Philly

Posted by Ellen

Philly Photo Day 2014, back in October, was a school day. Maybe these kids were in art class?

Posted by Ellen

Last January, when this picture was taken, Rittenhouse Square looked plenty wintery. The snow hasn't been as deep this January, but the cold has been, if anything, even deeper. Which just goes to show, except that actually it doesn't.

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The Schuylkill Expressway, as glimpsed from across the river in South Philly.

Posted by Ellen

The penthouse dilemma story in yesterday's Good Morning was evidently inaccurate and incomplete.

Among the dozens of onlookers who spent much of the day Saturday supervising the crane assembly and glass-lifting from the sidewalk was a neighbor, Carolyn, not pictured above, who had the real scoop.

The crane, she reports, arrived on seventeen tractor trailers. The guys assembling it say it's one of three of its kind in the entire country. 

And the glassworkers were from Local 252, not 262 as written in these pages.

Several commenters observed that the estimate of a quarter million dollars to pay for new windows was likely on the low side. They believe the actual expense could be two or even three times as high.

But the main thing is: a good time was had by all.

Posted by Ellen

This is the story we heard Saturday on the street. Of course, none of it is confirmed.

So. There's this guy who bought a penthouse atop a nice new condo tower on 18th Street, half a block north of Rittenhouse Square. His unit includes a nice big terrace that wraps around at least two sides of the building; his views must include virtually all of downtown Philadelphia and beyond. Expansive, and no doubt expensive.

But not good enough. He didn't like his windows, we're told. He wanted to replace them with better windows and, apparently, more windows. He wanted lots and lots of really, really big windows. Three long trailer trucks full of windows.

Problem was, the new windows wouldn't fit in the elevator to get them up to his penthouse.

He needed a crane, and not just any crane. To operate in the cramped confines of a narrow city street laid out in the days of William Penn, the crane had to lift glass straight up for hundreds of feet and then rotate without bumping into any of the buildings thereabouts and deposit the glass gently on the penthouse terrace. Vehicular traffic could be blocked during this process, but not pedestrian traffic; nearby businesses wanted to keep their doors open the entire time.

There were only three cranes on the east coast, we were told, that could handle this sort of job. One of them was hauled to Rittenhouse Square on Saturday morning. In pieces.

Another crane was needed to help put the big crane together. In case you were wondering, the pieces are held together with big cotter pins.

Police officers were needed to direct traffic around the closed-off block. City buses were rerouted and sometimes delayed, forced into attempting painstaking tight turns onto streets not really suitable for them.

Two large crews of workmen were on duty all day, a crew of heavy equipment guys and a crew of glaziers from Local 262.

So there's the cost of the new windows, and of a rare, expensive crane that had to be assembled by a second crane, plus three tractor trailers to haul in the windows, various vehicles to haul the parts of the cranes, two crews at union wages, lots of expensive permits to block a street and redirect traffic and park all the trucks all day . . . 

And then later, after all the new windows are up on the penthouse terrace, there will be the expense of removing the old windows, redoing the walls to accommodate the new windows, installing them . . . 

We were told $250,000. Does that sound right to you?

Posted by Ellen

Next week, for the first time in Little League history, a team of 12- and 13-year-olds from the city of Philadelphia will be playing in the World Series in Williamsport, PA.

They are our Taney Dragons, who play at Taney Field in our neighborhood's Schuylkill River Park. To wangle an invitation to the big dance, the Dragons had to pull off a string of upsets, becoming the first Philly team ever to win districts, to win regionals, to win states, and then last week to win the Mid-Atlantic championship.

The way Little League works, it's almost always the well-funded suburban operations that come away with the postseason prizes. Taney had to raise money all year long to go out for these tournaments; they scrounged for practice fields all over the city, sometimes using a hangar out by the airport. Many of the parents can't afford to travel to watch their kids play, but they managed to raise $20,000 in a few days to send the team to Connecticut for the Mid-Atlantic tournament.

The Dragons' victory in Connecticut was a stunner; they dispatched Newark, Delaware, last year's Mid-Atlantic champions, 8-0. Their bats were hot, obviously, but their pitching was pretty much the same as always: a cool clinic of 70-mile-an-hour fastballs and heartbreaking curveballs, a shutout with just three hits allowed by the Dragons' star Mo'Ne Davis, who will be the only girl this year in the Little League World Series.

Although Little League has permitted girls to play since it was forced to by the courts in 1974, Davis is still a rarity. She says she has never pitched to a girl batter. But baseball is not really her passion; that would be basketball, her favorite sport. Her dream is to play in the WNBA.

Meanwhile, she's the Dragon who gets all the attention, which may be a good thing since she's unflappable, never discouraged or distracted, nothing at all like a typical 13-year-old. It's the boys on the team who crank up the drama, along with the energy level. 

Tune in on August 15 on national TV for the Dragons' first World Series contest, against a team from South Nashville, Tennessee.

Posted by Ellen

Above, in Seattle, getting rid of yellow jackets who've nested in the wall of the house beneath the shingles; below, in Philly, not yet getting rid of a wasp nest high in a tree on Kater Street.

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Spruce Street Harbor Park, at the foot of Spruce Street on the Delaware River, is Philly's latest pop-up beer garden. A couple of months ago, this was an unused dock behind the highway; a couple of months from now, it will probably return to nothingness. But for the summer of 2014, thanks to landscaping and logistics from the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society, it's drawing crowds.

It's also drawn a lawsuit, from folks who would rather the crowds spend their money in established bars and restaurants. Plaintiffs claim that the "special event" loophole in the city's liquor laws was never intended to legalize semi-long-term operations like the Horticultural Society's beer gardens.

The idea behind the pop-up gardens was booster-ish. By demonstrating the potential of vacant lots around town, it was hoped that developers might invest in permanent improvements. Meanwhile, people could enjoy themselves under the stars.

But with the lawsuit looming, somehow, it just seems like we can't have nice things any more.

Posted by Ellen

The neighbors who live along the west side of a block of 21st Street near Kater had noticed that their cold water wasn't cold any more. Right out of the tap, it was hot; one of them took its temperature and found it feverish, over a hundred degrees, which is hot enough for a nice hot shower.

They called the water department, which promised to look into it. But the guys we talked to Friday morning who'd been sent to look into it might be described as less than entirely sympathetic. "They're getting free hot water," is how one of them put it. "Free hot water, and they're not happy."

The water guys suspected a leak in the steam line that runs under the sidewalk along 21st Street, which sounds like a dangerous situation, though nobody was acting particularly worried.

The guys from the steam company, on the other hand, suspected erosion under the sidewalk in the aftermath of a water main break a couple of years ago; they believed there was no longer enough dirt down there to insulate the steam line.

For reasons we cannot fully fathom, both sets of guys were looking for evidence in the sewer lines. The crew pictured here took the low-tech approach, using shovels and eyeballs; another crew had fancier technology, basically a snake with a video camera at its head, transmitting images onto a screen set up in the back of a van.

We asked what they were seeing on the screen. "Nothing yet," they said. "Just sewer."

We asked what they were looking for. They kind of snorted. "Steam," they said.

By mid-afternoon, everybody had packed up and gone home. We're not sure if they saw any steam, but the neighbors are still getting free hot water.

Posted by Ellen

At this power plant at the edge of the neighborhood, the smokestacks that once belched day and night have been quiet now for a couple of years.

Power is still generated here at the Schuylkill complex on Grays Ferry Road, but at a newer facility immediately behind the one pictured above. Veolia Energy bought the newer part of the plant from Philadelphia's municipal electric company and converted its fuel source from oil to natural gas; that single modification reduced greenhouse gas emissions for the city as a whole, it is said, by almost 2 percent, equivalent to taking 60,000 cars off the road.

Veolia makes steam here for center city Philadelphia's centralized heating. And it does release a little smoke, not from these stacks but from a chimney behind them, not visible in the picture.