Urban Pioneers

Posted by Ellen

Philadelphia is a city of brick row houses, block upon block, mile after mile. But this house on Lawrence Street in Northern Liberties looks a little different; for one thing, it's detached from all its neighbors, set back from the street in a large fenced yard. And for another thing, well, it's a log cabin. Two stories high, a citified height, but still, unquestionably, a log cabin.

It doesn't date back to the "real" log-cabin age, however. About a quarter-century ago, in the mid-1980s, an artist named Jeff Thomas put the cabin together from a load of logs trucked in from West Virginia; its stylistic allusion, we're told, is to the back-to-the-landers of the 1960s and early '70s. In the 1980s, Thomas and other artists then settling in the Northern Liberties section of Philadelphia were recolonizing a city landscape of abandoned factories, decrepit warehouses, vacant lots, and boarded-up, blighted homes. Their pioneering spirit, embodied in Thomas's house, succeeded only too well, and the cabin is now surrounded by renovated homes that cost way too much for a struggling artist.