders LF Driscoll, and the sales team who was always so nice and accommodating. The building's official web site is HERE.

Meanwhile over at 18th & Sansom, there's a little work to be done before we can call 10 Rittenhouse open, much less finished. It's as tall as it's gonna get, but there are windows to be installed, terraces to be landscaped, Barneys to move in. Philly Skyline will ride along for the home stretch. As that wraps up, it'll be the last regularly updated construction section until the heads of Hill International and Kohn Pederson Fox and Mayor Nutter and some old bitties from the Kennedy House stick their shovels into the ground at 18th & Arch to kick off American Commerce Center.

We'll be following along at the Convention Center, 1706 Rittenhouse, South Street Bridge, 777 South Broad, the National Museum of American Jewish History and the like, only with occasional updates (as opposed to dedicated sections). Other projects like the Waldorf-Astoria, 1601 Vine, Cira Centre South . . . those will be handled on a believe-em-when-I-see-em basis.

But for now, we bid the Ritz adieu, on this last construction update of 2008. For your photographic enjoyment, please have a look at . . .

Residences at the Ritz-Carlton § 10 Rittenhouse Square

–B Love

29 December 08: Philly Skyline, Far out, man

Dipping back into Philly Skyline History, let's revisit one of our more fun contests, the Far Out Skyline (26 July 07 & 23 July 07). Mike from Boyertown took the longest distance with a photo taken roughly 40 miles from the city at a powerline clearing between Oley and Boyertown in Berks County. (I later contributed two of my own shots, each roughly 32 miles away, from Ridge Road over the Northeast Extension in Montgomery County and Apple Pie Hill in the Jersey Pine Barrens.)

Chuck from Reading writes in this morning with a new contribution, that from the William Tennent High School football field in Warminster, about 20 miles north of the city. Click the above photo to enlarge it, or sample the full-resolution tiptops of Comcast Center and One Liberty Place just below.

Thanks Chuck, and go Panthers!

–B Love

28 December 08: In the fog, On the Delaware

The fog comes
on little cat feet.

It sits looking
over harbor and city
on silent haunches
and then moves on.
So said Carl Sandburg in his breakout book from 1916, Chicago Poems. The six line poem almost reads as a throwaway between such heady narratives as "Nigger", in which he sentiently puts himself in the shoes of a black migrant worker while using a voice stereotypical of its time, and "A Teamster's Farewell", which peels back a union laborer's corruption to find a sad nostalgia for the everyday things he'll miss in prison. But "Fog" is a felicitous selection among so many Chicago-centric compositions of industry, agriculture and sociology. He could have written it anywhere; perhaps Penn Treaty Park.

The Delaware River may not be within the lexicon of Famous Fogs -- London's Fog named a coat company and San Francisco's is the muse for countless an artist, among them the 1934 film "Fog of Frisco" -- but when it visits, fog on the Delaware is as stunning as any famous fog in the world. With an open-ended post-xmas/pre-NYE weekend, I had intended on spending at least one of the days exploring parts of the Delaware River I'd not seen. Turns out no one could see the Delaware on Saturday, or at least no one could see the other side of the Delaware.

New Jersey, and the world with it, had disappeared into the dense Delaware despair.

I headed for the Ben Franklin Bridge, hoping it was still there. I was relieved to see its Pennsylvania anchorage when I got there around 10am, but I couldn't determine New Jersey's fate. I stopped next at an all-gray Penn Treaty Park, where the photo above was taken and where foghorns could be heard but no ships could be seen. With a northbound ramp a short right turn from WIlliam Penn and his elm tree('s descendant) away, I took to the Delaware Expressway for the River Roads, the canals that parallel them, and a 114 mile miasmatic march.

View Larger Map

There were stops along the way for the R3 train bridge and the I-95 (Scudder Falls) Bridge in Yardley, some historical considerations in Washington Crossing, a bleu cheese and bacon burger at John & Peter's in New Hope, a footbridge and some lumber in Lumberville, a tube launch and former bridge in Point Pleasant, and several other spots in several other townships. Collectively, these stops bring about the 44-photo essay in the fog on the Delaware just below; we end back at Penn Treaty Park for sunset over the lingering San Francisco-esque fog.

To begin the series of 44 photos in the fog on the Delaware, please click

–B Love

26 December 08: Construction stew

It takes about two pounds of venison loin, several cloves of fresh garlic, some whole peeled tomatoes, the necessary carrots, potatoes and celery, and a mishmash of your favorite legumes, seasoned to your liking. Slow cook on low for eight hours, serve hot in a bowl with a big spoon and a big, cold glass of Yards Brawler. Mm, mm.

And a proper Philly Skyline holiday greeting to our friends near and far, in Center City and in Delco, in California and in Florida, in Germany and in Iraq. It's Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, Festivus, a new winter in an old year. Where da party at?

Here on yr Skyline, da party is all over town, where the shovels in the cold, cold ground took a break to unwrap some presents, drink some nog and watch some old movies. I been savin' this money for a divorce, if ever I get a husband! Well now here we are then, day after Christmas but before New Years, time to think about what's going on. Back to work!

We begin above -- click and enlarge -- with a short answer to a relatively FAQ: dude what's up with yr Ritz and 10 Ritt construction zones??? It's true, those two sections have fallen behind, buried somewhere in the gray, where my interest in them sits too.

Right here, the Philly Skyline Triune Skyline is one half of a double shot on what's going on at South Penn Square, where the Residences at the Ritz-Carlton has opened its doors to its first residents. To open these doors, some fencing had to be removed, and with its removal came the removal of the wooden box that's been protecting Robert Engman's 1975 sculpture The Triune. The sculpture, commissioned by Girard Bank and Fidelity Mutual Life Insurance Company, is the last remnant of the building formerly occupied by those two companies and which formerly occupied the site of the new Ritz. The 38 story tower, designed by Vincent Kling in the same family as his Centre Square towers across 15th Street, was the third tallest building in the city before the 80s wave of skyscrapers. It famously burned in 1991, stood there charred and vacant for nearly a decade, and was finally demolished in 2000. Construction at the Residences at the Ritz-Carlton is pretty well finished aside from the interiors on the upper floors, and only the chain link fence along 15th Street remains as an obstacle to thoroughfare. The crosswalk at Penn Square between City Hall and the Triune has even been restored!

This here is the dropoff and main entrance which faces City Hall. For the moment, you can see through to Chestnut Street, but if Mariner Commercial Properties' 1441 Chestnut Waldorf-Astoria ever happens, that view will belong to it.

* * *

Over on Rittenhouse Square, no residents have moved in yet, but 10 Rittenhouse Square has topped off and is inching closer toward completion. The fake masonry / real bricks aside, I really like the multiplicity of the project. Its pathways between Walnut and 18th Streets (behind Barnes & Noble and Anthropologie) and multiple entrances, multi-leveled terraces and various angles of the tower make 10 Rittenhouse a complex complex. It looks totally different from east/west's slender view, the blunt Sansom Street wall from due north, and the standard postcard view above. I dig it . . . mostly.

The Ritz and 10 Ritt construction sections will be updated by the end of the year. Promise that.

* * *

Just around the corner from 10 Rittenhouse Square, whose main entrance is on Rittenhouse Square, is 1706 Rittenhouse Square, whose main -- nay, only -- entrance is on Rittenhouse Square . . . Street. This is something I've wondered since this project's conversation started a few years ago: is it Rittenhouse Square Street or just Rittenhouse Square? The condo's web site (which by the way gets points for a nice newish rendering with an evening Comcast Center skyline on the homepage) announces it as 1706 Rittenhouse Square Street, but the signs for the street, which goes from 17th Street to 23rd Street (with an interruption between 21st & 22nd) all read "Rittenhouse Square", no Street. This is a conundrum that is bound to baffle the millionaires who would otherwise purchase a whole-floor condo with robot-parking. I hope they can work it out.

* * *

Over on the Delaware, Waterfront Square is this close to being three-fifths done. The crane is gone from the third tower, the shortest of the planned five. The glass is installed on all but the top couple of floors and, it must be said, carries the late day sunlight really well on one of those dramatic stormy/sunny days. The Reef is also the closest tower to the new Yards Brewery, where the Brawler comes off the production line a-swinging across the street. While we're over here at Waterfront Square, I'd like to give a shout to my all-state homeboy Doug and his wife Marie, representing Tyrone in the highrise highlife. Holla at Shane Victorino, Dougie!

* * *

With more from the highrise highlife, here goes a double shot of high culture high views. The construction here is that of the National Museum of American Jewish History, which appears to be on schedule to open in fall 2010. The museum's web site now has a construction webcam, updated every 15 minutes HERE.

No word yet on when the latest sign change on the 11 story red building across the street will happen. A lot of folks can remember when a Corestates sign faced Independence Mall. It was the green First Union sign when I moved to Philly, and since some time in 2002, after the First Union-Wachovia merger, it's been the Wachovia sign we see now. That bank's shareholders approved Wells Fargo's purchase on Tuesday, so expect the city's biggest tourist area to have a new logo overhead in the new year.

Our other high culture high view is a couple blocks west at the city's other biggest tourist area, the Pennsylvania Convention Center. After a year's worth of demolition, a couple years' worth of construction is well under way on the Convention Center's expansion:

If you haven't gotten your photos of the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts bathed in early morning sunlight, better do it soon before the PACC's new building covers it in shadow.

* * *

This here isn't so much a construction update as it is some long overdue lip service to the plans for the Boyd Theatre. That building, the poster child of recent historic preservation in Philadelphia, has grand plans by developer ARCWheeler, hoteliers Kimpton and architects Martinez & Johnson. It's worth tallying a couple lolz that it is Wheeler who's behind the well-received plan -- a performance space in the Boyd and a handsome, curving Monaco Hotel -- considering he was the enemy of so many of the same preservationists just a few years ago when he tore down 'Rindelaub's Row' to make way for 10 Rittenhouse. The image here is basically just a timestamp, dated Christmas Eve 2008. We'll check back on the same photo over the next few Christmas Eves to see how things are coming along, but given the plan, here's hoping it progresses quickly. Check Inga's recent story on it HERE.

* * *

Just across the Schuylkill, Cira Centre South is not having such luck. The impending move of BlackRock Inc, who promised to move its 1500 jobs only if it got fifteen years' freedom from taxes, is still officially on hold, and little has been done at Cira South but for the demolition of the Post Office Annex. The original 30th Street Post Office Building, though -- seen in the center of the photo above -- is in the middle of a renovation that will see close to 5,000 IRS employees move in beginning next summer. The lower half of this photo shows the surface of the Walnut Street Bridge . . .

* * *

. . . which the surface of the new South Street Bridge will look somewhat similar to. Gone will be the enormous steel girders that have protected pedestrians from the bridge's traffic, though there should be protective bollards in their place. As part of the agreement between the City and the South Street Bridge Coalition, "decorative vertical elements will be added to the sidewalk side so that the railing appearance is more pedestrian friendly." This, as opposed to the original plan, which was to have nothing between the cars and pedestrians but a curb (to say nothing of the cyclists who'll be using new dedicated bike lanes).

The photo above shows the early stages of South Street Bridge demolition (note backhoes/drill-machines on bridge), seen from Walnut Street Bridge, as well as the traffic that everyone's been warned about for months. The deck of the old bridge hasn't been removed yet (it soon will be), but portions of the railing have been dismantled, and the signs over 76 have been taken down.

* * *

As that bridge comes down, the Weave Bridge goes up right next to it. Progress on Penn's sleek pedestrian bridge over the Amtrak rail lines, which South Street Bridge also crosses, is seen above. It will lead Penn pedestrians to Hollenback Hall's lower entrance; the Hall's upper entrance will reconnect to South Street when the new bridge is finished.

* * *

The view of South Street Bridge from the G-Ho side of the river looks back at the continued construction at the UPenn Health System. Rising behind the recently opened Perelman Center for Advanced Medicine is the Roberts Proton Therapy Center, which will be the largest facility of proton therapy for the treatment of cancer in the world when it opens. Or is it the new translational research building for the School of Medicine? The map on Penn Connects (which is updated even less frequently than The Skinny) suggests it is both, but since the proton page is live and the research building 404s, let's go with proton.

* * *

On our way back into Center City from South Street, let's stop in at Ants Pants for a bacon, egg & cheese roll and a Violet Crumble shake to go. And on our way to Ants Pants, let's have a look at this enormous billboard for Toll Brothers. Last week (and further down this page, since Philly Skyline knows not from "permalinks" and "RSS feeds" -- yet!), we bemoaned the Inquirer's advertorial on G-Ho which didn't mention G-Ho but which did mention Toll's Naval Square development. It also did not mention the enormous structure seen in this picture which was last used as a parking garage for the Graduate Hospital and which was born as a milk processing plant.

In 2006, Toll acquired it with the intention of adding on two floors for a total of six apartment-condo floors, with a brand new set of rowhomes along South between 24th & 25th Streets. Not a bad plan, really, except for maybe Naval Square's blocked views of the skyline. Two and a half years later, it's still nothing more than the mount for Toll's billboards for Naval Square. It's a shame because the views from the upper floors are hard to beat. (For example, check out this panorama from 2003 -- enjoy some JPG compression!) When I lived across the street, I was hoping for an angel investor to loan me a hundred mil so I could put a bowling alley on the first floor, a killer brewery on the second and third floors and an awesome new headquarters for Philly Skyline on the fourth. Alas, Toll beat out my angel. Why does Toll Brothers hate angels?

* * *

You know who didn't hate angels? John Wanamaker. Wanamaker's department store debuted the Christmas Light Show in 1956 (34 years after his death). Macy's kept the tradition alive when its parent Federated Department Stores purchased the May Department Store Company, which had operated the store as Lord & Taylor and Hecht's before it. The Philly Skyline Wanamaker's Skyline above is gonna close out this lil' yuletide construction update. Though the Light Show isn't in full swing with the snowmen and reindeer, the LED Christmas tree, new this year, sure is. For more on the light show, pop over to the Friends of the Wanamaker Organ's web site HERE, or just pop into the Grand Court and see it in person before the season's out, and enjoy an organ concert while you're at it.

–B Love

24 December 08: Valuable tokens

by Nathaniel Popkin
December 24, 2008

We're to look around these days for small gifts, for tokens.

Coming down from the Ben Franklin Bridge the winter city greets us, a night scene rarely so jeweled. The colored balls high in the perimeter trees of Franklin Square, not quite cliché some ten years after being introduced in Rittenhouse Square, enervate the foreground; and far, far beyond a single chimney's wisp of smoke dangles from the roof of the Comcast Center. The smoke is as languid and sweet to the eye as that which dances from the brush of Pissarro, or Gustave Caillebotte, as restful as the front paw and foreleg of the moose below the Washington Monument on Eakins' Oval.

The late 19th century scene behind the Art Museum is never better than in December. Our eyes are drawn out, beyond the construction, to Lemon Hill, to the dim burgundy and slate skyline of Powelton Village, a vernacular of scale and proportion only reinforced by Erdy McHenry's spinning tower rising above; there is train trestle and chimney again. There is river and Fairmount's rosette, and in the grainy, yellowing light there is the searing red of Mark di Suvero's Iroquois. Santa feels unnecessary.

And yet he's delivered, a week or so early, almost eight years since so many of us, collectively, wrote. Dear Santa, Dear Dick Cheney, Dear Senator Specter, Dear CEO of Halliburton and of Johnson Controls and of Wackenhut, Dear Incompetent and Hateful and anti-Government Bureaucracy . . . The barricades that have since 9/11 truncated the Statehouse Garden (Independence Square), that for a time made it illegal to walk below the garden on Sixth Street, that for summers on end have held up limpid and vulgar bunting, that have effectively separated us from our great symbol of courage and liberty, are now gone. The effect, even as witnessed tonight in darkness, is profound.

There is still an unnecessary security layer between us and Independence Hall -- tickets, alone, would control access to the building -- but the visual and emotional presence of that layer is restrained. Even the "keep out" signs are elegant and respectful in their wording: "No Entry," they read, "at this Point." The Statehouse Garden almost feels as it did before; we can stand now at Commodore Barry's back or under the London Plain tree below the bell tower and measure ourselves in its presence. What a relief.

To the lovely, soft-spoken security guard with the vague Midwestern accent I spoke with last night, the square feels again, open. "It's an aesthetic improvement," she said.

I say it's more. The story here is the building's intimacy, the personal connection between citizen and nation. Some part of that connection has been returned. The Chestnut Street sidewalk may never feel as it did, for example, in Peter Frederick Rothermel's State House on the Day of the Battle of Germantown. None of us will sit at the building's edge, upon the national stoop. But now we can come close, or closer than we have since the Bush administration changed our perception of what is real.

"I think I can lose my hostility now," I told the gentle security guard. "You and a lot of people," she answered, and she turned away to resume her silent post.

–Nathaniel Popkin

* * *

Ed. Note: When Nathaniel called last night to let me know this huge bit of good -- but still not great -- news, I was coming around the curve between Girard and Spring Garden on eastbound 76, trying not to cause an accident while craning my neck above the median to look at Boathouse Row, which was the best I have ever seen it. Maybe it's been my timing, but the LEDs that have been there for over three years have always been a solid blue, or solid pink, when they've been 'festive'. Last night, the houses alternated red, yellow and green, while the roofs were white, blue and green. It was spectacular.

The dueling distractions just ahead rise much higher above the interstate -- Cira Centre's blinking lite-brites (which since it opened in 2005 have so often been hard to discern since so many tenants there don't turn off the office lights) vs the PECO Building's crown lights. The bright white lights adorning the top of the dark black building have distracted drivers on the super-snug Schuylkill Expressway since 1976, and at the stroke of the first midnight of 2009, they'll go dark. As part of the energy company's green initiative which also includes a green roof already under construction, PECO is replacing the lights with an LED screen, programmable with colors, graphics and images, and with 20% less energy. The Inquirer's Matt Katz has a story on it in today's paper HERE.

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

23 December 08: Re-crossing the tidal Delaware

Six months ago, the "Summer of the Delaware" was a simple concept. Over the course of the summer, we'd run a handful of features on the big river on our eastern shore, to admit that we maybe take it for granted, to get to know it a little better, and that'd be that. Well wasn't that silly.

With six months of hindsight, I'm a little embarrassed that I thought I could tell the whole story in a three month span, and that's just Philadelphia's 23 miles. There are 360 miles of Delaware River, from a spring in the Catskills to the Atlantic.

One of these Delaware River projects was, and is still, a project unto itself. Given that there are four car bridges and another train bridge crossing that river from Philadelphia, I thought it would be fun to take a look at why these bridges exist where they do and how they work with the shipping channel, which has evolved with Philadelphia and which rides the tide all the way to Trenton. There are eight other bridges across the tidal Delaware, all within an hour's drive from the city, so it made sense to include them in the project, going downstream beginning at the Calhoun Street Bridge in Trenton. At the time, I didn't know there was a book by Frank Dale, published in 2003, called Bridges Over the Delaware River; I especially didn't know that it goes upstream beginning at the Calhoun Street Bridge. With apologies to Frank, who also authored 1996's Delaware Diary, a series of essays on the river's history, one might consider Philly Skyline's Bridges of the Tidal Delaware an unintentional companion piece to that book.

The story of the Ben Franklin Bridge is finally in our sights (as evidenced by the Philly Skyline Sun-glint-y Skyline above); it's taken a long time to put together, and for good reason, as the most significant, or at least iconic of the thirteen. As we wait for the tide to roll us to it, let's head back up to Trenton and set sail from Nathaniel Popkin's Calhoun Street Bridge. Along the way, we'll also hear from Steve Ives, who's riding the rails across the river. Select from the essays below . . .

–B Love

22 December 08: Holiday haste makes plumbing waste

At least that's how I understand it up here in Fishtown today. The technical difficulties today have less to do with web stuff than with water stuff, so let's go ahead and just call today off.

In the spirit of the season, here is a Philly Skyline Liberties Walk Skyline, as Bart and crew celebrate the holidays with these homage-to-South-Philly(-and/or-Barcelona) Christmas Lights at Liberties Walk -- and with the opening of El Camino Real. They've taken down the Obama-with-handlebar-mustache paper and have opened the doors in the former Deuce, and the first word is that it's AOK. I love me some tex-mex, and I've always been a fan of the trar, so I look forward to it. (Speaking of NoLibs, a massive construction update is in the works, coming soon after the basement dries out.)

You all enjoy yourselves, now, and remember, tomorrow's the last day to buy Philly Skyline, The Calendar: 2009 in person before Christmas. Conspiracy Showroom, at 910 N. 2nd Street (just down the street from the photo above), has the calendars for a cool twenty bucks that meet your xmas deadline, and they're open till 7 tonight and tomorrow.

Otherwise, you can buy them RIGHT HERE on phillyskyline.com and we'll have em to you by the first of the year, when we'll be celebrating Betsy Ross's 257th birthday. (She doesn't look a day over 229!)

–B Love

19 December 08: Flashing . . . lights (lights lights)

All righty then, as there are five Philly Skyline, The Calendar: 2009 shopping days left before Christmas, we're gonna head back down South Broad Street.

Center City District wasted no time after their Electri-City event to make use of their creation -- a "happy holidays" e-card was sent out yesterday afternoon, less than 24 hours after the event. View it HERE. (Nutcracker March in MIDI!) Well played, CCD.

As mentioned here yesterday (with the Scottie Pippen assist from Steve Ives), CCD lit up South Broad with a little help from The Lighting Practice, to the sounds of the Nutcracker, gospel, blues, glee, Mummers, and some dude playing a Kenny G sax solo. This year, there were no Photoshop projections, just new LED installations that should last.

Finally, a Yuletide Yo to some friends of the Skyline that Steve and I ran into at the event: Michael, Gabriel, VC, RJ (I came back to yr media table but you'd already split) and, indeed, my man Tim. Nice meeting you dude, and go Steelers!

Anyway, for a little walking tour around Center City's seasons greetings, from City Hall and the Christmas Village, down South Broad Street's light show, back over to Rittenhouse Square and Comcast Center, why not have a look . . .


* * *

–B Love

19 December 08: Professional real estate writer discovers G-Ho

Toll Brothers must have raked in another quarterly loss -- yep, they did -- because the lead story this morning on philly.com is about the NEW REAL ESTATE HOT SPOT . . . Southwest Center City, also known as South Of South!

With an entire paragraph devoted to Toll Brothers, writer Alan Heavens lets us know that their "massive Naval Square project along 24th and Bainbridge Streets helped prompt other developers and homeowners to build and rehab townhouses by boosting confidence in long-term neighborhood investment." Yes, it took Toll Brothers to encourage people to buy homes within walking distance to Penn and just a couple blocks on the grid south of Rittenhouse Square and all of Center City.

What he does not mention is that . . . 1. The chief investor and a chairman for the newspaper for whom he writes this real estate ad is Bruce Toll, one of those Toll Brothers. 2. Toll Brothers sat on the Naval Home property for 15 years before developing it. Recall the fire from 2002, if you will, which was blamed on squatters that had taken up there from years of Toll Brothers' demolition-by-neglect, and Toll Brothers wanted to demolish the property. Lucky for them, the up-swinging market spoke even louder than the preservationists who wanted to hold them to their promise of developing it. 3. It is a private, gated community, protected from the mean old grid by a historically protected brick wall. Yet inside, the rowhomes townhomes are made to resemble the traditional streets outside its walls. It's just like the banners on the property read, this is Toll Brothers' version of "City Living" indeed.

Uuuuuugh. While there is definitely a story in there about an urban neighborhood bucking the national housing downturn and mortgage situation, this story couldn't come off as more trite. And predictably, philly.com's always upstanding commenters are doing their best to rip the points that Heavens does make and rip the neighborhood, as well as its residents new and old. (For the record, the 'phillyskyline' commenter on philly.com is neither myself nor anyone affiliated with phillyskyline.com.)

Heavens meets his 'real estate keyword' quota -- "hip", "trendy", "enclave" -- in describing the activity that's gone on there in the past ten years. In discussing the zany median prices of homes that have sold, he pauses for a moment to let us know that "a median is the middle value." Thanks, Alan!

The writer does manage to credit the people who've taken time to invest and develop in the neighborhood, but he doesn't mention how many of these were those who bought, built or renovated on the cheap, then flipped. While that's not an inherently awful thing, the result was often some of the ugliest, most anti-urban renditions of homes one could imagine.

A lot of new constructions have a garage -- in the back. Crap like the above -- on Christian Street, an A-street running the length of the old city from river to river (and again out in West Philly) -- is possible from the lack of advocacy for good building, like that which you find in places like Old City, Bella Vista, Northern Liberties and Fishtown. That stuff unfortunately dots the entire neighborhood, South to Washington, Broad to the Schuylkill, amidst the statelier homes like those of 'Doctors Row' on Christian, the garden blocks of St Albans and Madison, and several blocks of Fitzwater and Bainbridge. The near-million dollar homes on 1400 Bainbridge push the style envelope while staying characteristically urban -- and urbane.

But hands down, the ugliest house I have ever seen in Philadelphia is this beauty on the right. On the 2100 block of Fitzwater Street, some developer purchased the middle of three adjacent lots and built a rowhome-style house . . . with a brick front and faux-federal windows . . . and vinyl siding . . . and a single-car garage in the front, leaving a ton of empty space above it, and just in case you weren't aware you shouldn't park in front of the garage, there is a sign to remind you not to park in front of the garage.

I lived in this neighborhood for six and a half years and absolutely loved it. I rented at a time when buying a home wasn't on my radar; obviously I wish it had been -- I'd have had my old place at 2041 Fitzwater for 100 grand in 2001, no doubt about it, and I learned recently that it sold for $280K. (That's before all the work that's going to have go into it.) But that it is a success is hardly front-page news, to anyone who's lived there, or moved there, or gone out there.

One has to wonder whether this is because of the neighborhood's amazingly still-extant lack of an identity. Philly Skyline did its part with G-Ho (when we were still based there, by the way), but some people were either offended by that or didn't get it. Craig LaBan picked up on this for the same paper nearly three years ago, and "G-Ho" has been repped by the New York Daily News and a lot of the local media outlets. That it hasn't gained full traction is no cause for sadness; others have tried -- Graduate Hospital Area, Anderson Yards, Marian Anderson Heritage Village, South of South and its appropriately inspiring contractions SoSo and SOS, Northwest South Philly, Jubilee Village, Naval Square -- and, relatively speaking, have failed too. Oh, and it is NOT Grays Ferry. Just because Grays Ferry Avenue rolls through the neighborhood, it doesn't make it Grays Ferry, which is farther south and west, below the same avenue and west of the 25th Street train viaduct.

Southwest Center City is the city's official name for it, the point of reference for which is 1976. But even that definition takes it all the way to Oregon Avenue, encompassing the indisputable neighborhoods of Point Breeze and Girard Estate.

With the photo essay at left archived on this site, I'll get the occasional angry email from someone usually of Irish descent saying that this area has always been called Schuylkill, or the Devil's Pocket. The Devil's Pocket is legit -- that's been a nickname for the tiny pocket tucked between the Naval Home, the Exelon Station and South Street Bridge for years. Schuylkill? I've heard about as many people call it that as I've heard call it the 30th Ward, which is not many. Wards are electoral districts, not names by which to call your neighborhood (unless you're from Houston).

It's time to buy in the hip, trendy, up and coming Graduate Hospital Anderson Yards Marian Anderson Heritage Village South of South SoSo SOS Northwest South Philly Jubilee Village Naval Square Schuylkill Devil's Pocket G-Ho Area. Exhausting, innit?

* * *

One final gripe comes from the missing credit-where-it's-due. Heavens' story is accompanied by a small handful of photos from Bonnie Weller. One of them shows a woman walking a dog on the only piece of public open space in the entire neighborhood, but makes no mention of it. Long imagined as Montrose Park, it finally opened in October as Julian Abele Park, named for the first black graduate from Penn's architecture program, who grew up in the neighborhood and whose handiwork included the Philadelphia Museum of Art, the central branch of the Free Library and several buildings at Duke University. With landscaping contributions from the Community Design Collaborative and Pennsylvania Horticultural Society's Philadelphia Green initiative, the former vacant lot was turned into a park with trees, plantings and benches this year, and it happened because of the efforts from those in the neighborhood.

For more on Julian Abele Park, visit its web site HERE. For more on Abele, check out his entry at the Philadelphia Architects and Buildings project HERE. For more on the neighborhood, put down the newspaper and go check it out in person.

–B Love

18 December 08: Talkin' Philly Skyline Calendar of Events
Singin' Christmas Carols Blues

Cue your favorite holiday music, partners, for here we come a-wassailing with this music post. This last week before Christmas is a doozy in the Skyline music circuit, looking a little something like . . .

  • SEXCOP: Signature Skyline Songsmith Sexcop takes the stage to instill warmth and laughter into the hearts of shoppers at the Philly Christmas Village this evening. Perhaps proving Sexcop as too risqué for a family friendly affair such as the Christmas Village, this evening's event is listed under the given name of Sexcop Chief, Josh McIlvain. Says Mac, "they just don't know how family friendly Sexcop is. In fact, many families have been created immediately after Sexcop shows, and sometimes during!" For the occasion, Sexcop has released a few special Christmas songs, available at Sexcop's Myspace HERE. Tonight, City Hall, Dilworth Plaza Christmas Village, Free!

  • THE WAR ON DRUGS: The kurrent kings of Kensington rock & roll nailed the first half of their European tour in late summer, but had to cancel the second half of it, the one that would have opened for the Hold Steady. While that was a drag for the band, that left their top billing intact, and their debut full-length album Wagonwheel Blues was just lauded as the Inquirer's Dan DeLuca as the top local release of the year. Given that European tour and the promotion that their renowned Secretly Canadian record label are giving them, I think 'local' may sound limiting, even if I mostly agree. That all said, you should support your hometown boys done good, especially in the hometown. They're playing tonight at Johnny Brenda's. If you haven't heard, it, go to the band's Myspace HERE, turn your speakers up to 10, and play the hell out of "Taking the Farm" . . . it's four minutes of rolling and building "Working on the Highway" blues with just the right amount of keyboard noise. Tonight, JBs, $10!

  • DICE RAW: Speaking of hometown boys done good playing Johnny Brenda's, longtime Roots collaborator (and sometimes Honey's Sit-n-Eater) Dice Raw is on the bill with Reef the Lost Cauze and Prowler at JB's Saturday night. Saturday, JBs, $10!

  • THE SILVER AGES: Aaaand speaking of Saturday night, Philly's gold standard in the barbershop quartet dectet take the stage at the First Unitarian Church that evening with Scott from Dr Dog and Nick from Spinto Band. If the forecast holds up, it'll be the perfect evening for a wintry walk through Rittenhouse Square on your way into the church for a winter singalong. Saturday, FU Church, $10!

  • PUNK ROCK FLEA MARKET: Aaaaand speaking of the Church, R5's popular fundraiser for their shows there returns this weekend for its Last Minute Christmas Gift edition. For a $3 donation at the door, you gain access to the most 2 legit 2 quit flea market out there, and especially perfect this year is the final sale of Andrew Jeffrey Wright's t-shirt for Space 1026, "Barack Obama & the Philadelphia Phillies, Total Winners!!!" It's probably the best, if not only, way to commemorate the most glorious week in recent Philadelphia history before Mayor Nutter went all library-pool-fire-department-layoffs on us. Saturday, Starlight Ballroom, $3!

  • WU-TANG CLAN: Two bits of news: 1. Holy crap, the entire Wu-Tang Clan (minus ODB, RIP) is playing the Trocadero on Friday! 2. Holy crap, the entire Wu-Tang Clan is still touring! If I can get the Philly Skyline Time Warp Machine repaired by Friday and we can set it to 1995, we can all pile in together, where Dirty's still alive, Wu-Tang (and hip hop, for that matter) is still relevant, and it doesn't cost $46 (plus Ticketmaster fees) to get in. I'll give a shout if I can get it working. Friday, The Troc, $46!

  • RETURN OF HARSH MELLOW: Saving the best for last in our bag o' musical tricks this week, we find a super duper Happy Birthday rebirthday for the mothballed Philly party Harsh Mellow and its star band Birds of Maya. Birds frontman Jason Killinger is celebrating his big three-oh on Friday night with a show at Kung Fu Necktie that is free, free, free as a bird of maya. Go 'head, JK. And by the way, as usual, that is a killer poster. Friday night, KFN, FREE.

    * * *

    Aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaand speaking of last minute Christmas shopping, you have until Saturday to place your order for Philly Skyline, The Calendar: 2009 if you'd like to receive it by Christmas day. (This, mind you, is through Philadelphia's US Postal Service, so as much as I'd like to guarantee that, well . . . you know.)

    But seriously, help Philly Skyline help you, and order your 2009 calendar right here through this very web site. All original photos and all the Philly birthdays you need, (except you, Phanatic . . . I cannot express my remorse for having forgotten the Galapagos' most famous expat. Next year, promise.) all for the low, low price of $20 (plus $3 shipping). Like a preview? Here you go!

    You can buy the new calendar online by clicking either of those images above, and you can buy it in person, along with a selection of high quality 8"x10" prints at Conspiracy Showroom, 910 North 2nd Street in Northern Liberties (across from North Bowl). Thanks dudes, and we'll holler at you with some construction updates and the like eh ess eh pee.

    –B Love

    From: "Bee Love"
    Subject: Re: 2008
    Date: December 18, 2008 4:20:00 PM EST
    To: "Jimmy Flubenflagen"

    PS: all right dude, since it's that time of year and you axed me . . .

    10. bon iver - for emma, forever ago
    9. dandy warhols - earth to the dandy warhols
    8. calexico - carried to dust
    7. the roots - rising down
    6. santogold & diplo - top ranking
    5. deerhunter - microcastle
    4. my morning jacket - evil urges
    3. the war on drugs - wagonwheel blues
    2. dr dog - fate
    1. fleet foxes - fleet foxes


  • 18 December 08: The cheer is here

    Or so it seemed on South Broad Street last night. If only for 20 minutes, when Broad Street was blocked between Walnut and Locust and Center City District held a brief opening ceremony for Electri-City, its second showering of light on that grandest of canyons, there were no budget crises or mass mail destruction or murders.

    This clappin' choir above was just one of the contributors to an albeit brief display of holiday spirit on South Broad Street. Their Baby Jesus singalong worked the Robinson's Luggage block (rebuilt after the Phillies' World Series victory) while a blues band played a block north, the Villanova band cranked out carols, a glee club sang an amusing "Jingle Bells" to laughing onlookers, and a Mummers band did the first dixieland rendition of "Good King Wenceslas" I've ever heard. All this interspersed with people on stilts, mimes, jugglers, and the twirling midnight marauder at right.

    The stars of the evening, though, were of course the buildings that don't normally change color which were now changing color. The Terra Building, University of the Arts' busy signature at Broad & Walnut which has been lit up since last year's event, gained a dozen LED compatriots this year, including:
    And, not mentioned above: City Hall. Leaving the El last night, I noticed that City Hall was dark (I also noticed Love Park doesn't have a Christmas tree this year . . . sup with that?), but when the switch was flipped, City Hall lit up with the rest of them, rolling through greens and golds and purples and pinks.

    City Hall's lighting was for last night's event only, but the other buildings will remain lit with energy efficient LED lights that are synchronized via wireless signals centered in the Terra Building. Philly's own The Lighting Practice designed the program in a partnership with Center City District. For more on the event, visit CCD's announcement HERE.

    I'll have a set of holiday themed photos in the coming days, but right now I'd like to turn the show over to Philly Skyline's senior vice president of photo skillz, a man who knows a thing or two about Nutcrackers, Mister Steve Ives. To launch a mini essay (six total) of his efforts from South Broad Street, click the image below.

    –B Love

    17 December 08: Foggy mountin' breakdown

    Last night, 9:09pm, Philadelphia PA.

    I love a foggy night, and after warming up with some friends over at Fergie's (where the chili is as good as ever), I noticed the fog just blowing right through the Center City sightline. Therefore, I liked last night, and I thought it might be a good one to pay a visit to Philly Skyline's old pals over at the Loew's and see who was partying up on 33. Said some hellos, did a bathroom inspection, then whipped out and mounted my six inch trusty tripod for an f14, 20 second interpretation of the Philly Skyline Foggy Skyline (PSFS) above. Clig it and dig it.

    * * *

    Heyho, a zoomified thanks to you folks who dropped me a line about that Zoomify thing yesterday. I'd been sitting on that panorama since September but was afraid of uploading it because of its size. I even tried the free image hosts like Photobucket and Image Shack, but their file size limit is 3M and this thing was nearly 8M. It was put together at the height of Summer of the Delaware madness, 22 adjacent photos without a tripod, taken around the circumference of City Hall's observation deck. All things considered, I think it turned out pretty rad, and I again have to thank brother Mark for pointing me in the direction of something right under my nose. I've got some other panoramas buried under these piled up to-do lists so I'll see if I can find a few of em when the maid cleans this place up a little.

    * * *

    On an unrelated note back down near Fergie's, I'd like to congratulate the other bar on the corner for picking a spelling. You might recall an observation made here back in March 2007 (6 March 07: Uhhh . . .) that they couldn't choose just one, so they spent money on three different signs with three different spellings. To each his own, I reckon. Welp, looks like the bar got itself a makeover, and that new look has just one spelling: Finn McCool's. Good job, guys.

    –B Love

    16 December 08: Summer of the Delaware Revisited




    (Big ups to my man Mark for the Zoomify tip.)

    –B LOVE

    16 December 08: Ready to go?

    by Nathaniel Popkin
    December 16, 2008

    According to Paul Nussbaum at the Inquirer, "Texas Gov. Rick Perry is one of the critics of massive federal spending on public works. He said yesterday: 'Every dollar the government taxes and spends is a dollar a family could invest in their children's education or an employer could have used to create more jobs'."


    Texas wants to spend $6 billion in federal funds for 853 immediate infrastructure projects, ranking Perry's state 3rd in dollar amount of requests, behind Utah and Florida, and first in total number of projects. Politics doesn't attract people who feel shame, I suppose.

    The American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials, the group that PennDOT chief Allen Biehler chairs, says that Pennsylvania has assembled 319 projects worth a little over a billion dollars. That's the 16th largest amount. It's clearly too early to worry or wonder why Pennsylvania is requesting this relatively small amount. (New Jersey's list includes 153 projects worth $1.64 billion.) We don't know what these lists include or how they were formulated. We do, however, know that Governor Rendell is ready to fast track projects; he's also an enormously persuasive and influential spokesman for energy and public works projects. Much remains to be seen.

    No one is really sure if this kind of quick-fire deficit spending makes good investment. The projects, such as painting the Girard Point Bridge and renovating the Spring Garden and Girard Broad Street Subway stations, are necessary and will put people to work in the near term. That may be fine, but this much spending really should be strategic, and though meant to address immediate problems, it really ought to follow from some kind of vision. Inquirer readers seem to get this. In a clear contrast to the usual tone of readers' comments, responders to Nussbaum's recent article -- "Region ready for a quick economic fix" -- hold out thoughtful ideas for this kind of spending. Almost all the ideas -- a grand central regional station, the cross-county metro, extending the El into the northeast, extending the Sub to the Navy Yard, building a high speed train to Pittsburgh -- are for visionary, long-term transit projects meant to strategically enhance, and sometimes reshape, the way we live. Few of them could be implemented immediately.

    The rush to consider infrastructure exposes the gap between this kind of strategic thinking and the provincial reality of politics. Says Biehler of how he would like to spend the money, "in my perfect world, the projects would have good geographic distribution, with lots of emphasis on bridge repairs, pavement replacements, bottleneck improvements, safety improvements, and a few good capacity-improvement projects." You notice he doesn't mention transit. Nor, indeed, does he appear to be thinking about how this kind of capital spending might advance a more urban, and greener, civilization. It's no doubt challenging to uphold strategic vision in front of a disparate and needy public. Everyone deserves a piece of the action. But it would be useful to start even this shotgun spending spree with a central idea.

    "Geographic distribution" sounds to me like just another bridge to nowhere.

    –Nathaniel Popkin

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

    15 December 08: Philly Skyline vs the Bicentennial

    Well hey now, a special tip o' the cap goes to the tag team of Bernie Boccella and Joe Minardi for this Philly Skyline back to the future collabo.

    Last week Joe emailed me a copy of the above Bicentennial baby, a photo that Bernie took from the Spring Garden Street Bridge in '76, asking if I'd like to share it with Philly Skyline readers. I told him I did, but only if its contemporary came along for the ride. Joe agreed, delivering the one below with the quickness.

    Here they are, the famous skyline view from Spring Garden-over-Schuylkill, from winter 1976 and winter 2008. For larger versions of each photo, click them to enlarge them in a new window. For a Philly Skyline vs Bicentennial comparison, click

    Thanks, Bernie and Joe!

    –B Love