29 February 08: In March, it's chili

And now, the moment at least a half a dozen of you have all been waiting for: THE GREAT CHILI SKYLINE COOKOFF, 2008.

Yessirree bub, it's Philly, for really, not time to dally or dilly, but time for chili, Billy. If you haven't been making chili every other weekend this winter, then brother (sister?), you better get on the ball if you want to win the 2008 Chili Chalice. Dust off the recipe, grind up the spices, set the slow cooker to low and long, and let's do this thing.

The Great Chili Skyline Cookoff, 2008, is as usual being held at the Tritone, 1508 South Street, on Wednesday, March 12 at 8pm. Now is the time to perfect your chili, and now is the time to enter. There is a cap at ten contestants, and last year's runner-up, Mark Adams' Everyone Else Used MSG, and Chili Champion, Tim Emgushov's Eskimo Handsome Boy Chili, get automatic bids, so there are eight spots. (I will also be making chili, naturally, but I will cede my seed as needed.)

The winners are chosen the old fashioned way: BY THE PEOPLE. This is true democracy, folks: the ballots are cast by the people, tallied by independent counsel and awarded to s/he with the most votes. There are no superdelegates and there is no electoral college. The person with the most votes, very simply, wins.

1. The chili MUST have meat, no exceptions.
And that's it, that's the only rule. This is a CHILI cookoff, not a soup experiment. Honestly though, it is less political than it is totally fair: if vegetarian chili is allowed at a chili cookoff, vegetarians would only cast votes for the vegetarian chili, thereby stuffing the ballot box for said vegetarian chili and automatically taking votes away from the real chili. This must be a level playing field, PETA be damned.

So, my carnivorous friends, there you have it. Wednesday, March 12th is chili time. That's two weeks from now, so you have time to cook and you have time to enter.


Last year's Chili Skyline Cookoff came the day after Erin O'Hearn crushed back at Philly Skyline on the 11pm Action News broadcast, and attendance was thick, so maybe we'll aim for national news this year and bring some chili-eatin' Texans.

And for the people: a simple five bucks gets you dozens of spoonfuls from talented chillin' chili chefs, plus access to about a million bottles of beer served by Dealin' Dave Rogers and his awesome Tritone staff.

For coverage of last year's event, check the archives. To attend this year's, just come down to G-Ho and stop by Tritone at 8 or so on Wednesday, March 12th. And again, to participate, click HERE.

See everyone there!

–B Love

29 February 08:

Speaking of penny postcards, how about this little doozy from exactly 100 years ago today? I too lay extra love and extra money at your feet on this weird, wonderful Leap Day.

I would also like to wish a happy birthday to the Philadelphia Flyers' Simon Gagné, who turns 28 today. It's too bad the concussions he has suffered have laid him up for the rest of the season. Though I am a lifelong Pittsburgh Penguins fan and by default cannot root for the Flyers, I have always had respect for Gagné.

His rookie season, 1999-2000, was my personal peak of hockey watching, which culminated at the five overtime playoff game 4 against the Penguins, the third longest game in NHL history and the longest in the modern era. My buddy Curt and I had front row seats at that game (Mark Adams said he saw my mug five feet wide on the big screen at the B&W lounge) and we sat through every single faceoff. When Keith Primeau nailed that wrister over Ron Tugnutt's shoulder, I sunk my face into my palm while Curt, a Marcus Hook native, went insane with joy. (This game occasionally is rebroadcast on Comcast SportsNet.)

Anyway, while the Flyers endured the Lindros-Clarke soap opera, the 20 year old kid with the Leap Day birthday from rural Québec was skating up a storm, logging 48 points on his way to the All-Rookie Team. Gagné has racked up 228 total goals (regular season and playoffs) in nine years in the NHL, making him the longest tenured current Flyer. Here's hoping the dude rests his noggin and comes back strong next season.

Simon Gagné -- and any other leaplings among us -- if you're out there reading this: bonne anniversaire.

–B Love

28 February 08: Comcast Center quarterly
and other construction delights

Good evening. Do not attempt to adjust your monitor, there is nothing wrong. We have taken control as to bring you this special update of the lobby at Comcast Center. Our construction section of that building is up to date now with progress on the world's largest HDTV, as well as some other new and familiar views. Everything's still on track for the May opening, so until the happy day, Philly's new tallest building will stay up front and on top -- top of the Philly Skyline, 500,000 kilowatts of HDTV power.

* * *

Now then. A construction update has been promised for like two months, so here then, ladies and gents, is a construction update. As there are about 20 sizable images (800x533, same as yesterday's New Market update and postcard comparison), they're off in their own page, accessible by clicking THIS LINK.

While the Big Four (Comcast, 10 Rittenhouse, RATR-C, and Murano) have all each had recent updates, it's been a while since we've visited: Cu257, the Architects Building / Kimpton / Palomar, Temple's Alter Hall, Two Hancock Square(?), 1706 Rittenhouse, Popcorn Factory Memphis Flats, Penn & CHOP's hospital expansions, the Art Museum, the Barnes Museum, Naval Square, Southbridge and South Street Bridge. So whattaya know, here they are, in that order. Pop open a fresh A&W, and pop open this fresh window: HERE.

* * *

Tomorrow is Leap Day, friends. Beware out there.

–B Love

PS: Steelers faithful got just a little less black & gold yesterday with the passing of legendary color commentator Myron Cope. Yoi! We'll miss you, Marn, RIP. [Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.]

PPS: Philadelphia Robin, if you are reading this, why not go 'head and drop me a line, yo. When it comes to getting a hold of someone, you are one tough cookie. Holla at cha boy! (blove AT phillyskyline DOT com)

28 February 08: A Victory for Blight! or,
"I am absolutely offended by your zealotry!"

Click to enlarge the Philly Skyline Philly Giant Hole which, at least for now, will remain a giant hole.

SOCIETY HILL, February 28 - In a board meeting that went overtime and the pro-Stamper Square team with the lead and seconds dwindling, the pro-New Market Hole team consulted its playbook and used a trick play not seen before, nailing the shot at the buzzer and winning the game.

Matt Blanchard has full, and I mean full, coverage of the board meeting at PlanPhilly, with funny quotes and asinine logic and the biggest matzo ball: what now? Though many Society Hill Civic Association members should be commended for listening to reason and seeing Stamper Square as quite possibly the best project to fill this significant void -- this significant pock mark that should do well to bridge the communities of Society Hill, Queen Village and South Street (yes, ye vocal detractors, you live next to South Street, with its sneaker stores and greasy pizza and black people) -- the preservation wing of bureaucratic Society Hill did their preservation best, preserving the New Market hole as a big, empty hole.

Is it acrophobia, or is it something more? Are opponents of the project fearful that Stamper Square would somehow devalue their homes? Is there some vendetta against outside developers? Oh wait, they're not outside developers -- they're lifelong Philadelphians who have engaged the neighborhood, especially the near neighbors, to craft the most organic, thoughtful development they could. Are they upset they weren't chosen for the job?

Opponents of Stamper Square: I want to hear your thoughts. Why do you oppose this project? Better, what would you like to see there? Please: email me at blove AT phillyskyline DOT com. The best answers will get their own post, free of my own commentary, as I don't think there's much else I can say about it.

Except for this: if you haven't already done so, please take a look at the New Market Philly Skyline vs Penny Postcard before-&-after HERE, and the mini-essay of the existing conditions of the former New Market site HERE.

* * *

It's a new day and a new way, yet the old way is still bubbling. But the boil is reducing to a simmer . . . a split vote on a major project in contentious Society Hill is a step in the right direction. We're almost there, Philly. In a bout of perfect timing, Nathaniel Popkin's latest Slant for the City Paper is a fantastic critique of the here and now. Read it HERE.

–B Love

27 February 08: Philly Skyline vs Penny Postcards:
New Market

Do you recall, I SAY, do you recall good sir and madam, when the Philly Skyline vs Penny Postcards series debuted with a visit to the Letitia Street House (7 March 07: Philly Skyline vs Penny Postcards)? Well perhaps you would be pleased that here, 356 days later, is the second installation in the series, one New Market. (For the record, this series is gonna kick into high gear very soon. The catalog on which to build is fully stocked, and growing still fuller.)

Primary Philly Skyline contributor and lifelong Philadelphian Nathaniel Popkin tells me, "I remember how big a deal New Market was. You gotta remember, it was a destination -- my parents used to go there! They'd come home at night and tell me about the punk kids with Mohawks."

Center City District President Paul Levy remembers it fondly, as well: "I lived in Queen Village from the mid 1970s through the early 1980s and was a regular at New Market -- family friendly entertainment and music in the street every weekend."

When it opened in 1973, New Market truly was a destination, the ultra-modern companion to the revamped Shambles at Headhouse Square. It was perhaps the most noteworthy contribution to the Society Hill landscape that architect Louis Sauer helped Ed Bacon in transforming from fading to fashionable. Sauer specialized in low-rise, high-density housing -- modern interpretations of the rowhome -- such as Penn's Landing Square, the city-block at 2nd & Spruce down the hill from Society Hill Towers.

New Market, borrowing the site's original name, which helped distinguish its 18th century vendor stands from its predecessor on High (modern day Market) Street, was very 70s -- mall-like, but outdoors and still very much urban. LA's 7th & Fig and Underground Atlanta spring to mind as contemporaries. But unlike those destinations which have weathered the storm of changing tastes, New Market and its signature restaurant, the Rusty Scupper, did not make it, even as South Street thrived a block and a half away. Its demolition was ultimately authorized in the late 90s. A decade later, the vacant lot from its demolition stands, with portions of its framework still intact.

To compare enlarged versions of the before (postcard) with the after (photo above) in a new window, please click HERE.

As well, there are 20 photos of the existing conditions of the former New Market site in a mini essay HERE.

And here we are. This once popular place is a parcel awaiting redevelopment, but as these things go, it's seen its share of ideas come and go and come again. A supermarket proposal was dead on arrival in the 90s. The Will Smith associated W Hotel tower from 2000 lingered until the site was finally sold and W signed on for 12th & Arch at the Convention Center. Ravi Chawla and Sant Properties had several variations of their own plans for a hotel-condo tower, none of which were met with approval from neighbors. Now, Bridgeman's Development has a hotel-condo idea of its own, the H2L2-designed Stamper Square.

For details, please see the Philly Skyline review of Stamper Square (23 January 08, Philly Skyline Stamp of Approval).

After weeks of lively public meetings between Society Hill neighbors who are opposed to its height and Society Hill neighbors who, believe it or not, actually think the project is desirable, considerate and doable, it goes to vote at the Society Hill Civic Association this evening. When the board meets tonight, they will surely weigh the merits of the 35' height limit blanketing the neighborhood. That height limit supposedly protects the scale of the low-rise, colonial neighborhood.

But what exactly is scale? What's seen from the street? Walkability? Density? Stamper Square addresses each of these matters about as well as any sizable project for a sizable lot can: Its tallest portions, rising to 17 15 stories, are oriented along Front Street, which fronts surface parking and I-95, while the 2nd Street side follows the same roof lines as neighboring buildings. Its main entrance is for pedestrians and directly faces the Shambles, which these days hosts a popular farmers market in warmer months, whereas the parking and auto situation is addressed on the less-used (and more-ugly) Front Street, and in such a way that there are only two small curb cuts (leading to and from underground parking and loading), which is to say it doesn't have an enormous loading dock and parking garage entrance. As for density, this does exactly what any project worth its salt in a thriving neighborhood does: it immediately adds people (eyes on the street, if you will), and it provides amenities not currently there: 1. a hotel to serve both the neighborhood whose residents champion its history and the still-popular South Street, which for some bizarre reason many Society Hill residents refuse to acknowledge exists right outside their doors, and 2. a continuation of the Society Hill public greenway concept and a potential assist in the reconfiguration of the 500 block of South 2nd Street from ugly front-end parking to a green promenade extending from the Shambles.

If height is the biggest sticking point, I have yet to hear an argument that makes enough sense to prevent Stamper Square from moving forward.

These 30 story towers, twice that of Stamper Square's proposed height, are two blocks from the New Market site.

As reported by Matt Blanchard for Plan Philly last week, Paul Levy suggested that "this neighborhood began with high rises. It was always designed to be both modern and historic." And he's absolutely right. The concept of "Society Hill" wasn't brought to life until the likes of Bacon, Mayor Richardson Dilworth and a team of architects including Sauer and I.M. Pei put to use the federal money given the city for the biggest redevelopment opportunity in the city's history. Even as Society Hill's colonial rowhome nature is celebrated, it simply cannot be denied that the Society Hill Towers are the icon of the success of that neighborhood. Never mind the Penn Mutual Towers, the two Independence Place towers, the Hopkinson House and the Hyatt Regency at Penn's Landing, all of which are significantly taller than Stamper Square.

The New Market site is a different animal than other potential developments in Society Hill. It comes with history, prestige and location, and it comes with high expectations. Setting expectations for ANY developer to simply build 3- or 4-story rowhomes there is unreasonable. The New Market site can, and should, support a larger scale development, particularly one that is well designed. In addition to the above items of 'scale', Stamper Square's 15 story portions not only showcase a handsome irregular application of colorful panels, but it also does not have blank party walls, as seen further up Front Street at the Beaumont and 101 Walnut.

James Templeton, the H2L2 architect behind the that design and massing, explains why this site is about much more than traditional homes: "Single family townhouses, as part of a medium to large scale development (an acre of land or more -- like New Market) will never again be built in a healthy American downtown -- ever. You may still see small urban infill of townhouses, but not at this sort of scale. This is the case for New York, Boston, Chicago, San Francisco, and definitely Center City Philadelphia. For one, downtown land prices are now just too expensive and developers can't afford to build single family units, and two, cities want density!"

As a near neighbor to the project -- he lives less than a block away -- Paul Levy spoke in favor of the development both at last week's meeting and at an earlier meeting. "But," he says, "I want to be clear that was in my capacity as a private citizen and local resident." It's an important point to consider, as the boundaries of Center City District, which he heads, do not actually cover the New Market site. A number of his neighbors agree and have signed a statement of support. (For what it's worth, I also got a number of emails in support of the project.)

Even if the SHCA board approves the Stamper Square project, it doesn't guarantee that it will win zoning variances from the ZBA. Likewise, if the board rejects it, it doesn't guarantee that the ZBA will not approve variances. But they'll certainly help to craft that decision.

Stamper Square is as good a project as the New Market site is going to get. It's better looking than the Sant proposal, it's a better addition than a supermarket, it contributes far more than simple rowhomes. And it's damn sure better than the empty lot that has been there for the past ten years.

* * *

Again, the Philly Skyline vs Penny Postcard before-&-after is HERE, and the mini-essay of the existing conditions of the former New Market site in a mini essay is HERE.

"Newmarket" postcard copyright Phila. Post Card Co., Philadelphia PA

Contemporary photo taken by B Love, 25 February 08

–B Love

26 February 08: The Travelin' Winger
Petronas Super Freakout Edition

by Angelia Fick
Philly Skyline international correspondent

The past few days in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia have been pretty tiring. I let myself go a bit and didn't keep on top of my hydration, I had too many beers, I didn't eat regularly and I was just running around too much in the sun, so my body has started to rebel. I think it was just trying to tell me to slow down . . . so I did.

I really didn't get to see as much of KL as I wanted to, mainly due to the size of the city (you wouldn't expect to see all the sights of NYC in 3 days, right?), and partially due to just being physically tired. Gotta keep drinking the water and maybe if I'm lucky I'll be able to get my hands on some Gatorade. Hydrate or die!

There are more shopping malls in KL that you can shake a stick at, and they are all air conditioned, so I spent a good deal in them just staying cool. I was going to buy a snazzy outfit for going out in KL and Singapore, but I didn't just because new jeans would need a new pair of shoes, new shoes would need a new purse to match, etc. Too overwhelming. I may get something nice in Singapore though since it is very cosmopolitan there and I will feel out of place in a beat up tank top. I want to feel like a girl again!

I delayed my tour of the Petronas Towers until my last day in KL, and that was a bit of a gamble. The passes for the Skybridge Tour are first come first serve, starting at 8:30am until they are gone (800 tickets only). Ugh, had to get up early and even then, if the line is long and the passes are all gone, I would have been up shit's creek. Luckily, a nice woman named Wendy from the hostel wanted to join me so that motivated me to get up and go. The good news is we were at the Petronas Towers at 8:30am and scored a free pass to the Skybridge Tour for 10:45am. Yeah! There was a presentation by Petronas that talked briefly about the project's conception to the construction of the towers to an advertisement for Petronas showcasing what they do as a company and how they help the community. (Ed. note: Petronas is a Malaysian oil and gas corporation.)

The 88 story Petronas Twin Towers were the world's tallest buildings from the time they opened in 1998 until 2004, when they were surpassed by Taipei 101. That building too has been surpassed, by the still-under-construction Burj Dubai, which will be a ridiculous 2,650' upon its completion. (Comcast Center is of course 975', Taipei 101 is 1,667', and for comparison, the Empire State Building is 1,472' to the top of its spire and the Sears Tower is 1,730' to the top of its antennae.) The Petronas Towers were designed by Cesar Pelli, whose firm is behind Cira Centre and its forthcoming siblings. You can actually sense this in the similarities between Cira's footbridge across Arch Street into 30th Street Station and the Petronas Skybridge, seen here:

Looking out from the Skybridge then, the views are just . . . WOW.

At the end there is a nice exhibition with interactive games to determine how many times taller the towers are than you (me: 301 meters). The towers aren't just tall, that much is apparent; they are circled by ribbons of steel that makes it shine and almost glitter far above what any of the other buildings do. You notice it right away and you just can't help but stare at it. So shiny . . . and pretty . . . I felt like Homer Simpson.

The previous night I was offered a prime nugget of information: at the top of the Trader's Hotel there is a bar called Skybar and is situated right across from the Petronas Towers. It has the best view of the towers, especially when viewed at night. It's pretty ritzy, so I donned a dress and my best flip flops and headed over in the hopes of getting a table with a view. I was slightly under dressed (by slightly, I mean I wasn't wearing my Gucci shoes and my wallet wasn't in a Fendi clutch), but was seated next to the balcony with the most amazing view. The towers are lit up so spetacularly at night, screaming "look at me!" I was probably a little dorky whipping out my foldable tripod for the night shot of the towers, but who cares, I sipped on my million dollar mojito and enjoyed the view.

* * *

Angelia Fick is a star winger on the Philly Women's Rugby team and lives on Jewelers Row. She's on a 14 week journey through Asia and Australia and, in spite of coming face to face with a 30 foot shark while diving in Thailand, she is insistent upon diving at the Great Barrier Reef. Read about her travels at her blog, Wonderful World of #14.

25 February 08: Sky blue sky

Philly Skyline Filler Skyline: a wide angle survey of the goings-on at Broad & Chestnut, an address we'll be visiting this week.

But forget about that right now, let's talk rock & roll. Whoa nellie, what a Saturday night in Upper Darby. Wilco, the rock/country/blues band from Chicago Illinois, has changed.

When they played the Electric Factory in October 2002, they were riding the wave of critical praise for the controversial Yankee Hotel Foxtrot, but Jeff Tweedy was in a bad place, and the band didn't really seem to have a contiguous energy about them. The horrible acoustics at the Electric Factory certainly didn't help, but it was one of the worst concerts I've attended in Philly . . . and it solidified my perception of YHF: that it was forced, contrived and overrated. A Ghost Is Born did little to change this opinion, but for some reason neither left my listening rotation, occasionally popping up when scrolling by W. Then last May they released Sky Blue Sky (15 May 07: Stick a fork in the Fork).

Wilco has changed. The addition of guitarist Nels Cline single handedly put the band into the top tier of modern music, adding onto the improvements they made by adding Pat Sansone (whose organs shine on Sky Blue Sky) and drummer Glenn Kotche prior to YHF -- and by subtracting Jay Bennett, who clearly brought the band down, as seen in the film I Am Trying to Break Your Heart.

Nowhere is this change -- improvement -- seen better than in person. The current incarnation of Wilco clarifies the songs you want to like from YHF and A Ghost Is Born, and it matures the rawer versions from the early records.

Saturday night's show at the Tower Theatre was simply phenomenal, and the band was clearly enjoying themselves. Cline and his red pants were flailing all over the stage; Tweedy took off his guitar a couple times and gripped the mic stand and danced around à la Mick Jagger; Tweedy made a good natured joke about the Foo Fighters beating them out for the Grammy for best album ("Foo Fighters . . . pssh. Neanderthals!"). The evening's energy started low and gradually rose throughout the set, from everyone sitting at the beginning to everyone standing, dancing and just generally going wild for the last song of the night, Mermaid Avenue's "Hoodoo Voodoo."

Set list:
1. Sunken Treasure 2. Remember The Mountain Bed 3. Airline To Heaven 4. Hesitating Beauty 5. Muzzle Of Bees 6. You Are My Face 7. Side With The Seeds 8. A Shot In The Arm 9. She's A Jar 10. Kamera 11. Handshake Drugs 12. At Least That's What You Said 13. Pot Kettle Black 14. Nothing'severgonnastandinmyway(again) 15. Via Chicago 16. Impossible Germany 17. Jesus, Etc. 18. Walken 19. I'm The Man Who Loves You 20. Hummingbird 21. On And On And On . . . ENCORE: 22. Hate It Here 23. Red-Eyed And Blue 24. I Got You (At The End Of The Century) 25. Hoodoo Voodoo
If you like no-frills live rock music, the new Wilco is where it's at. They've ditched the pretense and the extra baggage, and they've improved sound- and talent-wise. Case in point, this 'ere yank on YouTube, an '08 version of an '04 song:

–B Love

24 February 08: The Possible City
Too late for the streetscape?

Nathaniel Popkin
February 24, 2008

When it was opened in 1906, the library at 6th and Lehigh -- a neo-Classical temple of white marble -- was, according to the Free Library's website, the largest library in Pennsylvania. Neighborhood children mobbed the place immediately; they still do today. The Lillian Marrero Branch, named for the Puerto Rican immigrant whose vision made this a gem of the Free Library system, is a cacophonous bi-lingual forum with banks of computers and a generous space for little children and their parents. Joseph Shemtov, a tri-lingual branch librarian, says it's always busy but very expensive to maintain.

Peter Siskind and I visited the branch one warm and rainy Friday this past January. Peter's idea is to visit every branch -- just to see the city from a new perspective, I suppose, but also to understand the role these old-school institutions play in the contemporary city. For me the pleasure in tagging along is the travel itself -- by bus, foot, and subway that Friday -- as way of learning how the parts of the vast city connect.

So we left the convenience of the 54 bus at Lillian Marrero and hoofed it to the Kensington Branch at Norris Square. But first, we stood at the top of the staircase of the neo-Classical temple and looked out across the seven lanes of Lehigh Avenue. As civil and appealing as the library is, the view -- of the corner Dunkin' Donuts surrounded on the three sides by ample macadam, a few lonely row houses, a suburban bunker that's either a family compound or a transitional house for the mentally-ill, empty lots, and the landscaped parking lot of a low-density subsidized housing project -- is defensive, grim, and anti-urban. It's a disaster in city planning that reduces the power of the library -- and leaves it the odd man out.

7th District Councilwoman Maria Quiñones-Sanchez told me a couple of weeks ago that she'd like to see Lehigh and Allegheny Avenues become gateways to Kensington and Harrowgate. But for that to happen in a meaningful way, fifty years of inappropriate architecture will have to be reversed. Mayor Nutter, of course, agrees. He -- and the zoning reform commission -- will institute new rules (based on old ideas) that promote density, mixed-uses, transit-oriented development, and pedestrian amenities.

But what to do about 6th and Lehigh -- and the hundreds of other places in Philadelphia where the traditional urban streetscape has already been abdicated to the automobile? (Most of the intersections with Broad Street come quickly to mind.) You can't just tell Rite Aid to move itself 25 feet to the corner, sprout a few stories, and strap on something besides Drive-it. We know these parking lots are all but unnecessary and basically unused, but you can't wave the wand and unpave Paradise. It's done -- and only the crush of some unfathomable wave of immigration could force landowners to make the most of their precious real estate.

To make matters even more complex, there are places -- a few blocks away at Lehigh and American, for example -- where the color and exuberance of Las Vegas architecture is welcomed. Who doesn't like the Cousin's market, the bold post-Modern Congreso sign, the packed -- I mean packed -- McDonald's? This is the life of the city!

And yet we know better. America's green city is going to have to find a mechanism to undo, ameliorate, overcome, and banish this garbage. We've been sickened long enough.

–Nathaniel Popkin

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

22 February 08: Snow day

Internet outages are Comcastic, I'll tell you what.

So then! B Love finally got his snowfall. EH. Not bad. Three inches does not a blizzard make, though. C'mon man, sock it to us. Just once this winter.

Took a few snow photos out and about this morning, so I'll try to toss up a lil' essay this weekend. Till then, stay warm, huh?

–B Love

21 February 08: There's someone in my head
but it's not me

Hope you were able to get out and see the eclipse last night . . . it really was quite a show, with the changing moon located between Saturn and the constellation Leo (holla). If not, just catch the next one on December 21, 2010, the winter solstice at that.*

I was standing outside Le Virtu restaurant at Passyunk & Juniper, trying to cool off a heated head from the absolute worst service I have seen in my time in Philadelphia. I was talking with Angela Shaw about the eclipse and the moon in general, and she joked that when her schoolchildren get unruly, it must be a full moon. I said it would it be interesting to check the news this morning . . .

Eight hours, six dead in Phila.

That's disheartening.

Color me a nerd, but before that gruesome tally would be counted, I was hoping that a total lunar eclipse would be big news. When it was over, I checked all the local news sites to see who might have cool photos or footage or time lapses. Negatory.

From a roundup on homepages -- I'm not talking about doing a search and sifting through the results, just front page headlines and graphics -- this is how it looked at 1am: philly.com, 6abc.com, cbs3.com, nbc10.com, fox29.com, phillyburbs.com: nothing. kyw1030.com: 22nd of 22 items. Nationally? msnbc.com, abcnews.com, cbsnews.com, nytimes.com: nothing. cnn.com and yahoo news: 3rd story. And the ONLY major national news web site whose lead story was the eclipse? foxnews.com.

It's almost as disheartening as the murders that, when there finally IS good news, or unique news, or science that gets people off the fucking couch for ten minutes news, or plain old fashioned non-murder news, no one covers it. (Except Fox News.) Feh.

* There will be a few lunar eclipses between here and December 21, 2010, but that one will be the next one visible to us in Philadelphia, and it will be a total eclipse. NASA has an excellent breakdown of last night's eclipse and lunar eclipses in general HERE.

As for solar eclipses, there is a total eclipse on August 1st of this year . . . which will not be visible here. If you wish to go to Siberia or northern Canada, yes, but in Philadelphia, no. The next solar eclipse that will be visible in our part of the country is a partial eclipse, happening on October 23, 2014. (A small handful will just miss us between now and then.) The next total eclipse of the sun here happens on August 21, 2017. Again, NASA.

The sun, the moon and the stars are FAR OUT, MAN.

* * *

Whilst out walking around with my head in the clouds last night, I couldn't help but notice another small bit of good news:

One Liberty Place is turned on. Welcome back, you ol' blue doll, you. Click that photo there and enlarge it, for it is your Thursday morning Philly Skyline LOVE THAT LIBERTY PLACE Skyline. One & Two, red white & blue, just for you.

–B Love

PS: Big ups to the Big Man -- congratulations Ryan Howard! Everybody wins! Go Phillies! AHHHHHHHHHH!

20 February 08: Mad action

About a month ago after one of our Calendar of Events posts, Jerry from Fitler Square sent the following email:
B, B, B,
How can you give anyone a hard time about how up to date their skyline pics are when you post an out of date "pre-Murano", "pre-Comcast" South St. view on your calendar of events update!?!? Woe is us! What tipped me off was the lights on Liberty One.
OH, SNAP. Bussssssssted. Well, Jerry's right, so here's a space-age homo-erotic Mystery Science Theater combo Calendar of Events / Casual Observation graphic with titties to serve the interim until a new standard is created.

But yeah, this is an important one, so let's get right to it.
  1. POPKIN IN PERSON, SONG OF THE CITY LIVE: As mentioned yesterday, Nathaniel's 2002 book about this modern life in Philadelphia comes alive this evening. TONIGHT, Wednesday February 20th, 7pm at Tuttleman Center Auditorium at Philadelphia University, Henry Avenue & School House Lane in East Falls.

    For more on Song of the City, please see Nathaniel's web site HERE.

  2. TODAY IS SYMPHONY HOUSE DAY! HOORAY FOR ÜBER LÜXÜRY! Hot diggitty damn, looks like everybody who views Symphony House as a giant Pepto bottle is wrong. Not one, but two of Philly's biggest and best media outlets have top stories today on Inga Saffron's favorite building.

    Real estate writer Alan "a little bit of" Heavens writes about the good life in today's Inquirer, with heavy focus -- and a video! -- on Symphony House.

    Then, over at the Biz Journal, Diane Fiske describes the state of soundproofing in new construction in a surprisingly interesting article that includes quotes from Symphony House architect Michael Ytterberg, but nothing anywhere close to the awesomeness that was his best-letter-to-the-editor-ever, his response to Inga's review of Symphony House.

    SYMPHONY HOUSE DAY IS TODAY, all day! Hooray for Symphony House Day! :symphonyhouse:

  3. GETTIN' STAMPY IN SOCIETY HILL: Recall if you will the Philly Skyline stamp of approval (23 January 08), which depicted the Stampers Square proposal as a positive addition to the neighborhood at 2nd & Lombard.

    The biggest considerations for this are:

    • that the New Market site has been a giant pock of failure on the neighborhood for a DECADE.

    • that it includes a hotel in a tourist-oriented area (both Society Hill and South Street) which currently has none.

    • that the modest Stampers Square proposal, at cascading heights topping out at 17 stories -- on the side of the block facing I-95, which is to say it will have ZERO effect on neighbors -- is nicely designed and striving for LEED certification to boot.

    • that the developers are open to including financing to fix the problem that is 2nd Street between Lombard and South (the head-in parking and pointless fountain) and, at CCD president (and Society Hill neighbor) Paul Levy's suggestion, reimagining it as a promenade, a natural extension to the shambles at Headhouse Square.

    It's a well thought out project that only makes sense. And yet, as so frequently happens, the NIMBY monster's roar is deafening. Tonight is the last public presentation on the matter before it goes to Society Hill Civic's board for a vote (which even then is not binding, but considering the amount of rezoning for this project, could pull weight), so if you're not already out in East Falls for Nathaniel's event, stop by . . .

    Old Pine Church, TONIGHT, 4th & Pine in Society Hill, 7pm.

  4. TONIGHT AT 10, ACT LIKE A LUNATIC: Regular readers of this 'ere site might remember that I fancy myself a bit of a stargazer. Not an astronomer or astrologer by any means (hi, I'm a Leo), but man I do enjoy being out in an open field in the country on a clear night. Stars and moons and sunrises and sunsets . . . you just can't beat nature, even with hair dye and plastic surgery.

    Well, the latest phenomenon to come down the pike is this evening's total eclipse of the heart moon. (I bet I'm the only person in the entire world who will make that joke today.) Getcha Pink Floyd ready, for tonight at 10:01, the moon goes dark . . . for 51 minutes. Actually, it'll turn a nice reddish hue, if the one from Halloween 2004 is any indication.

    The weather may or may not allow us to watch the eclipse tonight, so pray hard to Cecily Tynan for it to clear up by 10.

    Lunar eclipse, TONIGHT, 10:01pm, above your head in the SKY.

  5. RYHO AND THE PHILLIES GO TO ARBITRATION: Today's the day RyHo makes his MVP case against the Phillies' case of applying arbitrary and pointless self imposed rules to see which salary he gets. His career numbers, which are in a sense stunted since he had to wait for Jim Thome to vacate the position, average out to .291, 51 and 148. On the other hand, the Phillies can counter with poor defense and an MLB record number of strikeouts. Ehh, I say his trump theirs. C'mon Phillies, pay the man. He wants to be here: keep him happy and he'll keep us all happy. Go RyHo! Go Phillies!

  6. AND NOW, FOR THE FIRST TIME EVER ON PHILLY SKYLINE, LINDSAY LOHAN: Here at yr friendly Philly Skyline, we don't really get too into the celebrity gossip because, well, there are about seven million other outlets for that, and more over, we think that, even in spite of their well documented shenanigans, celebrities are people too, and their private lives should be left well alone. (I mean seriously . . . how can you not feel bad for Britney Spears when she is swarmed by paparazzi when leaving rehab and followed by a helicopter home? Jeezus.)

    But! It's perfectly fine to enjoy them when they are in fact in public for you to see. As celebrity brushes go, my best doozy was with one Lindsay Lohan in, of all places, Target in downtown Minneapolis in summer 2005. She was there filming A Prairie Home Companion, and on an off day, she went looking for a new pair of sunglasses. Her exploits have been pretty exposed in the time since then, but none of that exposure matches the current issue of New York Magazine, in which photographer Bert Stern recreates his 1962 nude photo shoot of Marilyn Monroe, her last before she died. Ladies and gentlemen, Lindsay Lohan as Marilyn Monroe in "The Last Sitting."

    Well played, NY Mag, well played. Philly Mag: time to step it up!

And that's your Hump Day Umpdate, if you know what I mean.

Let's send it on home with a Philly Skyline Past-Present-Future Skyline. In the PAST (yesterday), I mentioned getting rained on when walking over South Street Bridge because I had not been praying to Cecily Tynan. In the PRESENT, I PRESENT this rainy PSPS. In the FUTURE (tomorrow? later today? who knows), Philly Skyline will have a non-Big-Four construction roundup which will include all the work being done over CHOP way. Consider this a preview. A Philly Skyline Preview Skyline. Biddy biddy bop.

–B Love

19 February 08: Popkin in person,
Song of the City Live

First thing first: this goes beyond the Philly Skyline World Tour 2008. Exactly one month and three days after phillyskyline.com was quietly born but long before it was alive, our lead contributor was already authoring books.

Song of the City (Four Walls Eight Windows, 2002) is Nathaniel's honest, but typically hopeful, look at the state of modern Philadelphia, modern in the post-WWII, white-flight-and-crime sense. Its strength -- as in much of his writing, if I may say so -- is its use of multiple perspectives. The narrative is not solely his; his simply moderates many narratives.

On that notion, Philadelphia University, where Nathaniel is currently writer-in-residence, is hosting a forum on Song of the City, with Nathaniel and three of the book's personalities, Jesse Gardner, Paul Tucker and Kathy Paulmier. From philau.edu:
A mediated, public forum on the lives and stories in Song of the City with Nathaniel Popkin, University writer-in-residence, and three people whose stories he tells told in the book. The event will be the first chance for author and subjects to confir on the city, writing about place and people, and the experience of being written about. Our "characters" will relate their view on literature and the city and will take questions from the audience.
This event is ideal for anyone who enjoys Nathaniel's writing, and it follows our For the Curious event nicely.

For more on Song of the City, please see Nathaniel's web site HERE. Some fellow named Dan McQuade wrote a nice review of it for 34th Street that summer.

The forum is tomorrow, Wednesday February 20th, 7pm at Tuttleman Center Auditorium at Philadelphia University, Henry Avenue & School House Lane in East Falls.

–B Love

19 February 08: Up high on the down Loews, or,
Serendipitous Saturday snappin'

Sometimes it doesn't happen.

You might take a peak out your window and see one of those rare dark-stormy-sky / bright-sunny-light contrasts forming that photographers long for, you calculate the angle of the sun and time of day, and you hop in the car heading for South Street Bridge . . . and by the time you get there, it's just gray, and you decide to walk across anyway, maybe you'll catch a break in the sky, and nope, you just get drenched in your cotton hoodie because you didn't bother checking the weather. Like last night. Wah wah wahhh.

But sometimes it does happen.

You put your brand new headphones (cos you lost your last pair) into your brand new ipod (cos you busted the jack in the last one), lace up the Timbos and just go for it. Nowhere to be, really, just zone and go. Like Saturday.

The Chinook photos yesterday were just one of the instances that fell into place on a long Saturday walk. The morning began with a visit to our friends at the Loews Hotel, in our beloved PSFS Building. A standard trip to the 33rd floor ballroom (and best bathroom in town) yielded a day so clear that, for the first time, I saw the Pennsylvania Turnpike Bridge out near Bristol. The Philly Skyline Philly Skyline above is a sample of the views seen in 25 new photos from up top in one of two new mini photo essays . . . found RIGHT HERE:

The second pays attention to the details at the Fairmount Waterworks.

Moments after watching the two biggest helicopters I've ever seen fly down the Parkway, I walked around the back of the Art Museum to check on the progress and take the river trail back to the old neighborhood. (Some construction photos will be part of an all-inclusive non-Big-Four construction update in the coming days.) It had also been a while since I checked out the Waterworks, and the hundreds of seagulls hovering over the dam suggested this might be a good time. Dig it.

The Waterworks is a city landmark that is of the proverbial take-for-granted variety, at least in my personal eight year history here. I've read the history and I have the penny postcards and I've had the overpriced water and the octopus (which is nowhere near as good as Johnny Brenda's or Effie's) at the new Waterworks restaurant. But Saturday may have been the first time I really took time to look at, and in turn be totally amazed by, the Waterworks as a whole.

The Greek Revival structure along the east bank of the Schuylkill River predates the Art Museum by over a century, and for good reason: the hilltop site of the museum -- the Faire Mount -- was previously the reservoir that housed the water the Waterworks was built for. When it began operating in 1815, it used steam engines to pump water to the reservoir at a huge expense, and in 1822, the dam was constructed and the pumping method was changed to waterwheels.

The Waterworks provided safe water for the entire city, something no other city in the country could claim, and it became a model other cities followed. It was an instant fascination to Philadelphians and visitors to the city, including Charles Dickens in his famous 1840 visit to the US:
The Waterworks, which are on a height near the city, are no less ornamental than useful, being tastefully laid out as a public garden, and kept in the best and neatest order.

[Charles Dickens, American Notes, p 58.]
Designed originally by Frederick Graff and later his son Frederick Graff, Jr, the Waterworks' architecture (collective over several decades) was as much a draw as its engineering and gardens were. For our purposes here, a look at the balustrades, the hundreds (thousands?) of perfectly symmetrical columns supporting the railings along the length of the Waterworks.
Even though the balustrades are Classical, since the Waterworks was state-of-the-art engineering, it is not surprising that Graff, Jr had the balustrade produced by state-of-the-art casting. More recently, the railing was in bad need of repair. Working with architect John Milner, Robinson Iron restored the railing in 1988. Such balustrades were usually painted stone colors with a sanded paint. Consequently, they appeared to be stone.

[Henry Jonas Magaziner and Robert D Golding, The Golden Age of Ironwork, p 74.]
Balustrades. Lots of em back at the Waterworks, catching late day sunlight and forming amazing contrasts of the whitest whites and the blackest blacks, with curves and gradients and shadows, against concrete and brick and sky and water. The Philly Skyline Balustrade Skyline here is one of 23 new photos in the second mini-essay.

For more on the Fairmount Waterworks, visit its interpretive center web site HERE. Workshop of the World has an excellent history too, found HERE, as does PhillyH2O HERE.

–B Love

18 February 08: INCOMING!!!

The Frida Kahlo exhibition hasn't even opened at the Art Museum yet, and her radical tendencies and feminist-handicap agenda have already galvanized local communist sympathizers and Trotskyists to a point of needing military control.

Jeeeest kidding.

This triple shot of Philly Skyline Philly Chinook (click, enlarge) is in honor of Frank Piasecki, the aviation pioneer who died last week at his home in Haverford. Henry Holcomb had a nice obit in last Wednesday's Inquirer. The Philadelphia native and Penn graduate lived 88+ years with a passion for flight, patenting two dozen inventions, most famous of which is the Army's Chinook, which he sold to Boeing, who still develops them at their plant in Ridley.

Two of these enormous dual rotor birds paid tribute to Piasecki Saturday afternoon, flying down the Parkway and circling back above the Cathedral Basilica of St Peter and St Paul, where his funeral was being held. For more on the Chinook, see Boeing's site HERE. For more on Frank Piasecki, see his company's site HERE.

Please note: this is an actual photograph, it is in no way Photoshooped.

The Frida exhibition opens at the Art Museum on Wednesday and runs only through May 18, so get your tickets now. They are $23 for non-members, and if you're a PMA member, you already know all about it. The Art Museum's official page on the iconic Mexican painter's show is HERE. Carrie Rickey wrote a fantastic preview of the show in the Sunday Inquirer.

* * *

It's been a minute since a Philly Skyline Time Warp, so put on your time/space suit, cos we're jumping in the portal to go back five years. Hot melting snow in the morning, it's been exactly five years since the Great Presidents Day Blizzard of 2003. Times sure were different in the good old days, Monday February 18, 2003. There was no war in Iraq, Philadelphia was still sluggish from a stagnant, stale City Hall, I was still in my 20s, and it still snowed. Man, do I miss snow. This is Pennsylvania, people, it's supposed to SNOW.

Well, five years ago, snow it did. Beginning in the wee hours of Sunday and continuing through to Monday afternoon, Ol' Man Winter dumped 22 inches of the white stuff on the city, even more in the suburbs. John Yeomans and I took the opportunity to, um, plow through it and go take a bunch of snowtographs snow pics from our G-Ho homes clear through North Philly. Those photos are HERE, and the yank'd YouTube below is our official preview.

–B Love

PS: Weekend construction photo updates were filed for the big four: Comcast Center, RATR-C, Murano and 10 Rittenhouse Square.

17 February 08: In the details, in the distance

For any photographer, getting your hands on some new equipment - a camera, a lens, or even a flash or filter - can be a source of motivation and inspiration. With different hardware, it's possible to get a fresh take on an area, even if you've shot it so many times that you wonder if you'll run out of angles.

This was my situation in September, when I took my newly-acquired, most prized possessions into the city. The long zoom lens and extender combination, blurring the lines between camera and telescope, was certainly capable of the novelty shot - an extreme close-up of something really far away. But it took me some time to understand how to work with the enormous focal length, an equivalent of 640 mm, in ways that went beyond novelty.

In this photo essay, my goal was to show the details of city life, layout, and architecture that can get lost among so many distractions in the street. There are beautiful sculptures, ignored because they are a hundred feet above us on a building façade. There are cleaning crews, working on scaffolding rigs that would scare the hell out of most of us. And there's a pigeon - a "flying rat" - that might evoke some sympathy when you're close enough to see into its eyes.

With such long focal lengths, it's also possible to choose just a tiny fraction of your frame of vision and create an entire photo from it. Separate, far-apart objects can be made to stack upon each other almost impossibly. This technique created the shot at the top of this page, where cars on I95 in Pennsport seem to be driving straight into an oil refinery, which is actually located across the Delaware River in New Jersey.

Thanks for viewing.

- Matthew Johnson, SkyscraperSunset.com


15 February 08: The Possible City
"It really could be something"

B Love note: This story by Nathaniel is, I think, the quintessential Possible City piece. It is long -- over 5,000 words -- but well worth your time for the read. The different perspectives offered, from Onion Flats and Erdy McHenry to Norris Square's neighborhood reps and Councilwoman Maria Quiñones-Sanchez, are exactly what Philadelphia is about. I was along for a good bit of the ride, and will have some additional photos to add shortly.

by Nathaniel Popkin
February 15, 2008

It's a bright Tuesday afternoon in late January. At Second and Green, where Abe Rosenberg put a curse on the neighborhood that lasted half a century, the apartments above the old pet food store appear finished. The building gleams as if mocking the old world nonsense of the former proprietor, whose love once was spurned by a girl from Second Street. But then, a city, a neighborhood, even a corner like this one is bigger than a single man.

The Northern Liberties is dusty, some combination of road salt, construction debris, crumbling infrastructure, and tailpipe emissions from the two highways that manage to keep the neighborhood feeling like a place apart. One enters the Northern Liberties (often by cutting across a grassy knoll). Inside, below bare, gray Paulownia trees, the work of making and remaking this city goes on.

On Orianna Street I pass through the heavy metal door of an old auto body shop. This is the house of Scott Erdy and Dave McHenry, architects whose forceful and responsive work connects back to mid-century Modernism and forward to a MySpace urban utopia, and who have peppered the city with exalted steel and black. It is their willingness to push the geometry of building -- of process, meaning, form, and function -- that has made them so desirable to those trying to solve multiple problems at once.

The three of us are sitting in the glass conference room below the firm's mezzanine library. Erdy, whose gentle face is covered by a three days' beard and whose eyes are heavy from marathon days, is scrolling through digital files trying to find the best images to show me. Explaining my interest in Norris Square, the Kensington neighborhood between the Berks and York-Dauphin El stops, and noting the power of the El to connect otherwise disconnected places, I have asked them to tell me about Radian, the apartment-dorm they are building at 40th and Walnut. But Erdy says he has something else instead. "Here's something you're going to love," he says. "Have you seen this?"

Projected on the screen is a stand-alone café with a glass terrace overlooking the Christ Church burial ground and otherwise attached to one of Laurie Olin's intimate side gardens on the east side of Independence Mall. An installation like this one is just the kind of sensitive, surgical intervention that transforms public space. Aside from the concessions in Franklin Square, the café, which will be run by the caterers Max and Me, may be the first indication that Philadelphia is ready to put aside dowdy notions about the purity of the public park. "Open air, full throttle," says McHenry in his deep, deadpan voice. Indeed, the large block letter C-A-F-E readily proclaims its pedestrian purpose.

This is a small project for the firm but one which ably demonstrates their desire to make architecture that connects people to each other and to the city. A Drexel dorm they are building emphasizes student interaction and shared space while responding to the constraints of the narrow site itself, a small plot next to the campus tennis courts on 34th Street. The 18-story building is really two half-spheres that rotate toward Center City, maximizing views and the building's presence.

Radian, the massive floating residence overlooking the western half of Penn's campus, has like a lot of the firm's work the quality of a viewing screen -- or a wall of TVs, each a different size and tuned to a different channel.

With a model of the building in front of us, McHenry is explaining to me why the building rotates (to create views and allow sunlight to penetrate Sansom Street), but he stops when I mention that this building seems to rise above a familiar plinth (Kling's Municipal Services Building is one of Erdy's favorite Philadelphia buildings). "Why do all your questions start with assumptions?" he wonders, betraying a frustration with observers -- not just me, I imagine -- who wish to pigeonhole the firm into a signature style (or assume their only ambition is to build on vacant lots in Philadelphia).

McHenry's annoyance may be justified. The Erdy-McHenry approach is painstakingly normative. To not understand that is to miss what is most important about contemporary architecture: the way it attempts to account for a democratic array of desires, users, and functions. Thus, Radian's plinth is meant to provide space for a street terrace with a green roof and retail stores; to connect the building to the small scale but distinctive block of row houses on Sansom Street behind (they had hoped to do so by having a retail entrance on Sansom but the tenant, a national drug chain, doesn't want it) and the campus Superblock in front, to maximize sun exposure, street life, and social interaction, all on a mid-block site that's too small for the project's ambition and lacks the economies of scale of a large skyscraper.

It is a useful lesson; and indeed walking out onto tiny Orianna Street and winding my way back to the Spring Garden El station I feel chastened. My premise is that the El has the power to make Philadelphia feel big again; that by concentrating development near its stations a more dynamic city would result (one that eschews the stilted dichotomy of "inbound" and "outbound"). Erdy McHenry's work seems to confirm this theory, for each of the firm's current city projects -- a potential development at 46th and Market (which I once had helped to conceptualize), the Radian, Drexel's two dorms, the Fifth Street café, Hancock Square (now in its second of three phases) -- is located within a couple of blocks of an El stop. So let's extend the pattern to the next two stops heading north. Norris Square awaits. Or is this, too, an unwelcome assumption?

There is much to say in the El's disfavor, of course. Both elevated reconstruction projects were poorly managed and have sent more than a few shop owners to the poorhouse; new station architecture is oppressively bland and lacks even basic commercial amenities. Worst of all, the line that once ran 24 hours a day now stops for five hours at midnight.

But in the realm of public transit in Philadelphia, there's really nothing that compares to the El. The combined underground and elevated line covers nearly 13 miles between Upper Darby and Frankford, providing about 180,000 rides per weekday. That's about the same number of rides given by the Broad Street Subway and the five subway-surface trolley lines combined. The Patco speedline, in contrast, accounts for 33,000 transit rides a day. The El is fast, efficient, and as transit goes, cost effective. Fares cover 63% of the cost of operating the line, which makes it proportionally the fifth least subsidized route in Philadelphia (the 60 bus, which traverses Allegheny Avenue, is the most cost efficient).

Most impressive, though, is its speed. It takes just 15 minutes to travel from the Radian at 40th Street to Hancock Square at Girard Avenue. That's about how long it takes on the Seventh Avenue Subway to go from 72nd Street on the Upper West Side to Christopher Street in the Village.

It's just two more minutes to Norris Square.


. . .

–Nathaniel Popkin

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