Author Archives: Ken Finkel

Zanghi’s Revenge: A Pivotal Mobster Moment

The third attempt on John Avena’s life took place on March 11, 1927 as the 32-year old gangster stepped out of a restaurant at 822 South 8th Street. Avena knew exactly who was behind the failed hit. And, as we learned last time, he had no intention of turning anyone in. “I like to settle […]
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John Avena and South Philadelphia’s “Bloody Angle”

As he liked to tell it, John Avena had friends at 7th and Carpenter Streets. Thing was, Avena, aka “Nozzone,” aka “Big Nose John,” was a Sicilian-born gangster who’d eventually head up the Philadelphia mob. And if he didn’t have friends exactly, Avena had allies at the old 33rd District police station. Avena’s interests would […]
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“City Abandoned” may be the title, but Vince Feldman is no fence-hopping hipster

Over the years, Vincent Feldman has lovingly made 100+ photographs of Philadelphia at its worst. When he asked me to write about them for his book, City Abandoned, I agreed—happily. And the result, officially published yesterday by Paul Dry Books, is quite beautiful. It’s interesting to compare what Vince photographed, alongside what’s here at […]
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Edmund N. Bacon’s Pitch for Center City’s Revival: Form, Design and The City

After hammering away at Philadelphia’s entrenched pessimists for more than a decade, city planner Edmund N. Bacon finally got the breakthrough he’d been looking for. In the middle of the 20th century, in the midst of decline, Bacon dared to envision a revived Center City: a modern, appealing and prosperous place to live and work. […]
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#WilliamPennWednesday: How Philadelphia Got Its Quaker Zeus

Even though the statue of William Penn would be bolted in place more than 500 feet above the sidewalk and seen much farther away by most Philadelphians, it really mattered that the statue on City Hall make a good first and lasting impression. After all, at 36 feet 8 inches, here would stand the tallest […]
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Philadelphia Trivia (Workshop of the World Division)

No question about it: Philadelphia’s WOW is greatly diminished. (And by WOW, we mean the city’s claim to the title “Workshop of the World.”) In the middle of the last century, just under half of the city’s workers made things. Now only one in twenty does. With very few exceptions (like the surviving DisstonPrecision in […]
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Celebrating January 20th: America’s First Day of Peace

Declaring Independence, you have to admit, was Founding Father bluster—a grand and gutsy act of defiance. Before the colonies could actually and truly claim independence, there’d be a whole lot of bloodshed and years of uncertainty. So maybe, come the next 4th of July, when folks celebrate the anniversary of this declaration with parades, picnics, […]
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Fifty Years Before the War on Poverty

Mayor J. Hampton Moore knew better when he remarked, in 1933, that “Philadelphia was too proud to have slums.” Indeed, the city had some of the worst housing conditions anywhere in America. Philadelphia’s labyrinth of courts and alleys were lined with tenements that went back a long, long time—despite the best efforts of those who […]
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Aesthetics in the Archives

The massive water main break at Frankford and Torresdale Avenues last month inspired yet another one of our fishing expeditions at PhillyHistory. And one photographic treasure we hooked offers a bit of perspective on the 23 million lost gallons—and then some. A December 1895 monster break between the Spring Garden Water Works and Brewerytown washed […]
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Bright Lights; Beautiful City, or a Collision of Hope and History

Never mind that Philadelphia actually dated back to 1682, that its 225th anniversary had come and gone the year before. Philadelphians were in the grip of a new and overpowering love affair with the city and it was fine to fudge the details. In 1908, they mounted an over-the-top celebration of the original city and […]
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