27 February 09: 2400 things to see


Don't think about this building much, do ya?

2400 Chestnut is, as the Philly Skyline goes, among the forgotten. It's not without good reason -- it's not tall like Comcast Center, it's not iconic like City Hall or Liberty Place, it's not standout architecture like PSFS, and it doesn't have a scrolling sign like its neighbor PECO did until it turned it off at midnight on New Year's to be replaced by a more dynamic LED sign. But it's there, in every classic South Street Bridge skyline view, watching over the Schuylkill River, River Park and Expressway, a white box against PECO's black box.

The 34 story 2400 Chestnut -- 33 stories from Chestnut and one lower level along 24th Street -- is 44th tallest in the city, 339' above ground to the roof. (I hereby acknowledge that this web site's 50 Tallest Buildings is in need of an update, and is being handled accordingly as part of What's Next.) Then again, it may be 342' or so after a recent addition to the tower.

Following my most recent Delaware diversion, in which I stumbled across several bald eagles (26 January 09: Winter of the Delaware, fly eagles fly), I got an email from architect Josh Otto, who works in 2400 Chestnut at Brett Webber Architects (BWA), about some other big birds in the area. If you're among the lucky few, you may have seen one of the incredibly agile yet somehow stealthy peregrine falcons that roost in Center City. There's a pair atop the PNB Building which one architecture critic tells me she watched swoop down, kill and drop a pigeon in the middle of an unsuspecting crowd on their way to work at 16th & Market. Another pair was rumored to be nesting at South Street Bridge, which as we know is being demolished just downriver from 2400.

That demolition led the owner of 2400 Chestnut, whose son is an amateur ornithologist and fan of falcons, to invite them to the top of his building. David Chou, a Blue Bell based structural engineer who worked on the original construction of the building in the late 70s, was given the task of designing a dedicated falcon box atop the building's rooftop mechanical room. If you're standing near the new post office at 30th & Chestnut, look just above the '00' on the '2400' sign and you'll see it. Whether or not you see any falcons . . . well, that might depend on the weather.

"I'm not really a bird watcher," Chou laughs, "but I love this project . . . and this building." Chou was also involved with BWA in their current makeover of the building's vestibule from utilitarian, HUD-era plain to a more dramatic amber glass and polished interior with bright orange accents to the lobby's lighting. Though you may catch a glimpse of this improvement heading east across the Chestnut Street Bridge, you probably wouldn't notice it unless you were turning into the building's parking lot; likewise unless you were on 24th Street driving south or walking north, you might not catch the makeover they've made to the lower level's streetscape along the otherwise weird street that feels like the basement of a city whose action is above.

The action used to be, for a brief window of the city's history, both above and below when this property was the site of the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad's main Philadelphia station. There is surprisingly little written about this -- it didn't make Thomas Keels' Forgotten Philadelphia, and there isn't even so much as a summary at PAB, for example -- but it was one of Frank Furness' hardest attempts at a landmark. The design, commissioned in 1886, was also an attempt to supersede the Wilson Brothers' Broad Street Station (central terminal to B&O's hated rival Pennsylvania Railroad), whose enormous expansion Furness dedicated himself to less than a decade later.

In Frank Furness, Architecture and the Violent Mind, Michael Lewis writes:
"What we are trying to do," [Furness] announced dramatically, "is to beat Broad Street Station." What he unveiled was a vivid commercial work that would proclaim the presence of the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad within Philadelphia and defy the stranglehold of the Pennsylvania Railroad. Furness modeled a Flemish Gothic daydream, less a single building than a jumble of gabes and turrets, a midieval Rathaus run amok and then hoisted on iron stilts.

Frank Furness, Architecture and the Violent Mind, p 168.

Much like the utilitarian 2400 Chestnut stands over the utilitarian Chestnut Street Bridge, Furness' Flemish Gothic daydream B&O Depot stood over Strickland Kneass' cast iron Chestnut Street arch bridge of graceful proportions. That bridge was demolished in 1957, and the B&O depot followed suit five years later. The bridge's replacement we know today opened as soon as it could be built. B&O's railroad lines were bought out and are now infamously used by CSX. The bilevel property at 2400 Chestnut stood empty for over a decade, though, taking an assist from the US Department of Housing and Urban Development to be redeveloped.

Less a housing project than a typical apartment building (albeit a very big one), the new apartment building was commissioned around the Bicentennial and the peak of the Rizzo years, in 1976. The developer received HUD's Section 221(d)(4) mortgage insurance, which assists builders of multi-family, market-rate projects, as opposed to the luxury towers we've seen go up in the last few years (and as opposed to HUD's more famous Section 8 subsidization of housing). According to the building managers, it's now 96% occupied with very little advertising, largely by recent college graduates transitioning into their careers.

Thomas J Mangan of Fort Washington was selected as the architect of the building. I'm not sure whatever became of Mangan or his firm, but a little Googling shows that he also designed the St Philip Neri Church in Lafayette Hill and made a donation to Jimmy Carter in his failed re-election bid in 1980, a year after 2400 Chestnut opened its doors -- in the main entrance off of Chestnut Street and its lower level entrance on 24th Street.

It's an interesting little nook of the city that has the potential to be more interesting, if economic realities ever allow Mandeville Place to be built next door. In the interim, 2401 Walnut -- the former Rosenbluth Building -- next door is getting a makeover to reopen with new office space and a green roof. The building across the street, the loading dock back end of 2300 Chestnut, has a mural by Richard Haas of William Penn (the statue atop City Hall) standing in the waiting room of the old B&O station. A smaller Ben Franklin (the sculpture in the rotunda at the Franklin Institute) sits off to the right.

* * *

I meet Josh Otto on the lower level of 2400 Chestnut, in the spacious BWA offices with posters of recent works, including the Puma store on Walnut Street and a modish rowhouse on Girard Avenue whose back deck looks out over Girard College. We meet Neil Sowersby, the building's maintenance manager with 21 years under his belt at 2400, and head out to the roof to inspect the falcon box. No falcons today, drat.

Sowersby shows me his point & shoot digital camera, where he's got the display on a photo of a falcon sitting on the ledge of the PECO Building. "That's the best photo I've gotten of it," he says before uttering the old familiar photographer dilemma, "but I've seen it a lot closer without my camera." He motions to the ledge of the roof we're standing on, 20-30' away, and intensely describes: "it was perched right there, its body facing right at me, but its head was turned completely around, watching below. It fell straight backwards and spread its wings and just glided back up into the air." There were to be no such displays on our visit, only the remnants of a falcon's recent lunch (see photo at left). We did, though, see a flock of seagulls swarming between us and Cira Centre, the late day sunlight lighting their underbellies.

What late day sunlight it was. The day was one of the clearest and purest I can remember, the visibility as clear as I've ever seen. The twin Delaware Memorial Bridges (32 miles), the twin cooling towers at Limerick (40 miles), all as plain as day. The triple Towers at Wyncote on Route 309 north of the city. The water tower at Burholme Park glaring down at Fox Chase Cancer Center up in the Northeast. Chestnut Hill Tower up in the corner of the city. The flashing cell phone tower by Sowersby's house in Glenolden. The big shiny skyline right in our face.

The views on such a clear day are without a doubt a fair trade for not seeing any falcons in a roost they haven't embraced -- yet. In the event that they do, there's already a falcon cam set up, ready to go live the minute they start building a nest. Until that day, enjoy this new set of photos from up top over on 2400 Chestnut.


Very special thanks to Josh Otto and Neil Sowersby at 2400 Chestnut and Maria Bynum at HUD's Philadelphia office.

–B Love

25 February 09: It's time

All right, last Philly Skyline post about Philly Skyline this week -- regular programming to resume shortly -- but this is extremely important.

It's hard to believe, but it's true -- it is time again, time for the exciting return, time for the unparalleled feats of meats, time for the third annual: GREAT PHILLY SKYLINE CHILI COOKOFF, 2009. (You'll note that the name has changed slightly from Chili Skyline Cookoff to Philly Skyline Chili Cookoff -- there were too many Cincinnati expats disappointed that our chili cookoff featured none of their fast food brand of chili . . . though I'll be the first to admit that I love a good five-way.)

As always, we're at the Tritone with our good friends Dave, Papaya, Rick and the gang. And as always, we need you there to do some judgin'. Tim Emgushov will be putting up his two-time defending champion Handsome Boy Chili against any and all comers, so let's do this thing and give him a run for his money. There are no gimmes in the Philly Skyline Chili Cookoff. And as always, there is only one rule:
1. The chili MUST have meat, no exceptions.
Although from last year's showing, I might suggest that all chili be served hot and require no assembly, CONOR. The Philly Skyline Chili Cookoff requires meat to keep a level playing field. There will be no ballot stuffing by soup eaters who do not eat the real chili entries.

Otherwise, there it is, two weeks from today -- down on South Street, over in G-Ho, right smack in the middle of Beer Week (though not an official affiliate -- long story). Why not support both! As the graphic seen above (which will be seen several times between now and then) notes, the show starts around 8 and costs a measly five beans, five little chili beans, to filly your billy with chilly in Philly, yep yep! If yours is among the classics in chilis, put 'er to the test. How do you do that? Right here:


–B Love

24 February 09: Happy colored marbles

No photoshopping here, save for the dozens of rubber stamping done against the dust specks on the sensor . . . I'm telling you, if there is an authoritative list of First World Problems, this had better be in the top three. This is just an old fashioned photograph, made with the newfangled technogadgetry that will drive any sane man oppositely. Recharge your battery? Great! Plug it back in? Enter the time and date again. Every time. Buy a DVD/VHS dual player? The VHS tape thing works, why should you be upset that the DVD player doesn't work? Buy an iphone? Everything works . . . except the phone. Buy a nice pair of headphones, these ones will last this time yessirree, even bought the warranty just to make sure, cos you know you'll somehow break them? Cool! Enjoy when the company goes out of business, leaving you with broken headphones and a good warranty with nowhere to take it. It's bizarro world, this 2009. The better the technology, the more it breaks. Either y'all got Kool-Aid, no sugar. Peanut butter, no jelly. Ham, no burger. Daaaaaaaamn.

This clickable, enlargeable, kaleidoscopable -- and real -- photograph was made with the Canon f2.8 24-70mm lens, using ISO 800, f7.1, 1/80 second at full length (70mm). What is it? It's the shattered glint of what's so obvious it's in front of our face yet clearly out of focus. It's Michael Phelps, it's New Jersey, it's California, all rolled up into one. (A great big fat one.) It's -- holy crap! -- philly.com commenters. It's something for the economy, criminal justice, healthcare and -- god forbid! -- recreation.

It's the opposite of decades-long, ridiculous, fear stricken hysteria. It's common sense.

–B Love

(It's a soft focus photo of the chandelier in the lobby of the Residences at the Ritz-Carlton, composed of 3,332 glass polyhedra, each hanging from a long string and arranged in a checkerboard fashion. The chandelier was designed in conjunction by Handel Architects, who designed the condo tower, and Lighting Design Collaborative. It was fabricated by Barbican Architectural Products.)

24 February 09: The Blowout

Hello! Today let's take a look in the corner at the box of calendars. They're awaiting your wall, not mad at you for not buying at full price before the new year started, but anxious to see you . . . at the NEW, LOW, OUTRAGEOUS price of . . . THREE DOLLARS!

That's right -- as we're nearly at the end of February, we're nearly one-sixth finished with 2009, but you still have a chance to buy the remaining five-sixths for one-sixth the original cost. What a deal. For a measly three bucks (and an additional three bucks to cover the cost of shipping and the durable mylar envelopes in which they're sent), Philly Skyline, The Calendar: 2009 can be yours. This way, you can follow along on the first of each month to see what all the Calendar Companion fuss is about AND keep up with all the Philly birthdays you need to know. Like today, for example -- the late Chief Halftown would be 92 this very day. Ees sta sa sussaway, wherever you may be, Chief.

Philly Skyline, The Calendar: 2009 -- now THREE DOLLARS. Buy it HERE.

–B Love

23 February 09: Buk on la cité de l'amour fraternel

What's this about the news about the news?

Pardon the tardin' today. Things could be a little slow here this week -- yr Philly Skyline is Merrill Lynching up the executive suite, and that will no doubt incur further battles with technology. It's all good though, it needs to happen before What's Next will happen. I think you'll like What's Next, but one thing at a time here.

Some stuff's on the burner right now, simmering to a slow boil, so while that's cookin' I'd like to take a moment to hear Charles Bukowski's first impressions on Philadelphia. It's funny, I've known he spent a few years of his life here but I never thought to look more into it (or include him on the calendar, as he'll be next year).

According to bukowski.net, he lost his virginity here to a '300 pound whore' and lived at several addresses in the Spring Garden neighborhood. Prince's Jazz Club at 15th & Fairmount, a block from the Divine Lorraine, was reputedly his favorite hang. Whether or not it's the place he's talking about here, I'm not sure . . . but I am sure that he enjoyed his stay as a Philadelphian before moving back to LA.

Take 'er away, Hank.

–B Love

22 February 09: (Sky)Lines and Memories

by Nathaniel Popkin
February 22, 2009

Of all the skyline images in Philadelphia, perhaps the one that hangs on the second floor of the Rosenbach Museum is most achingly familiar -- and not because the tallest building is a slick, bulky glass tower that rises above a wide plaza. This isn't the contemporary city, but rather the skyline of memory: Maurice Sendak's interpretation of his mother's pantry, the dreamscape city of In the Night Kitchen.

Sendak's skyline, which itself is seared into the childhood of so many, is a view to the fluid mind of a child, who so joyously, and sometimes melancholically, conflates forms, names, sounds, and memories. "What interests me," says Sendak, "is what children do at a particular moment in their lives when there are no rules, no laws, when emotionally they don't know what is expected of them." Then, milk bottles become glistening towers, salt shakers Victorian palaces.

This is Sendak's territory, a place of a child's "ungovernable emotion," where the urban form is tangible, alive, still another wild thing. No other children's author quite gets this intersection of childhood and place without mythologizing the moment; Sendak's Brooklyn of the 1940s was brilliant and frightening, loose and strict, maddeningly social and terrifyingly lonely.

Now, thanks to a long-evolving relationship between the author and the Rosenbach Museum and Library, Sendak feels as much part of Philadelphia as New York. His life's work is here, for 10 more weeks on display in the sprawling and intimate "There's a Mystery There: Sendak on Sendak." Here's the human scale of Brooklyn in Pierre and The Sign on Rosie's Door; Little Lorie's Manhattan, Mickey and Max and Kenny; the war-time Prague of Brundibar. Here too is Sendak's original drawing of the languid streetscape of an Italian village in Philadelphia author Frank Stockton's The Griffin and the Minor Canon. In that book, Sendak makes a Victorian fairy tale about a medieval town resonant. The fearful villagers grasp for but don't seem to be able to control their future.

* * *

This is certainly the case for the original people of Philadelphia, decimated by European disease beginning in the late 16th century. They couldn't control their future, but what's extraordinary is that they predicted it. The Lenape "Prophesy of the Four Crows" imagines the genocide of illness, the movement into hiding, and a hopeful realignment with nature. Broadly speaking, the Lenape, a people whose history may extend back 30,000 years, were peacemakers (in particular contrast to the more warrior-like Iroquois, who lived in present-day New York), hunters and gatherers, fishers and planters who lived in various settlements along the creeks and tributaries of the Schuylkill and Delaware rivers.

Conventional history says that the Lenape were pushed west in the 18th century, to Western Pennsylvania and Ohio, and later out into the American frontier. But that schematic misses those who managed to stay, some of whom married German immigrant settlers and outwardly assimilated. There are at present about 300 Lenape in the region (larger and more politically powerful tribal groups of "Delawares" live in Oklahoma). In "Fulfilling a Prophecy: The Past and Present of the Lenape in Pennsylvania," an exhibit at the Penn Museum, on display until September, 2010, this story is told for the first time.

"This project is a gigantic step in a lot of ways," says Abigail Seldin, the Penn senior who co-curated the exhibit with members of the local Lenape community. "It's a coming out," she explains, for those who don't openly acknowledge their heritage. It's also groundbreaking anthropology, the unusual instance that a major institution has allowed a native group to tell their own story.

That story--its iconography, creation narrative, prophesy, and spirits -- has been orally passed down along the lines of generations with great care, impossibly and fiercely protected. The Lenape language, too, survives (though it is endangered), a sound, an intonation, a system of thinking still more than fading memory. Now the Penn Museum, so long guilty of cultural imperialism, has given new voice to these original people. In so doing, they are also expanding the particular Philadelphia perspective, exploring ever more honestly and also hopefully, about what this city means in the year 2009.

–Nathaniel Popkin

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

Image of skyline from In the Night Kitchen accessed at rosenbach.org.

20 February 09: Skylinin'

You know that guy who does the 3D illusion pavement drawings? Julian Beever? Those things only work when they're looked at from one angle. At least I'd think so, right? They're 2D interpretations of 3D . . . they're impressive, but how come we don't ever see them photographed from the other side?

Bee Love you don't look at the Mona Lisa upside down, why would you want to look at a pavement drawing specifically crafted with one direction and angle from an opposite direction and angle? I suppose I wouldn't. What I would like is for Julian Beever or some other artist to come and do one of those 3D illusions on my neighbor's roof, seen here. It's practically an open canvas, and it looks like he's going to have to have it redone some time soon anyway.

This photo, a Philly Skyline staple from the roof of Philly Skyline headquarters, would benefit from the 3D illusion of the continuity of those three story Fishtown rowhomes over there. The stadium lights . . . I don't mind them. They're useful enough, keeping Hetzell Field well lit enough for the people who treat it like a dog park, leaving their unpredictable dogs to run free without a leash and chase balls and pee and poop on a field that children use for soccer. But my dog's so cute, yes he is, who's a cute boy, YOU'RE a cute boy!

* * *

Hey, props where they are due: Brian Howard and Michael T Regan tag teamed to bring an excellent spotlight to a neighborhood that could really use it in this week's City Paper cover story: Olney. I've been meaning to get up to Olney for years now, to poke around its streets and Korean bodegas and Fisher Park beyond the just-passin'-thru I've mustered . . . in fact, but for a few Comcast Center construction updates, I think the only time Olney has explicitly been displayed on this site is from the Septa Daypass set from five years ago. Anyway, BriHo and Regan rip it up in Olney the Lonely, story HERE and photos HERE. Nice work, guys.

* * *

REMINDER: As the Preservation Alliance and the organizations and consultants they're working with continue toward a genuine, real deal historic preservation plan, they would still like to hear from you. If you haven't done so, why not contribute to their survey that takes aspects like economic development, tourism and design into account from a preservation standpoint -- it's anonymous and takes like 10 minutes. The survey is HERE.

Somewhat relatedly, you've probably seen it already, but the Preservation Alliance's 2009 Endangered Properties list has been published and includes some surprises. It is HERE.

* * *

I'm going to go for a walk. It will be in a place where technogadgetry does not exist, because by not existing it does not break.

Have a nice weekend.

–B Love

20 February 09: The disappearing South Street Bridge

No commentary, just status. South Street Bridge, mid-demolition, from high above the Schuylkill Looking Glass tucked in by the comfort of rush hour and antebellum bulkheads, pushing through like it always has, wondering what it could have done differently.

–B Love

19 February 09: History, off the Hook

Here lie the physical remains of several centuries' Hookers, forever at rest in the greasy ground of the cornerstore of Pennsylvania.

I'm not so sure that Marcus Hook is the next big thing (particularly when the housing market is dead . . . does Toll Bros have property to sell there?), but it has its moments. Apparently, it's been having its moments since the mid-17th century, when the Swedes set up a trading outpost here. The Dutch displaced the Swedes, like they did through much of the Delaware Valley, and their name for the outpost was Marrites Hoeck, anglicized to what we know as Marcus Hook sometime around the arrival of William Penn (when the English displaced the Dutch).

It was also around the time of William Penn that the St Martin's Episcopal Church was established by one of his Quakers, Walter Martin, who acquired the land in 1699 and whose church opened in 1702 with a cemetery on the grounds. That original building burned in the mid-19th century, and in 1845, the church opened the doors to its replacement which still stands today at 225 Church Street -- as the Marcus Hook Bible Presbyterian Church.

For as old as it is -- there are headstones in the cemetery that predate our country's independence from the British crown -- I was nearly floored to accidentally stumble upon this place I'd never heard of, considering how our region worships its colonial history.

In my going-on-a-year-now of the Delaware, I'd never done any poking around in Marcus Hook, and with an hourly Sunday NYC Beer Week Day Pass train that goes right there, I thought what the hell, especially after reading that it was the Next Big Thing. Well, in the time it took me to figure out that, but for the widened stretch between the train tracks and US-13, the Hook is only two blocks wide between the Sunoco and Conoco-Phillips plants, I watched a group of punk kids rip down part of the awning of a store that was closed and heard a dad in a leather Eagles jacket yell at his daughter in Delco-ese, "where do yew think yew're gowing! Why didn't yew answer the phown!" ("I thought MAWM got it! I'm going to my FRIEND'S HOUSE, leave me ALOWN!")

I walked toward Market Square Memorial Park to see the Hook's take on the Delaware Riverfront. Not bad, I thought, a neatened little park with the bouldered banks of the river fenced off, which is unfortunate since the tidal river tends to deposit litter in the boulders, litter that tends to draw your eye there when it's bright orange. But it's a nice little park with a wooden fishing pier . . . that's apparently locked on Sundays. Commodore Barry Bridge right over here, Delaware Memorial Bridge way down there. Big oil operations on either side, dudes with binoculars to make sure you're not taking photos of their facilities.

Lots of war memorial stuffs, a cannon, bronze placards and the like. Where Market Street widens out with the grassy plaza in the middle (once home to a two-story market house licensed by Penn), there is a World War II memorial, accompanied closer to the river by similar ones to World War I, Korea and Vietnam.

Back over at the St Martin's Cemetery, there are no such memorial markers -- the headstones are the memorials, and the veterans lying in rest take their ultimate American sacrifice back to its earliest kind, backwards from the Civil War to the War of 1812 to the Revolution itself. OldChesterPA.com has a list of the veterans buried at St Martin's HERE. Other civilians' headstones date as far back as this one from 1767, and probably earlier still on headstones I may have missed.

(Those old tombstones sure must have inspired Ritter and Shay when they designed The Drake, no?)

The St Martin's Cemetery doesn't have anyone famous buried there. The largest tombstone I saw belonged to an AC Morton, who I can only assume is a descendant of Delco Declaration signer John Morton, and he's buried at St Paul's Cemetery in Chester.

St Martin's Cemetery, in spite of its age and roots to the earliest days of Pennsylvania, isn't even a designated historical site. It's been listed as 'eligible' on the Pennsylvania Historical Museum Commission Bureau for Historic Preservation's list (PDF) since its nomination in 1987, but it's still waiting. It's right next to the nomination for Blackbeard the Pirate's mistress' house, 'eligible' since 1988.

It's historic, but it's not Historic. It's just there, as old as the country and hidden in the smelly shadows of the oil refinery down in Marcus Hook.

–B Love

18 February 09: Bart and his Northern Liberties

Someday, someday very soon, this intersection -- the apex of the Bart Blatstein Empire -- will have a stoplight. At this new stoplight, those driving down the de facto 2nd Street Expressway -- the half mile between Girard Avenue and Poplar Street, three city blocks of people racing maniacally past the pedestrians making use of Liberties Walk, cars pulling out of the blind intersection at Wildey, and double parked cars at Cescaphé -- will now encounter the (figurative) speed bump this stretch has needed for a long time.

"It took me five years to get that stoplight," Bart Blatstein sighs. "Five years and a hundred grand of my own money."

Bart -- not Blatstein, but Bart -- is not bragging. This is a very simply a matter of fact in Philadelphia. "If I had my druthers, I'd bury those wires too. It is what it is . . . it's the urban fabric."

It's the urban fabric in Philadelphia, for sure. But it's taken the move of a mountain to get this project just to where it is -- and it's incredible to think that it's now been nine years in the making. That there is a stoplight, scheduled for installation in March, at 2nd & Germantown is as genuine a testimony to his commitment to Northern Liberties as any of the dozens of retail space he's developed, opened and will be opening. In the time it took for me to take that photo above, a girl in a gold Toyota with Jersey plates turned right off of northbound Germantown the wrong way onto 2nd. Fortunately, the oncoming light stayed red long enough for her to turn right at the Hyperion Bank onto Girard without incident.

Bart's story is a famous one within Philadelphia development circles . . . born and raised in Philly, a developer who cut his teeth on strip malls in South Philly and Manayunk, with a well-connected father, a caterer from the Northeast. His involvement in Northern Liberties is equally as famous . . . bought the former Schmidt's Brewery, 17 acres of it, at a sheriff's auction in 2000 for $1.8 million, bought over 100 properties, had tons of zoning hearings and tons of neighborhood meetings and streets stricken from the grid -- including Germantown Avenue east of 2nd Street. It's still there (actually, it's there again) and it's still usable, but it's now technically a private street.

The Schmidt's site itself has its own famous history, from German immigrant Christian Schmidt's rise as a brewer whose brand grew to tenth largest in the US, to its sale to local beer distributor William Pflaumer, whose corruption resulted in the sale of the Schmidt's brand (but not the brewery), to the proposed Phillies ballpark in 1999-2000 as Liberty Yards. . . . to Bart's purchase of it at the sheriff sale . . . to the site preparation going on there right now for the supermarket Northern Liberties and lower Kensington have also needed for a long time.

Given that the Schmidt's property, an irregular pentagon between Girard and Germantown, 2nd and Hancock, was the impetus for Bart's enormous investment in the neighborhood, given the fact that the brewery's demolition was met with such controversy, and given the fact Schmidt's is so large a part of Bart's Tower Investments identity -- a huge stainless steel "Schmidt's" sign welcomes visitors to their offices -- it's a little funny that it's one of the last pieces to come together in Bart's Plan. The former Boone school has been rented out for several years, Liberties Walk has opened piece by piece since 2003, the first phase of Hancock Square opened in 2006, and Philebrity's residence at 1021 Hancock spilled out into the streets as a series of block parties in 2006 and 2007.

And here we are, 2009. To stand at 2nd & Germantown, just below Girard, just above the Walk, in the midst of what's happening, what will be happening and what might happen, is to span quite a bit of time. Just past the rolling el are the stacks of Windrim's Delaware Station, next to Penn Treaty Park. Just that side of the liquor store is LeBrun's St Peter's Church, better known as the shrine of St John Neumann. Just downwind through the neighborhood peeks Dubbeldam's American Loft. Way out past the powerlines drooped over the cabs parked on this weird stretch of Germantown is the Philly Skyline. And right here, between the cars that still fly manically by before the stoplight comes, the dirt on its way to becoming the sought after supermarket and a village already here, lies Erdy McHenry's delivery of Bart's vision.

"The fun thing about this project," Scott Erdy says of the Piazza in particular, "is that Bart came to us with an idea. Not so much an aesthetic, but a compression of function -- of urban vitality," he says like a man whose name has been on the project for going on five years now. In that same timeframe, his Erdy McHenry firm relocated its offices just around the corner on Orianna Street.

As Bart talks of Rome and places on the table a copy of Genius of the European Square, as much an inspiration as being in Rome itself, Patrick Stinger, one of EM's lead architects on the project, says, "to Bart's credit, he travels to other places and understands you can't just import projects, pick them up and drop them here, but you can sense a scale," as though to defend him against his critics.

"We went to Miami," Erdy says recounting an early meeting, "because Bart wanted us to see Española Way in South Beach." This trip inspired Liberties Walk, which now extends from Bar Ferdinand and El Camino Real at 2nd through to the west side of 3rd Street, next to the church -- which Tower also owns. The newer shops are to open later this year.

It's an enormous imprint on the neighborhood. By some accounts, Tower owns as much as a fifth of Northern Liberties. There's the five story building at 201 Spring Garden. (Behind which is L'Eau, which is not Tower-owned, but which is Erdy McHenry-designed.) There's the huge warehouse space of 817 North 3rd. There's the Ortlieb's property and the boutique hotel proposal at 2nd & Poplar. There are many others. But the Piazza is his baby, the one Bart keeps coming back to, the one his offices face out to.

"I had to do this. There is nothing like this in Philadelphia," Bart says, "no public spaces like this. Name one."

"Rittenhouse Square?"

"Not at night," he says with the quickness that suggests he's heard that response before. "It's a nice park, but it's not a community. You can't get a cup of coffee there. This [will be] a community, seven days a week."

Dave Wurtzel is the Piazza Czar, charged with making music, theater and movies happen there. He says assuredly, "this will be the cultural hub that's missing." He says this as we stand on the stage which anchors the southern end of the enormous Piazza, a stage which abuts a large blank wall on which HD LED video will be projected.

It's hard to deny the open space's fluidity, from One Hancock Square to Two and Three Hancock Square (the newer two of which are connected by three footbridges), from pedestrian Wildey Street at 2nd Street to pedestrian Wildey Street at Hancock Street, from the Piazza stage to The Egg, the rounded seven-story office building with a diner on the first floor. There are lights strung overhead. There is a fountain. There are multiple access points, but no 'main entrance'. There are 46 artist spaces facing the Piazza that can be combined and divided as necessary. There are 500 apartments above with balconies facing the Piazza.

"This is it," Bart says of his Piazza. It being The One, not It being The End. "I'm never going to be done," he says of his developments in Northern Liberties, "but this is where I'm going to ride off into the sunset. My contemporaries told me I was off my rocker [in 2000, when he began this (ad)venture], but they'll see."

I guess we'll all see, come May 15 & 16, when The Piazza at Schmidt's holds its grand opening.

The Piazza at Schmidt's opens May 15-16, 2009. The $150M project has 100,000 sq ft of retail & restaurant space and 80,000 sq ft of public space. For more info, see Tower Investments' web site HERE and Erdy McHenry's web site HERE.

Daniel Brook's 2001 story on the early plans on the site and the neighborhood's stark reaction to Bart's plans for City Paper HERE, and Steve Volk's 2004 progress report for the Weekly HERE. Gwen Shaffer's less flattering story on the post-demolition brownfield treatment for the same paper a year later is HERE. Inga Saffron has written several columns on Bart, Erdy McHenry and the Hancock Square in particular, but the Inquirer's online archives are notoriously dismal. Her blog, however, has some examples HERE.

–B Love

17 February 09: Peek-a-boo skyline

Consider this a coming attraction, or a sneak preview for if/when the Bridges of the Tidal Delaware River series continues. (It's not if, but when, so hang in there, kitty!)

This somewhat grim finding of the skyline is from a somewhat grim part of our little corner of the world: under the Commodore Barry Bridge. That bridge, the last one of the two bridges to be completed* across the river between Trenton and Wilmington, replaced a ferry that crossed between Chester, PA and Bridgeport, NJ. This photo was taken 14 miles southwest of City Hall, from what's left of the ferry port on the Jersey side of the river, essentially a pile of overgrown ruins -- broken concrete, unwound cable, and hunking metal from the Mobile Pulley & Machine Works that used to power the terminal.

Ferry Road is pretty well hidden from view. You can't turn directly onto it from US-130 or from the bridge, and if you do find it, you're greeted with a "ROAD CLOSED" sign -- though not one forbidding you to be there. The road just dead ends where you used to board the ferry. And if you go there in the summer, you might find some South Jersey teenager banging his girlfriend on the hood of their car, as I did the first time I went exploring there last summer. "Are they . . . whoa, my bad!" "No problem!"

This picture, though, had no such tomfoolery, just the sound of the wind through the trees (since, after all, wind doesn't make a sound) and the smell of Marcus Hook's refineries drifting across the river. There are also reminders, thousands upon thousands of them, of the products those refineries make, as the River's shore here is littered with rubber and plastic: tires, shotgun shells, wiffleballs, soda bottles, bottle caps, an orange cone, plastic silverware, window frames, and at least one gazoo and one pair of rearview mirror foam dice.

* The Commodore Barry Bridge and Betsy Ross Bridge were each completed in 1974, the last two of the tidal Delaware, but the Betsy Ross' opening was delayed by two years, so it could be considered the youngest of them until the Turnpike Bridge's companion opens sometime around 2012.

–B Love

16 February 09: Catching up with . . .
an old friend

I've always found it curious that the "Comcast Center" affixed to the overhang of that building's main entrance is off-centered. Maybe it's a commentary on the cable television industry. Maybe it was an accident. Maybe it was intentional, to break up the otherwise perfect symmetry running down the center of the tower and through the building's lobby, spilling out into the plaza. Stand there sometime, just outside of the building in the exact center -- it's easy to measure because the lines do it for you -- and follow those lines. Only when the plinth at the corner of 17th & JFK cascades it downward and the kitchen of the plaza café steps in its way does the symmetry dissipate.

Though this web site's Comcast Center construction section officially closed when the building officially opened last June, there was still one incomplete facet of the building, and a public one at that. That final piece of the Comcast Center puzzle (excluding a second phase / smaller tower on the corner of 18th & JFK, of course) is wrapping up right now and is (mostly) open to the public.

This is the walkway between 18th Street and the actual entrance of the tower, a pedestrian passage meant to complement the Arch Street Presbyterian Church. That church, which opened in 1855, also got a brand new entrance onto the plaza, as part of an agreement between the old church and the new neighbor. The church's signature dome actually used to have a cupola atop it, and the two corners of the building along Arch Street featured tall bell towers, all of which were removed in 1895. (PAB.)

The church's entrance isn't in active use yet, but as the temperatures rise and the landscaping fills out, I'm sure Comcast Center's plaza will take on a new life come Sunday morning. The sewing of the two is about as dynamic an old-and-new (or old-on-new) as Philadelphia offers.

It's too bad the Plaza café is closed on the Sabbath, because that would be a pretty great place to break bread and sip the blood of Christ for $15 a glass after a Sunday sermon, I'll tell you what.

Speaking of the Plaza, this came a while back but didn't really merit its own post -- both the café and the main Table 31 restaurant have installed signage with their own respective brand (even though they're from the same kitchen).

There's a balance here: though the offerings at the café have been hit or miss (seriously -- how can you serve lobster on a stale roll?), the sign is especially sharp. I'm a sucker for well played orange. Table 31's logo on the other hand . . . eh, it's just OK. Their food, though, is batting 1.000 -- tiptop every time out. Though the restaurant is upscale, they're now offering a 'Luxury for Less' menu, with a $24 three course lunch during the week and $35 three course dinner menu. It's always Restaurant Week at Table 31!

I also noticed on my pass-through over the weekend that there are now tall tables and stools for watching the Experience HD show. Good on 'em.

Finally on this Presidents Day -- during which you should NOT be working -- a look back at Comcast Center from one of my favorite places to see it during its construction, 30th Street Station. (Come to think of it, this'll be a pretty proper place to watch American Commerce Center rise up, too.) Specifically here, the JFK Boulevard bridge over the Schuylkill River, just in front of the train station. Improvements on the bridge, including a new deck, new landscaping and a new stairway that will lead to the park below, are ongoing and should be finished up by the summer.

Y'all have fun out there celebrating Washington and Lincoln and the Roosevelts and Obama, but if your boss is holding you to the fire, cool him down with a Presidents Day past, the blizzard of 2003.

–B Love

14 February 09: Happy Valentine's Day, or,
A-Rod, pitchers and catchers

Oh well.

A-Rod? Who is A-Rod? He's no champion.

Bud Selig? Who is Bud Selig? "A-Rod shamed the game"? Sure, Bud. It was A-Rod, not the atmosphere he embodied -- that atmosphere Bud created, or at very least that Bud enabled. Not the strike of 1994 that canceled the World Series for the first time in MLB history. (The Giants boycotted in 1904, but '94 was the first outright cancellation.) Not the Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa All American Longball Circus. Not Roger Clemens' late career surge and Barry Bonds' asterisk. Not Bud's own Brewers' asinine move from the AL to NL, nor their building of Miller Park in the middle of nowhere despite having one of the most attractive downtowns of any city in the country, nor the only All-Star Game tie in history that happened . . . in Bud's home Milwaukee, on that very ballfield. Not the Mitchell Report. Not the upholding of the Pete Rose lifetime ban, enacted by Bud's pal the late Bart Giamatti. Not MLB's official partnership with StubHub, a corporate, "legitimate" version of ticket brokering that is otherwise called scalping on the streets. Not the way Game 5 of the 2008 World Series was handled. Not Bud Selig's own $17 million salary.

No, none of these things -- all of which happened on Bud Selig's watch -- shamed the game. A-Rod did. 10-4, Bud. You run a tight ship up there on Park Avenue.

The media feeds Major League Baseball hysteria, and it feeds the media. On this page alone, an ESPN commentary by Jayson Stark, I count 49 links to other stories about Alex Rodriguez alone. That's just on ESPN's web site. The day the story broke, the brand-new-to-2009 MLB Network was to be running classic games (including an old one between the Phillies and Mets) during the slow February afternoon, and instead had 24/7 A-Rod coverage.

Who cares?

It sucks that A-Rod took steroids as much as it sucks that Bonds and McGwire and Clemens and Canseco took them. At least Canseco and A-Rod admitted it. Pete Rose and Mike Schmidt and Larry Bowa took greenies in the 70s and 80s, just like Willie Mays did years before them. The Pirates' '79 team rode the We-Are-Family rails all the way to a World Series win, Willie Stargell's (and the Buccos', for that matter) last one.

We can pontificate, speculate, guess, preach, defend, deride, weep, shout, boo and blame till we're blue in the face, and judging by those 49 links alone, we do. What can we really do?

There's no way we'll ever know what every single person does. Should there be testing for performance enhancing drugs in baseball (and all of sports, for that matter)? Sure. But that there wasn't when A-Rod tested positive, when it was just a sampling to see if there should be testing . . . well, the dude just signed a quarter-billion dollar contract with the Texas freakin' Rangers -- can you really blame him for trying to do every last thing he could do to live up to the billing? I think his agent Scott Boras shamed the game, for that matter.

It's unfair that A-Rod was singled out, and we'll all pontificate, speculate, guess and so on about the other 103. 2003, when A-Rod's positive test result is from, was the Phillies' final year at The Vet . . . that team was hardly as likable as our WFCs from last year, so could we safely guess if any of them were in the 103? Bobby Abreu? Jim Thome? Todd Pratt? David Bell? (Bell probably was, considering he was in the Mitchell Report for buying a drug that treats shrunken balls from doing steroids, and he batted right behind Barry Bonds in the Giants' World Series team the year before.) Vicente Padilla? Brett Myers?

We might find out and we might not. We can guess. If we do find out, we won't be surprised.

And if we found it out about our beloved 2008 champion Phillies? Would we be surprised? Were we surprised about JC Romero's positive test for a legal GNC product?

What if the supplement Chase Utley is currently hawking with Matt Hasselbeck is suddenly banned? What if we find out Ryan Howard's inherited enormity was enhanced by something less boyish and natural? What if Brad Lidge's perfection was a little too perfect? Shudder the thoughts, but what if?

What if, what if, what if.

All I can hope for is that our boys are clean, and if they're not, that they own up to it. JC did . . . sorta. We can hope that the system works . . . the system that Bud Selig oversees.

And until I'm told otherwise, I'm going to believe it does. The Phillies' 2008 championship was a magical, joyous, amazing run. It was incredible to be a a part of, it was incredible for the city, and it was incredible for genuine baseball fans. None of ANY of the above nonsense, not least Bud Selig, can take that away from us.

* * *

But forget all that. Today is officially Pitchers And Catchers Day, so what I meant to say was . . .

14 February 09: Yes.

That's what's up.

The Philadelphia Phillies are defending champions. The New York Mets have a brand new ballpark, and it wears a 20 year, $400 million badge of shame -- Citi Field -- before it even opens. Or should I say an "inaugural season" patch of shame? Oh, is it beautiful. Muck the Fets. It must be baseball time.

I was wrong about Charlie Manuel once, and at this moment in time, I can even say I might have been wrong about Ruben Amaro. Losing Pat Burrell (to the Rays, of all teams) stung a little, but it didn't sting that much. Though he got quite a contract, Raúl Ibáñez is a formidable replacement. Avoiding arbitration with every single player, including genuine contracts to RyHo and NLCS/WS MVP Hollywood Hamels? Wow. Fantastic work, Rube.

The Inquirer's Eric Mencher this week brought us pictures of Cole, Chase, RyHo, Chooch, and plenty of other players reporting to Clearwater early. Awesome.

Todd Zolecki got an upgrade by shifting from the Inquirer over to MLB.com (and its network). The Fightins, We Should Be GMs, Balls Sticks & Stuff, and of course, The 700 Level are already firing on all cylinders. Beerleaguer never let up, and no sooner can Weitzel set them up than can David Murphy knock them down. (By the way Dave, awesome new portrait there -- easy, killer!)

* * *

Fire up the DVD player, the collectors edition is gettin' antsy and there are season tickets to distribute. Time to relive 2008 one last time -- time for Rollins-to-Utley-to-Howard with the bases loaded and Vic's grand slam and Stairs' moon shot and Hamels' mastery and Blanton's blast and Burrell's bombs and JC's wins and Lidge's perfection and "CC SUCKS" and "EEEEVAAA" and "why can't us" and "this is for Philadelphia!" Time for "World Champions . . ." Time for Harry to call it and Wheels to dance it. Time for a parade.

Make that time another parade.

A-Rod and Selig be damned -- IT'S BASEBALL TIME, AHHHHHHHHH!!!


–B Love

13 February 09: Neat-o Torpedo

We the Peons of the City of Philadelphia, in order to gain access to a more exclusive Union, must take advantage of the opportunity presented us by that most exclusive club on that most obligatory of romantic days: this Saturday, Valentine's Day.

The Union League, where "upper middle class" and "Republican" need not be mentioned, only understood, is opening its doors for a rare (to non-members) look inside its walls. The League is offering free tours from 10am to 2pm on Saturday in honor of Presidents Day weekend and specifically Abraham Lincoln's 200th birthday (which was yesterday, by the way -- how I neglected to honor Lincoln, who very much belongs on a Philadelphia calendar, with a spot on a Philadelphia calendar is unknown, my apologies).

From the Union League:
As part of its celebrations for the Lincoln Bicentennial, the Union League of Philadelphia is opening its doors and relaxing its dress code for an open house. Saturday, February 14, 10-2. A chance to tour the League House in jeans and sneakers, meet Generals George Gordon Meade and John Gibbons [sic], and view the League's art and architecture. The tour will include stops at selections from the League's collection of historical treasures and American and European art, including works by Thomas Sully, Rembrandt Peale, and other notable artists. The League's historical exhibit, "Love of Country Leads," will also be on display. Guided tours will leave the Meade Room every 10-15 minutes.

Entry will be through the 15th Street entrance (that's 15th Street, just below Sansom).
Wear your jeans and sneakers, commoners!

The Union League was founded in 1862 as a sign of loyalty -- a patriotic society as the Union League web site states -- supporting the Union during Civil War efforts. The building was constructed in 1864-65, one of the few projects undertaken in Philadelphia during the war. Its design was handled by John Fraser, a Scottish immigrant who was one of Frank Furness' first partners. They founded Fraser, Furness & Hewitt with George Hewitt in 1867. (Fraser left in 1871 when he moved to Washington.)

Fraser's French Second Empire, brick and brownstone building with the enormous staircase along South Broad Street is the most famous face of the Union League, but the building extends the full block back to 15th Street between Sansom and Moravian. This extension happened in 1881, designed by Theophilus Chandler. That annex was extended twice in the next 17 years before being demolished for an all-new annex, with an enormous competition won by Horace Trumbauer, whose much larger half of the Union League stands on the 15th Street side today.

Might as well take advantage of the opportunity as the Union League lets down its guard to honor its protagonist's bicentennial birthday. (In your face, Darwin and Poe!) The paintings, sculptures, libraries and artifacts are worth the trip, but if you're especially nice, they might even let you belly up to the bar in your jeans and sneakers for a single malt society whisky. Maybe.

* * *

• Union League official web site
• Union League at PAB

–B Love

12 February 09: Skylinegate, the exciting conclusion

Once Dawn Stensland was doing a lead-in on last night's Fox 29 newscast for a two minute news segment, I knew the Septa Beer Week Day Pass story had officially jumped the shark (much like that expression did several years ago). And when it hit the AP wire late yesterday afternoon, I thought it was all over. Minneapolis Star-Tribune? Forbes? Salon? Fox 12 Idaho? 10-4.

The best part about all of this is the national press it's gotten Philly Beer Week. Sure, the Septa gaffe was funny, but the reason it happened was Beer Week, and every single news outlet that ran that story mentioned that. "Philly, a town that loves its beer, perhaps too much," as the Baltimore Sun's headline decreed. Damn right!

But the biggest props of all here go right back to Septa. That image above is the latest version of the Beer Week Day Pass -- Beer Week Sample Pass Final.jpg. Final, indeed, as of today.

And though Septa didn't take me up on my offer for a skyline photo (that one isn't mine), they did fix it to include Comcast Center, where Beer Week will officially kick off on Friday, March 6th with the ceremonial First Tap.

I can guarantee this: I'll be taking Septa to it.

–B Love

11 February 09: Penn Treaty Park,
Past Present & Future

Anyone who's been reading this site for more than, say, the time it takes a silly story to hit the AP wire and end up in three different news sources in Idaho already knows the story, or at least symbolism, behind Penn Treaty Park.

William Penn himself, not an envoy sent by him, and legendary chief Tammany (allegedly) oversaw and led the treaty of peace between their respective Quakers and Lenni-Lenapes at this Fishtown site, then called Shackamaxon. Shackamaxon Street still exists two blocks south, its terminus at what may or may not become the Sugar House slots barn. The main entrance of Penn Treaty Park, at which the visitor is greeted by the 1982 sculpture of William Penn (by artist Frank Gaylord, who also sculpted the 19 soldiers at the Korean War Memorial on the National Mall in DC), is at the foot of Columbia Avenue. Given what we know, perhaps we can trade the two streets' names -- have Shackamaxon lead to Penn Treaty Park, and have Columbia lead to Sugar House. Columbia, after all, is the idealistic personification -- beautiful, white, with blonde hair -- of the American manifest destiny that ultimately drove the Indians westward, completely out of Penn's woods. In promoting the 1872 painting (by John Gast, in the permanent collection at the Gene Autry Museum of the American West in Los Angeles) American Progress he commissioned, in which the giant Columbia, bearing the Star of Empire on her forehead, floats westward across the plains, bringing with her wagons, railroads and electricity, western pioneer George Croffut describes the Indians:
Fleeing from "Progress"...are Indians, buffaloes, wild horses, bears, and other game, moving Westward, ever Westward, the Indians with their squaws, papooses, and "pony lodges," turn their despairing faces towards, as they flee the wondrous vision. The "Star" is too much for them.
Of course it didn't take 200 years for the settlers to lose the trust of the natives -- in fact it barely took a generation. Though Penn, a slaveholder, is immortal for his just treatment of the Indians, his sons were far less so, exemplified by the infamous Walking Purchase land grab of 1737.

But those are not the story at the finest green space in Fishtown, and perhaps on all of Philadelphia's 23 mile Delaware Riverfront. Here, the land's pre-colonial sacrosanctity, to its front row seat on the industrial revolution, to its modern day muse, is the story. This is also the story in The History of Penn Treaty Park, the 160 page new book by Ken Milano.

Milano is a native and lifelong Kensingtonian unafraid of wearing his skepticism at real estate newcomers. It's not that he's distrustful, it's that he doesn't want the truth in history to be lost, and that drives his column "The Rest is History" in the Fishtown Star. He published a collection of these columns last year as Remembering Kensington & Fishtown, and has another book on the history of the Kensington Soup Society due out next month. He's a busy man.

But not so busy that he won't celebrate the launch of his book with lifers and newcomers alike, at the brand new gallery space called Fishtown Airways, which had its grand opening at last week's First Friday. Milano and John Connors, who wrote the book's foreword and who some thirty years ago led the drive to expand and landscape the park, will partake in a release party this Friday from 5 to 8, with a discussion at 6:30. Fishtown Airways is at Girard & Shackamaxon.

Connors also heads the Penn Treaty Museum, an online-only museum of artifacts, images and stories of the park. It's hoped that a physical museum will one day materialize, but that will take significant funding, not to mention a dedicated space to host it. "We've started the 501(c)(3) process, and the bylaws are being written," Milano says, "but we're hoping to get some educational programming and maybe a traveling exhibit to help get things going." For now, the web site will do.

As for the book, The History of Penn Treaty Park examines just how the park came to be, from its colonial apotheosis (including Voltaire's reference during the French Enlightenment and Benjamin West's 1771 painting), to its pre-industrial days when the giant elm tree under which the treaty (allegedly) took place fell in 1810, to those industrial days when the park was a lumber yard, to the movement to create a protected park and its original dedication in 1893, to the modern movement in anticipation of its tercentenary in 1982 (with Connors and the late Etta May Pettyjohn and Henry Kreiss -- "Mr Kensington"), to finally the present day and the future. Along the way, Milano examines some of the sub-stories associated with the park, such as the placement of the granite obelisk memorial in 1825 and the two more modern sculptures, Gaylord's straightforward Penn and Bob Haozous' more abstract Penn Treaty, the tall metal artwork from 1990 along Beach Street, and the park's absorption into the Fairmount Park system.

All in all, it's a fascinating story that traces the earliest days of the neighborhood, the city, and indeed the state of Pennsylvania. It's available now from History Press of Charleston, South Carolina: The History of Penn Treaty Park.

–B Love

12 February 09: Sunrise sweet

I'm not so sure that wind makes a sound. You know when it's windy because of what the wind is blowing around or blowing through or blowing along. Drafty windows, screen doors. WHOOOOOOOOSH. Plastic chairs out back, ropes on a flagpole. CLANG CLANG. The interstate highway a few blocks away, the El a few blocks the other direction, the helicopter distant enough you can't even see it. WHITE NOISE.

The recorded sound of wind (the beginning of Pink Floyd's Meddle; any TV meteorologist you see during hurricane season) is not the wind itself, but what the microphone absorbs through its porous diaphragm. The better the microphone, the better its sensitivity, the more it picks up. The more holes it has in its meshy membrane, the more chances the wind has at whirring through them to the sensor.

Even as I stood against the wind on my roof as the sun reached high enough over Petty's Island to light the tops of 5- and 6-story buildings below the much taller skyline, the drumming in my ears was not the wind, but the vibrations from the deflections through my hair and beard.

Wind is measured in speed, and force, not sound.

I don't think wind makes a sound. Wind is silent, but it's a noisy enabler.


–B Love

Philly Skyline Windy Skyline: 7:10am, 12 February 09, Fishtown.

11 February 09: Dear Septa,
You're getting there

Well now this round of Skyline Inspections certainly gained legs, dinnit? Recall the story from Monday (further down this page - there aren't a lot of "permalinks" on Philly Skyline -- 9 February 09: Skyline Inspection EMERGENCY) that was in Tuesday morning's Metro with a credit and quote (thanks guys), and a subsequent Tuesday afternoon report with credit to neither Philly Skyline nor the Metro on KYW 1060 by Mike DeezNuts DeNardo.

Anyway, it appears that Septa has gotten the hint, as they've issued a corrected version of the Beer Week Day Pass. (Again, that's beer WEEK . . . DAY pass.) It no longer has the New York City skyline for its Philly Beer Week pass, but now, indeed, features the Philly Skyline. It's live (with, as Drew Lazor points out on today's Clog, the filename "Beer Week revised SAMPLE.jpg") on shop.septa.org HERE. The new pass looks like this:

Given that this whole conversation stems from Philly Skyline's regular skyline inspections, it would be inappropriate if I did not point out that the new graphic's skyline photo is old enough that it does not include Comcast Center. You know Comcast Center -- the place where Beer Week ceremoniously kicks off with the Opening Tap, the official Philly Beer Week Keg Hammer of Glory.

Tell you what, Septa. Since I know you're reading this, how 'bout this. I will provide you with a recent image of the skyline -- with Comcast Center, the Ritz-Carlton, 10 Rittenhouse, Murano, whatever you like -- in exchange for a Beer Week pass for every day of the event. It'll be like our own little Billy Ripken '89 Fleer legacy. Gimme a yell -- blove AT phillyskyline DOT com.

UPDATE: Welp, it took exactly two days to go national. Ladies and gentlemen, MSNBC. And as that story points out, "Other readers noticed there is no comma between 12 and 13."

Bump bum ba bum. WAHHHHHHHHH.

–B Love

11 February 09: City of Stone

by Stephen Ives

In buildings today, elegance and a sense of lightness are qualities that are admired and emulated. City skylines and university campuses are adorned with abstract shapes and sharp edges of steel and glass. It's an evolution of sensibility and taste as well as a concern for how buildings impact their environment.

However, particularly in places like Philadelphia, such modern marvels rise above -- or against -- an old growth forest of hand-hewn blocks. Today's high efficiency glass and reinforced concrete replace the granite and limestone of yesteryear and though such building materials are no longer in vogue, the buildings themselves are cherished perhaps more than they have ever been.

Public and private organizations across America place themselves figuratively and legally (sometimes physcially) between ornate remnants of bygone days and the forces that systematically eliminate them in favor of tomorrow's obsolete buildings. This is not to say not what we build today lacks in character or quality but there is a romantic element to the stone façade, particularly along the streets of our great cities where they once represented the pride of the powerful, that takes decades to cure and become an inseparable part of the urban fabric and that accumulated age and patina lend a legitimacy to the feel of the streets.

I hope you see what I mean in this collection.


–Steve Ives

Ed. note: I somehow broke Steve's archives, so I'm gonna fix those up and then replace this line with the proper link to them.

10 February 09: In honor of a great Los Angeles Ram,
Flipper Anderson

That about quells any mystery as to whether Philly Skyline would ever give some due to one of the NFL's more versatile wide receivers of the late 1980s, doesn't it? Today's post is in honor of Willie Lee Anderson -- they call him Flipper.

After a standout college career at UCLA, where he was Troy Aikman's #1 target, Flipper Anderson had a solid career with the LA Rams, where he had 259 receptions and 28 touchdowns. He also set an NFL record for receiving yards in a single game -- 336 yards on 15 receptions against the New Orleans Saints in the 1989 season. That record still stands.

Flipper Anderson: the Pride of Paulsboro!

Paulsboro, New Jersey might be the farthest-closest neighbor Philadelphia has. Though the Delaware River is less than a mile wide at Paulsboro, directly across the river from Philadelphia International Airport, unless you're on a boat the only way to get there is by car -- and Paulsboro is about halfway between the Walt Whitman and Commodore Barry Bridges, about 8 car-miles from each.

What about Paulsboro? Oh, nothing really, just a little poking around, skyline hunting on the Delaware. You know how we do.

The Philly Skyline Paulsboro Skyline above was taken on the grounds of the Paulsboro Sportsmen Club, about eight miles south-southwest of City Hall. And if you look directly across the river to the airport less than a mile away, you'll see the Philly Skyline Airport Skyline.

Flipper will be the first to remind you to bring your earplugs - it's LOUD.

–B Love

9 February 09: Wintry Wissahickon,
presented without comment

Except for this little description: these were taken Friday, just after the Dr Dog show and just before the abrupt spring preview.

Word to the wise: gravity works. If you're going down a steep hill covered in snow along Cresheim Creek, just below Devil's Pool, even one that you've gone down a dozen times NOT in the snow . . . exercise caution. If you squat like a catcher to slide down the bank, go ahead and slide. Do not grab the tree on your left to steady yourself, for all it will do is spin you sideways as gravity takes over, dropping you 5-6 feet onto your butt. Alternately, thank your maker that your butt is protected with cushiony fat, and be grateful that enormous bruise is not a puncture wound or fracture.

Wissahickon Valley Park, City of Philadelphia: 6 February 2009.

–B Love

9 February 09: A pat on the back

And now, a moment of in-house recognition for someone who damn well deserves it. A heartfelt and hearty all-caps CONGRATULATIONS goes out to Philly Skyline second-in-charge and first-in-literature Nathaniel Robert Popkin on winning a fellowship from the Pennsylvania Council on the Arts for creative non-fiction.

The state grant is recognition that his work here (his essay archives are HERE, and The Possible City, the feature which he began for Philly Skyline, is HERE), at City Paper (where he most recently wrote of the looming close of Northeastern Hospital in Port Richmond), and two books -- The Possible City and Song of the City -- has not gone unnoticed. We knew that anyway, though, from his nod as writer-in-residence at Philadelphia University and his many invitations (at Free Library, Penn, Headhouse Books, etc) to read and speak after those books. He's a good guy to have on your team, and it seems Pennsylvania Council on the Arts agrees.

Well done, Popkin.

–B Love

9 February 09: Skyline Inspection EMERGENCY --
Philadelphia ≠ New York ≠ AC


Septa, Septa, Septa. Ohhh, Septa.

Give credit where it's due: volunteering to be our designated driver is a responsible initiative on Septa's part, especially the late night weekend trains (which should be running every weekend anyway). And let's even cut them a break for printing a Beer Week card that is valid for one day -- they already offer weekly passes, and they no longer have a dedicated Day Pass. They replaced their extremely-convenient-and-tourist-friendly $5.50 unlimited usage pass Day Pass (which included one trip on regional rail) in 2007 with a less-convenient-and-limited-to-8-rides "Convenience Pass" (which does not include any regional rail trips). So that they're bringing back a limited edition day pass to encourage people to NOT drive at a beer drinking festival . . . well, good on em.

But seriously. New York? No one noticed this. Not the graphic designer who put the pass together in Quark or InDesign. Not the supervisor who approved the job. Not anyone in the office who they showed the pass to: "hey, come check out the Philly Beer Week pass we made."

Septa. Where "Go Green" means putting tokens in plastic packages you rip apart and throw into the trash cans on the station platforms. Where tokens still exist. Where new American currency means eliminating ticket machines instead of upgrading them. Where a new president's economic stimulus package means $403M worth of band-aids instead of service expansion. (I wrote about this HERE (19 January 09, On Washington and change), Dan U-A wrote about this for Young Philly Politics, and Greg Heller has written about this a few times for Urban Direction.)

Septa. Where a Philly Beer Week pass gets a New York City photograph.


Buy the Philly Beer Week New York Picture Pass HERE.

* * *

With Septa, at least they have the excuse of being a transit agency with a marketing team charged with promoting the use of the transit options they provide. You'd think a design team would be cognizant of a city's design, or at least recognize that a different city's design is not the design of the city whose transit agency you're working in. But when you're a city's official Convention & Visitors Authority, charged with promoting the city itself, SURELY you will recognize your city's design, or at least recognize that a different city's design is not the design of the city you're promoting.

Surely not, Atlantic City.

This little image on the right (click it to see the full ad), screen-cap'd from a Philly web site, entices you to spend a few nights in Atlantic City, where you can eat breakfast and dinner. It features not only a background image of New York City, but one which . . . well, one which was taken before the World Trade Center was destroyed by terrorists in airplanes. That's the north tower over on the far right. The person who put this ad together had a stock photo of a skyline. It was not Atlantic City's. Even if this was not recognized by this person, surely the twin towers would send up a red flag . . . surely even the youngest unpaid intern at AC's tourism bureau remembers footage from 9/11, yes? Maybe not.

* * *

That's it for this round of Skyline Inspections. That's enough. That's all I can stands and I can't stands no more.

–B Love

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