Philly ranks #3 on best places to visit list

phillyJanuary 12, 2015 – Philadelphia is a great city.

I know it, and maybe you know it too, but my home city gets a bad rap when it comes to reputation.

True Philadelphians, however, know the real deal; We’re not that dangerous, as Philly ranks #60 out of 100 on the most dangerous cities in the U.S., which is not great, but not that bad ether for a big east coast city. Hey, 59 other cities are far more dangerous.

When it comes to sports, don’t even get me started on what they say about the City of Brotherly Love. We know it’s ridiculous, and that the #1 story the media states time and time again is nearly 50 years old and blown way out of proportion. Still, some of us appreciate that reputation because we want our competition to be afraid to play in our fair city.

Now, the New York Times, the newspaper published in the city that probably gives us the most grief, has named their 52 places to visit in 2015, and Philly ranks #3, after Milan, Italy and Cuba. The newspaper states that Dilworth Park, the Delaware waterfront, and the Spruce Street Harbor Park are some of the main reasons, but let’s not forget the city’s fascinating history.

Congratulations, Philly! You deserve it.

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Pop art in Philly, part 2

MagicGarden_R.Kennedy_12-587July 7, 2014 — Last week, this blog highlighted Philadelphia’s pop art sculptures in the downtown area. Today, we’ll venture over to South Street, to visit Philadelphia’s Magic Gardens.

In the 1960s, local artist Isaiah Zagar (pictured) began decorating South Street with mosaic tiles, producing more than 120 displays during the 50 year period. His amazing work is also featured at Philadelphia’s Magic Gardens, located at 1022-1024 South Street, a display that took 14 years to create. For the Magic Gardens, Zagar used mosaic tiles, along with folk art statues, bicycle wheels, colorful glass bottles, mirrors and china.

The display is definitely worth the trip to see in person!

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Pop art in Philly, part 1

June 30, 2014 – Pop art, or art based on modern popular culture and mass media, is alive and well in Philadelphia. In this two-part series, we’ll explore some of the pop art sculptures around the city in its downtown district.

The Clothespin; location: 15th & Market Streets
This odd sculpture, commissioned to commemorate Philadelphia’s Bicentennial celebration in 1776, is the brainchild of artist Claes Oldenburg. I’m not sure what a clothespin and the 200th anniversary of American independence have in common, but legend claims that if you look at it from the right angle, you can see a “76” in the steel springs of the pin. I can clearly see the 6, but the 7 escapes me.

clothespin


LOVE Statue;  location: 16th Street & JFK Blvd.
Robert Indiana’s LOVE statue, created in 1970, is showcased in a few American cities. In Philly, the statue sits in JFK Plaza, appropriately nicknamed “Love Park” in honor of the pop art sculpture.

love statue


Your Move; location: Broad Street and JFK Blvd.

In the pop art world, even the most common items can be interesting.  Giant game pieces, including dominoes, Parcheesi pieces, Monopoly pieces and chessmen, can be found scattered about the Municipal Services Plaza, also known as “Game Piece Plaza”. “Your Move” is the work of artists Daniel Martinez, Renee Petropoulis, and Roger White. The group assembled the pieces in 1996.

parcheesi piece

chess pieces

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Franklin’s Kite and Lightning Bolt; location: 6th & Race Streets

This stainless steel sculpture of a kite and a key by artist Isamu Noguchi was created in the 1950s in honor of Philly’s own Benjamin Franklin and his electricity research. Supposedly it sits at the same site where Franklin actually conducted the experiment.

kite
Next Monday, we’ll highlight the wonderful works of art in Philadelphia’s South Street area, known as Philadelphia’s Magic Garden.

Yo Philly, thanks for everything

curtis-2012June 16, 2014Hot town, summer in the…suburbs? 

It doesn’t have the same ring to it as the actual lyrics from the 1960s classic “Summer in the City”, “where the back of my neck is getting dirty and gritty,” but it is my new reality.

I bid adieu to center city Philadelphia today, as my office moves to Wayne, Pa. over the weekend. Monday morning I’ll report to the new digs a little sadder for the longer commute and cookie-cutter office park with no character. I’ve been spoiled (and fortunate) to have worked in Old City these past three years, and I know it.

I worked in the burbs for years before I accepted the my current position in 2011, so I know the drill. You need a car to go anywhere, and the view is nothing but tall office buildings that seem to go on forever.

When I accepted my current position, I remember being a little leery about working in the city again, something I hadn’t done since my early 20s. Turns out, I loved it and the surroundings (Independence Hall and The Constitution Center are across the street to the east, with Washington Square to the South, and Jewelers’ Row to the west). These and other landmarks inspired me to create the blog series, “A lunchtime tourist in her own city”, and a novel entitled “Daughters of the Hall”, about the descendants of the signers of the Declaration of Independence. I guarantee you that idea wouldn’t have come to me if I didn’t walk past Independence Hall every day.

I’ll miss the lunchtime walks, running to do a quick errand without a car, the photography opportunities, and the people watching. It doesn’t come any better than sitting on a bench in Washington Square and observing human nature as it walks by you.

I’ll miss all of the historic landmarks and gardens, the cobblestone streets, and the sight of a horse-drawn carriage moseying down Chestnut Street in the middle of rush hour. That always provides for a few colorful remarks from drivers anxious to get home.

I’ll miss the building where I worked on the top floor, and the lovely Tiffany mural that sits in the lobby. The Curtis Building has such a unique history in the city, and is the former home of Curtis Publishing, the company that created and distributed “The Saturday Evening Post”, “Ladies Home Journal”, and various other popular magazines. It also housed The Philadelphia Inquirer in its heyday. The building has a place in the hearts of some of my family members, as well. My mother worked for Curtis Publishing back in the 1950s, and my cousin, one of my dearest friends, and my ex-husband (while we were married) worked in the building at ARA Food Services, which is now known as Aramark. The building was recently sold, and new owners plan to convert the office space from vacating tenants to luxury apartments and restaurants.

Most of all, I’ll miss Laz Parking staff in the Curtis garage who parked my car each morning, and brought it to me at the end of the day with a broad smile. By far, these fellows are the best garage staff in the city. No matter how busy it got, they were always pleasant, friendly, and funny.

It’s been great, Philly, but as of Monday morning, I belong to Montgomery County again. Thanks for the good times.

The paradox of Jefferson and slavery

120510_HISTORY_Jefferson.jpg.CROP.rectangle3-largeApril 2, 2012 – If you live in the Philadelphia area, or are planning a trip to the region this spring or summer, be sure to stop at the National Constitution Center to experience the new exhibit on Thomas Jefferson. A visit to the Old City area is not complete without remembering one of America’s most famous forefathers.

The Thomas Jefferson Foundation at Monticello organized the exhibit, “Slavery at Jefferson’s Monticello”, in partnership with the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African-American History and Culture. Monticello was Jefferson’s Virginia home, built on land inherited from his father.

It’s difficult to believe the man who wrote, “All men are created equal,” kept slaves. We can save debating what he actually meant by that phrase for another post, but its common knowledge that Jefferson had a relationship with one of his slaves (Sally Hemmings), whose six children were likely fathered by him. It is historically recorded that he treated his slaves as he would any member of his family. Aside from free labor, he acted as a mentor in a sense, teaching his slaves trade skills so they could find work if they were freed. Historians can’t understand why Jefferson did not free his slaves, especially since he was opposed to slavery.

Susan R. Stein, vice president of museum programs, explains that the exhibit is an attempt to make slavery understandable to a modern audience. That is a challenging task, but Stein says that slavery was omnipresent in America at the time, and that the records kept by Jefferson give us a lot of information on how they lived at Monticello.

The exhibit includes several of Jefferson’s possessions, such as an inkwell in the shape of the philosopher Voltaire, his eyeglasses, and his whalebone ivory and gold walking stick.

While visiting the exhibit, be sure to walk by Graff House, a few blocks away at 7th and Market Streets, the home Jefferson rented while in Philadelphia, and the site where he wrote the Declaration of Independence. Once written, it was signed by the 56 delegates a few blocks south at 5th and Chestnut Streets, at Independence Hall.

As a resident Philadelphian, I am ashamed to admit I didn’t know about Graff House, or that Jefferson wrote the Declaration there. I thought Independence Hall was the site of both the writing and the signing. (Some of the writing also occurred at The City Tavern, at 2nd and Walnut Streets).

I found out about Graff House accidentally last week after a tourist stopped me on 6th Street and asked if I could point him in the direction of Jefferson’s Philadelphia house. Embarrassed, I had to tell him the only home I knew of was in Virginia (Monticello). Unfortunately, Graff house is not presently open to the public.

“Slavery at Jefferson’s Monticello” runs from April 9 through October 19, 2014.

The origin of downtown

Center City PhiladelphiaMarch 8, 2013 – Driving home from work one night I was treated to the oldie but goodie “Downtown” on the radio. Not the Lady Antebellum song they play today, but the Petula Clark classic from the 1960s that pays homage to the part of a city that never sleeps.

As my head bobbled from side to side and I sang along, I began thinking about the concept of downtown, where the word originated and why they refer to the city that way. Shameful I don’t know, especially when I have an entire category dedicated to “Downtown” on this blog.

In Philadelphia, where I live we have a few names for the downtown district. We call it center city or the “city” for short. We also refer to it as downtown, of course, or simply the mondo cool version, “town”, such as “I am happening because I hang out in town.”

Referring to this area of Philadelphia as center city makes sense because it is located in the center, surrounded by many colorful neighborhoods. But downtown is another story. It works for me because I live north of “town” and have to travel down to get there; but for someone who lives south of center city, they travel up to get to downtown Philly. Where is the sense in that?

Perhaps whoever came up with the word wasn’t thinking direction, but rather rhyming because that can be fun; Nutter Butter, Lean Cuisine, Reese’s Pieces, or Ronald McDonald, anyone? It makes it easy to remember.

A little research put an end to the mystery, and I learned that it did indeed originate from a direction. Downtown is a term that refers to a city’s “core”. The term was coined in New York City, where it was used in the 1830s to refer to the original town at the southern tip of Manhattan. As the city grew, and the only direction it could move was north, so that area became known as uptown and the original area became downtown.

I’m a little disappointed the reason is more adventurous than that. Still, the word downtown caught on big time since it is used by dwellers in many major cities throughout the United States and Canada, and the very city Clark sings about, London. To think she followed up that hit with the odd little ditty, “Don’t Sleep in the Subway”, which makes be believe she really had her finger on the pulse of the big city. Wise advice, for sure.

So remember, “When you’re alone and life is making you lonely, you can always go downtown…”