Philly + Architecture = Art Deco

While it may not be Miami Beach (Philly doesn’t really do pastels), Philadelphia has some amazing Art Deco buildings.  These are a few of the highlights in Center City:

The former Fidelity Mutual Life Insurance Company, now an annex of the Philadelphia Museum of Art (2525 Pennsylvania Avenue). Covered with decorations symbolizing attributes of insurance and hard work, including: the owl of wisdom, the dog of fidelity (origin of the dog name Fido – a tribute to the loyalty of dogs) , the pelican of charity, the opossum of protection, and the squirrel of frugality:



The old WCAU radio station (1618-22 Chestnut St.). The first building in the country designed specifically for a radio station. Decorated with lots of chrome and electricity symbols:





Suburban Station (16th & JFK Boulevard). It originally served as a terminal for Pennsylvania Railroad trains (yes- the same station on the Monopoly board – Pennsylvania Rail Road was one of the stations serving Atlantic City, home of all the properties on the board when it was first published in 1938):


The Ayer Building (210 W. Washington Square).  Originally home to one of the oldest ad agencies in the country, N.W. Ayer – established 1884 and creator of the slogan, “a diamond is forever”:




The former Market Street National Bank (1 East Penn Square). Covered with Mayan theme decorations – a real contrast to the ornate City Hall across the street:


1500 & 1528 Walnut Street (interior of 1528):




1608 & 1616 Walnut Street (interior of 1616):




The Metropolitan Apartments (117 N. 15th Street):


The Drake Hotel (1512 Spruce Street). The decorations symbolize the voyages of Sir Francis Drake – dolphins, shells, globes:


The old Horn & Hardart Automat (818 Chestnut):


And… the Deco  influenced Liberty 1. Viewed behind the Architects Building (117 South 17th Street):





Picnic Spots

Many great Philly restaurants are tiny, with limited seating – frustrating if you don’t have an office or apartment nearby. Although there are plenty of benches & walls around the city, Tobey and I have an on-going quest to find spots with tables and chairs:

The courtyard behind the Logan Hotel on 18th (love the couches!):


The park on the corner of Cherry & 18th:


The park off 17th (between Ranstead & Locust – entrances on both – adorable turkey head spout on the fountain):


The plaza of the Comcast Center (off JFK Blvd.):


Indoors – the basement shopping mall of the Comcast Center:


The plaza in front of 30th Street Station. Tables and chairs, but also lounge swings, food trucks and occasional live music:

30 street

Outside the Convention Center on Arch Street between 12th & 14th:


Photo-Op: Getting Lucky At Franklin’s Grave


Although it’s hard to see his name, there is no missing the pennies that cover his grave.  In an ironic twist to his “A Penny Saved is a Penny Earned” proverb, tossing a penny on Ben Franklin’s grave is a Philly good luck tradition (although not for the stone, which recently required repairs to fix the pits and cracks caused by the impact of thousands of pennies each year).  Franklin was famous for the proverbs he wrote and printed in his “Poor Richard’s Almanac.” My favorite?  “Guests, Like Fish, Begin to Smell After Three Days”

Tip: You can take photographs for free from outside of the fence at the intersection of Arch Street & 5th or (from March-November) pay $2 to go inside Christ Church Burial Ground.  In addition to Franklin and his wife, you can see the graves of 4 other signers of the Declaration of Independence.

A Room With A View And A Famous Food Market

Tobey’s favorite place to bring friends is the viewing deck at the top of Philly’s City Hall.

city hall 3

For $8/adult and $4/student, a maximum of 5 people squeeze into a tiny elevator and head up to the platform just under William Penn’s feet. Enclosed by glass, but open to the elements, you get a great view of Center City Philadelphia.



Who Knew?

*City Hall held the title of world’s tallest occupied building from 1901-1908.

*With almost 700 rooms, it is the biggest municipal building in the United States.

*Made of over 88 million bricks, marble and granite, it is the largest masonry structure in the world.



*Alexander Milne Calder created over 250 sculptures that decorate the building (including the sculpture of William Penn). His son, Alexander Stirling Calder, created the fountain up the Parkway at Logan Square.  His grandson, another Alexander Calder, has one of his famous mobiles (“ghost”) hanging at the end of the Parkway inside the Philadelphia Museum of Art.


*In the 1950’s the building was considered so ugly that plans were made to tear it down.

*(X-rated) Tip: viewed from the left (north) side, William Penn’s extended hand looks like an entirely different part of his anatomy – giving the statue the nickname “Willy’s Willy.”

Just 3 blocks away, Reading Terminal Market is a great place to eat when everyone is in the mood for something different. Tobey’s favorite is a grilled cheese sandwich (with brisket and mac&cheese) at Valley Shepherd:


My favorite is the roast pork (with provolone and hot peppers) at DiNic’s:


And (of course) it’s required to finish up with the world’s best donuts from the Amish bakers at Beiler’s:

City Hall Tower Tour Information:


Inauguration Day & A Hidden (Tiffany) Art Treasure

Sometimes, you are just in the right place at the right time.  After a bagged lunch at Philadelphia’s most amazing hidden art treasure, we walked across the street to Independence Square.  Tickets are required for a tour of Independence Hall, but not to visit the other buildings.  After passing through security, our first stop was the Great Essentials exhibit which houses a copy of the Declaration of Independence:


and a final rough draft of the Constitution, including a correction (supposedly) made by George Washington:

constit 2

constit 1

Our final stop was Congress Hall, the building that housed the U.S. Congress from 1790-1800. I hadn’t realized that this was where John Adams took the oath of office.

congress hall

After sitting us the in the chairs used by the New Jersey Congressmen (we are from NJ), the park ranger related this story:

Although many encouraged George Washington to continue as President, he felt two terms was enough for one man and wanted to return to farming.  After the election, John Adams took the oath of office as the new president of the United States here in Congress Hall, making it the first time in modern history that power was peacefully transferred between two common citizens. Afterward, as they got ready to leave, Adams stepped aside at the door to allow Washington to go through first. But Washington was well aware of the historic significance of the moment. He stopped and asked Adams to leave first. After all, he said, Adams was now president of the United States, and Washington was now just a private citizen. Adams led, followed by Jefferson (the new vice president), while Washington went last.

It was amazing to realize that we were sitting right where this extraordinary event took place – the day before our country would again, even in the current political climate, experience this peaceful transition of power for the 44th time.

Oh yeah: the hidden art treasure is located in the lobby of the Curtis Publishing Building:

tiffany mosaic

Designed by hometown artist Maxfield Parrish, the Dream Garden was created in 1916 by Louis Comfort Tiffany out of more than 100,000 pieces of glass. The best part?  It’s free and there is a bench across the lobby where you can eat your lunch.

tiffany tobey and k