Category Archives: Behind the Scenes

The Wreck of the “Governor Ames”

On December 9, 1909, the lumber schooner Governor Ames set sail from Brunswick, Georgia on a routine coasting voyage to New York. Onboard were 14 souls, including Captain King and his wife. Lashed onto her upper deck was a cargo of freshly cut railroad ties, most likely headed for the New York Central Railroad’s supply […]
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Nicholas Biddle, Philadelphia Hellenophile

Before he locked horns with President Andrew Jackson over the fate of the “many headed monster” (a.k.a. The Second Bank of the United States), banker Nicholas Biddle fancied himself something of a poet and aesthete.  Born to wealth and blessed with brilliance, Biddle graduated from Princeton University — at the head of his class — […]
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“I Live the Life I Love” – Echoes from the Mask and Wig (Part II)

Note: this is a sequel to “Echoes from the Mask and Wig” published on May 2.  Two weeks ago, I received a phone call from Don Fisher, who graduated from Penn in 1975 and was sort of a Tommy Lee Jones type: as an undergraduate, he balanced working on the Mask and Wig crew/ business staff […]
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Echoes from the Mask and Wig Club

Many years ago, when I was helping my grandmother decide which records to donate to the New York Public Library from her extensive collection, I found a set of fragile shellac discs protected by  brown paper sleeves.  They were old dance records from the 1920s that had belonged to my grandfather Joseph Follmann Jr., who […]
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Parkside Revisited (Again): A Look Inside 4230 Parkside Avenue

Note: the author has previously covered Parkside in “After the Fair” and “The Slifkin Family.”  A walk-through of the house with the author and University of Pennsylvania lecturer Hanley Bodek will be featured on an upcoming segment of WHYY’s Friday Arts.  On the outside, the houses on the 4200 block of Parkside Avenue are grand […]
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Walking West Philly with Joe Washington (Part 2)

Note: this is the second part of “Walking West Philly with Joe Washington.”  To read part one, click here.  When Joe Washington was a young man in the 1970s, Hawthorne Hall was a gathering place for Powelton and Mantua.  Its second floor auditorium hosted dance parties and boxing matches. Now, the orange brickwork is battered. […]
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Walking West Philly with Joe Washington (Part 1)

“West Philly hasn’t lost its soul. It’s still a melting pot. It’s had its share of ups and downs. New people from all over are bringing a new vitality to it.” Joe Washington and I met for lunch at the Hamilton Restaurant on the last day of winter.  It’s a narrow, old-fashioned diner at 40th […]
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Campus Clearance: A Look Inside UPenn’s Lost Houses

  It’s hard to believe that before the 1960s, adaptive reuse was an alien concept to architects and city planners.  To universities, the planning ethos of “out with the old, in with the new” was especially potent.  Disciples of Le Corbusier and other modernists were in control of the University of Pennsylvania and American schools. […]
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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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Gothic Ruins: A Last Glimpse Inside Northeast Manual Training High School

The former Northeast Manual Training High School looks as if it had been plucked from the Princeton campus and dropped into the middle of North Philadelphia.  Constructed in 1903 at the intersection of North 8th Street and West Lehigh Avenue, the “Collegiate Gothic” building has walls of granite, traceried windows, and gargoyles sprouting from the […]
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