The Essence of Philadelphia in Eight Photos
She Lingers Forever
I lived in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania for over fifty years. I worked, went to school, walked the streets, ate the food, married and had children inside its boundaries. Even though I live 3,000 miles away in the Central Coast of California, certain aspects of Philadelphia still linger. Her personality is forever ingrained in my conscious and subconscious mind. From her sea of brick row houses to her hundreds of murals painted on the side of buildings, to her Declaration of Independence and Constitution, to her massive City Hall with the statue of William Penn on top. From the screeching sounds of SEPTA trains to the unforgettable bespectacled face of Ben Franklin, she still lingers with me.
A Sea of Row Houses
I see brick row houses when I think of Philadelphia. They are lined up evenly on a street, squished together, one street of row houses after another.
They usually have flat or sloping front lawns. They have a few steps with a platform leading to the front door that is sometimes called a "stoop." I spent a lot of my younger years sitting on the stoop, watching neighbors and waiting for my friends to come out.
The row homes usually have two or three bedrooms, one or two bathrooms and a finished or unfinished basement. There is a door in the basement that leads to the garage.
Most of the row houses are called "straight throughs." You walk through the door to the living room, then you walk to the dining area and to the kitchen on the left. Some have decks off the living room. Just slide open the glass door and you're standing on the deck looking out at the rear of the house. Not much to look at, however, just a torn up driveway and the backs of other houses.
You walk upstairs and there's a full bathroom; one bedroom on the right side and another to the left.
You walk downstairs to the finished basement that more than likely has a half-bath and a washer-dryer. Row homes that haven't been updated usually have dark panelling or tacky linoleum floors.
All in all, the row houses are warm and comfy. You get to know your neighbors. The row homes are all the same so there's no reason to envy your neighbor for having a nicer one.
Oxford Circle: Where I Grew Up
Oxford Circle in Northeast Philadelphia.
Philly Faces, Dreams, and Visions
Strolling in Philadelphia, I can't help noticing the art all around me, one mural, then another.
I see Dr. J. standing tall on the side of the building, dressed in a three-piece suit with his afro neatly cropped.
I see children on the walls letting doves fly off their fingertips, growing tall with the trees. I see children looking up to the sky, reaching for the stars that seem to breakout into fireworks,
In South Philly, I see Frank Sinatra on the wall with melodious notes flowing from his mouth. Down the street I see the handsome Mario Lanza singing operatic tunes. Pictures of Frankie Avalon, Bobby Rydell and the other crooners remind me of an era long passed.
I see the young man with the silver metals of famous Americans hanging from his neck. He holds their dreams and words in the palm of his hand.
I see the glistening cut glass, the unusual trinkets and objects that people threw out stuck thoughtfully to the walls, a mosaic smiling down upon me, giving me a cryptic message.
I see Asians, Hispanics and African Americans joining hands with various other groups of people—dancing and singing, worshipping, and crying.
I see landscapes, impressionist paintings, modern art melting into the cement and brick walls that look more like a Monet or Renoir canvas.
I see the vision of the Philadelphia neighborhoods expressed in art. Every neighborhood has a different face but a similar goal of contributing a special gift to society.
Birthplace of Our Country
I think of her history and courage. I think of Independence Hall, the Liberty Bell, and the little house on the narrow street where Betsy Ross lived and worked. I think of the magical Constitution that was created here by the hands of a few gifted and articulate men. Those revolutionaries, those founding fathers spoke in passion and strength, standing up for what they believed in while many of their peers were too scared. These patriots had their differences, but they found a common ground and dipped their pens into the ink wells to seal the deal.
They drew up the Declaration of Independence and the United States Constitution right here in Philadelphia, right around the block where I used to live.
Ben Franklin, George Washington, Alexander Hamilton, James Madison, Thomas Jefferson, and quite a few other noble Americans walked the same cobblestones, inhaled the same misty air, and looked up at the same Philadelphia sky.
The dream was hatched.
The Bell was rung.
If you listen close enough you can still hear it ringing.
The Man Himself: Mr. Penn
Starting in 1871, City Hall took over thirty years to build. It cost over 25 million.
William Penn, all 37 feet and 27 tons of him, stands above the clock tower wearing his favorite overcoat and hat, looking over his great city.
It is located squarely in the middle of downtown Philadelphia, called Center City. The address is 1 Penn Square. Those who walk around and through City Hall can't help but experience a sense of awe.
If you look close enough, you'll see a lot of little details etched inside and outside City Hall like gargoyles, angels, ancient Romans, lion and tiger heads, snakes and lizards, symbols of justice and freedom, new mayors, ex-mayors and brigadier generals all wrapped up in its French Renaissance architecture.
For a few years it was the tallest building in the country and many more years City Hall was the tallest building in Philadelphia. No Philadelphian was allowed to build any structure taller than City Hall, bounded by a gentleman's agreement. Things changed with time. Billy Penn had to adjust to our modern values. The Comcast Center is now the city's tallest building, but William Penn still stands as the focal point of the city.
Kissing Ben Franklin
Ben Franklin Is Everywhere
Ben Franklin is everywhere in Philly. His name is on buildings, on streets, parkways, schools, zoos, museums, bridges, ships, and in stores and shopping malls. If you're lucky enough, you might see him walking around the historic district with Betsy Ross. You might see him in his colonial attire—coat, vest and breeches.
Ben's creative presence is everywhere:
If you use swimming fins, he's there.
When you turn on the stove, he's there.
When you adjust your bifocals, he's there.
When you change your clocks to daylight savings time, he's there.
When you look up at a thunderstorm, see a lightening rod and realize its electricity, he's there.
You can visit his grave in the cemetery of the Christ Church at 5th and Arch Street and thank him personally for all his contributions to our society.