Monthly Archives: June 2013

Breaking Away from the “Gentleman’s Agreement”

What kind of a city should Philadelphia be? Ponderous, historical and homey, stuck in its quaint ways, admiring of its own image in the review mirror? Or should Philadelphia throw in its hat and become lively, contemporary and international, willing to join the what’s what of World Cities? Developer Williard Rouse didn’t think it was […]
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How High Was Up? A History of Philadelphia’s “Gentleman’s Agreement”

Contemplating “that vast gray labyrinth” of Philadelphia, with “great Penn upon his pinnacle like the graven figure of a god who had fashioned a new world,” G. K. Chesterton imagined Philadelphians could “feel the presence of Penn and Franklin” just as his English brethren could “see the ghosts of Alfred or Becket.” But Philadelphians didn’t […]
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Where did Breyer’s Ice Cream Go?

Ice cream wasn’t invented in Philadelphia, but that much is true for wholesome, all-natural Breyer’s brand (first, a Philadelphia family business). A recent article in the New York Times bemoaning the latest corporate iteration of Breyer’s — “frozen dairy dessert” — reminded many of this bittersweet fact. The Breyer’s factory at 700 South 43rd Street […]
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The Carriage Houses of Van Pelt Street

Two months ago, while giving a book talk at Bucknell University, I was fortunate to tour an actual working carriage house, attached to an 1840s brick mansion in the small town of Mifflinburg.  My host Karl Purnell had restored his family’s carriage house to its original condition and configuration. Within its walls were a horse […]
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PSFS: Modernism Remaking the Workaday World

No matter that New York’s Empire State Building, which opened in 1931, was more than two-and-a-half times taller than Philadelphia’s PSFS Building. The Quaker City’s skyscraper was many times more modern. Philadelphia had “gone Gershwin” with an architecture “slick and sheer and shining…alive to the tempo of the day.” So refreshing compared with “the frumpy, […]
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Designing Your Friendly, Neighborhood (Almost Modern) Bank

So your client the bank president has done his due diligence, his “sober deliberation,” and insists on opening two branch offices. This bank has always been a headquarters-only operation, but the depositors have spread out across the city. As architect, you’re not sure what new bank buildings should look like in the far-flung neighborhoods of […]
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PhillyHistory Photos at Commerce Square

If you’re in Center City on Wednesday, June 12, at lunch time, you may want to stop by the office buildings at Commerce Square to catch a glimpse of images from PhillyHistory.org in an unexpected place. Located on Market Street between 20th and 21st Streets, the two office towers that make up Commerce Square are […]
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What a Nineteenth-Century Bank Should Look Like

Long before he designed the icon of American Democracy—the dome of the U. S. Capital—Thomas Ustick Walter was certain about the power of architecture. In the 1830s, after finishing Moyamensing Prison and while at work on Girard College, Walter bemoaned the public’s general ignorance. “If the mass of the people were generally well informed on […]
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The Crew Cuts, Long Hairs and a Culture War Kickoff

Larry Magid didn’t need to go to the Steel Pier in Atlantic City to hear The Crew Cuts in July 1960.  He knew their six-year-old hit Sh Boom and preferred the original version by The Chords. Back in 1954, the 12-year-old Magid and his West Philly buddies heard the difference between the two—loud and clear. […]
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