Built in 1815, the waterworks provided water to Center City Philadelphia until 1909. The steam-powered technology, the gorgeous neoclassical architecture, and the landscaped gardens (one of the largest urban parks in America at the time) made the waterworks a famous 19th century tourist destination – Charles Dickens and Mark Twain were both impressed during (separate) visits to Philadelphia in the mid-1800s. Originally steam powered, the engines were replaced by much cheaper (and much more primitive) water wheels (later turbines) after an explosion that killed 3 workers. By the 1890’s the water in the Schuylkill had become so polluted that outbreaks of cholera and typhoid led to closing of the waterworks in 1909.
Today, the original pump house contains a FREE museum with a movie highlighting the history of the waterworks and hands-on exhibits focusing on the water cycle and watersheds. My favorite is a display of video highlights of animals using the fish ladder, including a turtle, snake and an otter.
WAY off the beaten path (down a small staircase to the left of the Waterworks), hidden down at river-level, is a sculpture garden focusing on the history of the Schuylkill River – from a source of food for the natives Lenape, and resource utilized by colonists, through its emergence as a manufacturing hub during the Industrial Revolution – and its return to health as a fishery and public resource.
After visiting the giant pop-up book last week, we went to check out other pop-up works by the artist, Tao Hua Yuan Ji, at The Center for Emerging Visual Artists. Little did we know that it’s located in a fancy residential building on Rittenhouse Square – and that we would have to be escorted up to the gallery. Although the introduction was a bit intimidating, the staff were very friendly and we were able to see some of the artist’s smaller pop-up works and a selection of the photographs she took and used in assembling them (with no pressure to buy – this large one cost $12,000).
Our afternoon was spent at the Academy of Music watching the dress rehearsal for Pennsylvania Ballet’s Sleeping Beauty. A beautifully ornate theater, The Academy was completed in 1857, and is the oldest opera house in the United States still used for its original purpose. The Pennsylvania Ballet often performs here (or in the smaller Meriam Theater) and offers tickets to the dress rehearsals to school groups (and homeschoolers). Over the past 5 years, we have been lucky enough to attend several performances. We both agreed that this was the company’s best performance.
Another off-the-beaten path adventure – this time to the Philadelphia Photo Arts Center to see construction of the world’s largest pop-up book by Philadelphia artist, Tao Hua Yuan Ji:
Since 80 degrees in October doesn’t happen too often, we decided to hit up Whole Foods for a picnic: Bellavitano Rum Runner Cheese with Apricot Chardonnay preserves, raspberries and a most delicious chocolate caramel cupcake:
We finished with a walk to the top of the “stairs to nowhere” at the corner of Kelly Drive & Sedgley Drive:
At the top, hidden behind the trees is the gorgeous, neoclassical Lemon Hill Mansion.
Built in 1800 (except for the porches – those are a later, Victorian addition), it was the first property purchased by the City to protect the watershed of the Schuylkill River (today Fairmount Park). It’s open Thursdays-Sundays from April – mid-December. 10:00 am – 4:00 pm. $8/adult and $5/student. The tour includes interior views of the beautiful Palladian window and unique oval rooms – 3 levels with curved doors and windows.
Hidden in the suburbs of Philadelphia (Elkins Park) is a Frank Lloyd Wright masterpiece – one of his most impressive houses of worship. Completed in 1959, a few months after his death, it was designated a National Historic Landmark in 2007. Tours are given daily, except Saturdays and Jewish holidays.
Our explorations of Chinatown seem to be never ending – so many different regional cuisines, many of which are represented in Philly. Plus, new restaurants open faster than we can try them. We were both fighting colds this week, so what better cure than spicy noodle soup? Spice C is one of the best places in Philly for hand-drawn noodles – plus, the noodles are made fresh for each order and you can watch the chef toss the noodles while you wait. Spicy Sichuan soup with wontons, roast pork & shaved noodles and spicy soy sauce, hand-drawn noodles were the perfect medicine:
In the land of $8 ice cream, we decided to try a more economical dessert. Two Chinatown bakeries fit the bill: The Mayflower Bakery (1008 Race St.) – $4 for a whole Swiss Roll (you can buy them by the slice for $1, but we were feeling greedy):
and KC’s Pastries (109 N. 10th St.) – $1.00 for a bun (we loved the butter cream – the taro bun was…. interesting).
During the walk to Chinatown, we came across this new street art by a storm drain on Race Street (you never know what you are going to see in the City – love the octopus and crabbie):
Since we homeschool, Tobey occasionally needs to finish up some schoolwork before we start our Philly adventures. We often go to the Free Library, but the weather was so beautiful, we sat in the gardens of the Barnes Foundation (better than a classroom any day!).
The whole family (including grandparents) took a ride in the Firefly pedicabs on the Benjamin Franklin Parkway:
In celebration of the Parkway’s 100 year anniversary, the Association for Public Art commissioned Chinese artist Cai Guo-Qiang (known for his incredible fireworks displays and gunpowder art) to create a site-specific work. Nine hundred handcrafted, illuminated lanterns decorate a fleet of 27 pedicabs – which the public can ride in from September 14 to October 8, 2017.
We explored a new part of town this week – the University of Pennsylvania campus area. U-Penn was established by Ben Franklin in 1751. The current campus dates to the Victorian era, and has a great example of Philadelphia architect, Frank Furness’s work – the Fisher Memorial Library:
In addition to the gorgeous library, the building also houses a (free) art museum, where we saw “A View of One’s Own” – photos of Rome by 3 women photographers from the 1910’s, 1950’s and 2000’s:
Walking campus, we saw the cutest little dog:
And my mom’s old dormitory – the fortress-like Hill College House, designed by Finnish-born modernist architect Eero Saarinen (who also designed the Gateway Arch in St. Louis):
Lunch was at Dana Mandi, one of local food critic Craig LaBan’s Best Philly Values – and an experience in itself: walk to the back of the Indian grocery store, go behind a curtain to the seating area, write your order on a scrap of paper and leave it on the counter. Like magic, delicious, cheap (the parathas were amazing) Indian food comes out on styrofoam trays, served in to-go containers.
No adventure is complete without dessert, so our final stop was the Sugar food truck (38th St. between Walnut & Sansom St.) for Tobey’s favorite – macrons:
I enjoy the gizmos of modern science museums, but I really love good, old fashioned natural history museums, and Philly has two terrific examples.
The Academy of Natural Sciences:
Founded in 1812, The Academy is the oldest natural science institution in the western hemisphere. It houses Thomas Jefferson’s fossils, Lewis and Clark’s plants, and many of the birds collected by John James Audubon (plus a copy of one of the large books of Audubon prints – they have a page turning each day at 3:15). But, the best part are the dioramas, many of which were constructed in the 1920s and 30s. They have an exhibit and video showing how the dioramas were created.
The Wagner Free Institute:
The museum building was completed in 1865 and houses a huge collection of specimens including: mounted birds and mammals, fossils, rocks and minerals, insects, shells, dinosaur bones, and the first American saber-toothed tiger. The collections are still displayed in the cherry-wood and glass cabinets built in the 1880s. They are displayed in their original “systematic” scheme, providing a rare view of a Victorian science museum. Plus, it’s FREE!
On a trip to Chinatown, we scoured the markets for bobas (tapioca pearls) to make our own bubble tea. Most shops didn’t carry them but we managed to find a package of white tapioca pearls (bubble tea shops usually use the brown) – only a $1.24 investment.
After reading and watching several tutorials, we made our first batch (boil 25 minutes, soak in sugar water 25 minutes). Edible, but just barely – too tough in the center. So, we broke down and ordered the brown boba from Amazon (Bolle brand). This time… success! Our own version with mango/peach tea, milk, and mango juice:
We had a friend with us for this week’s Thursday in Philadelphia, so we introduced her to one of our favorite Chinatown foods: Soup Dumplings at Tom’s Dim Sum (we also love their scallion pancakes and cucumber salad):
Then, a new Chinatown adventure: Eskimo Kisses at the new N2 Sweet Cafe. Crunchy banana flavored snacks soaked in liquid Nitrogen – spear them, eat them and watch the smoke come out of your mouth (a science lesson and culinary adventure all in one). We also had one of their nitrogen frozen ice-creams with peanut butter and Oreo, which was super creamy and delicious.
Since we had an Eskimo theme going, we stopped by the old Art-Deco post office at 9th & Market for a look at the Eskimo, Caribbean and Cowboy mailmen: