The Uncanny Valley

Notes on art, culture and preservation

Posts Tagged ‘north philadelphia

Giant steps for the John Coltrane House

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In some ways, John Coltrane’s house is like any other in Strawberry Mansion. The three-story, Dutch-gabled row home where he lived from 1952 to 1958 was seen as desirable by North Philadelphia’s ascendent black middle class, literally across the street from verdant Fairmount Park and tied in closely to the city’s burgeoning jazz scene.

After decades of decline, there are signs of renewed investment in Strawberry Mansion, a neighborhood still beset by poverty and crime. Many classic houses are crumbling; vacant lots abound. Still, the former Coltrane residence at 1511 North 33rd Street, while vulnerable to the risks of age and abandonment, endures as a symbol of the city of Philadelphia’s rich music culture. The house—a National Historic Landmark—is the focus of preservation efforts to commemorate the jazz icon’s legacy and serve as an asset to the community.

The full story — recounting Coltrane’s spiritual awakening and examining the challenges posed by house museums — is now up at Hidden City and is also being published this week by All About Jazz. Exciting times ahead.


The Homes of Willis G. Hale, Philadelphia’s Most Flamboyant Architect

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The 1500 block of North 17th Street

Now up at Hidden City Philadelphia:

Constructed in 1886, the 17th Street homes were one of several projects that Hale designed for the partnership of two Philadelphia business magnates, William Elkins and Peter A.B. Widener. After striking it big investing in streetcars and railways, they turned to North Philly’s rapidly booming real estate market.

“Elkins and Widener were masters of speculative housing,” says Michael J. Lewis, a scholar of Hale’s work who teaches art history at Williams College. “They had the vision to buy eight to ten blocks at a time and lay them out in a way so that mass production made construction cheaper. And there exists a wonderful harmony between that industrial scale and Hale’s personality.”

The 17th Street residences were meant to exude lavishness with their prominent mansard roofs, bold stone foundations and trim, and shared archways over paired entrances. They also include a liberal placement of corbels, one of Hale’s most recognizable signatures–those inverted pyramids supporting windowsills and racing up stepped gables.

Read more: Divine Lorraine Architect’s Forgotten North Philly Rowhouses At A Crossroads

Written by cwmote

May 26, 2012 at 2:02 pm

Philadelphia’s Outsider Art

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The Philadelphia Mural Arts Program is so far-reaching that it has become almost synonymous with public art. In fact, there’s a little more to the story. Do enough exploring around the city, and you’ll uncover paintings and dabblings characterized by a noble simplicity and lack of upkeep. Some were likely inspired by the MAP’s ubiquity. Others may even predate the program itself.

16th & Diamond, North Philly. Was this in fact an MAP mural? The house hosting it has since been renovated and the mural has been covered.

I call these works outsider art, a term I use with some hesitation. Many of these works come from kids and youth groups, not mental patients or reclusive geniuses. It’s also possible that the MAP, being pretty community-focused itself, had a hand in a few of these projects.

Still, the contrast with the carefully crafted and colorful MAP aesthetic is hard to miss. The program has done much too much good for Philadelphia to ever be discredited, but with so many flashy, professionally designed murals dominating the cityscape, these lower-key pieces can be a pleasure to stumble upon.

Here are some of my favorite “outsider” murals that I’ve encountered in Philly over the years.

10th & Susquehanna, North Philly

Aramingo & Lehigh, Kensington/Richmond

Kensington & Tusculum

50th & Warrington, Cedar Park/West Philly

Randolph & Montgomery, West Kensington. A graffiti artist definitely did this one.

9th & Ellsworth, South Philly

Bustleton Ave. near Philmont Ave., Somerton

Thompson & Sergeant, Fishtown/Richmond

And just to compare…

The “typical” Philly Mural we’re all familiar with, 2nd & Thompson, Old Kensington

Lehigh Avenue mural, Kensington/Richmond