ABOVE PHOTO: Diego Rivera mural.
By Renée S. Gordon
One of the things I find most compelling about living in Philadelphia is that when you have nothing to do there is always something to do. We have always been known as “the City of Neighborhoods” and the designation is justified. There are approximately 74 neighborhoods, each distinctive and each offering unique restaurants, shopping, green spaces, entertainment venues and cultural sites. This year the city is highlighting 14 of these neighborhoods that surround Center City in an initiative to get people to get out and discover the abundance of riches on the doorstep. www.visitphilly.com
Philadelphia’s most notable neighborhood is the Historic District, with a portion deemed the most historic mile in the United States. The original city was the 25-blocks from Vine Street on the north to South Street and from the Delaware to the Schuylkill River Within this area there are 422 heritage sites.
There are numerous ways to tour the city but one of this year’s most exciting ways is to take The Great 12-Hour Tour. On September 28th The Philadelphia Association of Tour Guides will host a 12-hour walking tour, in four 3-hour segments. The tour is free but I have it on good authority that about 120 people begin the tour and less than 30 complete all the segments. Can you rise to the challenge? www.phillyguides.org
If you are in search of a more thematic expedition then perhaps an Architectural Walking Tour through the Philadelphia neighborhoods is for you. This is an opportunity for both visitors and hometown folks to see the buildings in a new way. These walks focus on the structures as well as the overall urban plan and the social history at the time. The Preservation Alliance for Greater Philadelphia offers these tours May – October. www.preservationalliance.com
The venerable Atwater Kent Museum reopened in September of 2013 as the Philadelphia History Museum. It continues to be housed in an 1826 Greek Revival building designed by John Haviland to house the Franklin Institute. The permanent collection consists of more than 100,000 objects, with 400 on view, that interpret the material culture of the city dating from 1680 to the present.
The largest map of the city is located just off the first-floor lobby and is just the place to orient yourself and obtain a comprehensive overview of the city’s layout. A second-floor gallery features portraits of Stephen and Harriet Smith, African American abolitionists and wealthy philanthropists in the Colonial Era. Other highlights include George Washington’s desk from the President’s House, a portrait of John Brown by a noted black portraitist, a wampum sash gifted to Penn by the Lenape Indians and a slave harness used to punish recalcitrant slaves. www.philadelphiahistory.org
Independence National Historical Park (INHP) is a complex that encompasses Independence Visitor Center, The President’s House; Freedom and Slavery in the Making of a New Nation, the Liberty Bell Center, Independence Hall and Independence Square, known originally as State House Yard in the 1700s. The Georgian Independence Hall, completed in 1756, tends to be the showstopper. It was here that the Declaration of Independence was adopted, the Second Continental Congress was held, the American flag design was approved, George Washington was designated the Commander-in-Chief of the Continental Army, the Constitution was written and independence from Britain was declared. Independence Hall is free but timed tickets, available at the Visitor Center, are mandatory. www.nps.gov/inde/index
Our cracked 2,000-lb bell is the most famous bell in the country. It was cast to adorn the top of Independence Hall on the 50th anniversary of Penn’s Charter of Privileges. It arrived in 1752 and cracked during the test ring. It was recast but the crack recurred after a number of uses. The bell received its name from abolitionists. After several moves throughout the years it is now housed inside the Liberty Bell Pavilion. Free. www.nps.gov/inde/liberty-bell-center
Adjacent to the pavilion is The President’s House: Freedom and Slavery in the Making of a New Nation, the site of Washington and Adam’s home during their presidencies, prior to its location in Washington, DC. The original house was completely demolished by 1951. During Washington’s tenure at least eight slaves lived in the house. Adams was not a slaveowner. The story of the enslaved in Philadelphia in general and Washington’s slaves in particular is documented here. This is a free outdoor site. www.phila.gov/presidentshouse
The Independence Visitor Center is a perfect place to begin your tour of the historic area and to rest between stops. Inside the center there are displays, information, tickets for sites within the park, wireless Internet, restrooms, a gift shop and Café Independence. www.phlvisitorcenter.com
The National Constitution Center opened in 2003 within sight and walking distance of the place where the four pages that shaped our country were drafted. The museum is entirely dedicated to telling the story of the Constitution from the 18th through the 21st centuries. A highlight of the museum is Signer’s Hall where visitors can walk among 39 life-sized bronzes of the founding fathers and even sign if you agree.
A copy of the Emancipation Proclamation signed by Lincoln will be exhibited until June 19th. From June 14th – September 2nd the featured exhibit will be “The 1968 Exhibit,” the watershed year for the Vietnam War and that of the Robert Kennedy and King assassinations. July 2nd – 4th Revolutionary War reenactors will be encamped on the lawn and on the 4th of July there will be colonial demonstrations and the spectacular Fourth of July Show. www.constitutioncenter.org
Independence Seaport Museum relates the significance of the Delaware and Schuylkill Rivers throughout Philadelphia’s history. The museum has two floors of exhibits and on the exterior you can explore two historic vessels, the cruiser Olympia and the submarine Becuna.
A special exhibit, “African Presence on the Delaware” was curated by Dr. Tukufu Zuberi. An orientation video introduces visitors to 300-years of the African presence on the Delaware River as both enslaved and free men. Individual interactive exhibits were created to engage both children and adults. There is a slave auction block that, when your feet are placed in the footprints on the block, allows you to be transported to a slave sale. Other highlights include 18th-century slave shackles and an 1854 sailor’s protection papers, necessary in port to prove you were a sailor and not a slave. www.phillyseaport.org
University City is 1.8-miles from Center City and yet it has a vibe that is completely its own. UC was originally called Blockley and was a section of the 1500-acre plot William Warner purchased from the Indians in the 1670s. The population grew little until a permanent bridge was built across the Schuylkill in 1805. Even when the population grew Blockley was considered undesirable land and a hospital, almshouse and orphan and insane asylums were located in the area. In 1872 the University of Pennsylvania relocated to the Almshouse Farm eventually leading to the renaming of Blockley to University City now internationally recognized for its educational institutions and medical facilities.
The University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology opened in 1899 and continues to fill its galleries with more than 1 million artifacts from every corner of the globe. On the third floor Special Exhibitions Gallery visitors can watch the stabilization process of a pre-dynastic mummy in the Artifacts Lab and watch the translation of an ancient Egyptian document detailing a tomb robbing.
Black Bodies in Propaganda: The Art of the War Poster, collected and curated by Dr. Zuberi, is on special exhibit at the museum until March 2, 2014. Thirty-three of his 46 posters will be on view along with artifacts including a Sudanese soldier’s attire circa 1900. The exhibit focuses on how African Americans are racially and politically targeted in these posters depending upon the audience and the aim of the distributer. Visitors examine works from conflicts from the Civil War through the African independence movements. www.penn.museum
The Inn at Penn is the sole hotel in the University City area. It is a AAA Four Diamond Hilton property located within walking distance of historic attractions, Philadelphia’s premier hospitals, shopping and transportation. The Inn offers 243 recently renovated rooms, all amenities, the Penne Restaurant & Wine Bar, and an iPad in every room. www.hilton.com/Hilton_Inn_at_Penn
Powelton Village was also part of Warner’s 1677 estate. He constructed his mansion, Willow Grove, at what is now 46th & Lancaster. Samuel Powell, a carpenter, moved into the area to start a ferry service at Spring Garden Street and constructed nearly 100 rental homes. The neighborhood was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1985 based on the architectural styles represented.
Drexel Park, 32nd Street & Powelton Avenue, is a 2.5-acre park that offers outstanding views and photo opportunities of Center City Philadelphia. www.universitycity.org/drexel-park
Paine’s Park opened the last week of May of this year in the Fairmount neighborhood at Martin Luther King Jr. Drive & Benjamin Franklin Parkway. Architects Anthony Bracali and Brian Nugent created it as the largest street-style, 2.5-acre, skate plaza in North America at a cost of $4.5-million. There is a central amphitheater and room for 3,000 people. You need not be a skater to enjoy a day in this park. There are benches and outstanding viewpoints. www.franklinspaine.com
The Schuylkill Banks Trail can be accessed from the park. Currently the trail runs from Manayunk to Washington Avenue with activities along its length. www.schuylkillrivertrail.com
Originally the Spring Garden neighborhood was the site of Thomas Penn’s Springettsbury Estate. After the mansion burned down the property was sold to establish smaller estates. After 1850 the area was laid out in streets aligned with the grid pattern already in existence and more than 300 rowhouses were constructed, most in the Italianate-style with the inclusion of other architectural styles. Puerto Ricans migrated to the U.S. in the 1800s but during WWII more than 60,000 arrived in Philadelphia to work and established a strong community in the Spring Garden area.
Roberto Clemente Park, 1800 Wallace Street, honors the renowned humanitarian and baseball player Roberto Clemente. The park hosts the annual “Clemente Fest.” www.friendsofclemente.org
A walking tour of the neighborhood provides visitors with an opportunity to view several early community murals including a stunning triptych, “A Tribute to Diego Rivera” at 17th & Wallace Streets.
The start of summer can be like the beginning of a new year. Make a resolution to really see Philadelphia. It never disappoints.
I wish you smooth travels!
York County PA is hosting their 15th annual “Made In America Tours Event” from June 19th – 22nd. Twenty-five factory tours and attractions including Martin’s Potato Chips, Revonah Pretzel Bakery, Walk-Le Holsteins Dairy Farm and Bluett Brothers Violin. Made in America Tours event passports are both downloadable and available at the Visitor Center. If you visit three venues you are eligible for prizes. www.factorytours.org.