Humble Contributions to the Peoples' History

Posts tagged ‘Architecture’

New Freedom African-American Historic District Tour

New Freedom African-American Historic District Tour

IMG_2954Philadelphia Hiking Meetup Group sponsored a tour of West Philadelphia that focused on African-American historic sites. The organizer, Jed McKee, plans hikes that are transit friendly and is one of the reasons I selected this walk. The tour began at 30th Street Station, which is a hub of the rail lines, including Amtrak and Septa, that go in and out of Philadelphia.

Our group met under the Pennsylvania Railroad World War II Memorial, a 39-foot monument commemorating the Pennsylvania Railroad employees who died in World War II. The bronze sculpture, Angel of the Resurrection, represents Michael the Archangel raising up a dead soldier out of the “flames of war.” Assistant Organizer, Scott Maits, our guide and local historian, began his commentary with a history of the station and of early Philadelphia.

As Scott led us west along Market Street, crossing under the freight train tracks, he told us the story of Frances Harper, who protested segregation on the trolleys in 1858.  Frances refused to give up her seat or ride in the “colored” section of a segregated trolley car. Frances, an abolitionist, was also a writer and poet, author of the poem, “Bury Me In A Free Land,”

I ask no monument, proud and high,
To arrest the gaze of the passers-by;
All that my yearning spirit craves,
Is bury me not in a land of slaves.

We crossed through the campus of Drexel University into the area known as Black Bottom, a predominantly African-American community that was almost completely destroyed in the 1960s for “urban renewal.” Penn, Drexel, University of the Sciences, and Presbyterian Hospital worked together to acquire properties for eventual demolition.

Kitchen Sink Sculpture

Kitchen Sink Sculpture

Scott gave us an opportunity to view the facilities of the Community Education Center, that once housed the Quaker Friends School and Meetinghouse, rebuilt at the turn of the 20th century. Local community members founded the CEC “to promote shared experiences and nurture fellowship among its varied neighborhoods across cultural and economic differences.”  The Center supports local community art programs, especially dance and performance.

IMG_2970

The neighborhood varied from grand mansions to row homes.

Dupree Studios just won their long battle with the Philadelphia Redevelopment Authority (PRA); the agency has ended condemnation proceedings to acquire the property by eminent domain.

IMG_2975

We walked along Lancaster Avenue, originally called the Lincoln Highway, finding these wonderful moments along the way.

Hall Rennovation

Lovely old building needing funding to restore to former glory,

IMG_2983

Inspection Station with mural and mosaics.

Included this photograph of CBM Tires because I like old gas stations!

IMG_2992

Bicycle Shop

Bicycle Shop with clever display of wheels and gears. Can’t find anything like this at the mall.

Belmont Mural

Welcome to Belmont Mural

Lava Space Mural

Murals on Lancaster Avenue/Lava Zone Mural

Martin Luther King Mural

40th Street and Lancaster Avenue, Martin Luther King Jr. mural. Mural recreates “Freedom Now” Rally held on August 3, 1965, during the Civil Rights movement.

Our last stop was at the intersection of Lancaster Avenue, 42nd Street, and Brown Street, near the New Africa Center Muslim-American Museum, before heading back to 30th Street via Number 10 trolley.

IMG_2982The contrasts on Lancaster Avenue are striking: blighted stretches of store fronts and sidewalks in desperate need of cleaning juxtapose with the creative art displays, both public and private. Derelict buildings stand next to colorful sidewalk mosaics. After years of economic decline, revitalizing the neighborhood is a challenging task: to create a prosperous commercial corridor while preserving and encouraging a mixed-income community.

Extended thanks to Jed McKee and Scott Maits for giving our Meet Up group an opportunity to visit and to learn about the history of this important Philadelphia neighborhood.

Meandering Photo Walk, the Streets of West Philadelphia

The Philadelphia Photo League sponsored a walk, “Meandering with Mike, West Philly Edition,” and I welcomed this opportunity to add to my other West Philly posts:

A Corner in West Mt. Airy
Joy of Books: Bindlestiff in West Philly
Art Imitating Life

IMG_1488

Stepped off the trolley at 43rd Street, which intersects Clark Park, and on Saturday mornings the farmers’ market brings in fresh produce and other products into West Philly. I purchased a bar of lavender soap, which gave my bag a sweet fragrance every time I opened it.

IMG_1490

We met our leader, Mike Klusek, and fellow photographers at the Green Line Cafe, a neighborhood coffee shop at 43rd and Baltimore Avenue. After bulking up with iced coffee before we began our walk on a very warm summer’s day, we strolled along Baltimore and Springfield Avenues into the Squirrel Hill section, just west of Clark Park.

Painted Ladies

The trolley line, constructed in the late 19th century, brought development to the area, and the three-story, two-unit, Queen Anne style Victorian homes characterized many of the neighborhoods. Architectural features, such as gables, dormers, oriels and porches, and painted decorations on the homes give each their unique character. A conical tent, covered with slate shingles, topped the towers and turrets. A photographer could spend a good deal of time taking pictures of the various elements. As an artist, I especially liked the various color schemes and flourishes above the doorways. No wonder these houses have been titled the painted ladies of American architecture.

We found other architectural styles. Along the street, a series of brick row homes sported a simpler style, and a magnificent stone building, called “The Castle” wrapped around the corner of Springfield and 46th Street.

The temperature climbed to 92 degrees, but a light breeze gave some relief from the heat. Trees shaded the sidewalks, and the colorful crepe myrtles bloomed their festive pinks and purples. Philadelphia calls itself “The City of Arborly Love” and provides a free tree to residents. Residents tend gardens along the front porches giving the passerby a visual delight of color.

IMG_1510

City of Murals

In addition to being a city of trees, Philadelphia is home to more than 3,600 murals. We passed several on our stroll, including this view out a window.

Window Mural

Many windows and doors caught out attention . . . including this one with the lacy curtains.

Lacy Curtains

Community Churches

The Community of Squirrel Hill have pulled together to save the church on the corner of 47th and Kingsessing. The church was just a few days from being demolished when local residents stepped in to prevent the church’s demolition. Designed by the architect, Frank Furness, the church had fallen into disrepair but now is under construction to become two schools.

IMG_1519

Several blocks from this structure, stands one of the most important landmarks in the area, Francis de Sales Roman Catholic Church. Built in 1907 and renovated in 1968, its crowning glory is the tiled Byzantine dome. As I walked into the church a duet practiced at the organ, preparing for a wedding later that afternoon. With the music adding to the experience, a short video captures scenes from the church.

Duet: Lauren Gigliotti and Lou Becht

Pause and Play

We returned to Baltimore Avenue, passing through Cedar Park, pausing to take refreshment at Dock Street and to compare our photo notes.

Dock Street Restaurant

Later in the evening, I returned to Clark Park for their 10th anniversary of Shakespeare productions.The community gathered for the performance of The Winder’s Tale. 

Winter's Tale

The Squirrel Hill neighborhood is a jewel in the West Philadelphia crown. A visitor is treated to architecture that has survived over a hundred years requiring the residents to spend time and money on maintaining the ornate decorative flourishes on these grand Victorian homes and gardens. These efforts preserve the history of the neighborhood and the common good of the community, while giving the wandering photographer the chance to capture these moments.

Mystique of the Ole Fashioned General Store

My attempt at a replica.

The old-fashioned general store has always been intriguing to me. As a child, one of my favorite shopping places was a building called “the Casino,” a large round wooden structure in Cape May, New Jersey. Every summer I looked forward to traveling to Cape May to just walk through the isles of the Casino to glance at the imports lining the shelves from around the world. I especially liked the little colorful cloth dolls holding baskets and brooms. The store offered a wide selection of  souvenirs, including metal buckets and shovels for playing in the sand.

Store Door

W.H. Snowden General Merchandise – Currituck, North Carolina
1895

Today a few general stores remain in operation. The aesthetic appeal begins right at the front door with a lightweight screen door, allowing fresh air into the space. Frequently merchandise spills out from the building, decorated with moldings even if the paint is peeling. Creaky wood floors and long wooden counters represent typical interiors. Wooden shelves and bins built into the walls extend from the floor to ceiling.

While general stores hold an abundance of merchandise, I don’t believe this is about conspicuous consumption, as an overwhelming number of goods are essential to the home and farm with elements of industry and efficiency . . . potato peelers, bolts of cloth, coffee grinders, iron skillets and lanterns.

Stove

Mitchell Hardware, New Burn, North Carolina

In the 19th and early 20th centuries general stores were central to small town communities. Selling everything from groceries, hardware items, shoes, pots and pans and other necessities, the store often anchored other small businesses that would line the town’s main street. That town center provided a community-oriented amenities such as sidewalks, parks and theaters. Within a short walk, shoppers could stop in at the library, bank and post office. Upon entering the store, the proprietor, sporting a long white apron, would stand behind a wooden counter and would greet you. Storekeepers had to keep informed on the pulse of the community so that they could order the right materials. Neighbors would meet up at the store and share news as they shopped. Many stores keep a pot belly stove going, and customers played bottle cap checkers near the warmth of the stove.

The Peck Basket General Store
Moyock, North Carolina

The store owner maximized the floor utilizing boxes and barrels to support merchandise. Generally, the proprietor purchased in bulk quantities. Then he would weigh the purchases on a large scale. Few items were pre-packaged, but canned goods occupied much of the grocery shelf space. Speciality items could be ordered, such as furniture, farm equipment and sewing machines. Deliveries arrived by horse-drawn wagon and later by train.

IMG_0963

Bins for nails; no pre-packaging
Mitchell Hardware, New Burn, North Carolina

Something from my childhood must have endeared me to the general store that still resonates with me today. Viewing little pieces of this former way of life, is tantalizing enough to make me wonder about what has been lost.

Post Ofice

Often times General Stores housed the Post Office.

Do the consequences of losing the small-town general store move beyond aesthetics?

Seeds

How do our shopping experiences around malls, big-box and strip stores compare with the country store of yore?  Today massive shiny lettering in bold colors shouts the store’s name. These industrial style buildings sit at the back of expansive concrete parking lots without hardly a tree or blade of grass in sight. Bland building facades are identical to every other strip mall. Steel doors, cavernous spaces, utilitarian shelving and harsh lighting all contribute to the lack of aesthetic appeal and warmth. With their stark interiors, they are but warehouses for merchandise.

Big-box retailers have reaped economic benefits from their bland design that demands little in aesthetic investment, and consumers may have found these businesses offer the best prices. But what have we lost in the conversion to bear-bones consumerism?  Some claim that these retailers boost city revenues, but have we sacrified small businesses at the altar of increased tax revenue and cheaper prices? Small business owners, often members of the community, support local enterprises and charities. Huge corporations have no loyalty to any one town or city.  Some research shows that it doesn’t always play out that this increased tax revenue brings in development.

How does the big-box store influence our social relationships? Do you run into your neighbors at the box store? Is there a place to stop and converse with friends? Does anyone smile at you?  Wal-Mart has even phased out the paid greeter, not that a paid employee saying “hi” necessarily made any difference. According to an article in Jezebel,

Because big box store are so anonymous and huge, there’s a sense that no one is watching. Social bonds are strongest when people feel like they’re being closely watched, so if the opposite is true, it might make people feel like they could do whatever they like without consequence.

As weird as this might sound, these big-box stores coincide with hate groups, according to a study conduced by faculty at Penn State and other universities. The number of Wal-Mart stores in an area correlated with the number of hate groups in that same area and more statistically significant than other factors, such as unemployment and crime.

What runs side by side of hate group? Gun sales. Approximately a third of all Wal-Mart store sell fire arms, including the “modern sporting rifles” or the type of semiautomatic rifle used in the killing of 26 adults and children at Sandy Hook Elementary School. Wal-Mart is the largest seller of firearms in the US. The Christian Science Monitor features an excellent article on the subject.

My original intention of writing this blog post was to describe the pleasing aesthetics of the old-fashioned country store. Analyzing the larger picture of what the demise of country store has meant for America reveals how their absence uncovers much more than just a change in aesthetics.

Checkers anyone?

DSC03540 - Version 2

Tag Cloud

<span>%d</span> bloggers like this: