Decoding All the Philly References in ESPO’s Enormous Old City Mural — Part 1

Artist Steve Powers pays tribute to local legends big and small on Second Street.

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UPDATE: Part 2 of this series can be read here.

If you’ve been to Old City recently, you’ve probably seen Steve “ESPO” Powers’ newest masterpiece, a wonderfully busy assemblage of local references. It’s on Second Street, between the tattoo place and the State Store. And it’s probably the most Philly mural since Hawk Krall’s gorgeous installation at Elixr on Sydenham Avenue. And just when you think it’s done, ESPO — the guy behind the Kurt Vile mural and the Love Letters series — goes back and adds more stuff.

One day I want to annotate it in all its glory, but for now I’m going to have to tackle it piece by piece. Consider this part one of a no-end-in-sight series.

  • Key/Lightning Bolts — Ben Franklin’s key that he tied to his kite string when he was discovering electricity. Kind of a modern interpretation of the key.
  • The Flute Lady — She was a lady who played the flute on the street, usually in Old City. UPDATE: The Flute Lady may not have played the flute. The mural depicts a recorder, which is how I recall it. A friend tells me it was a kazoo. UPDATE: A nice guy named Keith says: “Her name was Sheila and it was a flutophone.”
  • Estro/UFO — Legendary Philly graffiti artist, one of Questlove’s personal faves. Anybody know if his UFO is still up? UPDATE: Nope, the UFO is long gone.
  • Jerry/Jeff Cap — Jerry Blavat (aka the Geator with the Heater, the Boss with the Hot Sauce). A living legend in Philly radio. Known for wearing a hat like this one.
  • Kenn Kweder — Veteran singer/songwriter/rocker extraordinaire, the “Bard of South Street.” Still doing it.
  • Mikey Wild — Local punk legend and the “Mayor of South Street.” Singer, cartoonist, actor. Died in 2011. Writer Sara Sherr once called him the id of the Philly music scene.
  • Pure Hell — Amazing but short-lived black punk band. Real pioneers in Philly and beyond. Look them up.
  • Man Ray/Metronome — Man Ray was a Philly-born artist with surrealist tendencies. He made a metronome with an eye on it called “Object to Be Destroyed” in 1923. It was destroyed in 1953 by “reactionary nihilist intellectuals.” UPDATE: There’s a version of this piece at the Art Museum. I really should have known that.
  • Mr. Blint/Sailboat — Classic graffiti artist. I’m not sure of the significance of the sailboat — can somebody help me out? UPDATE: Mr. Blint is a sailing enthusiast, I’m told.
  • TSOP/MFSB/Record — The Sound of Philly, aka the music that Gamble and Huff created in the ’70s at Philadelphia International Records. MFSB was TSOP’s amazing house band, headquartered at Sigma Sound Studios. It either stood for Mother Father Sister Brother or Motherfuckin’ Son of a Bitch, depending on who you ask.
  • Billy Paul/Microphone — Beloved soul singer from North Philly. Gave us “Me and Mrs. Jones.” Deserves more love than he gets. Questlove calls him “one of the criminally unmentioned proprietors of socially conscious post-revolution ’60s civil rights music.”
  • Teddy Pendergrass — Teddy had one of the hottest voices in r&b, and one of the all-time greatest smiles. Bonafide royalty. He died in 2010 after a hard life.
  • Britt — That’s King Britt, the youngest guy in this stretch of the mural. Arguably the best DJ this town has ever produced, and that’s saying something.
  • Mpozi — RIP, Mpozi Tolbert., Six-foot-six and a joy to be around, Mpozi was a photojournalist who shot the (Square) Roots at their earliest performances.
  • Spilling Coffee —This could be a reference to the Philly man who sued Starbucks after getting burned by spilled coffee, but I kinda doubt it. I think it’s just on there because we like coffee. UPDATE: La Colombe. Duh.
  • Hoagie — We like hoagies, too.

I’ll post Part 2 tomorrow. Please email me if I got something wrong. It’s only going to get harder from here.


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