29 March 07: PSPS: Peace out for a few days

Not a bad Philly Skyline Philly Skyline view they're enjoying up in Northern Liberties these days, even when the sun ducks behind the clouds.

Pardon the abrupt departure if you could, but we're gonna close up shop for a few days of Rocky Mountain R&R. My apologies to everyone whose emails haven't been answered just yet . . . that will happen upon our return, promise.

You have yourself a fantastic weekend and we'll see you in time for Brett Myers' first fastball.

–B Love

28 March 07: A Whole Lot of Meaning and Nothing to Do

by Nathaniel Popkin

I'll proceed, as did our Godmother Jane Jacobs, right into the physics of the squares.

We'll all agree that Rittenhouse, Jacobs' "success," is the most wonderful place in the world. Why? Well we know why: it's our stage, our promenade, always open and open to all. It is the only place in Philadelphia where – without restraint or self-consciousness – we embrace the idea and fulfill the act of living in public.

This is a curious thing to say about a city – even the so-called Private City, isn't it?

Why else live in a city but to live in public?

Public space abounds in Philadelphia. The sidewalk, of course, is the greatest of all. But ours are narrow, practical, and seem always at the mercy of cars. (The curb-cut mercilessly threatens even this fragile yet demarcated territory of the pedestrian.) Aside from a few notable exceptions, our sidewalks are famously boring. Yesterday on Walnut Street, I saw an elderly immigrant wearing an American flag baseball hat emblazoned with a gold eagle playing the accordion. That, despite the joy of people in motion, was the extent of the entertainment.

My alter-ego Siskind says that Septa is really our most-trampled public space (at 300 million rides a year it may be true – it may also, despite the shooting on the 33 a couple of weeks ago, be our safest). And he's right: the average bus is more crowded than the average sidewalk. He's on to something more. Unlike in most cities, where people read, Philadelphians on the bus or the El talk to each other. I could write a book just from the conversations I've heard/had on Septa. So, like it or not, stuffed like a sardine or not, on Septa we get to know each other – at least in passing.

Septa, reflecting our vernacular urbanism, gives us an intimate public experience. But it lacks the scale, joy, and ambition of true urban space. And so here's our problem: we've public space aplenty, acres of dazzling potential, and almost nothing to do.

There are reasons: intimacy of scale, parochial ambition, Quaker influence, a reasonable desire for peace and quiet, fear/the desire to control, a penchant for missed opportunities, and a fetish for purity (the Magnolia Garden, the Azalea Garden, the Rose Garden), an addiction to symbolism. Thus, stepping back into the Squares, we can see how our potential becomes limited. While the uses and users of Washington Square are slowly becoming more dynamic, it remains essentially a passive vessel of monuments. It is hallowed ground, but even the fountain is uninteresting. The buildings that frame the square, aside from the eponymous Starr restaurant, are closed to it. The subway station and associated scale (of Strawbridge and Clothier, of Lit Brothers) is three blocks away. There's no ice cream man, no balloons, music, or newspaper stand. Washington Square is a great place to nap.

The new Franklin Square, Skid Row Park in 1961 when Jacobs wrote "The uses of neighborhood parks" until 2005, is equally one-dimensional. (I'll stop right here and say that the upgraded Franklin Square, as the cliff-park along the Waterworks, the Schuylkill Banks Seine path, Laurie Olin's INHP reconfiguration, the ongoing reclamation of Logan Square (the Aviator Park part now being completed) are essential statements of belief in Philadelphia. They make us happy.) But Franklin Square, which does offer ice-cream, balloons, horses, and a lovely fountain is a caricature of the traditional city park. It functions outside the fabric of everyday city life: to get there, you have to plan in advance. And when you arrive, you feel you're nowhere. Nothing faces it but Noguchi's Lightning Bolt and the Benjamin Franklin Bridge. The over-sized colonial lamps appear as Manute Bol loping down the Spectrum floor, the carousel, which my kids adore, an amalgamation of styles, the mini-golf a half-assed city in miniature. The vendors and their extension cords both too formal and not formal enough . . .

But I'm being too harsh on Franklin Square. After all, the folks at Once Upon a Nation have broken that old brick wall between the purity of leisure and the filth of commerce.

Now we just have to break free of the heavy symbolism. Think about it: from the eternal flame in Washington Square to the Sister Cities plaza on Logan Square, our public spaces are pushed to the limit of representation and remembrance. INHP was redesigned on a symbolic balance beam between Independence Hall and the Constitution Center. That curious and beautiful sculpture garden on Kelly Drive? The Ellen Phillips Samuel Memorial was a modernist project on the universal experience of building the nation. The Benjamin Franklin Parkway and the Swann Fountain in particular: a generous tip of the hat to Paris and European ideas of urbanism. We call it our Champs Elysee: I say then where, at the very least, are the cafes? Why is Peacock on the Parkway my only option? The flags of the nations (which represent a terrific instinct) – it's all surface symbolism, not the reality of a true world city. Ed Bacon's compass in City Hall Courtyard? The City of Firsts displays on Penn's Landing. The war memorials, the Irish memorial, the Columbus Memorial, the International Sculpture Garden, Foglietta Plaza, the piazza in front of the Art Museum (oh, I could go on with these examples): empty all of them, burdened by being too pure, too fetishized, too in-love with the ideas and not the reality of urban life.

I'm beginning to sound like a pro-Barnes-move charlatan (I am in favor of the move). I'm in love as the next guy with symbolism, especially when it encourages you to think, explore, and imagine. So I think Venturi's Franklin House is pretty neat. And I bet I'm going to like the new President's House too. But I'm guessing the purists are reeling (they probably hate Franklin Court, anyway). They've stopped reading. We don't want to be New York! We don't need tourist shops everywhere. We won't give in to that low instinct to turn everything into a commodity . . . Greene Country Towne! Greene Country Towne! Greene Country Towne!

The funny thing is that it's those old-liners at the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society who, handing the charge over neighborhood parks back to the neighbors, began the movement to challenge the ruling paradigm. It turns out we folks like to use our parks: to play, to listen to music, for festivals, movies, ceremonies, to eat, stroll, fight, to dig in the dirt. And so with the Horticultural Society's funding, neighbors across the city have taken control of the public spaces; and the Recreation Department provides funding and equipment and staff for concerts and films. The result is that many neighborhood public spaces are alive, as perhaps never before.

So what of the major venues? I think there are tendencies in the right direction. As much as I was opposed to it at first, placing the Please Touch Museum in Memorial Hall and making clear physical connections between it, the Zoo, PMA, the Mann, Japanese House, among other attractions and Martin Luther King (West River) Drive, might allow Fairmount Park to be enjoyed in new ways by more people. Indeed, turning the old Visitor's Center into a FP gateway is great idea too. We all need help finding the treasures. The Parkway plan is excellent; Penn Praxis' work on the Delaware may also reveal potential ways to variegate the experience. It's happening on the Schuylkill Banks, where apparently they get it. I'd like to see a restaurant or two down there, just as I proposed for City Hall Courtyard and Centre Square. I'd like to see more and more constant performance, ice cream, book stalls (The greatest outdoor book stalls maybe in the world are in Istanbul in the University section, so I propose turning the Chestnut Street edge of Penn's Hill field, space that essentially connects Penn and Drexel, into a permanent used book mart.), art, music, vendors, food stalls, stores, coffee, and tables. Headhouse Square is a New York-style Washington Square waiting to happen (the old Jewish anarchists used to meet right around the corner). The Merchant's Exchange, recently and dreadfully castrated by the Park Service, ought to present theatre and music from Back Then. Old Dock Street might fill again.

Just as I started with Rittenhouse, for similar reasons I'll end with Valley Green. Why do we love to go there? Yes, the Creek, the trees, the ducks. That isn't enough, though. We go there because we sit on the grass watching kids ride their bikes into the water; or on the porch of the Inn drinking beer. We can buy popcorn, walk, bike, ride horses. We can watch everyone else doing all these other things. We love it because it feels, in a strange way as only Rittenhouse feels, as an open public space, a truly dynamic crossroads. It's powerful, moving, fun.

Now imagine so much more of Philly that way.

It might feel good to be impure.

–Nathaniel Popkin

* * *

Nathaniel's archive can be found HERE, but I'd like to personally welcome him, the published author, into this crazy internet world, as he has at last unveiled nathanielpopkin.net. If you enjoy Nathaniel's writing, please visit his web site. He's also got a photo section of photos he has accumulated over the past decade.

* * *

A quick footnote: the first photo above, of Rittenhouse Square, was taken from the former Sheraton Hotel, currently being converted by Allan Domb, Lubert-Adler and David G Marshall into the Parc Rittenhouse, with an updated design by Hillier Architects. Allan's team graciously gave me a tour of the building in progress, so expect the next installment of the Hard Hat series next week some time.

On an unrelated Rittenhouse Square note, there's a rumor on the wind, and it has the scent of what one might call a Cheesecake Factory. The scent was picked up at precisely the location of the 10 Rittenhouse Square construction site.

–B Love

28 March 07:
I don't know but I been told (I don't know but I been told)
Philly's flag's azure and gold

So went the cadence at the first ever Philly Flag Day. This spunky gal is Brenda Exon, the Philly Pride Lady. She and her Partners for Civic Pride, which yesterday included students from Frankford High, Ben Franklin High and Kearny Elementary, are out to represent the city's motto, Philadelphia Maneto, which translates to "let brotherly love continue." At a time when the murder rate is frighteningly high and it's only beginning to warm up, now more than ever could we live by the flag.

–B Love

27 March 07: Peaking through the keyhole

Or at the keyhole on the north side of Comcast Center, rather. This shot from the Spring Gardens at 18th & North taken Sunday afternoon shows the formation of the two-story cutout on the northern wall, where the south side's is six. It's asymmetrical out of design, y'dig. A follow-up on yesterday's post about Comcast Center: the Business Journal has now made Natalie Kostelni's full article available, as it's running on the front page of the web site today: [Tallest Building on Track (PBJ).]

Yeaaah, it's supposed to be sunny and 77 today . . . gonna go ahead and venture a guess that posting will be light today. Get outside and enjoy it, and don't forget . . . it's Philly Flag Day!

–B Love

26 March 07: Tomorrow: act like a flag

Back on January 30th, we nominated the idea of building the world's tallest flagpole here in Philadelphia. (Granted, if the people with money and wherewithal to do so agreed with us and decided to build it, this being Philadelphia and all, by the time a shovel was in the ground, Dubai will have built one three times as tall. But that's beside the point.) Turns out we're not the only ones decked out in azure blue and golden yellow.

The Partners for Civic Pride organization, led by Brenda Exon, the Philly Pride Lady, are throwing a birthday party for the city flag tomorrow. Beginning at noon at the Municipal Services Building, the festivities include Lucky Thompson's Jazz Band, a Philly Flag Day Proclamation(!), the dedication of a new flag at the MSB, and a bunch of other stuff including a Philly flag cupcake. What's not to love? Plus, if you come dressed up like the flag (I'm serious, if you come dressed up as the flag, in azure blue and golden yellow), you could win a 3' x 5' city flag, just like the one hanging from Philly Skyline's office. Now this is a party, baby. [Partners for Civic Pride.]

* * *

In other goings on tomorrow, Next Great City is, thanks to the New Kensington CDC and Fishtown Neighbors Association, giving a general presentation on its ten action points. It should be a great introduction to anyone who is unfamiliar with Next Great City and everything they've done so far. It's at the Fishtown Rec Center, Montgomery & Girard (where the ice skating rink is) and begins at 6:45. Say hey to Christine Knapp, who's been one of the big minds behind NGC.

I came across this calendar of events listing over at Plan Philly, where rumor has it a new RBM photo essay has popped up. I just checked and whattaya know? I was popping in and out of the Delaware River last Sunday. I saw a lot of things I'd never seen before, starting just above the Tacony-Palmyra Bridge and ending at Penn's Landing. Click one of those many seagulls below to go to the pictures.

* * *

Today in Comcast Center news, we welcome the return of Natalie Kostelni name dropping here on da Skyline. Today's online version of the Philadelphia Business Journal has a story by Natalie (for print subscribers only, alas, but it's teased at that link) outlining a lot of figures already familiar to those of us who've watched Comcast Center's construction closely, but via an interview with Liberty Property's senior VP John Gattuso (whose office at 8 Penn Center looks out at his baby's construction), we learn that construction is pretty much right on track. Topping out for the steel frame is anticipated to happen in May, just over a month away.

On a related note, after a long trip across the region, most notably stops in West and Southwest Philly (where we thankfully did not get caught in any crossfire . . . daylight shootings in each of these places are enough to make you not EVER want to visit these neighborhoods, which is a sad reflection on the good people who live there), Upper Darby and Fairmount, our Comcast Center section is up to date.

Finally, on a related note, our little appearance on Channel 6 Action News last week was the best copyright infringement EVER. When we launched the Hard Hat 2 photo essay two weeks ago, it immediately broke our old record for hits in a day, topping out at over 215,000 that day. Well, with Erin O'Hearn's blessing, that new record is now 288,000+ in a day. Thank you Erin O'Hearn, and thank you, faithful visitors.

–B Love

25 March 07: Customer service, report to t-shirts for a

This was the scene for unsuspecting shoppers of Urban Outfitters and for rock & roll fans who would otherwise not be in Urban Outfitters Saturday afternoon. The Capitol Years unofficially kicked off the Popped promo period, fresh off a week long trip through the south that culminated in Austin at SXSW. The Popped festival is exactly two weeks away, and conveniently, the Phillies game with the Mets that day has been made a business person's special, so you'll have time to get to Shea Stadium and back and still catch the show at Johnny B's. For info on the festival and all the best Philly bands performing, visit poppedphiladelphia.com.

* * *

On a much sadder rock & roll note, I personally want to extend my sincerest condolences to the families and friends of Bruce Langfeld and Ray Francis, who each left life far too early last week. I didn't know either of them extremely well, but they were each very much a part of my personal Philly experience.

I was familiar with Bruce before I knew Bruce. As I was coming to accept my impending move to Philly in 2000, I geared up by using Napster buying a bunch of Philly music, including a couple Marah albums, notably Let's Cut the Crap and Hook Up Later Tonight, which Bruce played a big part on. I met him when he was playing bass on Josh McIlvain's Sexcop sessions and tour. After a barbecue at Josh's place in Chestnut Hill, I gave him a ride back down to G-Ho, the neighborhood we each called home. He told me how he sort of stumbled into buying his house at 17th & Bainbridge at a sheriff's sale, for a price so ridiculous there had to be a catch. There was: the person who foreclosed was still living there and it was on Bruce to get him out. Bruce was a gentle man and a gentleman, so a task of this confrontational manner -- "sorry pal, it's my house now" -- seemed out of his nature and almost comical. I actually forget now how he was able to do it, but he did. As he got out of the car, we had one of those "well hey, since you're in the neighborhood, look me up and we'll get a drink" moments . . . but we never did. Sorry Bruce.

My relationship with Ray Francis was not unlike that with Bruce. I've touted and will always tout the Morning Glory Diner as the king of all kings of Philadelphia breakfasts. No one comes close. I think the reason my experience there is so positive is that I don't subject myself to the weekend wait; I only go on weekdays, when Ray worked, and usually with John, who knew him better than I did. We were always casual enough that dropping an F was perfectly fine in recounting whatever reason it was we were hung over. He joked that his band Econocaste set records for low attendance in Philly. If that was so, it wasn't because of Ray . . .

Rest in peace, Bruce. Rest in peace, Ray. Your friend, Brad.

* * *

This morning's Philly Skyline Philly Skyline is a blue and peaceful one heavy on the sky. This is the view from the front steps of Monsignor Bonner High School out in Drexel Hill, Delco. (Thanks to Matt from Havertown for the tip, and heyyyy to Jillian & Dom right around the corner from Bonner.)

–B Love

23 March 07: A hearty thank you

... goes out all of you who came out to Tritone last night. Special thanks also to our friends at Foobooz, Philebrity, Philadelphia Will Do, Daily Candy, Fight for Room 215 and Wook for spreading the love. Finally, thank you kindly to Janine Hawley for being an independent counsel on number crunching to determine the election results. (I.e., it wasn't rigged.)

The first annual Great Chili Skyline Cookoff was a smashing success if I do say so. The blues were thick (with an unexpected heaping of zydeco -- nice one, New Pony), the beer was plentiful (though we missed Jess, who now spends her Thursdays putting smiles on the faces of the Sidecar), and yes, the chili was hot and hearty.

Each contestant brought his own special brand of chili, but each one was thick -- way thick -- on the meat. We couldn't have been more proud. South Philly's Howie Shanker held high his Howie's Heap of Hotness. Manayunk's Todd Pascarella has been cooking and eating so much that he's Sickkachili. Rittenhouse Square's John Donahue brought his Chillocity with the quickness. Tim Emgushov took Eskimo's Handsome Boy Chili on a ride all the way from East Oak Lane. Richard Frey's ingredient list was so long we're pretty sure it actually included Marcia's Kitchen Sink. At this juncture we're unable to tell if Steve Weinik's Resurrect Dead Chili featured any of those Toynbee tiles. And Mark Adams? He suspected that Everyone Else Used MSG.

The competition was fierce and the judges -- the people -- had a tough decision as they cast their vote into the Tritone-sponsored Pabst Blue Ribbon ballot box. When all was said and done, the results went something like . . .

THIRD PLACE: Chillocity, earning John a Philly Skyline, The Calendar: 2007.

RUNNER-UP: Everyone Else Used MSG, putting twenty-five DiBruno dollars in Mark's pocket. He'll no doubt restock the prosciutto that made his chili ever so sweet.

GRAND CHAMPION: And the winner and champion of the first annual Great Chili Skyline Cookoff was the biggest of the bunch, Tim Emgushov. Tim, pictured at left with some of his Schuylkill River Exiles rugby cohorts, unveiled his winning chili in the largest crock pot of all. For his efforts, the people chose him the champion, garnering him the Chili Chalice.

So, thanks again to everyone. Let's do it again in 2008.

* * *

As promised, we'll return to your regularly scheduled Skyline programming this weekend. With all this chili, we've missed a few important stories, and we've got two photo essays already lined up and ready to rock. See you then.

–B Love

22 March 07: Ready for primetime CHILIIIIII

Who is this R. Bradley Maule and why he is all up on my Channel 6 Action News?

Boy this one came out of nowhere. We're sitting at home last night letting the chili simmer, winding down with a glass of shiraz when, before the commercial break, Jim Gardner said something about exclusive views from the top of Philly's unfinished tallest building. Ehhh? After the break, Jim hands it over to Erin O'Hearn (heyyyyy), who spends a good half minute sharing my photos and web site with the Delaware Valley. People pay good money for 30 seconds on an evening newscast, but this was on the actual broadcast. That's wild. Click Miss O up there to go to 6ABC's web site, where the video is archived. (It's the one called "Views From Above on the Net".)

It's funny, if this was on NBC10 or CBS3, we probably wouldn't even have seen it. Channel 6 is the only news we watch, so it's nice to know they're watching us, too. Awww. But remember guys, you're gonna need a Comcast Center sculpture to go with the rest of the skyline for your on-air studio very soon.

And you know what? This timing could not be better. If you're a first time visitor of the Skyline, welcome! We're a lively bunch here, and we like skyscrapers, buildings, photos, history, Philadelphia and chili. Chili, you say? Yes, chili.

TONIGHT TONIGHT TONIGHT at Tritone Bar, 1508 South Street, we host the first annual Chili Skyline Cookoff. We've got eight contestants (two wussed out) with high octane, meat hearty chili, and also the delta stylings of the New Pony Blues Band. All this for only FIVE BUCKS. Please, come out and join us!

We will resume to regular posting this weekend or Monday, but right now we're All Chili and All Comcast Center. On that notion, we'll wrap up this post with a Philly Skyline Philly Skyline from about sixteen steps from Tritone taken just the other night. See you tonight!

UPDATE: thanks to the wonderful world of video technology (that Viacom is going to have laughed out of court), my man on the scene DMac stumbled across YouTube's footage of the very news segment mentioned above.

–B Love

21 March 07: Everybody know it's spring again

To the girls and boys and people abooooooooove . . . this is the time to fall in looooooooove. (I tried to find the Biz Markie video on YouTube, to no avail.)

You'll have to pardon our light postings this week, as we're probably obviously predisposed with the Great Chili Skyline Cookoff coming up tomorrow night at Tritone -- 8pm starts the eatin', 9pm starts the pickin' & grinnin', and somewhere around 10:30 the winner will be announced and presented his trophy. I say "his" there because there are no female contestants. Ladies, you should be ashamed of yourselves. This is an equal opportunity (unless you're vegetarian, in which case you're a little less equal, but hey, there will be cornbread!) Chili Cookoff, and all we've got is some meat eatin', spice wielding men. So be it; we're ready to rock and roll, so please do come out. Tritone, 15th & South, tomorrow night in Ye O' G-Ho.

(For the record, Michelle, I kid because I love. I love vegetarians . . . they're delicious!)

* * *

In the meantime, though, it's a Spring Equinox kind of Hump Day. NICE. The Philly Skyline Philly Skyline above was taken yesterday morning at 9th & Fitzwater down Bella Vista way, and its intent is to feel warm and springy. The snow is a-melting on Palumbo Field (home of the best bar league summertime softball) and Comcast Center is a-rising just beyond David Guinn's Crystal Snowscape mural, one of his four seasons for the Mural Arts Program.

* * *

Is there a readily available figure on idling bus omissions that we can throw at the Franklin Institute to get the many many many buses coming to the King Tut exhibit to turn off their goddamn engines? I don't know how the vendors at the foot of the steps survive there all day. All those buses line up and sit there idling for what seems like hours, and you can barely breathe walking down 20th Street. How could anyone even consider buying one of those pretzels? If Greyhound -- Greyhound! -- can do this, surely this long standing institution devoted to science can.

On a totally unrelated and amazingly great note, congratulations to ALL OF US -- City of Philadelphia -- for this Fourth of July, our native sons come home to rock us out: Hall and Oates to headline Fourth of July concert on the Parkway. HOOOOOOOORAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAY!

–B Love

This Thursday: Gene Ween is playing a solo gig at Johnny Brenda's. The Philadelphia City Planning Commission is unveiling its massive study of the Ben Franklin Parkway and its future. City Managing Director Pedro Ramos and some former managing directors are hosting a reception at the Atwater Kent Museum for the "How Philly Works" exhibit, discussing, well, managing the city. Forget them all.

Thursday, March the 22nd is Philly Skyline's night. Come out and join us down here in G-Ho for a festival of meats, spices and blues. We'll post a schedule of events and list of participants on Thursday, but the only details you need right now are right there in that graphic. Download it, send it to your friends, and come hungry. SEE YOU THERE!

–B Love

20 March 07: OH COME ON

Seriously now, One Liberty Place. If you want to play jokes on Philly Skyline, that's fine, but don't do it at the expense of the recently dolled up (and way improved) Two Liberty lighting scheme. Or wait, maybe it's a tribute to Two Liberty since it only has one row of lights? Whatever the case, One Liberty's shift to LEDs can't come soon enough.

–B Love

19 March 07: Happy Iraq War Anniversary!

Today marks four years of the super awesome and popular Iraq War, yesterday the Sixers got beat by 50 (fifty), and my NCAA Tourney brackets are shite thanks to Maryland, Notre Dame, Louisville and Wisconsin. Can't say much good about any of those things, so I won't say much at all. On the plus side, however, Philly Skyline has been getting in touch with its inner Delaware River, so much so that we've got a couple hundred recent pictures from the Pennypack Creek to Gloucester City to wade through, including all four bridges, pretty parks and pulchritudinous post-industry. Maybe later this week?

Consider today's Philly Skyline Philly Skyline a preview, taken around 4 o'clock yesterday afternoon on Conrail's property in Port Richmond. There is an amazingly large swath of currently unused land just begging for development. Pinnacle's casino development made the best sense of the five proposals but, this being Pennsylvania, was not awarded one of the licenses. It's also a focal point for Penn Praxis' riverfront study (by the way, congrats to them for planphilly.com garnering honorable mention for Planetizen's best planning sites of 2007). The possibilities for this land are endless, but until they see the light of day, it'll stay popular with off-roaders and paintball players.

What's definitely later this week is of course the first annual Great Chili Skyline Cookoff, Thursday night at 8, at Tritone. Right now we've got about ten folks stewing their own brand of chili (guaranteed meat and spice, beans and rice optional) and the town's most Mississippi John Hurtin' brand of blues, New Pony, lined up, all for five bucks. AND, on the honor of American democracy, YOU decide the winner by casting your ballot. The voting machines are being shipped from Diebold as we speak. [If you'd like to enter your recipe, contact me ASAP.]

–B Love

18 March 07: Philly Skyline Time Warp Mind Warp

Out of protest to Notre Dame losing and killing a decent sized portion of my NCAA Tourney bracket, I spent my St Patrick's Day not drinking and puking green beer with green people, but instead twiddling the knobs of the time machine. That's right, this here is the Fighting Irish edition of the Philly Skyline Time Warp. We've been overdue for one anyway. So, here we go:

The above is a weekender Philly Skyline Philly Skyline of our favorite construction project in the city -- before it started. Why I was up at the Pyramid Club, I don't recall, but I do remember taking that picture on purpose. The former Public Defenders Building was now a blank square on the grid, ready and waiting for One Pennsylvania Plaza. In October 2003, all it had was the shadow of Mellon Bank Center.

* * *

With each of the two hard hat tours of Comcast Center (13 December 06 and 8 March 07), we've seen a huge spike in traffic. Photos, skyscrapers and construction progress are at the heart of what we do around here, and since we're time warpin' this weekend, we thought we'd make stops in July 2003 and June 2004 to see how the St James and Old City 108 looked midstream.

Each one is a single popup page with 20-30 pictures. If you live in these buildings, tell your neighbors; if you don't and know someone who does, tell them . . . spread the love.

While we're at it, don't forget the hard hat tour of 22 Front Street, given by its head developer Andy Kaplin, who just celebrated his big three-oh. (Happy birthday Andy!)

* * *

Finally today, we're gonna yank on YouTube and bring a Time Warp video that, in our minds, serves as a placeholder to the long promised neighborhood tour through that most northern of North Philly neighborhoods, the one and only Olney. We haven't forgotten you, Olney, promise. Sometime in the next couple weeks we'll come through. In the meantime, this little ditty was a collabo between myself and el diablo, John Yeomans, on the second day of the wild and wicked Presidents Day blizzard of 2003. That storm dumped 22 inches of snow on Philadelphia, and early that Monday John put it in 4 wheel drive and we headed north. We left G-Ho around 8am, somehow passed through Northern Liberties and up through Kensington under the El before hanging a left on Lehigh. This dude in a killer leather jacket with "Philly" embroidered graffiti style hitched a ride bound for 30th & Diamond, so we headed down Sedgley Ave . . . until we got stuck. Dude hopped out and hoofed it from there, but we had to put it in reverse to back on out. Some snowed in North Philly photos from that day are on their way, so um . . . consider this the trailer.

–B Love

17 March 07: Happy St Patrick's Day

–B Love

16 March 07: A friendly reminder

Sleet? Snow? Someone must be looking out for a Chili Cookoff. You go on ahead and have a fun and festive St Patrick's Day weekend -- plenty of related events to choose from -- but be hungry again by next Thursday.

If you think you're a chili connoisseur, can hang with other chili connoisseurs, think you can win and have not yet registered, please CONTACT ME for details. We've only got room for about three more entries, so do it sooner than later. Remember: NO VEGETARIAN CHILI. Otherwise, holler!

* * *

A follow-up to yesterday's Comcast Center vs mapping software post: our friend Andrew sent along a link to a site called FlashEarth which uses toggleable layers to display Google Maps, Yahoo Maps, MS Local Live maps, ask.com maps (who knew?) and some others. A link to the Comcast Center site is HERE. Be sure to check out the link to Andrew's site too, as he's got some excellent photos therein. In the near future, he'll be sharing his work here, too.

Happy St Patrick's Day, y'all.

–B Love

15 March 07: A sampling of Comcast Center (Really?)

We didn't set out to make this Comcast Center Week on da Skyline, it just sort of worked out that way. If you haven't already, please take a look at our Hard Hat Tour II photo set from last Thursday. And if you have, take another spin!

This 'ere is the latest view from Philly Skyline's G-Home office, taken at about 2:30 this afternoon. As we can see, all of the concrete slip forms have been removed, so it's steel and glass from here to the top. Our count has the steel on 55, give or take a floor. Before you know it, we'll be looking at the steel frame of a rectangular top hat, and soon thereafter, a glass crown. Go 'head with your bad self, Comcast Center.

Out of curiosity, we spent a few minutes poking around online to see how some recognizable and reputable technologically advanced cartographers are viewing the historic construction of the tallest building in the city, the tallest LEED certified building in America (FU, Bank of America -- we don't count spires here), the new landmark train terminal and the new headquarters for the world's largest television cable company. These were our findings . . .


    This seemed like a good place to start since we use Google Maps all the time. You may have caught on The Illadelph last month that Google Maps has added transit stops including Septa's Market and Broad Street lines and regional rail, as well as traffic reports (that is sick technology) and parcel maps. The parcel maps aren't available city wide yet, but as with Google's satellite imagery, they start in central places (like Center City Philly) and work outward.

    Anyway, Comcast Center. The parcel map still has the outline for the Public Defenders Building, which was cleared in 2002-03 for Comcast Center. The satellite image was taken after its debris was cleared but before the foundation was dug. So, 2004ish. This post would be followed with a Google Earth image, but Google Earth appears to use the same stock for the 17th & Arch area. It does, though, have links added by users to Comcast Center's Wiki and a clickable popup construction photo. Plus Google Sketchup has a fantastic rendering by Lucius Kwok.

    Check out Comcast Center at Google Maps HERE.


    Microsoft's local.live.com was an instant smash and the first serious competitor to Google Maps, which itself blew Mapquest out of the water when it went live. MS seems to be doing a relatively good job of keeping things up to date, but its Comcast Center already needs an update. The picture above is the default overhead satellite shot for the 17th & Arch area, taken in May 2006, judging by our own construction photos.

    Where Local Live has Google beat, though, is of course the rotating birds eye views. These shots were taken prior to the overhead shot, and they vary depending on your zoom level. Observe:

    The southern and northern views (respectively) were taken in roughly November 2005, when the concrete core began to rise. And then . . .

    The west and east (more zoomed in) views were taken around the same time Google's was, post-Public Defenders and pre-construction.

    Zoom in, toggle the views and drag yourself all over Center City at local.live.com HERE.


    Poor Mapquest. Not long ago, there was no one else like this little company that could out of Mountville, on the Susquehanna just west of Lancaster. Though Mapquest grew out of a branch of the RR Donnelley Company in Chicago, mapquest.com wasn't registered until '96 and the revolutionary online mapping system didn't really get going until '98 or so. It was more or less the only game in town until Google Maps shook it up in early 2005. Shake it up it did; Mapquest has all but fallen off the radar now, even as it's finally added its own satellite images. (And anyone who's used its driving directions function will tell you it ain't perfect.)

    Anyway, Mapquest's satellite images are, appropriately enough, the oldest of the bunch. The Public Defenders Building is still here in this picture.


    A while back, we mentioned a Penn State student who is just as into this Comcast Center thing as we are. Except, well, she's being graded for it. And now, we've got a face to go with the name. Cynthia Milinichik is a fifth year architectural engineering student at University Park doing her thesis on Comcast Center.

    Earlier this week, she forewent Cancun for scenic, sunny Center City as her spring break destination of choice. She (above, left) and her sister April made the early morning drive down from Allentown to meet with project managers, tour the site and discuss her thesis, which presents alternative ideas for construction and floorplans. The awesome power of the internet allows her to showcase her thesis under construction. Check it out HERE.

    * * *

    Welp . . . hope you've enjoyed this spell o' spring, cos they say we could get a 3-7 inch blanket o' snow tomorrow. But you know how they are.

    –B Love

  • 15 March 07: St Ides of March

    On this fifteenth day of March 2007, I'd like to turn back the clock fifteen years for a compare/contrast of one man's career. (I should watch what I say because in 1992 I rocked a mean Parker Lewis style.) Anyway yeah, here we are on the Ides of March, looking back to a St Ides March.

    Got my first hangover on St Ides. NOT RECOMMENDED. The Weekly's Jeff Fusco and Eva Liao featured Cube as the Out of Towner when he played the TLA on his first tour in years last May. So what's Ice Cube up to these days?

    Now axe yourself, who's the mack?

    * * *

    Hey, a special Philly Skyline thanks to everybody who blew the roof off our old records for hits the past two days. Apparently the Comcast Center Hard Hat sequel was even better than the first one, as we topped 200,000 hits for the first time each of the past two days. On that idea, today's Philly Skyline Philly Skyline takes one from that series and blows it up all nice and wallpaper like.

    Oh hey, St Patrick's Day is this weekend. A Saturday St Patty's? Bring your buckets. Between now and then though, if you haven't been to the new Darling's Cafe at 21st & Spring -- directly across the street from the back side of the Franklin Institute, the only place in the US to feature the current King Tut exhibit -- right now is the absolute best time to do so. We've always been high on Harry's cheesecake, and he has a tendency to outdo himself with every incarnation, but just look at this one:

    That right there is the Bailey's Irish Cheesecake. Bailey's as an ingredient is not cheap, but Harry says he can't settle for the knockoffs. It's the real deal Philly cheesecake and it's got Bailey's Irish Cream all up in there, and it's St Patrick's week. Do it.

    Be back a little later today with some more observations on Comcast Center and other goings on.

    –B Love

    13 March 07: Fixing a hole: now with Barneys

    Meanwhile, over at 18th & Sansom, they've got the diggin' and the drillin' and the dozin' and the dirtin' and the wet off-white paint that gets on your favorite navy blue spring coat and ruins it without you knowing because they don't have a "WET PAINT" sign. Arrgh!

    Everybody's been wondering where 10 Rittenhouse Square is. It's right here!

    UPDATE: This afternoon, the Philadelphia Business Journal reports that the men's clothing store Barney's has signed on to open its first Philadelphia store at 10 Rittenhouse Square in summer 2008. They're gonna have to warp speed construction if they intend on keeping that deadline. Unless, that is, they build the street wall side of 18th Street first and let them move in as the residential tower in being built. Confirm? Deny?

    –B Love

    13 March 07: And now for today's double feature

    It's Monday Morning and we're lookin' up in two directions: a residential tower emerging from its subterranean roots and an office tower that's already been scraping the sky. Specifically:
  • THE RESIDENCES AT THE RITZ-CARLTON: One of the more frequently asked questions in recent months has been "yo, why don't you have a construction section on the Residences at the Ritz?" The right answer is that we've been waiting for the building to come out of its hole. Literally -- there was a ton of prep work (including the demolition of the existing parking structure) that had to be done before actual construction could begin. And begin it has; effective late last week, the core of the building is now above the surface at South Penn Square and the ground floor has been poured.

    With that in mind, we're happy to begin our own tracking of its progress with the launch of the new Residences at the Ritz-Carlton section, including the quick link on the left. The graphic above takes you to the overview page, and the link on the left takes you to the construction page.

    A special thanks to Diane, Amber and the nice folks at the Residences for sharing some time, info and views with Philly Skyline.

  • COMCAST CENTER HARD HAT TOUR, PT II: Remember if you will back to December 13th. We'd seen two weeks straight of unseasonably warm and clear (and photogenic) days up until I was scheduled to visit the Comcast Center construction site. That's when the clouds rolled in and the misty rain assigned a gray mood to the views from the 33rd floor. Interesting, perhaps, but not something which really took advantage of the views upper floors afford.

    That's where the guys at Madison Concrete came in last Thursday. In celebration of the building's core they'd recently topped out, they brought me on site to make certain those views were clear. They were. The resulting 90 photo essay is broken into its own popped-up gallery with captions.

  • March Madness is following the weather's lead and is heating up: Penn and Nova are in the Big Dance, Philebrity is en route to SXSW, and spring is almost sprung. Rock.

    –B Love