Saturday, June 25, 2011

Philly Reel to Real-- June

Blow Out


My ass has a sound all it's own.
                      This movie from Brian De Palma and starring John Travolta and Nancy Allen was filmed in Philadelphia in December 1980 and January 1981. It captures a time in Philadelphia history when the streets of Center City were so shitty that even the cockroaches were moving out to the burbs. For the longest time I would see this movie and wonder what parts of the city they were in because they seemed so unfamiliar. This one, for instance:

Something familiar...
                        It's fucking BROAD STREET!!! Not some shitty unknown part of the 13-mile-long Broad Street, but 244 South Broad Street! That's the Empty Lot that got covered with the Sporting Club at the Bellevue. Right there across the street is the infamous Pigeonhole Parking building. I guess those lights are supposed to look like a Christmas Tree. It's hanging from one of the many cables that used to straddle Broad Street for decorative use during the holidays. The city stopped doing that a long time ago and until recently there was one cable left dangling over Broad Street, mystifying newcomers. Here's another one:

Click on this shit to enlarge and see if you can figure out where it is.
                             Hmm.. A fire house and a bunch of bridal shit... so there was a bridal district? I guess before dumbass reality shows this was the only way to see wedding shit. So what stretch could this possibly be? What's in those storefront now? Check it out:

Click to enlarge again.
                     It's the 500 block of South Street! Shit, it doesn't look much better now, just a bit cleaner and with different mangled storefronts. Anyone remember Quakerhead Collectibles? It used to be on this stretch. South Street is not cool enough nowadays to have an action figure store. Here's another one: a murder scene at a nasty construction site in a seedy part of town:

Click on that and look closely. Where the fuck could it be?
                      Give up? You're looking at the construction site for Market East Station. Before Market East Station, not much of the Reading Terminal building went underground. Those are the pilings for it on the right. You can see the crappy Girard Estate block across the street. A couple of the streets seen in Blow Out look more or less the same with minor differences. In the movie, the Travolta character lives on the 300 block of Arch, in a building with a crazy mural on the side:

That is one funky mural.
View down the street 1980/1981.

Here it is now. The mural and shutters on the buiilding are gone, the trees are larger, but other than that it's pretty much the same:

I wonder if the people who live there know that they live in Blow Out's house!?!?
View down the street today. Sorry, I don't have a fucking crane like De Palma.

               Here's the 300 block of Race. So the sinister folks who alter the bullet-holed car in the movie were only a block away from the good guys' house?

Blighted-looking 300 block of Race in 1980/1981
The same block 30 and a half years later. The trees obscure the view of the bridge.
                 If you ever want a good sense of how far Philly has come, check out Blow Out. There's plenty of other scenes I didn't include in this article so see if you can spot some of the locations. In the movie, you can see the 1300 block of Chestnut when it was a two-way street, a brief view of the pitiful 1980/81 skyline, a blighted 100 block of South 15th street, the inside of Reading Terminal when it was still in use as a train station, a tagged up 30th street subway station, the ancient buildings that were still standing on the 1200 block of Market, and finally the Gallery looking EXACTLY THE SAME. There's also plenty of spots that I could not identify, so see if you can decode some.
                Any Philaphile should enjoy what goes on in the rest of this scene:



  1. The 1980's was horrific. What a cultural low-point.

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  4. Thanks for the support. There's a lot of ugly mid-century modern mahfuckers by Rittenhouse that I'll be getting to in the future.

  5. Of course. Its 2050 Walnut St. Every time I walk by I am like what were they thinking and the lot a block east, what a shame. Nice work with everything.

  6. Of course there's also the super awesome driving through City Hall...

  7. Awesome. I grew up in Olde City on North Lawrence St. between Wood & Vine and lived through this hellacious, spooky, whacked period when the area around the Ben Franklin Bridge was sketchy in daylight at best, and simply a collection of amazing, but abandoned factory buidings. WELL before the Vine St. Expressway thing was there. For almost 20 years there was a one block wide, 15 block (or more) long swath of nothing where an entire neighborhood had been razed and no expressway was built. There was just dirt, weeds and piles of earth. As a kid? It was amazing. Wild packs of dogs roamed this area. I'm not kidding. It was like the wild west smack in the middle of the city. I miss that time, though naturally the area is far nicer now.

    LOVE this blog, so glad that I ran into it!

  8. Thanks for your support and info. If you have any photos from that time period I'm sure a lot of people who read this thing would like to see them.

  9. Re: The bridal shops on South Street. It's from this era that the name the "Painted Bride" came to be (both the arts space and the literary magazine), in reference to the heavily "painted" bride mannequins that filled those stores. If I remember correctly, the Painted Bride's first location was on South Street.