Philadelphia: This Week in History

It’s been quite a week.  I wouldn’t say that things started with the murder of George Floyd, because they started long before that.  I worked as a criminal defense lawyer in Philadelphia for seven years when I was in my 20’s and 30’s, taking mostly court appointments.  I wasn’t a white knee-jerk liberal, and I wasn’t idealistic.  But what I saw, and what I experienced changed how I see the world.

Many police departments have had toxic cultures when it comes to dealing with people of color.  Philadelphia is no different.  One of the most divisive figures in the city’s history has been Frank Rizzo who was the Police Commissioner from 1968 to 1971, and later, Mayor.  There was a controversial mural of Rizzo not far from my house in the Italian Market.  People in the neighborhood have been trying to get it removed for years.  This week, the Philadelphia Mural Arts Program ended involvement with the Frank Rizzo mural and it is going to be replaced with art more fitting for the neighborhood.

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Rizzo Mural

 

Likewise the bronze statue of Frank Rizzo that has stood before the Philadelphia Municipal Services Building since 1999 has been removed after years of  argument over whether it should stay or go.

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Statue being removed during wee hours of June 3, 2020

I said in the opening sentence of this post that the events of this week didn’t start with the murder of George Floyd.  We all have a tenancy to ignore things that don’t affect us and to bury feelings that make us squirm.  It’s only human, but it’s dangerous-like ignoring a chronic headache that turns out to be a brain tumor that could have been treated if only we had paid attention.   And it’s only human to do things a certain way because that’s the way we’ve always done them.  That’s dangerous too,  We have to think about what we think about and we have to be aware of our history.  If they don’t teach us in school, we have to find out for ourselves.

I invite you to have a peek into Philadelphia history of the 1870’s, the era of Reconstruction when slavery as a formal institution had ended in this country and when social parity for everyone seemed like it might even  be achievable.  Until it wasn’t.

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Octavius Catto,

It only took 147 years for Philadelphia to commemorate  the work of Octavius Catto who was murdered in 1871 while helping black voters exercise their right to vote.  Read the post, Octavius Catto’s Quest for Parity.   Then understand that we must change, or this tumor we’ve been ignoring for so long will kill us.

 

 

 

 

 

Philadelphia Fashions a District

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I had some time after a visit to the hand doctor today, so I decided to check out the Philadelphia Fashion District.

 

The Gallery Shopping Mall in downtown Philadelphia has been completely renovated and reopened to the public in September as  Philadelphia Fashion District.  No one shops at malls anymore, so the developers couldn’t just follow the old model of retailing in a renovated space.  So in addition to the standard  mall retail therapy establishments, the Fashion District is offering some intriguing opportunities for artists, makers, and entrepreneurs.

The Fashion District has invested one million dollars for art installations geared to “making museum-caliber art more accessible to the city, while also elevating the beauty of The District.”  The Bridgette Mayer Gallery has a display there with art for sale.

Conrad Benner, whose blog StreetsDept.com, chronicles street art in Philadelphia,  has been charged with curating an exhibit of the work of Philadelphia street artists. These works are currently on display on the lower (concourse) level of the Fashion District through the end of this year.

The Fashion District has provided space for RecPhilly, an organization who provides co-working space, recording studios, visual labs & conference rooms for creatives.  RecPhilly membership is financially accessible and has proven to so popular that there is now a waitlist.  But new memberships are sure to open up in the future.  Read more about RecPhilly on their website here.

The Fashion District is sponsoring more art-related events than I’ve written about here as well as planning to open up movie theaters, restaurants and performance spaces.  They are trying to do a lot and we’ll see how it goes.  Here are some pictures.

 

Jeweler’s Row

Jeweler’s Row is a Philadelphia treasure the future of which is being threatened by potential unbridled development.   Jeweler’s Row, located on the 700 block of Sansom Street, was not always the seat of the Philadelphia jewelry industry, having been home to the printing and engraving trades before morphing into a jewelry district around the  1880’s.   Many jewelry store proprietors from the Delaware valley and South Jersey made weekly trips to Jeweler’s Row to drop off and collect repair jobs, replenish their stock and to meet with their fellow jewelers to talk business.

A developer sold a brace of buildings to Toll Brothers Builders in 2017 and Toll Brothers got permission to tear down the buildings to erect a high-rise apartment building.  There was plenty of opposition from the neighborhood and community groups but in the end it didn’t matter.

Last week, I got to tour 708 Sansom Street which is one of the buildings slated to be demolished.  It is a cavernous four-story building with tin ceilings and ornate hardware.  As I walked from floor to floor, I could see that the tenants, the majority of whom were manufacturing jewelers,  were in the process of moving their equipment out of the building and finding new space for their businesses and studios.

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I imagine that 708 Sansom Street supported many families over the years and that its tenants were a close-knit bunch.  Now it is like a ghost town.

89101114Most of the former tenants have found new space but it has not been easy.  Many of them have had to relocate away from Sansom Street.  715

While it’s true that the only constant in life is change, and that the face of the jewelry business is changing, there is still room for places like Jeweler’s Row.  These business districts and manufacturing centers still serve a purpose.  But then again, you never really miss something until it’s gone.

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Philadelphia’s Fabric Row

I feel so lucky to live in a City where I am within walking distance from wonderful shopping districts with a genuine historical significance.  Of course there’s the 9th Street (Italian) MarketJeweler’s Row, and the Reading Terminal Market.   But one of my favorite areas is Fabric Row  is located on Fourth Street below South Street. Even though  I don’t sew much,  I love window shopping on this colorful street.  There’s always something to see.

 

According to the Philadelphia History Museum’s web site, Philadelphia’s bustling fabric row on South Fourth Street ran through the heart of a Jewish immigrant neighborhood. Peddlers hawked dry goods from pushcarts and sidewalk stands. Successful vendors opened family-run shops. Dressmakers, shoppers, and tailors flocked to this area of the Queen Village neighborhood to purchase fabrics and notions for their customers and families.  

There aren’t as many fabric stores on Fourth Street as there used to be. Times change.  People are not sewing as much as they used to. (Although home sewing has moved into a new phase.)  New businesses are popping up among the fabric stores  including independent fashion stores,  shops selling hand made goods and the wonderful  Kawaii Kitty Cafe.  It is still a thriving, vibrant area.

 

 

Visit Fabric Row the next time you visit Philadelphia.  In the meantime,  here are some more pictures  I took on walk down Fabric Row when the weather was much warmer!

trimsteel ponypushcartold cash registerclearance salebarrel of fabric boltsadlers

 

To learn more about Fabric Row at Hidden City Philadelphia, the Encyclopedia of Greater Philadelphia and the Fabric Row web site.

 

 

 

 

 

Octavius Catto’s Quest For Parity

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Philadelphia unveiled its first public monument to an African-American on September 2017.  “A Quest For Parity” is located on the south apron of Philadelphia City Hall.

Who was Octavius Catto?  He was an athlete: He established the first successful African-American baseball club in Philadelphia.  He was an activist and a key figure in the protests that led to the desegregation of streetcars in Philadelphia.   He was an educator, teaching at the Philadelphia Institute for Colored Youth.  He was a soldier: when the Confederates invaded Pennsylvania in 1863, he raised a company of Black soldiers, one of the first volunteer regiments of volunteers in the Commonwealth.   He served as a  Major and raised a total of eleven regiments during the war.  

 

I ‘ve always thought of Octavius Catto as a Philadelphian even though he was born in South Carolina.  He settled in Philadelphia and met his fiance Sarah Le Count here.   The building that housed the Philadelphia Institute for Colored Youth still stands on Bainbridge  Street a few blocks from my home, as does the spot on South Street where Catto was gunned down in an election day riot in October 1871.  He was 32 years old. Too soon for his work to be done.

The statue of Catto is beautifully rendered by sculptor Branly Cadet who designed and executed the monument.  The picture at the top of this post shows the gleaming metal ball that sits in front of the statute and reflects Catto, Philadelphia, and the passers-by. 

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The twelve-foot bronze statue is imposing and lifelike; Catto seems about to tip off the pedestal.   Is he running?  Is he making an impassioned speech?  Cadet aptly portrays   Catto as a man of action, an activist, passionate and relentless.

 

If you find yourself in Philadelphia, go see the monument.    To read more about the monument and the artist, press here.  To see a documentary film about Octavius Catto, press here.

 

 

Christmas at Laurel Hill

Laurel Hill Mansion in Fairmont Park is all decked out for the holidays.  This year’s theme is “Celebrating 250 Years of Designing Women.”  The Christmas Tree in the main room is decorated with ornaments showing women’s fashion plated from Godey’s Lady’s Book.  If you never heard of Godey’s Lady’s Book, you are in for a surprise.  Godey’s was the premier woman’s fashion magazine in the United States from  1837 to 1898.   But it  was more than a magazine.  Women relied on it for information and articles on everything from cooking to housekeeping to health to etiquette.  It contained sheet music, short stories, book reviews, etchings and essays by the leading intellectuals of the day.    Its female editor, Sarah J.  Hale, wrote “Mary Had a Little Lamb” and convinced President Lincoln to make Thanksgiving a national holiday.   Hale was also a trend setter who knew what her readers wanted. In 1850, she started a fad when she introduced the American public to the Christmas tree when she published a picture of Queen Victoria and Prince Albert  and their family gathered around their holiday tree.  

Here are some pictures of Laurel Hill.

If you want to take a look at Godey’s Lady’s Book,  press here.  You can download articles and other materials here. And enjoy your holiday.

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