Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Philly Brick's 30 Favorite Philadelphia Institutions, Organizations, People, Places, or Things

Movoto Realty, known more for their BuzzFeed style lists than how the organization is tied to actual real estate, just posted "30 Things You Need To Know About Philadelphia Before You Move There."

The list waxes and wanes between truly outstanding sites like the Philadelphia Museum of Art and the Franklin Institute, and less than fantastic stereotripe like cheesesteaks and the Betsy Ross House.

Still, considering Movoto once ranked Oakland more exciting than Miami, it's surprising that Movoto's curators of online lists know anything about Philadelphia.

Well, rather than go the BuzzFeed route and offer up the umpteenth "definitive" list, I'm going to provide you with Philly Brick's 30 Favorite Philadelphia Institutions, Organizations, People, Places, or Things. Why? Because this is my blog and I can say what I want. Why will I tell you? Because I'm a Philadelphian, so I will say what I want. Which brings us to #30:

30: Philadelphians Utter Disregard
Philadelphians' utter disregard for themselves, our city, and what others think of much so that a definitive list informing those outside the Jerseyvania Triangle just why we're so great is the most un-Philadelphian thing one can do. Why is it great? Well, it's not so much great as it is one of my favorite quirks about the ironically dubbed City of Brotherly Love. But is it that ironic? Philadelphians truly do love a brother. Like that family member you don't like or understand, but are forced to unconditionally love.

29: Independent Journalism
You know who reads or watches ABC News? People looking for the score to last night's game and gay guys crushing on Adam Joseph. You know what everyone else reads? Some of the broadest range of informative, opinionated, and dedicated independent journalism in the country. Hidden City, Philebrity, Plan PhillyUwishunu, and the City Paper's Naked City and Philaphilia provide Philadelphians with a humorous and opinioned take on more information than you'll ever find in the mainstream media.

28: Shut Up and Dance
For more than two decades the Pennsylvania Ballet dancers have choreographed their own routines and put on a show at the Forrest Theater to benefit MANNA, an organization that prepares and delivers meals to the city's residents suffering from AIDS and other diseases. Shut Up and Dance isn't what you think of when you think of ballet. It's interpretive, wild, techno, and beautiful, so don't expect Swan Lake or the Nutcracker. Expect a great time for a great cause.

27: The Schuylkill Banks
For more than ten years the Schuylkill River Development Corporation has defied local logic and Philadelphia's tradition of overpriced civic projects that never seem to end. The Schuylkill Banks has become a model for urban river parks, improving not only the former industrial space between the river and the railroad tracks, but also the bridges connecting Center City to University City. Soon, a boardwalk will carry joggers and cyclists to the South Street Bridge with plans for an extension all the way to Bartram's Garden.

26: Philadelphia Museum of Art
Speaking of the Schuylkill Banks and the Schuylkill River Trail which extends all the way to Valley Forge, someday all the way to Reading, the Philadelphia Museum of Art sits on the banks of the river and is more than just a repository for one of the most extensive art collections in the world. The Horace Trumbauer masterpiece is a work of art itself rivaling most of America's most lavish art institutes, including the National Gallery. The building that bookends the landscaped Benjamin Franklin Parkway with the equally grandiose Philadelphia City Hall challenges the pomp of some of Europe's oldest museums and avenues.

25: Philadelphia City Hall
Philadelphia's City Hall is so massive it took over thirty years to build, so long that by the time it was complete, its second empire facades were no longer en vogue and many residents considered it a mammoth eyesore. Philadelphia's own Alexander Calder's statue of William Penn atop City Hall's clock tower makes the building just a few meters shorter than the Washington Monument. Today it's the world's tallest masonry building, but who cares, just look at it.

23: Inga Saffron
The fact that Philadelphia's foremost newspaper has its own architecture critic says as much about our citizens' appreciation for our built environment, historic or new, as the city's architecture czar has. But Saffron has been a fixture amongst the city's architecturally informed much longer than her tenure with the paper. Whether or not you always agree with Saffron's critques and reviews, the three time Pulitzer Prize finalist has an opinion and never bends to the journalistic trend of divisive contrarianism that trades controversy for comments and clicks. She's honest and consistent, and like many Philadelphians who appreciate architecture, she isn't an architect. She offers her readers, fans and foes, an approach to architecture bred by a willingness to look up rather than school born jargon only the architecturally educated understand.

22: Trinity Houses
Not only is Philadelphia home to streets most of America would consider alleys or sidewalks, we still drive on them. Lined with small trinity homes smaller than some studio apartments, Philadelphians rarely look at treacherous pie staircases with dismay, but sometimes as a characteristic or historic selling point. And while your living room may be smaller than a Main Line walk-in closet, space is irrelevant when it can be packed with charm, and Rittenhouse or Washington Square serve as your own backyard. And look closely at Camac Street. Those aren't cobblestones, it's paved with wood.

21: The Main Line
I'm not going to criticize the Main Line's decadence without offering it praise. Lancaster Avenue's bedroom communities of Ardmore, Bryn Mawr, and Bala Cynwyd are home to some of America's most prized Guilded Age mansions. Easily rivaling Long Island or Newport, RI, these gems are unassumingly tucked away leading those passing by to gasp and wonder unexpectedly, "What on earth is that place?" Oh, it's just the home of Mother Divine.

20: Mother and Father Divine
The Divine Lorraine is impressive enough on its own, even in its derelict condition. Willis G. Hale's North Broad hotel is a bizarre mess of historic styles. Like many of his buildings including Chestnut Street's Hale Building, his gaudy approach to Victorianism was abhorred for decades. But the Divine Lorraine became something else. Purchased by Father Divine in 1948, the Divine Lorraine became the first fully integrated hotel in America. Father Divine was the leader of the International Peace Movement Mission and his followers regarded him as God. Today the movement is led by his widow, Mother Divine, with a dwindling number of followers. Dwindling because of the Mission's rule, "no undo mixing of the sexes." Mother Divine operates the church out of Woodmont in Gladwyne, PA, built for steel magnate Alan Wood, Jr. in 1894. Woodmont is the final resting place of Father Divine.

19: Grace Kelly
Yeah, she's from here. The Princess of Monaco - and the Silver Screen - was raised in East Falls by John Kelly, Sr., triple Olympic Gold Metal winner. Despite what you may have been told, Kelly Drive is named for John Kelly, not his daughter.

18: Ed Bacon
Philadelphia's late Ed Bacon served as the Execitive Director of the Philadelphia City Planning Commission until 1970. The man who once proposed tearing down City Hall for a massive traffic circle is responsible for some of Philadelphia's greatest obstacles: The Vine Street Expressway, I-95, and The Gallery at Market East. He even suggested demolishing most of South Street for an additional highway trench, creating an inner loop. While his choices have become a source for contention, he practiced at a time when American cities were losing residents to the suburbs, seeking ample parking and strip mall shopping. His plans attempted to compete. Perhaps it worked. Dense, post-industrial cities like New York and Boston employed similar methods, and both cities weathered midcentury flight like Philadelphia. Other cities without a Bacon, Cleveland and Detroit, weren't so lucky. While it's not completely evident in the projects built in his name, Bacon believed in urbanism, density, and sustained walkability. He was a long term visionary responsible for Society Hill's transformation from blighted slum to quaint Colonial charm.

17: Mayor Richardson Dilworth
Philadelphia's 91st mayor wasn't afraid to ruffle feathers or live in Center City's worst neighnborhood. During World War II and before suburbanization, America's cities were a deplorable mix of post Depression poverty, abandonment, and corruption. Dilworth reformed City Hall and consolidated city agencies. By the 1930s and 40s, Washington Square and Society Hill, once the city's answer to West Market Street, had lost their corporate presence to the Great Depression and its residents to greener and cleaner neighborhoods in North and West Philadelphia. By the time Dilworth took office in 1956, those neighborhoods were facing the same loss to the suburbs and Society Hill was home to squatters, fires, and condemned history. Richardson Dilworth, a wealthy lawyer and all around fancy boy who could have easily made a home on Delancy Street or a Rittenhouse penthouse, decided the best way to lead his city was to live amongst and understand its most neglected. It's nearly impossible to imagine today, but when Mayor Dilworth built the Dilworth House on Washington Square, Society Hill looked a lot more like today's worst neighborhoods than the charming historic district we know.

16: The Drake
From 15th and Spruce, the Drake Apartments, formerly the Drake Hotel, is a narrow apartment tower, only about as wide as a brownstone or two, flatly facing the Kimmel Center with yellow brick in a vaguely Art Deco style. Step back a block or two and it becomes something magical. Topped with a wedding cake of brick gazebos and terra cotta tile, the Drake's magnificent apartments wind up to a massive dome atop the building's major attraction, its two story penthouse. If Ghostbusters had been set in Philadelphia, and given our long and often dark history, it should have been, the Drake's penthouse terraces would certainly be capable of summoning Zuul.

15: Our neighborhoods
Somehow one of America's most densely populated cities has been able to provide a house for the vast majority of its residents. Perhaps this dates back to a mentality imbedded in the city's founding, when William Penn designed his "Green Country Towne." Penn may have been the first suburban developer, planning a single family home for all of his town's residents and abandoning the mixed-use approach of apartment dwellings and density that led to the Black Plague. Of course his plan was almost immediately abandoned as land owners began subdividing their property, breaking up their large blocks with small side streets lined with servant homes and even smaller Trinity Houses. But to date, Philadelphia's grid exists largely comprised of row homes. Most of the city's apartment buildings are relegated to Center City, University City, and the suburbs, but even in those areas, row homes abound. Other cities have either replaced their row homes with large apartment complexes, or never had row homes to begin with. Yet somehow many of those places don't enjoy the dense walkability found in Philadelphia even with vastly denser housing options.

14: The Mutter Museum
Have you ever wanted to go to a Victorian Circus and pay a nickel to see the bearded lady or a pair of conjoined twins? Don't be embarrassed. If you've ever deliberately turned to TLC or the History Channel, you've clearly wanted to see a "Freak Show." The Mutter Museum provides the same experience, but as part of the College of Physicians of Philadelphia, it provides you with a peek at the macabre and disfigured under the veil of academics. But let's face it, we go to the Mutter Museum to celebrate Halloween all year long.

13: The Gayborhood
Many major American cities don't have a Gayborhood. Gay bars are scattered about Atlanta and Charlotte leaving gay residents no option for a night out that doesn't involve an expensive taxi cab or a designated driver. Other cities that do have gay neighborhoods find themselves in areas like Seattle's Capitol Hill, detached from the skyline. Still others that have dense gay neighborhoods like Washington, DC have found them shifted around due to real estate demands and hostile community organizations. Philadelphia's Gayborhood isn't just designated by the rainbows adorning its street signs, it's designated by history dating back to a time when the neighborhood was a prominent theater district. The city's fops and dandies would discreetly meet each other by donning a red tie, then duck into one of the area's many art clubs for a drink. The small Washington Square West neighborhood's gay businesses have been able to keep up with changes in the emerging Midtown Village area, keeping up appearances by renovating venues like Woody's and U-bar. Philadelphia's unmatched tolerance has kept neighborhood organizations on the side of diversity, helping gay bars avoid the nuisance claim tactic that trades nightlife for baby carriages. What's perhaps best about Philadelphia's Gayborhood is it doesn't hide in the far reaches of the city, it sits proudly at the foot of the skyline a few blocks from City Hall. It's as downtown as it gets.

12: Independence Hall, the Liberty Bell, and Society Hill
Although city planners did attempt to showcase some of Philadelphia's history with Independence Mall, emulating Washington's National Mall, most of Philadelphia's history remains largely incidental. It's just there, and it's everywhere. You can be hunting for Old City's next great restaurant and find yourself touring Carpenters' Hall or staring down Benjamin Franklin's toilet while passing through Franklin Court. Philadelphia is saturated with so much history, you can't turn a corner in Center City without coming face to face with something significant.

11: Frank Furness
For much of the 20th Century, legendary Victorian architect Frank Furness was as reviled as Willis G. Hale, largely for the same reason. His angular and eclectic take on Victorian design took garishness to an extreme, so much so he was never fully appreciated in his lifetime. It's hard to stand inside a building designed by Frank Furness and not feel overwhelmed. While much of the Modern Movement attempted to swap the craft of the Victorian era with clean lines and concrete, Frank Furness is finally receiving the praise he always deserved.

10: Erdy McHenry Architecture
Erdy McHenry Architecture of Philadelphia is largely known for its residential designs. Employed mostly in emerging neighborhoods and on college campuses, Erdy McHenry practices where experimentation is welcome. The firm combines elements of Modernism, Bauhaus, even Brutalism in its long residential blocks. These imposing, even foreboding structures may invoke a feeling of being in front of a monolith from 2001: A Space Odyssey. Erdy McHenry has managed to bring Bladerunner to life, providing Drexel, Penn, and Temple with 1970s dystopian thrillers on the streets of Philadelphia. Much like Furness and Hale, Erdy McHenry will likely never be fully appreciated by its contemporaries. The architectural audience may be intimidated by these epic fortresses until they're relegated to the pages of history.

9: Hollywood
Yes, Hollywood. New York, Los Angeles, and Chicago tend to be the go-to locales for movies and television shows. It makes sense. As America's three largest cities, they embrace the three largest markets. New York and Los Angeles are also convenient filming locations. Their abundance of film studios make location shots a breeze. Philadelphia has been no stranger to film history, but our role in cinema and television is unique. When a movie or television show is set in Philadelphia, it's set here for a specific reason. It's set here because of what Philadelphia represents. Philadelphia is old, gritty, and full of secrets. Stories aren't set here to relate to the audience, they're set here to alienate the audience and make them feel uncomfortable. M. Night Shyamalan may use Philadelphia because he's from the region, but also because the region's unsettling presence is a fitting location for his tales of terror. But he was far from the first to use Philadelphia to scare his audiences. Terry Gilliam could have easily set his 1995 thriller, 12 Monkeys, in New York, but our mid-90s Philadelphia with its towering, charred One Meridian Plaza fit the post apocalyptic imagery he was searching for. Cold Case could have been just another "ripped from the headlines" cop drama set in any arbitrary city, but the premise was bleak, forgotten, and often steeped in racial history. Philadelphia fit the bill. And of course the gang on Always Sunny in Philadelphia, created by Philadelphia's own Rob McElhenney, is too relatable to any tenured Philadelphian, however exaggerated, to be set anywhere else.

8: Ben Franklin
I can't mention Philadelphia without mentioning Benjamin Franklin. America's original hipster would have been as at home at Johnny Brenda's as he was at City Tavern. Toiling away about revolution, taxation, and politics amid beer houses on Philadelphia's oldest streets, his own rants are echoed in conversations you'll find yourself caught up in at places like Dirty Frank's and Locust Bar.

7: The Phillie Phanatic
The Phanatic is inarguably the world's best mascot. Not only does the inspiration for the Simpsons Springfield Screwball shoot hot dogs into the audience from a four wheeler, he sets the bar for every mascot in the world. Who's the mascot for the Mets? The Yankees? The Cubs? I assume it's a...cub? I don't know. But everyone in the country knows the Phillie Phanatic.

6: The Barnes Foundation
You may not agree with the decision to move the Barnes collection to Center City from Lower Merion, but that doesn't diminish its collection. It houses more Cezanne's than Paris, a worthy proclamation, but it owns so much more. The Barnes's collection rivals the existing collections of other major American cities on its own, and were it not for the Philadelphia Museum of Art's expansive collection, it would be our city's foremost art museum.

5: Centennial Park
Have you ever been to Centennial Park? You may have been raised in the Philadelphia area and the answer could easily be, "no." Centennial Park isn't a showcase...yet. Ten years ago, the park's Parkside mansions were crumbling and abandoned. Today, they're restored and a sight to behold. While the park itself is primarily known for the Please Touch Museum at Memorial Hall and the Mann Center for the Performing Arts, its historical significance is astounding. The site of the world's first World's Fair, the Centennial Exposition, the land once showcased feats of Victorian engineering and scientific renaissance. Nestled between the Philadelphia Zoo, Microsoft's School of the Future, and the vista from Belmont Plateau, Centennial Park is on Fairmount Park's short list for revitalization.

4: Reading Terminal Market
Who needs a grocery store? Reading Terminal Market provides more organic options than your average Whole Foods, and it sits two blocks from City Hall. Get there after five, or four on Sunday, and you'll find yourself free from the confines of tourists ogling fruits and veggies. And get this, it's cheaper than your local Super Fresh. Two large chicken breasts from Guinuta's will set you back about $7 and two large bags of produce at Iovine's, no more than $15. From Tuesday to Saturday Pennsylvania's Amish hire the "English" to drive them to the city to prepare scrapple and pretzels and sell some of the most delicious donuts you'll ever have.

3: Italian Market
Live in South Philly or too far from Reading Terminal? The Italian Market offers the same local and organic options as Reading Terminal, including exotic game you won't find anywhere else. Have you ever wanted to make a kangaroo burger? You can find the ingredients at the Italian Market. While most still refer to it as the Italian Market, it is technically the 9th Street Market, which may be more accurate. The city's Hispanic community have leased much of the market and it's one of the few places you'll find authentic Mexican food in Philadelphia.

2: Chinatown
While most American cities have lost their Chinatowns to gentrification, Philadelphia's Chinatown continues to grow. Once a blighted neighborhood bound by Vine Street, the Gallery at Market East, and Franklin Square, Philadelphia's Chinatown plans to expand across the Vine Street Expressway with its Eastern Tower, a skyscraping apartment building and community center that will solidify Chinatown's presence in the city's emerging Loft District or Callowhill neighborhood.

1: Philadelphians
You, a Philadelphian, are Philly Bricks' favorite. Philadelphia consistently tops or bottoms out in these irrelevant lists, still ignored by those passing from Washington, DC to New York. And who cares? Philadelphia may be America's best kept secret. We're black, white, gay, straight, rich, and poor. We may occasionally get hung up on our own differences, but when we are challenged by the national media and those who haven't bothered to visit, those who can't recognize Philadelphia for anything but Rocky or the fact that we threw snowballs at Santa Claus (almost forty years ago), we ignore our differences and stand side by side as Philadelphians. We are a socioeconomic melting pot, and instead of revitalizing every corner of our city with luxury condos and pushing our diversity to Chester and Camden, we challenge our city leaders to find ways to keep us living side by side. Philadelphia is doing what no other city has, and that is succeeding on its own. Sure, many of our neighborhoods are being transformed by transplants from other cities, but those transplants leave their baggage at the door. Philadelphians from every corner are fighting for their own unique vision for the city. For every dollar we invest in our houses, we invest ten fold in our communities. It's impossible to move to Philadelphia and not find yourself integrated into our streets. We don't just reside in our homes, go to work, returning to ignore our neighbors, we don't just live here, we are Philadelphia. 

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