15 May 09: Skyline Construction Lite

Here we go, here we go, here we here we here we go -- a triple shot of construction updates to take us into what's looking like a Mayshowers weekend. Above, we have a photo of the Convention Center's expansion progress, taken this morning. Click it to enlarge it.

Directly below, we have a one-off of 10 Rittenhouse Square (which is not click-enlargeable because it's vertical and you don't want all that white space on your desktop).

And down here, we have a new (to Philly Skyline) view on that other 'Rittenhouse Square', the one that's 1,696 greater than 10.

This 1706 Rittenhouse Square photo is click-&-large, as it's your typical neighborhood scene. Or something. 17th & Spruce, there you have it.

And here we all shall have it this weekend. Rain or shine, there's a Kensington Kinetic Sculpture Derby, and rain or shine Bart Blatstein is gonna shine a light on the Piazza at Schmidt's with a grand, grand opening. Why not pull a double shift on Saturday and hit both?

Kinetic Kenzo is HERE, and the Piazza is HERE. Have fun out there, yo.

–B Love

15 May 09: What insanity sounds like

Turn your speakers up and see how long you can let this play. If you make it all the way through, why not play it again? Then again. And again some more.

Throw in some barking dogs and a domestic dispute. Shake well. Garnish with Fishtown Pizza Truck BRRRRRRIIIIIIIINNNNNNNNNNGGGGG and voila: the summer's finest Philly audio cocktail.

DID YOU KNOW: Mister Softee was founded in Philadelphia in 1956 by Wharton grad and Korean War veteran James Conway. It is now franchised in fifteen states, China and Hong Kong. How about that!

–B Love

14 May 09: Ladies and gentlemen, we are floating in space

Those guys right there are really floating in space. These are astronauts Drew Feustel (top) and John Grunsfeld (bottom), who began the first spacewalk on NASA mission STS-125 at 8:52 this morning. It's a six and a half hour spacewalk, the first of five on this eleven day trip that began with Monday's launch.

Including NASA's, Russia's and China's programs, and the Tier One flights (Tier One is the non-government, private enterprise that is the leading company trying to establish space tourism), there have been 31 manned spaceflights since the Columbia disaster in February 2003. So why is this one, the third one already in 2009, all of a sudden a Philly Skyline item? Hubble Hubble, baby.

The space shuttle Atlantis undertaking is the sixth and final Hubble Space Telescope mission. Its infamous launch occurred in April 1990, the mission to fix it in December 1993, and regular missions to service it in February 1997, December 1999, March 2002 (Columbia's last successful mission), and this one in May 2009. The purpose of the mission is to extend the operational life of the Hubble five years with upgrades to the technology and general maintenance, including the replacement of batteries, cameras, computers and gyroscopes.

In 2014, NASA expects to launch the bigger, badder James Webb Space Telescope. The Webb will record images in infrared with a mirror six times larger than the Hubble's, and it will orbit at Lagrange point 2, or about 932,000 miles (1.5 million km). The Hubble, by comparison, is only 350 miles above the Earth's surface. (Mars' orbit is roughly 35 million miles from Earth's.) When Hubble is brought back to earth in a Pacific splash landing, it will have served its country, planet, and indeed universe extremely well. After a three year false start, the Hubble has made millions of pictures that have given a face to the expansion, energy and age -- 13.7 billion years -- of the universe.

It's also made some ridiculously amazing pieces of art, like this one of the planetary nebula NGC 2818. NASA, technology pioneers that they are (they're on Twitter, for chrissakes, no pun intended), built hubblesite.org with news, background info, future info and, of course, image galleries from the greatest telescope ever known -- until the Webb launches, of course. (Hubblesite.org was registered on May 10, 2001, a year and four days before phillyskyline.com was registered . . . happy birthday!)

The Hubble is a direct descendant of the instrument Galileo Galilei crafted four hundred years ago in Italy. Galileo did not invent the telescope, nor was he by any means the first astronomer, but the observations he recorded on his in 1609 revolutionized the science, offering the first visual proof to Copernicus' theory that the earth revolved around the sun, and not the other way around as everyone (the Church) believed.

Pretty awesome that, to celebrate the 400 year milestone, the Franklin Institute was chosen as the host for Galileo, the Medici and The Age of Astronomy. 2009 is also the International Year of Astronomy, as decided by UNESCO and the International Astronomical Union. (Isn't every year the international year of astronomy to an international union of astronomy???)

Galileo, the Medici and The Age of Astronomy is a partnership with the Institute and Museum of the History of Science in Galileo's native Florence. One of the two existing telescopes used by Galileo is a centerpiece of the Franklin Institute's exhibit, which also includes a number of his drawings, paintings and other instruments.

The Father of Astronomy is calling Philadelphia his home in this year of astronomy, 400 years after he changed astronomy. The Galileo exhibit runs at the Franklin Institute through September 7 and costs $20.75. Its official web site is HERE.

* * *

NASA spacewalkers photo from NASA TV.
Planetary nebula NGC 2818 from the Hubble Space Telescope, accessed at hubblesite.org.

CBS Sunday Morning, A View Back Into Time, 10 May 2009.
The Colbert Report, interview with Franklin Institute chief astronomer Derrick Pitts, 30 March 2009.

–B Love

13 May 09: Philly Skyline Time Warp, 2006

Three years ago today, the LEED certified Comcast Center and its tourist attraction lobby with HDTV looked like this, a massive construction site where ironwork was just beginning to rise from the ground (after a huge head start from the concrete core).

Three short years ago, I was riding out my 20s down in G-Ho, and the Phillies/Mets rivalry was just taking off with the recent departure of Billy Wagner and the astronomical rise of Ryan Howard. Ahh, memories.

A sampling of other goings on in May 2006 provides an interesting measuring stick of what's real and what's not in Philly development. The fruits were still very ripe and developers were still cashing in. With three years of hindsight, it's clear who won the Spencer-Mahoney fight for 15th & Chestnut. Spencer's Residences at the Ritz-Carlton are now lived in and up for an AIA award, and Mahoney just last week sold his share of the Waldorf-Astoria, née 1441 Chestnut.

As Comcast Center was on its way to becoming the tallest building in the city, the tallest building on the City Line Avenue mini-skyline was on its way to being no more. Target bought the Adams Mark, née Holiday Inn, in 2005, tore it down in 2006, and opened the Target that's there now in 2007.

The Hub on Chestnut, Domus, and the UPenn/CHOP healthcare complex were growing the West Philly skyline which had just gotten a new crown from Cira Centre. (Some photos.)

In 2006, the US Olympic Committee took the time to consider Philadelphia among its host cities for 2016 but Mayor Street didn't take the time to go represent us for it, the only mayor of the five cities considered to not do so. But National Constitution Center president Joe Torsella did. Hey Joe, let's try again for 2020 . . . Philly 2020, the marketing possibilities are endless! Philadelphia Olympics, 2020 . . . PERFECT VISION. Philadelphia Olympics 2020 . . . hosted by John Stossel. And so forth.

That was all those years ago, those three short years ago. Speaking of the Olympics, three years in the other direction we'll all be watching London for the 2012 games. Here at home, we'll know whether or not American Commerce Center was built . . . whether the Schuylkill River Park will see its way to the Delaware . . . whether the Delaware will have one, or two, or zero casinos . . . whether the Recovery Act has worked well enough to bring Barry O back for four more (and whether Nutter Butter is a two term mayor).

Of course who knows if we'll even survive 2012? The Mayans and Darren Daulton have their theories. Crazy theorists have their own crazy theories of apocalypse. Massive earthquakes? Nuclear war? Pandemics? WE JUST DON'T KNOW. And to think it's only three years from now, when only three years ago there was but a wee Comcast Center.

Here's a Philly Skyline Time Warp Skyline to take us home, back to happier times, back when the end of the world was not in sight. PANIC!

–B Love

12 May 09: PH, baseball

Now baseball, that's American. I love my pastime like I love my mom and apple pie (though I'll take the strawberry rhubarb if I've you're asking).

Man oh Manny. The 50 game suspension of Manny Ramirez is such a letdown. It's a total kick in the nuts to anyone who valued the fun of baseball, to any Phillies fan who took pride in overcoming the Dodgers in the NLCS and their manchild superstar that hit .533 with two homers in five games, a figure that would have been three if he hadn't hit his double to the deepest park of Citizens Bank Park.

In 2009, most people figured we were past Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens and Rafael Palmeiro and Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa. Alex Rodriguez was it, the end of the dark days. We'll just let his soap opera play itself out; everyone else has learned by now. But nope.

Manny's positive test for a drug prescribed to help women get pregnant is not exactly shocking. It's the timing that's surprising. And like each one of the stories of each one of the players above, it consequently turns the spotlight on all our favorite players, even the ones most beloved to us. Players like Ryan Howard and Chase Utley and Jimmy Rollins and Cole Hamels. Players like JC Romero, who at least protested his suspension and had an explanation that it was a legal supplement, that it was approved by the team nutritionist. Manny didn't deny taking his drug, he just said that it was from a doctor's prescription for a personal health issue. He also didn't say "I'm innocent" -- he said "I've passed about fifteen drug tests over the past five years."

ESPN's Bill Simmons started getting obnoxious around the time the Patriots were building a dynasty, and he became unreadable when the Red Sox started winning World Series . . . but his column on how Manny not only taints his most beloved team ever, but also the other players around him -- David Ortiz, Johnny Damon, Trot Nixon -- is spot on. When the news hit about JC Romero, who scored two of the Phillies' four World Series victories, it was a little tough to swallow, even if he had an excuse. How do you think Tampa Bay Rays fans took it?

Steroids in baseball has been such a complicated, convoluted issue that it's hard to say what's right and what wrong. Big, overinflated numbers from meatheads like McGwire and Sosa when baseball needed a rebound was OK, but the big, overinflated numbers from meatheads like Bonds and Clemens were not. Legal supplements like the EAS Myoplex Chase Utley shills for are OK, but illegal supplements like the human chorionic gonadotropin Manny Ramirez took to build his testosterone back up are not OK. One's a protein shake served in a glass and one's a chemical that's injected in the butt . . . but do they not both make you bigger better stronger?

Manny Ramirez' agent is the so-called super-agent, the Scott Boras, evil incarnate. Boras is the man who's bigger than the game itself, the man behind A-Rod's (first) quarter-billion dollar contract, the man who made JD Drew stiff the Phillies, the man who got the good-not-great Carlos Beltran and Barry Zito each a hundred mil, the man who even got Oliver Perez three years and $36M after being painfully mediocre with the Mets. Boras' agents include several players linked to steroids and HGH, including both Bonds and A-Rod, as well as Kevin Brown (who put Boras' office as the return address on an overnight cash mailing to infamous supplier Kirk Radomski) and Eric Gagne (who set the consecutive save record and then was named as an HGH user along with his battery partner Paul LoDuca in the Mitchell Report). In 2004, a contract year, Boras' client Adrian Beltre hit 44 points better than his career average and had 25 more homeruns than his previous career high, neither of which he's been even close to since then.

Why should anyone believe Boras is not encouraging his players to take steroids if they think they can get away with it? They do that, they put up better numbers. They put up better numbers, they make more money. They make more money, Boras makes more money.

Ryan Madson made Scott Boras some money. Madson, whose changeup was ranked as the most unhittable pitch in baseball, hit an amazing 97 mph during last year's playoff run. Boras began selling him as Mariano Rivera less than a week after the parade. Ruben Amaro signed him to three years and $12M, the same deal that JC Romero got the year before.

Are any of these things related? You want to say no, that the Phillies are totally clean (Romero's suspension was a total fluke!), that the 2008 WFCs will forever remain untarnished. Madson's fastball hit 97 all of a sudden from the adrenaline of the postseason. Lidge's yearlong perfection was pure. Howard's 48 homeruns (3 more in the postseason) were all natural, just like his 47 and 58 of the two previous years.

Hell, if we're drawing parallels or noting coincidences, we could even observe that Matt Stairs had 38 HR and 102 RBI on a 1999 Oakland A's team that also had Jason Giambi, Miguel Tejada, and John Jaha (John Jaha!), who went for 35 and 111 that year. John Jaha!

The truth is, grimly, that we will never know. We think Utley and Howard and Madson and Lidge and Stairs are all clean. We probably even think Romero is clean. But how could we possibly ever know?

The benefit of the doubt will keep our heroes as our heroes, and thank god for that. And even if something comes up somewhere along the way, we'll find forgiveness, just like Giants fans looked the other way with Barry Bonds, and just like Dodgers fans will do when Manny Ramirez returns. But until that happens, that hasn't happened.

It has happened for the Dodgers. Their storybook season of last year, blemished with Manny's huge asterisk. They're in town for three starting tonight, the first NLCS rematch of the season . . . without Manny. That's a shame.

–B Love

12 May 09: PU, soccer

WELP. Now we know: Chester's Major League Soccer team will be called the Philadelphia Union.

Props where they are due: that's a really great looking logo. The colors are great, the use of the Join Or Die snake is great, the multi-meaning of Union -- the thirteen colonies represented by the thirteen stars, the Union signifying the half of the country that won the Civil War, the definition of unity, the legend of Philadelphia unions -- is great. The efforts of the Sons of Ben, god bless em, have been great.

But me, I'm still completely inclined to doubt. I don't understand why the state of Pennsylvania is kicking $47 million to the construction of a stadium for a sport that's second rate in this country, nor why Delaware County is kicking $30 million to the same in a city that is the butt of the rest of the county's jokes, nor why the Delaware River Port Authority is building ramps off of the Commodore Barry Bridge if this stadium is supposed to help the city of Chester. Ramps at the CBB will dump people off of 95, the Blue Route, 322 and the bridge itself right into the stadium's parking areas without having to even roll the windows up to avoid mean old Chester. They even say so on the team's web site:
The stadium is ideally located just five miles south of the Philadelphia International Airport, with easy access to major roadways such as I-95 and I-476 (off-ramps which are currently under construction will lead passengers directly from I-95 and the bridge to stadium parking facilities). Additionally, the Northeast Corridor Amtrak, Conrail and SEPTA rail lines run two train platforms within a short distance from the site.
Amtrak's two closest stops are in Wilmington and Philadelphia, each 15 miles away. Conrail is a freight railroad. Septa? The closest station is Highland Avenue, which is about twelve blocks or a twenty minute walk away. That's like getting off at the Lombard-South subway station and walking to Independence Hall, but in Chester.

This is no Rush Limbaugh "I hope he fails" here . . . I really do hope that Chester can benefit from all of this, but so far, it's gotten the shaft. There will be no merchandise with "CHESTER" across the chest for locals to take a little pride in. (Then again this is soccer, so it'll probably say Sunoco or Comcast across the chest anyway.) A team called "Philadelphia" playing in Chester just doesn't sit well with me. Even "Pennsylvania Union" would be better.

Soccer enthusiasts are always quick to point out that lots of teams don't play in the cities they're named for, most notably the Jets and Giants. For the sake of arguing, let's see here . . . In the NFL, teams play eight home games a year (ten if you count preseason, a couple more if you're the best team in the league) and have to accommodate upwards of 70,000 fans where tailgating in parking lots is tradition. That's a whole different scenario than the other three major sports, especially baseball. Still, of the NFL's 32 teams, exactly six play outside the boundaries of the city they're named for: the Washington Redskins (Landover), the New York Jets and Giants (East Rutherford), the Buffalo Bills (Orchard Park), the Miami Dolphins (Miami Gardens), and the Dallas Cowboys (Irving). The Arizona Cardinals (Glendale) and New England Patriots (Foxborough) are named for their state and region, respectively. The Detroit Lions moved back into the city from Pontiac in 2002. So, that's 6 out of 32, or 18.7%.

In baseball, every single team plays where it's named for, the footnotes of which might be Florida's teams. The Marlins, who are named for their state (as are the Minnesota Twins, Texas Rangers, Colorado Rockies and Arizona Diamondbacks), are building a new stadium in Miami's Little Havana as we speak. When it opens, they'll change their name to the Miami Marlins. The Tampa Bay Rays play in St Petersburg, but "Tampa Bay" encompasses their entire region (like "Delaware Valley" does here). In hockey and basketball, there is one exception apiece -- the Phoenix Coyotes (in Glendale now, after playing in downtown Phoenix for years) and the Detroit Pistons (Auburn Hills). The New Jersey Devils (Newark) and San Jose Sharks have each moved into their cities.

Major League Soccer? It seems its teams just play where they can until they can justify the spending on a new stadium. Eight of the league's fifteen teams play in soccer specific stadiums (the two LA teams share theirs), all of which have been built since 1999; only Columbus' and Toronto's are within their city's limits. Including Chester's, four more soccer specific stadiums are planned, two of which are in the cities their team is named for.

In America, and in Philadelphia, there are four primary team sports and then a handful of secondary ones, be it soccer or lacrosse or what have you. Soccer in America has never, ever been on the level of the big four, and it never will be. Freddy Adu left the MLS before he was even out of his teens, and David Beckham cowered back to Europe less than two years after he and Posh came to take over America, only to find we didn't care.

The "world's sport" peaked in American fervor when we hosted the 1994 World Cup . . . when we, the host team, lost in the second round. (In fairness, the US did lose twice to the eventual champion Brazil.) The World Cup did ignite a little interest in the game here, and soccer moms came to define suburban, white mothers, most notably during the 1996 presidential election when the term became commonplace.

I suppose that's what I'm getting at with all this team name/stadium/location stuff. In America, soccer tends to be popular with suburbanites and immigrants (and the handful of enlightened city dwellers I'll probably hear from). Soccer moms don't live in Chester. Nor do many immigrants. Nor do, most importantly, most of the people who lobbied so hard to get a 'Philadelphia' team.

They got their team, but it landed in Chester. Whether Chester also gets the spoils remains to be seen. I hope it does. I am happy that Chester's recovering Delaware Riverfront has an anchor. I hope it can kickstart growth and a real turnaround in a historic city that can certainly use it.

But that's what Harrah's was supposed to do, and this early on, the Avenue of the States is rusting away the same as it ever was, with Harrah's a half mile away up the Industrial Highway. Out in St Louis, a city that's similar to Chester, but on a much larger scale, the Cardinals built a new ballpark for the Cardinals that was supposed to stimulate an all new neighborhood, Ballpark Village. With the new Busch Stadium now in its fourth year of use, Ballpark Village is still nothing more than a concept (one that's co-owned by the Cordish Company, whose Philly Live at this point appears to have the same chance at reality). The city of St Louis will get to showcase the giant empty lots in its place to the nation when it hosts the MLB All Star Game in July.

Will anyone who attends Philadelphia Union games spend any time in Chester when the games begin next year? With exits that convenient to four different highways, again, I sincerely doubt it. I hope I'm wrong.

–B Love

11 May 09: On time and on point

What a weekend in the Northern Liberties, y'all. With it feeling like spring, real spring, Bart Town USA was perfectly abuzz with Sunday brunchers, new store owners tidying and preparing their shops and boutiques, and neighbors popping in for a sneak peak.

Such was the scene at the Piazza at Schmidt's, with showtime right around the corner. This coming Saturday and Sunday mark the grand opening of the flagship of what Bart Blatstein has been conjuring for the past ten years, and he's making sure it's a party. Well, a party without booze . . . officially, anyway. A new sign welcoming visitors to the city's first real, off-the-street, neighborhood plaza says that alcohol is forbidden, but that likely has more to do with the fact that there are several rent paying establishments within the confines of the Piazza and Liberties Walk across the street that sell the stuff.

The sign also says that doggies are welcome but that if they poopie, you scoopie. I'm serious, it says that:

Anyway, here it is, the final preview. The Piazza goes live on Saturday with a huge trunk show -- over 100 artists and designers -- hosted by City Paper, with live music and DJs, the Phillies-Nationals game on the jumbotron on Sunday afternoon, and just all around new stuff, stuff that includes the new home for Candace Karch's Bambi Project, a front door for Print Liberation, and a spinoff bar from the Good Dog peeps called The Swift Half.

Oh, and this:

This is Darling's. Not Darling's Café, not Darling's Diner, just Darling's. It's the third Darling's from Harry and John Arnold, but it's just a tad bigger than the cheesecake coffeehouse at 20th & Pine where it all started in July 2005 (and where there was an All Proper Philly Skyline photography show for New Years 2006) and the signature series café across the street from the Franklin Institute. This Darling's is huge.

The 132 seat diner will be a diner, it just won't have diner in its name. John Arnold, who likes to talk business, says "we don't want to separate our brand. We're just Darling's . . . people will figure out that this one is a diner when they come in." I notice that where they will come in, the please wait to be seated area, has a classic diner dessert case.

Harry Arnold, who likes to talk food, lights up and says "wait'll you see what we're cooking up." The menu, he says, will have "some American, some Cuban, lots of cheesecake." One of his cooks is in the back dishing out a trial run dish of plantain chips fried in olive oil and onions and dashed with salt . . . and for a place that's not even open yet, it tastes like a staple dish, like something that the server will sit on your table in a basket while she gets your drink order.

Harry then tells how Darling's 'verry cherry' cheesecake, one of their most popular, will be even better when they start serving them here, because "I've been going crazy trying to perfect my own cherry topping, with tons of fresh bing cherries and a little bit of the Polish pucker, a bitterness . . . but not too bitter, because our cheesecake can't be overpowered. But these will be 'verry verry cherry.'"

Darling's has no choice but to be an anchor of the Piazza, taking up the entire ground floor of The Egg, with the diner's main entrance facing out to 2nd Street and Liberties Walk, its line of sight leading right out to the center of the Piazza. It will be open from 7am to 10pm on weekdays, 24 hours on weekends. Kinda like Silk City was back in the day, but instead of being attached to a bar, it's across the street or just down the way from four of them.

* * *

The success of The Piazza will of course depend a good deal on the performance of the tenants, but like so many urban troves, it will mostly depend on The People. Bart has had his share of detractors over the years, especially here in the Northern Liberties, but when they see his vision in action, even they will be impressed. I've heard a lot of people concerned about the Old City-fication of the Libs because of Bart's developments, and I suppose there could be a slight inflation of Jersey weekend meat from flashy new drink spots, but honestly, there's room enough for everyone.

The two new apartment buildings, the office building (The Egg), the Piazza itself and all the stores lining it . . . they're going to nail that May 16 opening date that Bart's been counting down for months. The only thing I noticed missing was the traffic light this site reported in February. "Ugh, that light," Bart sighs when I ask him about that. "It's coming, but you realize I've been lobbying the city for five years to get this thing, and I paid for it." The poles are there, and Bart insists that it will be there to mitigate the traffic on what's long been the 2nd Street Expressway -- the half-mile between Girard and Poplar with no traffic lights, stop signs or speed bumps -- it just won't be there for the opening weekend.

But that's an afterthought at this point, considering all that's gone into bringing The Piazza at Schmidt's to this day. And speaking of Schmidt's, Bart notes, "we salvaged huge chunks of concrete from the brewery during the demolition that will serve as benches and a seating area." Some of them are already installed, and there will be a plaque to commemorate the old brewery. And on its former site, soon enough, will be the supermarket Northern Liberties, Kensington and Fishtown have been dying for. (No offense to Cousin's.)

The final touches are being put on The Piazza today and this week -- the final landscaping, some more benches and tables, the last vacuuming and dusting before the doors open -- but it will be ready for primetime. The show starts on Saturday. Atthepiazza.com is the official web site, so check back there for details as the day draws near.

–B Love

8 May 09: One more for City Hall

Hello hello, and how do you do? It's a little slow going on this Friday of mysterious sun -- I blame the all star cast at the bar last night (and thank the councilman for picking up my tab . . . it's true, the city really does give back!).

I also thank everyone who's commented this week on the impromptu sequel to Philly Skyline City Hall Week. I'm gonna go recover in the sun and decide which direction yr Skyline will go next, but for just a little more on City Hall, I'd like to turn it over to my good friend Greta Greenberger, who will for the next seven minutes review some things we've learned about our weird, silent, beautiful marble edifice, and tell us some other things of the highest import.

By the way, the Preservation Alliance's walking tours continue this weekend with stops in Fishtown, South Philly's Girard Estate neighborhood and Rittenhouse Square's 'sacred sites' (which I'm sure will include the parking lot where the Courtyard of Justice mural has ruined the integrity of the streetscape). For more info, hit their web site HERE.

–B Love

7 May 09: Pure pandering?

Fishtown (and fishtown.us) is aflutter anew, with new news on the Sugar House Thing (SHT). For one, last week a Pew Charitable Trusts survey found that 60% of 800 Philadelphians favored the SHT casino (with 35% in opposition), yet only 39% favored the Foxwoods at Strawbridges (57% opposed). For two, yesterday the state Gaming Control Board voted unanimously -- shocking -- to approve the latest redesign of SHT and extend the deadline for its opening, which has already passed, by another two years. (Details on Plan Philly.) For three, the backstop banner above has appeared at Hetzell Field, a good seven or eight blocks where from the SHT shed in the parking lot may or may not eventually reside.

Slapping a Sugar House banner on a baseball backstop used by children is completely in poor taste. Hetzell Field, as you might recall, has been an unnecessary flashpoint of debate in the neighborhood for several reasons -- people's dogs running off their leashes and urinating and shitting on a field where kids (little kids, like 6 to 8 year old kids) play soccer, people doing drugs (even needle drugs, leaving syringes by the bleachers), and people hanging out drinking after hours, leaving broken Coors Light bottles scattered all over Earl Street. And the cops here don't do a damn thing about it -- they're called, but they never come, let alone break it up, so the neighbors that get to endure their cars being used as chairs and beer coasters have to settle for filing yet another Roll Call Complaint.

Hetzell seems to be the host site for the old-vs-new argument that never goes away. That's unfortunate, because it's clearly an asset to the neighborhood. The problems at Hetzell aren't old-vs-new though, they're wrong-vs-right. As a rec field, dogs should not be allowed there, period. Many dog owners say they're good about cleaning up after their dogs, but that's not the point. You can't clean up a dog's urine, and when your dog is running around off its leash, it's unpredictable. Yes yes, of course, "he's just being friendly." Well some of us, say, having a catch, or playing pickup football, or tossing a frisbee, don't want your friendly dog running up to us or chasing our balls and frisbees. When I was on top of Mount Greylock, Massachusetts, a couple weeks ago, after hiking a good six miles and nearly 3,000' in elevation to get there, I sat down to take in the view and have an apple and some sliced cheese. Some couple, a good 40-50 yards away, left their husky off its leash and it ran up to me and tried to take my cheese right out of my hand. I don't think so, dog.

And with the drinking . . . I mean, who cares if people get together to have some beers? I do this every night -- in my living room, on my deck, at the bar, maybe even somewhere out in the woods. I wouldn't even care if kids got together in the middle of Hetzell Field to drink beers -- if they cleaned up after themselves and they didn't piss on the field and the sidewalks and in between the houses they don't live in, and if they didn't mess with people's cars and/or harass people walking by. These things don't happen, though, and nothing is done about it.

Would something be done about it if the park was taken better care of? Would the park be taken better care of if it had sponsors? Sponsors like Sugar House? I guess we'll see. The banner is new, put up within the last few days. The ball field at the Capitolo Rec Center next to Pat's & Geno's is named for Danny Faulkner, so you know there's some pride being taken to keep that field on the level. At Hetzell, there's already barely any grass, just dust and dirt (and dog shit, as it were), so some corporate sponsors might not be a bad idea. Marian Anderson Field at 18th & Fitzwater? A veritable Little League paradise, with well kempt grass and a handsome fence around the outfield with sponsors' signs -- not unlike the State Farm, Southwest Airlines and Budweiser ads at Citizens Bank Park and all Major League ballparks. But Sugar House?

Sure seems convenient that, on such a contentious issue, it's a contentious organization taking the lead to make good. Bars are pretty regular sponsors of rec fields and the like, so it's not that it's a casino, it's that it's that casino. But again, if it leads to a well kempt field that's looked after, is it a bad thing?

Meanwhile, it seems the SHT "redesign" -- their parking lot "interim" design, which is at heart a non-design -- appears, yet again, to be moving forward. There's no guarantee that Sugar House will make it, or have any reason to make it, beyond the "interim" phase, regardless of how well hewn the designs of the final two phases are. And if they don't, aren't they then reneging on the promise of jobs and revenue that are their biggest talking points? Neil Bluhm, the chief SHT investor, basically rescued Pittsburgh's casino last year after its previous investor defaulted on its loan and failed to pay its contractors . . . Design wise, the Rivers Casino isn't all bad. (That's it in the picture here.) It opens up to the river and includes a natural extension of the North Shore Riverfront Park that strolls right by PNC Park, Heinz Field and the Carnegie Science Center. SHT is supposed to include a waterfront promenade -- a sidewalk along the perimeter of its giant parking lots in the interim, and something a little nicer in the Phase II that will probably never happen.

Pittsburgh's is supposed to open this summer, and in a place that's tailor made for spending the day (and spending money). The Delaware Riverfront may be some day, and I've long said that it needs a serious anchor to spur its development, including that of Penn Praxis' Civic Vision that has been endorsed by the Planning Commission and spurred an interim zoning overlay, but I just can't see the Sugar House interim plan as that anchor.

And yet, Foxwoods has a plan to reuse the enormous, vacant, former Strawbridge's building that is exactly halfway between the two biggest tourist moneymakers in the city, Independence National Historical Park and the expanding Convention Center and all its hotels. And this is the one that this Pew poll says is disfavored???

I'm not exactly looking forward to Philadelphia joining the ranks of marquee cities like Detroit, New Orleans and St Louis in resorting to casinos to rake in tax dollars, but if it's got to happen, for the love of god, do it right. With Foxwoods, there is no new, tacky, cheap construction, but instead the reuse of a handsome old building, and the shot in the arm that Market East sorely needs to connect the Convention Center and Independence Park. As they go, Foxwoods can be argued as well reasoned and a good design. Sugar House' interim has neither.

Why are the Pew poll results so reversed?

–B Love

6 May 09: Today in City Hall . . .

All right, this one's gonna cap off the current City Hall blitz. I realized when writing the calendar companion piece the other day that it's really impossible to stay brief when speaking of City Hall. The point of that exercise was to add some captions to the photos included in this month's calendar, and it turned into a series of photo essays on City Hall's interior. And here we are.

Conversation Hall, the Mayor's Reception Room, City Council's Caucus Room and Chambers, the ceiling of the Commerce Department, and the North, South and East Portals (as well as the Crypt of the Tower) are all examined here. We'll also take a peak at the mechanism behind the 26' clock and the ornamentation applied to even the stairwell inside the tower. Check out the cornerstone in the crypt section -- big ups to President Ulysses S Grant.

Alexander Milne Calder's 250+ sculptures on the exterior of the building, the views from the observation deck, the Septa subway station, the courtyard, and the other offices in the building are all worthy of their own photo sets, which we'll save for another day. (The photo above is unrelated.)

There are 70 photos total across nine sections. We'll start with our Philadelphian dignitaries in Conversation Hall, by clicking this fancy graphic here. Hope you like.

–B Love

5 May 09: Speaking of City Hall . . .

This is a public service announcement . . . with guitars! If 2400 words weren't quite enough City Hall for you, stay tuned for a further dip into those same rooms and sections of the building, a photo series is in development.

On a related note, there's a lecture this evening that will no doubt have a whole section on the building that the AIA called "perhaps the greatest single effort of late 19th-century American architecture." Drexel University's Paula Spilner, the former director of Landmarks Tours, speaks at the Center for Architecture this evening at 6 -- Going on Stilts: The Tall Building in 19th Century Philadelphia. It's part of a ten part series at the CFA called Building Philadelphia that also includes lectures on modernism, Society Hill, the modern skyline and the future of architecture. This evening's lecture is $30, $15 if you're under 35. More info is HERE.

–B Love

4 May 09: Calendar Companion: Hall of Fame

This month of May, Philly Skyline praises Philly's palace of politics as the subject on Philly Skyline, The Calendar: 2009.

Some Philadelphia City Hall common knowledge:
• Took thirty years to build, from 1871 to 1901.
• Was originally intended to be the tallest building in the world, but was surpassed by both the Washington Monument and Eiffel Tower before it was completed.
Was the tallest building in Philadelphia, thanks to a gentlemen's agreement to not build taller than William Penn's hat, until One Liberty Place shot past it in the 1980s.
• Is the world's largest masonry building.
• Has the city's only public observation deck, which used to be free but which now costs $5 for the ~15 minute visit.

These things we know without the help of a guidebook. (Though stay wary of any locals who tell you that's Ben Franklin up there.)

City Hall is a most popular building to photograph, be it from the median on North and South Broad Street, or from the stairs of the Art Museum zoomed in with General George Washington in the foreground, or from up close where you get a better look at the 250+ sculptures adorning the building.

And I'll be the first to tell you that it's a fine place to get married, especially if you take advantage of the Quaker self uniting ceremony (Marriage License Bureau, office of the clerk of the Orphans Court, room 413). No priests or rabbis, no judges or officiants . . . just you and your spouse and two witnesses. A photographer and a 37 foot Quaker overseer are bonuses.

William Penn and the 511' of building beneath him are as large a part of this web site as City Hall is to Philadelphia's psyche, even after a skyline rose up above him. (Or perhaps especially after Comcast Center paid him his due with a mini-statue and a Phillies World Series championship.)

Exposés of this grandest of grand halls start at the very heart of the navigable logo above (with a number of low-res photos from about 2002-04), include the Christmas candyland from 2005, and get up close and personal with Billy's wax job in 2007. As subject matter, it's a practical constant here, from Popkin's plan to enliven the courtyard and Dilworth Plaza a good year and a half before sponsored initiatives to do just that were formed, to The Possible City itself, to a dedicated "City Hall Week" two years ago.

City Hall's always been here on Philly Skyline, but for May, we're gonna open some new doors and get out our binoculars. The big photo at the top of the month (and the top of this post) is the ceiling and chandelier of the City Council caucus, seen at right with the lights out. (Click, enlarge.) Under the gold leaf ceiling, angels with trumpets hold the chandelier of bronze and beveled glass. Sculptures by Alexander Milne Calder tell an allegorical story on the room's four arches with the personification of the four seasons, birth in the spring to old age in the winter. An enormous round table sits directly under the chandelier with seventeen seats, one for each council member.

Underneath that old oak table lies a mosaic tiled floor (which may or may not be covered in carpet right now . . . it was not when I took this photo in February 2007, but it is on the Department of Public Property's Virtual City Hall web site). The attention to detail, even on the floors, is a large part of why City Hall cost twenty-five million nineteenth century dollars to build. Adjusted for inflation, City Hall would cost well over a billion dollars to reproduce today, probably double that when you consider modern security concerns and both subway lines running directly below.

The private caucus room is not to be confused with council chambers, where public meetings are held. That room is all over PlanPhilly and YouTube from public hearings and the ruckuses they cause.

Moving along, we're sucked into the deep, downward spiral of City Hall.

Please pardon the un-click-enlarge-ability of this one, I couldn't easily track down the original. But here it is, one of four spiral, cantilevered stairwells on the corners of City Hall. Used to be that you could walk into any corner of the building and just ascend the stairs as you saw fit, but 9/11 went and changed all that. (It took a couple years, but it did.) This one is the northeast corner, the only entrance of the building that allows you direct access to the courts', council's and mayor's floors. If you squint you can make out the security checkpoint on the first floor.

The Mayor's Reception Room (right, click and enlarge) is one of the mayor's two rooms designated for pomp and circumstance, Conversation Hall being the other. Reception is the more formal, press conferences and welcomes-for-dignitaries room, where Conversation is a more stately, social room for entertaining, including the night thousands of Philadelphians stood in line to meet the new Mayor (9 January 08, The day we met the mayor).

The Reception Room is accented by lots of mahogany, including a fireplace mantle supported by atlantes (in front of which the mayor's podium stands) and a relief of the city seal above the doorway. The coffered ceiling alternates between a sun motif and a palmette/leaf pattern. The chandelier, like the caucus room's, is massive and was originally lit by gas, remodeled into electricity in the early 20th century. The portrait wall spans the city's mayoral history, from Humphrey Morrey to Ed Rendell anyway . . . Richardson Dilworth is painted with a model of Society Hill and Wilson Goode with One and Two Liberty Place in the background.

Conversation Hall is a sort of reward for coming up the stairs of building's North Portal, the "main entrance" of City Hall. (The keystone of the arch on the North Portal has a bust of William Penn.) The room is perhaps the most elaborate of City Hall's many elaborate rooms, with thick marble walls that support the tower (and 27 ton statue of Penn) above, a plaster and aluminum leaf ceiling, more floor mosaics and a lot of sculpture including Moses (symbolizing law), several prominent early Philadelphians (Mifflin, Rush, Morris, Biddle, Cope), and a familiar statue of George Washington. The statue outside of Independence Hall is a bronze replica commissioned in 1908. This one, the marble original, was created in 1869 by Joseph Bailly. It was moved to City Hall in 1908 to protect it from further weathering and deterioration.

Stepping back out of Conversation Hall onto its balcony, we'll have a look out at the North Portal. Where City Hall can claim a number of front doors, be it Market West's front door to business, or South Broad's front door to the arts, or Market East's front door to retail, North Broad is the one that has traditionally been recognized as the city's ceremonial front door. (Which is kinda funny since there's no real way into City Hall at this portal, as the stairs to Conversation Hall are always blocked off.) The city's official banners (like the ones honoring the Phillies' world championship) fly here; government protests happen here. Reliefs and sculptures, symbolizing architecture, science, music, education and voting, and the cultures of the Americas, Asia, Africa and Europe, adorn the tall columns in the foyer and the support columns in the crypt, the narrow passageway at ground level directly under the tower where you can also find the building's cornerstone dated 1874.

In the foyer, a plaque recites Penn's prayer for Philadelphia, written in 1684 as he returned to England:
• • • And thou Philadelphia • the virgin settlement of this province • named before thou wert born • what love • what care • what service • and what travail have there been to bring thee forth and preserve thee from such as would abuse and defile thee. O that thou mayest be kept from the evil that would overwhelm thee • that faithful to the God of thy mercies • in the life of righteousness • though mayest be preserved to the end. My soul prays to God for thee • that thou mayest stand in the day of trial • that thy children may be blest of the Lord • and the people saved by His power • • • •
Oh snap, look at the time . . . look at the time on one of four 26' wide clocks mounted 361' 1½" from the ground. When these clocks went live at the stroke of midnight on January 1, 1899, they were powered by an air compressor with an enormous water motor backup, and lit at night by 552 arc lamps. Every evening at three minutes before nine, the lights would go out, coming back on at precisely 9pm, so as to allow everyone within eye shot of City Hall to set their clocks and watches according to city time. It's larger than Big Ben's 22' 9" clock, and was the largest clock in the US until the Colgate Clock was built in Jersey City in 1906. It does not, contrary to popular belief, make a sound, though. The chiming you hear on the hour near City Hall is the Founder's Bell at the PNB Building.

* * *

Philadelphia City Hall is an easy subject to ramble on about. It's the face of the city in so many ways, from Penn's brotherly love to the grit and grime we try so hard to wash away, from the famous ornamentation on the exterior to the infamous corruption that pervades its creaky walls inside. It was out of style before it opened its doors; its style lives on, timelessly. We strut it out for national television, but we try to hide the awful subway station underneath.

At Broad & Market's crossroads, the very heart of the old city, John McArthur Jr's French Second Empire masterpiece, largely influenced by the popularity of the Louvre, soars now as it ever has, even in the shadow of its subordinate neighbors to the west. It's a little amazing to think that it could have been plopped down on Independence Square, not Centre Square.

Architecture collection, Library Company of Philadelphia.

This model by McArthur was done in response to a call by City Council in 1868 to erect a new public building, leaving Independence Hall intact but demolishing Old City Hall and Congress Hall. The public was outraged, so the new building's placement was put to a referendum, Washington Square vs Centre Square. Thomas Ustick Walter, who would spend his final years as consulting architect to McArthur on City Hall, had called for a new public building at Centre Square as early as 1842. In 1870, that idea won out, shifting the center of the city's government west along with the center of its population, and groundbreaking was held the following year. After three years of prep work, the cornerstone was finally laid on the Fourth of July, 1874. Occupants moved in as space and construction allowed. Calder set up his sculpture studio for the building in the basement in 1875; the first office to open for business was the State Supreme Court's in 1877.

In his Specimen Days & Collect, Walt Whitman recounted his impression of City Hall from the evening of August 26, 1879:
Returning home, riding down Market street in an open summer car, something detain'd us between Fifteenth and Broad, and I got out to view better the new, three-fifths-built marble edifice, the City Hall, of magnificent proportions -- a majestic and lovely show there in the moonlight -- flooded all over, façades, myriad silver-white lines and carv'd heads and mouldings, with the soft dazzle -- silent, weird, beautiful -- well, I know that never when finish'd will that magnificent pile impress one as it impress'd me those fifteen minutes.
Whitman lived to 1892, two years before the completion of the ironwork of the tower that surely would have blown his mind. The 37', 27 ton sculpture of Penn was raised to the building's pinnacle with great fanfare on November 28, 1894. The magnificent pile surely impress'd many a visitor coming into Broad Street Station directly across the street, City Hall tower looming above the main shed of the terminal on the incoming train's final approach.

During the thirty years of construction, nineteen laborers -- largely of Italian, Scottish and Irish descent -- lost their lives, from falling, from being crushed, and from other accidents. The building itself has cheated death several times, most notably Paul Cret's 1929 proposal to demolish all of the building but for the tower, creating a traffic circle around the remaining standalone tower, and Louis Kahn's 1952 plan to replace City Hall with a geodesic zigzag of a skyscraper. Kahn went so far as to call City Hall "the most disreputable and disrespected building in Philadelphia" . . .

But City Hall survived beyond the calls of those two renowned architects, in part due to the enormous cost to demolish the building and remove its rubble, and in part on its own merit. The city is so much better for it.

Designed by John McArthur, Jr. Embellished by Alexander Milne Calder. Built from 1871 to 1901. Dedicated by President William McKinley. Tallest building in the city from its opening to 1987. 547' 11¾" from the ground to the tip of William Penn's hat. 14.5 acres of floor space on a 4.5 acre city space. Designated National Historic Landmark in 1976.

Philadelphia City Hall.


Virtual City Hall: City of Philadelphia Department of Public Property.
Official Hand Book, City Hall, Philadelphia, 1901-1902: (books.google.com).
Arcadia Publishing: Philadelphia's City Hall, by Allen M. Hornblum and George J. Holmes, 2003.
Specimen Days & Collect, by Walt Whitman, 1882.
New York Times: "People Stop Fighting Philadelphia City Hall," by Bill Marsh, July 25, 2006.
• "Fast Facts About Philadelphia's City Hall" pamphlet, obtained at City Hall tour office, Greta Greenberger, director.
phillyhistory.org: search for 'city hall' returns 834 historic photos of City Hall.

–B Love


A long post on City Hall is just around the corner, hiding out with good times and love.

–B Love

1 May 09: May Day Mostly Healthy Roundup

Hola, my good friend. Cinco de Mayo's on Tuesday, and I hoped we'd see each other again.

We're going to take a wee journey through mostly healthy Center City, where "mostly healthy" is more "economically stable than most American downtowns" than "ain't caught the swine flu yet". We're gonna start our mostly healthy journey with a double dose from Dr Feelgood on that little street with the big name: Rittenhouse Square.

In the photo above, we find 1706 Rittenhouse Square sprouting its multi-million dollar condos higher and higher. Current count's at about 21 of the 31 total floors, so it's got a few more to go 'fore she's on the skyline for good. You can already see it from the stadiums, and it's beginning to peak in from other low rise parts of town.

The second Right On in this photo comes from a topic this web site doesn't broach too frequently: the Philadelphia mural. While I generally support the Mural Arts Program (MAP) for prettying up places that can stand a little prettying up, for fighting the good fight against urban blight, and while I think their community outreach is admirable, the murals they produce are so often so safe. They're safe and colorful and uncontroversial, utopian coats of paint on often gloomy realities. That's not an inherently bad thing, but it seems there's far more butterflies and children reaching for the stars than, say, striking depictions of the MOVE bombing or an Asian community torn apart by the Vine Street Expressway. That's what makes this particular mural funny -- it is safe and family friendly, a multicultural portrayal of good and right.

Courtyard of Justice was commissioned by attorney Paul Rosen (who represents Alycia Lane, among others) on behalf of the Spector Gadon & Rosen Foundation, the charity of the law firm he chairs. Rosen hired artist Michael Webb, whose MAP murals include Tribute to Trades and Labor at 12th & Spring Garden, Tree of Knowledge on the east side of One East Penn Square (the Marriott Residence Inn), and Symbolic Building of a City, the mural that went down with the Public Defenders Building in preparation of Comcast Center.

Initially, MAP was involved in Courtyard of Justice, facilitating the meetings with the neighbors that so often forge (water down) the direction of the mural and their commentary. Only in this case, it was Rittenhouse Square neighbors at the meetings, and enough of them just couldn't fathom an otherwise gray stucco wall being enlivened by art and commentary that they have out in the Negro neighborhoods. Kathy Matheson wrote a story for the AP -- it's archived HERE among other places -- chronicling the neighborhood opposition that hid behind a thin racist veil and typical "character of our historical neighborhood" nonsense. The backlash ultimately led to MAP's withdrawal from the project, which is most disappointing for the fact they didn't fight harder for it.

Well Rosen did, and Webb's mural was installed in December. The historic gray stucco wall -- which was tagged up with historic graffiti anyway -- overlooking the historic surface parking lot, is forever ruined now by Courtyard of Justice; the character of the street now suffers from an interpretation of Lady Justice being assembled, with sculptures of Thomas Jefferson, Andrew Hamilton, Clarence Darrow, Louis Brandeis and Thurgood Marshall looking down at the poor pedestrian who might barely make it through the 1700 block of Rittenhouse Square. Pity. (Somewhere, Albert Barnes laughs.)

In fairness to MAP, their muralfarm.org -- the phillyhistory.org of murals (it uses the same Sajara software by the 12th & Callowhill based Avencia) -- launched somewhat recently, and it rocks. And perhaps a counterpoint to the perception they're too safe, MAP has lent its support to controversial artist Dread Scott, who President George HW Bush once called "a disgrace". Scott's . . . Or Does It Explode? is an installation of twelve illuminated photos that will be on the lawn in front of the Family Court Building on Logan Circle. Its dedication is next Thursday at 4:30, and the installation runs from May till September. For more info on this, see Dread Scott's web site HERE.

* * *

All right, finally moving along on our mostly healthy walk, we'll turn the corner from 1706 Rittenhouse to 10 Rittenhouse. Barney's Co-op is open for business in the former Rittenhouse Club, and residents will begin moving in upstairs this summer. For the moment, the tower's still got a crane attached and penthouse windows to be fitted. With a touch of spring flowers, it look a lil some' like . . .

* * *

This mostly healthy ramble rambles on, down Sansom Street past the new Melograno, the old comic book store, and the Day by Day. Here we are at Sansom's Center City finish line and the Prequel Phase 1 of Mandeville Place. The makeover of the former Rosenbluth Building has taken a top-down approach and is close enough to completion that one can envision the end result:

It's not great, not bad, and it lets in a lot more light than it used to with those new windows. I think we can agree, though, that it'd look a lot better as the podium to a 43 story Richard Meier rising from that parking lot and a green-lined rooftop restaurant looking over Walnut Street.

* * *

Down on the Schuylkill River Trail, or Schuylkill Banks, or Center City Hike-Bike Path, or John F Street Byway of Integrity -- call it what you will -- future stages are beginning to take shape. At the current southern terminus, the circle at Locust Street, big signs with renderings and descriptions have been installed, and within plain sight of the South Street Bridge's progress, including the clearing of the banks that will eventually see the extension of the trail. And seen above, the new stairway at the JFK Boulevard bridge is coming into view.

The bridge itself has gotten a makeover too, with a new deck, paint job and concrete sealant:

* * *

The John F Street Byway of Integrity seems like an appropriate place to be mostly healthy, so we're gonna finish this mostly healthy stroll here among the mostly healthy joggers, cyclists, bladers, dog walkers and lovers. This Philly Skyline Philly Skyline was a popular one during Comcast Center's construction, and as nearly as I can tell, we haven't checked in here since that building opened. So here we are, mid-spring, after the blossoms and into the green, but before the rain's through with us.

* * *

It's gonna be gray and damp out there this weekend, so pack your poncho. Shame too, as there's a pretty full plate of options out there. Par example . . .

• The Mets are in town for round one against the champion Phillies.
• The Kensington-Fishtown-Port Richmond Restaurant Week begins today with prix fixe menus under $30 (and some as low as $10).
• Zoe Strauss' I-95 '09 is Sunday, the next-to-last in the decade long annual exhibition.
• And in the interest of mostly healthy walks, Jane's Walk honors the queen mother of city living, the late Jane Jacobs, with walking tours in cities across the nation. Philly's is Saturday, the "Littlest Streets East of Broad" tour hosted by the Preservation Alliance, and it is free. For more info, see HERE.

Plenty to choose from this weekend -- get out and get down, but stay dry.

–B Love

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