29 May 09: The end and the beginning

This weekend is the end of the line for the Cézanne & Beyond exhibition at the Philadelphia Museum of Art. If you haven't been and you're able to score tickets this weekend, go. It's a pretty incredible show that illustrates how influential Paul Cézanne was as the bridge between impressionism and pretty much everything after it.

Cézanne's work is displayed within the context of those who directly or indirectly took inspiration from his work, those like Pablo Picasso, Henri Matisse, Piet Mondrian and Jasper Johns. PMA's Cézanne & Beyond info is HERE and a ticket costs $24, but it's on the Funsavers list this weekend, so if you're OK with saying "Funsavers" you can get a ticket half off by calling 215 235 7469 and shouting "FUNSAVERS!".

Moving back behind the Art Museum, we come to the "underground" parking garage that's already open for business. The landscaping is still coming together and there's a chain link fence around most of it, including what will be the green roof and sculpture garden.

They've retained a lot of the rocks that were dug on site for the landscaping, and they're finally being moved off the grand walkway leading from the west entrance to Boathouse Row and Kelly Drive. The garage's page, showing the vision of the garden and how it connects to the rest of the grounds, is HERE.

Just up the way from the garage is one of the greatest parts of the Art Museum's ongoing improvements, the cliffs. The cliffside paths and the Rustic Pavilion are now open and unencumbered, and host about as close an experience as we're ever gonna replicate from the 19th century's Fairmount Reservoir paths and the South Garden.

The view of the Water Works has never been better, and the view to Lemon Hill has been restored, adding another layer of vintage to a panorama that includes Cira Centre, the rusting Spring Garden and Martin Luther King Bridges, the hustle and bustle of the Schuylkill River Path, the stone arches of the freight railroad and Amtrak passing on the other side of the river, the Schuylkill Expressway, the Zooballoon, Boathouse Row, Drexel's burgeoning skyline (including the mostly-finished Millennium Hall), and of course the Schuylkill River and Fairmount Dam.

And this Philly Skyline Get Out And See Cézanne & Beyond Skyline is how we're gonna wrap this week up. The Washington Natinals (who sell bobbleheads of Teddy Rossevelt) are in town, Hoots & Hellmouth are havin' a hoedown at JB's for their new album, and it's gonna be a beaut out there, so treat it thusly. I'm gonna do that down on the Delaware down in Delaware, so y'all have fun and I'll see ya Tuesday.

Your friend,
B Love

28 May 09: Goal area

"I don't understand it," the man says. "They should have started with the schools, man. Fixing the schools is what we need, not some soccer stadium."

The woman is less opposed. "I actually kinda like soccer . . . but I don't know anyone else here that does. I don't know why they'd put it here. Unless they plan on bringing in some foreigners or something."

The man and the woman here are a couple whose names I didn't bother asking, relaxing on the Chester waterfront and leaning on the rails of what's left of the southern half of the Commodore Barry Bridge Park. Or rather, what's temporarily left, as the sign promoting the arrival of Major League Soccer indicates it will return in a major way. The Riverwalk was built about three years ago as a meandering walkway along the Delaware River between the bridge and the former Delaware County power station, which is now the 'Wharf at Rivertown' office complex. It was designed, like so many other power stations in the region, by John T Windrim, the architect of last Tuesday's subject, the Edison Building (now graced by a big glowing Jefferson sign).

Chester Stadium is scheduled to open in 2010, but considering the MLS schedule begins in March, contractors TN Ward must have plans for 24/7 construction if they plan on completing the 18,500 seat stadium by the start of the 2010 season. The $115M stadium -- $77M of which comes from Pennsylvania and Delco taxpayers -- is the anchor of what could be $500M worth of development with the aim of revitalizing Chester. The master plan sees at least two new office buildings, and mixed use that includes retail, convention space and apartments. You can see renderings at kickstartchester.com HERE.

A lot of whether or not this happens depends on the success of soccer . . . in a town whose high school doesn't even have a soccer team. A representative from Chester High's athletics department told me they're planning on having one soon, though.

I puttered down around the site last week to take some photos and hear the thoughts of some locals. The same man from earlier pointed out to the flyover ramp construction a block and a half away in plain sight and reacted exactly as I did: "those ramps there are gonna bring people right off the highways and into the stadium, and take em right back out to the highways." He paused before adding, "well, they might go up to Harrah's." That too is a whole lot easier by car, thanks to the recent widening of Route 291, 2nd Street on Chester's grid. There's also a Septa bus between the two.

* * *

If I wasn't clear about this before, here it is again: I don't want a Philadelphia soccer team to fail, nor especially do I want the rebuilding efforts in Chester to fail. I just don't understand how soccer can prove successful with such a history of failure, nor do I see soccer as Chester's Great Solution.

If Philadelphia is such a soccer town, why did it take Major League Soccer thirteen years to come here?

If Philadelphia has such a rich soccer history, why have all its previous other teams folded? (The Kixx don't count. They're an indoor team, one of five whole teams in the soccer's Arena League that keeps reshuffling to avoid total collapse.)

If Philadelphia has such a demand for professional soccer, why is the Union the first of all these teams to build its own stadium, and with $77M of taxpayer money? That figure is greater when you include the accommodations DRPA and PennDOT are making to anticipated traffic on the Commodore Barry Bridge, I-95 and US-322. DRPA had originally pledged $10M but backed down after the public outcry that they raise tolls yet fund projects like soccer in Chester.

For comparison's sake, Lincoln Financial Field cost $518M ($188M public), Citizens Bank Park cost $346M ($174M public), and CoreStates Center cost $206M ($20M public, mostly infrastructure). All three are famously grouped in the same South Philadelphia complex with access to I-95 and I-76, and a subway stop right there. The Linc is guaranteed use ten days a year by upwards of 70,000 people (including all important luxury suites). The Bank is used at least 81 days by the third best average attendance in Major League Baseball, over 43,000. The Flyers and the Sixers guarantee at least 82 days a year. More on both of these teams' attendance in a moment. All these teams' figures, and their revenue, rise with playoffs and are supplemented by the occasional circus here and Springsteen show there.

The Union's web site has an exhaustive history of soccer in Philadelphia, so kudos to whoever compiled that. According to that history, Philly soccer's "golden age" was the 1920s, when the teams played their games in Tacony's Disston Park, in Bethlehem, and at the rec field at 29th & Cambria. By comparison, the Phillies had the Baker Bowl and the A's had Shibe Park. (Also, Penn had Franklin Field and the city had Municipal Stadium as a result of the Sesquicentennial Expo.)

After WWII, various teams -- Philadelphia Nationals, Philadelphia Americans, Uhrik Truckers, Ukrainian Nationals -- played on various fields for various incarnations of the American Soccer League, which folded three different times. In the late 60s, the North American Soccer League was supposed to be the one that finally made soccer work in America. The Philadelphia Atoms joined the league in 1973 and that same year earned their first and only title . . . in front of an average of 11,500 fans at the 65,000 capacity Vet, built for the Phillies and Eagles. They folded at the end of the 1976 season after being demoted to Franklin Field. A team of investors including Peter Frampton, Rick Wakeman from Yes and Paul Simon backed a second NASL effort in Philadelphia, the Fury, which played in The Vet from 1978 to 1980 in front of an even smaller crowd. In spite of the efforts of an aging Pelé and the record American audience he brought the sport in 1978, NASL folded in 1984.

Four years after the greatest attempt for big United States soccer failed, FIFA awarded the United States 1994's World Cup. A condition of FIFA's selection was that the US had to establish another professional soccer league, so in 1996, Major League Soccer went live. Thirteen years later, here we are. In Chester.

As I made my way out toward the wooden pier under the northern side of the bridge, one of the three men fishing there rested his pole on the railing, turned to the side facing me, whipped it out and started urinating in the river. Hey buddy how's it going! After stopping to take some pictures of the bridge to allow the man some privacy he clearly didn't require, I walked out to see if their thoughts were any bit like the couple's.

"Man, fuck that stadium!" said the man who peed, dismissing much conversation at all while something tugged on his line.

His friend laughed as he was baiting a hook and said "why do you keep hating on it, it's nice."

"Eighteen thousand, five hundred," the third man said. "I don't know about soccer, but I'm looking forward to the concerts."

Before the conversation got much further, the man who peed was tending to a nice 14" striped bass he'd just reeled in, and the talk turned to the shad run from a few weeks ago to the June peak in striper fishing on the Delaware.

* * *

I keep hearing that soccer is still growing and that youth participation is higher than any other sport in America, even Little League baseball. If that's true, what happens to all that interest when the kids grow up?

I also keep hearing that the MLS is hot on the heels of the big four sports in terms of attendance and popularity. MLS currently has a contract with ESPN2, which is a whole lot different than ESPN. Only MLS' championship game is on ESPN. With the NHL, Versus (then-OLN) paid $130M at the end of the 2004-05 lockout, when the NHL was at its absolute nadir, and in 2007 signed an extension that will carry NHL games on the cable station through 2011 at $72.5M a year. The Stanley Cup Finals are on a major network, NBC, and this year feature a rematch of last year's Finals with the story line that league officials salivate over: young stars Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin shooting for their first Cup, in a rematch of popular, recognizable teams instead of teams from, say, Raleigh and Anaheim, and a star defector from last year's runner-up to its champion in Marian Hossa.

Measuring by attendance, the NHL's lowest average (for a 41 home game season) is just under 16,000, while the mean MLS average attendance (for 15 games) is just under 15,000, a figure that is somewhat skewed by the expansion Seattle team's 29,000 (which is admittedly impressive).

NBA attendance does continue to decline, though. Two teams (Memphis and Sacramento) average in the 12,000s, and that Sixers figure of just under 16,000 has to count all ticket sales, including the ones brokers couldn't resell, because to look at the Wachovia Center during a Sixers game this year was a sad display of red seats. And an Orlando-Denver final is going to be a tough pill to swallow for a league that was banking on a Kobe-LeBron final.

Anyway, I don't buy that the MLS is cutting in on any of the big four sports (it will never, ever get even close to the same level as football and baseball in America). Soccer may be the world's game, but do people actually go to bars to watch MLS games the way they go watch Manchester United and Arsenal and Real Madrid? I've never seen Tir Na Nog packed out for a Kansas City Wizards game.

David Beckham is so dedicated as a midfield missionary in America that he's not returning from his "timeshare" to AC Milan until the second half of this MLS season. Pelé was 37 when his New York Cosmos won the NASL title at the peak of its popularity; he was 42 when the league folded after his retirement. Beckham's 34 now, and he says he's committed to helping soccer grow in America. Will he win a championship? Will it matter? Will the league still be around when he's 42?

The MLS has clearly been on a mission to prove itself to the established, superior soccer leagues in Europe and even Mexico. It's spending the money to try to do so, by signing Beckham and by building new stadiums in places like Chester and Harrison NJ and Sandy, Utah. Sandy, Utah!

That's the difference between the previous Philadelphia soccer teams and the Philadelphia Union -- the amount of money being sunken into it. I don't think a lot of people would bat an eye if some new soccer team came and played on The Linc for a couple seasons then disbanded. But that $77M of taxpayer money is invested into such a questionable venture puts that much more pressure on the Union, and really MLS, to succeed.

Soccer historian Steve Holroyd authored several essays that are archived on the tribute site PhiladelphiaAtoms.com. He wrote one piece, archived on his personal web site HERE, called "Philadelphia Atoms: An Opportunity Wasted", which started with this paragraph:
The history of American professional soccer is littered with the carcasses of great expectations and squandered opportunities. Never has a sport seemed so intent on making sure that it never rises above cult status.
And how. But the MLS is different -- at least it's spending money like it's different, and convincing state and county governments (and quasi-governmental port authorities) to spend money like it's different. Let's see where this MLS cult stands in, oh, let's say five years.

In the meantime, I just hope they get Chester Stadium down by the Commodore Barry Bridge built in time for the 2010 season. It's a nice looking stadium, honestly. I wonder if it can be converted into a minor league baseball park.

–B Love

27 May 09: LATER, DUDE

You really can't fault Andy Altman for taking a job as the CEO of the development authority that's going to create an entirely new Olympic city-within-a-city for London's 2012 Olympics. But damn.

Altman was clearly sought after by Mayor Nutter to come home to Philadelphia and be a cornerstone of the new day and new way Nutter campaigned on. As Deputy Mayor for Planning and Economic Development, Altman was expected to be one of the city's new saviors toward job creation and smart growth. But is sixteen months really enough to time to allow that to happen, in a city where the old machine is still as prevalent and slow as it always has been?

Altman's announcement this morning comes a whole week after the city's first ever Sustainability Director Mark Alan Hughes announced his own resignation. That brings to four the total of high ranking Nutter officials that have left office less than a year and a half after taking it (and to two the total of guests at the Philly Skyline / Johnny Brenda's collabo For The Curious salons who've moved on).

With a track record of doing great things quickly and then leaving quickly, Andy Altman has now added his hometown Philadelphia to a list that already included LA, Jerusalem, New York, and probably most famously, Washington DC.

Mayor Nutter's statement this morning included this bulleted list of Altman Achievements in his overnight visit:

• Coordination of all economic development activities throughout city agencies and creation of a "Development Cabinet" to manage major projects and policies.
• Reorganization of the Commerce Department, including creation of a one-stop shop for businesses and potential investors in Philadelphia.
• Putting the pieces into place to redevelop the Delaware waterfront including creation of the Delaware River Waterfront Corporation.
• Led the development of applications for federal recovery dollars and coordinated a major new initiative on weatherization that will create up to 750 green collar jobs.
• As Chair of the City Planning Commission, put planning at the heart of the City's development process.
• Managed the casino development efforts on behalf of the City that will ensure opening within 12 months.
• Created innovative loan guarantee and gap financing programs to invest more than $10 million to support small businesses and commercial corridors.
I don't know that I'd put that next-to-last one up there, especially a day after City Council's Rules Committee decided that a zoning variance to allow even more surface parking at the "interim" Sugar House Thing was a good thing. The SHT stinks.

But Andy Altman ain't gonna smell it where he's going. Cup o' tea and cheerio, old bloke. Have fun with your Olympics.

–B Love

26 May 09: Barnes Dancing

These four unceremonious yet mysterious squares just might pull back the curtain a little on what is otherwise the most guarded secret of Philly Skyline relevance in Philly Skyline's existence. Tod Williams Billie Tsien Architects (TWTBA) and landscape architects The Olin Partnership apparently swore to an oath of secrecy when they won the Barnes Foundation's design competition for their move to the Ben Franklin Parkway, because there ain't nothin' out there about its design yet.

The tea party held at the site of the then-still-standing Youth Study Center in October (16 October 08: The Phillies win the pennant) didn't even reveal so much as a massing study. Instead, the "ribbon" banners that weave between the grove of london plane trees were unveiled, a ceremonial "first explosion" was ignited to mark the beginning of the YSC's demolition, and a confirmation was offered that the 2011 target date for opening would be met. It was announced then that the design of the new Barnes would be brought to light in "spring/summer 2009".

One day after Memorial Day, it is now officially spring/summer 2009. The YSC is no longer around, and there are now these four squares in its place.

That the move appears to be this much closer makes it no less contentious. The Delaware River Port Authority just last week entertained a hearing from the Friends of the Barnes, who was asking DRPA to rescind the $500K of their (DRPA's) contribution to the move from their economic development fund. The Friends' ultimate goal is of course to block the move from Merion to the Parkway, to preserve the will that Albert Barnes left and which was broken in December 2004, when Montgomery County Orphans Court Judge Stanley Ott okayed the relocation the Foundation was seeking. This time last year, Ott declined the move to reopen the case. (CultureGrrl.)

This time this year, the Barnes art collection is still out in Merion, in the Paul Cret designed main building which sits amidst the garden and arboretum which the Foundation's first Director of Education in 1925 called "a genuine part of the educational work of this Foundation". Whether Cret's building will be replicated on the Parkway is unknown -- or at least un-public. It's also highly unlikely. Calls to the respective contacts at the Barnes Foundation and TWTBA were not returned by this posting, and a call to Olin revealed nothing other than that the design would be released "late this summer". Both TWTBA's web site and Olin's web site utilize the Flash navigation that is so maddeningly popular with architecture firms, and searching both for "barnes" returns zero results. (Same goes for the web site of Ballinger, the Philly-based associate architect on the project.)

So here in spring/summer 2009, the ship's still tight; there are as yet no leaks. However, if we want to take some guesses and float some rumors, we'll start with a close-up inspection of these squares. Click to enlarge:

These four squares were installed some time in the last week or so. They're wrapped in plastic and canvas, but not so tightly that the sun and wind didn't peel them back a little. Beneath the plastic and canvas are squares about 6' x 6', each of a different stone. Based on other recent major construction sites in town, it would seem that these are test installations to see how the different stone façades will appear under the sun, shade and weather.

As for rumors, I've heard tell that a good number of the london plane trees will be removed and that the new building (which will include new education/classroom space that the current Barnes does not have, in addition to the art collection arrangement, which will be replicated) will be a multifaceted glass box of sorts, extending right up to the Parkway. Williams and Tsien's use of exquisite materials -- zinc and fired brick at Penn's Skirkanich Hall and their award winning American Folk Art Museum, for example -- suggests the new Barnes will be far more than just another glass box, though. Another sensible rumor indicates it will have a green roof.

Just rumors for now -- guess we'll find out if there's any truth to them later this summer . . . (?)

–B Love

25 May 09: A Memorable Memorial Weekend

If the Phillies-Yankees show that wrapped up yesterday in the Boogie Down Bronx isn't all American entertainment, then I don't know what is. Two of the best teams in baseball did battle at the brand new Yankee Stadium, with lots of homeruns, big money performances from big money players, a few young stars in the making, and two more blown saves from Brad Lidge. (I wanted to work in a "struggling Wang" and "Fleet Week seamen" joke but just couldn't make it work. Also I am 11 years old.)

Man oh man, that's baseball right there. I've never been a fan of interleague play, but with thousands of Phillies fans making the trip to the much hyped Shrine de Steinbrenner for a solid Friday win that ended the Yanks' nine game winning streak, a gut wrenching Saturday loss with A-Rod heroics, and a beautiful Sunday afternoon rubber match, I suppose it's all right with me. With a pair of aces in Cole Hamels and CC Sabathia slated to take the hill, in a game matching the defending champs versus the all time champs, there was no way in hell I was going to pass this up. So with a Suburban Station Dunkin Donuts coffee to go, Conor and I caught the R7 to New Jersey Transit (with comfy new doubledecker seats) to the B train.

Coming above ground from the subway, my readymade impression of the $1.5 billion stadium was one of gluttony, exclusivity, and arrogance. From the Gate 6 main entrance, it reeked of gold-plated gaudiness, a 21st century neoclassical interpretation of the House That Ruth Built. I left that all on the outside the moment I scanned my ticket.

Entering the Great Hall, you're greeted with the enormous banners you'd expect a team with 26 titles to fly -- Ruth, Gehrig, DiMaggio, Yogi, The Mick, Reg-gie, Donnie Baseball. Huge, huge ceilings, plenty of breathing room and drafts of fresh air make it about as grand an entrance as there is. The Hard Rock Café on the far end made me laugh, though -- they still open these things?

The best thing about the new Yankee Stadium is absolutely the concourses. You couldn't walk 360° at the cramped old ballpark, but here, the movement is free on three different levels, the lower two of which go the entire way around the stadium, so you can get up and take a lap when the bottom of the order's up. Behind home plate, where Citizens Bank Park is usually jammed up with standing room only tickets, there was even room to pull up a rail and watch the game from behind the backstop.

There are some elements of unnecessary exclusivity, like the members-only Mohegan Sun (yes, like the casino) club in the centerfield batter's eye, and you need a level-specific ticket to get into the different levels' bars, like the Jim Beam Lounge from which I was denied. My ticket, in section 133 in lower level leftfield, gained me access to Tommy Bahama's. Thanks but no thanks. Besides, it was 85°, and the sun was already making the padded navy blue leather seats so hot that an alcoholic beverage was probably a step in the wrong direction. (My arms are redder than the king prawn the stadium's executive chef cooked on the HD jumbotron just before the game.)

On the whole, I really have to say that the new Yankee Stadium is pretty great. I expected my eyes to hurt from rolling, but I was constantly turning my head to something else. (A hot sunny day with hot sunny NYC women didn't exactly damage the stadium's image, either.)

Despite the questionable choice of dark leather for a summer sport, the padded seats were unlike anything I've seen at a ballpark. Jump up quickly to go "YEAH!" at Carlos Ruiz throwing out a runner for a strike-him-out-throw-him-out double play? Sit back down quickly to POOF . . . AHHH.

I absolutely love that they kept the Hammond organ. ("Nah, nah, nah, nah. Nah, nah, nah, nah.") You can still see the 6 train passing through in rightfield. The fans just below it still start off each game chanting the players' names until they respond. ("Der-ek Je-ter, clap, clap, clapclapclap!") (Jeter waves.)

The most obvious drawback is the most obvious to find: the prices. Ticket prices are famously outrageous, and the food and drink keep pace. A twelve ounce Miller Lite is $10, and the "premium import" beer, Beck's, is $11. A hot dog is $6. A bottle of Poland Spring water is $5. And of course, the surf and turf at NYY Steak is $54.75, washed down with a $26 glass of Silver Oak cabernet.

That it's so easy to make out Yankee Stadium as a circa-2006 Wall Street lair of luxury (in the same South Bronx neighborhood it's always been in) is unfortunate, because it really is a magnificent ballpark. Its blasé arched limestone exterior is as easily overlooked as Citizens Bank Park's fake brick paneling is, and the concourses, scoreboards, assorted amenities and indeed playing field (Little League as the dimensions are, they're verbatim with the old stadium's traditional dimensions) make it immediately one of the best in the country. And this is without even mentioning the historic Monument Park, if you're willing to wait 45 minutes to get into it.

Oh yeah, and on top of all of that, there was a baseball game with our WFCs.

It's a shame that Brad Lidge is playing as awful as he is, but there it is, right now he's awful. His four blown saves are four more than last year's perfection, and before the second month of the season is even over, he's allowed more runs than all of last year. Cole Hamels' third win, a win for JA Happ in his first start, and John Mayberry Jr's homerun in his second Major League at bat were all nullified by Lidge's ongoing struggles.

Fortunately, his teammates picked him up in the extra innings that decided the series, most notably Carlos Ruiz. Sunday was certifiably Chooch Day -- he threw out two runners trying to steal second, he made a textbook block of the plate on Jayson Werth's throw to put out Johnny Damon, and he went 3-for-4 including the game winning double in the 11th. Chooch Day! (Click that animated gif for a six-panel dissection of that play at the plate.)

Shane Victorino had three hits off his old pal CC Sabathia. Raul Ibañez upped his league leading RBI total to 43. Cole Hamels allowed only two runs over six innings, and he struck out Alex Rodriguez three times. Mark Teixeira hit a broken bat homerun that speaks volumes about either his strength (he has the same agent as A-Rod, Manny and Barry Bonds, remember) or about the reputation the stadium has garnered early on as a wind-driven bandbox. And Clay Condrey continued his excellence out of the bullpen to nail down the final two innings and earn his fourth win.

All in all, a fantastic way to spend a Sunday. Well worth the flagrant corruption that is the 'official partnership' between MLB and StubHub cost of admission. And you know, I think I only saw two fights all day. Yankees fans, not surprisingly, are much less obnoxious and more civilized than the cretins rooting for the other team across town.

After the game, Conor and I caught the D train heading back downtown with my good friend here, Phillies president and CEO David Montgomery. I didn't see him until after I told some d-bag in a Yankees jersey across the car to F off. (As the train bing-bonged, the doors kept doing that thing where they wouldn't close and this guy kept yelling at me that I was on the door. I was not, in fact, on the door, nor was my camera bag which he kept calling "your fuckin' backpack".) I apologized to Monty for my foul language and he laughed, "I think I've probably heard that before." I said thanks for putting together last year's championship team and said let's do it again this year.

I also asked him what he thought about keeping Big John around, and he wouldn't satisfy me with an answer, instead staying the diplomatic president he is, "we'll have to see." Thanks Monty, but I think we oughta keep that big righthander in South Philly for a while.

A mini-essay of photos from the Sunday afternoon, 11 inning, heavyweight bout between the Philadelphia Phillies and New York Yankees is


There are 45 photos, about 12M total in size, so just give it a minute to load.

–B Love

22 May 09: Space is the place for happy birthdays

According to Philly Skyline, The Calendar: 2009, today is Sun Ra's 95th birthday, so to my man laying down the soundtrack of the cosmos somewhere out in the cosmos, we would all like to wish him a happy birthday. His collaborator and heir to the throne -- and heir to the Sun Ra house in Germantown -- maestro Marshall Allen, turns 85 on Monday. And everybody's celebratin'!

Sun Ra was done with this world in 1993, after thirty-five years of Arkestra life and livin' at 5626 Morton Street, about two blocks from the Germantown station on the R7 regional rail line, just north and east of Germantown Avenue. Prior to the move to G'town, he lived on Chicago's South Side for fifteen years, and it's that period of his human journey that is the subject of a current exhibition at the Institute of Contemporary Art in West Philly. Pathways to Unknown Worlds: Sun Ra, El Saturn & Chicago's Afro-Futurist Underground, 1954-1968 runs through August 2nd and profiles Sun Ra and his Arkestra through "a collection of paintings, drawings, prints, manuscripts, ephemera, and video produced by and about Ra and his associates -- much of it previously unseen."

Meanwhile, Marshall Allen is holding the fort down and fighting the good fight, up in Germantown and up on stage. Allen has been a core member of the Arkestra since joining in 1958, a saxman who's not afraid of the flute or the clarinet or the oboe. He's celebrating his birthday (and the 95th anniversary of Sun Ra's arrival on Planet Earth) with a Sunday night show and midnight toast at Johnny Brenda's and hosted by the Ars Nova Workshop. It's only ten bucks, and it's Memorial Day weekend so you don't wanna hit the highways anyway.

The Sun Ra show at the ICA is HERE.

The Marshall Allen show at JB's is HERE.

And naturally, the Sun Ra Arkestra's take on "Pink Elephants on Parade" is below.

–B Love

Photo of Marshall Allen and Sun Ra, circa 1978 in Washington DC, by Michael Welderman, accessed on his web site jazzvisionsphotos.com.

22 May 09: Holla back, SSB

State of the Bridge, 22nd May, 2009.

This here is Penn's Hollenback Hall, or the William M Hollenback Center, if you prefer. It was built as the University Power Plant in 1924, a year after the original South Street Bridge opened. It had a big old smokestack when it opened, but it was demolished long ago. (You can kinda see it in phillyhistory.org photo.)

Though it looks like it could have come fifty years earlier from a Furness Hewitt office, Hollenback was designed by the Philadelphia firm Thomas, Martin & Kirkpatrick, who I must admit I know very little about. PAB's profile of them suggests they designed several country houses and churches in the region, including the Immanuel Lutheran Church at 57th & Christian.

In this picture, we can see Hollenback's unique relationship with the bridge. Its main entrance is walled off at the moment, since there's no bridge to lead people into it. The only pedestrian access now is via the Weave Bridge, or a very long walk through the hospitals down Civic Center Boulevard, around Module 7 and back the access road separated from the Schuylkill Expressway by a jersey barrier wall. In the picture, we can also see the support structures coming together for the new South Street Bridge.

This is one of ten new photos from the West Philly side of the river taken yesterday, which are available in mini-essay format by clicking right

Philly Skyline Bonus Skyline: spun around 180° from South Street Bridge, on the Weave Bridge, waving at an Amtrak Northeast Regional pulling into station with a skyline out yonder. 1706 Rittenhouse peeks its head up for the first time.

–B Love

21 May 09: In memoriam

That cancer is a motherfucker, boy. Yesterday afternoon it won a long fight that went well into extra innings with Tom Breeden, aged 57.

As a father-in-law, he wasn't what all the old movies and comic strips portray, heavy handed and overprotective, in fact he was the opposite of that -- easy going, level headed, que sera sera. He was only my father-in-law for 10 months, but we've been talking baseball, Pink Floyd, postcards and wine (but not politics, as advised by his daughter my wife) since we first met just before 9/11.

The Phillies were very important to the family in the past year. The World Series run wasn't only a point of joy, but a crucial point of respite. With cancer closing in on Tom, it took his brother Harvey less than a week after the Phillies won, and their dad Frank departed of other causes two weeks later. But everyone was with it and attentive when Brad Lidge struck out Eric Hinske, as ecstatic as the entire Delaware Valley. As the third brother John celebrated at Citizens Bank Park with his son and daughter, Tom disregarded his pain and took his rally towel out to Chester Pike in his home Ridley Park, waving it and hooting and hollering with all the honking cars passing by.

The six months since then have seen a lot of travel on that Delco road, first to Taylor Hospital which had grown too familiar, and finally to the Taylor Hospice. The hospital had all the comfort of any old hospital, with its beeps, K-Mart artwork and merciless halogen lights, and views from the rooms out to the tarred roof with stones and air conditioning units. The hospice, on the other hand, is in an old neocolonial stone home on a hill, with a landscaped backyard, tall trees, lots of birds, and nurses whose only job is to minimize your pain and make you comfortable as you prepare for your exit.

Cancer is the last thing you'd ever wish on anyone. It's cruel and senseless, and the longer it drags, the more cruel and senseless it gets. Everyone knows this, and when it happens, you know it better. But should that wicked disease choose you or someone you love, may you be fortunate enough to have the care and sanctuary of a hospice facility.

Peace out, Tom. We'll miss you.


20 May 09: Sanity > Kraziness

Before I even had a chance to prepare an official Philly Skyline statement on just how bad Councilwoman Joan Krajewski's Bill #090380 was, I received the good news that there was no longer a Bill #090380, that it had been pulled from the table. Well, thank god for that.

But that it got this far is of great concern, the sort of thing for which the public and park advocates absolutely must stay on guard when the Fairmount Park Commission officially dissolves on July 1st. Krajewski's Bill #090380, whose full text was printed on SCRUB and Philebrity, would have opened the Park to "public or private parking lots", catering facilities, and detached single-family dwellings, among other "accessory" things. In the Park. Fairmount Park.

It didn't take too much digging to reveal what this was really all about: Councilmanic Prerogative. Councilmanic Prerogative is Philadelphia-speak for acceptable nepotism, the ultimate in representing one's constituents. The other Councilmembers defer to the Councilperson in whose district the issue at question lies, and if that Councilperson deems it OK, then City Council then deems it OK.

Glen Foerd mansion (the September subject of Philly Skyline, The Calendar: 2009, by the way), which lies in Krajewski's Northeast Philly district, was catching a lot of flak from Fairmount Park for expanding its own catering facility without the Park's approval. So the bill was written as a reaction, to prevent any future hassle for Glen Foerd from handling its own business despite being under the Park's umbrella.

Unfortunately for them, and fortunately for the rest of us, the bill was so vague in its language and hasty in its preparation that it sounded the alarm. As of yesterday morning, backlash had led Krajewski to plan on rewording the bill to deal specifically with Glen Foerd -- see Stephan Salisbury's Inquirer article HERE. And before it even made it to the Planning Commission yesterday, its director Alan Greenberger announced that it had been pulled from City Council, canceling its reviews at the Planning Commission and City Council's Rules Committee.

UPDATE: Stephan Salisbury has a follow-up for the Inquirer today too, online HERE.

So for now, justice prevails and Fairmount Park dodges a detached-single-home-shaped bullet. But isn't this exactly the kind of worry this web site expressed at the time of the referendum to dissolve the Park Commission and merge its responsibilities with the Recreation Department in a new Department of Parks and Recreation? (Isn't that the name of Amy Poehler's new sitcom? Is it about Philadelphia?)

4 November 08: Why I voted no to charter question #1:
Fairmount Park is a great asset, because it's cared for that way, in spite of funding that famously hasn't been there, funding described by the Parks Alliance [who supported the merger] as "Decades of Budget Neglect". If the mayor and city council are responsible for the budget that has long neglected Fairmount Park, why would we want to turn it over to them? Even greater is the question why when one considers Councilmanic Prerogative and the effect it could have on a city-run park.
The sky isn't falling yet, but the new department hasn't taken root yet. Michael DiBerardinis, the head of the new department, "expressed concern over the breadth of the legislation." (Salisbury.) He's a good person to lead it, so here's hoping he keeps City Council in check when he does.

–B Love

19 May 09: Jeffersonian architecture

. . . but not the traditional, Monticello, Poplar Forest kind. This here is Thomas Jefferson University's latest gift to Philadelphia.

While Jeff is rightfully regarded as one of the nation's best hospitals, something we can all be proud of, their conduct as an urban neighbor the last few years has not been such a point of pride.

In 2002, the university demolished the last remaining building on the southern half of the 900 block of Chestnut Street -- the original I Goldberg, the one with the Harriet Tubman mural -- and built one of the city's largest parking garages at 10th & Chestnut. (See Harris Steinberg's editorial at the time at City Paper HERE.) In 2006, they agreed to sell The Gross Clinic, one of Thomas Eakins' most important and hallowed paintings, to the heiress of freakin' Wal-Mart, leaving the Philadelphia art community (spearheaded by PMA and PAFA) to match the money and keep it in Philadelphia where it belongs. And here in 2009, they've added this little ditty to the skyline.

A white marquee "Jefferson" sign has been tacked to the top of the north and south sides of the Edison Building, which Jefferson owns, at 9th & Sansom. While it's not as egregious as a Unisys sign tacked two-thirds of the way up Two Liberty Place -- Jefferson already owns the Edison Building (as opposed to maybe moving in if they can get a sign) and this is at the top, where signs typically go -- but it's still pretty . . . LARGE.

I first saw this coming north on 95 the other night, near the Walt Whitman Bridge, perfectly legible from that distance. Revisiting the old story, the issue here is not the sign, but the sign's placement, its design, its aim. The PSFS Building's giant neon letters were part of the building's original design (and part of what make it special), as was Blue Cross' logo (even if it took a few years to be installed), as was PECO's crown lights for that matter. The Edison Building's set back roof was not intended to host a sign, much less one as big as Jefferson's sign.

The 325' building (which by my measure makes it the 49th tallest in Philadelphia) was designed by John T Windrim, who inherited his father's famous architecture name, but made his own name with his work for Bell Telephone and Philadelphia Electric Company (PECO), not to mention the Franklin Institute and Lincoln Liberty (PNB) Building. The Edison Building opened as PECO's main office building in 1927, power generator and smokestack attached. (You can still see it billowing smoke from time to time.)

Jefferson acquired it in 1973, but thirty-six years on, they finally decided to brand it with a bright, white, two-story sign.

–B Love

19 May 09: Testing 1-2

Last night when out and about, I got an email from my man Brian in G-Ho saying that the PECO building was sneaking some peeking at the new LED crown lights that are to go live this summer. I turned that Market Street corner and hey, it was true!

I like this. When PECO announced they were replacing their (really old fashioned, really outdated, really bad example for an energy company in 2009) crown lights that had been there since 1976 with an LED system, I pictured huge high-tech billboards on all four sides of the building. For as often as the light bulbs were (humorously) burnt out, they were an engrained part of the skyline, for sure. I didn't think full-color signs would look right on top of the black box building.

But these vertical panels maintain the clean lines that define the building, H2L2's local answer to the Sears Tower and US Steel Tower. The new lights are designed by The Lighting Practice (who is based in the Public Ledger Building and who have been in these pages for their work with CCD on South Broad Street). The project, which also includes PECO's green roof, is being headed by architects IEI Group and carried out by C Erickson.

Another reader, our good friend Ari Barkan, has a heck of a view of the whole project from his pad at the Murano:

This is a photo Ari took the other day when the lights were being installed and tested. In it you can see the progress being made on the green roof. Here's a zoom shot of the lights -- click and enlarge:

Thanks for those, Ari, they're dope.

In five minutes or so huddled in the Trader Joe's parking lot, me and my pal Chris watched the lights display some Comcast Center-esque imagery, such as a bouncing ball, a celestial scene and a butterfly fluttering by. It also had an ipod-ad-like dancing girl silhouette on backgrounds that changed from solid yellow to solid magenta and solid orange. There was a font test (a font test!) that read "Goudy Old Style" before the font tested the classic "THE QUICK BROWN fox jumped" . . . but it never finished! What did that quick brown fox jump?!?

My favorite PECO preview, though, had to be the cartoon schoolbus with "SCHOOL" written in almost-comic-sans on the side. This is a fun(ny) way to remind everyone that the crown lights are for community and non-profit announcements, not for ads (which was also a concern when the news of the shift to LEDs was announced).

PECO's web site is asking for submissions now that will be posted "after July 1, 2009", which makes me think the new LED show will be unveiled on the Fourth, just like its predecessor. Channel 6's fireworks telecast (with headliner Sheryl Crow . . . ehh, win some lose some) will no doubt focus in on this new and improved addition to the Philly Skyline.

Go 'head, PECO.

–B Love

19 May 09: Hey baby, pull my lever

Happy Election Day, y'all, and don't forget to vote -- for your next DA Dan McElhatton and your next City Controller Brett Mandel. Young Philly Politics, as always, has the full rundown HERE (and they endorsed Seth Williams, so there are certainly several points of view out there).

May the best men (and women) win. Please.

–B Love

PS: On a political aside, I'd like to thank Mark Alan Hughes for the work he's done as the city's first ever Director of Sustainability. He announced his resignation yesterday, so I and my Philly Skyline cohorts (who hosted him at one of our For The Curious salons at JB's not long ago) wish him the best. Check out BriHo's story on The Clog HERE.

18 May 09: Feel good Philly

After some scallopcakes at Under the C on Friday morning, I was moseying back toward the el at 15th Street when the haze finally started to burn off and blue started to poke through. Looking across the street at this month's Philly Skyline object of affection -- the weird, silent, beautiful french second empire monument to the city -- I figured I'd see how things looked from up top.

If memory serves, this is the first time I've been up to the City Hall observation deck in 2009. (That's where Friday's Convention Center photo came from.) While waiting for my fifteen minute segment to come, two other ladies on my ticket time were talking about how great a time they were having on their visit to Philadelphia, and to City Hall itself. I said the only thing I didn't like about City Hall was that they're now charging five bucks for the tower visit. One of them leaned in and said quietly, "we're seniors, so it's free."

Florence and Susan came here from Danville, California, a town of 40,000 about 45 minutes east of San Francisco, to visit Florence's daughter who is a teacher in West Philly. They said that in their few days visiting, they'd already hit the Art Museum, both the main building and the Perelman building, the Rodin Museum, the Reading Terminal, and they were heading to the Rosenbach Museum after their City Hall tower visit. I told them that since they were going to be in the neighborhood, they should check out Mémé, the restaurant whose sign and menus were designed by Ralph Steadman, the longtime illustrator for Hunter S Thompson. "Oooh, I love Hunter S Thompson," Susan said with the same enthusiasm she'd expressed for Maurice Sendak when I mentioned that she just missed his exhibit at the Rosenbach. "I'm really surprised by how wonderful Philadelphia is," she continued. "It's really fabulous."

Florence agreed and pointed out that they hadn't even been down to the Liberty Bell. She then asked which direction West Philadelphia was, as she wanted to see where her daughter taught from on high. I told her that it was blocked by the skyline, and Susan said "that's OK, the buildings here are great. I've never taken so many pictures of buildings, and I go to San Francisco pretty often."

In your face, City by the Bay!

Anyway, that's all, just a little high praise from high up to brighten your Monday morning. Florence and Susan, you can come back any ol' time.

And since we're up here, in May 2009, let's have a look at the final product at the Residences at the Ritz-Carlton.

End with a Philly Skyline Philly Skyline? Absolutely.

–B Love

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