Clean, Pure, North Philly Color

Who says there aren't any trees in North Philly? | Photo: Bradley Maule
Who says there aren’t any trees in North Philly? | Photo: Bradley Maule

Hard to believe it’s been nearly five years since Steve Weinik, Steve Ives, Chris Dougherty, and I got together for a day’s worth of riding SEPTA. (Worth noting: we’re planning a fifth anniversary of sorts, a new tour, for this June.) In Weinik’s essay, he speaks of growing up in Mt Airy and always wanting to ride the 23 bus’s full length; so he did.

Now that I live in Mt Airy, my SEPTA Zone 2 pass is good for both Chestnut Hill regional rail lines—on their schedule, of course. So if I miss a train by five minutes, it’s either wait 55 more for the next one or explore my options. Those options include taking the H bus to Broad & Erie, traipsing across the neighborhood from one train line to the other (again, assuming the schedules match up), or hopping that 23 bus. In three months living here, I’ve found that to not be the least undesirable option, but one that’s actually quite convenient—door-to-door service from the POPE in South Philly to home in Mt Airy!—and certainly eye opening.

As Weinik mentioned in his piece, the 23 bus from top to bottom—from Germantown Ave & Bethlehem Pike in Chestnut Hill to Broad & Oregon in South Philly—is a real Philly slice of life, a dissection of all that’s right & wrong, rich & poor, heartwarming & gutwrenching in this city. But what’s interesting, to me, is that in his view five years ago, the stretch of the 23 on Germantown Avenue in Fairhill was the most depressing, enunciated by his starting in ritzy Chestnut Hill and continuing on through the glistening skyscrapers downtown. But in the time since then, the Mural Arts Program—Weinik’s place of full-time employment—has taken a stretch of this route and splashed it with color that demands once-averted eyes to look. As Mural Arts’ in-house photographer, he got to watch the Dutch artists Haas & Hahn bring their favela magic to North Philly from up close. (Check his photos of the project, Philly Painting, HERE.)

At the southern end of Philly Painting’s two-block, three-story canvas, Germantown Ave follows its ancient indian trail with a slight curve to the left. At this bend, the Village of Arts & Humanities now sits in its 25th year of residence. What Lily Yeh founded as a way of breathing life into vacant land has blossomed into an award-winning organization that provides a creative outlet for thousands of kids and volunteers across Philadelphia.

Last Tuesday, Mother Nature socked it to us with 12″ of powder. That night, Steve Weinik and I did the city classic, Snow Day at the Bar, and probably stayed for one drink too many at McMenamin’s—on Germantown Avenue in Mt Airy. The next morning, with SEPTA regional rail in the snow to contend with, I opted to head to Center City instead on the 23 bus. This time, I got out at Lehigh, and I walked down Germantown Avenue to soak in the colors of Philly Painting and the Village of Arts & Humanities under a foot of snow and a crystal clear blue winter sky.

3 thoughts on “Clean, Pure, North Philly Color

  1. Wow… that photo series is really engaging! There really something ironic and beautiful about neglected buildings that have had bright and cheerful new paint put up – modern design and color schemes put on classic architecture. Then a complete absence of people adds a bit of a creepy factor on top of that.
    This looks like it could be the setting for a Zombie Apocalypse comedy movie, with puppets.

  2. Perfect day for photography – deep blue sky, brilliant white snow, intense colors saturating everything – your pictures nailed it!

  3. I took a Sociology class at Temple that had us ride the 23 bus from Oregon Ave all the way up to Chestnut Hill. If you want to get a damn near complete view of this city, take that bus route one day and take notes (mental or physical).

    Great post.

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