Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Butt-Fugly Public Art: Life Savers by Billie Lawless

38th and Spruce, Southwest Corner

               I haven't done one of these in awhile but when I happened upon this tarnished piece of elephant dung I couldn't resist telling you about it. What a piece of trash-- people wonder why art/design/architecture from the 1980s constantly gets derided. Well, this is your answer.
              It started in 1982. The Philadelphia Art Alliance had a sculpture show at Rittenhouse Square in order to celebrate the city's 300th birthday. The city was doing pretty shitty at the time but there were signs that things were about to get better-- plans were being put into motion to clean up/rebuild the City Hall clock tower, the One Logan Square/Four Seasons complex was breaking ground, the Hershey Philadelphia Hotel (now Doubletree) Broad and Locust was just finished, and a major motion picture was being filmed in the city. 
            Sculptor Billie Lawless prepared a submission for the show and I guess he didn't have to think very hard about it because he already designed a sculpture one year earlier called Cockle-Doodle-Doo (now standing at the Buffalo State College campus) that was EXTREMELY similar. He made this 1,200 pound pile of metal dogshit in the shape of 3 half circles, painted them goofy colors, and called it Life Savers because they kind of look like the candy of the same name. I don't know how they got a hold of it, but a year later, art patrons Phillip and Muriel Berman donated it and another sculpture to the University of Pennsylvania.
            UPenn put it up right next to the doorway of their veterinary hospital's emergency room, I guess so that when you bring your dying dog in, you can see the sculpture and say to yourself "Well, it sucks that my dog's dead, but at least I didn't make that shitty sculpture!"

Photo of it from when it was first installed. Source: University of Pennsylvania Almanac, February 22,1983.

             Maybe they put it next to the veterinary hospital because it's called Life Savers and lives are saved in there? Anyway, the sculpture sat in the same spot for the next 31 years until, in the latter half of 2014, it was mysteriously moved to the corner of 38th and Spruce along with the plaque from its dedication.
             Since the move, a large pockmark has appeared on the red part, which is even more mysterious. Its not there in the Google Streetview at the original location from May 2014:

            Whatever. You'd think that if they were gonna move this thing to a location where waaaaay more people were going to see it, they would have restored the motherfucker first. Oh well-- just yet another UPenn public art atrocity. You'd think that all those fancy professors and students over there would try to make this kind of shit better, but it just keeps getting worse. Get on the ball, Penn. Get us some public art that people will actually want to look at once in awhile.

From this angle it looks just like the one at Buffalo State. Way to be creative, Billie.


Monday, June 22, 2015

Old-Ass Building: Philadelphia Savings Fund Society

200 W Washington Square

Photo by Michael Bixler
                  Everyone loves this old bastard, but now its fucking Jefferson!?!? How the hell did this happen? Read all about it at the Hidden City Daily!

Monday, June 15, 2015

Fill This Front: Qdoba Wash West

1105 Walnut Street

            A year goes by an this nicely laid-out restaurant space is still empty. What the hell is going wrong? Let's see if we can figure this one out and finally FILL THIS FRONT!
          1105 Walnut was built in 1901 under the designs of J. Franklin Stuckert, a pretty prolific local architect who doesn't really get any respect. He did the Heid Building in the Eraserhood, the long-lost Hotel Vendig, and the bitchin'-looking Berean Presbyterian Church. This and the buildings that once stood where the Wendy's is now were built due to a widening of Walnut Street in 1900.
         The building's first occupant, the Bussa Sculptured Leather Company, used the storefront for their walk-in sales so I guess they were the first user of the space. In 1905-06, S.N. Rhoads' famous Franklin Book Shop sold exotic and hard-to-find books here for a couple of years before moving down the street.

           A couple of decades later, the building became the LaSalle Hotel and they used the ground floor for their restaurant of the same name.

All the way on the left in 1929.
            I'm not sure what was going on with it for the next few decades after that but in 1956 its owner of the period decided it was time to knock it down and build something new. For some reason, those plans were shelved and the building survived. By 1965, the storefront was back in use as a barbershop.
           In 1983, the front went from use as a psychic's place to a jewelry store that only lasted one year. In 1984, Formal Dimensions came along, renting out tuxedos from the place for many years thereafter. The ghost sign of the place still decorates the eastern party wall to this day.

           In 2004, some new owners bought the building for $895k and commissioned architect Sabrina Soong to make a new storefront design, combining with the basement store retail spot(where School of Hard Knox Barber Shop was) with the 1st floor and wiping out a portion of the 2nd floor to give the space a mezzanine. In 2007, the storefront opened its doors again as Qdoba Mexican Grill.

2007, when they didn't even have a proper sign yet via the Google Streetview Time Machine.
               Things seemed to go just fine for the place but just like what happened on the 1500 block of Walnut, a Chipotle opened half a block away. There's no way of knowing if it was related, but this Qdoba location was closed by the start of the Summer of 2014. The place went up for rent that August and is yet to be filled-- but its mysterious. The listing for the place went "Off Market" November 16th but still has a "Restaurant Available" sign on it. The sign has no phone number so I don't know how anyone who is interested is supposed to get in contact with those responsible. Maybe this is like the Home 2 Suites space where someone has leased it but hasn't gotten their shit in a pile yet to get opened.
              Anyway, just in case it IS still available, let me tell you about it. The spot is 3,200 square feet (basement + ground floor + mezzanine), has 20 feet of street frontage, and, like the sign says, is fully equipped for restaurant use. This is a great block to be on if you're a food establishment, since you're right next to Jefferson Hospital, where thousands of daily employees and patient's visitors get hungry every day. You've also got the Forrest Theater across the street, and when they do have a show running (which is unfortunately like once a year), there are tons of folks milling about. At night, the bars on the block give you a whole new mess of customers.
          The space has great transit access-- Walnut Street has a whole shitload of bus lines that run along it and, like others I've mentioned, it's very close to the system's longest and most-used bus line: the 23. Combine that with proximity to the 11th Street EL stop and Jefferson Station and you get some good-ass transit options. Now all you have to do is FILL THIS FRONT!


Monday, June 8, 2015

Old-Ass Building(s): 15th and Federal

1438 Federal Street, 1440-42 Federal Street


             Everyone knows I love a good cornice-- when I found out that one of the buildings I've been wanted to write about forever was home to a Cornice King, I had to look further. Read all about the three buildings at the Southeast Corner of 15th and Federal at the Hidden City Daily!

Thursday, June 4, 2015

Fill This Front: Eastern Computer

425 South 15th Street Suite 1

                   Kind of a short one today-- there isn't much info out there about this little spot. However, I sure as shit haven't forgotten about it. After all, when the same occupant manages to hold the same spot for 25 years, there's no reason why that space should have to still be empty around a year later. This, then, is where we try to get this FRONT FILLed!
           From what I can tell, the space Eastern Computer occupied for all that time has a history of being a beauty shop in the 1950s and early 60s, a coffee shop in the late 60s and early 70s, and that's about it. A clothing store got rejected by zoning in 1986. It was in 1989 that Eastern Computer came along and held down the space for 25 goddamn years thereafter.  EASTERN Computer? East of what? How is an Eastern Computer different than a Western Computer?
          Some of you young bulls out there may not understand what a computer store is. Back in the day, there were tons of privately-owned computer stores out there where you could buy retail computers or get a custom one built. You could also buy all the games, peripherals, and other shit you buy at big box stores or online now. This all brings me back to when I was a kid and my Dad wanted to buy a home computer after taking some classes at Rider U. One of his dumb work friends told him that the only way to get a good deal on a computer was to go to a Computer Show and buy one of the ones built by the owner and proprietor of a custom computer store.
        I remember when my parents were gone all day at this computer show in Red Bank, NJ and came home with a gigantic 386/25 equipped with a 2400 baud modem, a 5 1/4 disk drive and a 3 1/2 disk drive, a PC Speaker, and a 40 meg hard drive! The motherfucker didn't even have a mouse! It took forever for my Dad to figure out how to hook it up and by the next night we all got to get a look at the Dos Shell!!

This is what it looked like, except this is 4 versions after the one we had.
          After about 3 months of use playing Life and Death, Alge-blaster Plus, shitty shareware games we'd pick up for $1 or download from BBSes for a million years, the computer broke like a motherfucker. The family now had to bring it up to Piscataway NJ, where the shitbag who built this computer's store was. We did this every 3 months for the next year or so. It was my first computer and it was a fucking lemon. We eventually figured out that we were better off going to the local privately owned computer store in town, Jerry's Custom Computers.
         Jerry himself fixed our computer in an hour and whenever something went wrong with it for the next 4 years, my Dad would call him to get a solution over the phone and then mail him a $15 check. My brother ended up taking the computer with him to college and by the time we bought our second computer, a Pentium/75 with a 1 gig harddrive, a 28.8 bps modem, and a CD-Rom, Jerry's Custom Computers and pretty much every other privately computer store in the burbs had long gone out of business, snuffed out the growth of Dell and big box stores.
       However, in the cities, these stores survived. Even to this day, there are still a few kicking out there, altering themselves to fit the times like Bundy Computer, for example. Others managed to survive for massively long periods of time while carrying the exact same business model-- Eastern Computer, until 2014, was one of them, rocking the corner of 16th and Lombard for 24 years without even changing their sign or the shit in their display window. Even ATM-Computing 2000+ at 53rd and Spruce changed some of their shit up during that time. Others shifted their focus to phones-- you see plenty of what I call the Electronic Junk stores around the city-- not as many in the past few years, however.
        Ok, enough nostalgia about old time PC computing. The empty storefront is what's important. This retail storefront lies at the northeast corner of 15th and Lombard-- a high-foot traffic corner close enough to the University of the Arts, Symphony House, South Street stuff, and other attractions that there's no reason why the right person couldn't make this place shine. Its pretty close to the Broad Street Line and is located on the route of the hard-to-find 40 Bus. However, the 4, 27, and 32 all have stops a block away and serve a large portion of the region.
       I'm not sure what the square footage of the space is but it's pretty small. However, any number of businesses like small spaces like this-- a corner cafe, a small art gallery, you name it. It doesn't appear that this thing is available for lease, at least not yet, but it wouldn't hurt if you called the owners of the Gibson Apts (look is up in OPA) and offered a few bucks to lease this place. What are they gonna do? Turn down extra income?
       However you do it, get on the ball with this one and FILL THIS FRONT!

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Old-Ass Building: Bellevue Court Building

1418 Walnut St

Photo by Michael Bixler
            I've always loved this skinny bastard but never knew that there used to be a street next to it. Not only that-- the building is named after that street! Read all about it at the Hidden City Daily!

Thursday, May 21, 2015

GroJLart's Favorite Grub!

              I often get asked about what bars and restaurants I enjoy around the city-- I've avoided posting such a thing because there are plenty of food blogs etc out there already, however I've finally given in and have written it all down. I know most of you probably don't give a shit, but I think I'm ready to list for ya the ones I like the most... and if you don't like it, FUCK YOU!! It's my birthday. How am I 35 already? I was 25 like two weeks ago as far as I'm concerned.
        Everyone thinks they're an expert on food and restaurants-- I blame the Food Network just like I blame HGTV for making everyone think they're a house flipper. Yelp made things worse by making people think that anyone gives a fuck about what individual shitbirds think about a certain establishment and caused this bullshit I see where people whip out their phones to take a picture as soon as food is placed in front of them. Nonetheless, I'll present to you the ones I like while also admitting that I am not a culinary expert nor claim to know what its like to run a restaurant or bar.
        I should preface this by telling you that I go through stages where I go to the same place over and over again, get tired of it, and then move on to another spot to go over and over again. Therefore, some of these places are spots I like to go to now and some of them are places I used to go to once a week and have moved on from, but still like a lot.
         I have placed them into categories I totally made up on the spot but think are appropriate for organizational purposes:

Friday Nighters: Places I've gone to over and over again on Friday nights for months at a time.

Gennaro's Tomato Pie, 1429 Jackson St:

         This place is the motherfucking bizzomb!! They've been around since like 1916 and offer super-crispy tomato pies on a super-thin crust. It almost seems like this is the place Nomad Roman and some others like it are trying to be. The service is awesome, the atmosphere is great, it doesn't get too crowded, and its a BYOB!! I can't say enough good shit about Gennaro's. I almost don't want to tell you about it in the fear that it might start getting too popular. Nonetheless, they definitely get the GroJLart Seal of Approval, for whatever that's worth.

Cheu Noodle Bar, 255 South 10th St:

         You probably all know about Cheu already, but in case you don't, this is where you can get some good-ass ramen dishes that are made in unique and interesting varieties. Its not for people who are hardcore traditional ramen believers, but for folks who want to taste something good. The place is small as fuck, but that's part of the reason I like it. Sit at the bar and watch them make your meal. They change the menu constantly so even if you get tired of their current menu you know it will be changing soon (of course this can backfire if you really like something and they change it too much). Friendly and personal service-- after you go there a few times they will definitely remember you. Places always remember me because I'm a weirdo but they remember normal folks too from what I understand.

Franky Bradley's, 1320 Chancellor St: 

         This is probably the newest place on this list but its probably the one of the best. Franky Bradley's is the modern version of a classic Philly steak house of the same name that was in the same location! The food combos on the menu seem like they were arranged by an insane person but when you try them, they knock your fucking socks off! I'm pretty sure there's a hole in their wall somewhere from when my actual socks blew off at terminal velocity from tasting one of their appetizers.

Breakfast/Second Breakfast: Where to get that awesome meal in the morning-- or second breakfast, where to get kick-ass breakfast items in the afternoon.

Dutch Eating Place, Reading Terminal Market:

           HOLY CRAP!! Hands down the best breakfast I know about anywhere at any time. I've been going to this place on and off for at least five years and I still haven't gotten past the pancakes. Maybe their other items on the menu are horrible, but I'll probably never know. At the Dutch Eating Place, you get super-huge pancakes along with a piece of sausage the size of your head and a pat of butter that you could pick up with both hands. Real maple syrup, kick-ass super-friendly fast service, and all for a very very insanely low price!

Excellent. Image by Monavano at
Silk City Diner 435 Spring Garden Street:

        Its a diner, its a bar, its a lounge, its an everything. Again, can't get past the pancakes, which they call Silk Cakes. These motherfuckers are malted pancake batter with a pre-installed slice of bacon!! Don't want to wait forever? Go there for a Second Breakfast in the afternoon.

Honorable Mention:

Honey's Sit N' Eat Numerous Locations:

       Another good spot for a Second Breakfast since nowhere is worth waiting an hour in the morning. Pretty decent prices, great service, good food. Whole Wheat Pancakes.

Let's Get Drunk: Places to get your drink on and have a good time. I find that people get very particular about the type of venue they get wasted in so this is the list that will probably create the most ire out there.

McGlinchey's 259 South 15th Street:

           I like this place so much that I went nuts researching its long history and interviewing its owner. This was my first Philly bar and will probably be my last. I quit smoking again this last Thanksgiving so I haven't been there in awhile, but the place is great-- cheap beers up to and including Yeungling Porter on draft, the graffiti in the bathroom, the massive variety of characters drinking together-- it can't be beat.

It's daytime in this picture, I swear! Pic by Brad Maule
 Oscar's Tavern 1524 Sansom Street:

           This place is a great non-smoking alternative to McGlinchey's-- they even have the same booths! Not only can you get some tall-ass draft beers here for a good price, the servers remember you even when you haven't been there in a year AND the cheesefries are fucking awesome!! There was one time when I sat next to the chef on the Broad Street Line and beamed with pride for being in his deep fried presence. Back in the day they used to have a DJ in on Friday nights-- the guy was so good that I hired him for my wedding!

Bar-Ly 101 North 11th Street:

            Do you like to get drunk and then eat some fattening-ass foods? This is the place for you. Sixty beers on tap, including the entire line up of Six Point beers. Once you're drunk enough, there's a massive assortment on the menu, from cheeseburgers to sushi. Its also a huge sports bar with TV's everywhere if you're into that sort of thing. They claim to be the largest sports bar in Chinatown but since the largest actual restaurant space in the whole city (Public House) is a block away that doesn't seem to matter much. The best part about this place is going to the bathroom-- its located down a long hallway and seems to be shared with the HSBC Bank branch on the same floor.

Bongo Bar and Deck 401 South Columbus Avenue (Deck of the Moshulu):

           I discovered this place while hanging out at the Spruce Street Harbor Park last summer-- I wish I knew about it before!! This is a bar on the deck of the Moshulu where you can get drunk while sitting among the fake masts/lines/yard arms that were added to the ship in 1970 to make it look old-timey. Not only are the beers cheap as fuck compared to everywhere else around, you can smoke cigarettes on the outdoor part of the deck! Its also a great spot to watch the Penn's Landing fireworks on the 4th of July. This is one of those spots that tourists and out-of-towners know more about than actual Philadelphians, so you can often meet people there from parts unknown.

Honorable Mention: 

Frankford Hall 1210 Frankford Ave:

             A great spot for larger groups and great beers. I love how you can get drafts in a big-ass glass-- keeps you from going back and forth for beers constantly. I also quite enjoy going there for Urban Geek Drinks-- as I am Urban, a Geek, and I DRINK! In fact, I'm going to the one tonight! See you there! The food is pretty good too!

Gastro-explosions: Places where I can't stop eating and/or drinking for one reason or another

Dock Street Brewing Company 701 South 50th St:

             Despite its extremely misleading name, this place is located at the corner of 50th and Baltimore Avenue in West Philly. They've got their own awesome beers they make on site and offer a vast array of great food items. The Flammenkuche Pizza was my first favorite that I would get every time I was there until I had the Vegan Pesto Wrap and now I can't get enough of that one. They have these great panko-crusted mozz sticks that I call Mozzarella Pods and plenty of other great shit. I've been going there for at least 7 years and they are good at handling large groups as well.

Tashan 777 South Broad St:

          This is one of those places where even when the service is shit and you feel stupid for coming back, you forgive them the moment the food is placed in front of you. Seriously, I need to get away from this place. I like it so much that I wish it never existed. I first went there about the same week it opened and remember how silly it was when they'd give a big group the menu on a single iPad that we all had to pass around (they don't do that crap anymore) and how crazy the bathroom looked-- I just want to take a piss, not have a life-changing experience! The next few times I went the service was inconsistent and sometimes downright bad... but the food... that Old Delhi Butter Chicken should be illegal in like 17 states. That shit is fucking crack, I tell ya!!

Best crack I ever ate. Image by John of the Belly of the Pig food blog.
 Honorable Mentions: 

Supper 926 South St:

       A little pricier than I like but the food is outstanding. They serve a burger bigger than your mom's ass and who knew that duck and waffles went together? Genius! Great service too.

Brauhaus Schmitz 718 South St:

        Get the Schweinshaxe and you'll understand.

Snack Attack: For those random moments when you want a bite of something good. 

Cake and the Beanstalk 1112 Locust St:

              Chocolate Chip Cookie Ice Cream Sandwich-- that's all I have to say. It'll change your goddamn life for only 5 bucks.

Miller's Twist Reading Terminal Market:

             I don't even fucking like pretzels! Nonetheless, the pretzels from Miller's Twist at the Terminal are ungoddamnbelievable. Don't believe me? Try 'em! You won't be disappointed... and if you are, fuck you.

I love you Miller, whoever you are. Image from
            Well there you have it. Don't approve of my choices? Think I'm a moron for liking any of this shit? Well, joke's on you! You read all the way down to here. I'll get back to architecture and shit next week.