Friday, March 10, 2017

"You left the bodies and you only moved the headstones!"

Finding forgotten cemeteries at construction sites in Philadelphia isn't as weird as in, say, Encino, California. Nevertheless, the creepy factor of a dozen or so skeletons and collapsed coffins is always headline worthy. And this week, a minor blizzard isn't what captured audiences, it was the First Baptist Church Burial Ground that PMC Property found near 2nd and Arch in Old City.

Last November, several bones and headstones had been uncovered at the site, but nothing to significantly halt construction. Yesterday's discovery was significantly more macabre and archeologists, including resources from the Mutter Museum, are working overtime to carefully remove as much as possible by tomorrow. 

What's of particular interest to archeologists is that this cemetery pre-dates the American Revolution, offering insight into a number of traditions, behavior, and activity of Colonial life in Philadelphia. Thousands of Colonial Americans are buried beneath our churches, but we don't routinely go digging into hallowed ground to run DNA tests on our ancestors. Digs like this - short as they may be - are rare opportunities that can lead to months, even years of research adding layers to the story of our Colonial roots. 

America's historic records are comparatively intact. Considering other countries have been far more ravaged by war and regime changes, we still retain a surprising amount of data from before the Revolution. Philadelphia, once the second largest city in the British Empire and the most prominent city in the Colonies, was keen on preserving information even dating back to the days of William Penn. The fact that we know this was the site of the First Baptist Church is a testament to the dedication of historians in a relatively new nation. 

We know that the church and its burial ground date to 1707, and we know why those bodies are there. That's where this story takes a bit of a bleak, albeit not unexpected turn. In the 1860s, these bodies were to be moved to Mount Moriah Cemetery in SW Philadelphia. Whether the headstones were moved we don't yet know, and may not ever know considering the condition of Mount Moriah. But we do know that the bodies were not.

That is literally the premise of the horror movie, Poltergeist.

"You left the bodies and you only moved the headstones!"

I got a sneak-peek, in that I snuck a peek under the fence. The bodies are under that tarp.

PMC Property seems to be taking this in stride. Even if their project doesn't become the most haunted new apartment building in Philadelphia, renting out luxury units over a cemetery might be a hard sell. After archeologists complete their studies, PMC will be paying to respectfully have the bodies interred in Mount Moriah, where they should have ended up 150 years ago. 

It's hard to say how or where, exactly. Mount Moriah Cemetery is dealing with its own neglect. The Philadelphia side of Mount Moriah, where these bodies were likely headed, was an abandoned haven for crime until it was taken over by the Friends of Mount Moriah a few years ago. Cleanup efforts have transformed the place into a wonderland of wild, but it's far from a traditional cemetery. If any of the bodies are ever identified, finding their headstones will be nearly impossible. 

For the time being, archeologists in Philadelphia and beyond are fixated on Old City, eagerly anticipating the stories these Colonial Philadelphians are waiting to tell. 

Thursday, October 6, 2016

Pettifoggery on Jeweler's Row

In the battle for Jeweler's Row, the gloves were off between Toll Brothers and the city's Preservation Alliance. Philadelphia has a storied history of shouting matches in and out of the courtroom with a few fistfights between council members taking place within its own chambers. 

The debate over what our city is and should be is deeply rooted going all the way back to the Founding Fathers bickering over the same for our new nation. Our skyline has risen, fashion has gotten a bit more practical, and the streets probably smell a little better. But when it comes to being an opinionated bunch, we're still Philadelphians at our core, apparent when one Toll Brothers' lawyer, Carl Primavera, uttered the words "pettifoggery" and "poppycock."

I honestly wish I had more free time to attend these sorts of meetings because they sound like a hoot. Then again, I enjoy the image in my head, one of a man who sounds like a dish at Olive Garden in Colonial garb, pointing an ivory handled cane at the Preservation Alliance and shouting words that send most reasonable people to Dictionary.com. But perhaps Primavera was making a point by using antiqued words to describe the acts of an antiquated organization. In this instance, the Preservation Alliance's actions were textbook obstructionist nonsense. 

Like every Philadelphian interested in salvaging our city's history, I too would like Jeweler's Row to live on. There's just one problem: Jeweler's Row - despite the t-shirts - isn't historic, at least it wasn't last week.


When Toll Brothers proposed a high-rise at the corner of 7th and Sansom, there was nothing stopping them. While activists managed to appeal the project, in the end the law as it is intended to work, won. Two hearings couldn't prove that these unprotected properties were protected because those charged with protecting our history failed to do so. At this point, no campaigning, signatures, or screaming will retroactively deem these buildings historic. 

It's easy to paint Toll Brothers the cold Scrooge McDuck paving over the city to create some facsimile of what once was there because they're known for naming their McMansion communities for the historic farms that they raze. Whether they've done anything wrong or immoral is irrelevant, they've done nothing unethical or illegal. They're developers, and developers are in the business of making money. Yet somehow, preservationists in one of the nation's most historic cities, can't grasp that. 

To read quotes and comments from the hearings, it's as if the historical community thinks the collective will of every nerd in the tristate area can save every one of our historic landmarks. But that's not how it works. To win your battles you don't just have to know who you're up against, you have to know how they operate and why. Toll Brothers - and every developer - has a clear agenda and business plan. Where are the Alliance's?

If any property should have served as a lesson, it should have been the Boyd Theater. It was a designated landmark, and through a technicality, only the facade was salvaged. Legally, that was a preservation victory because we managed to save what was legally protected. But to those who love history, it was a loss because we lost what was historic about the Boyd, it's auditorium. 

We should have learned our lesson: We can win battles in favor of historic preservation, but we need to make sure all unprotected landmarks are protected, inside and out when necessary. Jeweler's Row is just another unfortunate lesson, and whether it will be heeded remains to be seen. Will we fight to protect what's left of Jeweler's Row? Will we fight for a district? And will preservationists get out in front of other potential losses before this begins to unfold all over again?

With all the energy, resources, and money spent on the corner of 7th and Sansom, is Robinson's Department Store protected? Is Spring Garden's Church of the Assumption still under the wrecking ball? Are there any other 'Jeweler's Rows' out there that might make trendy residences for New Philadelphians? Because I can assure you those buildings and neighborhoods are already on the developers' radars, and firms like Toll Brothers are just waiting for their market research to tell them the time is right. 

Groups like the Preservation Alliance need to be doing their own market research, their own due diligence. If preservationists continue to fight for properties immediately after they've become profitable, at the eleventh hour, preservationists will always be playing defense. And considering how unprofitable preservation is, it will always be an uphill and rarely won fight. 

Sunday, September 25, 2016

#boycottwoodys

On Thursday, PhillyMag.com posted Ernest Owens' justifiably brutal takedown of the Gayborhood's popular Woody's nightclub over an apparent dress code that appears to be targeting men and women of color. It came about when Kenmar Jones was turned away at the door after performing with FringeArts for wearing sweatpants and sneakers. Vaguely worded or un-posted dress codes have been used for decades to target "urban" clientele by prohibiting everything from tracksuits to brand-specific items like Timberland boots, and this is hardly the first time Woody's has come under fire over its admission policies.

Jones' story echoes the tactics that inspired Chic's song, Le Freak which found its origins in a similar incident wherein the disco band was denied entry into Studio 54 despite an invite from Grace Jones. According to guitarist Nile Rogers and bassist Bernard Edwards, Chic promptly returned to their hotel on New Years of 1977 and wrote the song, only with its original lyrics substituting "freak out" with "fuck off." The story has become musical lore and a neat piece of trivia, but it speaks to a darker piece of Americana, one steeped in what's being referred to as covert racism, and Jones' own experience at Woody's is evidence that it is alive and well in Philadelphia.

Covert or overt, racism is racism. But the importance of distinguishing the two is that the former allows the offender to sidestep responsibility by blaming things like dress codes. The black hole of social media in Tweets and comments only enables the offense by further excusing it by crying "who wears sweatpants to a bar?"

Woody's is no exception when it comes to exclusionary and discriminatory entrance or ejection calls. Last year I saw a man booted from the club for being painted silver, on Halloween of all nights. The bouncer said there were concerns of the bar tops being marred in paint, but a few minutes before he was asked to leave he had kissed his girlfriend. It's rather ironic that Woody's, a gay bar that's become synonymous with straight bridal parties and frat house scavenger hunts, would ask a straight couple to leave because of a very brief moment of PDA, but that makes the venue's rules all the more frustrating. It also gives themselves a bit of slack when taking cash from hoards of straight women by allowing them to say, "remember when we threw out that straight guy?"

Nevertheless, there is a very real reason that gay bars typically don't enforce dress codes, and that's because their existence, the need for their existence, is already exclusionary in nature: they aren't for everyone. Gay bars are an alternative entertainment option for a still-marginalized segment of the population, the LGBT community. And to look at a typical Saturday night crowd at Woody's, it's very apparent that its owners, the Weiss brothers, have forgotten that.

Attend Woody's as a gay man and you'll feel a bit like an animal in a zoo. Straight couples point and whisper while gaggles of women, usually white, hunt for their next accessory, a GBFF. These people are not our allies, if they were they'd be marching with us. To them, we're a handbag to tote with them to Green Eggs Cafe the next morning. By Monday and a Facebook friend request we're thrown in the jewelry box next to a dozen earrings they'll never wear again. 



To be fair, these aren't the covert racists enforcing Woody's discriminatory entrance policies, but they are inadvertently responsible for it, and in so covertly racist. To Woody's-the-business, bridal parties and business happy hours are money, money that wouldn't be there if the bar was truly representative of the vastly diverse LGBT community. Black, Hispanic, Asian, trans, butch, femme, fat, thin, muscular, twink, and everything in between, gay bars are important because it happens to literally everyone, and the Orlando Massacre proved that we still need safe spaces, and Woody's has proven time and again that it isn't one of them. 

On one hand, it might be a blessing that Woody's has become the gay bar du jour for straight people who still think going to a gay bar is some kind of urban safari. If it weren't for Woody's, bridal showers might be pushing their way into U-Bar and Tabu. But the mere mentality that gay bars are on the bachelorette to-do-list speaks to the larger point that this demographic is encroaching on and usurping the few places we have to be ourselves. Before same sex marriage was legalized last summer, these events were especially insulting, and since we've had marriage equality adding a gay bar to the bridal crawl has exploded. Why? Because this demographic can't stand it when something isn't about them. 

Beyond the doors of Woody's, this mentality has infected Philadelphia's Gayborhood like a swarm of locusts. Despite countless neighborhood and nightclub venues throughout the city, they've charged into the Gayborhood and rebranded it the callously named Midtown Village. How is that okay? People pitch a fit if you refer to the Italian Market by its historic namesake, the 9th Street Market, and we'd never consider rebranding Chinatown as Market East Village. Yet with dozens of street signs and rainbow crosswalks at 13th and Locust, it's somehow okay for realtors, and even the city, to rename one of the oldest gay enclaves in the country and the first city to utter the word "Gayborhood." 

We should be more pissed off than we are.

That's not okay. I understand Woody's is a business, and they're in the business of making money. I understand that Philadelphia's Gayborhood sits on vast acreage of developable real estate. But straight people have literally every other neighborhood in the city and hundreds of nightlife venues, and members of the LGBT community still come to cities like Philadelphia to seek community and even safety. With LGBT youths, especially of color, making up a huge chunk of the nation's homeless, Woody's catering to a largely white heterosexual community isn't just an annoyance, it's irresponsible to the community they still claim to represent. 

It's time to hammer the last nail into the coffin. Regardless of the rainbows lining its facade at the gates of the Gayborhood, Woody's is not a gay bar. It is just another venue taking advantage of the neighborhood's address while giving little to nothing back to the community that built its name. If you're a straight woman and want to add a gay bar to your wedding day hangover, by all means, make it Woody's. I won't be there, and neither will my black, brown, or beige friends. And until Woody's acknowledges what it is, just another Green Eggs Cafe chock full of white women, I'll gladly hashtag #BoycottWoodys. Just stay away from U-Bar. We need somewhere to cruise without some Bath & Body Works scented debutante telling us what a waste we are before 9am on Monday.

#boycottwoodys

#boycottwoodys

On Thursday, PhillyMag.com posted Ernest Owens' justifiably brutal takedown of the Gayborhood's popular Woody's nightclub over an apparent dress code that appears to be targeting men and women of color. It came about when Kenmar Jones was turned away at the door after performing with FringeArts for wearing sweatpants and sneakers. Vaguely worded or un-posted dress codes have been used for decades to target "urban" clientele by prohibiting everything from tracksuits to brand-specific items like Timberland boots, and this is hardly the first time Woody's has come under fire over its admission policies.

Jones' story echoes the tactics that inspired Chic's song, Le Freak which found its origins in a similar incident wherein the disco band was denied entry into Studio 54 despite an invite from Grace Jones. According to guitarist Nile Rogers and bassist Bernard Edwards, Chic promptly returned to their hotel on New Years of 1977 and wrote the song, only with its original lyrics substituting "freak out" with "fuck off." The story has become musical lore and a neat piece of trivia, but it speaks to a darker piece of Americana, one steeped in what's being referred to as covert racism, and Jones' own experience at Woody's is evidence that it is alive and well in Philadelphia.

Covert or overt, racism is racism. But the importance of distinguishing the two is that the former allows the offender to sidestep responsibility by blaming things like dress codes. The black hole of social media in Tweets and comments only enables the offense by further excusing it by crying "who wears sweatpants to a bar?"

Woody's is no exception when it comes to exclusionary and discriminatory entrance or ejection calls. Last year I saw a man booted from the club for being painted silver, on Halloween of all nights. The bouncer said there were concerns of the bar tops being marred in paint, but a few minutes before he was asked to leave he had kissed his girlfriend. It's rather ironic that Woody's, a gay bar that's become synonymous with straight bridal parties and frat house scavenger hunts, would ask a straight couple to leave because of a very brief moment of PDA, but that makes the venue's rules all the more frustrating. It also gives themselves a bit of slack when taking cash from hoards of straight women by allowing them to say, "remember when we threw out that straight guy?"

Nevertheless, there is a very real reason that gay bars typically don't enforce dress codes, and that's because their existence, the need for their existence, is already exclusionary in nature: they aren't for everyone. Gay bars are an alternative entertainment option for a still-marginalized segment of the population, the LGBT community. And to look at a typical Saturday night crowd at Woody's, it's very apparent that its owners, the Weiss brothers, have forgotten that.

Attend Woody's as a gay man and you'll feel a bit like an animal in a zoo. Straight couples point and whisper while gaggles of women, usually white, hunt for their next accessory, a GBFF. These people are not our allies, if they were they'd be marching with us. To them, we're a handbag to tote with them to Green Eggs Cafe the next morning. By Monday and a Facebook friend request we're thrown in the jewelry box next to a dozen earrings they'll never wear again. 



To be fair, these aren't the covert racists enforcing Woody's discriminatory entrance policies, but they are inadvertently responsible for it, and in so covertly racist. To Woody's-the-business, bridal parties and business happy hours are money, money that wouldn't be there if the bar was truly representative of the vastly diverse LGBT community. Black, Hispanic, Asian, trans, butch, femme, fat, thin, muscular, twink, and everything in between, gay bars are important because it happens to literally everyone, and the Orlando Massacre proved that we still need safe spaces, and Woody's has proven time and again that it isn't one of them. 

On one hand, it might be a blessing that Woody's has become the gay bar du jour for straight people who still think going to a gay bar is some kind of urban safari. If it weren't for Woody's, bridal showers might be pushing their way into U-Bar and Tabu. But the mere mentality that gay bars are on the bachelorette to-do-list speaks to the larger point that this demographic is encroaching on and usurping the few places we have to be ourselves. Before same sex marriage was legalized last summer, these events were especially insulting, and since we've had marriage equality adding a gay bar to the bridal crawl has exploded. Why? Because this demographic can't stand it when something isn't about them. 

Beyond the doors of Woody's, this mentality has infected Philadelphia's Gayborhood like a swarm of locusts. Despite countless neighborhood and nightclub venues throughout the city, they've charged into the Gayborhood and rebranded it the callously named Midtown Village. How is that okay? People pitch a fit if you refer to the Italian Market by its historic namesake, the 9th Street Market, and we'd never consider rebranding Chinatown as Market East Village. Yet with dozens of street signs and rainbow crosswalks at 13th and Locust, it's somehow okay for realtors, and even the city, to rename one of the oldest gay enclaves in the country and the first city to utter the word "Gayborhood." 

We should be more pissed off than we are.

That's not okay. I understand Woody's is a business, and they're in the business of making money. I understand that Philadelphia's Gayborhood sits on vast acreage of developable real estate. But straight people have literally every other neighborhood in the city and hundreds of nightlife venues, and members of the LGBT community still come to cities like Philadelphia to seek community and even safety. With LGBT youths, especially of color, making up a huge chunk of the nation's homeless, Woody's catering to a largely white heterosexual community isn't just an annoyance, it's irresponsible to the community they still claim to represent. 

It's time to hammer the last nail into the coffin. Regardless of the rainbows lining its facade at the gates of the Gayborhood, Woody's is not a gay bar. It is just another venue taking advantage of the neighborhood's address while giving little to nothing back to the community that built its name. If you're a straight woman and want to add a gay bar to your wedding day hangover, by all means, make it Woody's. I won't be there, and neither will my black, brown, or beige friends. And until Woody's acknowledges what it is, just another Green Eggs Cafe chock full of white women, I'll gladly hashtag #BoycottWoodys. Just stay away from U-Bar. We need somewhere to cruise without some Bath & Body Works scented debutante telling us what a waste we are before 9am on Monday.

#boycottwoodys

Sunday, September 11, 2016

Get Away to Rainbow Mountain

If you're like most Philadelphians, you're eager for the dog days of summer to end. I've lived in Center City longer than any address, so I should be use to the heat, the humidity, and "that Philly smell." But I'm not. Like the farm I grew up on, "that Philly smell" is akin to a corporate chicken farm, and a smell you never grow accustomed to. It's just gross. But luckily for Philadelphians, we're a densely packed reeking city an hour or two away from beautiful beaches and untouched mountains. 

For Labor Day weekend I opted against the crowded shore towns and headed north to the Poconos. The Poconos - a word that can't be uttered without a rural Pennsylvania accent - is perhaps as unique as Philadelphia in that it is just as untapped. You might not find the gingham-clad socialites you'll meet in the Adirondacks or their signature chair, but you'll find the same wilderness, vistas, and lakes at a fraction of the price.

I chose Rainbow Mountain, an LGBT report equidistant from Philadelphia and New York, and a throwback to the retreats that inspired the movie Dirty Dancing. Gay, straight, trans, or anything in between, you need to experience Rainbow Mountain near Stroudsburg, PA because it is a unique something that might not exist for much longer. 


Today's mountain resorts are five star. They allow you to get away from it all while keeping up with your spa treatments and cross fit classes. Rainbow Mountain is not that. Rainbow Mountain, with its musty cottages and dorm rooms, is an untouched enclave that harkens back to an era when the middle class roughed it in basic cabins. 

Today, "roughing it" is one of two things: either in the woods under a tent Bear Grylls style, or in a "cabin" worth more than your house. Either way, it's an Instagram-op that has more to do with your bed than the nature around you.

Rainbow Mountain isn't about the accommodations, it's about the experience. It's a decent mattress and a good night's sleep that comes with a swimming pool and an old fashioned barn dance. To locals, Rainbow Mountain is the answer to a gay bar, and a pretty fabulous one at that.  To visitors, it truly is a comfy place to get away from it all. It's a short drive to the Delaware Water Gap, kayaking, bike trails, and frigid swimming holes. Stroudsburg is a charming town, surprisingly hip, with great shopping and restaurants. 

My only complaint is that it's a bit too close to New York, and New Yorkers. At about ten times the population of Philadelphia, New Yorkers are like locusts that ruin everything within a three hour path of their wake. Some trails are littered with Dunkin' Donuts cups and tagged with graffiti. Other nature trails house relics of the Industrial Revolution, unique in their own right, but not places of natural solace. In the resort itself, you'll be hard pressed to find a Pennsylvanian that isn't local to the county, but rather Manhattanites - or worse, Brooklynites - eager to namedrop their address. 

Still, Rainbow Mountain's cozy cottages, large swimming pool, its lake, and shows are well worth the two hour drive. You'll dance, drink, meet some incredibly friendly local drag queens, and have stories for years. Currently, Rainbow Mountain is for sale, so enjoy it while it lasts. Its location is a goldmine, and with a fresh coat of paint and a few trips to Home Goods, it could be transformed into something that could command twice the price. These '60s era retreats are becoming few and far between, and Rainbow Mountain is a time capsuled treasure. If you really want to get away - from it all - it's the place for you...for now.

Radnor Hunt Concours d'Elegance

If your a fan of high society, Sunday hats, and finely crafted automobiles, Philadelphia's backyard has been host to the mid-Atlantic's foremost car show for two decades. This weekend was Radnor Hunt's twentieth Concours d'Elegance, and it's one of the best places to see the most amazing automotive works of art this side of Pebble Beach. 

When the bar for events accessible to most is the BYO-everything Diner en Blanc, it's easy to see that Philadelphians are accustomed to settling for the status quo. Our urban renaissance is a clear indication that we are thirsty for more, but there is another world within the region that has never settled, and Malvern's Radnor Hunt and its Concours is emblematic of that world. 

In short, it's money.

The Concours d'Elegance isn't cheap. I snagged two general admission tickets for $40 a piece, but to attend the entire three day event will set you back more than a grand. I couldn't tell you if the black-tie gala, dinner, or road rally are worth a month of my rent, but I'm pretty sure that those who attend don't really care about a cool G. I can tell you though, as an enthusiast, the general admission is well worth it. 

Two gull-wing Mercedes SLs worth more than I'll see in my lifetime.

For those not privy to the everyday Main Line, you'll see dozens of cars you've only ever seen in magazines. This year's featured car was the Lancia, a quirky Italian carmaker many people have never heard of. I've always heard the Lancia referred to as the "poor man's Ferrari," but the classics on display were anything but poor. This year's show also featured three gull-wing Mercedes SLs, each worth about $1.5M. In fact, with more than a hundred classic cars on display, plus FC Kerbeck's stock of new exotics, the collective value of the show was easily worth more than the Comcast Center.

Again: money.

But you don't need to be rich, or an automotive enthusiast, to enjoy the Concours. For such a bougie event at such a restrictive venue, visitors and vendors were incredibly friendly. Owners were often on site and eager to talk about their investments. It's easy to look at a fully restored Packard and assume its owner is both loaded and snotty. But like any hobby, the enthusiasts run the gamut. Some are wealthy collectors, others sunk savings into their dream cars, and even more put time and energy into barn-finds.

Obviously the focus of the event were the cars, but there were also antique horse drawn carriages, motorcycles, and a fabulous musical trio called The American Bombshells that travel to veterans and perform at USO shows. And then there were the hats. Oh, the hats. What Sunday afternoon at a hunt club would be complete without a pageant of colorfully plumed, wide brimmed hats? The Sunday hats could have been a show of their own. 

So next summer, if you're looking for something a cut above the rest and want to catch a glimpse of Philadelphia's high society, take a short drive out to horse country. You'll see some things you will never see anywhere else, hear some great music, and get to sit behind the wheel of a car worth more than your house. Maybe next year I'll see what else the Concours d'Elegance has to offer - the gala, the road race, the dinner - perhaps if I start saving now.

Monday, August 15, 2016

Frank Furness on Jewelers Row

A lot has been said about Toll Brothers potentially demolishing a significant portion of Jewelers Row for a high-rise apartment building as well as the state of historic preservation in Philadelphia, much of it more eloquent than I could ever put it.

Jewelers Row is one of Center City's gems, our equivalent to South Philadelphia's 9th Street Market or Fabric Row. It's unique, old, a little gritty, and everything you'd come to expect from what Philadelphia's Historical Commission should be protecting. But surprisingly, it's not, thanks to an oversight

Well, one building within Toll Brothers line of site on Jewelers Row could stop the wrecking ball, or at least offer a stay of execution. Take a look at 710 Sansom Street. 

710 Sansom Street, Jewelers Row
The architect is unknown, at least according to the Athenaeum's Philadelphia Architects and Buildings site. But if you're a fan of Philadelphia architecture, the C.E. Robinson & Bros. building might look suspiciously Furnessian to you. 

Frank Furness worked within this neighborhood in the mid to late 19th Century, and 710's brickwork and carved crowns reflect his signature style. While this building may not be protected, Frank Furness is something of an architectural god in the Philadelphia area and any connection, particularly if this was designed by Furness himself or his firm, could be enough for the Historical Commission to intervene.

So what do you think?

Could this have been designed by Frank Furness, his firm, or one of his students? 

Does the Historical Commission have the authority to intervene if it was designed by Furness?

And if this were hastily demolished, only to find out after the fact that it was designed by Frank Furness, would this be enough of a lesson in loss to truly improve how we address preservation in Philadelphia?