Thursday, April 30, 2015

Philly is Baltimore

If you walked around Center City this afternoon, tensions were high. Comcast Center was cordoned off with black ropes. Suited security guards stood with folded arms, hiding their anxiety behind dark glasses. Whispers echoed throughout corporate cubicle pools, employees stared down from Liberty Place and Centre Square with a weary unease, and commuters left early to work the afternoon from home. 

"4:30," they said with a mix of concern and curiosity. For the past week we've watched Bane take Gotham and Charm City fall. And "Philly is Baltimore" wants the world to know, we stand beside you and against our own police brutality.

There's just one thing, though. What happened last week wasn't a Christopher Nolan movie. There wasn't one hero and one villain. There was no script, no actors, and the story didn't end when the credits rolled. Those involved must face their consequences and the innocents must pick up the pieces of their lives. And CNN isn't going to cover that. 

More to the point, and what "Philly is Baltimore" seems to misunderstand, is what actually happened this week. Thousands of protesters turned out to peacefully demonstrate, the Baltimore Police Department proved that while massive forces employ a corrupt few, the vast majority of our Men in Blue are dedicated solely to justice and protecting their neighbors. 

But what we saw, what "Philly is Baltimore" saw, is exactly what the media wanted us to see. What the Free Press did this week - even the most reliable sources - was completely neglect their ethical and moral obligations to their readers. They chose the role of Hollywood by satisfying our morbid infatuation with civil unrest. 

While the events in Baltimore are tragic, both its riots and the death that led to them, locals must be scratching their heads in both frustration and bewilderment. Not only did the media deliberately foster a comparison between this week and Los Angeles' riots of 1992, they neglected the root cause, the peaceful elements to the protest, and eviscerated the reputation of a city that will soon recover. 

Newspapers and the nonstop media are continuously looking for "the next Rodney King," "the next Ferguson," and "the next Trevon Martin." It's nothing new. The media has always been a competitive industry. But the internet allows even the most local of media sources to go international, and the 24 hour news cycle has turned Yellow Journalism into a cultural Amber Alert. And it's all so overwhelming, no one has time to step back and truly question the morality of those delivering it all. 

We're reeling from the consequences of being tethered to hype, evident in the circus surrounding today's protest. "Philly is Baltimore" quickly became Philly Wants to Be Baltimore. It's sad, but there are plenty of kids, even adults who watched the events unfold this week with a hint of jealousy. Baltimore looked angry, but they looked tough, and we wanted a piece of that. 

There is definitely merit to the cause, but many of today's protestors turned out with the hopes of satisfying a blind urge. Meanwhile, hundreds of police officers have been diverted from neighborhoods that need them, doing their jobs, and waiting for every journalistic hack in the local media to dub their presence "excessive," plus three news helicopters hovering in the sky, desperately hoping that the city erupts into a sea of fire.

We all know this in the back of our minds: there are a few in the crowds with a noble mission, but the mission is tarnished by an overwhelming number who think that a riot looks like a lot of fun, career picketers hoping for a photo op to prove their point, and a media with a rock hard boner for fear, anger, blood, and fire, poking the worst in all of us until even the most reasonable are ready to rage. The one thing all but a select few seem to really want is peace. 

Why? No one ever sold a blockbuster about peace.

The New LOVE Park

With Dilworth Park, Sister Cities Park, and the Parkway transforming the way we look at Center City's public spaces, and the city finally coming to terms with the fact that grass is easier to mow than concrete is to clean, our most iconic park (and probably our most photographed location) is looking a bit like a stale turn in the middle of a lush lawn.

That's going to change soon, and based on the renderings just released by Hargreaves Associates and KieranTimberlake, it's pretty much as good as it gets.

For starters, an equally dramatic fountain has become interactive. Okay, not quite as dramatic. Don't worry, it won't be launching your children 100 feet in the air. But looking at the throngs of kids (and I'll admit it, sometimes myself) who take a dip in Swann Fountain on oppressively hot summer days, when the public pools are just tepid ponds of ball soup, the designers saw a need and addressed it. 

Borrowing from the less traditional Dilworth Park and Sister Cities Park fountains, you'll be free to frolic in LOVE Park. But there's more to the park than its fountain and famous Robert Indiana LOVE sculpture, and since the plaza's existence its potential has been withheld by its overwhelming boundaries. 

Concrete barriers separate flower beds and trees from more concrete. What seemed to be an attempt to create an engaging experience became an awkward space to maneuver. People came to take pictures, then quickly left. The unused spaces, though cumbersome for pedestrians proved majestic for skateboarders and trick bikers. But now that they have a proper forum, the spectacle is over, and we're left with black scars and cracked tiles. 

The proposed renovations prove that less is more and makes an incidental tourist attraction and local destination for leisure. The concrete boundaries are removed, plants and trees become accessible, and the labyrinth of walkways have made way for open space. It's inviting.

Of course what's really unique about this proposal, especially considering our city's knee jerk inclination to start over, is that some of its best attributes remain. Obviously, we're not moving Indiana's sculpture. But the fountain also remains centered with the Philadelphia Museum of Art, the Parkway, and City hall, keeping the astounding vistas from the Northwest and Southeast in tact. 

And while some may wonder why, the UFO isn't going anywhere. Now before you clutch your pearls and gasp "Heavens to Mergatroyd," the pavilion will be getting a much needed facelift and a green roof. With new glass and a colorful lighting motif, the Southwest corner of LOVE Park might look like the landing pad from Close Encounters of the Third Kind, and it's going to be awesome.

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

An Ethical Case for Preservation

When academics, preservationists, historians, and neighborhood advocacy groups rush to save sites as revered as the Divine Lorraine or as humble as the Race Street Firehouse, the discussions become endless. 

The Boyd Theatre drove the community to establish The Friends of the Boyd, a Facebook group, and managed to stall the wrecking ball for years. As the conversation charged on, blogs and articles piled up, and talk began to question the effectiveness of the Philadelphia Historical Commission, the ethics of developers and property owners, and the profound cultural impact of our most storied landmarks. 

The topic of the Boyd Theatre frequently strayed into the place of historic movie houses and their role in our modern, multiplex mentality. Or even more so, the silver screen's wavering foothold as the prime mover of Hollywood blockbusters. 

The Boyd was Center City's last "movie palace," a moniker reserved for movie theaters erected when Tinseltown was America's Silicon Valley. Where software companies sprawl and telecom towers rise today, the social revolution of the early 20th Century was proudly projected inside these Art Nouveau and Deco masterpieces. 

But the frustration raised by the demise of the Boyd wasn't rooted in cinema's history, and it quickly became evident that a lost art wasn't responsible for its demolition, it wasn't even brought on by a dispassionate Historical Commission or shameless developers. As the conversation quickly strayed to the Metropolitan Opera House, the fate of the Divine Lorraine, and the crumbling Church of the Assumption, a broader question emerged begging for an answer.

What are we missing?

Despite the abundance of press surrounding the Boyd, the Church of the Assumption, and the Divine Lorraine, the ire of preservationists tends to get shrouded in its' own rhetoric. "This is the last historic movie theater in town," "once the church is gone, it's gone for good," and "they don't build them like this anymore" are chanted from megaphones and printed on t-shirts. Advocacy groups throw legal maneuvers at City Hall, and City Hall does what it can. 

There is clearly a lot of soul and passion devoted to saving a landmark, but by the eleventh hour it's muddled by confusion, the public looses interest, and before we know it, that grand hotel, theater, or mansion is a parking lot.

So what is missing? There is one very powerful reason to preserve the landmarks that rose in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, and it's a reason that's impossible to debate. 

Yes, the Boyd, the Divine Lorraine, and the Church of the Assumption are showpieces that share invaluable architectural and social importance, and the same can be said for later sites like Falling Waters and the Society Hill Towers. But unlike buildings designed by Frank Lloyd Wright and I.M. Pei, buildings designed by Horace Trumbauer and Richard Morris Hunt, buildings built throughout America's Gilded Age and Roaring Twenties, were done so with a ferocious and cash fueled disregard. 

Sites like Lynnewood Hall and Biltmore Estate are America's Pyramids, and understanding how they were built can be just as quizzical. Preserving Victorian masterpieces like the Hale Building or infrastructure like the robust stone arches of the Reading Viaduct isn't the cultural legacy of the barons that bankrolled them or the political backdoor deals that got them done. No, preserving them is a cultural obligation to the slave labor and indentured craftsmen that did the heavy lifting.

They don't build them like they used to because they can't...and shouldn't. If there's any reason to preserve every masterpiece built between the Industrial Revolution and the Great Depression, that's the one.

It's easy to look at the Middle East and China and know exactly why we no longer compete for height and architectural prowess, but it's just as easy to ignore that we were once Dubai or Beijing, locking our least fortunate into servitude to build taller, wider, and ever astounding. 

Some day Eastern Nations may find themselves with the same ethical dilemma, staring up at the Burj Khalifa or across the Sheikh Zayed Bridge, wonder what's so marvelous about them. Until someone reminds them of the hundreds of immigrants that died building their cities. 

As we continue to embrace later architectural legacies of the 20th Century - International Style, Arts and Crafts, Brutalism - let's not forget that each era comes with its own, unique narrative. The Divine Lorraine, the Church of the Assumption, the Reading Viaduct, these aren't just architects and cultural movements, they're the bloodied knuckles of the Africans, Irish, and Native Americans who built them.

Monday, April 27, 2015

Barely Human: TLC

For the past year, Philadelphia, a city once synonymous with sports fans chucking snowballs at Santa and deliberately barfing on the children of our Men in Blue, has become an inexplicable comeback story. It takes a lot to bring a city down. And if that city has stared the devil in the face and said, "bring it on, Butt Plug!", it's damn near impossible.

But there is one way. And just when we were doing so well, we found it. How? Well, you take one of the region's greatest Cinderella Stories, Penn's Landing, and invite four of five of the world's worst people to take a proverbial shit all over it.

An un-ironic Dee Reynolds with veneers?

Yep, this May 30th, Kate Gosselin, Buddy Valastro, and the Duggar family will be the source material for a block party at the Great Plaza. Apparently the reanimated corpse of Strom Thurman was unavailable. 

If you don't know who they are, well, count yourself amongst the few who can still claim to be human. Unfortunately, I know better (or worse). They're reality "celebrities" from TLC's infamous sideshows: people with litters of kids and an irate New Yorker so annoying he couldn't hold a job in the same building as Rachel Ray.

TLC, the ironic acronym for "The Learning Channel," has been peddling what amounts to Freak Porn since it abandoned educational content in the late 1990s. I'm not saying that prolific mothers, dwarves, or the obese should be objectified, but TLC - and apparently the Delaware River Waterfront Corporation - sure as shit seems to be.

If you're one of the soulless fans of Kate Plus Eight or Cake Boss, head down to Penn's Landing for a photograph with some unrealebrities who I'm quite certain can't cast a shadow. If not, get out of town. Philadelphia was doing so well, but in a month I'm pretty sure it will be flushed down Hell's toilet bowl. 

Thursday, April 23, 2015

The New Spruce Parker Hotel

After a fire broke out on the 9th floor of the infamous Spruce Parker Hotel at 13th and Spruce last year, many locals cheered. But the revelry was premature, and what we've been left with is a vacant eyesore on a prime corner of Center City. Perhaps worse, a longtime popular restaurant and bar, the Westbury, closed with it.

Since then there's been little speculation.

The Wankawala Organization has been working with the building's owners to purchase the property since November. Wankawala's managing director finally spoke out to Philadelphia Magazine on a plan to convert the building into a moderately upscale hotel.

Despite Wankawala's optimism and their portfolio of corporate hotels, Councilman Mark Squilla remains apprehensive. His concerns are just. Wankawala has been leasing the Parker for the past four years, years that are marred by the hotel's troublesome reputation. The point being, if Wankawala wanted to cash in on the hotel's potential, why now? And if Wankawala simply wants to reopen the hotel, why not simply reopen it as it was? And what it was, at best, was a hostel.  

But there are other reasons Wankawala may be interested in finally maximizing the property's potential, even purchasing it. The city's Gayborhood is rapidly evolving. With new mixed use development transforming the East Chestnut Corridor and Midtown Village's 13th Street Strip expanding south, 13th and Spruce will inevitably become too valuable to remain vacant.

That in itself may not sit too easy with longtime residents and patrons of the Gayborhood. While this corner was once riddled with prostitutes and homeless people (often two-in-one living at the Parker), it was also the heart of the city's thriving LGBT community, and the Westbury was its Cheers. 

Seedy strip clubs have been replaced with daycare centers and local business relocated for fast food burritos, and some aren't thrilled with the change. Revitalizing the Spruce Parker Hotel is a necessity, but how it's reborn is an important part of what this neighborhood is about to become. Will a new boutique hotel be an asset to the city's still-relevant Gayborhood, or will it be a part of the area's continued gentrification?

Friday, April 17, 2015


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, 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.

It's ugly. 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. 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

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.

Dear America: Give Us Your...

Three years ago, Councilman-now-Mayoral-candidate Jim Kenney told Chick-fil-A to take a hike after the fast food chain's CEO, Dan Cathy, made explosive remarks against marriage equality. That same year Mayor Michael Nutter signed legislation that he said he hoped would make Philadelphia "the most LGBT friendly" city in the world.

Both are bold moves, politically speaking. And Nutter's statement is just bold. I mean what about San Francisco? New York? Amsterdam? But all you need to do is take a look around, pick up a newspaper, or listen to our elected officials. We've taken our turn to bask in the rainbow of equality for everyone. This is Philadelphia's time to shine.

Plenty of states and cities have tried the "open for business" tactic as a last resort, but Philadelphia's council members, judges, and mayors - past and future - seem to be using it in earnest. Just this week, every single member of City Council including Mayor Nutter signed an open letter drafted by Councilman Mark Squilla blasting recent "Religious Freedom" legislation that is currently sweeping through the Hate States, asking those afflicted to not just visit Philadelphia, but to move here.

With words echoing The New Colossus, Councilman Squilla appointed Philadelphia the Ellis Island for persecuted Americans. United, each elected Council Member posed with a rainbow flag in hand to welcome internal immigration and offer refuge from politicians who hide their hate behind religion, and legislation that does nothing to protect religious freedom - or freedom from religion - but solely to legalize discrimination.

This summer Philly Pride Presents will be painting the crosswalks in the Gayborhood with the colors of the Pride Flag, reminding visitors and locals that Philadelphia aims to be a safe place, and solidifying the Gayborhood's cultural relevance despite being haphazardly rebranded "Midtown Village."

As tragic as the events of last September were, it's fitting that these crosswalks are being installed a few short blocks from the scene of the brutal beatings of two gay men by a hoard of drunken, suburban brats. Hate happens, but our community came together to put three monsters behind bars, the police responded, and the courts have yet to muster an ounce of sympathy for the accused.

Philadelphia has its problems. All cities do. But recent years have proven that City Hall is dedicated to addressing the matters of the heart first - fighting Harrisburg for education, addressing poverty and crime, and embracing equality for all Philadelphians and our visitors - truly being the City of Love for Brothers, Sisters, and Everyone in Between.

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

City Hall Gates

Philadelphia's City Hall is undoubtedly one of the most beautiful buildings in the world. And just a few meters shy of the Washington Monument, it's tall.

So then why, after its years long cleaning and a new Dilworth Park, is its courtyard still closed at night by four pairs of ugly chain link gates better used to secure a junkyard?

Well, if you've asked that question, fret not, it's finally happening, and it's sexy.

Now if they can get rid of the pimples, er, I mean the hundreds of air conditioning units in nearly every window. 

Happy Rex Manning Day!

In case you don't get the reference, April 8th, 1995 was the day that the aging fictional pop sensation arrived at Empire Records in the movie of the same name. Kind of a cross between Barry Manilow and your dad's bowling buddy, Rex Manning was the antithesis of the counter-culture that Empire Records set out to define.

But there was just one problem, the generation had been exhausted and no one watched the movie. For the last few years, the media has delved into the rifts between Baby Boomers, Gen X, and Millennials. From BuzzFeed to CNN to the Onion, each generation has been blamed for all of the world's ills, and each done their share of the blaming.

Boomers didn't do enough, Generation X didn't bother, and Millennials are too busy looking at their iPhones to realize there's something to do. The debates are futile, a way to fill articles and create quizzes, and the arguments echo similar sentiments aimed at and from The Greatest Generation that bore the Boomers.

What's unique about Empire Records is that it represents a real demographic within an undefined generation. To those too young to grab coffee at Central Perk and too old to remember internet in our dorm rooms, Empire Records accidentally - and perfectly - defined the flannel-clad misfits too hopeful for Reality Bites but not ready to embrace the vapidity of Clueless, a movie that would lay the groundwork for the next twenty years. 

In a way we were posers. We were proud, but when it came to pop-culture, all we really had was Empire Records. We listened to Nirvana and Pearl Jam, but not with the angst to truly embrace them. We danced to Backstreet Boys and Britney Spears, but recognized them for the crap that they were. To those of us who graduated high school between 1994 and 1996, we were the characters in Empire Records

Our little sisters had cell phones "for emergencies," we used pay phones. Our older brothers  read poetry at coffee shops, we got stoned and laughed. We bounced around from culture to culture, re-appropriating 60s fashion and music throughout high school and listening to the 54 soundtrack on repeat in college.

We embraced the best - or at least the most popular - of earlier counter-cultures, but had little to call our own. Despite the fact that Empire Records' success was lost, it was embraced by our nameless generation as the one piece of pop culture that recognized - deliberately or not - the rift between Gen X and what Y2K would bring. 

As "Happy Rex Manning Day!" fills up Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram on April 8th, Empire Records has found good company. Along with movies that defined definable generations - Sixteen CandlesBring It On, and Mean Girls - Empire Records has found an audience amongst the classics.

Ten, twenty, or thirty years later, each generation has proven itself as capable as the former in their own unique ways. Boomer, Gen X, or Millennial, we were all once in that penniless place where nothing mattered but friends, late night coffee, and a youthful optimism that allowed us to detach from the cynicism that lied ahead. 

Perhaps that's why we're so quick to criticize the generation ahead of us. They haven't yet been crushed by the weight of the world, and their blind optimism is a scapegoat for our own insecurities. But critiques are useless. 

Like those wedged between Gen X and Millennials, Empire Records has proven that, to time, generations mean nothing. The truth is, we were all ass holes when we were in our teens and twenties, and a generation doesn't need a name to know that. 

Sure, I get annoyed by a liberal use of text messages, but there are too many productive Millennials who know no world without a laptop and smartphone to ignore the world we live in. Fixating on "why my generation is better" is only going to make the future seem weirder than it's already going to feel.

Culture changes and evolves, Empire Records closed, and Rex Manning didn't age well. Enjoy a classic for what it is, but it's history.

For now, let's just enjoy how hot Johnny Whitworth was...

Happy Rex Manning Day!

Sunday, April 5, 2015

Cira Centre South

Take a second and Google an image search of Cira Centre South. 

I'll wait...

Wild, huh?

Now consider the fact that this will be the first thing thousands of DC-NYC commuters see as they approach Philadelphia every week. 

Cira Centre is about to challenge what many commuters think of Philadelphia.