Friday, April 17, 2015

#SaveTwinPeaks

I feel your frustration.
On October 3rd, David Lynch and Mark Frost sent simultaneous tweets about chewing gum, "#damngoodcoffee." Despite years of speculation, denial, and hope that Twin Peaks would return to television, true fans of the show knew exactly what this meant. The "Twin Tweets" were a not-so-subtle nod from the co-creators that this was, in fact, real. 

The show was deeply rooted in the dualities of human (and not quite human) nature, and its two year run was riddled with parallels right down to its title. But to those who've obsessed over the show since it left the airwaves in 1991, and the silver screen a year later, the pair's messages weren't necessary. After all, in 1990, Laura Palmer told us we'd see her again, and she told us exactly when: now.

On October 6th, Showtime announced it would be picking up nine episodes for a third season. Not picking up where it left off, not rebooting the series with new actors, but with its original cast in tact exactly twenty-five years later, just like Laura (or perhaps her doppleganger) promised.

You don't even need to be an ardent fan of David Lynch to understand how Lynchian the entire situation is. It's not hard to imagine David Lynch, and Frost as well, biding their time throughout the past two and a half decades, dropping hints and toying with their fans, as if this was their exact plan all along. 

Constantly delving into new, unique, and bizarre medium, Lynch's twenty-five year hiatus has fostered the allure of an already-obsessed audience, transforming Twin Peaks' cult following into a collective real-world exposition. We are Twin Peaks.

But things fell apart this month, or so it would seem. It would be redundant to say something strange is happening in Twin Peaks, the show or the town, but what's taking place truly is unique. It's unfortunate, but also somewhat innovative and beautiful. The disappointment began in March when David Lynch expressed concerns regarding his deal with Showtime. Earlier this month he confirmed that budgetary constraints from the premium cable network had terminated his involvement.

Sad, yes, then something unheard of happened when the show's original cast took to the internet. They not only rallied the support of their fans, they invited us into the dressing room. Sherilyn Fenn who played the naughty-and-nice Audrey Horn has been working with the Official Twin Peaks Cast run site on Facebook, diligently answering nearly every question, concern, and comment posted to the page.

Fenn, along with Madchen Amick (Shelley Johnson), Dana Ashbrook (Bobby Briggs), and Sheryl Lee (Laura Palmer) have made this Facebook page an astoundingly personable experience.

Given the show's fan base, its surprising that the site has just roughly 17,000 "likes." But perhaps it's the infamy of both the show and its stars that sets the site apart from other "official" Facebook pages. The show isn't ordinary, and we aren't ordinary fans.

Littering social media with #SaveTwinPeaks, Sheriyn Fenn has proven herself as large a fan of her own show as any of us. Amick joined Fenn in a passionate quest to save a Lynch-backed Twin Peaks by posting a collection of videos with her costars expressing what the show would be like without Lynch at the helm. Sheryl Lee espoused, it would be "like a girl without a secret." 


Despite the large cast's resistance to a Lynch-less Twin Peaks, two of the show's notable cast members, Kyle McLaughlin (Agent Dale Cooper) and Lara Flynn Boyle (Donna Hayward), have said little to nothing. Although it's hard to imagine a Twin Peaks without Agent Cooper, the show's prequel, Fire Walk With Me, managed to succeed with his minimal involvement as well as a recast Donna Hayward.

While some fans have simply thrown their hands up for the last time, it's hard not to wonder if this is all part of a larger plan. With Fenn, Amick, Lee, and others pulling their fans into the town of Twin Peaks, and into the Red Room, the show is getting its third season right now. Lynch casts actors as unique as their characters, and across the internet and social media, the original cast of Twin Peaks is exceeding any expectations a hardened Lynchian holds, the same unexpected and unreal realties that follow the release of any of David Lynch's works of art. 

As I sit on my stoop in Philadelphia enjoying some damn good coffee, wedged in the duality between the grimy neighborhood that gave Lynch his nightmarish inspirations and the beautiful Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts where he learned his craft, I can't help but revel in my own personal place within David Lynch's twenty-five year running masterpiece. 

We are all Twin Peaks.

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

The Sexy Building that Can't

Core Realty's Michael Samschick was trying to put two new apartment buildings on North Delaware Avenue near Fishtown, 136 feet and 78 feet tall. Last night the Fishtown Neighbors Association vetoed the project.

When it comes to NIMBYs, Fishtown can be brutal. Delaware Avenue's wide berth begs for large development and its proximity to the river is screaming for towering views. Sure, I'm bias. This is, after all, an architecture blog. But the FNA holds bias too, and an unreasonable one on Delaware Avenue. Let's face it, Delaware Avenue is Fishtown's residential border, not its heart. The iron fist of the FNA is only allowed to oversee Delaware Avenue's vacant lots and blighted abandonment because few actually live there. 

With the exception of Penn Treaty Park, diagonally across from Samschick's proposed apartment buildings, the few projects that have managed to rise pale in comparison to Core Realty's pedestrian friendly plan. Waterfront Square stands fortressed from the Avenue and SugarHouse Casino's empty hotel and entertainment promises have given Fishtown more asphalt than any reason to stroll north of Old City.


One sentiment during FNA's vote echoes exactly why the loudest in Fishtown keep getting dealt the shittiest hand, "We really don’t need more people...Sorry, we just don’t need you." That attitude hasn't treated Bucks County very well so it's certainly not going to fly in a densely populated neighborhood in one of the United States' largest cities. 

Core Realty's apartment buildings would have offered retail space that could provide cafes and restaurants for those playing in Penn Treaty Park. It's height could have encouraged pedestrians to endure SugarHouse and Waterfront Square, walking a few more blocks to explore a neighborhood they know little about.

But therein lies the problem in the FNA's isolationist attitude. To the FNA, Penn Treaty Park is Fishtown's private reserve. And that's unfortunate because change will come. Core Realty is a local development firm. It's not only easy to muscle out of a neighborhood, it has a local reputation to uphold, and that means accommodating even unreasonable demands. But that won't stop North Delaware Avenue from being developed. 

Height restrictions and a general attitude towards "outsiders" means only big money will win. Eventually vacant lots adjacent to Fishtown will become too valuable for practical, scaled development, and that means Acme, CVS, and suburban creature comforts. But maybe that's what the FNA wants. After all, nothing turns off the New Philadelphians eager to wander into new neighborhoods and parks like surface parking lots lining high speed traffic corridors.

Like residents of any neighborhood who recognize they are one piece of a bigger picture, NIMBYs like the FNA need to understand that Fishtown is part of a collective Philadelphia. Penn Treaty Park is a wonderful asset, bankrolled by City Hall. 

If Fishtown doesn't want Samschick's apartment buildings, I cordially invite him to build them in my backyard along the Vine Street Expressway. 

The Fashion Outlets of Philadelphia

PREIT finally revealed its vision for the revamped Gallery at Market East, the Fashion Outlets of Philadelphia. Understandably, the local internet went ape shit. And why shouldn't it? In the last few years, the Gallery has gone from a joke to voluntarily vacant. At this point people, especially those living or working near Market East, simply want anything

But simply anything seems to be exactly what we'll be getting. Jeff Gammage of the Inquirer relayed a presentation offered by PREIT CEO Joseph Coradino and AIA Chairman, James Grigsby, calling the proposed changes a "dramatic transformation." 

Does it look okay? That's exactly how it looks.

After looking at the renderings I quickly searched the article for the subtle "Paid Advertisement" disclaimer. It seems our collective desire for a passable shopping experience at the Gallery has trumped our standards. 

If the Gallery was shopping for a prom dress, she got it at the Gallery and paid way too much.

Sure, the glass entrance at 10th and Market has been replaced with...glass, and some of the flyovers have been sheathed in wood paneling, but this is a $575M endeavor. To put things into perspective, Comcast Center cost $540M. That's a hefty price tag for what barely amounts to a makeover. 

I truly hope the bulk of that money is earmarked for research and fielding the best retail, the only variables that will ever make the Gallery succeed.

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Days Numbered for City Hall Parking

Ever since Dilworth Plaza was reborn as the wet and wild Dilworth Park, the north side of City Hall has looked worse than ever. Walking towards North Broad Street through or around City Hall, you might be wondering where the Walmart is. That's because every day of the week there are anywhere from a few to a lot of personal vehicles treating the north apron like a suburban parking prairie. 

PhillyMag.com

It's ugly. PhillyMag.com called it crap.

Ramping up for a visit from the Pope and the upcoming Democratic National Convention, the city is finally recognizing the lingering blight throughout Center City that might be caught in the backdrop of an international news broadcast. But we're not just hosting the Vatican and a bunch of politicians, we're also prepping for millions of visitors who will be taking billions of pictures and posting them to Instagram.

Well, the north apron of City Hall is about to get a makeover that will help it blend into Dilworth Park a little bit better. While permanent bollards will put the kibosh on the abundance of civilian parking, eradicating parking in and of itself isn't that exciting. What's more noteworthy, particular for our upcoming tourists will be more greenery and the fact that City Hall will be keeping its mature trees. Finally, someone in Philadelphia recognize the value of a living tree!


The changes obviously won't be as dramatically transformative as Dilworth Park, but not everything needs to be in order to be just as significant. 

However there are some questions that remain to be answered. 

For one, what will happen to the parking that has been allowed to run rampant over the last few years? Will it be condensed to the Northeast corner of City Hall or will City Hall simply tell its employees to walk from the dozens of parking lots and garages a few short blocks away? And two, will City Hall use this redesign as a misguided opportunity to formally accommodate permanent parking spaces on the apron?

East Passyunk Gateway

The first time I was introduced to the word "Pash-unk," I was in the backseat of a Geo Metro next to a Temple student who was trying to roll a joint with the second page of a city paper she found on the floor. We were heading from a speakeasy in West Philadelphia and on our way to Ray's Happy Birthday Bar. For all I know, it could have been a dream.

The neighborhood wasn't sketchy, at least by Philadelphia pre-2005 standards. But having only lived in D.C., Portland, and rural Virginia, anything north of Bethesda was a scene straight out of The Wiz to me. 

It was gritty.

I haven't spent a lot of recreational time in Passyunk Square, but throughout my wanderings I've witnessed the change. My first local friends were raised amongst picture windows displaying statues of the Virgin Mary and silk flower displays. That's the first Philadelphia I knew as an adult. Despite the many Catholic families that still call Passyunk Square home, the neighborhood has officially tipped. 

Unlike neighborhoods in Kensington and Point Breeze, Passyunk Square never really needed any help. It wasn't flashy, but it was practical and self sufficient. It was Philadelphia's hometown neighborhood where the working and upper middle classes functioned. But where there's affordable real estate, there are refugees from more expensive cities, Millennials with trust funds, and hipsters who snub Center City.


The more adventurous and car-reliant chose Northern Liberties and Fishtown, others chose Passyunk Square. And looking at the changes about to take place at Broad and Passyunk, it seems that the trifecta of gentrification - gays, Millennials, and yuppies - have finally solidified their place by glitter-bombing an inconspicuous concrete slab with steel, light displays, and a bike-share kiosk. And as a culpable part of that triad, I have to say, I like it.

Now if the PPA could keep the scofflaws off the Broad Street and Oregon Avenue medians, South Philadelphia could start looking less like a parking lot.

Monday, April 13, 2015

Hope for the Divine Lorraine...again

Local developers aren't really living up to their 2005 heyday as of late. Considering Philadelphia isn't just experiencing a massive building boom, but America is also having a love affair with us, it's baffling that Eric Blumenfeld and Bart Blatstein have been resting on their assets for so long.

With the exception of Carl Dranoff and Liberty Property Trust, a lot of Philadelphia's construction is taking place thanks to developers from elsewhere. It makes more sense, then, that Eric Blumenfeld's Divine Lorraine might finally happen. I've said that before. Who hasn't? But Blumenfeld's Divine Lorraine is being bankrolled by a developer versed in Manhattan-ease who just so happens to love the Divine Ms. L more than a kid at his first Chuck-e-Cheese birthday party.

PhillyMag.com reported that Billy Procida - a developer who's no stranger to terraforming urban neighborhoods - recently conducted a tour of this inexplicably blighted corridor.

We all want you back in our lives.
The Divine Lorraine, or the Lorraine Hotel designed by Willis G. Hale, spent most of its life 
as part of the International Peace Movement Mission, a cult presided over by Father Divine, a man whose follows regarded as God. The movement still exists with Mother Divine at the helm, but with dwindling numbers due to its rule, "no undue mixing of the sexes" (i.e. no sex), its larger Center City properties were sold off in the early 2000s. 

Since then, the Divine Lorraine has changed hands a number of times with even more speculation. Now, with development moving north from Spring Garden and south from Temple, and approaching the hotel along Ridge Avenue, the building may finally be resurrected. We hope.

Thursday, April 9, 2015

The Future Is Coming

This summer, Philadelphia will join Shanghai, Sao Paulo, and Paris as the only North American city to host Saint-Gobain's Future Sensations, a traveling exposition celebrating the materials company's 350 year anniversary. With five pavilions, one designed exclusively for Philadelphia, Future Sensations focuses on science, storytelling, and art.

That's gonna look pretty sexy on Eakins Oval (image from Uwishunu.com).

Saint-Gobain's North American headquarters are located in Philadelphia, so the city was an obvious choice. But don't confuse the tour with an event on par with a traveling convention. Saint-Gobain is impressive. With Philadelphia quickly becoming a technologies hub, this event becomes even more significant. Industry leaders will be visiting for the pavilions on Eakins Oval, but will linger to consider the city's place in the field, Comcast's sweeping influence, and other innovative companies that have opted for Philadelphia over the Silicone and Cascade Valleys. 

So, yeah, we're kind of a big deal right now.