29 October 07: The Possible City
Wondering about Wandering

by Nathaniel Popkin
October 29, 2007

Lending itself perfectly to aimless wandering, Buenos Aires is primarily a city of barrios. For many people, these are Buenos Aires' best sights, more intriguing than most museums, churches or monuments. --Rough Guide to Argentina

Shall we think rigorously about aimless wandering? Inspiring literature, philosophy music, instilling the marvelous expansive feeling of being human, it is, after all, one the great joys -- and strengths -- of the city. You can hike in the woods and feel profoundly small and yet at ease; you can roam a city and feel utterly connected.

In a city of neighborhoods, wandering implies leaving your own comfortable realm and heading out to territory unknown, unexplored, un-encountered. It invites the unplanned, unexpected, unrehearsed, which makes one's world larger and more interesting, one's city richer and ultimately, conversely, after a thousand wanderings, altogether more comfortable.

I wander because I'm curious, because I need to relax, because I want to be stimulated. Philadelphia's intimate streets often oblige -- and they keep going, which pulls me along. And each time the city surprises. Each time it becomes more familiar.

So I know it's rotten, boring, fragmented. Wandering only exposes the worn edges.

Far from "lending itself perfectly" our city of neighborhoods is simply derisive to the idea of leaving the parochial block, of stopping somewhere on the way, of being able to find your way. The result is a place that thinks it is small when, in fact, it is huge; that thinks it is stifling when it might be freeing; that thinks it is homogenous when it is unendingly pluralistic; that defines neighborhood to mean "my neighborhood," never yours. It isn't a city of neighborhoods, rather a bunch of neighborhoods each of which thinks it is the entire city.

That's a problem -- not just because it would be nice if it was easier to wander -- but because ultimately a city has to cohere in order to dazzle.

A neighborhoods plan, therefore, can't be a plan for neighborhoods. Rather it must address the ways the parts of the city fit together to make the whole. And it must invent city-wide responses to shared problems.

I will say this now, lest anyone is confused: our idiosyncratic neighborhoods are a terrific strength, perhaps more intriguing and certainly less polished than Center City. They are charming places with related but discreet histories, with traditions, with life cycles and daily rituals and institutions. We don't want to obliterate authenticity (or fetishize it, for that matter). Instead, we just want to treat each as critical to the whole; the treatments may vary.

The first and best thing we can do for the neighborhoods is make Center City larger. Its current small size -- 3 square miles of the total 135 -- limits its ambition, circumscribes our identity, leads us to think that our city is small. It isn't -- Philadelphia is the 129th largest central city in the world. [source.]

But it is ever-more dependent on what happens in those three square miles. Such a small area simply can't carry one so vast. It's like trying to balance the elephant on top of the pin.

Center City is already growing of course, first by filling in, then by going up, now pushing out. Parts of what used to be South Philly and North Philly and West Philly are now really in practice Center City. We're merely going to put a name on those places -- a powerful brand name, in fact. (Keep in mind there is a difference between the Center City District (CCD) and Center City itself; the CCD already imagines a "greater" Center City but it isn't clear how exactly to translate the current system of assessment, which pays for services and capital improvements, to a much larger and less commercial area. A future installment of the Possible City will propose a fiscal device for doing so.) The strategy implicit is to leverage the success of Center City by physically extending its reach. Merely by growing vertically, even 1,000 feet up, isn't going to do.

I propose to make Norris Street the northern boundary of the new Center City, Morris the southern. Norris to Morris, has a nice ring to it. The east of course is the Delaware. Do we cross the Schuylkill? Given Cira South and Penn Connects, this is already in motion. 48th Street should be the western boundary -- 48th north to Girard, including the Zoo. (University City, as Francisville and Brewerytown and Pennsport, would just be part of the center.) Now, at 12 square miles or so, we've made the center large enough to carry the load.

I want to discuss for a moment the importance of physical scale and connections. Our goal is a city robust enough to be a joy to inhabit, where roaming is rewarded. To make this possible in practice we need to reinforce and redefine connections among places -- it's an act of improving accessibility. The best connector of all is Center City. Imagine Center City as a compass: it points in all directions; small in size it takes you only so far; much larger its capacity to connect has grown substantially -- out into the middle band of turn-of-the-century West Philly to Passyunk Avenue to Strawberry Mansion and up into Kensington.

Readers may question how simply re-labeling something could have real, practical effect. We are re-labeling but we're also applying certain criteria for density, height, parking, transit, lighting, and commercial activity so that the new core becomes just as vital as the current, smaller one. Since most of the expanded area is already growing in population and generally pretty vital, these new criteria are already beginning to be met. A great deal of thought and nuanced planning will reveal how to respect current neighborhood patterns while raising the level of performance.

Others might wonder if this is simply a gentrification plan, designed to make property more valuable; still more are saying here we go again: throwing money at Center City when it's the neighborhoods that need it. Trickle down? Everyone knows that's Voodoo Economics.

Let's bracket those responses for now and assume this bit of surgery has been successful. The center is larger in scale and ambition. It has more resources; it has appropriate signage and lighting; transit is reorganized to enhance new connections -- and critically, transit signage reinforces the new identity with route and neighborhood maps displayed at bus, subway, rail, and trolley stops. Better legibility at the core will alone improve performance (imagine arriving by El at Front and Girard and being able to consult a map).

Urban policy has failed in part because the federal government refuses to fairly distribute income. (In fact, as we know, just the opposite: it loves to exploit and widen the income gap.) State and local governments without the proper resources are therefore forced to redress inequality. They can't -- and yet urban policy has been caught up with that un-winnable proposition for forty years. So when we talk about making neighborhoods better it's assumed we mean crafting a response to poverty. That isn't our task here; rather we're interested in Philadelphia surviving. If it can survive then it is going to make an awful lot of people's lives better and more rewarding.

There are two structural problems we'd better tackle. Everyone knows the first. Guns are killing places as much as people. Homicide is particularly corrosive because it pushes certain families out, including the families of victims, and it builds upon itself, it reproduces: one murder makes a handful more. Once the process begins, watch out! It's like dominoes falling. I don't have the answer to this but to hope that Pennsylvania allows Philadelphia to apply all the resources it can muster. (John Street's response to this crisis is right, on the face of it. Murders as a function of poverty increase during times of a widening gap between rich and poor; there isn't much one can do but push the congress to do its job. On the other hand his whimpering response indicates a lack of confidence in our own ability to respond and an unwillingness to experiment, things I suspect Mr. Nutter will not have to overcome.)

The other structural problem works the same way, only more slowly, and you don't always see it happening. That problem is deferred maintenance. Our row houses are falling down. The first and most critical to go are the corners (you lose the best architecture and the corner store). Now there are hundreds of blocks that look like books on a shelf without bookends. We know what happens eventually. Yet -- yet! -- so much of the city is still intact -- there is still a chance to preserve the traditional fabric, the porches and bay windows, the evocative terracotta and metalwork that give places character and make them worth living in. There is still time. What we need is a carefully-mapped plan to catch blocks before they fall apart, preferably before the corners are lost. My guess is we have five years to intervene at scale. I propose a $10 billion fund (100,000 buildings at $100,000 each) to save, preserve, and renovate. In terms of environmental sustainability, neighborhood improvement, economic development, and fiscal responsibility, there is no more important thing the new Mayor can do.

A fund like that in this city is asking for corruption. Robbery aside, we do need to invent a way to prioritize and leverage the investment we're about to make. This is called asset-based planning. We need to make the most of the (pretty amazing) assets we already have -- parks and other recreation centers, public institutions and cultural centers, and transit infrastructure. If we take a map of the city and circle all of those things and then find the overlap, we'll see where to prioritize the investment of the fund. (Doing so also reverses the current mode, which is to plan strictly from within each neighborhood without seeing the connections.) Let's take an example--Strawberry Mansion.

Here's Fairmount Park, the Coltrane House, the R7 (which doesn't have a stop there but should -- I wonder if it did once?), and Strawberry Mansion High School, altogether a concentration worth leveraging. As a result the park and other institutions become more accessible because their surroundings aren't falling apart; the city a little bit easier and more rewarding to roam.

Are we ready yet? No?

Indeed not. I want to return to something we just touched on -- access to Fairmount Park. Arguably our greatest resource, it's just not getting used enough. Part of the joy of roaming the city is getting into the park; aside from Kelly Drive, the park is accessed primarily by car -- and this makes it seem less accessible, especially to teenage kids who could sure use space to exert some energy. The park, like Center City, is also a connector. Making it more accessible is therefore critical. The best way to increase park use, of course, is to increase the number of people living around it. Beyond that there are a few bus lines that go to the park's edge, but fewer that cross it -- and no rail link (the Strawberry Mansion R7 stop might be useful). This is a subject worth its own investigation, perhaps as Philadelphia attempts to make the most of the renovation of Memorial Hall as the Please Touch Museum.

There's still a bunch of connective tissue missing: that's the commercial avenues. This is also an act of leveraging. Most of these streets and avenues bind neighborhoods -- or in the current form, act as boundaries. Careful investment can heal two or three or four neighborhoods all at once.

No city is worth roaming unless you can come upon a bookstore you've never heard of, or a taqueria or lunch counter or a place to get Vietnamese Hoagies. What's the use? But our neighborhood commercial streets are ragged, unpleasant, and boring. Even North Fifth Street, where you can find a menú del día to knock your socks off (El Bochinche, wow), is oppressively dull and sometimes a little frightening. These places need a combination stewardship, marketing, financing, streetscape improvements, lighting, evening programming, etc. Proper sidewalk lighting is the absolute key -- capable alone of transformation.

You're wondering when I'm going to start talking about places. Enough of the theory, where specifically? Here, in a list, are some key locations. In a subsequent post, I'll carefully (re)consider them, imagining newfound roles for these locations. I will also spend some time thinking about the physical act of getting around Philadelphia. For a grid it sure isn't very legible.

Here's my list:

• Oxford Circle
• Wayne Junction
• North Philadelphia Station
• Kensington and Allegheny
• MCP site
• Lancaster Avenue
• Broad/Snyder/Passyunk
• 52nd Street
• Chester-Woodland-49th to 54th Street

This is a very short list. It doesn't include Delaware waterfront, current Center City or expanded Center City locations -- but it might. I would love it if you would send me currently/potentially powerful locations anywhere in the city, places that right now have big impact -- or could with some careful investment: nathaniel.popkin@gmail.com. I'll add those locations to my list so that we can ultimately match ideas with specific locales.

–Nathaniel Popkin

For Nathaniel Popkin archives, please see HERE, or visit his web site HERE.

29 October 07: In Living Color


This is how East Girard Avenue rises and shines on a Monday in late October. Charlie Brown, William Penn, the driver of a bus full of Fishtown kids and me, we all need a hot cup of coffee to get it rolling. Click it and enlarge it, but don't spoil it with any cream and sugar . . . take it like a man. Black and strong.

A couple heads up here:
  1. This is going to be a short week on yr Skyline, as I'm heading south, way south, to rocky top Tennessee to get some Smoky Mountain soil in my boots. We'll return to regular programming next Monday afternoon. Got a couple things to roll out before then though, so don't stray too far just yet.

  2. Susan Lewis' report on the cleaning of William Penn is now archived on WRTI.org -- it begins exactly 20:00 into it.

  3. Another big Comcast Center update was updated over the weekend update.
Back in a few with some thoughts on birds and bees, fall and trees, steaks of cheese and Johnny B's.

–Johnny B Love

26 October 07: The mishin & the mashin & the fishin' & fashion

Lawda mercy! There are so many items worth two Philly Skyline cents that we're gonna have to make change. At this juncture, there's no sense in pussyfootin' so let's just cut all the foreplay and get bizzy right now.
  1. NIGHTMARE ON BROAD STREET: The Pink Pepto Palace gets its day in the sun (or dark, as it were) in today's Inquirer. As one columnist wittily observed, "If Symphony House is the flagship, dare we imagine what the rest of the flotilla will look like?" It's a pretty amusing piece about a pretty ugly building, and I definitely giggled at the headline. [Inquirer.]

    Relive the glory, and follow through Symphony House's construction HERE.

  2. PENN'S EASTWARD EXPANSION IS OFFICIALLY CALLED PENN CONNECTS . . . and now it has its own web site! If you've seen the booklet, you can appreciate the amount of work that went into the master plan, and the news of Cira Centre South beckons its start. Well now all that work has become interactive and comprehensive, and it will only improve as construction happens. Bookmark it now HERE.

  3. SUGAR HOUSE SUING THE CITY: PURE FUN! Yes, nothing endears you to your new neighbors like suing them. Here at Philly Skyline, we have remained decidedly ambivalent about both casinos, though in weighing the two we tend to think that Sugar House is better than Foxwoods. This is tantamount to saying a bowel movement from grilled cheese and tomato soup is better than a bowel movement from hot wings.

    While casinos have opened elsewhere across the state -- even here in the region at Philadelphia Park in Bensalem and Harrah's in Chester -- these stupid things have dragged out, and rightfully so, as the city, the very place these slot barns would be built, has had zero say in any of it. The state Gaming Control Board -- as useful an organization as the Liquor Control Board (remind me again why liquor stores aren't private? New Hampshire, Wyoming and Utah are the only other states in the entire country that control all wine and spirits) -- says "STFU Philly, you'll eat this casino and you'll LIKE IT." And Sugar House stands behind them pointing their finger saying "yeah! See! Mom says you'll like it! So let us build it!" And instead of turning around and saying "now Sugar House, don't be a brat" the GCB says "Eddie, Philly's not playing nice!" And Eddie just stands in the back and motions with his hand, "It is past time to implement the requirements of the law and to move forward to generate the revenues that will support substantial tax reductions and economic development statewide."

    Feh. This from the state which, oh I dunno, WON'T PUBLISH ITS POLLING PLACES BECAUSE OF FEARS OF TERRORISM. No, really -- it's not The Onion, it's for real. Look: MSNBC and even in the UK: Guardian. (Thanks DMac.) Jesus Christ. You try so hard to look past your home state's commonwealth's shortcomings and embarrassments, but they just keep throwing more of them at you. Maybe they want you to move away. Especially if you have brown skin or habla Español.

    Anyway, Sugar House. Pure Fun is such an insidious slogan that by itself Philly Skyline's casino pendulum is finally swinging, and it's leaning anti-. Full story on 6ABC.

  4. ALSO ON THAT SECTION OF THE RIVERFRONT . . . While Sugar House sues and Yards Brewery moves in and everyone strokes their chin in anticipation of Penn Praxis' final presentation next month, Waterfront Square is already partially built, and it's looking like it's getting ready to be more partially built. They've been saying all year that construction on the next two towers would begin later this year, and it all sounded like hot air. The word now is that contracts have been signed and a shovel will hit dirt next month. This would bring the total to four of Waterfront Square's five planned towers.

    Not unrelated and just next door on Delaware Ave, a metal frame has been erected over the sidewalk in front of Trump Tower's pier which will likely display Trump Tower billboards. Whether or not anything beyond that happens remains to be seen, but considering it's a 44 story tower resting atop a parking garage that takes up the entire pier (yes, it has a garden on top), it'll be interesting to watch since the spotlight is on the Riverfront and since the ballyhooed riverfront study is decidedly anti-parking garage and anti-tower. (Don't try and say it's not . . . it is.)

    [Trump Tower PA.] [Waterfront Square.]

  5. TOWER DEVELOPMENT DID NOT HAVE A TOWER, NOW IT DOES IN FACT HAVE A TOWER TOWER: While we're in Northern Liberties, let's hop across 95 into the actual neighborhood. The Metro's Solomon Leach seems to be the only person to have picked up this story, and for that, I commend you, Solomon and Metro. (I had intended on attending this meeting but wrote it on my calendar as Wednesday instead of Tuesday because I am an idiot.)

    Tower Investments, the official/incorporated name of Bart Blatstein Inc, has tweaked its Schmidt's Brewery site to now include a 27 story tower and 342-space surface parking lot, in addition to the already-planned parking garage and shopping area. Now, Bart has been working with neighborhood groups long enough to know better. People are developing parking lots now, not paving them! Everyone concedes that parking must be addressed -- but I just don't buy that "retailers were cold to the previous plan, which featured residential units over top of the commercial buildings, because commercial parking was too far away." There are two huge supermarkets on South Street (Superfresh and Whole Foods), neither of which has surface parking and each of which accommodates plenty of cars with their garages upstairs. Why not stick to the script and build the fancy Schmidt's parking garage by Erdy-McHenry and just build it next to whatever supermarket -- which is sorely needed and which would be perfectly placed between NoLibs-Fishtown-Kenso -- decides to move in. Why shoot yourself in the foot at this stage -- well after Liberties Walk, One Hancock Square and the Hancock Street buildings -- with a tall tower on the side of the neighborhood where no one wants a tall tower and a surface parking lot? Sheesh.

    We want you to develop the Schmidt's site, Bart -- please be reasonable!

    [Metro.] [NoLibs message board.] [Tower.] [Erdy-McHenry.]

  6. PRIVATE LIES: Nathaniel Popkin has some thoughts on privatization and City Solicitor Romulo Diaz' authorization of a significant ($199,999 to be exact) increase in rent for the local chapter of the Boy Scouts. Read his latest Slant at City Paper.

    Nathaniel also assures me that The Possible City's next entry, on Philadelphia as City-of-Neighborhoods, is forthcoming. (Please also note: The Possible City is being arranged as its own Skyline feature, separate from Nathaniel's regular archives.)

  7. AIA & THE ARCHITECTS BUILDING: It's now confirmed, they are no longer rumors: the Architects Building, at 17th & Sansom, is going condo hotel. Kimpton Hotels has decided to add Philadelphia to its repertoire, creating instant competition for the Sofitel directly across the street. (The Westin at Liberty Place and the Latham are each half a block away.)

    It's an interesting choice, to be sure -- that is one decrepit, crappy building. I worked on the seventh floor there for two years, and I ended up carrying my bike up seven flights of stairs half of the time because the elevators were either not working or were so backed up that by the time one did arrive, there was a line of people waiting to use them, and I wasn't going to be That Guy and jam a bike up in people's areas. Then when the 8th floor was being remodeled directly above my office, there were numerous times I thought I was going to die. But hey, if Kimpton is going to spend the money, good on them. The location kills, and the mosaics in the elevator cabs are incredible.

    No word yet on who will be designing the renovation. You'd think they'll pick an accomplished architect to renovate the Architects Building, or whether the AIA bookstore will remain, or whether they'll keep the unused radio tower (owned by Septa) atop the building. If they can arrange for its removal, the roof would make for a fantastic terrace. There's already one outside the 24th floor, but since they're going to be spending the money anyway, why not add a stairwell or redo the mechanical attic and let customers enjoy the view.

    [Kimpton Hotels.]

    One other note I've been meaning to toss out there for weeks: AIA's annual Design Awards is on display in the rotunda at Liberty Place now, and this weekend is the last chance to visit the display, which includes the 'Centennial Tower' by H2L2. [AIA Philadelphia.]

  8. FALL IS BACK, LET'S GO TO SOUTHWEST PHILLY: Two Sundays ago, Andy Rooney's commentary on 60 Minutes struck home:
    There's been too much hot weather and I'm tired of wearing my summer clothes this fall.
    That's it! There was something tangibly irritating about the neverending summer I couldn't put my finger on; the 800 days in a row of sunny and 80° weather got old, but that wasn't it. The humidity making my keyboard sticky was sucky, but that wasn't it. Then I overheard a conversation down Conspiracy way saying that people tend not to buy cool weather clothes in hot weather. And I looked at myself and I thought, "wow, I've been wearing the same camou cutoffs, Chucks and G-Ho t-shirt since I left that neighborhood almost five months ago. Wow do I need a shower." But that was it -- never mind global warming (which doesn't exist!), never mind the California fires . . . I miss my brown hoodie and blue wool socks.

    Something else Andy Rooney (who, it's worth noting, is still alive) said was:
    I think if we had a vote, fall would probably be most people's favorite season. Some people who like fall call it autumn. I never use the word "autumn." It sounds pretentious.
    He's right. You never hear of autumnal allure when talking about the colors of the season, and if you did, you would fight. No, it's fall foliage here in the northeastern United States. I love Pennsylvania and its neighbors because of the four seasons, and if I can reference Andy Rooney one more time, the peak of these seasons is the peak of the fall foliage. It's so colorful, so memorable, such an inspiration to drop it all and get out. If there's fog, that much better.

    So let's tie this all together. This cold, damp spell we're experiencing is vintage PA fall; it's time to get out and celebrate it. Foliage Network projects that the weekend will be moderate-to-high color this weekend, and the forecast is looking pretty damp. So fall. So good. Where to go? Bartram's Garden, of course.

    Bartram's fall family frolic has kid-friendly stuff with leaves and cider making, but you'll want to go for the foliage tour led by head gardener and Skyline pal Todd Greenberg. The event is all day, but the foliage tour starts at noon and costs $5 for non-members.

    [Bartram's Garden.]

Welp, here's hoping you're having yourself an enjoyable Friday and that you may carry that enjoyment over into a weekend you enjoy.


–B Love

25 October 07: Chester & Soccer: sure, why not

Image by Rossetti

Two admissions right up front: 1. The design of the proposed soccer stadium on the Chester waterfront is pretty amazing. 2. I hate soccer. What can I say, I'm American.

The stunning 20,000 seat stadium tailor made for Major League Soccer is, design wise, on par with the new Wembley Stadium in London and the Beijing Olympic Stadium. Interestingly, it was designed by Rossetti Architects, who also offered up the MLS stadium and sports complex proposal at Rowan University in Glassboro. Apparently the Detroit-based firm is a big proponent of soccer in the Philadelphia region.

While Chester could use the much needed boost of having a soccer stadium on its burgeoning riverfront, my initial reaction to a soccer stadium there is that it would do about as much for Chester as the riverfront attractions do for Camden. Which is to say: not a lot. It's geared toward a suburban audience that does not live in Chester, and there isn't much of a transit option for the proposed stadium. That's appropriate enough inasmuch as, at least in America, soccer is primarily a suburban sport. Yeah yeah, lots of city fields are used by kids' leagues (like Hetzell Field in Fishtown) and/or immigrants (like Jefferson Square in South Philly), but the term "soccer mom" didn't exactly originate from a shopping stroll along the Avenue of the States. Septa's R2 stops at Highland Avenue, about 12 blocks from the stadium's proposed site under the Commodore Barry Bridge. And besides, it's Septa.

But let us suppose an MLS stadium is built. The positioning along the Delaware Riverfront is unmatched by anything along the same shoreline in Philadelphia, and the Barry Bridge Park would grow naturally toward it, creating a promenade between the stadium, bridge and river, which is more than Harrah's can say just upstream.

If this happens, and MLS expects to have the support of its host city, it's imperative that they call the team the Chester Somethings, NOT the Philadelphia Somethings. A team bearing Chester's name would be an immediate boost to the confidence of that city and a source of pride (read: merchandise sales). The New York Jets and Giants play in New Jersey, and I've always thought that is stupid. The people from the Philadelphia region that want an MLS team just want an MLS team . . . they would root for it if it were called the Budweiser Bums.

Everyone wins: Philly soccer hopefuls will get their MLS team. Chester will get an amazing stadium that will instantly bring hundreds of jobs to the city (temporary though they may be -- MLS plays 30 game seasons, so presumably 15 of those would be at home). And Philly will still be the largest city in the country without an MLS team, ha ha! (Phoenix doesn't count, because Phoenix is neither a city nor larger than Philadelphia. F a census estimate anyway.)

A soccer stadium in Chester? Sure, what the hell!

For further reading:

Chester photo essay
Sons of Ben
Rossetti Architects
Funding, warning on soccer stadium [Inquirer]

–B Love

24 October 07: The grand old face of the Plateau

The rebirth, rebranding, relaunch -- call it what you will -- of Philly Skyline, from look to ease to Skinny (yeah, there's that), has dug a surprisingly strong foothold in West Philly, so after a successful, crucial meeting of the minds at the Bubble House and a jaunt up a rainy Lancaster Avenue after dark, a right on Belmont Avenue and a stop on the Plateau likewise named was absolutely necessary.

In 30 minutes with a tripod, a long lens hood, and a perfectly functional Reebok raincoat from Wanamaker's Hecht's Lord & Taylor's Macy's, there may have been two total cars that passed. Nothing else but the pitter patter of a rain that should have been here a month ago and which now looks like it will be here through the weekend, injecting a hue-boost into those Indian Summer leaves which may have otherwise gone brown.

It was very peaceful this evening on the Belmont Plateau.

* * *

The title up above is of course taken from the Meat Puppets song Kurt Cobain and Nirvana helped popularize in the video below. This clip is uncut, unedited footage with stuff cut from what aired on MTV Unplugged. Not unrelated, the portrait film Kurt Cobain About A Son ends its run at the Ritz Bourse tomorrow (Thursday) evening.

–B Love

24 October 07: I got stripes

This is the Federal Detention Center. As prisons go, it's pretty interesting both in its appearance and its location. No barbed wire or razor wire, no watchtower or spotlights. Just a 12 story, white precast concrete building standing unassumingly, smack downtown, on the corner of 7th & Arch Streets.

The building Lil Kim temporarily called home last year was built in 2000 by the Keating Group and designed by Ewing Cole, whose other recent local work includes Citizens Bank Park, a rejected proposal for the President's House site and lots of work on Penn's campus.

The FDC has 628 holding cells, mostly for federal detainees awaiting trial at the Byrne-Green Courthouse across the street, but it also houses some convicted inmates. The two buildings are connected via a tunnel under 7th Street.

As you can see in the Philly Skyline Prison Skyline above, the evening lighting scheme not only keeps an eye out for prisoners trying to squeeze through the tiny windows, but also uses bulbs of varying wattage to produce a unique stripe effect to an otherwise plain white building, and the cornices above reach out to grab what's left of the light shining up to add a lid perpendicular to the other stripes.

Function AND form . . . this jailhouse ROCKS.

–B Love

23 October 07: On Lubert Plaza

by Nathaniel Popkin
October 23, 2007

My expectations for the new Jefferson campus at Tenth and Locust were low. I didn't like the siting of the new Hamilton Hall, the overly restrained, almost meaningless design, or its massing. And yet after walking in circles around the new campus plaza, including a pair of trips through the arcades of the Scott Library, I have to report that the project is a terrific addition to Center City east -- a bolt of much-needed green, air, and dimension to the otherwise unrelenting grid.

Andropogon Associates' design of the new Lubert Plaza is a bright example of what happens when space is effectively carved out of the built environment. Their design adds depth, color, diversity of views, and a variegated palate of materials to the otherwise drab campus area. This capacity for synthesis reflects the program of the Dorrance Hamilton building, which is one of the first centers in the nation for multi-disciplinary medical education.

The landscape design puts many of the strange art and architecture statements in a new light. The Scott Library, particularly, is energized. The 1970 Baroque Revival by Harbeson, Hough, Livingston & Larson* serves as the north portal -- and in fact does so in a classic way. From Walnut Street you have to walk under the arcades to enter the plaza. One of my biggest complaints about the design is that there isn't anything (yet?) going on under the arcade to pull you through it (or to make you linger there). Nevertheless, the plaza's energy is communicated all the way to the front of the Library and vice versa, so effectively that the front of the building on Walnut feels different now, its wide sidewalk all of a sudden appealing.

* - Ed. note: Harbeson, Hough, Livingston & Larson -- H2L2 -- is the subject of a soon forthcoming Philly Skyline spread.

The same can be said for the open space in front of the Kimmel Cancer Center on Tenth Street. Now the ridiculous mounded "hill" has purpose and context. One can imagine sitting on the grass there just to look down on the new plaza. The sleek Modern wall (of Drexel-style orange brick) of the Orlowitz Residence Hall and especially its minimalist clock all of a sudden look refined and sculptural, as their designers intended. Even the prison-like Alumni Hall and Henry Mitchell's Otters, really an unattractive fountain-sculpture, are given appropriate space and context here. Mitchell's much more enticing Winged Ox is given the wonderful sight lines it deserves.

Andropogon had a hell of an assignment to make a motley collection of buildings and objects work in some kind of pleasing -- and elevating -- harmony. The result is a little gift to Philadelphia and a signature space for Jefferson and its father-figure, Dr. Samuel Gross. Though it may in the end be better than the rival Penn's clinical care facility now under construction on Civic Center Boulevard, Hamilton Hall itself disappoints. The curved façade is so reminiscent of the Wills Eye Hospital two blocks away that if you blink you may be unsure which bland new medical facility stands before you.

Readers: the Possible City will return later this week or early next as we reconsider the "City of Neighborhoods."

–Nathaniel Popkin

For Nathaniel Popkin archives, please see HERE, or visit his web site HERE.

23 October 07: The Philly Skyline Record Review:
La Cucaracha by Ween

When Ween signed with Rounder Records earlier this year, Dean Ween made it clear right away that in spite of a shift to a new label, they were still gonna be Ween, balls out:

I always wanted to be on the same label that put out all those early George Thorogood records and now I am!
Well today's the day the Thorogood-Ween foundation is forged, as La Cucaracha is officially released after a good month and a half leak on the internet. For what it's worth, Rounder also releases the surprisingly superb Robert Plant & Alison Krauss collaboration Raising Sand today.

Ween is indelibly one of the bands I associate with my time in Philadelphia, one of my Our Guys music associations, with The Roots and Hall & Oates and the Capitol Years. Yeah, I knew them before I moved here in fall 2000 -- I remembered "Push th' Little Daisies" on Beavis & Butt-head, and The Mollusk was a staple of college nitrous parties -- but I don't think I really got it until my buddy Doug insisted that we go to this surprise show, announced the same day, at Tohickon Tavern on rural Route 611 in Bucks County. There was no stage, just a wide area on one end of the bar with their amps and mics set up to separate the band from the audience. We got there early enough that we were standing so close I could have smacked the cigarette out of Deaner's mouth. It was a heavy and late rocker with a fire hazard attendance that night, and the show is one of their more circulated bootlegs. (Find it HERE.)

With Napster's and Dennis DiClaudio's help, I stocked their back catalog (including The Mollusk that I barely remembered), and (through their own Chocodog Records) they released their first two "official" live sets, Live In Toronto Canada and Live at Stubb's. (Ween never authorized Paintin' the Town Brown's release by Elektra.) Still, though I found Chocolate & Cheese and White Pepper recurring in my rotation, I only felt like a fan because I felt like I had to be. Then they released Quebec in 2003.

Quebec sealed the deal for me, becoming the beloved-in-headphones go-to album I'd hoped to associate with Ween, even as longtime fans derided it for being too commercial or whatever it was their complaint was. I thought it was great, and so did a lot of people. The album opener, "It's Gonna Be A Long Night", a pure Dean Ween song recorded on the heels of his sessions with Queens of the Stone Age, is used all over the place, in TV shows and Tony Hawk video games and at Flyers games over the PA at the Wachovia Center, where Deaner has been a season ticket holder for years. (Though he grew up in New Hope, he went to hockey camp in Minnesota and played with the likes of Mike Richter and Jeremy Roenick.) I saw him at the Wach for the Penguins/Flyers game in fall '05 where Derian Hatcher welcomed Sidney Crosby's debut on Philadelphia ice with a shoulder to the face and where Donald Brashear offered his fondest farewell to Mario Lemieux. It was pretty rad to see Deaner a few sections over when his own song was playing from the rafters.

It's been four years (and three concerts -- two at Penn's Landing and one in AC) since Quebec knocked my socks off, so the summer's Friends EP, released exclusively on Chocodog via ween.com (just like the two live albums, the All Request album they put out right after Quebec, and Shinola, the remastered b-sides record from 2005), was a proper tide-over. (Real) Music critics are always obliged to comment on Ween's "genre hopping" and "embedded humor" which, for the most part, is true. Neither is an inherently bad thing though, and whether the lyrics make you laugh or make you disgusted/offended, the music speaks for itself.

That's why I think La Cucaracha is such a letdown. I mean, there are a few great songs: "Blue Balloon", a mellow Dr Dre-esque keyboard driven pop song; "Learnin to Love", a rock-em sock-em hoedown; "Your Party", a great closer to any album with legendary smooth jazz saxophonist David Sanborn bubbling over the tale of a bubbly-laden party. (There's that genre hopping humor again.) There are tolerable Ween standards that will translate well live: "Sweetheart", which sounds like it could be from Shinola; "Shamemaker", Ween's Dead Milkmen Song; "Woman and Man", which takes forever to build up to its long-ass guitar anthem you just know Deaner will shred live. But the rest of it isn't even that tolerable; it seems unlikely this new record is not going to earn them any new fans, and it doesn't do much to satisfy longtime fans (whether "longtime" means fifteen years or six years or whatever). Why they put a watered down version of "Friends", the fab techno title track from the summer's EP, on this album I really can't tell. If this is the original version, they should have left it at the EP's remix. If this version is for their fans who are rock purists, the keyboards don't do enough to take the song anywhere. "Lullaby" is the customary soft-Gener that's on every album, but unlike Quebec's "I Don't Want It", it doesn't have a killer Gener guitar solo, and unlike C&C's "Baby Bitch", it doesn't get dark or personal. "With My Own Bare Hands" is the biggest disappointment, though. The customary hard-Deaner that's on every album, this one lacks the lyrical punch of "It's Gonna Be A Long Night" and "Stroker Ace" (the line "I'm gonna be your lawnmower and cut your fuckin' grass" is way more typical of Deaner's hand than "she's gonna get her masters degree in fuckin' me"), and the riff is just all right.

In the rundown of the Ween catalogue, La Cucaracha is definitely on the lower half. Maybe part of my disappointment is that this is the product of four years' work. But, the Friends EP and unreleased live standards like "Leave Deaner Alone" and "Final Alarm" fit the bill nicely, and you just know the live show will make up for it. They play the Tower Theatre on Saturday, November 24th. (Wonder if Septa's weekend closures will be finished by then, so you can actually, I dunno, take the El to 69th Street for the show.) And hey, Ween.com recently offered a consolation prize of outtakes from the Mollusk, recorded downtheshore at Long Beach Island in '97, which a Ween forum member graciously stored online HERE.

Oh, Ween! La Cucaracha or not, I'll see you guys in Upper Darby.

–B Love

22 October 07: Ouch, or,
Yr Comcast Center Quarterly

We shan't make more than a mention of that . . . episode at Lincoln Financial Field last night. Matter of fact, there isn't much football (or any non-baseball) sports talk on yr Philly Skyline, and that's fine. But coming into the season, the date was circled for the 10/21 Bears/Eagles game, just because it could have been an exciting game between two elite NFC teams. Yeah, real exciting: seven field goals took care of all the scoring between the 2-3 and 2-4 teams until the last 10 minutes of the game. Anyone watching saw Andy Reid being Andy Reid and an inexplicable Elway-like 97 yard, no timeout drive led by Brian freaking Griese, and those who weren't watching don't care. (An aside: this game runs my Eagles record to 1-4 now . . . I am considering never again attending ANY Philly sporting events.)

But there it was, and here it is, your Monday Morning Philly Skyline Philly SkyLinc, Reggie White edition. (Here is the segue from football.) As you can see, Comcast Center looks pretty good basking in the twilight (the same twilight of the Good Eagles Era?) from a killer sunset passing over the Linc and dipping below the horizon behind the Girard Point Bridge.

The crane atop Comcast Center's days are numbered now, as pretty much all major equipment has already been lifted and installed. It's there now to lower leftovers back to the ground, and its target removal date is November 7th, but that can change with wind and weather. This will happen not by helicopter, as I'd once thought (and as Cira Centre's was removed), but by a heavy derrick that will be installed on top with the help of the crane, and then the derrick itself will be dismantled and removed via freight elevators. The derrick will lower the boom (the long arm of the current crane) along Arch Street, where it will be disassembled and removed by trucks. Once the crane is dismounted, the water of the liquid mass damper can be installed. As well, tracks will be installed to support the window washing device that will be similar to Cira Centre's, but whose boom will not be visible except from the top of the building.

This week, the one remaining worker hoist (on the west side of the building) will be removed, and glass panels will be zipped up the side, the last of the glass to be installed on the tower. Also this week, the darker squares dotting the glass walls -- individual panels whose glass either cracked or broke -- will be replaced. All told, there are only 20 panels on the building in need of repair, a pretty impressive number considering how many panels it takes to dress a 57 story, 975' building.

As always, our Comcast Center construction section is up to date with a set of weekend photos. If the Eagles don't suit your fancy (and why would they after last night), please enjoy this Philly Skyline Foliage Skyline shot, taken with a full belly outside the MoGlo. And as a reminder, stay up on your fall foliage colors at foliagenetwork.com; the colors are just starting locally, but they'll be peaking before you know it. Plan accordingly.

–B Love

19 October 07: Inside William Penn's head

Three hundred twenty-five years ago this month, the son of British Royal Navy Admiral William Penn -- also named William Penn -- arrived at the mouth of the Delaware River two months after departing from Deal, England, about 80 miles east of London. Three hundred twenty-five years later, we still care. What other city in this country has such a close relationship with its founder?

While there is no doubt that William Penn came here to claim the land given to (and named for) his father as payment on a debt owed him by King George II, he was genuinely a man of peaceful ideals, a true Quaker. In setting up this new colony, he drafted the Frame of Government of Pennsylvania, in many ways a precursor -- or at least inspiration -- to the US Constitution we know today. Its first article protected personal rights and encouraged religious freedom, the latter of which helped early Pennsylvania growth, as the 17th century was a time of great persecution in Europe. As well, Penn was fully cognizant that the Lenapes were here first, and because of his peaceful beliefs, he wanted to develop his colony through trade and business, not by force and warfare. Thus, the famous treaty at Shackamaxon -- modern day Fishtown -- toward which the statue of Penn atop City Hall faces.

City Hall's location at the crossing of Broad and Market is intentionally symbolic; the crossing of Broad and Market Streets is the center of the original plan for Philadelphia by Penn and his surveyor Thomas Holme, who laid out the street grid, the first of its kind in America. Five public squares were, like the 5 on dice, symmetrically kept across the green country towne to "keep the city healthy" and to prevent widespread fires. The four outer squares are still well used and (mostly) beloved as Rittenhouse, Logan, Washington and Franklin Squares. The fifth, Centre Square, was the largest square. By the time of the Civil War, Philadelphia's city government had outgrown its space in the City Hall adjacent to Independence Hall, so in 1870, the city approved the construction of a new civic building on Centre Square. Designed by John MacArthur in the ornate French Second Empire style to be the tallest building in the world, City Hall took thirty years to build, and by the time it was finished, architecture's evolution had rendered Second Empire passé, and both the Eiffel Tower and Washington Monument were built and were taller.

Still, City Hall was the tallest habitable building in the world when it opened, and it's still both the largest municipal building in the country and the tallest masonry-supported building in the world. It's also got the tallest statue to adorn the top of any building in the world. That 37' statue of William Penn was of course designed by Alexander Milne Calder, father of Alexander Stirling Calder (designer of Swann Fountain in Logan Circle) and grandfather of Alexander "Sandy" Calder (pioneer of the mobile sculpture). It seems unlikely that Penn would approve of such a monument, as the celebration of man is unquakerly.

But we love him, don't we?

The first cleaning of the Penn statue was undertaken in 1983 for the tricentennial of his arrival and when he was still tallest in the city, right before the gentleman's agreement to not build taller than him was broken by Willard Rouse's One Liberty Place. The cleaning was handled by Moorland Studios of Stockton, New Jersey. Moorland's preservation studio carried out the task with such quality and precision that they were brought back in 1996 for another cleaning, and then again last month. Undertaken by the city Department of Public Property's Public Art Division, in partnership with the Preservation Alliance of Greater Philadelphia, this latest cleaning of William Penn is in many ways the culmination -- the icing on the cake -- of the physical cleaning of City Hall, ongoing now for at least seven years.

Headed by Constance Bassett and David Cann and carried out by three brothers from Hebron, New Hampshire, Moorland Studios uses a custom wax mixed with a pigment to match the original bronze, applies it with fine paint brushes and then fires it with propane torches. Moorland's portfolio includes a three foot bronze sculpture from Pompeii and partial work on the Statue of Liberty, but Cann says that the Penn sculpture is their biggest single job.

The work is finishing as we speak and the scaffolding, which is mounted in the public observation deck, will be dismantled over the next couple weeks. City Hall's observation deck will reopen immediately after that.

On Monday, I paid a visit to Billy Penn and the Moorland team at work with City Hall tour director Greta Greenberger, city Public Art Director Margot Berg, and WRTI's Susan Lewis, whose report for the program Creatively Speaking will air Saturday morning at 11 on WRTI, 90.1 FM.

There are 72 photos in this set -- of Billy Penn, of the team cleaning him, of the views he regularly enjoys -- which you may launch by clicking

A thousand thank yous to Margot, Moorland, and especially Greta, which you can't spell without "Great"!

For more information, please visit these resources:

Virtual City Hall (by the Dept of Public Property and City Hall tours)
WRTI's Creatively Speaking
Moorland Studios
Tom Gralish's photos of William Penn for the Inquirer

–B Love

19 October 07: So long, Sands

Matt Johnson text messages live from Atlantic City: [The implosion of the Sands was] pretty awesome, much more interesting than Pennsylvania Hall. Matt was more man than I when that last piece of West Philly's forlorn Civic Center was imploded last year, and he definitely stepped up for this one. Frankly, I think all implosions should be this fun: at night with fireworks and booze and lots of attention. Who is even awake at 7 o'clock on a Sunday, anyway?

Matt has been kind enough to share his video of last night's Sands implosion, pieced together from his excellent photos.

18 October 07: Streaking pollutions

Symphony House's diarrheic explosion of pastels out of the south end of the Avenue of the Arts has added splashes of hot pink, magenta and orange to complement its Pepto pink upstairs as the Suzanne Roberts Theatre is prepared for showtime. The Theatre's sign is actually pretty cool looking -- the unique lettering is seven hundred times better than the mistral font they used or the renderings.

This Sunday, the Philadelphia Theatre Company will host an open house that includes the official ribbon cutting ceremony at 1 o'clock, emceed by longtime Skyline pal Pat Ciarrochi of CBS3, followed Monday night with the first performance there:
An evening of word and song drawn from Tony Award-winner Terrence McNally's best known works (some you may know are Kiss of the Spider Woman, Master Class, and Love! Valour! Compassion!) and performed by the Broadway stars who brought those works to life.
For more info, visit the Philadelphia Theatre Company's web site HERE.

* * *

Since yesterday was pretty well dedicated to the Port Richmond riverfront and our readers' excellent interpretations therein, we missed a regular Hump Day Umpdate, so consider this Thirst Day rundown of Casual Observations a belated umpdate, or bumpdate. Shall we? Let's.

  1. OLD MEN RIVER: Speaking of the Port Richmond riverfront, all 200+ Conrail acres of it, it is but one piece of the big-ass puzzle that is Penn Praxis' central riverfront study, which you may have recently read about in nearly every single media outlet in the city, but let's go with KYW 1060, whose news piece includes a Totally Awesome aerial photo of Penn's Landing.

    PlanPhilly.com, by far the best thing to come out of the study to date, has the rundown of Praxis' presentation to the City Planning Commission, including the continuing spar between Praxis and attorney Michael Sklaroff and Craig Schelter, a consultant representing the owner of the Cramps Shipyard site (which is adjacent to the Conrail and Anderson sites). Also at the meeting, the Congress for New Urbanism (whose national conference was here earlier this year and which included a lecture by James Howard Kunstler) offered their endorsement of Praxis' plan, and Philadelphia Industrial Development Corporation (PIDC) lobbied to keep large swaths -- like Conrail in Port Richmond -- industrial.

  2. CIRA SOUTH'S PARKING GARAGE IS ENORMOUS, ENORMOUSER THAN THE POST OFFICE BUILDING WHICH IS BEING CONVERTED INTO THE IRS'S OFFICES: With all the riverfront talk, we shan't forget Ms. S, who has written extensively on the matter. Her most recent post, though, deals specifically with the parking garage tossed into the otherwise great looking Cira Centre South. Said post includes two new renderings of the project, one of the garage itself (presumably from the 30th Street -- rear -- side) and one of the entire Cira South project with the garage in it, positioned to not show the Amtrak moat between the project and Schuylkill Avenue.

    I agree with Inga's criticism of this: if Cira South is to be heralded as the icon of the marriage between University City and Center City, it blows its chance to be iconic with an icon, be it in the form of a stepped plaza facing Center City with sculptures or a series of foot bridges that serve the same purpose. Penn's eastward expansion and Cira South specifically represent bringing the two areas together, yet in the very spot, the physical representation of the ideological concept, there is literally nothing, and that is no good.

    That something like a plaza or a series of bridges is cost prohibitive doesn't jibe. Cira South is an $800M project, and there are plazas over infrastructure in several places in Philadelphia, let alone the rest of the country (Boston, DC, New York). At the $800M point, what's a few mil more to build a plaza?

    It's nice that the garage has a green roof with public access and views of Center City (that will be dominated by the Big White Ugly, 2400 Chestnut), but why on earth is there a need for over 2,000 spaces when the entire region's rail hub is one block away??? Amtrak. New Jersey Transit. R1, R2, R3, (there is no R4,) R5, R6, R7, R8. The El. The 10, 11, 13, 34 and 36 trolleys. Every single one of them passes through 30th Street Station.

    Speaking of green roofs . . .

  3. HEY BROAD & WASHINGTON, WHERE YA BEEN? Why, it's been right here on Phillyblog all along! Thanks to a heads up from Dr G, we now know that the Broad & Washington project has been retooled and reoriented. Now, its two towers are 31 stories and 295' tall, with a giant plaza facing Broad Street (instead of angled toward the corner) and which leads into a shopping mall that developer Sammy Benakmoume describes as a "Center City King of Prussia". Considering how well the last version of this project went over the Hawthorne Empowerment Coalition (Hawthorne's civic association), he may want to reword that. There's a reason King of Prussia Mall is in King of Prussia and that the Shops at Liberty Place is small and has the turnover it does.

    Still, it's hard to argue that this latest version is not significantly better than the last. The shopping complex will have a green roof that's open to the public, a plus for a neighborhood lacking in green space. Broad & Washington deserves a better fate than the once-a-year-at-most Cirque du Soleil tent, and this . . . it is better.

  4. YARDS BEER, AT HOME IN PHILADELPHIA ON THE NORTHERN LIBERTIES RIVERFRONT: Boy, we keep coming back to the Delaware River, don't we? Daily News beer man Joe Sixpack reports in his blog Beer Radar that Yards founder Tom Kehoe, whose recent breakup with his partners Bill & Nancy Barton left him looking for a new home to brew Yards beer, has found that home at 901 N. Delaware Avenue. That's directly across Penn Street from Waterfront Square, directly across Delaware Ave from the site of Bridgeman's View Tower, and dolly cart distance for delivery men dropping off barrels at Standard Tap, 700, Deuce and the like. HOORAY (PHILLY) BEER!

  5. THE SOLID STRUCTURE OF SANDS WILL BE BLOWN TO BITS AFTER ALL: Pinnacle Entertainment's big plan to implode the Sands was hit with an eleventh hour lawsuit to hold up that implosion, and the AC judge who heard the case LOL'd it right out of court. The implosion happens at 9:30pm sharp, so you still have time to hit the AC Expressway or catch the AC line from 30th Street. The Sands is at Pacific & Indiana, so I'd recommend finding one of the many nearby parking garages and heading to the top floor. The Press of Atlantic City has the whole scoop, including a diagram of how the implosion will work.

  6. DAVID ALLEN, RIP: Finally, a bit of sad news on the Skyline today. Long time reader Paul in Skippack informed me earlier this week that David Allen passed away in Coatesville last week. David operated the Magical Mystery Flights hot air balloon center in Chester County. Paul brought this to my attention in July, when we asked for the best faraway views of the skyline. David told Paul that from a ChesCo balloon on a clear day, one could see not just Philly, but Reading and even Three Mile Island. We were in the early stages of arranging a ride, but sadly, David's time here is through. The Inquirer has a nice obituary written by Sally Downey with a great photo by Alen Malott HERE.

Another friendly reminder here that it is William Penn Welcome Week, celebrating the 325th anniversary of Billy Boy touching down in this "New World." Keep up with the events at ushistory.org, and check back right here tomorrow for a new photo essay featuring the 37' tall man himself.

To wrap things up, a Philly Skyline non-Billy Skyline taken this morning as the sun was trying to kill the fog (and birds) down in Franklintown Park. It did kill the fog, but not before one more update over Comcast Center way. Holler.

–B Love

18 October 07: Ostentatious frippery, or,
I've been watching you watching me

Blink your foot-and-a-half wide eyes and it's Thursday already. Time flies when you're getting a wax job that takes a staff of five people. And other ridiculous mêmes.

But for serious. Two very brief Slick Willie Penn items that must be mentioned this morning:
  1. Kudos and thanks to Mark from Fishtown who put the historical hammer down: on Tuesday, I'd mentioned "the fellow for whom our entire state is named" . . . Well, this is incorrect. Though William Penn obviously and most certainly did set his feet on this new(-to-him-and-the-English) soil, and he (supposedly) did sign a peaceful treaty with the Lenni Lenapes at Shackamaxon, and he is pretty well the most historic personality in our state's history (sorry Ben), Pennsylvania ("Penn's woods") is actually named for his father, navy admiral William Penn, to whom King Charles II deeded the land to pay a debt owed from a prior loan.

    So to recap: William Penn Senior is who Pennsylvania is named for; William Penn Junior is just the one who made it all happen and is on top of City Hall. Regret the error, and thanks Mark.

  2. That brings us to: William Penn's Welcome Week continues as we speak. It's been 325 years since the ship Welcome touched down on the shores of the Delaware River, and Philly is a-celebratin' with lots of really interesting interpretive programs inconveniently scheduled during standard work hours. This morning, for example, a presentation on Lenape culture is scheduled for 11am at the American Swedish Historical Museum in FDR Park. (The Swedes, you'll recall, were settled in Philadelphia a good 50+ years before Penn arrived, hence the blue and yellow of the city's flag.)

    Check out the full list of events at ushistory.org.
Philly Skyline's own William Penn celebration, appropriately, will find us sharing his view up in the middle of the Philly Skyline. The whole set of photos will be live tomorrow morning. You'll note in the photo above that Billy is decidedly not enjoying the view of Comcast Center behind him; too bad, as one of the biggest and best single updates of our Comcast Center section is now live, as well as those for Murano and Residences at the Ritz-Carlton.

Finally, this 'ere Philly Skyline Rick Mariano Skyline. Look out below!

–B Love

17 October 07: And now, readers' thoughts
on the Port Richmond riverfront

About a month ago, CDoc and I went for a spin across the fascinating Delaware Riverfront land in Port Richmond that was once home to warships, coal dumpers and railroad cars belonging to Conrail, who still owns the mostly dormant land. With a comprehensive riverfront development study already under way (and lined up for a November 14 release to the public), it's interesting to consider that there is an over 200 acre contiguous parcel ready for its next generation of use.

When I called Conrail to find out more information on the history of the land and Conrail's plans for it, I was told, "nobody here has the time to have a dialogue about the business of the property with some blog* . . . to be honest, if you were with the Inquirer, it might be different." Oh yeah? Well to be honest, if you were still Pennsylvania Railroad, you would have sold that land for a large profit long ago, because everyone knows that railroad empires were built on real estate, not on trains. Ooooh, no he didn't!

(* - Philly Skyline is a web site, not a blog, but that's really neither here nor there.)

Anyway, that's where Philly Skyline's readers stepped up to bat. We wanted to hear what you would do with the land if it were up to you. Ergo, here are some of your ideas:

  • JI FROM NEWTOWN, BUXCO: I would like to see a very large residential project, yet no rowhomes. Condo towers, upscale townhomes, and i think individual homes might be a little out of place, but maybe not. Everyone wants to live on the river and it will attract many white-collared jobs. Philly needs as many people and homes as she can get now. Also retail space with big name companies. However I do not wanna see big box stores like that in So. Philly or the suburbs. Give it character and let it be unique. Also maybe a large skate park or some community spot, with a river walk.

    * * *

  • TIM FROM ROXBOROUGH: What if a developer were to build a green multi-use neighborhood right on the water. Nothing too complicated or showy, but a community that consists of a sustainable design (solar panels, green materials, reusable water, etc.).

    Philadelphia has a model infrastructure for these types of investors (walkability, public transportation, etc.). Maybe some nice condos/townhomes with offices, stores, and restaurants would be a good fit. It's a little bit of everything and it will be built right. If it also had a new city park it would be a winning combination.

    * * *

  • ADAM FROM PHILLY: How about something like Seattle's Gas Works Park? That way it would be low impact, open green space, but you could still preserve some of the history and existing structures.

    * * *

  • VINNY FROM SOUTH JERSEY: Make it into one gigantic recreational mecca. Not so much of an amusement park, just an awesome park. Simply call it, "Port Richmond on the Delaware."
    •Riverside cafés with riverside dining, with waitresses in roller skates
    •Free boat docking for those who wish to come and go by boat
    •Ferry service to Penn's Landing
    •Ice skating rink
    •Ice hockey rinks
    •Basketball courts
    •A current drive-in movie theater
    •Jogging/bike riding trails
    •Outdoor amphitheater
    •Outdoor rock climbing structures
    •A free open air trolley (San Francisco style) for easy transportation through the park
    •A fishing pier
    In one selected area I say KEEP some of the graffiti splattered ruins that still stand because it would give great character to another skate park that philly deserves (after having Love Park taken away and the Franklin's Paine skate park in no sight of being started), and maybe possibly for a paintball competition field as well.

    Maybe include some riverfront housing with docks.

    Make at least 80 percent of the actual river front public open space. it would be a real gem, with a great view.

    * * *

  • NATHANIEL FROM BELLA VISTA: One really is tempted to leave it the fuck alone. And bringing the grid down, in this case, seems like a mistake, a misreading of that particular site. Do we need it to be ruins? Maybe not that either.

    * * *

  • ANDREW FROM MOUNT AIRY: In looking at this location in your photos, I think it looks great the way it is. I think the Coal Dumper should be preserved in some fashion. Last year, my wife and I visited San Francisco, and went to the Fort Mason Center. This is a collection of old military buildings on the Bay that have been converted to commercial use. There's great views of the bay and the Golden Gate Bridge, with a marina right next to it (appropriate, since it sits right next to the Marina District neighborhood). Now [in Port Richmond], unfortunately, except for the Coal Dumper, there's no buildings to reuse. But you could certainly build similar type buildings and create a very similar experience.

    1. Turn the Coal Dumper into a skate park. I'm sure the thing needs some major repair and stabilization, though. And since I'm not a skateboarder, maybe it's not real feasible, or very safe.

    2. Create a Museum of Post-Industry. Preserve the basic Dumper structure, and link this site to the Peco Substation just up the river by a biking/walking path. The Museum could be housed in the substation, or another building, and would have displays of how industry came and went, and the effect that had on the people, the land, and the river.

    3. Reuse the site for some kind of maritime/port use. Could he food distribution center move there? Some other port facility?

    4. The site would make for a fantastic world corporate headquarters building; instead of a skyscraper, however, the building would rise only about 6-7 stories, but conform the riverbank and piers.

    5. The views are pretty stunning, so of course some kind of residential development would work.

    * * *

  • STEVE FROM TEMPLE: The site is massive for a reason. The Reading Company operated both their rail and ship services from this massive railyard / dock. Given the historical context of the place, it is clear that the grid should NOT be marched all the way to the river at this parcel; but it is also too vast for any one solution.

    A walkway should be constructed along the riverfront. But the Port Richmond parcel also includes several piers and large-scale ruins. In Northern Liberties, many of the condo projects lie on the solid piers, the ones that had warehouses on them in another time. The Port Richmond parcel has opportunity like Penn's Landing, but that property is a grand testament to mismanagement.

    Anything that is done to the Port Richmond parcel must respect its railroad heritage. Placing a Reading steam engine on permanent display would certainly help.

    But my proposal ultimately is: instead of a merciless grid, place a fan of streets along selected rail alignments; a park that includes a lovers' lane (à la the one behind the Waterworks) along the riverfront, a large retail development (not big boxes) along Delaware Avenue shielding a parking garage, and medium-height residential structures (20-30 stories) along the fan pattern elsewhere. To break up monotony, these buildings should be designed by separate architects, and have wildly divergent façade patterns, running the gamut from 19th-century industrial Goth to postmodern ornamentation. Finally, a large station should be built along the old Pennsy line that services as the LRV, and we should immediately look into uses of the old viaduct and embankment system leading up to the parcel as either a new R line of some sort, or as a greenway rail-trail leading through the heart of the city. Include a modern police station, as well as a pedestrian overpass over Delaware Ave, perhaps as part of the station.

    From the river, the complex would be a delightful cacaphony of buildings in different styles with a ten-to-twenty story height difference. Perhaps a large commercial tower can be built there, too; along with improvement inland at least as far as Aramingo Avenue, the entire Port Richmond neighborhood can be greatly improved.

    * * *

  • MARK FROM PORT RICHMOND: I live within one block of this land on Lehigh. I think the common mistake is to assume that all land must be developed so it can be used , but it doesn't have to be. The worst ideas are to build houses or buisnesses on the land. I don't think the Pinnacle would have been a better site.

    First: It could be redeveloped into marshland/wildlife sanctuary, assuming it was marshland a long time ago. Mixed in could be some areas that are park-like with boardwalks to walk through the marshland. This would help clean up the contaminated sites around the area. Once this area is converted it would be low cost to keep in shape as it wouldn't formally be a park. Biologists and environmentalists could be recruited from local universities to maintain the area. Money to convert it to marshland could come from the federal government.

    Second, they could make a river walk area like they did with the area on the Schuykill River in Center City. Along this river walk could be a river boat that could take one across to New Jersey. Along with the river walk they could keep the rest of the land as is and let the dirt bikes and people enjoy the area as they do now. It could be a mix of dirt bike trails and walking trails.

    Next, build greenhouses mixed in with the wildlife sanctuary to produce fruits and vegatable. The greenhouses could be run by the Philadelphia school of agriculture so it would be low cost and the wildlife sanctuary part could be run by the local universities. There would be virtually no cost or minimal cost to the city government. Lastly, build a river walk with a giant free arboretum run by local university.

    Ed. note: these ideas are good independent of one another, but it seems unlikely that motorized dirt bikes and an environmental sanctuary could peacefully coexist; it would probably have to be one or the other.

    * * *

  • ZUR FROM ZURLAND IN THE GREAT NORTHEAST: Zur here. I was really interested in the Port Richmond Thunderdome series. I used to drink 40s in the 90s down there.

    What a wonderful opportunity to bring some much needed green space into the tight confines of Port Richmond/Fishtown. I would like to suggest a two-fold plan:
    1. Parcel land for use for high/medium density towers and retail on the 95 side.
    2. Use the revenue from the land to build a massive open-use park.
    A key missing point is the current plan for Petty's Island, directly across the River from the site. Pennsauken is committed to returning Petty's Island back to a greener state. It's currently a nasty CITGO transfer station. It would be a shame to not fully utilize what could be a large "park" that would span the river.

    Design notes:

    A. Delaware Avenue must be extended through the plan to allow for full use of the area and to remove the large amount of traffic that currently uses Richmond St. to connect farther north with State Road.

    B. Transit could be possible up through the current train lines allowing a connection with the MFL line. I love the 15 but it is not as effective as the MFL. This could just be a bus in the planning stages. Possible a test bed for some hybrid/electric due to the short length.

    Ed. note: This is GREAT! The Huntingdon el station could have some sort of walkway -- moving sidewalks like in airports? -- that leads the pedestrian across Lehigh Ave onto the viaduct, where a shuttle will take you all the way to the Conrail land.)

    C. High/Medium density residential and or commercial. This is a must for the plan to be feasible. The city cannot afford to just build a large park. Some sponsor must be found. A developer would jump at the chance to use this much land with tax breaks and the city could impose restrictions on design and demand that a certain percentage be used for open space. Low density would prohibit the amount of available open space due to the amount of roads needed.

    Two examples that could be used as models: New York's South Street Seaport plan and Chicago's Lake Point Tower, where architects requested more height to provide more park space. If you want a park -- which I think is almost a requirement for this area of the city -- this is the way to get it and to make it a landmark.

    * * *
    So there we are. Conrail's land in Port Richmond, 200+ acres of potential, envisioned by Philadelphians who see it as more than an underused, post-industrial wasteland wedged between I-95 and vacant piers. A big Philly Skyline thanks to everyone who participatd.

    –B Love

  • 16 October 07: This week, Pick Penn

    Hey Billy, looks like you've got a Curse up yr nose . . . Here, let me get that for you.

    This intimate moment with our city's peaceful founder may also be considered a preview of Philly Skyline's next marquee event in Coming Attractions, a (photographic) conversation with the fine folks of Moorland Studios, who are cleaning, waxing and firing the William Penn statue atop City Hall. By the end of this week, he'll have a sheen he hasn't seen since baseball All Star Games were played at The Vet. The photos from this awesome opportunity will be up by the end of the week. When I was starting to head back down to solid ground, I ran into the Inquirer's Tom Gralish, who was on his way up. You can check out his efforts on the front page of today's paper, or sample his gallery HERE. While you're at it, don't forget to check his blog Scene on the Road.

    But back to the fellow for whom our entire state is named: how well do you know William Penn? As the guy who's pissed at us for Liberty Place, dooming our sports teams because of it? As the guy from Quaker Oats? As the guy under the elm tree with the Lenapes in Shackamaxon Fishtown?

    Well, now's your chance to expand on that foundation. In honor of the 325th anniversary of William Penn's arrival in the land deeded to him as payment to his father for a debt owed him by King Charles of England, this week has been declared William Penn Welcome Week, and events are being held across the city to commemorate the occasion.
    To celebrate Penn's arrival in the Philadelphia area in 1682, exhibitions, family activities, displays, lectures and programs are presented to engage and delight adults and children. Participating organizations include the American Swedish Historical Museum, Arch Street Friends Meeting House, Atwater Kent Museum of Philadelphia, Christ Church, City Hall Tours, Historical Society of Pennsylvania, The Lower Merion Historical Society, Pennsbury Manor, and Stenton.
    This evening at 6, the Atwater Kent Museum hosts The Continuing Relevance of the Wampum Belt, a look at that item's significance in treaties between white settlers and the native inhabitants. The wampum belt the Lenni Lenapes gave to Penn is currently on display at the Museum.

    For all the details, including a list of programs and events, check out the always-great ushistory.org.

    –B Love

    16 October 07: Murano time

    In June 2004, I was this close to moving to Montréal. It ended up falling through and I stayed here, ultimately building and refining the Philly Skyline you know today. Before that happened though, I headed north to that French speaking Canadian city that in a lot of ways reminds me of Philly to visit friends, eat some poutine, drink a pint or ten of Boréale Rousse and take in an Expos game in their last season there. (They beat the Phillies 5-2 on a rainy Tuesday night on which a whole 4,560 people other than myself and my friends were interested in baseball.) I took Amtrak to Montréal in 2000, but for this trip, I wanted to do a little more exploring (Québec City is a short drive away, and depending on your route, the Adirondacks and Vermont are on the way), so I rented a car from Budget at 21st & Market. It wasn't more than a couple months after I dropped the car that they locked the doors for good and D'Angelo Bros demolition brought in its wrecking ball to clear the way for Murano.

    Murano has the distinction of being one of the handful of major condo proposals to actually come to fruition, and of the ones built or being built (Symphony House, Residences at the Ritz-Carlton, 10 Rittenhouse Square, Waterfront Square), it's hard not to think that, at least aesthetically speaking, it is by far the most attractive of the bunch. Murano also had a head start on the other ones in that its builders, P&A Associates, found success in the St James apartment tower, built just ahead of the condo explosion.

    Architects Solomon Cordwell Buenz took what was successful at the St James -- big concrete, subtle curves and a functioning decorative crown (housing the HVAC and other mechanical units) -- and made it better at Murano. The thick concrete spandrels are incrementally revealed four floors at a time, breaking up any monotony that might have come from the handsome blue glass curtain wall. The name Murano, not coincidentally, is borrowed from the Italian town famous for its glasswork.

    Murano's one major downside is, like the St James' one major downside, its parking garage. The St James' garage hulks a full ten stories over 8th Street before the residences begin above it, while Murano separates the garage altogether, placing it on the back side of the building (which is fine), but leaving no room for anything but parking and cars on 21st Street -- directly across the street from Commerce Square's existing (and loud, obnoxious) garage. As well, there's no access to it from the elevated JFK Boulevard that is so close to the garage that Murano's construction trailers basically butt right up against it.

    As it's risen over the past eighteen months, Murano has nestled itself up on the skyline against the twin towers of Commerce Square, sharing the western end of the classic views from the south (think stadium complex), southwest (think South Street Bridge) and northwest (think Art Museum steps or the Plateau). On that western end, the 43 story tower looks intentionially stunning at dusk, when the setting sun has 180° worth of building to glint its light off of.

    Like any good residential tower in an urban core, it has retail space along its ground level, but in Murano's case, it won't be a gourmet food store and a Starbucks; there's a Trader Joe's next door and half a dozen Starbucks within 60 steps. Murano is instead looking for a single tenant to fill the 9000 sq ft of retail space, and the popular rumor has either Mercedes Benz or Audi taking the call. It wouldn't be a car dealership, it would be a car boutique. Plus it would bring the former Budget Rent-a-car space back at least semi-circle, appropriate enough for the semi-circular building.

    The latest in the series of Hard Hat Tours finds us on top of Murano, bright and early this past weekend. A special thanks to my neighbor and friend Bobby for making the arrangements and for my brother-in-law Joe for making the introductions. Yr Philly Skyline Murano Skyline is just below, or you can

    For more on Murano, visit its official web site HERE.

    –B Love

    15 October 07: Wach-uh Wach-uh Wach-uh

    Big shout to my man HughE today, as he reports on Philly Chit Chat that Wachovia hasn't given up on its plans to replace One South Broad's iconic "PNB" with its corporate logo. It was about two years ago or so that they installed a test W right on top of the PNB, and it looked ridiculously stupid. The zoning notice, according to HughE, indicates that Wachovia wishes to "remove the existing Four Signs that are on top of the building, replacing them with Two Worded Signs and Two Logo Signs that represent the existing bank inside the building".

    But um, Wachovia? The PNB signs already do.

    Philadelphia National Bank was founded in 1803 as the Philadelphia Bank, and by the time One South Broad opened as the Lincoln-Liberty Building in 1932, PNB was one of the largest banks in the city. Having had offices there for years, the company officially declared the building its headquarters in 1956, when the PNB logo was adorned to the four sides of the tower which houses the Founders Bell (which was cast as a tribute to John Wanamaker and which still rings on the hour). Across the state, what would eventually become PNC was then Pittsburgh National Bank, so the PNB brand was challenged. Even though Philadelphia's PNB kept its brand at its branches, the corporate name was changed to CoreStates, which in the mid-90s finally replaced the PNB identity at local branches. Charlotte-based First Union acquired CoreStates in 1998 for $16.6B, at the time the largest bank merger in US history. FU then merged with Wachovia in 2001 and the latter won the branding rights, from the corporate towers in Charlotte to the sports arenas in South Philly to all the bank branches and ATMs across the eastern US.

    So, to recap, Wachovia is First Union is CoreStates is PNB. Please leave the sign alone. Loews didn't go and replace "PSFS" with "LOEWS" now did it? And they're not even in the same industry, let alone a new generation of the same company.

    How's this for a deal: We won't bring up the whole thing about how another past incarnation of your company (not PNB) owned, traded and insured slaves if you don't place your southern company's logo on our skyline. Deal?

    The Philly Skyline -- fortunately -- has very little corporate branding on its skyline, and that which IS there is historically and locally based: Blue Cross, PSFS, PNB, Aramark.

    Zoning Board of Adjustments you realize this, don't you?

    –B Love

    15 October 07: Triple double

    As promised, the big three got themselves a big photo update over the weekend, with over a dozen new photos each. Have a look:
    We'll take a closer look at one of these and get to some other items of significance a little later today.

    –B Love