Wednesday, May 14, 2014

A New Avenue of the Arts

While North Broad Street is technically part of the Avenue of the Arts, much of its presence is in name only. North Broad has found itself hosting every stage in the evolution of the American city. It was crisscrossed by industry throughout the 19th Century, its north central points home to Philadelphia's elite during the early 20th Century, it's been lined with grand hotels, and hosted grand houses of art like the Metropolitan Opera.

Unfortunately it quickly declined following the Great Depression. Its beautiful hotels became flop houses, its mansions were abandoned or burned, while residents left amongst its decline turned to religion, converting the Met into a church and the Divine Lorraine into a refuge for the uniquely devout.

Like much of the city north of Vine Street, officials accumulated vacant land for urban necessities. The Vine Street Expressway sutured the north side of town from its siblings in Center City, exasperating the region's decline. Vast tracks of land were razed for public housing and Temple's campus began to wall itself from its neighbors.

West Philadelphia saw paralleled decline, but its wealthy universities have since helped transform it into one of Philadelphia's more prominent addresses. With the help of interested developers, North Broad Street could soon see a similar renaissance. Bart Blatstein's Tower Place at Broad and Spring Garden has brought new life to a once sketchy corner, new development is inching its way eastward from Eastern State Penitentiary and along Ridge Avenue, and Eric Blumenfeld is securing funding for the rebirth of the Divine Miss L.

But the city is also excited about the potential rebirth of Philadelphia's once great, now forgotten corridor. Councilman Darrell Clarke is working with developers to create a non-profit organization to assist with its redevelopment, including tax abatements and loans to incentivize growth.

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