Author Archives: Ken Finkel

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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Stand in line, Frank Rizzo. Others have come and gone before you.

For more than a century, Philadelphia’s been playing a game of musical chairs with statues around City Hall. And it’s sure to continue, so long as we continue to ask monumental questions. Actually, sculptural comings and goings started a century before they cut the ribbon at City Hall. William Rush’s Nymph and Bittern stood for a […]
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Praising Horticultural Hall in Fairmount Park

“In just under two years,” John Maass explained in The Glorious Enterprise, his book about the Centennial Exhibition in 1876, “architects Hermann J. Schwarzmann, assistant Hugo Kafka and five engineers transformed 285 acres of fields of West Fairmount Park, mostly “swamps and ravines, into building lots, gardens and landscaped grounds.” Schwarzmann’s team “moved over 500,000 […]
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“The only large building in the world entirely devoted to telephone purposes”

How did the thousands of Philadelphians wired for telephone service connect with one another? How would they talk with early adopters in other cities? Connectivity for the ever increasing numbers of subscribers was the ongoing challenge. As told recently in a post illustrated with the horse-drawn telephone parade float, Philadelphia’s telephone industry served less than […]
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“To be, or not to be?” That was no longer the question.

Alexander Graham Bell found only fifteen customers in all of Philadelphia the year after he demonstrated his telephonic invention at the Centennial. The question he transmitted: “To be, or not to be?” was still very much unanswered in 1877. By 1890, the telephone’s prospects were looking somewhat less dire. More than 3,000 Philadelphians had gotten […]
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