Author Archives: Ken Finkel

A Centennial Celebration: Eight Views of the Long-Lost Parkway Model

Architects of the Renaissance would have expected more for Philadelphia. Oh, they’d have seen some wisdom in the city’s original city plan. Leone Battista Alberti imagined grandiose “public ways” leading to “some Temple, or the Course for Races; or to a Place for Justice.” Andrea Palladio concurred in the importance of creating large, “Broad” streets […]
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Would Rocky Run Up These Steps?

When architects first designed the far end of the parkway at Fairmount, the biggest challenge was to make an extravagant project palatable to taxpaying Philadelphians. In the Spring of 1907, street car magnate and would-be philanthropist Peter A.B. Widener proposed an art museum, acropolis-style, atop Fairmount. As architect Paul P. Cret first designed it, the […]
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Atop the Shifting, Toxic Dump Now Known as The Logan Triangle

“Should nothing be done,” warned engineers after the 1986 Valentine’s Day explosion and fire that destroyed a row of houses in Logan, “catastrophic failure of numerous dwellings is highly probable.” But doing something would have been the exception to the rule. A powerful early warning that the neighborhood of Logan was sinking came 27 years […]
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David Goodis: Gritty Angel of Angst

How could David Goodis not have known John T. McIntyre, and envied his accomplishments as a writer? Goodis was a journalism student at Temple in 1936, shooting for a writing career. McIntyre’s novel, Steps Going Down, published by Farrar and Rinehart that year, landed a top award in the All Nation’s Prize Novel Competition. If […]
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The Rise of Neighborhood Noir

The “Philadelphia Gothic” genre enjoyed a major breakthrough in the 1840s thanks to riots, crippling poverty, racial and religious discrimination and the lurid literature of George Lippard and Edgar Allan Poe. But the genre’s debut goes back to the 1790s, when Charles Brockden Brown mongered his brand of Philly-based fear. As we said in a […]
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The Rowhouse Boom: Populist Victory or Philadelphia Noir?

The proudest moment for the Philadelphia rowhouse was in Chicago, of all places. A two-story “Workingman’s House” was “put up at the Columbian Exposition,” reported Talcott Williams in 1893. And “there’s nothing more wonderful in all that marvelous Exposition than this proof that the laws, the habits, and the business of a city of one […]
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Pearls on Ridge

“Did you know,” asked the Tribune’s Joe Rainey in July 1931, “that never in the history of theatricals has one playhouse presented to the amusement lover as many stars as the Pearl Theatre…in the past six months?” “A vaudeville and picture house” at 21st Street and Ridge Avenue, the Pearl opened Thanksgiving Day, 1927. First up was […]
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Burning it up at The Lincoln: From “Mini The Moocher” to Hitler in Effigy

In the Spring of 1919, “Marian Dawley and a few other girls of color…went to the movie theater at 59th and Market Streets.” They lined up to buy tickets and were told “all tickets for colored people have been sold.” They left “disgusted,” according to the Philadelphia Tribune. Other than The Standard Theatre on the […]
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“Shuffle Along” Broad Street

“Fourteen Thousand Negro Actors in This Country Now Performing,” read a headline at the start of the 1922 theatrical season. “In vaudeville alone there are more than six hundred acts, of which are about sixty are now in Europe. There are twenty-two Negro minstrel shows touring the south.” According to Billboard, “368 theaters in the […]
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The Censor Mayor

The “People’s Mayor” or “political chameleon”? From his flamboyant, convention hall swearing in during a “howling snowstorm” in January 1936 to his indictment less than three years later, Philadelphia’s mayor wielded power with flair. As historian John Rossi put it: “Hardly a week passed that didn’t witness some dramatic gesture” on the part of Philadelphia’s […]
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