The Uncanny Valley

Notes on art, culture and preservation

Posts Tagged ‘germantown avenue

An outdoor art gallery on Buenos Aires’ shuttered storefronts

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This is Avenida Patricios, a commercial avenue that serves as the border between two Buenos Aires neighborhoods, Barracas and La Boca. Both barrios have heapings of charm and grit, the kinds of traits associated with the city’s poorer southern half, although La Boca has the bigger reputation for seediness and crime.

The division between the two barrios was once as much visual as psychological; in La Boca, a port neighborhood historically vulnerable to flooding, the walkways in front of buildings rise and fall between three and six feet above the street level. A few years ago, the city government re-leveled the sidewalks of Patricios to make the avenue friendlier for pedestrians. Even with increased foot traffic, the street is still a hit-or-miss experience for retail, and a number of storefronts remain shuttered. Instead of amateur graffiti, however, these shutters bear dignified imitations of paintings that characterize the neighborhood.


Some popular images of the neighborhood, including the touristy Caminito (center)

I thought of Avenida Patricios recently when reading about a similar proposal for Germantown, Philadelphia’s historical onion of a neighborhood that has its own share of grit. The idea of painting the commercial shutters on Germantown Avenue to fight blight is a smart one, and while it won’t be the cure-all to stimulate retail, it certainly can instill a stronger perception of safety and vigilance in pedestrians who remain intimidated by it. And the idea of small-scale high-art isn’t a bad example to follow.

Here are a few more shots from Buenos Aires. Note that these were just the stores that were shuttered during the day; many more art pieces join them when the active businesses close at night.



And it’s not limited to the roll-down shutters: this business has touches of Van Gogh and Dal√≠ between the windows, 24 hours a day:


What always captivated me about public art in Buenos Aires was its lack of pretense, its do-it-yourself quality that seemed to stay within the material limits of its surrounding grittiness instead of covering it in a sheen of newness. There were exceptions, of course, but in La Boca and Barracas, that from-the-ground-up impression was the rule. I do wonder how Philadelphia’s murals strike visitors, whether that same impression prevails — and it will be interesting to see what results comes of this similar proposal for Germantown.


Written by cwmote

March 28, 2013 at 2:15 pm

Germantown YWCA: hope for restoration?

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Germantown thrills and frustrates in equal measures. Few neighborhoods in Philadelphia (few in the U.S., at that) can boast such a wealth of historic properties, yet fewer have had to struggle so much to keep their history from falling into ruin.

The dissolution of the Germantown Settlement Community Development Corporation, whose massive landholdings led to its falling into a black hole of debt, has been heralded as a new opportunity for a renaissance. Renovations of once-sagging Victorians indeed seem to be happening left and right. Yet Germantown Settlement still casts a dark shadow, as the City’s Redevelopment Authority (PRA) fails in its attempts to seize the CDC’s remaining properties.

DSC01409A story in NewsWorks looked at the YWCA Administration Building at 5820-24 Germantown Avenue, which once again had its sheriff’s sale postponed. For three years now, the PRA has been trying to get it sold off; its efforts have been hindered mostly by the fact that Germantown Settlement, which owns it, technically no longer exists as an organization. (Philly face palm, natch.) Over that time, a series of fires have seriously compromised the integrity of the building — police have ruled them to be either arson or intentional, but haven’t nabbed any perps (to the best of my knowledge).

Legal fudging aside, there’s now the question of whether the YWCA building, which¬†dates from the 1910s, will be demolished. The NewsWorks story cites developer Ken Weinstein as an interested buyer. The fire damage, he claims, would leave him no choice but to tear it down and start anew — assuming he ever gets the opportunity to buy it, of course.

Weinstein, who recently announced plans to convert an old warehouse on the edge of Germantown into lofts, explained in the comments section below the article (we imagine it’s not a Weinstein imposter) his rationale for demolition:

“After three fires, the building is structurally unsound, especially the 3rd and 4th floors. The asbestos that was in the ceiling is now all over the place. After 20+ years in real estate development, I have never demolished a building so I don’t make this recommendation lightly. We should only demolish a building when it is absolutely necessary and that is the case here.”

Sad to think that Germantown Avenue could lose another one of its landmarks. If Weinstein does acquire the Y building, he will have to make his case for demo before the Historical Commission as the property is listed on the Historic Register. Recent history suggests he won’t have much trouble persuading them. Alas, as if the building itself weren’t enough, the colorful mural on the property is also endangered.

The most positive thing to note here is that Weinstein does have the wherewithal to build something new over the site — and that the rest of Germantown (the western section, at least) is showing strong enough signs of a comeback, despite the shadows of the past, that realtors are once again paying it heed.

“Germantown YWCA sheriff’s sale delayed after building’s owner couldn’t be found” [NewsWorks, Jan. 9, 2013]