Thursday, February 5, 2015

99 Years Ago in Philadelphia: Start of February, 1916

Airplane Runway Planned For Roof of Bellevue-Stratford!!

               What the what!?!? In case you didn't know, the Bellevue-Stratford on Broad Street was in its day considered the most modern and luxurious hotel in America. Part of keeping that status is keeping up with the latest shit. In its early days, the Bellevue-Stratford was considered cutting edge because of its roof deck that had both dancing and alcohol in the same location (which was illegal in the city at the time).
                In the early teens, when the addition was built on the back and enclosed banquet halls replaced the old roof deck, two other hotels were being built in the city that were aiming to be more modern. The Ritz-Carlton (now UArts Terra Building/Miguel Corzo Center) and the Adelphia Hotel (now a crappy apartment building of the same name). The Ritz offered smoking rooms and the Adelphia offered an open-air roof deck. The Bellevue-Stratford needed something else to prove their superiority.
             In 1912 and 1913, an NYC construction guru named Theodore Starrett started going around saying that the "skyscraper of tomorrow" would include an airstrip or zeppelin dock so rich-ass visitors could fly directly to the roof of a building and be served with the highest of luxury. He even went about fantasizing how the reception rooms on the roofs of hotels and other buildings would become more luxurious than the street level ones because they wouldn't need huge columns everywhere.
            George Boldt, the guy who ran the place and the world's chief authority on hospitality, wanted the Bellevue-Stratford to be the forerunner on this new level of luxury. However, in 1913, no actual roof-to-roof airline was even in the works, so there was no reason to go to far with it. That is, until the end of 1915, when the New York-Philadelphia-Baltimore-Washington Line was created. Boldt immediately commissioned the short-lived architecture firm of Hewitt & Granger to design a 90' x 300' air strip that could be installed on the Bellevue-Stratford roof and in the beginning of February, 1916, it was announced to the public as something that would happen "in the coming months".
          Of course, old George was getting a little ahead of himself. The new roof-to-roof airline's existence was contingent upon an improvement of airplane technology and a guarantee that these roof landings would be 100% successful.
         Obviously, this whole rooftop airstrip thing never happened. George Boldt died later that year and the roof-to-roof airline went kaput shortly after it was formed. Everyone knows that the Empire State Building was supposed to have a Zeppelin dock on top, but that was mostly just an excuse to add an extra 200 feet to the building.
Principal says "Fuck You" to School District With Parent, Student Support

         William Sowden was principal of the Edwin H. Fitler school in Germantown for 18 years and was extremely well-liked by the community. Everything was going fine until the Board of Education voted to transfer him to the John Sartain School in Brewerytown. His replacement, a Miss Margaret L. Gill, was going to be given a much higher salary than the 18-year veteran principal was getting. This sent Sowden, parents, students, and the whole neighborhood into a bloody rage.
        They put together a petition first, gathering thousands of signatures begging the Board to stop the transfer. It didn't work. In the first week of February, 1916, Sowden reported for work at the Fitler School, leaving the Sartain School without a principal. Parents, students, and friends of Sowden protested at School District Headquarters while others tied up their phones all day with outrage. Six local pastors promised to dedicate their sermons that Sunday to the reinstatement of Sowden.
       The next day, all 500 students of the Fitler School went on strike. They started by picketing the school, hooting and hollering and holding up signs along with letters by their parents giving them permission to be absent that day. They then boarded a bunch of trolleys and made their way to the Board of Ed to make a ruckus there as well. The throng of kids, followed by their parents, then went into City Hall and made some noise. They did this all in support of "Pop" Sowden while sleet and snow fell on their little heads.

The early birds to the protest that morning.
                The protests went on for 2 more weeks and got supplemented by letters and petitions from civic, fraternal, industrial, and business associations. This led to a movement to change the school code so that the Board of Education of the city could be changed from an appointed group to an elected one. Both the effort to reinstate Sowden at Fitler and the attempt to change the school code were unsuccessful.
                To this day, 99 years later, there is still a push to make the Board of Education an elected body. The Fitler School is still in operation at the same building and is now called Fitler Academics Plus School, or FAPS, which is a hilarious acronym.

The Fitler School via Google Streetview
Cops May Be Forced To Move Back To The Hood!

         A few years ago, Captain Robert D. Cameron of the Philadelphia Police Department defied the rules and moved out of his ward. He was sick of being his ward leader's "stool pigeon" and "door-knocker". Other cops followed suit and it caused a big controversy until the newly appointed Director of Public Safety, George D. Porter, declared that police officers were no longer required to live in their districts.
        The cops and their families loved this for two reasons. One was that their wives and children no longer had to consort with criminal neighbors (especially in the Tenderloin) and the other was that the officers no longer had to act as muscle for the corrupt war leaders. They moved out to the outer reaches of the city where there were new houses and nice neighbors. The West Philadelphia neighborhoods of Angora, Cobb's Creek, and Haddington were some of the most desirable of the time.
        However, at the start of February, 1916, Captain Cameron retired. Somehow, this signaled to the rest of the force that an edict would soon be put forth to force the police to move back to their districts. Officers, their wives, and children all panicked. The officers were well aware of the riff raff they were dealing with every day and did not want to move back to the neighborhoods in which they worked. They were fearful of becoming the pawns of the local neighborhood kingpins. The wives weren't too keen on having their kids be witnesses to crime at all hours and having their fathers be neighborhood pariahs. The kids feared getting their asses kicked at school every day by the children of criminals their dads just locked up.
        In the end, no one was forced back into their working wards and everything was just fine. A few decades later, the whole living-outside-their-wards thing went too far and police started moving outside the city altogether. Eventually in 1953 a residency requirement was enacted to keep officers living in the city in which they serve. In 2012, this was eased up, allowing officers to move out of the city after five years on the job.

Catholics Try To Shut Down "Marie-Odile"

           At the start of February, 1916, the city's Catholic population was pissed off. David Belasco's production of the play "Marie-Odile" was about to come to the Adelphi Theater (now the site of the Convention Center Expansion) and was considered to be at such a level of degeneracy that it could not be allowed to go on. The play ran for five months at the director's own theater in NYC and then completely bombed in London before coming to Boston and then Philadelphia.
         The plot of the play involves the title character, Marie-Odile. She lived in a convent since she was born and knew no other life. The only men she had ever known were the old-ass parish priest and the even older gardener of the place. As an adult, she became a nun (naturally) right about the time some Persians invade. The others nuns evacuate the place but somehow she gets left behind. She meets the Uhlan Corporal and falls in love, thinking this guy is St. Michael. The Corporal gets down and dirty with Marie-Odile, taking advantage of her belief that he's a saint. The war is over a year later and the Corporal leaves the convent behind forever. Upon the return of the other nuns, Marie-Odile presents her baby to them, telling them that he is the miracle-born son of St. Michael. The nuns kick her the fuck out of the convent. End of play.
          Priests no doubt took advantage of the Feast of St. Blaise ritual(very popular back then) to spread the word. Every Catholic organization in town and some from across Pennsylvania wanted this play dead, complaining that it would lead young people to believe that nuns are not only stupid, but assholes too. They got Charles Lee, head of the Vice Squad in the Tenderloin to view the play, to which he laid down a resounding "meh". Director of Public Safety Wilson was then asked to see it, and he found nothing objectionable. A pissed off Catholic police Superintendent then saw it, ready to enumerate all the problems with it, but found very little to complain about.
        "Marie-Odile" lasted about a month or so in Philadelphia before moving up to Newark.

Outdoor ad for the play when it opened in Newark via Duke University Libraries Digital Collections

Monday, February 2, 2015

Old-Ass Building: Philadelphia Post Office Station D

815-817 South 18th Street, 1747 Christian

Photo by Michael Bixler
                You didn't even know about this building, did you? This was one of those post offices from back when they tried to make post offices look good. Check out its story at the Hidden City Daily!