This photo has been used on the cover of paperback editions of Wuthering Heights, but it's really a self-portrait of a Philadelphia lampmaker named Robert Cornelius. Cornelius apparently didn't comb his hair for the camera, but he can be forgiven because he probably thought the picture wouldn't really come out anyway. He made the daguerrotype in November 1839 out in the yard behind his family's lampworks, on Chestnut Street in Philly, and it is believed to be the first ever photographic image of a human face.. On the back of the picture, Cornelius wrote "The first light picture ever taken, 1839." Three months later, he opened the first ever photographic portrait studio, but later census reports suggest that he eventually went back into the family lamp business.
A competing claim for portrait primacy has been put forth for a French daguerrotype made by Daguerre himsel, perhaps in 1837, which would be two years before he announced his process for making "light pictures." In 1838, Daguerre claimed in a letter that after several attempts at portraiture, he'd had one success, and some experts believe that one early success is a recently discovered portrait of the painter Nicolas Juet. Early photographic portraiture was difficult because Daguerre's technique required extremely long exposure times, so long that in order to stay perfectly still people had to adopt rigid, artificial, inelegant poses.
Cornelius, who had specialized in silver-plating lamps for the family business, worked on the chemistry of Daguerre's silver-based process and may have achieved some refinements before he made his self-portrait. He is known to have added bromine to the formula. His pose here looks strikingly casual compared to most nineteenth-century portraits, though the arms crossed over his chest may have helped him remain motionless, probably for at least two minutes and perhaps for as long as five minutes.
He does appear to have just stepped out of Wuthering Heights.
Last week, a new condo tower opened in Philadelphia near Rittenhouse Square; its penthouse has already been sold, for $12.5 million. This picture was snapped by a glazier who was hired by the new owners to redo some of the windows.
This is only a small part of the view that $12.5 million buys. The penthouse occupies one entire floor of the new building, and its views are 360 degrees. What you see here is the view looking to the east: the art deco Medical Arts Building across the street, the vaguely Moorish Drake tower near the righthand edge of the photo, with the new glass quonset-hut-canopy of the Kimmel Center behind it.
In the distance is New Jersey, on the far side of the Delaware River.
By all accounts, the new condos are pretty nice. Each one occupies an entire floor, with elevators that are basically private for each resident. In the elevators are buttons you can push to operate the fully automated underground garage; your car will be whisked up from its underground spot and placed gently near the street-level exit, all ready for you to slide behind the wheel and venture forth into the city.
Two subtle murals on rowhouse endwalls at 22nd and Walnut streets in Philadelphia recover in shadow and reflection a long-gone church that once occupied the site that is now is a gas station.
Artist Michael Webb painted every brick on the two murals, which adorn plain stucco walls that had long been covered with graffiti. St. James Church dated back to 1870, which is the era rendered in the murals' architectural details.
Sunoco commissioned the murals in 1999, hoping to put an end to the gas station's graffiti problems. The plan worked.
By now, many of you have heard that we are headed to Philadelphia. The heavy lifting of the move has begun, so it'll be at least a week or so before I'll have a chance to share more Good Mornings with y'all. Please be sweet in the meantime, and don't pick on your siblings; we are, after all, moving to the City of Brotherly of Love.
I cannot say what's with the horses. They're tied up to a pay phone in front of PMV Variety Store in our neighborhood-to-be, just south of center city Philadelphia. If you Google-earth this spot, you'll see that the pay phone is still there and the storefront still looks the same, though the PMV Variety may now be out of business. The horses have vamoosed.
Two years ago, when they demolished the old South Street Bridge over the Schuylkill River, it was in such bad shape, I'm told, that chunks of its concrete were falling onto the expressway that passes underneath.
A week from Monday, this new South Street Bridge is scheduled to open, restoring a direct route from our neighborhood to the University of Pennsylvania across the river. The little flag near the right edge of the picture is flying over Penn's football stadium.
Looks like there's still a little work to be finished up in this next week. But they say they'll cut the ribbon right on schedule.
This weekend, the mayor and his guys in suits cut the ribbon reopening the South Street Bridge across the Schuylkill River, after two years of demolition and reconstruction.
For the first few hours, the bridge was only open to foot traffic. So this group of students from the University of Pennsylvania set up card tables in the middle of the roadway and played bridge on the bridge.
Soon after the ribbon-cutting, a small parade marched past the card players, led by the West Powellton Steppers and drum team. Behind them was a ten-foot-tall papier mâché puppet bearing a sign that said "Share the Road." Bringing up the rear--and putting an end to the brief and glorious era of bridge on the bridge--was the first motor vehicle to cross the new span, a Philly CarShare hybrid Prius.
A couple of weeks ago, before the new bridge opened, I snuck out onto it while the workmen were at lunch. When I looked upstream along the Schuylkill, I saw railroad tracks cutting straight through to Center City and beyond, past all those skyscrapers ssoaking up the sun.
The best singer from my neighborhood here in Philadelphia might be the best singer ever from any neighborhood anywhere: Marian Anderson. A future Good Morning will look at her in the neighborhood; for now, let's get straight to the singing.
We remember Marian Anderson as the artist-entertainer who first broke through the color line in 1930s America. We do not remember her the way she appears in this Richard Avedon photo from much later in her life; she was not the sort of woman who let her hair down in public, literally or figuratively.
Maybe she looked a little like this sometimes down in the basement of the South Philadelphia rowhouse she bought with the earnings from her European concert tours, a basement in which she installed a piano and a champagne cooler and extra soundproofing in the walls. But even in her private music-making, it is hard to imagine her settling for anything less than, or straying very far from, the highest standards of Western highbrow music. Her training had been hard to come by, but she had mastered her art like nobody before or since. That's what Arturo Toscanini said after listening to her in Vienna, and it's what Jean Sibelius said when he begged her to let him write a song for her.
Seventy-five thousand Americans, white and black, gathered outside the Lincoln Memorial on a cold April morning in 1939 to hear Marian Anderson sing for them. Eleanor and Franklin Roosevelt had arranged the concert after the Daughters of the American Revolution had refused to let her perform in their hall, which like all accommodations in Washington back then was completely segregated. She would go on to sing at the inaugurations of presidents Eisenhower and Kennedy, and in 1963 she returned to the steps of the Lincoln Memorial to sing for hundreds of thousands of Americans at Martin Luther King, Jr.'s, march on Washington.
You can hear her sing at these and other events, from the 1920s through the 1960s, on YouTube. Even though the quality of the recordings is sometimes disappointing and the highbrow diction characteristic of the era's artists can be distracting, you'll hear a voice so silky and deep and glowing that it hurts.
She performed classical recital songs and operatic arias, and her rendition of Schubert's "Ave Maria" was particularly beloved, even though she was an alto, not a soprano. Her concerts also included "Negro spirituals," to which she applied her professional training; she didn't let loose with them but stayed cleanly loyal to the melody, performing them just as carefully and elegantly as she did her European art music. Nobody sings those songs that way any more, but Marian Anderson could pull it off.
This being Philadelphia and all, we might have a winter this year, but then again we might not. So far, we've had about half an inch of snow and half a week or so of ridiculously cold weather. This is the evening rush hour Thursday on 21st Street.
Last Saturday, they closed off a block of South Street around the corner from our house so a crane could pull old equipment up through a hole in the roof of a long-abandoned building. Some people must know why this job required such a tall crane, but I'm not among them.
The rumor is that the building is being refurbished to house a restaurant called Honey Sit n Eat.
These men were up on the roof working with the crane last Saturday. The guy in the black hat really wanted his picture taken and kept posing dramatically, which the guy in the red hat thought was pretty funny.
There's a new mural in the neighborhood, by Michael Webb. It honors Julian Abele, the architect who designed the Philadelphia Museum of Art and Duke Chapel, among other wonders, and who lived in the neighborhood for most of his life.
Abele was the first academically trained African American architect in the United States. He graduated from the University of Pennsylvania School of Architecture in 1902.
That's Abele in the middle of the mural, in the brown, three-piece suit, standing in front of a blueprint of the Duke Chapel tower.
The small lot here is called a park--Julian Abele Park--and with a new grant for landscaping improvements, it may soon become an actual park. One of the landscaping features is to be a walkway lined with old marble stoops, suggesting the rowhouse architecture of the neighborhood.
The trees in front of the mural don't look like much in the wintertime, but of course they are controversial. Do they block the view of the artwork or frame it in natural greenery?
The way I see it, there's not much point in digging out my car before the plow comes around, and it hasn't shown up yet. So the work Margaret White took care of today is still ahead of me, waiting for another day. I'm okay with that.
Our street, Kater Street, is what they call a "small street" in Philadelphia. It's plenty long--almost river-to-river, the entire length of Center City--but it's narrow, narrow, narrow. Regular-sized garbage trucks and snowplows can't fit through. The city operates special skinny garbage trucks for us small-street folks, and I once saw what looked like a lawn tractor from the parks department, chugging down the block with a plow fitted to its front. However, that was back in December.
Today, the kids on the block built a snowman in the middle of the street, with a carrot for a nose and almonds for eyes. He's not blocking any traffic. It's quiet here, with the cars all shrouded and still. If spring comes before the snowplow does, if the snowman has a chance to just shrivel up in the afternoon sun . . . well, it could save me a lot of shoveling.
In the 1890s, when Thomas Eakins was teaching painting and anatomy at the Philadelphia Academy of Art, he spent a lot of time hanging around a local gym, watching the anatomy in action. This painting, "The Wrestlers," the final work in Eakins's sporting series, features not only a stylized moment in a wrestling match, very close to a final pin, but also some background characters watching and working and teaching and learning. In particular, the man in street clothes who is pointing at the wrestlers has been compared to Eakins himself--the coach in the gym, like the art instructor in the studio, draws attention to the wrestling action in hopes of elucidating salient matters of craft and human dynamics.
In 2011, meanwhile, wrestling season is again upon us, and one of the Stein wrestlers has stepped away from the gym for a few moments to share with us some observations about the Eakins wrestlers. "The guy on bottom," notes Allen, "should not be trying to peel the fingers off of the offensive opponent. He will be better off planting his right foot on the ground and arching on his head and trying to punch through back to his belly."
Coach in the background may be making the same point. But Mr. Eakins, the guy with the paintbrush--the guy in charge--apparently liked both these wrestlers exactly as they are.
Every fall and spring, civic organizations add new saplings to Philadelphia's complement of street trees. Here, our neighbor Carolyn Duffy points out proper technique last month with one of her tree-planting crews.
Carolyn is a volunteer "tree-tender" working under the auspices of Schuylkill River Park and the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society; she and her volunteer crews plant about sixty trees a year in neighborhoods near Rittenhouse and Fitler squares. This tree is going in across the street from the public swimming pool near 26th and Lombard streets.
It's a big operation. Trees this size–with trunks about two inches in diameter–are expensive, often $200 each, if not more. Growing conditions on each particular block dictate different varieties of trees; for example, only short-growing trees can be planted under power lines, and only narrow, columnar varieties can be planted close to parking spaces. Some narrow old streets are so dark that many kinds of trees will not thrive; other spots are so open and windy that big, sturdy varieties are most appropriate.
Nearby homeowners are asked to supply mulch and to make sure the new trees are watered during their first two summers. The Pennsylvania Horitcultural Society supplies urban arborists who match trees to sites, check up on the trees' health, and see to any necessary pruning.
This spring, Carolyn and the neighbors planted gingkos, sycamore-like London plane trees, Bradford pears, ornamental cherries, and pretty little oak trees. In the upper right corner of this photo, behind the man in the red hat, you may be able to make out the green leaves and white flowers of a pear tree planted just last fall. In a few more years, all the real estate ads for houses on these city streets will boast of "lovely" tree-shaded blocks.
Like most American local governments, the city of Philadelphia is pretty much broke and can't afford to operate its public swimming pools.
Two summers ago, the pools never did open. Last summer, neighborhood fundraising financed a few weeks of swimtime in July and August. This summer, we're told, fundraising has been successful enough to open the pool in our neighborhood for a few extra weeks, beginning in mid-June when school lets out.
Rumor has it that one Philadelphia neighborhood is financing its pool operation with a high-stakes Cowpie Bingo game. If you're not familiar with Cowpie Bingo, it's really one of the best games you can play with a rented cow. You mark a grid on a small field of grass and sell chances on squares in the grid; half the take goes to the cause–in this case, lifeguard salaries and tanks of chlorine–and the other half goes to the lucky person who bought the square where the cow deposits whatever she deposits.
The Philadelphia swimming pool cowpie bingo game is said to offer $10,000 to the winner, if the cow cooperates by depositing her pie neatly within a single square of the grid.
This may or may not prove a good financial model for twenty-first-century urban government. Until we know for sure, that No Diving thing is probably a really good idea.
Glenwood Green Acres sits hard by the railroad tracks in north Philadelphia, on a strip of land where abandoned warehouses burned down in 1984. Ninety-six families in the neighborhood till plots in this community garden; some of them work at it full time, selling their produce or giving it to the hungry.
Their crops include: collard greens, peppers, eggplant, squash, string beans, okra, blackberries, cotton, and tobacco. The southern character of what is grown reflects the southern roots of many people in the north Philly neighborhoods surrounding Glenwood. People like to grow what they grew up growing.
Room to garden in is hard to come by in most of Philadelphia, where row houses line the streets with little or no yard space. There are community gardens all over town–an estimated 400 active ones–but most are tiny, typically occupying just a few hundred square feet in a vacant lot that the gardeners don't own and can't protect from development.
Glenwood is huge by comparison: 3.5 acres. And it's owned by a citywide land trust and operated by a neighborhood organization. The garden is deeded as public green space forever.
The number of vacant lots in the city is thought to be well over 30,000, and most of them are derelict. But after twenty years of struggling to purchase and protect land for Philadelphia's community gardens, the trust now owns just 22 parcels totaling less than 10 acres.
Meanwhile, for what it's worth, in my little one-pot garden, I have a golf-ball-sized tomato, plus 4 flowers on the plant and more buds than I can count. I'm so optimistic I'm not fit to be around.
Every few minutes at Victor Cafe in South Philly, one or another of the servers rings the little bell seen here on a tabletop and bursts into song.
They all have operatic training, so usually they sing opera, which is what the crowd came for–and they do draw a crowd. But as the evening progresses, the repertoire loosens up a little; they belt out showtunes as well as arias, and they even take requests. Here, at the end of the night, a tenor working as a waiter closes down the place with that old pop standard, Ave Maria.
A South Phily mural features Francis Lazarro Rizzo Sr., Philadelphia's longtime police commissioner and two-term (1972-1980) mayor.
For those among us who've never heard of this Rizzo person, or who have tried hard to forget him after all these years: he was a bad guy. He emerged on the national scene when his police officers raided a Black Panther house in the middle of the night, dragged the occupants outside onto the sidewalk, and proceeded to strip search them in front of the TV cameras.
When protesters raised the issue of police brutality, he threatened them with police brutality. "When I'm finished with them," he told the press, "I'll make Attila the Hun look like a faggot."
His hatred roiled Philadelphia, and his corruption pretty nearly robbed the city blind. He stripped city utility companies of valuable assets and ran them into the ground for patronage and personal gain. He perfected a notorious means of double-dipping, still with us today, enabling favored city employees to "retire" and start collecting their pensions, even though they actually remained in their old jobs, at full pay.
In the end, he tried to change the city charter so he could remain the mayor forever and ever. But he'd made a fool of himself once too often; the last time involved a corruption probe in which he loudly proclaimed his innocence, called his accuser a liar, and demanded a lie-detector test. Rizzo failed the test, and his accuser passed. He died within a few months of leaving office.
Rizzo's mural visage looms over the Italian Market on 9th Street, in the neighborhood he grew up in, which is now represented on the city council by his son.
In recent years, gentrification in many Philadelphia neighborhoods has been characterized by construction of new rooftop decks on top of old rowhouses. This view is from a rooftop elevated above the elevated train in the Kensington neighborhood; the rooftop has not yet been completely deckified, but the view is as good as it's going to get.
Sadly, this is a "before" picture: the big American Elm tree in the courtyard of Shiloh Baptist Church in our neighborhood has been diagnosed with Dutch Elm Disease and is about to be cut down.
I'm told this tree made a cameo appearance in The Sixth Sense, a Bruce Willis movie shot in the neighborhood, but I can't confirm or deny. There's a pivotal scene near the end of the movie in which the boy and his mother sit talking in the car, which is stopped near the scene of an accident; there's a tree outside the car window on the boy's side, but all the camera shows of this tree is its lower trunk, which is not sufficient for a positive ID.
Anyway, the church building and probably also the tree date back to the 1860s, when the Church of the Holy Apostles was built to serve a neighborhood rapidly filling with immigrants from Ireland. Numerous annexes and additions were required, as the parish exceeded 10,000 by 1910. But by 1940, descendants of the Irish immigrants were leaving the neighborhood, and descendants of African slaves from the American South were pouring in. The church complex was sold to a Baptist congregation and renamed Shiloh.
Today, Shiloh's congregants have mostly left the neighborhood, replaced this time by newcomers who mostly grew up in middle-class suburbs; one long-time resident described the new neighbors to a newspaper reporter as "white people with big dogs." Churchgoers who've moved away return to Shiloh on Sunday mornings, causing traffic jams and parking conflicts. There is no church parking lot; for the church's first hundred-plus years, people got there by walking.
The congregation is shrinking fast and is already far too small to maintain the huge church complex. The elm will come down in the next few weeks; the building, designed by the iconic Philadelphia architect Frank Furness, may not be far behind.
Note to wedding planners: When choosing a date and venue, do take into account the possibility that the city's annual Naked Bicycle Ride will roll past your event just as guests are leaving the ceremony.
Actually, when this wedding let out late Sunday afternoon, the wedding party did have just enough time to hustle into the limo and peel away before hundreds of naked bikers swarmed the street in front of the church. The young man shown here who was dressed to join the bike ride was a few minutes early; he was waiting in Rittenhouse Square for his fellow riders to reach this part of the route.
By the time the main body of naked bikers showed up, the limo was gone, and the wedding guests in their finery were standing around in front of the church with cameras and cellphones trained on the dressed-down action in the street.
The two young women on bicycles near the left side of the picture were friends of the young man's who met up with him here by accident; like the wedding guests, they were not aware that the annual naked ride was about to descend on Rittenhouse Square. By the time the riders arrived, the women had made up their minds; they pulled off their shirts, stuffed them in their backpacks, and joined the parade.
Friday was the Philadelphia Photo Arts Center's second annual Philly Photo Day. Anyone can submit a digital file for a photo taken anywhere in the city during the twenty-four-hour period of October 28; the Photo Arts Center prints the pictures and offers them for sale at a fund-raising gala. My submission was this snapshot from the checkout line at an ABC store, where Philadelphians were getting ready for the weekend.
Our neighbor Carolyn Duffy poses for a snapshot along Wissahickon Creek in Philadelphia's Fairmount Park, with her dogs Max and Toby. The big dog, Max, must really like Fairmount Park because he is notorious for making all the decisions with respect to where they'll go on walks and how long they'll stay out. He weighs well over a hundred pounds, and if he doesn't want to go somewhere, it's probably just as well if you don't bother trying to go there.
One of the leaded glass windows in the University of Pennsylvania's original library building, now the Fisher Fine Arts Library.
Frank Furness designed the red-brick library, with its massive fireplaces and heavy iron fixtures, in 1888; Frank's older brother Horace, a Shakespearean scholar, selected the window mottoes and other inscriptions. In sharp contrast with the popular architecture of the day, which featured classical motifs and marble columns, Furness's iron-and-brick structure seemed to take its inspiration from Philadelphia's foundries and factories. People hated it, and he was fired from his post as campus architect. Furness's successors designed the neo-gothic buildings that came to characterize the University of Pennsylvania campus through the twentieth century.
I don't know where Lenfest Plaza is in Philadelphia, but I gather that this airplane sculpture by Jordan Griska has been installed there recently, along with some Oldenburg paintbrushes. Guess I have to check it out.
At least two ornamental cherry trees in our neighborhood have broken out in blooms this month, somehow mistaking November for April. As should be evident in this scene on Lombard Street, all the other trees have a much better grip on seasonal propriety.
This Thanksgiving Day we 99-percenters might as well be grateful for football, a blessing as mixed as any but as American as . . . never mind. The postcard pictured here is from 1900
In Maine, Deering and Portland high schools have been facing off in their annual Turkey Bowl since 1911; the forecast for this hundredth annual game calls for clear skies, temperatures just below freezing, and a Deering victory, though you never can tell.
In Alabama, college football starts getting serious this weekend as LSU contronts Arkansas and Alabama has to deal with Auburn; if these games go according to book, LSU and Alabama will meet at New Year's for the national title, in a rematch of an October game that just didn't go right at all for Alabama.
I suppose that only the very smallest families in America could possibly all dine together at the same Thanksgiving table; our table, like so many others, will be missing important people this year, for all sorts of reasons. But we'll be thinking of them, and probably making fun of them, and we'll raise a glass and eat cranberries and maybe later if it's not too cold, some of us will go out in the street and throw a football around, because it's a free country or something like that.
At about 9:30 in the morning on September 23, 1999, the Landsat 7 satellite swooped southward over eastern North America and captured this image of Philadelphia and environs.
Three of the Landsat sensors detected energy in the infrared part of the electromagnetic spectrum, completely invisible to the human eye. Data from these sensors is displayed here, with each of the three infrared bands assigned to one of the normal red-green-blue color bands so we at least have something to look at, even though the colors have nothing to do with normal vision.
Clicking on the picture brings up a bigger version, which shows much more detail.
We can tell right away that the rivers are black; infrared energy is completely absorbed by water, reflecting back nothing for the sensors to detect. And if we look along the river at lower left, we can make out the airport, with runways that are bright cyan in color. This white-to-bluish hue is also the color of roads, railroads, parking lots, and other paved surfaces.
Infrared data is especially useful for studying vegetation, which shows up in this color scheme as red, orange, or yellow. The brightest red patches represent vigorous herbaceous growth, such as healthy cropland in the midst of the growing season. There's little or no farmland in and around Philly, however, so the red patches we see here, such as in between the airport runways, are probably healthy weeds.
Patches of red coloration with a touch of an orange tint and some texture are forested areas, such as in parks or between the fairways of golf courses. Extremely vigorous grass, such as on the golf course fairways themselves, looks bright yellow in this view.
The brownish-to-grayish-to-bluish areas show mixed land cover: Landsat's sensors are averaging out the infrared signals from house roofs, pavement, lawns, shrubs, and trees in varying concentrations. Brownish areas are suburban, with lots of trees and grass; dark green to gray-blue areas are more urban, with a higher ratio of rooftops and pavement to vegetation.
Philadelphia has changed since this image was captured twelve years ago. Another stadium has been built near where the Schuylkill River empties out into the Delaware. In my neighborhood just south of Center City, the forested patch of land near the Schuylkill, which in 1999 was an abandoned and overgrown Old Sailors' Home is now a heavily developed condo complex. Even though the population of Philadelphia has shrunk dramatically over the past half-century and has just barely started growing again, land use patterns as viewed from outer space show ongoing urbanization.
As Debby and her daughter Lily lit the candles for the first night of Hanukah, Lily's Hanukah bear sat on the kitchen counter just beyond the right edge of this picture. Use your imagination: the Hanukah bear is a stuffed polar bear wearing a yarmulke, with a battery-powered voice. Push the button, and the Hanukah bear sings and sings about a dreidel made of clay.
After the candles were lit and the bear had sung, there were dreidels made of plastic and gelt made of chocolate, plus presents for Lily and latkes for all.
One of about a dozen murals painted in 1938 by Joseph Hirsch to decorate the basement walls of a long-since-abandoned building on South Street in Philadelphia, this one is titled "A Mechanical Engineering Problem." I can't say I know for certain what the joke is here, though the fact that the art had been commissioned by the Amalgamated Clothing Workers of America (ACWA), who owned the building and used it for an office and social center, would have to be a major clue. My guess is that the mustachioed tailors portrayed here were not union workers and were not particularly skilled suitmakers, either; perhaps the point is that only a chump would order a custom-tailored suit from guys like these instead of buying a ready-made, union-made coat and trousers.
Here is another take on the same theme:
In this image, the chump is getting an ill-fitting suit not because it's off-the-shelf and union-made but because the slimeball salesmen can't or won't be bothered to fit him properly. The superiority of union needlework–which the establishment advertises prominently–is or ought to be a selling point among highfalutin haberdashers.
Whatever the punch line, the ACWA was happy with the murals and rehired Hirsch a couple of years later to do a much larger and more formal work for the wall of their auditorium upstairs: a mural 11 feet high and 65 feet long–the largest the entire city at the time–which traced the early history of labor unions in the United States. It was later removed from the building and installed in the lobby of the Sidney Hillman Apartments a few blocks away.
Sidney Hillman, who founded the ACWA, had no personal association with Philadelphia; he was born in Lithuania, and after being imprisoned for labor agitation in Poland in the early years of the twentieth century, he settled in Chicago, where he organized several powerful unions and steered the American labor movement toward the Democratic Party in general and Franklin Roosevelt in particular. But his ACWA represented about 25,000 Philadelphians in the 1930s, when locals from around the city got together to buy the building at 2101 South Street, which became known as the Amalgamated Center. There were offices upstairs, an auditorium and meeting rooms on the main floor, and a swimming pool, gym, and social hall in the basement.
The building was already set up for pretty much these same functions and had been since before 1900, when wealthy merchant John Wanamaker financed its construction for the Bethany Brotherhood, a men's fellowship and social lodge from nearby Bethany Presbyterian Church. During World War I, the Brotherhood turned over the building for housing and recrational use by soldiers and sailors on leave; more than 8,000 servicemen swam, played, and partied there in 1917 and 1918, with Wanamaker picking up the tab for operating costs.
The Amalgamated unions bought it in 1934 and remodeled and expanded it, eventually cladding many walls in marble; the ACWA and a series of affiliated and successor unions occupied the building until 1984, when declining membership led to its sale as office space for Graduate Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania.
In recent years, it has sat empty. But this week, the basement and much of the first floor of the old Amalgamated Center reopened to something like its original function: once again, the place is a gym, this time operated by a private company, City Fitness. Old Sidney Hillman would not have approved of how the renovation work was undertaken; a couple of weeks before the reopening, there were pickets in front of the building, in response to a subcontractor's use of non-union labor.
Hirsch's murals in the basement will also meet an inglorious fate (as if the graffiti wasn't enough). They are theoretically protected by the building's inclusion on the National Registry of Historic Places, but what that means in practice is that City Fitness will soon be hiding most of them, covering them over with mirrors for the exercise rooms.
Meanwhile, for a brief moment in a new century, Sidney Hillman, "The Guide and Spirit of Amalgamated C.W.," is once again flying free, even if he does have a heart inked on his bicep with the name Carmine inside:
A Mummer approaches the crowd along Broad Street during Philadelphia's 112th annual New Year's Day parade.
The Mummers Parade, unique to Philadelphia though with overtones of New Orleans Mardi Gras festivities, typically lasts about eight hours and involves more than 10,000 strutters, dancers, musicians, and stagehands. The 2012 parade was said to be reduced a bit in size and extravagance, reflecting economic hard times and perhaps also the city's changing culture.
Nonetheless, crowds carrying open beverages mobbed the sidewalks and cross-streets, as brigade after brigade of Mummers in full feathery regalia marched down Broad Street, pausing every few blocks to show off the results of their yearlong labors on costumes, choreography, horn-blowing and banjo-picking and precision dance.
At the convention hall near the end of the parade route, the various bands and brigades perform lengthier, more elaborate versions of their dance routines for judges, who award substantial sums of prize money to the top groups. The prizes don't begin to cover the costs of mummery, however; even though all the dancers work for free, the costumes and special effects can cost a brigade $100,000 or even more.
With less money to spend this year on costumes and staging, more attention was devoted to choreography and dance skills. According to one Mummer choreographer, Dennis Quaile, the mostly male Mummers base their dancing on boxing moves: "punches, lunges, and dodges."
"Anything effeminate they will not do," said Quaile. "Some brigades have girls and they can get away with it. But if the guys don't feel manly, while dancing in their feathers, they won't do it. So I have to keep it as butch as I possibly can."
Charlie wanted to make sure that the cars on Kater Street proceeded in an orderly manner, so he posted a couple of signs: STOP, of course, and then a few feet down the block, GO, which he printed out in his own personal, drawn-out, lilting style of spelling.
Somebody busted down the gate to the basketball court at Marian Anderson Park in our neighborhood. Behind the court, the meticulously maintained baseball field is protected by a much more secure fence.
If you believe the banners in this ca. 1885 chromolithograph, the Standard Tip T.M. Harris & Co. boot comes with a double toe that is not only warranted and trade mark registered but also highest grade sole leather tip. It's not clear what the people frolicking in the ad have to do with double standard tip shoes, and it's not clear what a registered trade mark has to do with warranted highest quality, but what else is new. As my grandmother used to say: You believe that one and they'll tell you a bigger one.
The shoe factory in the background was a building on Cherry Street in Philadelphia that was originally built for manufacturing chandeliers.
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.