Wednesday, February 18, 2015

99 Years Ago in Philadelphia: Middle of February, 1916

UPenn to Build Big Motherfucking Stadium!!

Its not the one you think. North is to the right on this plan, btw. Image from the Library of Congress
          In 1916, Philadelphians and UPenn officials were feeling pretty snubbed due to the Army Navy game going to NYC instead of Philly because there wasn't a stadium big enough to hold it. Sure, the University got some really bad land very very cheap from the U.S. Military to build their own Franklin Field in 1895, but that piece of shit was at the time only designed for 19,000 people and at times stuffed in 32,000.
         University officials, led by one George Neitzche, got their shit together with city to build not just a new stadium, but a giganto-fucking huge one. After all, plans for a Grand Assembly Centre in Fairmount Park had fallen through and the sesquicentennial was still 10 years away. With this new gigantic stadium would not only lock in the Army Navy game, but might even be able to get the Olympics!
        The site for this new $750,000, 100,000-seat stadium would be Woodland Ravine, a forgotten piece of geography that was a depression on the southeastern side of Woodland Cemetery. This would be the perfect place to have a half-sunken stadium. Along with it would come a sunken Greek Theatre(which was proposed for the ravine 6 months earlier), an educational building, and a new dormitory building. UPenn's Botanical Garden of the era would be extended into the stadium grounds. A new train station called Union Station would feature a Pennsylvania Railroad stop AND a stop on a proposed elevated subway line connected to the current MFL that was never built. Cars could reach the new complex from the newly-built University Avenue (which was in a slightly different location at the time) and a proposed Franklin Boulevard, a Parkway meant to connect UPenn with Fairmount Park via 500-foot-wide street running in the area in between 33rd and 34th Streets.
       Preliminary plans were put together by a flash-in-the-pan architecture firm named Koronski & Cameron and the rendering, seen above, was passed all over town and were published in newspapers all across the country. This was going to be a big fucking deal!!
       As it ends up, the huge stadium plan started fizzling almost immediately. About a week after first proposed, the 100,000-seater became a 75,000-seater. About five years later, it was decided that an expansion of Franklin Field would be more prudent, and the stadium that's still there today is the result. Despite the massive success of Franklin Field, its most well-known and oft-cited event is the 1968 booing of Santa Claus.
       The Woodland Ravine ended up becoming the site of the Philadelphia VA Medical Center in 1950. The huge and exceedingly dangerous intersection of University Avenue and Civic Center Boulevard now stands at the location of where the stadium would have been.

The Mystery of the "Masked Widow" Makes Philly Go Nuts

Image from the Library of Congress
           In the Middle of February, 1916, a mysterious woman arrived in Philadelphia by train wearing a white mask. She walked the streets, stopped traffic and caused a crowd of onlookers to hold up the sidewalk. She had a "svelte" frame, blond hair, blue eyes, and spoke like a rich socialite. She claimed that her name was Dorothy Kensington and that she had just returned to America from London.
         She explained that she had met a poor but fine British Lieutenant in England while her rich family was visiting and married him against her father's wishes. He was killed a year before in the Second Battle of Ypres and Mrs. Kensington had finally gotten up the gumption to return to Philadelphia. She wore a mask to conceal herself from the other Philadelphia blue bloods so as not to shame her family. She first tried to book a room at the Bellevue-Stratford but was turned away because the mask and the crowd it generated were seen as bad mojo for the hotel. She then tried the Hotel Majestic at Broad and Girard but was rejected there as well. Word spread quicky of this hot chick walking around in a mask and the fairly new Hotel Adelphia though it would be a good idea to give her a room so they could get their name out there.
       Her and the man who said she was her brother stayed there for one night before making their way over to the Continental Hotel. By this point, everyone in the city knew about the Masked Widow and their 4 block walk from 12th/Chestnut to 8th/Chestnut was almost a goddamn riot. The brother and sister announced that they were low on money and would take any job. Dorothy noted that she would be a maid or work in a mill if she had to, but then went about demonstrating her great singing voice. This led some to believe that she was an actress and that this might be a publicity stunt for an upcoming play.
        A few days later, news had spread to other cities about the Masked Widow, and by the end of the week she was doing interviews with New York papers and had been signed by a vaudeville theater manager in Boston.
       Of course, Boston is exactly where she wanted to go. It ends up that the Masked Widow was a young debutant from Boston named Alice Crowley. After missing appointments with her violin/acting/singing coach, she wagered with him that she was talented enough to get a job without further instruction and that she could make herself famous enough within a month to secure herself a job. She donned the mask, made up the widow story, and hopped a train to Philadelphia with her manager so she could enact the plan. Philadelphia was chosen because, well, she figured Philadelphians were stupid enough to fall for her gag. It worked, but backfired. After about 7 or 8 nights of working as a singer, she became overwhelmed by vaudeville work and quit.
      She ended up penning her entire story for the Boston Sunday Post in March, where it was finally revealed publicly who the mysterious Masked Widow was.

George Washington Vs. Chinatown: the Final Battle

        An old bum who called himself George Washington stumbled his way into Chinatown while taking a walk away from his usual Skid Row haunts. Some local Chinatown residents stood at their doorways, observing George for the specimen of homelessness that he was. George responded by walking up to their doorways and staring right back at them. The first "Celestials" to whom he did this kicked his ass and threw him into the middle of the street. Undeterred, George got up and continued on his Chinatown tour.
        Now untrustworthy of groups of Chinese immigrants, the drunken George Washington then approached such a group he saw that was staring at him and talking amongst themselves. Washington figured they must be plotting against him. George pushed them all down onto the street, which seemed to be a successful preemptive measure until they stood up and proceeded to kick his ass.
       Washington then pulled off one of his boots and threw it at one of his attackers. He missed and hit a rich fellow, no doubt a descendant of one of the remaining rich families that inhabited what is now Chinatown in the mid 19th Century,  right in the top hat. The rich dude turned around, cleared some of his Chinese neighbors out of the way, and beat the living shit out of George Washington with his cane. This got the attention of Policeman Burgess, who then led the bleeding and bootless George Washington to the 11th and Winter Streets station (now the site of the 6th District police station). Magistrate Collins, after hearing the story, made a deal with Washington. He could either go to prison or be exonerated of all charges if he was able to run back to Skid Row in five minutes. Old George chose the latter.

Behold the Camden Viaduct!

Image from the Library of Congress
             Its finally going to happen. The Philadelphia-Camden Bridge, proposed about 7 times in different forms over a 100 year period may actually come to fruition. In mid-February, 1916, the Philadelphia end of the Philadelphia-Camden Bridge Commission was voted for approval by City Council, the Jersey half of the deal already authorized a few weeks earlier. City Council was busy that week-- they also approved funding for the Free Library of Philadelphia and the Parkway version of Convention Hall that was never built. This commission replaced the Penn Memorial Bridge Commission that was formed in 1913.
          The new $20,000,000 bridge, called both the Camden Viaduct and the Philadelphia-Camden Bridge, had a brand new design by Walter Williams Shipley, modified from one that was rejected a few years before. This one was a double-decked cantilever steel bridge that would span across the Delaware a distance of 1,970 while flying 150 feet high. It would connect between 6th and Market in Philly with 7th and Cooper in Camden. The new bridge would also have a truck/dray(freight) deck, trolley tracks,and a foot path. This thing was gonna kick ass!!
        While World War I held up progress on this awesome-looking bridge, the Philadelphia-Camden Bridge Commission argued for two years if the crossing should be a bridge or tunnel, only to re-affirm it to be a bridge in 1918. In 1919, the Delaware River Joint Bridge Commission was formed and work on the bridge, though of a completely different design by Rudolph Modjeski, and, after much discussion, at a different location than originally planned, began in 1922 and was completed in 1926. All these years later, the bridge still stands, named the Ben Franklin Bridge in 1956 and was painted blue in 1976.

Monday, February 16, 2015

Old-Ass Building: Miles Building

218-226 South 11th Street

Photo by Michael Bixler
             It took me nearly 4 years to figure out the history of this place. I walk by it almost every day and have always wondered where it came from. After a shitload of false starts and research dead-ends, I've finally got it covered. Read all about it at the Hidden City Daily!