This is almost too much fun. The Institute for Quality Communities at the University of Oklahoma just did you a solid today: they overlapped two photos of Center City Philadelphia, one from 1965 and another from 2014 and added a simple slider to let you see just how much the core of this city has changed over the last 60 years–it’s incredible.
Greg Heller, author of Ed Bacon: Planning, Politics and the Building of Modern Philadelphia, knows something about the planning and evolution of Philadelphia’s Parkway. Aside from Inga Saffron, there are few people I can think of more qualified to offer an opinion on Frank Gehry’s plans for the Philadelphia Museum of Art (PMA), now on view there in “Making a Classic Modern: Frank Gehry’s Master Plan for the Philadelphia Museum of Art.”
While other critics have basically said, “Thank god Gehry’s plans for the museum don’t seem very Gehry-ish” — in other words, he’s kept himself in check in our rather conservative, Quaker city — Heller finds himself disappointed by the absence of Gehry’s flamboyance:
The exhibit showcases the results of a design process that has been going on since 2006—seriously, that’s eight years of planning by one of the top architects of our time, famous for massive, ambitious, bizarrely shaped, twisted sculptures of metal that (like them or not) become a permanent and recognizable fixture in their cities’ urban landscapes. Even if I didn’t like the proposed renovation design, I figured at least it would be ambitious and interesting. It was neither.
Heller knew it wasn’t going to be Bilbao — after all, the design is primarily underground, as he notes — but he thought we might get something “iconic and visionary—perhaps our own version of I.M. Pei’s pyramid at the Louvre, but Gehryesque.” Instead, he says, Gehry has offered a pallid plan for an “amazingly boring” museum expansion.
“What I got from my father was a burning desire to succeed. My father was into fame and leaving his mark.
“He was a city planner, sort of a genius in that world, the Robert Moses of Philadelphia. He was on the cover of Time once, and I remember going to his office and seeing, like, two hundred copies, which he would hand out to people. I would never do that in a million years. I don’t save clippings.
“Anyway, we’d walk down the street, and even up to the time he died, people would say, ‘Mr. Bacon,’ and I’d turn around and they’d be talking to him. What I got from my father, frankly, was the desire to be more famous than him.”
–Kevin Bacon, in Esquire‘s Style Issue
Lots of people who move to Society Hill do so for the neighborhood’s colonial architecture. But the neighborhood has plenty of innovative mid-century modern homes as well, such as this brick house designed by noted architect Louis Sauer.
The three-bedroom house features a landscaped brick patio, a fancy kitchen with a double oven and granite countertops, a floor-to-ceiling picture window across the length of the dining area, Brazilian walnut floors throughout, a custom deck, and much more. It even comes with deeded garage parking across the street. And its location at Second and Delancey is great: lots of character, easy access to the waterfront and Headhouse Square, and proximity to Old City too.
Last night former Philadelphia Mayor, Pennsylvania Governor, Democratic Party Chair and current Eagles color commentator Ed Rendell received the Edmund N. Bacon Prize, which “is bestowed annually on an accomplished figure who has achieved outstanding results in urban planning, development, and design through conviction of vision, effective communication, and commitment to improving their community.”
Rendell, as a tireless advocate of infrastructure investment, is founder of Building America’s Future, which pushes insistently for such spending, along with co-founder Michael Bloomberg and Arnold Schwarzenegger.
The award ceremony was at the Pennsylvania Convention Center and hosted by the Philadelphia Center for Architecture and the Better Philadelphia Challenge & Edmund N. Bacon Prize for Urban Planning & Design. Some of the local luminaries/engaged stakeholders present: interior designer Karen Daroff and Karen Daroff’s fur coat; city planner Ariel Ben-Amos; Pennsylvania state political blogger Jon Geeting; urbanist writer and photographer Bradley Maule; Philadelphia Center for Architecture Board President Bob Hsu; Philadelphia Center for Architecture Executive Director John Claypool; Ed Bacon’s daughter, Hilda Bacon; urban planner Greg Heller, author of Ed Bacon: Planning, Politics and the Building of Modern Philadelphia; Diana Lind, executive director and editor in chief of Next City; longtime Philadelphia city planner Craig Schelter, former executive VP of the Philadelphia Industrial Development Corp. and current senior advisor to Econsult; Director of Federal Affairs for Philadelphia Terry Gillen; Jeff Hornstein, director of Financial and Policy Analysis for the Controller’s office… and, well, you get the idea.
Rendell was introduced by his longtime colleague Rina Cutler, who first came to work with Ed (we will call him Ed) in 1993, when he brought her in to head the Philadelphia Parking Authority, a thankless job in those days if ever there was one. Rina’s introduction included the information that Ed “was not always the easiest person to work with” and that, despite their great friendship, they were both stubborn, they both could yell, and they occasionally stopped speaking to one another.
It was 49 years ago this week when the late Ed Bacon, Philadelphia’s most (only?) famous city planner graced the cover of Time magazine. Philadelphia was the anchor city for an issue about urban renewal, and Bacon served as the city’s cover boy. But as Gregory L. Heller makes clear in his excellent new book — subtitled “Planning, Politics, and the Building of Modern Philadelphia” — the notion of Bacon as a Robert Moses-styled guiding light who reinvented Society Hill armed only with his tenacity isn’t the whole story. It’s not even a sliver of it.
The mercurial Bacon (now known by a new generation as the father of actor Kevin Bacon) is still referred to as the city’s trailblazing city planner, which — while technically true for 21 years — underestimates Bacon’s real role (and his strength), according to Heller: that of political entrepreneur. In addition to conceiving bold urban designs, Bacon had a keen understanding of how such ideas became reality. In a historic city like Philadelphia, often resistant to change and with an entrenched political machine, this was invaluable.
This four-bedroom, almost 4,000-square-foot house is an absolute beauty bordering an absolutely beautiful street–though St. Peters Way isn’t exactly a typical urban thoroughfare. Named for its connection to St. Peter’s Church, it’s more of a “pedestrian lane,” as Philly-based novelist Ken Kalfus referred to it in a New York Times article about Philadelphia streets.