The Victorians of Philadelphia are much more substantial than the painted ladies of San Francisco, but no less ornate. Frank Furness, one of Philly’s most prominent Victorian architects, left some of these over-the-top beauties:
Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts
Fisher Fine Arts Library, University of Pennsylvania
Peck Alumni Center, Drexel University
Undine Barge Club, Boathouse Row
In addition to his buildings, Furness also designed furniture, such as this amazing desk on display at The Philadelphia Museum of Art:
I’ve written about the Free Library before (A Library That Houses The Best (Free) Museum In Philly That No One Knows), but there is a lot more to explore than the very cool rare book department – enough to occupy a few rainy -day hours. Start with the free hour-long building tour that explores the architecture, history and collections of the 19th century building. After the tour (in addition to actual books), visitors can:
*listen to records and cds
*borrow and play an instrument
*examine the world’s largest lending library of orchestral music
*view fine art prints, photographs, etc. (appointment recommended)
*explore the map collection
*view one of the many rotating exhibits (on view today: Leonard Bernstein memorabilia, photographs of the history of the Ben Franklin Parkway, epistolary novels and homemade art books)
*The museum also offers cooking classes, author talks, theater performances and concerts
We used the pouring rain as an excuse to get in the car and drive 15 minutes to the Port Richmond section of the city. Home to a large Polish community and “The Dinner House” – where we feasted on sour rye soup, potato pancake with goulash and potato & cheese pierogi… and finished with a cheese danish from a local bakery.
In the shadow of City Hall stands one of the most elaborately carved and decorated Masonic Temples in the world. Built in 1837, the interior is a dramatic example of Victorian design. The hour-long tour shows off 7 of the over-the-top rooms. In homage to the Mason’s history as stone masons, each room is decorated in a different, historically accurate style (from Egyptian to Gothic to Renaissance) – supplemented with a variety of Masonic symbols:
Conspiracy theories aside, many of the founding fathers and at least 14 presidents have been Masons, and the museum has some interesting artifacts – including a Masonic apron owned by George Washington and (supposedly) presented to him by the Marquis de Lafayette, Benjamin Franklin’s Masonic sash and a piece of George Washington’s original coffin:
Since Philly’s Chinatown is just a few blocks walk from the temple, we decided to try one of the latest restaurant trends – Mongolian Hot Pot – from Little Sheep. We ordered the $12.95 lunch special, which came with a choice of broth (we chose the traditional and the spicy) and a variety of meats and veggies to cook in the broth:
Yes – the world’s largest fully functioning pipe organ is not in a church – it’s in the Macy’s Department Store in Philadelphia and FREE concerts are played daily at 12:00 (evening concert times vary) by master organists. You can listen and shop, or tuck yourself into one of the niches on the second floor girl’s clothing section – where you can watch the organist play.
Opened in 1911, and dedicated by President Taft, Wanamaker’s was the first department store in Philadelphia – and one of the first in the country. On the National Register of Historic Places, the interior of building is an architectural gem.
Philly’s only Victorian museum and garden, the lavishly decorated interiors (the subject of an upcoming post) at the Ebenezer Maxwell Mansion are an atmospheric setting for Victorian Theater. In addition to full length productions, the museum also hosts Victorian inspired murder mysteries – like the Sweeney Todd inspired version we participated in last week – one of us actually correctly identified the murderer (it was the understudy who was having an affair with the leading man!)
For a city walk with great views and no traffic, the pedestrian path on the Benjamin Franklin Bridge is a great option. Opened in 1926 (with Art Deco architectural details), a round trip walk is almost 3 miles – with views of the Camden and Philadelphia waterfronts and Philadelphia skyline.
Since we burned off all those calories hiking the bridge – and since the bridge walk ends in Old City, we headed to one of our favorite restaurants, Capofitto, for a favorite Philly meal: arancini (fried risotto balls) and pizza with arugula and prosciutto:
Next, we are going to attempt to recreate this delicious meal at home… (Recreating a Restaurant (Capofitto) Meal At Home: Arancini & Pizza With Prosciutto)
It’s called “The Fabric Workshop,” but houses a (free) museum that supports and exhibits artists in a variety of media. Until November 5th, they have an extensive exhibit on Philly-based architect Louis Kahn. Videos, sketches, models, etc. – all showcasing Kahn’s work both in Philadelphia (Richards Medical Research Laboratories @ University of Pennsylvania) and elsewhere – including FDR 4 Freedoms Park in NYC – where Tobey and I visited last summer:
They also offer student workshops. Tobey and Erick attended a great program set up by a fellow home-schooler several years ago – during which their group designed and printed a large piece of silk-screen:
Since it’s right up the street from Chinatown, the museum is a great stop for a little culture before or after lunch – in this case Burmese food at Rangoon. Delicious lentil fritters, thousand-layer bread with potato curry, and tea leaf salad:
For dessert: coconut sticky rice with mango and jello-crunch ice (who would think the combination of jello, tapioca, pineapple, peanuts, ice, and condensed milk could taste so good??):
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.
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.
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: