Author Archives: Ken Finkel

The Culture of Conformity in Gritty Philadelphia

Francis Biddle was one of the few who escaped. While other Philadelphia patricians stayed at or very near home, Biddle migrated to Washington, D.C, where he quickly “achieved a reputation of talking little, thinking fast and acting faster.” As the U. S. Attorney General during the World War II, Biddle acted way too fast when […]
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“As long as City Hall existed the city would never completely be free to grow up to the dreams of those who loved her.”

“You could be critical of your city and laugh among yourselves at its quaintness, its political corruption, its provincialism, its charming, absurd, easy-going conservatism, its heat and dirt, its faint enthusiasms dying so easily before a stouter longing for pleasure,” wrote Francis Biddle in 1927. “But you mustn’t let an outsider laugh at it. For, […]
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Celebrations of Underdogs

Having just celebrated the Eagles Super Bowl win with a procession witnessed by nearly three-quarters of a million, we have to ask: has Philadelphia ever before experienced so sweet a victory? Then we recall October 21, 1980, when the Phillies beat the Kansas City Royals 4 to 1, winning game 6 of the World Series. […]
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Philadelphia’s Winning Metaphor: Scrappletown

William Penn admitted Philadelphia was “a holy experiment” about the same time some of his early settlers were conducting a less-than-holy, culinary experiment. They invented scrapple, a folksy staple that, for all its native plainness and inherent modesty, has managed to hold its own for more than three centuries. Scrapple has always been completely real […]
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The Last Piggeries of Maiden Lane

“A curious thing about Philadelphia,” wrote Edith Elmer Wood in 1919, “is that pigs were permitted to be kept in the thickly settled parts of the city until quite recently. A start was made to do away with this condition, the 40,000 piggeries of a few years ago having been reduced to almost 10,000. Then, […]
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The Clinical Ampitheatre and Surgery as Spectacle

Demolition for the Parkway proceeded through the northwest quadrant of Center City like Sherman’s March through Georgia. Promising a civic and cultural boulevard, planners took no prisoners, even as they encountered the city’s best architectural gems. Only one hiccup in the way of progress (as we learned last time) was the Medico-Chirurgical Hospital.  But this, […]
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Death and Destruction: the “Last Real Impediment” to the Completed Parkway

“Entire Parkway Is To Be Open Within 5 Months,” read a headline in late December, 1916. “City Officials Make Definite Promise” to demolish everything in the way of a mile-long, blacktop boulevard stretching from City Hall to Fairmount. Everything, that is, except for a cluster of buildings at 17th and Cherry Streets, the Medico-Chirurgical College. […]
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The John G. Johnson Art Collection on Broad Street

“There are still so many paintings on the floor, I just don’t know where to put them,” complained Hendrik Willem Mesdag to his art dealer. The artist/collector would soon solve the problem by building a museum next to his house in The Hague, exhibiting his own work with that of other Dutch and French artists. […]
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The Never-Seated U.S. Senator from Philadelphia

In 1926 William Vare was elected to the United States Senate, defeating Democrat William B. Wilson by more than 180,000 votes. But when the new Congress began, the Senate voted to refuse Vare his seat. Thus began “a bitter and gigantic struggle.” Wilson charged “massive corruption,” alleging “Vare and his supporters used padded registration lists, […]
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The Demise and Demolition of Horticultural Hall

Distaste for Victorian architecture blossomed in the first half of the 20th century into unmitigated disgust. By the time the waves of demolition subsided, it was too late for many masterpieces that had been pulled down with confidence and even glee. We saw this before, with Frank Furness, who “embodied the worst of Victorian excess […]
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