A weekly series of foul-mouthed investigations into empty lots, dead-ass proposals and other design phenomena in Philadelphia. Find more stories like this at Philaphilia.blogspot.com.
3601 Market St. -- Ever wonder why the University City Science Center can't seem to fill up all its space in the 47 years since it opened? Well, it would all be filled in right now if this project right here got built. The World Forum for Science and Human Affairs wasn't just any hotel/conference center complex. It was designed to make West Philadelphia be a science and humanity crossroads for the WORLD.
In 1973, after spending two decades getting off the ground, the University City Science Center finally started turning out a surplus. The original plan for the center always was meant to include a hotel/conference component for all the smart motherfuckers who worked there to have more contact with other genius-brains across the world. Now that there was this surplus, it was time to get the ball rolling on getting the motherfucker built. In August of 1973, Chairman of the Board Paul Cupp announced that a brand-new science-related megaplex would be built on Market Street between 36th and 38th that would host the greatest minds of the world during Philadelphia's upcoming bicentennial events in 1976. The architect was to be the Great Satan of Philadelphia architecture, the firm of Mitchell/Giurgola.
A very early model of the World Forum, before it was even called that. This photo of the model is the only surviving rendering of the project. Pic from the Philadelphia Architects and Buildings Project.
This double-block-long juggernaut would have a 700-room hotel, meeting rooms of all sizes, restaurants, retail, parking garages, and to top it all off, facilities for instant translation of foreign languages. The place would also include the most modern telecommunications and computer-related equipment 1973 had to offer (to put that into context, the Ethernet method of network connection had just been invented four months earlier).
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"Interstate General Media today threatened to liquidate or sell the assets of the company" on January 18 "if it does not reach tentative agreements with all of its unions, including the Newspaper Guild," according to a Guild email today to members.
The Guild letter also lands a blow on Norcross, noting that "while bullying and scare tactics might be have helped at least one of the owners to make his millions, that's a horrible way for a company responsible for publishing newspapers vital to the public trust, to operate."
Interstate General Media today threatened to liquidate or sell the assets the company, which owns the Philadelphia Inquirer, Philadelphia Daily News and Philly.com, as of January 18, 2013 if it does not reach tentative agreements with all of its unions, including the Newspaper Guild.
As you know, our contract expires in October 2013 while the other ten union contracts expired in October 2012.
Last summer, IGM ownership asked that the Guild volunteer to take pay cuts a year ahead of our contract expiration in order to help the company which was hemorrhaging money. The company seeks to cut $8 million out of our wages and benefits.
While bargaining with the other unions, the company shamefully, and repeatedly assured the other groups that the Guild would be opening its contract and giving concessions at this time. Nice of them to have such confidence that we simply couldn't wait to give up our pay.
When they acquired the company in April, Interstate General Media was well aware that the Newspaper Guild had a contract in place through October 2013. It was also at this time that owners George Norcross and Lewis Katz both stressed how much the newspapers meant to them and how they were in this business for the long haul. We will not be held out as scapegoats, to be blamed for not bargaining a new agreement while we have one standing. The owners are smart businessmen who do not leap into business deals or investments blindly.
While bullying and scare tactics might be have helped at least one of the owners to make his millions, that's a horrible way for a company responsible for publishing newspapers vital to the public trust, to operate.
As an example of the kind of fiscal foolishness we are dealing with, at the same time it threatens us and claims to be on the verge of liquidation, Interstate General Media is also issuing a buyout program today, using money it claims not to have to get our members to leave.
The company also continues to hire.
We are unwilling to once again bail out an ownership group without full access to the company's books and a realistic discussion of future revenue plans.
If you're not sure what to believe after watching Promised Land (and the shale industry's damage-control advertising that accompanied it), you might want to stop by the Marcellus Shale Gas Project, an exhibition that opens today at the Gershman Y. The photo exhibit runs through Feb. 14 at the Y's Open Lens Gallery and includes images of the impact of drilling on Pennsylvania's landscape and portraits of people whose drinking water was contaminated. On Jan. 23, at 6 p.m., an opening reception will be held, featuring a panel discussion with Jeff Schmidt, director of Sierra Club PA.
It seems an apt time for the exhibit to arrive in Philly from Pittsburgh, where it was previously on display. After all, a Pennsylvania state legislator just moved to recognize January as "Safe Drinking Water Month." The bill was introduced as noncontroversial — after all, who can complain about safe drinking water — but it was introduced by Rep. Neal Goodman, who has criticized the Department of Environmental Protection in the past and who is from Schuylkill County, which sits on top of part of the Marcellus Shale formation and has been seen as poised to be swept up in the state's shale-gas boom. The draft resolution notes that "the Constitution of Pennsylvania sets forth the people's right to pure water and the preservation of our natural resources."
Last week, we wrote about property owners in Olde Kensington whose land is being taken by the city via eminent domain to clear the way for an affordable housing development (rendering above) to be backed by a $1.8 million investment from the city. (The project, being spearheaded by the Arab American Development Corporation and Conifer Realty, would be across the street from Al-Aqsa mosque, whose logo also appeared on the renderings.)
People who think eminent domain should be reserved for things like highway and airport expansions, not housing developments, have been up in arms about this. Mel Athanasiadis, a local pizza shop owner who is losing seven properties under this taking, is hoping they'll join him for a protest this Saturday at 2 p.m., outside his property at 1529 Cadwallader St.
Pennsylvania's Corrections Secretary John Wetzel is trumpeting $35 million in annual savings to be achieved via the closures of two state prisons, SCI Cresson and SCI Greensburg, announced this week. But critics of the state's prison complex, which has seen its population quintuple in the past 30 years or so, are questioning the savings, especially as the state continues construction on two new prisons in Montgomery County, at a total cost of $400 million. The closures of Cresson and Greenburg, which together house about 2,400 inmates, are offset by the opening of a new, 2,000-bed, $200 million institution called SCI Benner, while the two new Montgomery County prisons will theoretically replace SCI Graterford.
Decarcerate PA called on Gov. Corbett to stop construction adding further beds to the state prison system — since, historically, the experience in the state has been, "If it gets built, it gets filled." The prison population is now around 51,000, which exceeds the designed capacity of the state institutions.
“We certainly support the move to close these two prisons – particularly SCI Cresson, which is under federal investigation for its poor treatment of people with mental illness,” Decarcerate PA’s Matthew Pillischer said in a statement. “Since the DOC is finally recognizing that Pennsylvania does not need more prisons, we hope their next step will be to cancel the unnecessary $400 million construction of two new prisons in Montgomery County.”
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Paleoconservative conspiracist radio host Alex Jones has, well, captured the nation's imagination after yelling at Piers Morgan that "1776 will commence again if you try to take our firearms!"
Pennsylvania's leading right-wing figure, state Rep. Daryl Metcalfe, appeared on Jones' show in 2010.
Notably, Metcalfe failed to respond to Jones' assertion that "Israeli art students" were involved in the 9/11 attacks and then in Nevada undertaking surveillance against the National Security Agency. Metcalfe, as I discussed in my 2012 profile, has led the charge to dismantle gun control and implement voter ID in this state. And he has ties to the far right and white supremacists.
Watch the Jones-Metcalfe interview here:
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People throughout West Philadelphia were devastated to watch Elena's Soul Lounge, a reputedly century-old meeting place for drinks, music and food drawing people from both east and west of Cedar Park, burn to the ground on Christmas Eve. What happened later that week, however, is confounding: The demolition crew taking apart Elena's severely damaged the two neighboring businesses, Gary's Nails and the new-but-beloved Cedar Park Cafe, affectionately known to some as "breakfast-lunch."
The fire that destroyed Elena's had left both businesses largely intact; the cafe even opened the next day. Today, Gary's and Cedar Park Cafe's roofs are caved in, and orange violation notices from the Department of Licenses and Inspections are pasted to their facades: they have 30 days, as of Dec. 28, to repair or demolish their buildings.
In 1909, the Philadelphia Fire Insurance Patrol opened their third station at 2122 Market (not to be confused with the fire station at 2110 Market). Fire Insurance Patrols were something every major city had in the olden days. They would come in after a fire to prevent further damage to a structure caused by the putting-out of the fire itself. The main goal was to reduce the amount of insurance claims due to fires in commercial buildings and valuable residences. They were phased out in the latter half of the 20th century, but NYC's Fire Insurance Patrol lasted all the way up to 2006.
By the 1920s, all the houses on the row were gone. Either they were replaced with commercial buildings or altered beyond recognition as a house. The Stewart Maloney Estate industrial building was expanded upward in 1914 based on designs by the Ballinger firm. It would continue being used as different auto factory/dealerships until 1936. That was the year that the Benn Family's famous furniture store first moved onto the block to start its 58-year reign as the ultimate dick-kicking discount furniture store of the region.
Some of the smartest people in Philly have spent much of the past year or so trying to figure out how to attract investment into one of the city's most under-utilized regions, the Lower Schuylkill. Here's an idea that they probably haven't spent a lot of time mulling over: What if we ditched the entire stretch of I-76 that runs from the Vine Street Expressway to Gray's Ferry Avenue?
This is the premise of the winning proposal of this year's Ed Bacon Student Design Competition, a submission called SHIFT: Smart Hub Infrastructure for Tomorrow, created by a team from Cornell. Maybe the winning selection isn't too surprising, since one of the judges was Next City's Diana Lind, who also advocates abolishing I-95 between the Ben Franklin and Walt Whitman bridges.
The logic behind SHIFT: "Since 1959, the Schuylkill Expressway has been an unpleasant fact of life for metropolitan Philadelphia. Mayor Richardson Dilworth even called it 'the worst mistake of my administration.' But, as transportation patterns shift over the next century, Philadelphia has the opportunity to undo that mistake." It would simply redirect traffic to less congested routes, creating a loop around the city rather than through it. All this would clear the way for stuff like the waterfront park rendered above.
Notably, this did not win the prize for "most realistic" — but it doesn't hurt to dream big.
596 Acres — a New York City-based organization that merges vacant-land advocacy with social media to help neighbors organize around disused lots — is gearing up to bring its digitally savvy wherewithal to bear on Philly's thousands of abandoned and vacant parcels. The Public Interest Law Center of Philadelphia's Garden Legal Justice Initiative is partnering with 596 Acres to create the Philly version of the website, which the Law Center's Amy Laura Cahn says will launch this spring, hopefully by late April.
While the city's so-called front door website for purchasing publicly owned land has offered some clarity on the lots currently for sale by the Philadelphia Redevelopment Authority, it doesn't list all city-owned lots. And in any case, the majority of vacant lots in Philly are privately owned, Cahn notes. The data is out there, but "there's not really one place that brings all of that together and provides the opportunity to organize. What also isn't readily available is how you acquire a publicly owned or privately owned parcel," Cahn says. "That information is easy to find if you're a developer, but much harder to figure out if you're not."
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