30 January 09: In Philly on the new train and the old train

Don't mind us -- just passin' thru!

These are actual words you might hear from a conductor on the newest train to come to -- and leave -- Philadelphia, all in one motion. The details surrounding the arrival of the Atlantic City Express Service (Aces) Train are awful nebulous, so nebulous that its brand new web site notes that it's "offered and operated by NJ Transit" but tells you to "book your trip through Amtrak.com" and that Amtrak's refund policies apply if you miss your train. Even the AP report on the train is nebulous, mentioning neither New Jersey Transit nor Amtrak. That's a lot of nebulae!

Another minor detail missing from both the Aces web site and the AP report is that this express train from New York to Atlantic City makes its express run not down the Atlantic coast they share, but across the Delaware River twice and through Northeast Philadelphia. NYC to AC via PA, who knew?

It is minor, yes, but it's worth a passing observation from our city who could certainly use additional train service that there will be a new train in town . . . we just can't use it. The Aces leaves NY Penn Station, makes one stop at Newark Penn Station, then rides the Northeast Corridor through Trenton, across the railroad bridge and into Philadelphia, where it hangs a louie in Frankford and crosses back into Jersey on the Delair Bridge, from which it rides NJT's regular Atlantic City line into the terminal at the Convention Center and outlet mall. A shuttle bus transports riders from the terminal between Borgata, Harrah's and Caesars once you're in AC.

New Jersey Transit does operate a line down the coast on its North Jersey Coast Line, but only as far as Bay Head, a good hour north of AC. Even for as effective as NJT is, there's no way, no how, a new line would ever connect the two; it would cost billions and it would require precious shore real estate that will never ever ever be relinquished for public transit.

I'd say to go check out the Aces web site for additional details (like, say, the fare, which is "coming soon"), but it seems those won't be available until the first train departs one week from today, February 6. There is, however, plenty of sexual innuendo -- "I'll give you a ride you'll never forget", "there's a good chance someone will get lucky" -- and plenty of flashy Flash graphics with all the edge of orange people who quote Swingers and work(ed) on Wall Street that would have probably rented out the VIP lounge before Wall Street tanked. (Merrill Lynch still might.)

Check it all out at Acestrain.com, and remember: bet with your head, not over it. Gambling problem? Call 1-800-GAMBLER.

* * *

Meanwhile, Amtrak is trying to ride the wave of awareness started by the new President and Vice President on their whistle stop tour. At least locally it is. Chances are you've seen the posters, or if nothing else web site ads, for Amtrak's Keystone Line with the grotesque monsters depicting the worst of drivers. (Be scared of monster drivers, ride the train instead.)

The Keystone is one of Amtrak's more popular lines, half in part because it's one of the many that run between NYC and Philly on the NEC, the other half being the surprisingly well used Pennsylvania Main Line between 30th Street and Harrisburg. Amtrak is apparently making a push to make it more well used, accentuating its alternative to the sometimes cumbersome Turnpike and offering a list of reasons to ride, including saving money* and gas, being green and, of course, avoiding the monsters.

* - The toll between Valley Forge and Harrisburg East, the most direct route from Center City to the State Capitol, is $4.50 and gas is roughly $1.60/gallon. A one-way between PHL and HAR is $23, so Amtrak's argument of saving money could probably be elaborated. I digress.

Amtrak survived the Bush administration, so it will be interesting to see the direction it goes under Obama and Biden, that champion of the agency.

On the Keystone, I'm surprised Amtrak hasn't started offering an express between Philly and Harrisburg, with maybe one stop in Lancaster. No offense to the fine folks in Parkesburg and Mount Joy, but there are ten locals each way through these towns to choose from. Surely four of those could be made express. PHL-HAR right now is an hour and 40 minute ride; eliminate all the stops but Lancaster and you're looking at about an hourlong ride between the state's biggest city and its capital. Lots of museums, state government buildings, a nice riverfront park on the Susquehanna, summertime minor league baseball on City Island . . . who do we need to talk to to make this happen? Governor Rendell???

On a related note, London's Wembley Stadium was host to a Saturday afternoon concert in September 1974 with Crosby Stills Nash & Young, Joni Mitchell and The Band. What a show. This here yank on YouTube is a damn near flawless version of "Just Another Whistle Stop" . . . Garth Hudson just kills that saxophone, and Richard Manuel makes us miss him just a little more. Go 'head boys.

* * *

Finally in the Philly Skyline Friday Whistle Stop tour, a happy birthday wish is due. Lordy lordy, Patco's 40!

On Sunday, February 15th, the Patco Speedline will celebrate its 40th anniversary with as yet undetermined events. (Psst, you've got two weeks to work that all out, guys.) As Peter Mucha reported in Wednesday's Inquirer, Patco is asking for riders who were there at the onset to share stories and photos as part of the celebration.

This transit line began in 1936 as a simple Bridge Line, from 8th Street across the Delaware into Camden, grown out of the commission that built the Delaware River Bridge. That bridge was the Ben Franklin by 1969, when the Patco Speedline began operation from Center City to Lindenwold.

Forty years later, the Speedline still operates from Center City to Lindenwold. It added one stop between the two in 1980 and it's added more service, but it hasn't expanded. It's got its Philly-side Delaware Avenue consideration and the 55 Freeway option to Glassboro and Millville, but as of February 2009, those are just ideas.

But February 2009 is also a fair milestone for what does exist, the well used, well liked Speedline. Happy 40th, Patco!

–B Love

* * *

Aces train photo accessed at acestrain.com media center.

29 January 09: Spectrum disorder

In today's Sick About Demolition (SAD) news, we're going to revisit the Spectrum, and the asininity that is Ed Snider's insistence to tear down the arena he built only 42 years ago. This building's lifespan is barely more than half the average human's lifespan, and arenas like this are built to last.


With NCAA basketball in the past 10-15 years, I've only watched it when my money's been on it. The Big Five's great and if I'd have gone to a D1 school, I may have a greater interest, but as it stands, I only focus my attention there for March Madness. No big whoop, the good schools have their rabid fans, and everyone hates Duke even if they don't watch basketball. I will, though, give Duke and Kentucky the nod for the greatest game I ever did watch, and what do you know, it happened right here in South Philly at that same Spectrum.

But last night, 23rd ranked Villanova made sure they sent the Spectrum's college basketball days out with a bang, with a huge victory over 3rd ranked Pitt. The Palestra (which is 72 years old, by the by) is the Cathedral -- no one will deny that -- but the Spectrum had a nice run. The '76 and '81 Final Four (incidentally, both won by Indiana), Christian Laettner's perfect night and buzzer beater off the full court pass from freshman Grant Hill, a ton of Big Five and A10 games . . .

I don't understand why this building has to be torn down. It seems to make no goddamn sense. They want to build Philly Live! or Comcast Spectacor World or Perhaps You Enjoy My Parking Lots or what the hell ever it's called. Fine. There are plenty of South Jerseyans and Delconians and Neasties who would be happy to populate an ESPN Zone when Chris Berman comes to town for live spots and frosty mugs of Miller Lite. No beef with that. My problem is that, you know, they have to demolish an arena that's younger than half the world's population to make room for an entertainment complex when there is AN ENORMOUS PARKING LOT WITH PLENTY OF AVAILABLE ROOM ON WHICH TO BUILD IT.

Oh, and there's the little economy thing. Rich Hofmann reported for Tuesday's Daily News that Ed Snider is looking to have a Spectrum demolition party on New Year's Eve, in spite of his admission that "the timing of the project is dependent on the economy." Hey Ed, you should just tear it down anyway -- even if there's no guarantee Philly Live! will happen. There's not quite enough parking at the Sports Complex; funny the Spectrum is the closest venue of the bunch to the Broad Street Subway.

This web site has long called for demolitions to be parties. They may be cause for nostalgia, but that doesn't mean that you can't have the spirit of "if you can't beat em, join em" and clink a pint with a cheer as the dynamite blasts and the building falls in on itself. They have parties in Atlantic City and Vegas; why not here? So I'll give Ed a plus for wanting a party.

But why? Why does it have to come down? The Phantoms still play there and have yet to relocate. The Kixx (god bless em -- they're not only a soccer team, but they play indoor soccer) still play there.

Concerts are still held there. The Spectrum's setup for music is far better than the cavernous Wachovia Center, presumably to be renamed Wells Fargo Center any day now. The Dead played the Spectrum 53 times (and two more if you want to count the outrageously priced Garcia-less Dead, who are playing two nights there in May). Their banner still hangs in the rafters, strange because Bruce Springsteen's and Billy Joel's were moved over to the Center. Can't have no acid eating hippies in the executive boxes, can we? The Doors released a live album recorded there. Roger Waters wrote "Comfortably Numb" from an experience he had on Pink Floyd's Animals tour there. Led Zeppelin, Elvis, The Who, Genesis, Queen, Aerosmith, David Bowie, Bob Marley and The Cure played there. Phish played there nine times, including one of the greatest concerts I've ever witnessed.

Why does it have to come down? Well . . . if halftime of the Pitt-Nova game last night was any indication, it could be any number of things. So hot it feels like a sauna. So crowded the causeways feel like a cattle chute. So pedestrian the best food on the menu is Chickie's & Pete's crab fries. I overheard two girls talking, in Villanova gear who presumably came in with the caravan of yellow school buses of students from the Main Line: "why did they play [this game] here? Why didn't they just have it at the Center?" So 1967 that the luxury boxes are opened up little rooms with metal doors decorated with pixelated posters of Eric Clapton.

Damn it. Nostalgic as I can be, setting foot inside the Spectrum and comparing it against what you know at the Wachovia Center, or the new Devils arena in Newark, or even clunky old Madison Square Garden, you kinda know why Ed wants to knock it down. It hurts to say that. Truly.

And like the Shirt Corner, who's going to put up the fight to save the place, making the case that it needs to stay for the Phantoms and Kixx and monster truck jams and occasional concerts? The memories of the Flyers' Stanley Cup runs in the 70s and Moses Malone's fo fo fo over the Lakers in '83? Christian effin Laettner?

America's Showplace is on its way out, and there isn't much anyone can do about it. How ridiculous would it be for the Spectrum to be demolished and have the land sit empty like so many Disney Holes in South Philly waiting for the economy to recover? It could happen. As old as Ed Snider is (he turned 76 earlier this month), he could be dead by the time Philly Live! ever comes to fruition.

So we might as well do our part and send the place off with the bang Ed's giving us. The Nova-Pitt game last night was a great one; when Scottie Reynolds drilled a three over Pitt stud DeJuan Blair, the place was louder than I've ever heard any indoor arena. Villanova ran the table in the second half and made Pitt look silly.

Bruce Springsteen is playing twice at the end of April and the Garcia-less Dead are right after that. The Sixers -- that team with one of the worst attendances in the NBA (they were worst earlier this season, but Minnesota, Sacramento and Memphis have dropped them to fourth) -- have a special 3 Game Spectrum Plan, which gets you one 'last historic game' at the Spectrum, not the three games you purchased. The Flyers? The team that won two Stanley Cups on this ice played one whole preseason game at the Spectrum to send it off.

From here out, it's Remember the Spectrum . . . then forget the Spectrum.

–B Love

28 January 09: Get Lit

Well now here's a look at the 700 block of Market Street at a place we like to remember as Lit Brothers.

According to the 1994 edition of Philadelphia Architecture, A Guide to the City, prepared by John Andrew Gallery and published by the Foundation for Architecture, Lits is the only complete block of commercial Victorian architecture in the city. The wording of "complete block" is important here because the building has an appearance of a single, solid building, thanks to the meshing of the cast iron, brick, marble and terra cotta arches all painted to look that way. The buildings behind the united façade were constructed at different times between 1859 and 1907, when the full-block Lit Brothers department store opened as an affordable competitor to Wanamaker's, Strawbridge's and Gimbel's. (Their original store at 8th & Market had opened in 1893.)

The store closed in 1976, when the Bicentennial was raging a few blocks east. The company went under the following year. Fortunately, the landmark building was spared from the wrecking ball thanks to a strong preservation push, and it reopened as the Mellon Independence Center, which it's still called today, with retail on the ground floor and below (connected to the Gallery and Septa/Patco concourse) and offices above.

Inga Saffron's story yesterday that the Shirt Corner, four blocks east, is facing demolition after it closed its doors, again brings up the preservation conversation. In this case, it also means there will be accounting for taste . . . if the comments on the story are any indication, there are more than enough voices to call the famous red, white, and blue store an eyesore, thereby agreeing with the building's buyer that it has "inappropriate signage."

But it's hard to deny that it too is a landmark, an albeit loud one, notching another peg in Market Street's long line of retail history. Less people will probably miss the zoot suits sold in the Shirt Corner than will miss its patriotic(?) sign, but it's worth considering. The problem is, in a town like Philadelphia, there are so many demolitions and would-be demolitions that you have to choose your battles. If no one stood up for the old Gimbel's building after they moved their store across the street to the Gallery (before they too went under), leaving the once gorgeous streetscape to the Disney Hole Parking Lot it would become, it's doubtful anyone will stand up for the Shirt Corner like they did for Lit Brothers.

As Inga said, "If the city loses the Shirt Corner, it will at least still have a similar sign across the street at Suit, Shirt & Tie Corner." So there's that.

* * *

Doo doo doo, another day, another demolition story. Peace out, Shirt Corner. Hello, Lits.

Hats trimmed free of charge. Sunny day desktop photo above also free of charge on this cold, rainy day.

–B Love

27 January 09: Here is a picture of the Philly Skyline

At sunset, at Philly Skyline world headquarters in Fishtown, USA. Photo was taken around 5pm last Thursday.

–B Love

26 January 09: Winter of the Delaware, or,
fly, eagles, fly

I woke on Saturday morning on my own will; the wake-up call I'd asked for never came. Then again the concierge could only tell me about the vending machine on the second floor when I asked him if there was anywhere to get something to eat at midnight in this town . . . and with a pack of vanilla wafer cookies -- the ice cream cone sticks with the icing on the inside -- I sat down on the balcony to see a Chinese restaurant across the street with a red neon "OPEN" sign and a phone number on the banner. I called over and within fifteen minutes had washed down my wafers with a dessert of shrimp lo mein and a shake of my head at the goofball concierge.

Wild Turkey is a sneak, boy . . . that 101 will turn things weird in a second, and the next thing you know you're out back having a tap in the parking lot with an old doobie brother who resembles Skunk Baxter and an American Indian cook who boasts that she'll scalp him from his head to his ass if he doesn't hurry up and pass that shit to the left. The minute after that you're walking across an active train bridge to get a closer look at the Delaware River below.

More accurately, the East Branch of the Delaware River, which runs through the Main Street and Front Street parts of Hancock, New York, the town of 1,100 where the East Branch and West Branch converge into one Delaware River. I get the impression that Hancock has a decent enough tourism draw -- fly fishing in the area is the best in the country, and there's something to be said about being a two and a half hour, scenic Catskills drive from NYC -- but it's slow going in the winter. I swear I was the only guest at the Hancock House Hotel, but Honest Eddie's bar was bumpin'.

After a breakfast of advil and hotel lobby coffee, I was on the road -- Popkin's train would arrive in Port Jervis at noon, so I thought, and I had a few hours to get those 70 miles. A landmark among the Bridges of the Delaware was right on the way.

With the temperature barely in two digits and drifts of snow blown across the otherwise well plowed and salted NY-97, the drive on the scenic byway was the white winter hymnal those weird beards from Seattle sang about. There are thirteen bridges across the Delaware between the Hancock headwaters and the southern tip of Jervis, where New York, New Jersey and Pennsylvania form a point marked by a subtle granite block from some time around the Civil War. Nearly all of the bridges were built in response to several years of previous bridges who lost battles to floods. They're small, often one-lane, and carry rural state roads in New York to rural state roads in PA, connecting towns like Lordville with Equinunk, Narrowsburg with Darbytown.

At Minisink Ford, another one lane bridge crosses the Delaware into Lackawaxen, PA. This one happens to be the oldest cable suspension bridge in the country, designed by the engineer whose masterpiece Brooklyn Bridge opened 36 years after this one opened -- as an aqueduct. John Roebling, whose son Charles founded the town with the family's name just upstream from Philly in Burlington County, New Jersey, engineered the Delaware Aqueduct as one of four for the Delaware and Hudson Canal Company, which transported anthracite coal from northeastern PA to New York City.

If the need for a bridge of water across a river of water seems strange, it made sense then: the river was already well in use by lumber companies upstream who sent their product downstream to market in Easton and Philadelphia via timber rafts -- enormous rafts assembled from the logs, manned by river sailors. These rafts had no breaks, so needless to say, any slow moving coal barges being transported perpendicularly across a river presented a hazard -- or an easy target -- for the much larger and much faster timber rafts.

Roebling's 535', four span aqueduct opened in 1847, freeing the barges from the charging rafts while issuing the charging rafts a permanent obstacle. Incidentally, both industries were pretty dried up by the end of the century, thanks to the depletion of their respective natural resources and the steady growth of the railroad. The aqueduct was converted to a bridge for pedestrians and horse drawn wagons in 1908, and shortly thereafter it was fitted to accommodate auto traffic, too. After 131 years of private ownership, the bridge came into the jurisdiction of the National Park Service, which established the Upper Delaware Scenic and Recreational River in 1978. The NPS most recently reconstructed the towpaths (now pedestrian walkways), walls and the pointed icebreakers in the river 1995, but the wire cabling is Roebling's original from 1847.

On the New York side of the bridge, the NPS has turned the one-time tollhouse into a mini-museum about the bridge. Zane Grey, the turn-of-the-20th-century Penn baseball standout turned Old West novelist, owned a home on the PA side where his literary career took off, thanks largely to his wife-manager Dolly, a local girl from Lackawaxen. That house is now a museum, and the front yard leading down to the Delaware is popular with birders. Conveniently for them, and surprisingly to me, the Eagle Institute, a non-profit which compiles data and resources to help protect and preserve eagles and educate the people that flock to see them, has a winter field office in the only building between Grey's house and the bridge.

Having never seen a bald eagle in the wild, I was intrigued by the full parking lot and the sign saying "come in". After walking across the cold, windy and empty bridge, I did come in, and in doing so I interrupted a lecture by a ranger who was about to lead the group of 15-20 into a van and onto somewhere, presumably, with eagles. I tend to shy away from van rides with strangers I've already irritated, so I headed back out across Roebling's bridge in hopes that I'd maybe spot an eagle on the way to meet Popkin in Port Jervis.

About halfway onto the bridge, there was a middle aged man and his daughter my age, so in the supposed local parlance I asked, "seen any eagles?" The father pointed to the sky, way up to the sky, and said "that's one right there." Having never seen one, I was incredulous that the tiny bird in the distance was an eagle. That's when it started to swoop, the little dot in the sky growing as it glided down the Delaware valley. The father was yelling to his daughter's fiancé on the bank to come quick; he was yelling to me to get my camera ready. The daughter was speechless.

Here it was, this American bald eagle, flying right toward us, right over the oldest suspension bridge in the country, its white head picking up the glint of the clear winter sun as it came into view. Whoosh. It passed by, not 60' above our heads on its way back up. He wasn't fishing; he was showing off. I didn't take a single picture; I watched the show. The father was beside himself, saying he'd never seen anything like it and wouldn't be surprised if we all went the rest of our lives and never saw it again. The daughter was wiping her eye, clearly moved by this big bird.

That's when it played the part of a star spangled movie star, gliding into an All-American mid-air U-turn, as graceful as you'd expect an eagle to be written about. As it started the return descent, it started flying hard, its seven foot wingspan making a soft thwap-thwap as it flew back above us on its way to a treetop perch. On this second chance, I did use the camera already in my hands.

* * *

Seeing bald eagles in zoos has always depressed me. Seeing them in TV commercials or "Never Forget" commemorative plates has never inspired me. Seeing my first bald eagle in the wild, on top of a historic bridge where I'd stopped at without any intention of seeing eagles . . . well, that was better than the zoos and the plates. And it's a little irksome that, after returning to Philadelphia, I learned there is now a pair of bald eagles nesting in Pennypack Park, in addition to the pairs in recent years at Petty's Island, the Navy Yard and Tinicum, none of which I'd ever seen . . . but no matter, seeing that eagle as I did, over my river, was remarkable.

It was the six eagles I saw later that blew me away.

Popkin was a little salty that I was a half hour later than his train was in frigid Port Jervis, since after all I was the one who suggested he take the train from NYC (where he'd been the night before) . . . but as soon as we dropped the car on his beloved Old Mine Road and soaked our boots in the six inches of snow on the unplowed ancient highway, all was well. All was better still when we got far enough away from roads that all we heard was the sound of the rushing river . . . and an unfamiliar squawk.

I stopped and looked up through the trees to see another bald eagle flying overhead. Right then, we slid down the fifteen foot bank to the frozen sandy shore of the river, above which six of these large birds were playing and flirting, partying like it's 1699. There was one particularly frisky pair that would dive together and kiss, one of them tumbling each time like some well-practiced air show 360. Neither of the humans said anything.

* * *

A couple miles into the wilderness and 130 miles upstream on the river that passes within seven blocks of both of our houses, time slips fast when you're watching eagles fly. Noting just how golden the glow was on these aerial American idols, I flashed back two weeks and about fifteen miles south, when I was stuck in the snowy woods after dark. Nathaniel commented on the gradient hues the setting sun cast through the woods, from the bright orange paintbrush treetops to the blue's blue of the river, and all the gray in between. "I know this gray," I told him. "Let's get out of the woods."

That we did, and with a little twilight to spare. And we saved all the McNabb/Reid eagle jokes for the rack of ribs (his), the surf & turf (mine) and a cold Warsteiner at the Walpack Inn.

* * *

Eagle Institute.
NPS: Upper Delaware River Scenic and Recreational River.
NPS: Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area.
UpperDelaware.com, a guide to the region.
Bridges over the Delaware River, Frank Dale, Rutgers University Press, 2003.
• "A third eagles nest in Philadelphia," Sandy Bauers, Inquirer, 10 Jan 2009.

–B Love

23 January 09: Don't call it a comeback

"'Frustrating' is an accurate term, I'd say," Yards Brewing Company president and co-founder Tom Kehoe says when asked if 2008 was the most frustrating in Yards' 15 years of brewing. "But it wasn't the end."

In terms of consumer beer production (as opposed to just brewpubs), Yards is the longest tenured brewery in the Philadelphia area, but at the end of 2007 it hit a well publicized snag when Kehoe and his partners Bill & Nancy Barton decided to part ways. The Bartons kept the Kensington brewery and Kehoe kept the brand. The Bartons' Philadelphia Brewing Company made a grand entrance at last year's inaugural Philly Beer Week (7 March 08: Beer Week for Breakfast) and hit the ground running, Kenzinger becoming an instant staple at discerning pubs where Yards was already popular.

Yards, meanwhile, had to set up an entirely new operation just to keep the brand going. Since the space they leased at 901 North Delaware Avenue was most recently the Title 10 Skatepark, it was not brew-ready, and as a stopgap, they relied heavily upon their existing -- and finite -- inventory and rented operations from the Lion Brewery in Wilkes-Barre just to keep their signature Philadelphia Pale Ale in stock. As someone who drinks a lot of the stuff, I can tell you it was just not the same, so it was with much relief in September 2008 that I heard beer was finally coming off the line on Delaware Ave.

"It was a rough go, early on," the awesomely-named Steve Mashington, Yards operation manager/dog walker/chain puller, says of starting back up. "We only sold 30 out of every 50 barrels in those first few batches."

Suffice it to say that they have since ironed out any kinks. The former skatepark, and before that Acorn Iron & Supply Company, is now in full swing, with a projection of 16,000 barrels for the calendar year 2009.

And again, as someone who drinks a lot of the stuff, I am convinced that it's better now than ever. A month or so ago at Memphis Taproom, I had a pint of Yards' ESA, the first of that ale I'd had since production hit its stride, and it was one of the best beers I had ever had. "It's great, isn't it?" Brendan Hartranft, owner of the Taproom says, confirming my surprisingly strong satisfaction. "There were a few frankly bad batches (after production started back up in Philly), but they're definitely back."

"ESA is what everyone remembers us by," says Kehoe (pictured at right) of Yards' once flagship beer. "British visitors, beer snobs, (the late) Michael Jackson . . . it's the one with the lasting impression."

It's funny, then, that Philly Pale Ale has supplanted it in popularity and consumption. "Philly Pale accounts for 50% of our operation," Mashington says. "I think it's a combination of people liking lighter beers and a regional identity thing."

Indeed, it's easy to order a Philly Pale Ale in Philadelphia. Even bars that don't subscribe to a local-only philosophy tend to carry it. At Citizens Bank Park, where like any major sports venue the lowest taste denominator prevails, with either Bud Light, Coors Light or Miller Lite at nearly every stand, Philly Pale Ale has been available for years. PBC's Kenzinger debuted at the stadium last year. And both beers were along for the championship ride at the ballpark.

"There's room for both of us," Kehoe says of Yards and PBC before adding, "and there's room for several more. Beer drinkers here will support competition." As one Fishtown bar owner said last year, "divorces happen all the time. We want mommy and daddy to succeed."

One area of competition Kehoe doesn't want to get too deep into, though, is the sale of single beers. That is, a much anticipated brewpub at the new Yards facility won't quite be a full-time brewpub, as Kehoe doesn't want to cut into the nearby bars in Northern Liberties and Fishtown who sell his beer. "But really, we don't want to be here until 2 in the morning," Mashington (pictured at left) says with a laugh.

But they will be selling beer there -- by the pint, by the sixpack, by the case -- and soon. "Philly Beer Week is coming, and we'd like to have the place presentable by then," Kehoe says. It was his beer that Mayor Nutter tapped last year to kick off the first ever event, and this year he has an all new home for hosting.

The first priority of beer production now taken care of, the last details of what will be the public space are now being hammered out. Mashington says there will be a bar and lots of tables, but nothing too extravagant. The kind of place where you can unwind on your way home from work -- or wind up on your way to a concert at Festival Pier.

"Really, we just love the visibility here," Kehoe says of the location under the morning shadows of the Waterfront Square towers next door. "Maître d's wouldn't often send tourists to Kensington, but they'll send them to Delaware Avenue." Looking out toward the Delaware River, Kehoe pauses and smiles, "and I'm a bit of a nautical man."

There's some truth to his laugh -- he keeps a 1978 Ericson sailboat in the marina at Piers 3 & 5. It's named Saison, after Yards' belgian ale, which will return this spring. A batch of Love Stout, the chocolaty stout that once used oysters in the brewing process, had just finished production when I stopped in last Saturday and will be ready for consumption in early February.

In addition to these seasonals and the signature ales -- Philly Pale, ESA (extra special ale), IPA (india pale ale) and Brawler, the English session ale that returned with the new facility after a decade long absence -- Yards brews the Revolutionary Ales served at City Tavern, the reproduction of the colonial tavern popular during the Revolution. The General Washington Tavern Porter and Thomas Jefferson Tavern Ale never missed a beat during the 2008 slowdown, and both are readily available at beer distributors now. Poor Richard's Tavern Spruce Ale, the spicy, Christmasy ode to Ben Franklin, will return to production later this year.

City Tavern is a major participant in Philly Beer Week, hosting several events featuring their ales during the week, including a 'Meet the Brewer' with Kehoe. But the event worth circling on your calendar is the one to be hosted at Yards: Smoke 'Em If You've Got 'Em. Smoked beers, smoked meats, and cigars that will be smoked are the theme of the definitive event at the new brewery, to be held on Friday the 13th of March.

It will be a hell of a public introduction to the new room, which will no doubt become a go-to spot, even if it will close at 9. You just can't beat a beer that's so fresh off the line it doesn't even have to leave the building it's brewed in. And that it's brewed in Philly just makes it taste that much better.

* * *

An exact date isn't set yet, but tours of the brewery will also resume once the public space is ready. The kettle room has the potential to double, and Kehoe and Mashington expect it to, eventually. A custom stainless steel piping system pumps it from the kettles into the bottling and barreling room, where new machines currently fill 120 bottles a minute and 40 kegs an hour.

Even though they've been around since 1994, Yards still has something to prove, so another major piece of reestablishing its brand is a reestablishment of the branding itself. Mashington oversaw an update of the packaging. "It was too all over the place," he says of the pre-move styles affixed to bottles and cases. "I want to be able to sit across the room and tell someone is drinking a Yards."

* * *

After a dip and a deep breath last year, Yards is back in action, and they're looking to grow. With the quality of the beer coming off the lines and flying off the shelves, there's no reason to think they won't. And once the bar opens? Hot damn.

Philly's beer history -- from William Penn's homestead to the Brewerytown & Northern Liberties heyday of the late 19th century to the craft beer revival of the 80s and 90s -- has come full circle back on the Delaware River.

–B Love

22 January 09: FOLLOW-UP:
On the Liberty Bell Pavilion

Aaaaand this just in from Alaska: the late Liberty Bell Pavilion is safe and sound, resting in pieces.

Darrell Breese, the Eagle River Alaska Star reporter who last week said that the whereabouts of the dismantled Pavilion were a mystery, despite the affirmation from Independence National Historical Park and the Building Trades Council that it had been shipped off to Alaska, has cracked the case. Breese told me he today spoke with Bob Halcro, the Avis Rent-A-Car executive whose patriotism (and money) led him in 2002 to create Unity Park, the planned public space and American memorial monument, in rural Eagle River, Alaska, north of Anchorage. Only the park was never built. The land that was dedicated was outside Eagle River was remote even to that municipality, and there was a problem with building a new access road to it, and the plan fell through.

However, where Unity Park died, Remembrance Park has new life. Halcro and the city of Anchorage are in negotiation right now to acquire a piece of private but undeveloped property in downtown Anchorage for the park's construction.

Our former Liberty Bell Pavilion, which right now sits in protected, sealed containers in an Anchorage storage facility, will be fully reconstructed, and it will hold an exact replica of the Liberty Bell, cast at the same Whitechapel Foundry at which the original bell was cast. In addition to our Bell, the park will feature a segment of steel from the fallen World Trade Center, a portion of one of the Navy ships from Pearl Harbor, and a number of other nationalistic items.

If all goes well, Remembrance Park will begin construction this year.

–B Love

22 January 09: FOLLOW-UP:
On Robert Morris' birthday and calendars

Regarding yesterday's Calendar Correction and the mistake on my end to include founding father Robert Morris' birthday twice -- 20 January 1734 and 31 January 1734 -- I received two emails from astute readers saying that, in fact, they're both right!

Adam from Abington writes:
January 20 represents the old system of dates that was used in Britain (and its colonies) through the 1750s. January 31 represents the date in the new style, which was 11 days off the old style during the 18th century. The difference is due to the problems with the Julian calendar which was in effect through that period -- they retroactively corrected to the Gregorian calendar and lost 11 days (there were no September 3-13, 1752, in England).

So 20 January is the right day if you want to celebrate on the same calendar date that a young Morris did, but 31 January is correct if you want to celebrate when the Earth is in the same celestial spot as when he was born.

Thus, don't fret the "error" too badly!
And my man Jimbo down in St Pete, the only person on the planet who was a Rays fan before 2008, had this to add:
Back in Feb. 24, 1582, Pope Gregory XIII realized the Julian calendar was messed up because it didn't account for the unevenness of the Earth's revolution - the old rule of leap year was one every year divisible by 4, no matter what. Doing that messed up the seasons and caused spring to begin in the beginning of March, so effective October, all the countries under the pope's reign would align with the new calendar (the one we use today, which fixed the leap year rule: every year divisible by 4, except when divisible by 100 (unless divisible by 400, i.e. the year 2000 had a leap year, but 1900 didn't and 2100 won't)). So, in the Holy Roman Empire and their allies, Thursday, October 4, 1582, was followed by Friday, October 15, 1582.

However, most of the rest of the world (Britain included) scoffed at the idea, so they stayed with the Julian calendar - for a little while, anyway. Finally, Britain and her territories caved in and picked up the improved Gregorian calendar in 1752. So, what does that mean for people born before the switch? Well, they'd technically have two birthdays: one they were actually born on under the Julian calendar (In the case of Robert Morris, 1/20, which would be written as "Jan. 20, 1734 O.S." for "Old Style") and the date it was under the Gregorian calendar (for Morris, "Jan. 31, 1734 N.S." for - you guessed it - "New Style"). . . .

That being said, both dates you put were correct, but only on different calendars. Since yours is a Gregorian calendar (I assume, since the vast majority of the world uses that one now), the 1/31 would be the right one.

As someone who has printed a calendar for three years, you'd think I would have come across this little-known ripple in American history, as Fox News put it for the celebration of Ben Franklin's 300th birthday three years ago. I knew of the Julian-Gregorian switch, but not, say, the effects it had on the birthdays of America's founding fathers, nearly all of whom were born before 1752.

There are no such controversies for this year's big fellas celebrating the big 2-0-0, Edgar Allan Poe (this past Monday) and Abraham Lincoln (February 12).

–B Love

22 January 09: Top Ten


I don't know but I been told, construction photos never get old. The condos sold and the toilet's gold and to take a buncha pictures gotta stand in the cold, HEY NOW. Get up! Lemme see a little more from the back!

It's January in Pennsylvania, baby it's frigid outside. And that's right might A to the O to the K. Love it. Love the winter, love the four seasons. Love the 10 Rittenhouse Square construction update, even if you don't love the 10 Rittenhouse Square. Do you? Your call -- total judgment. Beauty's in the eye of the beholder, the beer holder, the key holder, the Jack Frost Big Boulder, the Fox Mulder, the city of big shoulders, it's all really truly honestly for real for real up to you. How's your eye, what's your beauty? It's your call, Lynn Doyle.

Dig dig dig. Buffalo buffalo Buffalo buffalo buffalo buffalo Buffalo buffalo. 1-2-3-4-5-6-7-8-9-TEN. Go for it.

–Beeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee Looooooooooooove



Ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls, Philly Skyline calendar consumers! I am pleased to announce this year's winner of the annual Find B Love's Goof contest: the urban planner, Bacon spanner, friend of Blythe Danner -- none other than one Greg Heller. Congrats, Greg!

This year's Philly Skyline, The Calendar B Love Goof finds us celebrating the birth of Robert Morris, financier of the revolution, twice. Love him two times, babe. As we see in the graphic above and on the month of January hanging on your wall, Robert Morris' birthday is listed as both January 20 (yesterday) and January 31.

What happened was . . . in the course of brainstorming new Philadelphians to add to the calendar, I thought of Robert Morris, signer of the Declaration of Independence, owner of the home George Washington rented while living here as the first President of the United States, millionaire importer-exporter who died broke. A fair choice, I thought -- he lived much of his life in Philadelphia, he has a university and a college named for him, and the statue pictured here, by Paul Wayland Bartlett in 1925, stands in Independence Park facing the Second National Bank, on whose steps it stood previously. (There is a picture of this at phillyhistory.org, which I learned at philart.net.)

Only thing was, I did this without realizing that Morris was already on the calendar -- on both 2007 and 2008, at that.

On the 2007 and 2008 calendars, Morris' birthdate is listed as 31 January 1734, which I'd picked up in various sources, most notably at Encyclopedia Britannica and robert-morris.com. Not remembering January 31st of the past two years, I hit Wikipedia's Robert Morris page and found 20 January 1734. When Greg pointed out this flagrancy, he also sent me a link to his pop's ushistory.org entry for Robert Morris in the Signers of the Declaration of Independence section, which also lists 20 January 1734.

On the 2009 calendar, January 20 is way over here, and January 31 is way over there. The conflicting Robert Morris birthdates were far enough apart that they opted not to battle -- just like Morris voted not to declare independence until after everyone else did. Hey, he had money to make . . . and make it he did, with enough left over to pay some troops and get 'em across the Delaware and into Trenton. Thanks, Bob.

From here forward, Philly Skyline will celebrate the financier's birthday with the likely-more-accurate Wikipedia and USHistory.org on January 20th. REGRET THE ERROR.

And with that in mind, I guess I owe Robert Morris a one day late birthday wish . . . happy 275th birthday, Bob! (And a happy 38th to you, ?uesto.)

* * *

For more on Robert Morris, financier of the revolution,, please see the following:
Robert Morris University: "Who was Robert Morris anyway?"

Youtube: historian Stanley Klos (who I think Eagles fans booed 40 years ago) lectures on Robert Morris.

DSDI1776: Descendants of the Declaration of Independence entry on Robert Morris.

National Constitution Center: Bios of the Pennsylvania delegates to the Constitutional Convention.

US History: A brief history of the President's House in Philadelphia, which today received a pledge of $3.5M from Governor Rendell and the Commonwealth, bringing the total of funds raised to $8.5M.
And don't forget, there's still time to buy your two-Robert-Morris-birthday-having Philly Skyline, The Calendar: 2009. Check it out right 'ERE.

–B Love

21 January 09: PROGRESS

And the good news just keeps a-coming. According to Philly Skyline sources, our calls have been answered: American Commerce Center WILL have an observation deck.

After a feasibility study involving cost effectiveness and security, Hill International Real Estate Partners (HIREP) has commissioned building architect Kohn Pederson Fox to design an observation deck on the uppermost floor of the 63 story building. In an unconventional break from standard geometric observation decks (think Empire State and 30 Rock, Sears and Hancock), ACC's viewing platform will conform to its irregular shape.

The ceiling will follow the lines of the windows, from 45' on the chamfered corner (on the 19th & Arch side) to a whopping 160' on the spired corner. Think about that: the southeast facing corner (the one that will give the birds eye views of the previous tallest buildings -- City Hall, One Liberty Place, Comcast Center) will have a one hundred sixty foot window wall through which to look down at those buildings. For some perspective, The Ayer, the art deco tower next to The St James on Washington Square, is two feet shorter than that.

Garrett Miller, president of HIREP, says, "an admission will be charged, but it will be the standard market rate." A survey of the same observation decks mentioned above looks a little something like . . .
Empire State Building = standard 86th floor deck = $20, 102nd floor is $15 more
Top of the Rock = $20
Sears Tower Skydeck = $15.45
Hancock Observatory = $15
As we well know, the only observation deck in Philadelphia is the one at City Hall. The tiny elevator only serves up to five people at a time, is only ticketed in 15 minute intervals (which, when factoring the elevator ride up and the elevator ride down, amounts to about 8 minutes viewing), and costs $5.

The Loews Hotel has a ballroom on the 33rd floor for hotel and rented functions. The Bell Atlantic Tower's Top of the Tower is private and available for functions (à la weddings). Mellon Bank Center has its private Pyramid Club. And soon, Rae will be moving from Cira Centre's ground floor to the 37th floor of Two Liberty Place. That's it for the Really High Philly Places.

American Commerce Center's observation deck will be public, with the exception of private, catered functions, for which it will be available. On the top floor of the city's new tallest building, the platform will be roughly 1,200' high, over 200' above Comcast Center across the street. (Let's hope it has those 25¢ metal viewing things so we can see the 4" Billy Penn welded to its roof.) Only Sears Tower's Skydeck, at 1,353', will be higher in the US.

Toronto's CN Tower, recently refitted with LED lights, was the world's tallest observation deck (1,465') from 1976 until last year, when it was eclipsed by Shanghai's World Financial Center (1,555'). If it opened today, ACC's would be the sixth tallest in the world. Knowing the way things are built in Dubai, we'll be lucky if ACC's is in the top 20 by the time it opens.

Nevertheless, ACC's observation deck will be unlike anything Philadelphia has ever seen. And unlike Comcast Center, One Liberty Place -- hell, anything that has trumped the Quaker hat of our Quaker founder in the past 25 years -- we'll actually get to see it.

–B Love

20 January 09: One more for the inauguration

All right -- just to be clear, I partied with the rest of the country today. What a happy day. I'm just bracing for the hangover.

But there's still a little time to party, and for the DC party, this here is the second installation of Philly Skyline Zoomify panorama madness, this one featuring that city 137 miles southwest of here (one hour and thirty-eight minutes on the Northeast Regional) that the entire world was watching today.

This panorama is stitched together from, if I remember correctly, thirteen photos, from the roof of the Secret Service Building. (Go figure.) The photos were taken in winter 2005 shortly after George Bush's second inauguration. I don't recall millions of people celebrating on the lawn, just a bunch of protests.

Certainly all the cranes in this panorama have shifted to other parts of DC. That town is in perpetual construction, yet it has no skyline to speak of. Contrary to popular belief, the height limit there is not equal to the height of the Capitol Building, but rather, the amazingly urban ideal that no building shall be more than 20' taller than the total width of the street on which it stands. That's why DC is as dense as it is and that office buildings take up entire blocks.

Zoomify, DC style.

Relatedly, check the archives for the essay on the Capitol Dome and its Philadelphia association. That's HERE (24 September 07: A Philadelphian in the Capitol). Speaking of, a big Philly Skyline shout to another Philadelphian in the Capitol, my man Marty from the Great Northeast, working in the office of the Architect of the Capitol. Go 'head, Marty, make Philly proud down there.

–B Love

20 January 09: Tel Aviv Skyline, The Final Report


After last week's Tel Aviv postcard (14 January 09) from our friend Son Of Eli, Zach from Center City dropped a note saying that he, too, had just seen that same skyline:
I just got back from Tel Aviv last Wednesday. I actually managed to get to the top of one of the tallest buildings in the city by acting like a dumb American. When I was there I was looking desperately for a place to watch the Birds game. I heard of a bar called Mike's Place right on Retsif Herbert Samuel. I walked in hoping the game would be on only to a bar filled with Eagles Jerseys and World Champ fliers on the walls. It was kinda surreal. We were doing the EAGLES chant all night.
Attaboy, Zach. I passed this along to SOE in hopes that he too might find this Philly refuge in time for the NFC Championship, but another day of hummus hunting wore him down and he watched the game in the comfort of his uncle's skyline-view-having place:
I was watching the game here on METV Channel 73 - Middle East TV. Was thinking about youze guys . . . game started at 10pm local and was done around 1:30 I guess. Started quite pathetically, and then got great, and then got awful. At a point in the fourth quarter I snapped a photo of the tv screen in preparation for a blog photo post after a victory.

No such luck.
That's funny, it sounds like the Eagles game in Tel Aviv went exactly the same way it did here.

At least SOE has the consolation of being in a temperate, foreign land during an interesting political time, both there and at home. And along the way, he's made photos of some of Tel Aviv's architectural landmarks, including the Shalom Meir Tower, by request. Shalom Meir was the first highrise to be built in Israel, its design by Yitzhak Pearlstein. When it opened in 1965, it was the tallest building in the Middle East; at that time, Dubai's skyline consisted of minarets peaking over concrete homes. (Lots of great pictures of the fast-paced history there at Dubai As It Used To Be.)

After a construction wave that's gone on for the better part of the last decade, the 34 story, 466' Shalom Meir is now the eighth tallest building in Tel Aviv, but it stands as a pioneer for high design and engineering for the entire region. That's it on the right -- click, enlarge.

Better still, Son Of Eli clicked pics of the local cuisine -- some schug, some poppy seed pastries, some falafel . . . but mostly hummus. Enjoy the hummus, the skyline and the drunken Smurfs at his trip's blog, Mostly Hummus.

Safe travelin' out there pal, and see you soon.

–B Love

20 January 09: For your consideration

In response to last week's winner of the latest Skyline Inspections, Locust Point (13 January 09, New Year Skyline Critique), its competitor Locust on the Park septupled the size of its billboard. This is of course the view from South Street Bridge, which is well on its way to no longer existing . . . yet its ghostly shadow hugs the banks of the Schuylkill.

Several new considerations for perspective condo buyers indeed.

–Evol B

PS: Speaking of Pony Chile, we'll have details on the 2009 Great Chili Skyline Cookoff in the coming weeks. We're aiming to have it in March, like the last two years, so primp those recipes -- there's a two time defending eskimo champion, and he won't go down as easy as his handsome boy chili does.

19 January 09: On Washington and change

Obama photo by Jim Young for Reuters, accessed at Yahoo News; MLK photo by WWP for AP, accessed at New York Times.

I'm looking forward to the side-by-side photo comparisons of King's "I Have A Dream" speech in 1963 with Barack Obama's inauguration tomorrow. The sea of people, the Mall, the Washington Monument prominently standing in the background, the Shepard Fairey-ized posters that will be for sale at the Clothespin. Come to think of it, those are probably already coming off the presses after yesterday's "We Are One" party/concert at the Lincoln Memorial yesterday. (Check out nearly-90 Pete Seeger rocking out with his son and Bruce Springsteen.)

I abstained from the political process during the 2008 presidential election other than to vote and to laugh at Tina Fey's Sarah Palin (and of course at Sarah Palin, too). I didn't donate any money, volunteer any time to elections or make any endorsements. But I voted for Obama. I'm happy that he won, I'm happy that he inspired millions, I'm happy that America can have a black president. I hope he can live up to the incredible expectations that the inspired millions have set for him.

Sixteen years ago I was sixteen years old, and I was in Washington for the hype and hope at Bill Clinton's first inauguration. I was there for a weeklong conference called Presidential Classroom, established in 1968 for high school juniors and seniors to come and experience their government at work. Each week sees a group of about 300 teenagers from not just across the US, but from across the world -- my class had students from Hong Kong, Turkey, England, Honduras and Puerto Rico -- with events featuring dignitaries, ambassadors and politicians.

As I was checking into the Omni Shoreham Hotel, where one of the many inaugural balls had been held in the previous week, the R&B group Jodeci was checking out. This would be my first truly urban experience. (Being in Washington, not Jodeci.) I'd been to Pittsburgh, Toronto and Chicago for visits, but never for more than an overnighter, and never on my own. The Omni is situated just across Rock Creek Park from the Adams Morgan neighborhood, with the landmark Taft Bridge looming over the park.

A block away, the Woodley Park/Zoo Metro station would be my starting point for the next eight days. Its 103' escalator descent into the earth was one of the most fascinating, if not frightening, rides I'd ever taken. (Incidentally, there are two other Metro stations, Wheaton and Bethesda, whose escalators are longer still.) With the new friends I'd make at Presidential Classroom -- Chris from North Dakota and Corina from Texas (with each of whom I still have occasional contact) -- I packed into the Metro like the daily commuter I was, bound for the Mall, the Smithsonian, the Ford Theater, Chinatown and other places 16 year old conventioneers go when not attending seminars and speeches.

I met my Congressman Bud Shuster (who, even then, I understood pork barreled what would become I-99 through central PA), I rode the Capitol Subway System and I toured several federal buildings. Our class' signature speech, held in the House Chamber, was given by Congressman Jim Traficant, D-Ohio. I recall the carpet on his head being as remarkable as the carpet on the floor of the House. He was a character, animated with all the anti-politician Washington vitriol you'd expect from anyone but the keynote speaker of a conference for would-be politicians. "Rats" and "snakes" were among the kinder portraits he offered from the same podium the President assumes every January for the State of the Union address. (Two years before, when criticizing Congress for authorizing over $200K for the study of cow belching and its effects on global warming, he suggested the creation of a Bovine Burp Task Force.) Funny how he must have gotten caught up with all the rats and snakes and burping cows, since he's now in federal prison after a 2002 conviction for bribery, racketeering and other corruption.

January 1993 was an exciting time to be in Washington. There was hope and excitement, anticipation of the change coming after 12 years of Republican leadership. There was bunting draped over every hotel in town and on the parade stands still lining Pennsylvania Avenue. There were cardboard cutouts of Bill and Hillary with which you could take your picture for $3. There were red, white, and blue tie-dyed t-shirts with Clinton's cartoon likeness and the words to the chorus of his Fleetwood Mac theme song, "don't stop thingking [sic] about tomorrow." (The t-shirt really had "thinking" misspelled!) I gave mine to a girl I liked my freshman year in college. I hope she still has it.

All of that will pale compared to the hope, hype and history in Washington this week. I wasn't around in the 60s, but I can't imagine DC has ever seen what it will see at tomorrow's inauguration. Millions on the Mall, millions on the Metro. Septa couldn't handle the Phillies parade, but I would imagine the Metro is a little more prepared for the Obama party.

Either way, I hope he and his new Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood take note. It will be an interesting footnote to the administration's first day. The new President and his Vice President Joe Biden made "whistlestop" a household term over the past couple of weeks to a generation whose majority has probably never even boarded a train, making sure everyone knew that they were following the train route Abraham Lincoln took to Washington from Philadelphia. (One notable difference is that Lincoln actually spoke to the public in Philadelphia.) And much has been written about Biden's Amtrak commute from Wilmington to Washington.

So why does it seem, in hopeful 2009, that the Whistlestop Tour was a one-hour PBS documentary in the making? Why does it seem that trains and transit are at the short end of the "shovel ready" stick? LaHood sure makes for easy symbolism of bipartisanship, being a rural Republican whose son worked on John McCain's campaign, but does he understand urban transit? Transportation clearly includes highways, roads and bridges, but it also includes trains, tracks and transit. (In LaHood's defense, he voted against his own party to continue funding Amtrak.) Given Obama's message that we'll rid ourselves of oil dependency, I hope there's a fair balance between roads and tracks, and that there's room to actually grow America's transit infrastructure. Somehow I don't think $1.55/gallon gas is going to get many people out of their cars.

PennDOT's list of candidate projects, which is supposed to be on their web site but which I can't find, has $1.5 billion worth of projects in all 67 counties, the vast majority of which is rebuilding existing infrastructure. While that's understandable and justifiable, what's another $1.5 billion in this era of bailouts? We're already ridiculously in debt, so why not actually match repair funds with expansion funds? The Convention Center is expanding -- why can't Septa?

Septa's $403M list of proposals includes the word "replacement" thirteen times, and it is seasoned with "rehabilitation" and "stabilization" and "improvement". All necessary. The only service expansion on the entire list is the ($7.3M) restoration of the R3, exactly one stop, from Elwyn to Wawa. This despite the fact that that same line runs all the way to West Chester, where the R3 ran until 1986, a town with a major state university whose students would, I'm just guessing here, probably take the train into Philadelphia for the bars and nightclubs cultural amenities the city offers. West Chester (24.2 miles), where service once ran and whose tracks still lie, is closer to Philadelphia than Newark, Delaware (39.5), Thorndale (33.4), Trenton (30.1), West Trenton (30ish) and Doylestown (24.2), all of which have Septa regional rail terminals.

There are 40 new hybrid buses ($23M) on the list, which is great, but no mention of an R6 expansion, let alone a Schuylkill Valley Metro. New Broad Street Subway signals and a vaguely-named 'Broad Street Subway stations project'? Yep. Broad Street Subway Roosevelt Boulevard extension? Nope. (See PennDOT's proposed transit list HERE. Its highway list is HERE.)

The funding is rooted in reality, not in hope. I wish there was room for immediate expansion and improvement in service, not just improvement in function; for now, it's just impractical. It's too expensive. Reality won't allow such a hopeful expansion.

Obama's campaign was run on -- and won on -- hope. Kind of like Michael Nutter's was. If we've learned anything from one year of the mayor, it's that a cold reality is right around the corner.

But hey, today is George Bush's last day in office. That alone is worth a song and a dance. This is a farewell, you dog!

January 2009 is an exciting time to be in Washington. The long overdue Obama party is tomorrow. We're all excited; hyped and hopeful. This year's Presidential Classroom kids are going to have a blast -- they're there for history.

But man, let's all keep our Advil handy, for the long hangover begins on Wednesday.

–B Love

16 January 09: One Pennsylvania for all the world,
for all the marbles


Come on, Pennsylvania. Our time is now.

Here we go, Steelers. Fly, Eagles, fly.

For the Commonwealth. For us. Let's do this.

–B Love

16 January 09: Don't fence me in.
Security vs Liberty at Independence National Historical Park

Lord knows these new bollards and chains are better than a seven foot fence. And they're sure as hell better than the 'interim' bike rack barriers that had been 'interim' for the 7 years, 4 months and 4 days -- since September 11th changed everything, including our own interpretations and assumptions about fundamental freedom.

On September 10, 2001, the Liberty Bell stood staidly in a pretenseless pavilion on Market Street. The city's most famous icon, a symbol of American independence, was visible from all four sides of the thoughtful building, with two more angles cut out for maximum visibility, even at night when the pavilion was closed. The long view from Market Street afforded a straight-on, cracked view of the Bell, framed by Chestnut Street's windowed walls of Independence Hall. The current Liberty Bell Center, which opened in 2003, has exactly one wall from which you can see the Bell after hours or without having to pass through security first. And from this outside view at the Liberty Bell Center, across 15 feet of protective landscaping, you can't even see the crack.

On September 10, 2001, Independence Hall stood unencumbered by oppressive security. If you were passing through Independence National Historical Park, you could walk under the arcades connecting Independence Hall with Old City Hall and Congress Hall on either side, on your way through the Square toward Washington Square or Society Hill, or toward the Mall in the other direction. For the first two months I lived in Philadelphia, I did this every day, walking from Market East Station to the office I worked at in the Independence Building, the southeast corner of 5th & Walnut.

As a newcomer to the city, the largest in my home state and the most central in the forming of my native country, I did not take the privilege of walking past the Liberty Bell Pavilion, which I grew to love, and Independence Hall for granted. This was my daily routine, as longtime readers of this site will recall from previous essays I've written about the National Park Service's horrible plan to install a permanent seven foot fence around Independence Hall, splitting Independence Square in half. The New York Times' Ian Urbina quoted me (on my 30th birthday, no less), along with Governor Ed Rendell, Senator Arlen Specter and Mayor John Street, in an article outlining the plan. They were all against it too. The NYT article is HERE, my essay "Free our independence" (31 July 06) is HERE, and my essay "The Independence Experience" (30 August 06) is HERE.

The seven foot fence, thankfully, came to pass, instead replaced by a bollard-and-chain setup like the one that's been on the Chestnut Street side of Independence Hall since 9/11. Its installation was completed in early December, and the ugly bike rack barriers were finally removed on December 15, 2008. Sightlines are now greatly improved; the garish "patriotic" bunting that only accentuated the bike racks are now gone.

But you still can't pass under the arcades like you used to. A small sacrifice for a little security, right?
They who can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety, deserve neither liberty nor safety.
I think a large fellow who spent a good deal of time within the walls of that very former State House said that.

* * *

Prior to 9/11, security at the Liberty Bell Pavilion consisted of a couple of park rangers keeping an eye on things from the corner, allowing you your space -- your liberty, if you will -- to walk about the no-nonsense pavilion that existed with the sole purpose of allowing you to view the Liberty Bell. The standalone pavilion, designed by Mitchell-Giurgola, opened for the Bicentennial in 1976. Before that, the Bell was housed in the foyer of Independence Hall, where it rested on a knee-high platform.

The Bell itself, pre-1976, was supported by a pair of decorated cast iron stanchions. "The wishbone supports," says longtime Park curator Bob Giannini, "are in storage; they were too nice to get rid of, but there are no immediate plans for them." Those wishbones seemed nearly as important as the Bell itself, appearing with it in postcards and most pre-'76 merchandise; even today, they're there in the little bells that the mayor gives out to dignitaries.

In '76, when the Bell was moved to its new, modern pavilion, it got a new set of square, five-foot stainless steel stanchions. In 2003, when it was moved to the current Liberty Bell Center, the Bell was placed onto a new set of stanchions, these ones also stainless steel, but this time rounded. All three sets mounted the Bell on its original yoke, made of American elm wood from the time it was cast in 1752.

At Independence Hall and even at the Pavilion, people came not only to see the Bell, but to touch it. At the Center, the Bell is behind a cordon of metal and seatbelt material, but still within reach. The Park Service's modern policy is such that you're not encouraged to touch it, but you're not discouraged to touch it, either. It's technically bad for the preservation of a bell already so sensitive that it cracked when it was doing its job. Still, you can touch the Bell if you're so inclined, or inspired, and not fear retribution.

Unless, of course, you come wielding a hammer as one zealous bell toucher did in April 2001. Still working at 5th & Walnut at the time, I remember seeing a commotion outside, with tons of police and news helicopters. One of my coworkers discovered that CNN's homepage had a picture of the Liberty Bell Pavilion with news that Mitchell Guilliatt of Idaho had struck the Bell with a small hammer four times while shouting "God lives!" He was tackled by a park ranger and eventually sentenced in federal court to nine months in prison, five years probation, and a $7,093 fine to repair the damage he'd done. For the incident, Guilliatt will forever be in historical timelines written about the Liberty Bell. Apparently he's taken the crime (for which he's already done his time) as part of his identity -- his Facebook profile has a cartoon drawing of himself wearing a shirt with the Liberty Bell on it.

Surprisingly, and thankfully, the incident caused no major change in visitation policy at the Bell. That change would instead come on September 11 of the same year.

Bike rack barricades went up around Independence Hall and Square that morning, extra rangers were stationed at the entrance of the Liberty Bell Pavilion, and Chestnut Street was closed. City Paper's incredible account of that day included several observations at Independence Hall and the Liberty Bell, which closed after the visitors present at the time of the attacks left; the story is online HERE. And to their credit, the Park Service had both attractions open the next day, but with the extra layer of security. Their account, 9.11.01 Remembrance, is online HERE.

Very much to the chagrin of business owners on Chestnut Street, that street stayed closed for a year and a half, during which time the US retaliated in Afghanistan, but also created a Department of Homeland Security and trumpeted on to a war in Iraq. The reality of the last two amplified individual and bureaucratic fears to a point of overprotection which have lasted until the present, though it's toned down a bit now. Less than a month into the war, Mayor John Street was able to get Chestnut Street reopened (thanks to a ruling by Judge Edward Becker), and the Park Service responded by closing Independence Hall for the day.

The Liberty Bell Center (LBC) was already under construction at that time, April 2003. It wasn't a reaction to 9/11, but its security was modified because of it. The LBC was part of a larger 'Operation Mall Vista' that dates back to the Rendell administration in which an unobstructed sightline would span from Independence Hall to the new National Constitution Center (NCC), also already under construction. The NCC, designed by IM Pei partner Henry Cobb, was formally and famously dedicated on July 4, 2003, when at the end of the ceremony the frame holding a ceremonial curtain crashed down on Mayor Street, Senator Specter, NCC president Joe Torsella and Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor, who was the guest of honor as the recipient of the 2003 Liberty Medal.

The LBC, designed by Bohlin Cywinski Jackson, opened on October 9, 2003. In addition to the irony that the Liberty Bell could now only be visited by passing through security, the construction revealed that part of the Center was built on land that during George Washington's presidency was used for slave quarters, the very opposite of liberty. Check out USHistory.org for the back story on the slave quarters HERE. Eventually, a memorial and interpretive center will be built here.

With the Bell in its new Center, the old Pavilion was empty; the Park Service put it to use as a screening facility, with metal detectors in the very spot where the Liberty Bell stood for 27 years.

This lasted for about about two years. In 2006, the Pavilion was finally set for removal from Independence Mall. At first, it was to have gone to the American College in Bryn Mawr. When that fell through, Robert Halcro, an executive with Avis Rent-a-car in Alaska, claimed it for a new park in that state that would also have a piece of the fallen World Trade Center, which Senator Ted Stevens helped to procure.

Unity Park would celebrate American diversity and commemorate the 9/11 attacks on a large piece of land in Eagle River, a small town north of Anchorage. Several Philadelphia unions volunteered their labor to disassemble the Pavilion for the move. Pat Gillespie, president of the Building Trades Council, who oversaw the donated dismantling, laughs in remembering the job: "We were originally just supposed to demolish it, which would have been a whole lot easier. It was very difficult to dismantle because of the way it was built; they used top notch materials built to last. But we did it and sent it off."

But a funny thing happened on the way to Eagle River: Unity Park was never built. Darrell Breese, a reporter for the Alaska Star (Eagle River's hometown newspaper), says, "the land was formally dedicated several years ago, but there was an issue with access to the park and it was never developed." Merry Braham, a director at the Chugiak-Eagle River Chamber of Commerce, says, "as far as I know, it's still on the table." Breese indicates that he's been trying to reach Halcro, who is 90, but that he is most likely in warmer climes for the season. Finding out exactly what ever became of the Liberty Bell Pavilion will probably have to wait until Alaska's spring thaw.

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The giant metal tent that stood along 6th Street for the first five years of the Liberty Bell Center's existence is now gone. Visiting the Bell now involves only a visible inspection and judgment call from the rangers at the entrance, and a desk is there for package inspection. No more metal detectors or wands.

Independence Hall, meanwhile, has an understated, black bollard-and-chain setup following the grass lines through Independence Square as well as the bollard-and-chain setup along Chestnut Street that's been there since shortly after 9/11. Both of these configurations are infinitely better than before -- better than a white tent affixed to the side of a touted new tourist destination, better than bike rack barriers with red, white and blue bunting, far better than a seven foot iron fence.

But they're still obstacles to the Liberty and Independence they allegedly protect. They are souvenirs of 9/11 and the Bush administration's effect on not just Philadelphia, but America.

With a new administration -- and new appointees to the National Park Service and the Department of Interior that oversees it -- only four days away, it's natural to wonder whether these security stations will be removed. Independence Park Public Affairs Assistant David Sillery notes, "well, they were a multi-agency job, not a political one." He continues, "they were meant to be permanent."

But then so was the Liberty Bell Pavilion.

While I obviously understand why the precaution is taken, I don't like it. I don't like not being able to jaywalk across cobbled Chestnut Street and stroll through the arcades I used to stroll through. Much more importantly, I don't like that our locally-owned national symbols of Liberty and Independence are not liberated and independent.

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Some additional notes:

• The Whitechapel Bell Foundry, where the original Liberty Bell was cast in 1752 (before it cracked and was recast by Philadelphians Pass and Stow, whose names are recognized on the Bell), has been in continuous operation in London since 1570. They also cast the Great Bell of Montréal and the bell of Big Ben. The foundry is open for tours -- their web site is HERE.

• A couple in Connecticut operates an online Liberty Bell Museum, independent of Independence National Historical Park, with all sorts of memorabilia and a gift shop.

• Nice as that online museum is, the best independent Independence source is of course Philly's own Doug Heller and the fantastic USHistory.org. That site's Liberty Bell section is HERE, and Independence Hall is HERE.

• Knott's Berry Farm, which claims to be America's first theme park, has an exact replica of Independence Hall adjacent to its amusement park in Buena Vista, California. It opened on July 4, 1966, when the Liberty Bell still resided in Independence Hall's foyer. The foyer of Knott's Berry's Independence Hall therefore has a replica of the Bell as it looked in 1966, with the 'wishbone' stanchions. It does not, however, have a black bollard-and-chain configuration around its exterior. Photos of it are HERE.

• The Liberty Bell's likeness has appeared in countless causes (most notably abolition and suffrage) and patriotic merchandise. In 2007, it was chosen as the subject of the US Postal Service's Forever Stamp. The USPS originally wanted to use the wishbone stanchions, but ended up going with just the Bell and the yoke.

• The Liberty Bell rings in the key of E Flat. Hear it HERE.

–B Love