14 March 08: We now return to
your regularly scheduled Philly Skyline

Oh hai guyz. How're y'all feeling out there? Good and full of civic pride today? That's a nice-a feeling.

There will certainly be lots more American Commerce Center news in the coming days, so keep your eyes on the skies. But, I would be absolutely remiss if I did not shout out my homegirl and yours, the Philadelphia Business Journal's Natalie Kostelni, whose front-page-above-the-fold story in today's PBJ (print edition) has a full color rendering of ACC in the skyline and features a lot of numbers not covered in yesterday's Philly Skyline piece.

It's Friday, and that means no-sit-in-front-of-computer day, so from all of us at yr Skyline to all of you out in internetland: c'mon get happy, have a nice weekend, and don't forget to check in on the (current) Big Four, all of which have new photo updates as of today.
  1. COMCAST CENTER: I'd like to say what up to Feltonville, hollaback at Whitaker & Wyoming! Flyin' kites with my man at the Plateau! Demolition prep at Mantua Hall! Yessir!

    Please enjoy some COMCAST CENTER.

  2. RESIDENCES AT THE RITZ-CARLTON: Oh you big ol' dark glassy classy sassy gal you. I'm lookin' at you from William Penn's butt.


  3. MURANO: Oh darn, I'm just piggybackin' on Comcast Center today. We'll get em next week, then.

    Please enjoy some MURANO.

  4. 10 RITTENHOUSE SQUARE: Is that dude taking my picture? Yep, that dude is taking my picture.

    Please enjoy some 10 RITTENHOUSE SQUARE.

Signing off for 3/14 and the number 3.14,

–π Love

13 March 08: 1,500 feet of Breaking News

Ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls; friends, Romans, countrymen; members of the press: meet American Commerce Center.

Your Philly Skyline is about to change. About to incur a growth spurt. About to shatter any notion of Philadelphian reservedness, about to take A New Day A New Way to a whole other level.

The spired skyscraper pictured above and below would like to reclaim for the Central Business District one of its biggest surface parking lots, the one profiled in Monday's Penny Postcard post.

Led by its president Garrett Miller, Walnut Street Capital (WSC) has had a vision of major mixed-use for the lot at 1800 Arch Street since it acquired it in October. It brought on world renowed architecture firm Kohn Pedersen Fox (KPF) to craft that vision.

KPF is not only accustomed to Philadelphia, having recently designed the US Airways terminal at the airport and Huntsman Hall for the Wharton School of Business, but it is indeed well familiar with the very vicinity of 1800 Arch. As Center City watched its skyline be redefined in the 80s, KPF contributed Mellon Bank Center, which was originally to have been as tall as One Liberty Place, as well as Two Logan Square, One Logan Square and its adjacent Four Seasons Hotel. It's also worth mentioning that Gene Kohn, the Kohn of Kohn Pedersen Fox and chairman of the company, is from Philadelphia. He graduated from Penn in the 50s and cut his teeth working for Vincent Kling in the Penn Center 60s.

KPF also knows their way around the supertall. As we speak, their designs for new tallest buildings are under construction in skyscraper meccas Shanghai and Hong Kong, the Shanghai World Financial Center (1,588', 100 floors - Skyscraperpage) and International Commerce Center (1,608', 118 floors - Skyscraperpage), respectively.

Remember how Comcast Center -- one block away -- transformed the skyline? Well, brace yourself . . .

This is American Commerce Center.

The vitals: 26 story hotel, 473' to the garden accessible to hotel guests. 3-to-6 stories of street-accessible retail along Arch Street with a public garden facing the dome of the Arch Street Presbyterian Church, and another garden on the sixth floor, between Arch and Cuthbert and overlooking the one below. 63 story office tower, 1,210' to the lower portion of the roof, 1,500' to the top of the spire. All parking is underground, including dedicated bicycle parking. LEED gold.

Mayor Michael Nutter, via his Press Secretary Doug Oliver, believes that "it would be a spectacular addition to Philadelphia's skyline. Sustainability efforts and building green continue to be hallmarks of this Administration and the plans for this particular project are consistent with those goals."

If we've learned anything over the past five years of Philly's mini building boom, it's that the streetscape trumps all else when surveying a new building's contribution to the city.

Garrett Miller knew this going into concept: "it has to be engaging at the street level, or else it is a failure." The pedestrian fabric is as much a part of American Commerce Center (ACC) as is its height. Along 18th Street, following the natural direction of (vehicular) traffic, the pedestrian is greeted with a mini-plaza that will be home to a café and the three-story lobby of the hotel. At 19th & Arch, the main entrance of the office tower amplifies the corner by the tower's massing being sliced -- chamfered -- back from the street corner.

Make no mistake, though, the height is very much a part of ACC. That same chamfer is echoed as the tower rises, and at its top, it then angles again back to a large spire. Miller clarifies, "while the vision of the building is to engage the pedestrian -- to engage Philadelphia -- at the street level, we also want the tower to be a symbol of our collective aspiration and hope. We want it to be seen from far away, literally and figuratively."

Even in a questionable market, funding does not appear to present a problem, as Miller cites that partners have been established and that the lot was purchased with 100% equity. Put another way: construction could start whenever.

Where it becomes a little tricky is with the 125' blanket height limit which Fifth District Councilman Darrell Clarke enacted following the then-Barnes Tower controversy. The site is currently zoned C4, which does not have a height restriction, but with a large FAR (floor area ratio), ACC would need rezoning. Councilman Clarke declined comment on American Commerce Center for the time being.

Rob Stuart, president of the Logan Square Neighborhood Association, feels that "the height is less important than how it meets the street," and in that regard, the developer has done his homework. "This is a very serious design, with a well qualified firm," Stuart continues, referring to KPF's track record.

For a site that has been a surface parking lot for nearly thirty years, a lot of thought and consideration has been paid to its redevelopment. So much so that it may prove a lot for some neighbors to handle. For this reason, Miller expects WSC to meet with neighbors to hear their concerns and to build a comfort level. Stuart appreciates the thought that has gone into ACC, but says "now we have to evaluate the impact such a large project will have on the neighborhood."

In fact, Mayor Nutter encourages it: "through a series of community forums, various stakeholder groups will have an opportunity to voice the concerns that they may have. We don't have a full picture of what that feedback will be, but concerns will be heard and appropriately handled."

It will be interesting to see how ACC is exemplified as LSNA and the City Planning Commission continue to develop their neighborhood master plan, which they're already in the middle of. While Logan Square contains elements of an 'urban village', it is also very much the Central Business District, which the Planning Commission sees as Arch Street to Market Street. Our skyline's current shape is no accident.

Because the LSNA-PCPC plan-in-progress is so complex, LSNA has a set of design principles to apply in the interim. Stuart says that WSC "has taken account of a number of our principles, notably the street level and sustainability."

The recently announced plans for the 12th & Market Girard Estate block present an interesting juxtaposition when compared against ACC's plans, which are of equal endeavor. The Girard site will require not only massive amounts of demolition -- on top of the subway portion of the Market-Frankford El, no less -- but also the demolition of one of Philadelphia's oldest standing skyscrapers, the 1896 Stephen Girard Building by James H Windrim. At 1800 Arch, ACC has only a parking lot attendant's booth in its way.

* * *

It's very early in the process. A groundbreaking ballpark isn't even until summer 2009. But to weigh the siting, the favorable pedestrian experience, and the choice of an acclaimed (read: expensive) architect is to understand that American Commerce Center is a very serious proposal, a very serious statement about Philadelphia's sense of place.

Stay tuned.

For further reading:

American Commerce Center
Walnut Street Capital

All images courtesy of Walnut Street Capital and Kohn Pedersen Fox Associates.

UPDATE: Ah what the hell, howzabout a rudimentary Philly Skyline composite?

–B Love

13 March 08: The winner
and still champion

Checking in from East Oak Lane, the big man with the big crock pot, Tiiiiim 'Handsome Boy' Emgushov!

The tournament was tenacious and tasty at the Tritone last night: lots of meat, lots of heat, enough to eat, and a couple dudes named Pete. Each of the eight contestants had his own style -- Conor's Reptilian Chili, for example, featured avocados and cucumbers and was served cold -- but everyone met the one requisite: meat.

Papaya and the gang had everything well under control when things finally kicked off around 8:15. Two things that were different this year: the presentation of chilis was L-shaped (rather than the long, single file line last year) and the cooks dished out their own, to avert over-hungry participants. About an hour's worth of tasting ensued and ballots were cast. As with last year, they were tallied by an independent third party, this time Peggy from the Rittenhouse Barnes & Noble. (Thanks, Peggy!)

And the results went a little something like . . .

  • THIRD PLACE and the winner of one Philly Skyline, The Calendar: 2008: The Truth, by Sean Magee from South Philly.

  • RUNNER-UP and the winner of a gift certificate to DiBruno Bros: 3 Bean Piggybutt, by Todd Pascarella from Manayunk.

  • THE CHILI CHAMPION and winner of the 2008 Chili Chalice: Eskimo's Handsome Boy Chili, by Tim Emgushov from East Oak Lane.

    Honorable Mentions, in no particular order:

    Cucina Verde, by Mark Adams from South Philly.
    Schuylkilli Chili, by DeWitt Brown from Fitler Square Schuylkill.
    Reptilian Chili, by Conor Corcoran from Old City.
    Pack Your Pistol & Your Flask, by John Palmer from Rittenhouse Square.
    Total Recall Beef & Baby Beef, by B Love from Fishtown.

    Photos by Joe Minardi: Chilimaster Blove on left, Conor dishes out his Reptilian Chili on right

    There are no losers at the Great Chili Skyline Cookoff, but in two years of this meatfest, there has only been one Chili Champion, and that champion is the Handsome Boy. So, congrats to the Eskimo, and a very hearty, very meaty thank you to everyone who took time out of their Beer Week Wednesday to spend a couple hours with us and down some chili and some booze. Good times were had by all.

    Now if you'll excuse me, I was eating eight different kinds of chili last night.

    –B Love

    PS: Philly Skyline will in fact be back with Philly Skyline business a little later today, but if you have some time to kill, why not enjoy these totally random blasts from the past?

  • 12 March 08: Calling all carnivores:
    Tonight, hang out with Philly Skyline

    Tonight's the night's the night, yes it is, yes it is. The second annual Great Chili Skyline Cookoff is upon us, and your attendance is cordially requested. As with last year, there are eight solid contestants, though only three repeats from last year, including the defending champion, Eskimo's Handsome Boy Chili. It's a measly five beans for eight chilis with dozens of beans, and it's at an old favorite, the Tritone, at 1508 South Street. Tritone's doors open at 5, but we'll get all things chili rolling around 8 o'clock.

    The power is with the people -- the vote is a simple matter of mathematics: the one with the most votes WINS. We're just happy to share the same stage that Slo & Shakey call home on Mondays, the same stage Jeru the Damaja tore up a few weeks ago. Five bucks, eight chilis, infinite good times. [TRITONE.]

    * * *

    Today's gonna be a short one on this internet thing, so let's roll out a real quick Hump Day Umpdate, if you please . . .
    1. 12TH & MARKET TOWERS AND MALL? We've all read Inga's column from last Friday about Trinity Capital Advisors' plan to finally build towers on a site zoned for towers since the 80s. But to demolish the Stephen Girard Building, designed by James H Windrim and built in 1896 . . . ugh. How much stock can this town demolish? (For more on this, see Matt Blanchard's article at Plan Philly.) Also, the most photogenic view of the greatest and most important skyscraper in town, the PSFS Building (early morning view looking west from around 8th & Market), would be lost.

    2. CHESTER GOT A SOCCER TEAM: Major League Soccer awarded an expansion team to Chester. I am very happy for Chester. It is a unique opportunity to infuse some civic pride back into a town that has seen its pride drain with every rainfall run off from the homes on 12th Street, separated from I-95 by a chain link fence. For comparison's sake, the Blue Route was only allowed to proceed with construction through the Main Line after a sound barrier wall, which is aesthetically pleasing at that, be included in the costs of construction.

      Chester has had the bum end of just about every development deal since the 60s -- the biggest boost to Chester in the decades since then has been a slots parlor -- so if the MLS team is named the "Philadelphia" somethings, it will be yet another familiar slap in the face to that otherwise historic town. MLS: do the right thing. Call the new team the Chester Somethings. (And do us all a favor and make it a plural noun that ends in 's', not something like 'Chester Fire' or 'Chester Galaxy', or worse, some faux-Euro name like 'Real Chester' . . . although I guess I could get down to Club Chester.)

    3. PARK WEST TOWN CENTER: Wayellllll. Speaking of infusing positivity and pride into an area that can use positivity and pride, no-nonsense 52nd Street is now home to a new typical strip mall exciting town center. The West Parkside neighborhood Lowe's is already open, and other tenants like Wachovia, Ashley Stewart, and a much-needed ShopRite supermarket will all be open this spring. It's a boon to the area to be sure, and it will support shoppers not just in Parkside, but all across West Philadelphia.

      Is it the best it could be, following the urban principles that are so important? Not even close . . . the 52nd Street train station has been shuttered for years and has no signs of reopening. Then again, who in their right mind would bring plywood and buckets of cement home on the train? If you're attending any concerts at the Mann Center this summer, expect a bright white glow you've never seen before, and why not grab some 2x4s on the way home from the orchestra?

      (See also: Philly Skyline Parkside neighborhood tour.)

    4. SOUTH STREET BRIDGE: Yes, I know. Coming soon / stay tuned / in the works / etc etc.

    5. STAMPER SQUARE: Finally, following up on a request Philly Skyline posed on February 28:
      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 . . .
      I know for a fact that at least some of the Society Hill residents who strongly oppose Stamper Square read Philly Skyline: I have emailed with them in the past, and following my first essay (23 January 08: Philly Skyline Stamp of Approval) on the subject, I was accused by them of being involved with the developers, that it sounded like a press release. Lest there be any confusion: I am not affiliated with any of the developers or architects whose projects and proposals come across the Philly Skyline radar. (Why do you think I seemed like such a pushover in last summer's Inquirer article?)

      Anyway, I wanted to hear the thoughts of the people so vehemently opposed to a smart, considerate, urban and urbane development like Stamper Square. I wanted to hear what they thought would be better than a project which keeps 2nd Street short and inviting, complementing the Headhouse shambles directly across the street, which expands upon Society Hill's beloved public greenways, and which orients the curb cuts and tallest portions of the project (a whopping 15 stories, at that) along a street that faces a surface parking lot and I-95. Following are the comments I got from the people who read Philly Skyline long enough to claim that I was writing for the developers:

      And there you have it. Exactly zero people accepted the challenge, so instead I'll make my own assumption: I assume that the anti-Stamper crowd is instead perfectly fine with the big ass hole in the ground that was once known as New Market.

    All in good fun. Speaking of good fun, did you hear Philly Skyline is hosting a chili cookoff this evening? The second annual Great Chili Skyline Cookoff, at 8pm, at Tritone, at 15th & South in G-Ho? You did? Awesome -- then we'll see you there!

    One last time for this 'ere stock graphic:

    –B Love

    11 March 08: Go fly a kite

    No, seriously . . . as sunny and windy as it's been lately, now more than ever would you want to get outside and fly a kite. The winds are light today, but it's March so they could kick back up at any time. Besides, if you need a reason to get to the Plateau, like this fellow who clearly understands the simple pleasures, what better one could you find on a Tuesday than to fly a kite?

    If you don't, you know, have a kite, you don't have to go all the way to Air Circus downtheshore -- there are all sorts of hobby stores around town and especially in the suburbs. You can find one at just about any toy store, too. Ben Franklin did it with a key tied to his hemp string in a thunderstorm . . . there's no reason we shouldn't do it on a sunny day. Y'heard!

    * * *

    Philart.net: kite public art in Philly
    USHistory.org: Franklin's kite experiment
    –B Love

    10 March 08: Twenty days and counting . . .

    West Philadelphia. Sunday, March 30th. 7:30am. KABOOM.

    Philadelphia Housing Authority, Geppert Bros Demolition and friends will be pressing the red button, marking the end of another housing project -- Mantua Hall -- and starting the next phase in affordable housing centered at 36th & Fairmount. Make your plans now to rise and shine and get your Implosion Party on.

    A smart woman -- Michelle Schmitt, who made The Skinny (which is already in need of an update) happen -- told me she planned her viewing exclusively from Google Maps Street View. A fantastic idea, really . . .

    Keep in mind, they'll have at least a few square blocks cordoned off, so plan your viewing a-cordon-ly. The 34th Street Bridge (between Mantua and the Zoo) is a good spot, but that may be blocked off for the implosion. Same goes for the corner of 38th & Parrish, at the triangle park there. If you're into watching from further back, I might suggest the Mann Center. From atop George's Hill, under the watch of the 1880 Daniel Chester French sculpture Law, Prosperity and Power, the view of the skyline is quite impressive, with Mantua Hall directly in the foreground. Mattafact, it look a lil something like:

    More on Mantua Hall soon.

    –B Love

    10 March 08: Philly Skyline vs Penny Postcards:
    1800 Arch Street

    When the city announced its grand plans and unveiled John MacArthur's second French empire City Hall to the world in 1871, no one had ever seen a building like it in the entire world. Of course this being Philadelphia, it took thirty years to complete, and by the time it opened, the Eiffel Tower was long finished and nearly double City Hall's height. Elsewhere in the US, a new method of building -- the load bearing steel frame, championed by Chicago's Daniel Burnham -- had taken off, and cities were redefining their skylines with reckless abandon.

    In Still Philadelphia: A Photographic History, 1890-1940 (Temple University Press, 1983), Fredric Miller, Morris J. Vogel and Allen Freeman Davis write:
    The steel-frame skyscraper developed rather late in Philadelphia, leaving the skyline dominated by City Hall, which rose to 548 feet to the top of William Penn's hat. . . . While Chicago and New York pioneered the modern skyscraper, the first steel-frame building in Philadelphia was the nine-story YWCA building at 1800 Arch Street, built in 1892. (1)
    Architect Benjamin D. Price specialized in churches, and even had a successful mail-order church design business. (2) It was a natural progression from churches, then, that he submit his design for the Women's Christian Temperance Union Building, aka YWCA, to rise above the Chinese Wall (railroad into Broad Street Station) on the northern side.

    This oldest Philadelphia 'skyscraper' survived several generations, including the art deco and beaux arts building boom of the 20s and 30s and the modernist wave of the 50s and 60s, seeing 1850 Arch and the Sterling rise, respectively, on either side of it. It didn't, however, live to see the skyline changing movement of the 80s led by One Liberty Place, as it was demolished in 1980 on its last leg as home of the Philadelphia Bible Club. Phillyhistory.org has some great photos of the YWCA just before its demolition. Go HERE and search for '1800 Arch'.

    At 1800 Arch Street now, we have the old Center City staple, the surface parking lot. Various ideas have been proposed for the site, including a parking garage, an eight story mall, and this massing by BLT Architects for Interpark, which operates the parking lot:

    Recently, rumors have swirled about Wachovia building a 1300' tower, but those have proven unfounded, as Wachovia has actually unloaded a good deal of its real estate portfolio even as the bank grows. What we do know, as reported by Natalie Kostelni for the PBJ, is that Walnut Street Capital, who owns and manages the Curtis Center and Public Ledger Building, purchased the lot in October. The lot runs from 18th to 19th between Arch and Cuthbert.

    Back to Philly Skyline vs Penny Postcards . . . the original postcard was indeed filled out, but it was never sent so there is no postmark (with which to date the card). The modern day view is not one of Philly's better vistas, to be sure. While there is a small fraction of the population which actually finds JFK's triplets of apartment highrises -- the Sterling, Kennedy House and Penn Center House -- attractive, it's hard to argue that their backsides, basically parking garages and loading docks towering over a surface parking lot, contribute something pleasant to the streetscape.

    To compare then with now, please click HERE.

    1: Still Philadelphia: A Photographic History, 1890-1940, by Fredric Miller, Morris J. Vogel, Allen Freeman Davis
    2: PAB: Women's Christian Temperance Union Building

    • "Central Branch Y.W.C.A." postcard published by P. Sander, Philadelphia & Atlantic City for Sander's Art Series
    • Contemporary photo taken by B Love, 7 March 08

    27 February 08: New Market
    7 March 07: Letitia Street House

    –B Love

    9 March 08: Many colors in the skyline rainbow

    Don't be afraid to let your colors shine. Quite a late winter weather weekend here in Illadelphia, no? Wizard of Oz winds, black clouds and bright sun, rain coming down sideways in waves with tiny patches of blue sky . . . it's the mysterious meteorology that hooks a rainbow over Fishtown and the 'Crowley' ship that's been docked at Petty's Island since forever. Who'd ever imagine that the pot o' gold was all this time in Pennsauken?

    Lots of good stuff going on on this sunny Sunday. Don't forget that Josh Winheld is hosting a book signing for his debut book Worth the Ride this afternoon at Reform Congregation Keneseth Israel (8339 Old York Road in Elkins Park). And of course Beer Week rolls on all week: phillybeerweek.org.

    Here on yr Skyline, it's time for another round of big four updates: Comcast Center, Murano, Residences at the Ritz-Carlton and 10 Rittenhouse Square. Some Casual Observations from the past few days: yesterday morning's fog (before the sky opened up) was so low that RATR-C's construction massing faded into oblivion; the Walnut Street side of 10 Rittenhouse's construction is now taller than the Rittenhouse Club façade, the only part of the circa-1870s mansion by Frank Furness that remains.

    It's gonna be a good week (Great Chili Skyline Cookoff, holla), so stay close by, wouldja? Let's end this mini-update with a Philly Skyline Daylight Saving Skyline, looking over yonder Schuylkill River toward some sunset soaked skyscrapers.

    –B Love

    7 March 08: The Possible City:
    One-City Art Movement, Open to Everyone

    by Nathaniel Popkin
    March 7, 2008

    Michael Taylor, who came to Philadelphia from London, has a bright round face and greedy eyes and a kingly accent that's like a splash of lime across our dreary patois. If you've been to see Frida Kahlo at the Philadelphia Museum of Art (PMA), it's Taylor's voice that guides you through the exhibit. Taylor, the Muriel and Philip Berman Curator of Modern Art, delivers a lecture, "Frida Kahlo revealed," this afternoon at 3.

    Taylor at mid-career is in the zone. He organized the wildly successful 2005 Dalí retrospective; his exhibit on the American artist Bruce Nauman has been selected to represent the US at the 2009 Venice Biennale; and he's now at work on the first US retrospective of the Armenian Arshile Gorky. What's more, his wife, Sarah Powers, an adjunct professor of art history at Moore College of Art, is about to give birth to their first child.

    But one of the most moving currents in Taylor's life is his friendship with the perspicacious artist Tom Chimes, whose anthology, "Adventures in 'Pataphysics," he organized last year. It's easy to see why Taylor has befriended Chimes, who is 86 and lives on Washington Square. Both men revel in the connections -- among artists, ideas, events, and eras -- that swirl around, infect, and take meaning from Philadelphia.

    "You see," says Chimes, smiling, "this is a very important place."

    We're sitting at the end of the long, communal table at Zeke's, the Fifth Street diner where the two men meet regularly for lunch. Powers and Claire Howard, Taylor's research assistant, have also joined and Zeke's is filled -- with dilettantes, lawyers, grandmothers who pocket packets of Sweet 'n Low. Chimes, who wears a red plaid shirt, navy knit tie (the kind with the square end), and v-neck sweater, speaks in a measured, nasal tone, one that is sweet, almost hallucinatory. A BLT sits on his plate untouched, but Chimes doesn't seem to mind. He's having too much fun reciting a speech he gave February 2 to the Hellenic University Society of Philadelphia. In his speech Chimes reminded the audience of the power ancient Greece once had over him. At age 13 and attending a Greek school on 57th Street in West Philadelphia, he noticed a frieze, which he later learned represented a scene from the Aeneid. Interpreting that frieze led him into the imagined world of Ulysses. The key notion in his speech -- indeed, the idea that penetrates all his work -- is that time is as pliable as any other cultural input. Or, as Chimes says while gazing across the table at Powers -- and I am paraphrasing -- "as [the French intellectual and major Chimes influence] Alfred Jarry writes, 'we should be able to travel through all future and past instants successively . . . we shall see that the Past lies beyond the Future'."

    Much is being made right now of Philadelphia's mounting art scene. As Melissa Dribben reported a couple of weeks ago in the Inquirer, for the past five years artists have been descending -- in ever-increasing numbers -- on Philadelphia. Do-it-yourself (DIY) galleries, collectives, and social networks are producing a new energy -- or a recombinant strain of an old energy -- one that is palpable in certain parts of the city. As seen in my recent exploration of Norris Square, we assign artists, who Chimes calls seers, special powers to transform the city.

    Taylor says to understand this current moment we have to travel back to the 1960s. Marcel Duchamp came here in 1961 for a panel discussion at the Philadelphia Museum School of Art (now UArts) and said prophetically, "Where do we go from here? The great artist of tomorrow will go underground." The Philadelphia art scene since then, according to Taylor, has been that underground, the antithesis of market-driven New York. And right now, it feels, as Willem de Kooning said of Duchamp, like a one-city art movement open to anyone.

    "The art story is the same as the city story," says Genevieve Coutroubis, the West Philadelphia photographer who runs the Center for Emerging Visual Artists' (CFEVA) regional community arts program. Coutroubis, who spends five or six weeks a year in Greece making luminous, scorching black and white street photographs, says "New York is New York and LA is LA." But "It's hard to replace what we have," she tells me, meaning the mixture of affordability, major institutions, art schools, art-making clubs, and support organizations that make it possible to "live as an artist and experiment."

    Time-traveling with Tom Chimes, we might discover that Philadelphia artists since the 18th century have been trying to do just that but have found themselves forced to interrogate a city skeptical of the usefulness of culture. Since Charles Willson Peale set up his museum, Philadelphia artists have struggled for markets, for recognition, for impact.

    In 1813, a group of promising and influential painters attempted to define the range and style of American art by forming a sketch club. But after a year or two, several of them, including Peale's son Rembrandt, gave up on the place and left for Baltimore, London, or New York. The ones who stayed struggled to capture the public's imagination.

    As for all the present DIY versions of the 1813 sketch club, will they too dissolve in frustration? Will the most promising fail to find a local audience and move on? Or will the richly-variegated art-making take hold in the post-industrial landscape? Will art become yet another element of our towering knowledge sector? Will artists' energy and instinct to create help Philadelphia overcome its seemingly intractable problems? Is it even possible to capture a counter-culture movement for economic ascendance or community development? If you try -- say by creating a city bureaucracy to promote art -- are you undercutting the power of the art you're trying to promote?

    I put some of these questions to Roberta Fallon and Libby Rosof, the editors of the effusive, ambitious, and comprehensive Artblog, when we met last week at Old City Coffee on Church Street. Since 1998, Fallon has followed the art scene in the Philadelphia Weekly; "Columnizing is what got us started," says Rosof. "In 2003 there wasn't the level of excitement. We were excited, people were making things, the proverbial tree falling in the woods."

    The two, who met in 1986 watching their kids play at the Greenfield School playground, have been making and talking art together for years. "We're just a pair of old intellectuals," says Rosof, who laughs. She is outgoing and funny, amusingly irreverent. Fallon, who grew up in Milwaukee and attended the University of Wisconsin-Madison during its 1960s activist hey-day, is quieter but no less enthusiastic. Her schoolmarm appearance belies vision, wit, and sharp analysis. And no one yet has challenged their hold on the territory. (FYI, dames Libby and Roberta will spend this evening, First Friday, attending two lectures at PAFA, one on the FBI and art theft and the other a discussion with Rob Matthews, who makes wondrous photo-realist drawings in graphite.)


    –Nathaniel Popkin

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

    7 March 08: Beer Week for Breakfast

    Ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls (aged 21 and older), the golden goodness there is the latest contribution to Philadelphia's long and proud brewing history: the Kenzinger. Philadelphia Brewing Company -- PBC -- rolled out its first barrels of it this week (along with its Newbold IPA, Rowhouse Red ale and Walt Wit white ale), and a few dozen bars have already tapped em up and started pouring em out. The Kenzinger is light, a little sweet, and will be perrrfect on a hot summer night for sitting on your deck and enjoying the view.

    Just about exactly halfway between PBC (Amber & Hagert, Kensington) and Yards' new brewery (Delaware & Poplar in NoLibs, directly under the new crane at Waterfront Square), your loyalty will be tested and your politics gauged, for Johnny Brenda's has specials: $4 pints of Yards Philly Pale Ale and $3 pints of PBC Kenzinger. Oh no they didn't -- that's PPA's old price! Oh yes, they did.

    I will be happy to drink both and support all contributors of the local economy, but being Beer Week and all, you really should open your arms and open your gullets to welcome the new kid in town, Philadelphia Brewing Company. And don't forget:

    IT'S BEER WEEK, HOORAAAAY! Celebrate with yr Philly Skylineketeers next Wednesday at Tritone for the second annual Great Chili Skyline Cookoff, but celebrate all week, too. Check the lineup of events at PhillyBeerWeek.org.

    –Beer Love

    6 March 08: Go west (and look east)

    Hey, howyadoin. This was how it looked last night, wild and windy in West Philadelphia. You may click and enlarge for maximum redness if you so choose.

    It's gonna be wild and windy tonight for two events, one in West Philly and another about how to get to West Philly. In its fifth edition in Philadelphia, Talk20 hits the ICA, 36th & Sansom, at 6, with 13 presenters talking about 20 slides for 20 seconds. It should be rad; for more info, see HERE and HERE.

    Meanwhile on this side of the Schuylkill, the 'South Street Bridge Coalition' will hold an organizational meeting at the Philadelphia School, 25th & Lombard, at 7pm, to prepare for Saturday morning's SSB design charette. So, this one is a meeting about a meeting? For Inga's recent SSB commentary, see HERE. Another interesting take is from one Ruby Legs, who has conveniently reposted his piece from last summer HERE. At some point in the past three years, I've written about it about a dozen times, but as yr Philly Skyline does not have the best archiving system, let's pick this one with photos from 2003 HERE.

    Looks like it's gonna be a nice one out there; I can't see sitting in front of a computer all day, so this may be today's only update. How y'all feelin' out there?

    –B Love

    5 March 08: High Times and High-larity in Fishtown, or,
    The nays have it

    View Larger Map

    167-13. That was the final tally when Fishtown neighbors voted on the Beer City Hotel proposal at Girard and Berks. To be clear: that's 167 opposed, 13 in favor. (To be equally clear, even I voted against it.)

    Quite frankly, I am shocked that there were 13 votes in support of what was clearly a hair brained concept from the get-go. However, neighbors could vote on their way into the meeting, i.e. vote without even seeing the presentation, so I have to wonder how many of those 13 votes were cast before the predicted circus panned out as a circus.

    If you're unfamiliar with the Beer City Hotel, scroll down two posts (to 4 March 08, High Times in Fishtown) to read the description and sample the xeroxed rendering. The meeting itself started with Fishtown Neighborhood Association's zoning committee explaining the ground rules for the discussion and the interesting journey this proposal had ridden leading up to the meeting last night. The developer -- Raj Adhuria, the owner of Beer City (which charges four dollars more for a case of Yards than Philadelphia Beer Company, four blocks north on York Street) -- didn't speak a word, instead leaving most the talking to his architect, Rod Herrera. Herrera began his spiel by saying FNA asked him to develop four townhomes, which was very clearly untrue and which FNA zoning committee members promptly corrected, even inviting neighbors to see the printed email exchange between FNA and the developer and architect, which makes no mention of townhomes.

    Another man with them, representing the Wyndham hotel company, confirmed that Days Inn was in fact the brand being sought to occupy the proposed 17 story building. A woman quoted a motel in Springfield with hourly rates and asked how they would guarantee that the same would not happen here, and he insisted that Wyndham Hotels would have representatives inspect the hotel three times a year, and that if any unscrupulous activities were to happen, they would take their flag off the building . . . which, understanding the existing appearance of the Beer City strip mall, is not a stretch to interpret as "okay, it opens as a Days Inn, incurs violations and ends up as 'the Girard Motel', hourly rates accepted.'"

    Herrera did very little to assuage any of the serious concerns raised. Neighbors asked questions about sewage lines, storm water drainage and water tables, union labor and other things -- there was surprisingly very little mention of parking and traffic and none at all of shadows -- and each question was for the most part left unanswered, with Herrera saying (paraphrased) "look, all we are looking for here is your support. From here forward, we'll work out the engineering details with your help." One neighbor replied, "so, you're telling us that FNA, who represents our neighborhood, is lying, and that your proposal, which does not meet current zoning and hasn't addressed any of the neighborhood guidelines, is something we should approve? (Pause.) What if we don't approve it?" To which Herrera replied: "then we build something else . . . I don't know, we can build a casino," after which the whole place erupted in sighs, laughter, groans and so forth.

    Needless to say, there will NOT be a Beer City Hotel and Spinning Olive Garden in Fishtown -- not now, not soon, not ever. While the Sugar House casino vote splits down the middle of the neighborhood, there is an overwhelming consensus against this Fishtown flophouse.

    Ergo, this view, your Philly Skyline Humpdate Skyline, as seen from Girard Avenue (about a block from the proposed site), will not in fact spin.

    * * *

    Speaking of Beer City, oh BABY, we are just two days away from Beer Week, in which Philadelphia makes a concerted, albeit drunken, effort to establish itself as the beer-drinkinest town in these United States of America. (It's off to a good start by having a ten day week, March 7-16.) Tons of events, tons of great beers, tons of good times. City Paper and the Weekly have done a good job covering it leading up to this point, Craig LaBan had a nice preview in the Inquirer, and the festival has its own web site at PhillyBeerWeek.org.

    City Paper's beer issue is HERE. The Weekly's bar issue is HERE, with its Top 50 bars . . . its top 50 bars in Philadelphia, which has neither Doobies nor Dirty Frank's, but which has a bar in Narberth. Um, ok. Ah well, there's plenty of love for plenty of Philly Skyline's favorite haunts (Sidecar hey! Brenda's ho!), including Tritone:

    Don't forget, friends, the second annual Great Chili Skyline Cookoff is exactly one week away, and there will be booze galore -- mid-Beer-Week! -- to wash down the samplings from all your favorite chili cooks in town. It costs a measly five beans to taste the beans that complement the meat in your bowl. If YOU would like to participate -- enter your chili against the likes of Eskimo's Handsome Boy Chili -- please contact me ASAP and we'll get you all set up.

    –B Love

    4 March 08: They say it's your birthday

    Here at yr Skyline, we don't get into a whole lot of celebrity culture and the like, but in this case, let's go ahead and make an exception. Josh Winheld, the rock star pictured above who happens to be celebrating his 30th birthday today, has been making all the rounds recently. With recent visits with the Inquirer's Dan Rubin, the New York Times, and this morning, Good Day Philadelphia, I'm just happy to be along for the ride.

    Josh's autobiography, Worth the Ride (Little Treasure Books), debuted on Leap Day and chronicles his life with Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy. Living with Tourette's Syndrome, I know what it's like to be frustrated by misconceptions and misrepresentations of . . . not necessarily an illness, but a way of life. (I wrote about this in November for City Paper.) But to mention Tourette's in the same breath as Muscular Dystrophy is simply improper. Tourette's is annoying, like a gnat that you can't swat away from your face. Muscular Dystrophy forces its chosen few to live life by its rules, which most often include wheelchairs and respirators. And not to say that Jerry Lewis' annual telethon is in any way a misrepresentation or even disingenuous, it's just that . . . well, in Josh's words, "if you ever watch the telethon, it is of a bunch of cute kids in wheelchairs. But we're not all kids anymore. Plus, there are so many other types of muscular dystrophy that only affect adults."

    With any published book, the amount of work its author puts into it is nearly incalculable. But take into account the fact that Josh's dexterity depends on the accuracy of his headset's radar pointer, and not words-per-minute typing skills, and the 352 page book is that much more impressive. Dan Rubin's column did well to illustrate Josh's tech setup, but when I visited him last week, he gave me a test drive via a familiar web site.

    Through the course of his demonstration, I picked up on a few of his journalistic techniques, and asked him about the AP Stylebook and Libel Manual on his shelf. He laughed and said "that's so old, it doesn't even address capitalization with web sites." I related that the only edition I ever owned was from 1994, a year before Netscape pioneered what we know as web browsing today.

    Josh is a 2000 graduate of Temple University, having earned his degree summa cum laude in journalism. Me, I slogged through six years of Shippensburg University's journalism program and am still uncertain if I actually graduated that same year, 2000. That said, we agreed to disagree on two spellings: he says "website" is one word, I say it's two, "web site"; he likes "e-mail" with the hyphen, I say "email" goes without. Where we agreed, though, is that Hillary Clinton's criticism of Barack Obama's healthcare plan last week was that that word was neither one word "healthcare" (what he and I preferred) nor a two word "health care", but was instead hyphenated "health-care" . . .

    Josh's family's home in Cheltenham, two blocks from the Philadelphia city line, has a back yard spread overlooking Tookany Creek. Neither of us could figure out why it's Tookany Creek through his neighborhood, then Tacony Creek after it enters the city, then finally Frankford Creek when it empties into the Delaware River. But the concept is pure Philly, we agreed.

    And so is Josh Winheld. While we shared an excitement about the upcoming Phillies season -- "honestly, I don't think that Johan Santana is going to make that much of the difference for the Mets, the bunch of choke artists that they are," he bluntly offers -- as we each chowed a "house way" cheesesteak delivered from Larry's Steaks at Rising Sun and Levick in Lawndale, he had to lay his smack down when the topic of conversation drifted toward hockey. I admitted being a Pittsburgh Penguins fan old enough to remember exactly where I was when Mario Lemieux and a young, mulleted Jaromir Jagr hoisted the Stanley Cup against the North Stars and Blackhawks in '91 and '92. "Well," he says, "I'll give you this: at least you're not the Devils. The Penguins -- Sidney Crosby -- are just annoying, totally annoying . . . but the New Jersey Devils, now them I hate."

    Knowing the Flyers were in their ten game skid, I politely changed the topic back to the Phillies and the predictable injury Brad Lidge has already suffered. No matter, he suggests, "I'm so glad that we finally have a decent team to watch." And again, I agree. As it is on this web site, baseball is also a frequently visited topic in Worth the Ride.

    I bet he'd be happy to talk baseball at his book signing, happening this Sunday, 1-4pm, at Reform Congregation Keneseth Israel in Elkins Park. It's on Old York Road (Route 611) at Route 73. If you're not a baseball fan, why not just check out his blog, Winheld's World?

    Happy Big 3-0, Josh.

    –B Love

    4 March 08: High Times in Fishtown, or,
    Is B Love really a NIMBY?

    Meanwhile up here in Fishtowne-on-Delaware (the subject of this month's Philly Skyline, The Calendar: 2008 affection), plans are being laughed at considered for a 17 story hotel and revolving restaurant proposal. At Girard and Berks. Where Beer City and Dunkin Donuts are. The open sky above the strip mall pictured there would be filled with such a thing.

    That it has gotten this far is if nothing else amusing, especially if you've followed the news through the Fishtown Star, Fishtown Spirit, Fishtown.us and Phillyblog. It's just so out there.

    Have a look, click-n-large:

    A Temple basketball fan told me it's like Kuala Lumpur on Girard Avenue. (Holla at the Travelin' Winger for more Kuala Lumpur.) Someone else said it looks like a 200 foot sippy cup. Well, where to begin . . .

    Let's start with the flyer, which was poorly constructed and had lots of typos, and which bypassed the Fishtown Neighborhood Association altogether. Developer Raj Adhuria, who runs the Beer City strip mall (which also features a dry cleaner and the Dunkin Donuts I get my gallons of iced coffee from on hot summer mornings), initially distributed flyers throughout Fishtown announcing his plans for a "brand name hotel" -- Days Inn was listed by name -- at 701 E. Girard Avenue. The flyer did not mention that there is a Days Inn about seven blocks down Delaware Avenue from the site, just below the Ben Franklin Bridge. A second wave of flyers makes no mention of Days Inn.

    The revolving restaurant? Well . . . Philly actually did used to have one. The Empire Room was on the top floor of what opened as the Holiday Inn and died as the Adams Mark (and which is reborn now as the City Line Target). Raj is thinking less Empire Room and more Olive Garden. Literally: when asked what type of restaurant he had in mind, he immediately replied "The Olive Garden . . . it's the type of place people from all over will want to come to. You can see City Hall from the top."

    I for one do not wish to pile on Raj and his, uh, ambitious plan for a Beer City Hotel. I'm certain there will be plenty of that at tonight's FNA zoning committee meeting at Fishtown Rec Center, when it hears these plans at 7:30. Keep in mind, near neighbors last year shot down a proposal for the opposite corner that would have been five stories.

    The Beer City Hotel is not even close to meeting zoning requirements. Right now, the site is currently zoned C7, which allows for gas stations and strip malls with parking requirements and 35' height limits. The hotel would need not just variances, but an entire rezoning, and at this juncture in city planning and zoning, that seems very unlikely. But let's hear him out.

    Through the flyers and the display stand inside Beer City (no, really), we learn that the Beer City Hotel is aimed at families of Fishtowners and Temple students. Don't most visitors just stay in a guest room or on the couch? And while Temple could benefit from a new hotel, how helpful would one be a mile and a half away be? There's no easy route there (Berks Street is interrupted near the El, so it's not a straight shot to the Berks Mall heart of campus), and with Septa, you'd have to take the trolley to Broad Street and transfer to the subway. (Or you could walk the four blocks north.)

    Speaking of the trolley, there are trolley islands in the middle of Girard Avenue at Berks Street, exactly where there would need to be a turning radius for trucks making deliveries to the Beer City Hotel. Looking at the elevation and site plans, this appears to have never been a consideration, the frustration of which is compounded by the fact that FNA's zoning guidelines for developers are readily available on FNA's web site.

    Another of the plan's selling points -- that it is "conveniently located directly off of I-95" -- makes no mention of the fact that the Girard interchange is being reconfigured by PennDOT, and that when it's done 95 will dump cars onto the Delaware/Aramingo Ave side, not the Girard side.

    Still another, that there will be pay parking on site that is accessible to Fishtown neighbors, makes zero sense since, unlike a lot of neighborhoods, parking is not really a problem in Fishtown, and it's all FREE.

    But again, I don't mean to pile on Raj and his dreams, if they are in fact his dreams. Some people (look through the Fishtown.us and Phillyblog links from earlier) seem to think he wishes simply to rezone the site and flip the property. Would I like to see a 17 story hotel and spinning restaurant at Girard and Berks? Boy, would I! Really, it just seems so far out of leftfield, and considering the immediate neighbors -- a police station and the empty lot next to it, a check cashing place, Sulimay's diner, and a middle school full of Fishtown teenagers -- I fail to see any draw whatsoever to a hotel there.

    But hey, let's hear him out. FNA zoning committee meeting, Fishtown Rec Center tonight. There are other matters on the agenda, but the Beer City Hotel is at 7:30.

    –B Love

    4 March 08: Building, the Big Four

    How about a nice Philly Skyline South Street Bridge Skyline to transition from yesterday's Big Five NCAA basketball talk to construction objects of photographic obsession, the Big Four? Those four buildings are all up and running with their first construction photos for March, with some Casual Observations just below.

    But first, let's talk about that word, "buildings". Why is the noun we use to describe these places of architecture, places of home, places of place, actually the active tense of a verb? Buildings? Have we as an English speaking people not thought of something better? Edifices? Too academic; it'd never fly in Peoria. Towers? Ehh, too specific, and even still, a little boring. Structures? Too generic. Domiciles? Be for real.

    Anyhoo dilly ho dilly, your Philly for rilly Skyline construction photo sections are building on the buildings they are building, looking a little something like-a shazam:
    1. COMCAST CENTER: You may have heard this somewhere already, but Philadelphia has a new tallest building. The official opening is on track for May, while work continues on the plaza fountain and the fitting out of the underground marketplace. The crown will be lit, but exactly when has not yet been determined. Perhaps most notably at the moment, new blue banners have been affixed to the construction fence to go with those orange and green ones announcing the new Perrier-Scarduzio cafe. They read "Comcast Center COMCAST CENTER Comcast Center Comcast Center COMCAST CENTER Comcast Center Comcast Center COMCAST CENTER Comcast Center".

      Please enjoy the new photographic selections of Comcast Center COMCAST CENTER Comcast Center.

    2. RESIDENCES AT THE RITZ-CARLTON: Across the street from City Hall, the Ritz-Carlton Hotel has just been outgrown by its baby brother. Construction is about 40 stories up, with about eight to go. It's now visible from South Street Bridge and well, pretty much anywhere you can see the skyline, since it's almost as tall as City Hall. Residents at the Residences will ponder whether they are looking at a 20 story banner ad or a 22 story mural as they wash down the sounds of bus routes and bike messenger car horns with a single malt and some salt from the Vault hand delivered by a man named Walt.

      Please enjoy the new smoky bouquet of the RESIDENCES AT THE RITZ-CARLTON.

    3. MURANO: The supermodel with the goiter garage is prettying herself up with a new application of makeup. The exposed concrete bands of Murano, like the St James' before, are being treated and painted white as we speak, so that when it opens this summer, the building will be a shiny blue and white, like the sky, like the Penn State Nittany Lions, like the earth from outer space, like blueberry yogurt before you mix it up. When Murano opens this summer, it will look like a cup of blueberry Dannon Yogurt before you mix it up.

      Please enjoy the new blueberry yogurt selections of MURANO.

    4. 10 RITTENHOUSE SQUARE: Weeeell I don't know, but I've been told, at Rittenhouse Square shit smells like gold. People get old but they look like new, buildings grow new but they look like old. Is it green, is it red, is it alive or is it dead? I can't put my finger on it. 10 Rittenhouse Square, it grows. The construction of the 18th Street side is right now just a bit taller than "Rindelaub's Row" once was, but the tower itself is about to take off on the Sansom Street side, ready to rise up over yonder 1845 Walnut parking garage.

      Please enjoy the new selections in gold at 10 RITTENHOUSE SQUARE.

    Whoomp. There it is.

    Also worth noting on the construction front: a new crane has been installed at Waterfront Square, so the third of the planned five towers will soon start rising there, blocking Ryan Howard's views of Center City. With his new paycheck and all the endorsements he's doing these days, maybe he can just buy the new tower. Let's call it Howard Towerd. Howard's Towers. HowarTower.

    Ooh also, if you didn't catch it last week, don't forget to have a look at our general construction roundup HERE.

    –B Love?

    3 March 08: Skyline in Cherry Red

    Looks like One and Two Liberty Place have got Temple's backs. Really, St Joe's, how'd you go and lose that game anyway? Controlled the ball for pretty much the entire game while Temple played sloppily for 35 minutes, then BAM, you blink your eyes and you done lost the game.

    The Temple win over St Joe's last night was one hell of an introduction to Big 5 basketball. I'd never been inside the Palestra -- the Cathedral of Basketball -- before, but CDoc and Nicole hooked it up and we were in for the long haul. It looked like the Hawks were going to run away with the game when they built a 14 point lead in the second half, but Temple stuck it out, creeping back to take its only lead of the night with Mark Tyndale's drive to the basket with 20 seconds left; it was the only lead that mattered.

    It's funny that my first taste of the Big 5 comes in a year that in all likeliness, none of them will make the NCAA Tournament, the first time that's happened in years, but anything's possible with the A-10 and Big East tournaments coming up.

    So it goes. To all the basketball heads out there, the Big Fivers and college students, enjoy this sampling of Philly Skyline Palestra Skylines (above and below), all clickable and enlargeable.

    –B Love