Drop It Like A Tetrimino

Move left, homie!

Move left, homie!

Spring greetings, yous guys! Hate to sound like one of them blogs saying “sorry I ain’t blog on the blog” but I been a hog in a bog in the fog, sloggin’ like a cog in the smog. Need to groove more. I know that’s right.


Tell you what else is right: Playing Tetris on a 29-story building is pretty right and righteous. Beaucoup props to Philly Tech Week for turning Cira Centre into an arcade game for a second straight year. Because I am aging, I suffered a serious injury to my back while scrubbing the kitchen floor on Saturday and opted to self medicate with Wild Turkey in a very hot bath rather than transport a heavy camera and tripod via SEPTA and a long walk (at least when you’re injured) up the river path to the Art Museum. Imagine my surprise on Sunday morning when I got an email with the subject “Surprise! You’ve been selected to play Tetris on Cira Centre for a surprise second night.”

I was in fact surprised, and considering I ruled at Tetris as a teen with a Nintendo, I chose to play through the pain and not pass up this awesome second chance. The old Philly Skyline in me thinks it’s ridiculous that they STILL don’t turn out all the lights in Cira Centre overnight. I just can’t fathom that there are that many people across multiple floors at all hours inside that building. The LED dots are the nighttime half of the building’s design—how are there still blocks of several floors with the lights left on after almost ten years of this building, particularly when there are events programmed using the building’s exterior? But then the older me is all “who cares, we all die anyway.”

At any rate, the experience was rad, even if it only lasted like 30 seconds. As I was at Eakins Oval, I played Tetris against someone on the south side of the building. As my Tetriminos fell, the height of my opponent’s Tetriminos were measured in a stack of white dots on the far right of my board. Having gauged actual play by watching the first couple dozen players in front of me, I knew it unwise to wait around for a full, four-line Tetris. I just wanted to jam a few lines while I had the chance. So I did, and I beat whatever chump faced me!

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Once upon a time this web site documented the construction of Cira Centre, photos you can still find in the old version HERE.

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I would like to thank Delicias food truck for a simply delightful Philly Tech Week beef arepa, and also the dude who pulled up the old Tetris theme on his phone while his buddy played. Which reminds me, man, this is one excellent Youtube video:

CLASSIC SKYLINE: Conventional Philadelphian Destruction (August 07)

Classic Skyline is a semi-occasional feature that revisits stories of 21st Century Philadelphia.

Today’s comes from summer 2007, when demolition began on the 19(!) buildings that were in the way of the Pennsylvania Convention Center’s fattening. The gluttonous white elephant schlumps together three city blocks like a cheap white Band-Aid, not the missed opportunity of a green roof to exemplify Mayor Nutter’s quixotic dreams to become the greenest city in America by his last year of office. (LOL.)

It’s hideous to look at; inside and out, it looks like what Iowa City would build if it had nearly a billion taxpayer dollars to work with. And its construction inspired the least inspired building downtown, the Home2 Suites one can see so well from the second level of the Convention Center.

With demolition in 2014 Philadelphia still full speed ahead, I’m surprised my younger optimist was somewhat supportive of it. Nineteen is a lot of buildings to clear for a single project, especially when it turns out to be such a dud.

—B. Maule

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17 August 2007

If like any good attentive Philadelphian urbanist you are of the Cult of Inga, you’re surely aware the Pennsylvania Convention Center (PACC) is, after years of haggling, expanding. And if you’re a long time (pre-Erin O’Hearn) Philly Skyline reader, you’ll remember Steve Ives’ excellent look in January at the square blocks being razed to make way for that expansion.

Well the time is upon us. On Wednesday, the Convention Center authority hung a banner high on Buck’s Hardware store and ceremoniously plowed a wrecking ballthrough the effin thing.

Click to enlarge and see which buildings will be demolished.

The Convention Center’s expansion, like any controversy worth its salt, is a two-sided story. But, very generally speaking, it’s a good thing, extremely so for the overburdened local hotel industry.

As the PBJ reported last week, as many as 26 (twenty-six) new hotels could pop up as a result of the $700M (seven hundred million) expansion. As a result of the expansion, our Convention Center will jump up to 14th largest of its kind in the country, and perhaps more notably, be the largest in the mid-Atlantic region, larger than New York’s Javits Center and larger than the expanded Washington DC Convention Center.

When it’s finished in 2010 (which is less than three years away … wow, it’s gonna be fun to review the first decade of the new millennium and see all the top ten lists and see how it stacks up against the 20s and 60s), the Pennsylvania Convention Center will have over a million square feet of saleable space. Some of the larger convention centers in the country — Las Vegas, Orlando, Honolulu — are in cities that live and die on their tourism, but then cities like Boston and Chicago have their acts a little more together and host larger convention centers than ours.

Whatever the case, when it all shakes out, the expanded PACC will likely be viewed with a positive impact, its hohum architecture aside. The expos alone should be a cash cow for Center City, and a healthy hotel industry makes for a happy downtown.

The down side is relatively minor: the 20 buildings we are losing to make way for it. There isn’t anything of particular historical significance, but there are some nice buildings — the Gilbert Building (former home to Vox Populi), the Metzger Building, Mitchell/Giurgola’s bank on Broad Street — that it’ll be sad to see go.

As with the one above, click this photo to enlarge it and see which buildings are going.

None among them, though, is as . . . cute? contextual? as the Firehouse at 1328 Race Street. The station built in 1925 was one of the central locations for the Philadelphia Fire Department for several decades. The small structure features six gargoyles which a little Skyline birdie told me will be saved and displayed at PACC.

But again, on the whole, it’s hard to think of PACC’s expansion as anything but an upgrade (architecture aside). Save for nights with Vox openings and specials at Edward’s Adult Bookstore, the area was one of Center City’s dead zones. And where the exterior of the expansion is pretty bland, the all important Broad Street side has a nice glass wall that transitions the pedestrian into a large, well lit open space on the way to the money making bowels.

Some further reading about the Pennsylvania Convention Center’s expansion:

• Blowing Up the Convention Center Neighborhood: Inga’s continued coverage of the expansion, with links to previous columns about same
• Expansion Is Here!: PACC’s official web site
• If the Convention Center expands: Phillyblog discussion
• Buildings at Stake: A 2006 Daily News diagram of the buildings slated for demo

Peace Through Power: USS Somerset on the Delaware

Focus on the ship, not all the riverfront surface parking

Focus on the ship, not all the impervious riverfront concrete and macadam

As a matter of posting more content and connecting with the other stuff I do, I really oughta link over to the essays I publish on the Hidden City Daily. Is there a way to put an RSS feed for a specific author on a site like Hidden City? [Let me google that for you.] [Thinks out loud.]

After a week calling Philadelphia home, the USS Somerset will officially become the US Navy’s newest warship this morning at a commissioning ceremony. Docked at Penn’s Landing since arriving last week, the Somerset (LPD-25*) is a San Antonio class amphibious transport dock, named for the victims of United Airlines Flight 93, which crashed in Somerset County, Pennsylvania on September 11, 2001.

*The LPD series stands for Landing Platform Dock.

(Side note: my late grandfather DJ Maule is from the village of Bakersville in Somerset County, about 15 miles from Shanksville, and we went to family reunions at a picnic ground there when I was little. Additional side note: the Oakhurst Tea Room has called Somerset home for over 80 years, and to this day it is still the most incredible, gluttonous German smorgasbord I’ve ever seen. Highly, highly recommended for your next drive across the Pennsylvania Turnpike.)

Peace is life, buoy

Peace is life, buoy

USS Somerset was built at Avondale Shipyard on the Mississippi River near New Orleans in Louisiana, the last Naval ship to leave that facility whose fate is uncertain. The Somerset was the last Navy contract Avondale had, and a shipyard workforce that once totaled over 5,000 is now down to 700 with no major contracts secured. (New Orleans Times-Picayune.)

As a warship, the Somerset will transport Sailors, Marines, and supplies. Its flight deck is large enough for two V-22 Osprey tilt-rotor aircraft to land/depart simultaneously, a feat the Navy demonstrated with the landing of an Osprey and a SuperCobra attack helicopter during the media tour on Thursday.

A 9/11 theme pervades the deepest interiors of the ship, from the massive “Let’s Roll” facing the flight deck to Heroes Hall (the mess hall); from a quilt memorializing all the passengers of Flight 93 to items collected across Somerset County, including road signs, maps, and photos. It’s also got a commemorative bell emblazoned with “PEACE THROUGH POWER”.

Following today’s commissioning, the Somerset will set sail for the homeport of San Diego. For a full photo essay of the ship in its Delaware River surroundings, check it out on Hidden City HERE.

#floydatfranklin: Set the Controls for the Franklin Institute


Franklin Institute: Where is Pink Floyd in your Pompeii show?

When the Franklin Institute opened the feature exhibition One Day in Pompeii in November, my mind immediately returned to that hazy, darkened, college living room, sunken into the couch with a couple buddies fully entranced in Pink Floyd: Live at Pompeii. And then I thought: why can’t the Franklin Institute host a screening (or some screenings) of this film?

In my second-ever visit to Philadelphia, in 1996, I went with a college girlfriend to see Laser Floyd at the Franklin Institute. They had Dark Side and The Wall—we opted for the former. FI’s Fels Planetarium had hosted the popular Laser Floyd for years—check out this 1988 story in the Inquirer—and continued to do so until a couple years ago. That is to say: The Franklin Institute and Pink Floyd have a history.

Directed by Adrian Maben, Pink Floyd: Live at Pompeii was released in 1972—as the band was recording The Dark Side of the Moon, one of the greatest and best selling albums of all time. The film was distributed by Universal Pictures. Pink Floyd’s record label, EMI, was purchased by Universal Music Group in 2011. Universal Pictures and Universal Music Group are owned by NBCUniversal. NBCUniversal is owned by Comcast. Comcast’s headquarters are about four blocks from the Franklin Institute.

There they are, performing in front of only ghosts under a looming Mt Vesuvius! | Screen capture from Pink Floyd: Live at Pompeii

There they are, performing in front of only ghosts under a looming Mt Vesuvius! | Screen capture from Pink Floyd: Live at Pompeii

This needs to happen.

One Day in Pompeii runs through April 27th, so there’s still time for it to happen, and for it to be timely. The exhibition features 150 items on loan from the Naples National Archaeological Museum—the same museum that provided the b-roll for Live at Pompeii. There might even be some of the very same relics on display on the Parkway that were featured in the film 41 years ago.

Not only does Live at Pompeii feature typically Floydian breathtaking cinematography, but the music shows the band at the doorstep of its zenith. “Echoes” is the single song that bridges their early, Syd Barrett ’60s exploration and their Roger Waters ’70s golden era. The director’s cut of the film even splices segments of them recording The Dark Side of the Moon at Abbey Road Studios. I’d think for a screening at one of the Franklin Institute’s theaters—Franklin, Imax, or preferably, as a nod to Laser Floyd, Fels—the original, 60 minute version of just the concert in the ancient Pompeii amphitheater would suffice. People will come. I will definitely come.

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C’mon Franklin Institute. I contacted you in November about this, was told someone would look into it, I never heard back from you, and you haven’t responded to my follow-up calls and emails. And I ain’t even mad. But time’s a wastin’.

Sure, we can watch it at home on DVD, or even on Youtube. But we want to see it on the big screen, with that big, digital, Franklin Institute sound. We want to see that slow pan of the “Pink Floyd London” gear. We want to see Roger Waters bang a gong, 26-year-old David Gilmour without a shirt, the late Rick Wright with a funeral organ, Nick Mason with a mustache and a mission, and we want to see it on the big screen.

Pink Floyd: Live at Pompeii is a milestone in concert film. It even inspired a Beastie Boys video.

It’s also worth noting that Comcast is a corporate benefactor of the Franklin Institute, and Comcast’s VP of Community Development Charisse Lillie is a board member of both the Franklin Institute and NBCUniversal Foundation.

Let’s make this happen. We want to see #floydatfranklin.

Once upon a PSFS Sunset

What light through yonder window breaks

What light through yonder window breaks

Leaving the studio of History Making Productions last night, producer Andrew Ferrett and I walked south down 12th Street toward Center City. It had been dark and cloudy and rainy for most of the day, to a point we even lost power in the studio for 15 minutes or so. But at about 5pm, things stabilized and started showing a hint of the spring-like Saturday ahead.

Waiting for the light at Vine Street, I could see a break in the clouds to the west, the direction from which our weather patterns originate, with a small but growing line of clear sky coming our way. At Race Street, it looked even better; at Arch and Filbert, the same line was already reflecting in the buildings of Penn Center. By Market Street, going to the 33rd floor of the Loews Hotel inside my favorite building in the city seemed a foregone conclusion.

This set of photos might illustrate why I did. In chronological order from the last of the rain through the breaking of the clouds to the setting of the sun …