16 July 09: PS: One more thing

Quick back story here. In summer 1999, I got a 30 day Ameripass on Greyhound and visited the west coast for the first time. Thirty days is a long time to ride Greyhound, lemme tell ya, but it goes an awful lot of places. Toronto, Chicago, Duluth, Vancouver, Portland, Los Angeles, Red Rocks Amphitheater, St Louis and Pittsburgh were among the highlights of that trip.

While I was riding that bus across the country, I learned that Amtrak offered a similar -- and similarly priced -- 30 day pass, the North American Rail Pass. Mad at myself for being stuck on freaking Greyhound, I was determined to ride the Amtrak one, too, so over the winter break of my senior year at Shippensburg University, I did. The night before I left town, I broke my right big toe. So I traveled with a 60 pound backpack and a severe limp for 30 days, from Harrisburg to Tyrone, then down to the Everglades for the Y2K celebration, then up to New Orleans and out to Texas, up to Chicago and over to Montréal, and back down through New York and Philly on my way back to Ship.

It's ten years later now, and a whole lot of things are different. Neither of those passes still exists. (Greyhound now offers the "Discovery Pass", and Amtrak has no such pass.) Cell phones are (more) common -- I didn't have one ten years ago. Nor did I have a web site or blog then, though I did have a travel column in the university newspaper called Leave This Place. Globalism was a growing goal and/or concern then, and now that it's here the future is uncertain, especially in America. Ten years later, we're in a post-9/11 world with a bad economy. Naturally, now is the time I choose to get back out and see the country.

In the interest of comparing perspectives with ten years difference, in the interest of comparing American travel between the bus, the train and the car, and in the interest of being a responsible denizen of Mother Earth (and in the interest of saving money on gas for a long trip), I'm driving a Prius across the United States of America. B Love Summer Tour, 2K9.

If you're interested in such a thing, I will be posting photos from the road on a separate site until I return to Philadelphia. This one is a more-photography/less-commentary blog, as it usually takes me several hours every day to write posts for Philly Skyline, and I'd prefer to get out and see and do stuff while traveling instead of banging away at a desk in a crappy hotel room for an entire morning.

Anyway, come along for the ride, I've got plenty of room.


–B Love

10 July 09: Career Suicide?, or,
This is the end of Philly Skyline, v 2.0

by B Love
10 July 2009

Pull the curtains on the day. Sometimes it is the only way.

This line begins one of the most unusual, and underrated, records in modern rock & roll history. Excerpts From the Diary of Todd Zilla was the 7-song EP released by Grandaddy in 2005, a year before they threw their hands up and called it quits with Just Like the Fambly Cat, a forgetful throwaway of an album I think I've been able to make it the whole way through exactly once. Todd Zilla, though, is more or less a solo record, Jason Lytle recording all the songs on eight-track by himself at his home studio, not unlike how Brian Wilson engineered every last tink and dink on Pet Sounds, or for a Philly point of reference, how Shai Halperin handcrafted the Meet Yr Acres record that would place the Capitol Years in Philadelphia's musical memoirs. Todd Zilla was a curious follow-up to 2003's sunny summer soundtrack Sumday and 2000's minimalist monument The Sophtware Slump, but it worked.

For the longest time, Lytle's Myspace picture was of him skating under I-95 in FDR Park. It doesn't appear to be there anymore, but as a skater, he is apparently pretty familiar with Philadelphia. Over the years, he and his band have made stops at the Trocadero, World Café Live, and back in June 2001, the Electric Factory, when they opened for someone called Coldplay that I hear has found some success.

Todd Zilla was the product of Lytle's excessive malaise from being in California's central valley. He was unabashed in the disdain he'd accumulated for the strip malls, miles of cinder and "ATMs with air conditioning" of his hometown Modesto. That was a far different place than I was in in summer 2005. This white-text-on-blue-background version of Philly Skyline -- the second, after a series of "web site under construction" stopgaps with pictures of Citizens Bank Park, Schuylkill River Park, the St James and Cira Centre "under construction" -- launched earlier in 2005. Over that summer, Philadelphia's triumphant Live 8 show and a weeklong trip with the missus across Pennsylvania made civic pride a hallmark of this young web site, built on handmade html brackets and rollover graphics.

In the four years since then, blog software like Wordpress and Typepad has made significant strides (to speak nothing of Myspace, Facebook, Twitter and so on), and I will be the first to admit I've dragged my feet to fold this site's hundreds of pages of content into it, in spite of many many requests to do so. In the same four years, the civic pride bit has waxed and waned like so many Tourette's Syndrome tics and twitches. Michael Nutter was elected mayor, the city got a new tallest building -- a LEED certified tourist attraction at that -- Zoe Strauss' I-95 show gets better and better every year and brings out thousands of people, Popkin's Possible City came about, and miracle of miracles, the Phillies won the World Series.

But then there are the things like the murder of a would-be school teacher that just moved here from Minnesota for his ipod. The murder of an immigrant shopkeeper by his gangsta nephew and the friends he didn't understand. The deaths of three children and a mother from an incomprehensibly senseless carjacker. The murders of seven police officers. The rampant litter that's still here in spite of citywide cleanups and block cleanups. The predictable politics from an immovable machine.

And of course, the neighborhood you moved to that reinforces the stereotypes that precede it with things like people yelling at their children (including calling the autistic one a "retard"), people ignoring their barking barking barking barking barking dogs, people not picking up after their dogs, unbridled bigotry ("nigger" and "faggot" are in the common parlance in Fishtown -- at least the Valley Swim Club makes it about "overcrowding" and, OK, "complexion"), teenage vandalism that will rid you and seven of your neighbors' cars of their sideview mirrors, and this little ditty on the right: deck pee. Given my house's proximity to an elementary school gymnasium, I chalked up the pee-smell on the deck during the house inspection to the exhaust from the bathrooms there. Then I moved in and saw the bubbly yellow water on the rowhome deck next to mine, its stench baking in the southern sun it faces. I called the neighbor out on it and told him not to do it anymore, and his embarrassment led him to stop . . . for a little bit. Now he's back, peeing in a bucket that he leaves on the deck for his neighbors and Fishtown's astonishing fly population to enjoy. (So, you know, I just thought I would share . . . you're welcome!)

These things do well to keep you ground in Philly's status quo reality. Helps keep your positivity and optimism in check and your alcohol intake up. Quality of life and all. So it goes.

But it's Philly, baby. Here we are, in the Birthplace of America, with our history and our amazing Center City and our colorful neighborhoods and great restaurants and bars and our changing skyline and big plans and our hope for the future and our pee buckets. Philly Skyline has been along for the ride for seven years now, and we're looking to go seven more . . . STARTING IN SEPTEMBER.

On September 1st, after like three years of promising to do so, phillyskyline.com will relaunch with a new look and the blog format we've all come to expect from great web sites: permalinks for each post, categories and tags for better archiving, a streamlined search option, better options for advertisers, an RSS feed, and maybe even comments. It will still be the same Philly Skyline original content you've come to expect -- photography, architecture, development, skyscrapers, neighborhoods, history, rivers, relics, reviews, construction, destruction, transit, baseball, music, maps, drinking, design, skylines and skyline critiques, fun with linguistics . . . it'll all just be so much easier to use. Hallelujah.

Between now and then are summer's doggiest dog days, so we won't miss too much anyway. Except for maybe a few things:

• Tod Williams and Billie Tsien might unveil the design to the Barnes on the Parkway.

• Ruben Amaro might trade for Roy Halladay. (My own package would go something like: Savery, Brown, Donald, Marson and Bruntlett, but we keep Drabek, Taylor and Knapp. Do it, Rube. You can do it.)

• The fourth annual Ed Bacon Student Competition will launch, this year's subject Brown to Green examining the DuPont Crescent.

• The free concert series at Penn Treaty Park, including The War On Drugs, Espers, and the super salsa band Charanga, runs every Wednesday from next week till the end of August.

• On July 22nd, the Philadelphia Center for Architecture is hosting a book launch for the third edition of Philadelphia Architecture: A Guide to the City with its editor (and director of the Preservation Alliance of Greater Philadelphia) John Gallery and Philly Skyline matriarch and Pulitzer finalist Inga Saffron.

• On August 1st, I'll miss a Calendar Companion essay for what will be an ongoing topic come Philly Skyline's relaunch: I-95. It's got a muddled history, and its future is no less muddled, what with its complete(ly expensive) rebuild from the Girard Avenue interchange to Cottman Avenue, its "structurally deficient" Girard Point Bridge over the mouth of the Schuylkill River, and the zany idea that it can be altogether removed in Center City.

So, in lieu of a proper Calendar Companion, some recommended August reading on Interstate 95, a.k.a. the Delaware Expressway:
PhillyRoads.com: A historic overview of the construction of I-95.
95Revive.com: PennDOT District 6's web site on the ongoing construction and future plans for I-95 in Philadelphia.
Urban Direction: Greg Heller's blog which considers the concept of 95's removal instead of reconstruction in Center City.
Tear It Down: An essay by John Norquist, former mayor of Milwaukee (a city that did just this to one of its own freeways) and current president of the Congress for the New Urbanism, which provides historical context for the rethinking of freeways in urban areas.
Philly Skyline: Overview of the two bridges just upstream from Philadelphia in Burlington and Bristol, including the Turnpike Bridge that will soon carry a "completed" I-95 across the Delaware River.
Oh, one more date to circle on your calendar: July 29th. Jason Lytle, the FDR skatepark fan, just released his first 'official' solo album, Yours Truly, The Commuter, and it picks up where Todd Zilla left off. On the night of the 29th, he's making a stop at the Kimmel Center with Neko Case, who might be as well regarded for her photos in a corset (and sometimes less) as she is for her deep-voiced country stylings and contributions to the New Pornographers. More info on that killer twin billing at the Kimmel's Verizon Hall is HERE.

* * *

Welp . . . I guess that just about does it until the new Philly Skyline goes live. In the next 53 days, I'm going to try to get up on this "blog" stuff you guys keep mentioning. I'm going to take a little break from the neighbor's pee bucket and go visit my grandma in Indiana. And I'm going to keep searching for the godforsaken Shibe Park postcard that keeps being snaked out from under me with two seconds left on ebay.

For you, I wish only the best. Stay cool, stay safe, have fun, and GO PHILLIES.

See you in September.

–B Love

PS: Yes, this is serious.

9 July 09: And now, an important message from 1976

Let this song be a reminder of how truly fantastic Philadelphia was in the year 1976. (Those poor Legionnaires at the Bellevue aside, obviously.) The new Liberty Bell Pavilion for the Bicentennial, all the major sports' All Star Games, and a 101-game winning Phillies team just setting off on a string of postseason runs that would culminate with the 1980 World Series.

Lou Rawls is a Chicago native whose rhythm & blues numbers gained him a decent artist in those circles and on tour, but he never had a breakthrough hit until he met up with Kenny Gamble and Leon Huff. With Philadelphia International Records at their peak, Gamble and Huff wrote the song "You'll Never Find Another Love Like Mine" for Rawls' album All Things In Time. (On that album, Lou also lets us know that he likes to be around groovy people, groovy groovy people.)

For as long and lustrous a career as Lou Rawls had, "You'll Never Find" was his only major hit, going to #1 on the R&B and AC charts, and #2 on the pop charts. This was a man who was a high school classmate of Sam Cooke, a sergeant and paratrooper in the US Army 82nd Airborne, and who killed it singing the national anthem. He was always a talent, but his stopover in Philadelphia made him a legend.

You'll never find another legend like Lou.

–B Love

9 July 09: Pick Vic

If I might join in the chorus whose lead singers include such distinguished balladeers as Mayor Mike Nutter, President and native Hawaiian Barack Obama, and Meech Dot One, I'd like to encourage you not only as Phillies fans, but as Philadelphians united under a cause, to vote for Shane Victorino for the final spot on the National League all star team.

If his October heroics -- the grand slam off of CC Sabathia, the standing up to Hiroki Kuroda, the team record for postseason RBIs (eclipsing the downward spiral that is Lenny Dykstra) -- weren't enough a consideration, then his efforts this week against the Cincinnati Reds should seal the deal. 4-for-5 with 5 runs and 4 RBIs on Monday, 2-for-4 with a crucial stolen base and the walk-off hit in the bottom of the 9th inning last night. The Flyin' Hawaiian is intense, and he delivers in the clutch.

Vote for him -- he deserves to be in St Louis for the All Star Game, no questions asked. Do it HERE, and do it several times. DO EHT.

–B Love

8 July 09: Philly Skyline vs Penny Postcards:
The green roof

Now that we are where we are -- and where we are is summer 2009, with a clearer conscience about our treatment of the earth, regardless of whether we believe in global warming -- the term "green roof" is commonplace.

The guys at Onion Flats have established themselves as the face of the movement that's more common sense than flashy-sexy, though it's a little of that too. Their homes perform better and cost less in the long run, and define the term 'sustainability' by generating their own electricity (sometimes to a point of feeding it back to the overstressed grid), collecting and redistributing rainwater, and maximizing natural light and shade to heat and cool homes with less power.

With Onion Flats, green roofs are second nature. They'd already completed 95 in Northern Liberties and Fishtown alone when Cassidy Hartman profiled them three years ago for the Philadelphia Weekly. Each roof helps to lessen the urban heat island, contributes clean air instead of exhaust, and as an added bonus, creates an aesthetically pleasing place to relax in your own home with a high-up view. A number of other builders in Philadelphia who expect to compete in the accelerating 21st century are adding green roofs to their repertoires.

The green roof is not an altogether modern concept; the hanging gardens of Babylon, Machu Picchu and the sod homes of the Great Plains all predate the Ford Motor Company's surprising efforts at its Dearborn, Michigan plant by centuries. The city of Chicago famously grabbed this century by its horns in 2001 and installed a green roof at its City Hall. Not to be outdone, Portland, Oregon retrofitted the larger Multnomah County Building in 2003 with its own.

In Philadelphia, where Mayor Nutter has pledged to make Philadelphia the greenest city in the nation (despite the head starts from the likes of Chicago and Portland), green roofs are growing. The Free Library installed a 5,000 sq ft green roof at the central branch on the Parkway last fall, and last month PECO dedicated the enormous, 45,000 sq ft green roof at its 23rd & Market headquarters (which, as we remember from last week, also dedicated its newer, smarter crown lights on the Fourth). Kudos to the energy company for finally leading by example in energy efficiency.

Believe it or not, though, green roofs have been in Philadelphia since the Roaring 20s.

Perhaps a little ironically to the topic of environmental progress, the first notable green roof in Philadelphia has the automobile to thank. Garden Court Plaza, at 47th & Pine in West Philly, was envisioned as the exclamation point to the broader Garden Court neighborhood that developer Clarence Siegel conceived as an early suburban model, its location situated between the main rail and trolley lines of Market Street and Baltimore Avenue. (Recall Joe Minardi's West Philadelphia tour, "Streetcar Suburb", from September 2007.)

Garden Court Plaza was nearly a century ahead of its time. While Siegel marketed the neighborhood to the automobile owner -- all the homes built in this post-WWI phase included garages in the rear -- Garden Court is still distinctly urban, and the attention to design details has proven its staying power. The Plaza was intended to be the masterpiece of the neighborhood, a full-block complex between 47th & 48th, Spruce & Pine Streets. Planned at the later end of the near-decade buildout and designed by Ralph Bencker, the Plaza was originally to consist of two pairs of 13-story apartment towers, with ground level retail and restaurants and an underground parking garage with a common area garden plaza -- a green roof to the garage -- connecting them all.

The garage was completed in 1928, at which time construction on the first of the four towers was begun. When it opened in 1930, it was equipped with luxuriously large rooms, trash and mail chutes, and double-sided doors that allowed residents to hang their dry cleaning for pickup service and return delivery. Such luxury might have sold well and contributed to the other three towers had the stock market crash happened in the year before that.

The Great Depression put the kibosh on the completion of Garden Court Plaza, leaving Siegel's vision slightly unfulfilled. But what was built is one of West Philly's treasures, a handsome highrise in a lowrise neighborhood, with a green roof just above the street and out of view to all except those who live in and visit Garden Court Plaza. Nearly a full block of green grass, a central pond (which at one point had a fountain), and garden plots with tomatoes, zucchini, corn and more along the perimeter make up what's probably the oldest green roof in the city. And it must be said, since only one of the four towers were built, the views from that lone tower are unsurpassed -- the Philly Skyline to the east, St Francis de Sales Roman Catholic Church and the refineries to the south, the leafy suburbs to the west, and Fairmount Park to the north.

To compare Garden Court Plaza circa-1930s with circa-2009, please click HERE.

* * *

University City Historical Society: Garden Court Historic District, George E. Thomas, 1984.
University of Pennsylvania: West Philadelphia Suburban Development, Matthew Grubel, 2005.
Living Places: Garden Court Historic District, adaptation of the text from the nomination of the neighborhood to the National Register of Historic Places, 1984.
Philly Skyline: "Streetcar Suburb", Joe Minardi, 2007.

• "Garden Court Plaza" postcard published by Ruth Murray Miller, Art Adv. Service, Philadelphia PA.
• Postcard was never mailed and therefore has no postmark, so date is unknown.
• Contemporary photo taken by B Love, 16 June 09.

1 January 09: Philadelphia International Airport
3 September 08: St George's Hall
6 May 08: FDR Park Gazebo
17 April 08: Walnut Lane Bridge
18 March 08: The Parkway & the Skyline
10 March 08: 1800 Arch Street
27 February 08: New Market
7 March 07: Letitia Street House

–B Love

7 July 09: Can't catch 22

Lord have mercy on the Cincinnati Reds, for unlike bar league softball, there is no mercy rule in the Majors. I was at the Phillies' 20-4 drubbing of the Colorado Rockies last Memorial Day, but that felt more like payback for the previous season's Divisional Playoffs than a satisfactory romp. Last night, however, the 22-1 annihilation of the Cincinnati Reds was something else. After a three-game sweep of the loathsome New York Mets, this felt like a statement that "all right, we're done screwing around and we're ready to play some ball for the 45,000 of you who come out here every single night."

With a billing of struggling ace Cole Hamels vs Reds all-star Johnny Cueto, one would expect or even hope for a pitchers duel. One would, of course, be wrong. Cueto came into the game with the 4th-best ERA in the National League, 2.69, but after recording only two outs, he left the game having given up seven runs and leaving two more on base that Daniel Ray Herrera, his successor, would let score on Chase Utley's 19th homerun of the season. Cueto finished the night with a 3.45 ERA, 17th-best in the league.

Cole Hamels, on the other hand, was Good Cole Hamels, cruising through the Reds lineup and allowing just three hits and one run over seven innings. He also went 2-for-4 at the plate including a 2-run double in the first that pretty well sealed Cueto's nightmarish evening.

Then there was the Flyin' Hawaiian. In case the radio commercials, TV spots, internet ads and blog posts weren't already an indication, the Phillies' campaigning barrage of "Vote for Victorino" and "Pick Vic" for the final All-Star roster spot was in full effect at Citizens Bank Park, the ballgirls in aloha shirts and "Hawaii Five-O" resonating all night. And Vic was up to the hype, going 4-for-5 with 5 runs scored and 4 RBIs. Indeed, Vote for Victorino!

When Paul Janish, a shortstop, walked John Mayberry Jr to load the bases in the bottom of the eighth, the score already 18-1, you could almost sense that Jayson Werth was going to hit a grand slam. You also kinda felt it cruel and unnecessary . . . but nevertheless, you wanted to see it. Jayson Werth is here to please. He sent Janish' 90mph meatball exactly where it should have gone, deep into the seats in right-center.

22-1. This calls for a stop at the bar on the way home, yessirree.

* * *

A mini-essay of photos from 22-1 thumping of the Cincinnati Redlegs, 10 total about 1.9M in size, is


–B Love

6 July 09: PECOOOOO Power Play

If you were up on the Parkway Saturday, or if you at least had the Roots on the TV at your Fourth of July barbecue, then you surely caught the unveiling of PECO's new HD LED crown lights 2.0. If not, peek your head out toward the western end of the skyline this evening, as they're rolling out on the nightly, just as they had in the 32 and a half years between July 4, 1976 and December 31, 2008. I gotta say, for as flashy and colorful as they are, seeing them in the vertical bars that complement the mullions of H2L2's tower design (rather than four solid billboards) is really a sight.

A big thanks to Brian in Fairmount for the heads up about this here YouTube video, posted by PECOEnergyCo.

–B Love

PS: There is no sound to the 7 minute, 15 second video, so I recommend one of the following for yr audio-visual pleasure: "Can't You Hear Me Knockin'" by the Stones, "The Big Bang Theory" by Parliament, "Clarinet Quintet in A Major, K. 581: III. Menuetto" by Mozart and as performed by the English Chamber Orchestra, "The Four Horsemen" by Metallica, or "La Femme d'Argent" by Air. Several different directions to go, but all about seven minutes and some change to amplify the new PECO power play.

6 July 09: The Lehigh Valley report

Top o' the mornin' to ya from Philly Skyline's AAA affiliate an excruciating two and a half hours in traffic a nice 90 minute drive up the Northeast Extension away in Allentown.

The view here is an Allentown Skyline Powerline Skyline for our Monday morning. It's an otherwise great view of that city from the otherwise great ballpark of the Phillies' top level farm team. Coca-Cola Park, which opened for the Lehigh Valley IronPigs' inaugural 2008 season, was designed by Populous, the architecture firm behind the Orioles' Camden Yards that inspired an entire generation of Major League ballpark rebuilding. For the most part, Coca-Cola Park isn't view oriented (aside from the playing field, natch), and this elevated vista of lush hills with the looming skyline is only found if you're looking for it through the angled, black metal fence near the barbecue turkey stand in leftfield. And even then, the powerlines stand in the way like a giant Phillies sign. But then I don't suppose many people go to minor league baseball games to take in views of the city. (One exception here might be fans of the AAA Iowa Cubs, whose stadium has a picture perfect view of the Iowa state capitol in Des Moines looming beyond centerfield.)

Allentown's skyline is dominated by the 24 story Pennsylvania Power & Light Building -- the PPL Tower. (That's "pea pea el", not internet shorthand for "people".) The PPL Tower opened in 1928 and was designed by architect Harvey Corbett, but is probably better known for the bas reliefs on its exterior done by Alexander Archipenko, the Ukrainian sculptor known for his contributions to Cubism.

The forlorn skyline view is a minor gripe, though, as Coca-Cola Park really does its best to maximize the minor league baseball experience: great sightlines close to the action, family friendliness, activities for small children with short attention spans, and overall hometown and home team pride with plenty of merchandise to prove it.

Mark and I made the trip on Thursday to watch future Phillie Carlos Carrasco take the hill against the Nationals' AAA Syracuse Chiefs. All told, it was a pretty great evening, with Carrasco allowing six hits and one run over six innings and the Pigs taking the 5-1 win. If he's not already in South Philly by then, he'll definitely be on the expanded roster come September. It was down to him and Rodrigo Lopez for the call-up to start Friday's game against the Mets. Lopez looked great in shutting them down in the first of the fantastic three game sweep that concluded yesterday.

While Lehigh Valley is only in its second year of hosting the Phillies' highest minor league team, its doesn't seem to have established a foothold in the organization just yet. Brad Lidge, Scott Eyre and now Raul Ibañez have done their rehab stints in Reading (although JC Romero pitched five games for the Pigs as he served his 50 game suspension), and aside from familiar prospects in catcher Lou Marson (23) and shortstop Jason Donald (24), their roster is filled with 30-something position players unlikely to make much of an impact in the big league. Carrasco (22) and Drew Carpenter (24) are your typical "high ceiling" prospects, and hopefully Kyle Kendrick (25 next month) will serve his time in AAA finding some consistency and regaining the confidence that kept him on the 2007 playoff roster.

Minor League Baseball is a treat wherever you go, but it's especially nice in a brand new ballpark, more so one that's aligned with the WFC Phillies. Coca-Cola Park has $5 general admission lawn seats in centerfield, and field level seats are only $9. There are concession stands with Big Porker sandwiches all over the park (beware the "Philli" cheesesteaks), and the Allentown-Bethlehem Brew Works sells its lager and pilsner behind home plate. Good times in the Lehigh Valley.

Some more of my photos and a review of the game are over at The Fightins Dot Com, HERE.

–B Love

5 July 09: On the Fourth on the fifth, or, Days In Torino

by Nathaniel Popkin
July 5, 2009

I resist. Sitting in a luminous apartment, I hear a car's engine. I hear birds. I hear church bells. "I think I am getting accustomed to those bells," says Lena, 9. Actually, aside from a noticeable lack of police sirens, the sounds aren't that different. We have church bells on Bainbridge Street.

This sort of thing is what I resist for now: the need to compare this city and ours, the form of one quite apparently based on the other (more on that subject later this week or next); and also the endless and centuries' old cliché of American urban inferiority. They know how to live here. This too I resist.

Instead, and at least for now, resistance reveals: rhythmic monumentality. Unfurling piazzas. Aperitif. A languorous river. Arcades. Arabic in the market -- Europe's largest in open air. The Alps linger, and sometimes they are visible. But they are mostly forgotten here. This -- Torino -- is a serious city, a haughty, elegant, thinking place.

–Nathaniel Popkin

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

Photo of Mole Antonelliana, Torino, Italy, from Wikipedia public domain.

3 July 09: SSB and into the Fourth

This post is gonna be nice and short like it should be, since neither you nor I nor anyone we love should be in front of a computer the day before America's Birthday here in the Cradle of Liberty. On this third of July (happy first anniversary to me and my wife -- and a speedy recovery to that "Ben Franklin" as he and his "Betsy Ross" celebrate their first as well), I leave you with some South Street Bridge construction updates.

It smells like barbecue, it sounds like the 1812 Overture (which was written by a Russian, but whatever), and by god it feels like America. It must be the Fourth of July. USA! USA! USA!

Happy Independence Day, everybody.


–B Love

2 July 09: Friendly reminder

Greetings from West Philadelphia, where we're always high on life and high on the skyline.

After a couple of inquiries, I, Robert Bradley Maule, alias B Love, alias beelove, one time alias Giovanni Sasso -- but you can call me Brad -- wish to issue a reminder statement that neither I nor this web site's affiliates have anything to do with the 'phillyskyline' user leaving comments on large media web sites. This person has a tendency to leave thoughtful comments without references to things like "the animals out of their cage" or "sheepish libs and their cokehead messiah", but for the record, he or she has no affiliation whatsoever with myself nor the Philly Skyline brand. Any resemblance is strictly coincidental.

Thank you.

–B Love

2 July 09: Rittenhouse recession bustin' brothers from another mother

Was a little bummed yesterday to learn that yr Skyline's new The Skinny feature in the Metro had been bumped this week. (Though I certainly understand that if a newspaper has a full-page advertiser, there are greater priorities than a handful of blurbs about stuff.) With that in mind, the readers of this web site are owed a July update of the two ongoing highrise construction projects left in town, the Rittenhouses.

Above, 10 Rittenhouse Square chugs along, peering down at 18th Street sans crane. The crane-y thing sticking up in the background is the support of the two hoists that are still mounted to the Sansom Street side of the building.

A lot of people have wondered if 10 Ritt has stopped construction, as its granite-clad penthouse has been boarded up in plywood in the months since it topped off. Not at all -- what's happened is that the 33rd floor penthouse has been sold (for an undisclosed sum that I suppose is none of our business), and the buyer has raised the ceilings, requiring an all new outfitting of the windows on the top three floors.

Otherwise, 10 Ritt is right on schedule, with Barney's already open on Walnut Street and the first residents scheduled to move in in September.

* * *

One thousand, six hundred ninety-six Rittenhouses away, 1706 has pretty well secured its place on the skyline, with a few more stories to go. And dare I say it, it's grown on me.

The view below, from the front steps of Temple Beth Zion-Beth Israel at 18th & Spruce, struts Cope Linder's glassy sides, and the higher it gets, the more slender it looks. And that's a good thing for this otherwise straightforward condo tower. It's currently on the 28th of its 31 floors, with a topping off party tentatively scheduled for some time in August.

The building's web site, HERE, is one of those Amazingly Awesome Flash Web Sites That Everyone Loves So, playing music at you before you decide if you'd like music played at you. It now (and maybe for some time has?) has an animated demonstration of how the robotic parking system works. It's under Luxury → Parking. Click "Hide" next to "Only One" to maximize the animation's effectiveness.

Seriously, architects/developers/builders . . . will you please stop with the Flash web sites? You can still have all the bells and whistles and features you need, but on real web pages with real links. Hey Bee Love, how's that Wordpress installation coming along, where your bells and whistles and posts have real web pages with real links?


–B Love

PS: This post is dedicated to my main man Jesse down in G-Ho. Good luck with the move to the burbs, homie. The city will miss you.

2 July 09: Greenberger's Country Towne

Some time in the past two days while my nose was buried in piles of info and tons of photos of the Philadelphia Museum of Art, big Skyline news was dropping all around us.

First, Septa went and -- lo and behold! -- embraced this newfangled teckmology called "Google Maps" . . . yet it's only good for one trip, i.e. you can't "add destinations" like you can with driving/walking directions. Ergo, Steve, Steve, Chris and I can't accurately trace our Independence Pass routes, which might prove helpful in explaining our photos.

Speaking of Septastic teckmology, it sounds like our favorite transit agency is, surprisingly, still pretty far off from rolling out the smart cards that would relieve the need for columns in 2009 about just how serious Septa is about (not making) change.

I'd insert a we're getting there joke here . . . if only it wasn't so miserably worn out already.

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Next up, hopping off Septa's elevated train that runs underground, we'll turn the corner from 2nd & Market to 3rd & Chestnut, where the National Park Service and American Revolution Center announced yesterday the latter was relocating after years of stalemate at Valley Forge. This is . . . interesting, to say the least.

Seventy-eight is a lot of acres for the ARC to have to give up in order to move onto a crammed site in a crammed city. The ARC, whose swooping plan at Valley Forge was designed by Robert A.M. Stern (Comcast Center, 10 Rittenhouse), will now be located on the site of what is currently the Living History Center.

It's an interesting choice because that building has been a stepchild of Independence National Historical Park for ages. After a long fight with preservationists in the 50s and 60s, the Park Service was given the go-ahead by a stakeholding judge to demolish the Jayne and Penn Mutual Buildings, historic in their own rights -- historic for the 19th century, not for the 18th century that was the mission of the new National Park. The brick building built in its place served as a visitors center for less than 30 years before the Independence Visitors Center opened at 6th & Market. Now the Living History Center, it's low man on the historical totem pole that also includes Independence Hall, the Liberty Bell Center, Constitution Center, Carpenters Hall, Franklin Court, Congress Hall, City Tavern, and the Second National Bank portrait gallery. Significant, but not significant enough.

* * *

Finally, props are due to my man Alan Greenberger. In the wake of Andy Altman's departure for the UK, Mayor Mike Nutter had some big shoes to fill at a top level cabinet position. So on Tuesday, the Mayor made official what many suspected, that Greenberger would, in addition to his role as executive director of the Planning Commission, serve his city as Acting Deputy Mayor for Planning and Economic Development and Commerce Director. Acting is an important operative there -- it's an interim position, not unlike how Gary Jastrzab served as Greenberger's predecessor at the Planning Commission, but it carries no less weight than the full-time position.

Greenberger's promotion, temporary though it may be, signals back to the Mayor's pledge to re-prioritize planning in the city's march to the future. While the Sugar House Thing sticks out like a violent sore thumb in this process, the overall riverfront planning, the pedestrian and bicycle plan, the Market East plan, the Germantown-Nicetown transit-oriented plan, and GreenPlan Philadelphia are among the initiatives to keep us grounded in the greater good.

Congrats, Alan. GIT-R-DUN.

–B Love

1 July 09: Calendar Companion: Philadelphia Museum of Art

As Philly Skyline, The Calendar: 2009 turns the page into the second half, we find ourselves at a gem, one of the greatest museums in the world.

The Philadelphia Museum of Art has gotten a lot of play on yr Skyline lately, and for good reason. The Skyscrapers exhibition is a must-see, the landscaping improvements to the cliffside paths (including the total rebuild of the Rustic Pavilion), the in-ground parking garage is now open and the sculpture garden on its green roof is being built, and the fantastic Cézanne & Beyond show just ended. Just Monday, the museum announced the successor to the director (and CEO) position Anne d'Harnoncourt mastered for so long before her unexpected and untimely death a year ago. Timothy Rub comes to the PMA by way of Cleveland, where he oversaw the expansion of that city's museum, the East Wing by Rafael Viñoly.

The Philadelphia Museum of Art's story began in 1876, when a young Fairmount Park hosted the Centennial Exposition. Its centerpiece was Memorial Hall, home of the expo's art gallery, and after the Centennial it would become the home of the Museum of Art and Industry, as chartered by the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. Included with it was the Pennsylvania Museum School of Industrial Art, whose students and classes were where Hahnemann Hospital is now on North Broad Street, and later at Broad & Pine. The textile part of the school became independent in 1949 and moved to East Falls as the Philadelphia Textile Institute, now Philadelphia University. The remaining school combined in 1964 with the Philadelphia College of the Performing Arts to form the University of the Arts we recognize today on South Broad Street.

The museum itself at Memorial Hall grew steadily to a point of needing a much larger space. With the City Beautiful movement already in full swing, a monumental museum was planned for the terminus of the forthcoming Fairmount (Ben Franklin) Parkway between City Hall and Fairmount Park, on the site of the former reservoir that served the water pumped from the Waterworks. The art museum was part and parcel of the Parkway plan, its elevated location intentionally meant to serve as the gateway between the city and the park. Horace Trumbauer, Clarence Zantzinger and Paul Cret conducted the planning study for the Fairmount Park Art Association to align the Parkway, and Zantzinger's partner Charles Borie is credited with creating an acropolis-like structure for the museum. Trumbauer's firm (with assistance from Zantzinger, Borie and their partner Milton Medary) assumed the treatment of the museum, its design piloted by the young Julian Abele.

Construction began in 1919 and continued over the next nine years until the first gallery opened in 1928. Zantzinger, Borie and Medary's Fidelity Mutual Life Insurance Company opened one block off the new Parkway around the same time; it is now the Perelman Building, the first phase of the PMA's $500M expansion. Cret's Rodin Museum, now under the auspices of the PMA, opened just down the Parkway the following year. Fiske Kimball was the director during this formative period, overseeing the museum's growth in the new facility and its perseverance during the Depression.

In the decades since, the museum has amassed a collection of nearly 250,000 works, its holdings a who's-who of the preeminent greats such as El Greco, Cézanne, Manet, Van Gogh, Renoir, Seurat, Picasso, Dalí, and Philadelphia's own Thomas Eakins, Mary Cassatt and Andrew Wyeth. Feature exhibitions, especially those under d'Harnoncourt's direction, have included the likes of last year's Frida Kahlo organized to celebrate her (Kahlo's) 100th birthday, an Ansel Adams retrospective from the museum's permanent collection, and Alexander Calder's jewelry. A feature exhibition called Picasso and the Avant-Garde in Paris opens next spring and centers on that artist's most creative period.

Calder is, of course, the third in the lineage of the first family of the Parkway, and in a sense, Philadelphia's art history. His mobile sculpture Ghost hangs in the Great Stair Hall of the museum on a perfect axis with his father's Swann Fountain at Logan Circle and his grandfather's many many sculptures adorning City Hall. The youngest Calder's stabile Jerusalem was, for a time, installed on the museum's main plaza, and the Calder Garden served as a temporary stand-in for a full-on Calder Museum that seems less and less likely, closing abruptly in April. (1 April 09, Sad day on the Parkway)

In the Hall of the Mobile King: Calder's Ghost above, Augustus Saint-Gaudens' Diana straight ahead.

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The pseudo Greek temple is the pinnacle of a 10 acre plot of land. The golden stone exterior is made of dolomite quarried in Minnesota, and the glazed tiled roof is accentuated by polychrome finials and bronze griffins that serve as the PMA's symbol. A griffin is on all their literature, and it's on the pin you get when you pay your admission. Sculptor Paul Jennewein composed the scene of Greek gods and goddesses in the tympanum of the pediment on the north wing, visible from the main plaza.

From that plaza, one is afforded a view that, at least before the 1980s' skyscraper boom, was most famous of all the Philly Skyline views in town. (See Philly Skyline vs Penny Postcards.) The massive sculpture in the foreground of that view is Rudolf Siemering's Washington Monument. Completed in 1897, before there was either a Philadelphia Museum of Art or a Ben Franklin Parkway in which for it to stand, it welcomed visitors to Fairmount Park from Green Street, then one of the main entrances of the park. The complex work features General Washington atop his horse, several American Indian figures and animals, and allegorical references to the Delaware, Hudson, Potomac and Mississippi Rivers. It was moved to its current location in 1928, and the traffic oval around it has been reconfigured a number of times since.

Try as one may, it's nigh impossible to tell a narrative of the Philadelphia Museum of Art's history without mentioning Rocky. "Gonna Fly Now" was undeniably this city's anthem -- during its dark and dirty 70s -- the struggling-but-trying-real-hard boxer as metaphor for the struggling-but-kinda-sorta-trying city, finishing up his training regimen (which, along with the meat-punching bit, Joe Frazier claims was lifted from him without credit) by running up those steps. Then running them again. And again. And again. We all remember the fight between the PMA and the city when the sixth title in the film's series, Rocky Balboa, opened in 2006 and Sylvester Stallone wanted to permanently place the statue of himself at the top of those steps. (The marker in the ground with the footprints of his Chuck Taylors was not enough?) A compromise led to its current placement at the foot of the steps.

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The Philadelphia Museum of Art has over 200 galleries, a number that will greatly increase when its Frank Gehry-penned expansion comes to light. New gallery space will be constructed under the plaza, behind the steps. Gehry himself was even the subject of a recent exhibition.

Admission to the museum was recently raised to $16, but hey, it's the Art Museum. If that's too much for you, go on Sundays when it's free you may pay what you wish. That fare includes entry to the Perelman Building. The Rodin Museum -- whose most famous sculpture, The Thinker, is temporarily going to be displayed at the PMA's Great Stair Hall while the museum is renovated and the grounds re-landscaped -- is always pay what you wish, but a $5 donation is suggested.

The museum is one of Philadelphia's greatest and most historic assets, the crown of our city's culture. (Plus Rocky . . . ZING.)

July 2009: The Philadelphia Museum of Art.

–B Love

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