Friday, December 30, 2011

Breaking Christmas

It's a common gripe around the holidays, "Christmas just flew by," or "it seems to start earlier every year." It's true, especially as you get older. When you're not riddled with insomnia the night before in anticipation of the Red Ryder you know is under the tree, the Christmas season isn't just time for tree trimming parties and eggnog, but also a burdensome source of anxiety, travel, and shopping malls packed with frenzied last minute shoppers.

But ever since Macy's first Thanksgiving Day Parade, the Christmas season has begun the day after, Black Friday. And although as a child that month seemed an eternity, as an adult those 30 days are a perfectly respectable amount of time to shop, throw parties, and put up some decorations. As one of our nation's largest holidays for both the religious and secular, however you decide to celebrate, one month is plenty of time. I

n recent years a number of retailers have attempted to push the envelope, starting sales and installing Santa displays in the weeks before Thanksgiving, but not until this year has there been such a unified attempt to start the official season a month early.

The city's lights seemed to go up the day after Halloween. No one even complained about religious verbiage on government buildings and public schools, not because people have become more sympathetic or patient, but because we were so blindsided by Christmas this year that the complaint department didn't know where and when to register.

One month in, people were stuffing themselves with turkey and ham wondering where the Christmas tree was, forgetting that it was still a month away. The season has become the cultural equivalent of carrying a baby to term or planning a wedding, ending in a deep depression the day after New Years that comes back to bite you in the ass on February 14th. Only we have to do it every year.

In the longest Christmas season the nation has ever seen, it went by faster than ever. Articles chastising merchants for opening stores at midnight outnumbered uplifting stories about Yule Time revelry and anonymous acts of kindness.

By December 25th, colorful lights and beautiful window displays were nothing more than white noise which retailers couldn't wait to replace with the day-after sales. We had the baby, the wedding is over, and we're left with nothing but the nagging notion that we only have ten more months until we have to do it all over again.

We broke Christmas, a holiday fast losing any real significance outside the farms of Lancaster County. If the seasonal sprawl repeats itself in the future, retailers may find thousands of consumers too exhausted to bother.

Friday, December 9, 2011

Paradise City

If you're familiar with Philadelphia, you know what an abandoned building can do to the morale of its neighbors. If you're familiar with West Philadelphia, you're familiar with the Croydon. If not, you may have mistaken it for an old West Philadelphia high school. This mistake is easy, as the blighted edifice looms over West Philadelphia High School's athletic field.

Once home to the children of the Industrial Revolution, the Croydon has established a reputation with an underground community that sponges off the working class, property owners, and everyone in between.


I'll get to them in a moment.

The Croydon's sketchy past is fit for a horror movie and has undoubtedly encouraged more than a few kids to play Candy Man, a horrific tale that came true in 2007 when its rooftop was the site of a grizzly murder.

Purchased by Orens Brothers in July, the apartment building at 49th and Locust stands to redefine the fringe of University City with $10M in renovations. One to three bedroom apartments will be offered in the rehabbed apartment building for $600 to $1300 a month.

As it stands, the neighborhood has done nothing but applaud the project, including full support from Councilwoman Jannie Blackwell.

Orens Brothers rendering of the rehabilitated Croydon Apartments

If unanimous support wasn't weird enough, don't forget where we are.
The property has a national reputation amongst a loosely knit community few know much about. Philadelphia's decidedly homeless, international transients, and a pantheon of undesirables have dubbed the Croydon "Paradise City." The origins of its namesake aren't certain, but one can assume it refers to the fact that its absentee owners allowed it to stand open and unsecured, allowing vagrants to occupy its floors unchecked, siphoning off its available resources.

This community of modern day hobos is surprisingly active. An Internet search for the Croydon Apartments finds many benign blogs and articles about the building's colorful history, followed by hostile comments from its illegal inhabitants defending their right to live off the grid, illegally trespassing and vandalizing private property.

Thi Chien went as far as documenting three days in the lives of two of its residents, Papi and Christina, glamorizing their life of panhandling, drug abuse, and crime.

It's hard to muster sympathy for these people. Choosing a life of homelessness and abusing the strapped resources set aside for those with no alternative is insulting to the thousands of situationally homeless residing in Philadelphia who struggle to contribute to society. To be born to family, privilege, or opportunity and cast it aside for a culture of ingrates who find solace in one another's laziness is the ultimate exercise in narcissism.

There is an incredible arrogance that comes with playing Box Car Willy while claiming to make a statement, particularly in those who expect the "close minded" property owners to supplement this lifestyle. 

The Croydon Apartments circa 1925, shortly after its opening
Ironically, these aren't the products of a bad economy, but of a bloated financial situation: so bored, guilt-ridden, and entitled that the only path to self actualization is completely checking out of the society that created them.

The hypocrisy is evident in, among other things, the fact that they are blogging from the top of the Croydon from smart phones. Then again, what else is there to do after shooting up, eating a can of dog food, and dodging concerned relatives?

The parasitic counter culture manages to hide in society's cracks between hipsters and big-city tunnel-vision, but if you've been to Philadelphia, you've seen them.

These times are trying for most, and as more and more continue to struggle with the realities of an economic crisis, playing homeless won't be the ironic game it was when we were at the climax of our 21st Century Gilded Age.

The Croydon's resurrection as a place for those seeking affordable homes and neighbors yearning for pride in their neighborhoods is a welcome glimmer of hope. It's time for Papi and Christina to move over for those who contribute to a greater Philadelphia.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Phil E. Moose

The Sixers have decided to retire Hip Hop the rabbit and they're leaving his replacement up to us...kind of.

The most creative minds at the Seventy Sixers have offered us Big Ben, B. Franklin Dogg (yes, with two g's), and Phil E. Moose as optional replacements.

Ben Franklin's connection to '76 is obvious - and overdone - although he never responded to the name of London's famed clocktower, nor had any relation. B. Franklin Dogg's connection is in the dog's namesake only. But Phil E. Moose, a moose? I don't get it. I feel like the marketing team at the Seventy Sixers might already made up their minds and decided to hand our basketball team over to Ben Franklin by offering us two terrible alternatives.

I mean really, a moose. I actually had to look it up: The moose's closest modern natural habitat is upstate New York. Way upstate.

Come on guys.

You decide.

Friday, December 2, 2011

"Do We Really Still Need Eastern State Penitentiary?"

The title is in quotes because I'm not asking, rather that's the question posed by Philadelphia Magazine writer, Annie Monjar in an article of the same title. I have a question of my own. Has Philadelphia Magazine officially lost it, or are they desperately baiting angry comments in a grab for ad sales?

I'm all for experimental solutions to unusual problems, but Eastern State poses neither a problem nor a need for resolve. In fact, Eastern State's popularity among tourists and curious locals has done its part transforming a once iffy neighborhood. It's amusing that Monjar cites the neighborhood's gentrification success without giving Eastern State it's credit. Instead she carries on about friends she "dragged" to the site who ask, "they need the whole thing?"

She suggests a questionable need for a fortressed park within spitting distance of the Parkway, Fairmount, and the Schuylkill River Trail. The fact that she accuses Eastern State's size as a waste of space yet neglects to mention the adjacent surface lot, nearly the same size, says a little bit about where she might be from. Philadelphia newcomers have a nagging habit of embracing what makes Philadelphia unique before they move in, followed by a disdain for the unique when it compromises their creature comforts.

To be fair, Monjar hasn't proposed bulldozing the historic structure, not completely, but rather delegating a portion of its walled grounds as public park space by razing the less restorable wings. Monjar obviously didn't visit Eastern State in the mid-1990s when its doors were first opened to those with a hard hat and a sense of adventure. If she had, she would know that the foundation's initial mission was to maintain the site's decay as part of its history rather than rewriting it through renovations and restorations. It's a very unique concept and one that we've embraced at Eastern State for two decades.

Unlike Alcatraz, visitors to Eastern State are confronted with the same bleak experience that Charles Dickens wrote about after his visit. Its self guided tours offer visitors a history lesson, but its open ended experience allows the more adventurous the opportunity to wander, enjoy its peaceful surroundings, and enjoy the art exhibits that fill its forgotten cells.

While the article seems harmless on the surface, the fact that such an opinion has been printed in a local publication suggests an increasing lack of understanding and respect for our city's history. Philadelphia is old. Would London raze part of it's Tower for public park space? Although not nearly as old, like European cities, much of our history lies in our ruins.

Those of us that know Philadelphia know what we've lost. We know what a blessing it is that this site has survived countless proposals that called for its demolition. To come to Philadelphia and propose demolishing even a portion of Eastern State for a park is on par with clearing part of the Acropolis for condos. That may sound absurd to someone like Monjar who I can only assume is new to Philadelphia, but like Athenians and Romans, we have an unwavering pride in our landmarks that can be just as loyal.

I can be staunchly pragmatic when it comes to business and development, but one thing I love about Philadelphia is, like many European cities, when it comes to our history, sometimes, sacrificing even a piece of grass to maximize perceived potential, isn't worth the financial benefits. Perhaps that's where Monjar is lost. When we walk though the gates of Eastern State, we see the history in every square foot of its grounds. When Monjar and her apparently unimpressed friends enter, they see a pile of bricks. They're looking for the tour guide and the gift shop. They want the history lesson printed in a coloring book rather than embracing the macabre experience.

I don't know Annie Monjar so I can't speak for her tenure in our city. I would like to assume that her proposal is a knee jerk reaction to something she doesn't get. She is obviously a talented writer, so I hope in time she comes to appreciate Philadelphia not just as someone who resides here, but as a Philadelphian. Perhaps, like many of us not native to Philadelphia, each continued visit to our landmarks' hallowed halls will bring her closer to understanding each brick's importance.

In the mean time, publishing such a brazenly anti-Philadelphian article in Philadelphia Magazine is disrespectful to its namesake.