homeprev issuesexecpublic affairsSTAFFASA home

2005 ASA Annual Meeting . . . Our 100th Meeting!

Philly Delights: Where to Walk, Look, Take Kids, and Do a Little Shopping

The third article in a series highlighting ASA’s upcoming 2005 centennial meeting in Philadelphia

by Magali Sarfatti Larson, Temple University

“It’s a 19th-century city, and it works!” That is what a delighted British historian said about Philadelphia the first time I showed him around. What’s more, Philadelphia is simultaneously a 18th-, an 19th-, and a 20th-century city, all while becoming a 21st-century city. Still the fifth largest U.S. city, Philadelphia, like other major cities, is beset by grave problems, some of which (e.g., flight of people to the suburbs and flight of industry for any low wage place) we have been among the first to experience. Yet Philly still is eminently livable and fascinating. Sociologist David Elesh will show you the many faces of Philadelphia in a tour that has captivated sociologists, urbanists, and even his friends and relatives!

Traveler Magazine ranks Philadelphia among one of the best restaurant cities in the country, and you likely have heard about the Philadelphia Orchestra. Be sure to check on their programs (in the summer, the orchestra performs at the Mann Center in Fairmount Park), but do not forget the Philadelphia Chamber Music Society, the Opera Company, the Concerto Soloists, the Pennsylvania Ballet, the Relâche Ensemble, or the experimental performance art at the Painted Bride Arts Center. At least some should have performances during August. For classic jazz and less classic music, David Grazian will be your guide in the July/August Footnotes Annual Meeting article. Our downtown “art” cinemas, the Ritz Five, Ritz East, and the Ritz Bourse, are in Society Hill. A marvelous old theater, the Prince, on Chestnut, just off Broad Street, stages repertory cinema and musicals.

Sample Itineraries

To lure you out of the hotels, I propose a few itineraries, most of them walking tours. You are bound to discover much, much more. If you do not feel like walking, the blue bus called “PHLASH” stops at 12th and Market Streets in front of the Marriott and at most tourist sites, all the way to the Art Museum. It costs $4 for all day, $10 for a family, or $1 each time you board (for more details, see You could not possibly do all these tours, but let us give you choices and show off a little!

The Parkway and Museums Walk to City Hall and bear right, pass in front of Mayor Rizzo’s statue and take the Parkway, beyond the small Love Park (notice Robert Indiana’s sculpture only recently—and stupidly—snatched away from champion skateboarders). At Logan Circle, you will find the Free Library. With 6 million volumes and a unique Rare Books Department, it is one of the great U.S. libraries; check its free programs. Leaving the Library, one block to your left on 20th Street will take you back within sight of the graceful fountain by the second Alexander Calder. In front of you on the Circle is the Academy of Natural Sciences, founded in 1812, small, but with lots of dinosaur replicas for kids; to the left, the dark red pile of the Catholic Cathedral; to the right, the Franklin Institute’s science museum and planetarium, as remarkable for its historical artifacts as for contemporary exhibits. Just behind the Institute, at 210 21st Street, is the delightful Please Touch Museum for younger children. These are active, progressive institutions, often as exciting for adults as they are for the kids, but if you have time for only one visit, you may have to turn left on the side allées of the Parkway, toward the Schuylkill River and our world-class Museum of Art. On the way, the small Rodin Museum on your right contains original works by the master.

Ascend the Philadelphia Museum of Art’s monumental steps slowly (although you are allowed to run up, like Rocky Balboa), look back on the Parkway and City Hall, and enter the Great Stairs Hall. You must not miss the second-floor medieval and Renaissance galleries, renovated to house the Johnson collection and Italian and Flemish art holdings. My opinion many times confirmed by European visitors is that we have the most stunning painting by Rogier van der Weyden in the world. But you do not want to miss the Mulhenny and Gallatin collections of Impressionists and modern art, or the most important Duchamps in the world and some of the most beautiful Brancusis in the renowned Arensberg collection. Undeniably one of the four most important museums in the country, it is worth a special trip to Philadelphia. Closed on Mondays, and free on Sundays before 1 pm; it has a good cafeteria, an elegant restaurant, and at least three great stores. I highly recommend it as a shopping venue for interesting crafts, art books, and beautiful objects. In the back of the Museum, look at the Schuylkill’s waterfalls, graced on the right by the neo-classic Water Works and the Victorian Boat House Row. East River Drive, one of our urban delights, begins here and goes all the way to the Wissahickon and the North East districts, part of which will be shown and narrated by our own Elijah Anderson in a tour down Germantown Avenue. You will also be able to descend the Parkway by bus with Sherri Grasmuck, who will tell you about its urban conflicts and take you to the Eastern Penitentiary of Tocquevillian fame; adults and kids love this spooky radial prison.

Center City and the Reading Market

Walk two blocks west toward City Hall, at the intersection of Market and Broad Streets, so wittily described by Michael Zuckerman in the February 2005 Footnotes article (p. 1). It is worth visiting the Council chambers and the observation deck, which are free. One block north on Broad, at the corner of Cherry Street, you can admire the renovation of the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts, Frank Furness’s eclectic masterpiece, but you should also find some time for the great collection of American art (its most famous painting may well be Peaceable Kingdom, by Edward Hicks, but my favorite is Horace Pippin’s Hanging of John Brown). South and east of City Hall, Lord and Taylor’s clothing store occupies the building of the celebrated John Wanamaker department store by Daniel Burnham; you can take the kids to hear the world’s largest pipe organ playing at noon and at 5 pm. Three blocks south on Broad Street, on your right, you will see the historic Union Club, and continue past the old Academy of Music, the very modern Wilma theater by Hardy, Holzmann, Pfeiffer, on your left, and the Merriam on your right, toward the brand new, rather flashy, but acoustically perfect Kimmel Center for the Performing Arts, home of the Philadelphia Orchestra, by the fashionable architect Rafael Viñoly. Tours are free everyday except Monday, at 1 pm.

If you cross Broad going east, retracing your steps to Locust Street, you will find the Library Company of Philadelphia, at number 1314, the first subscription library in the United States, founded in 1731 by Ben Franklin, of course. From there, turn left on 12th Street, cross Market, walk one block, cross Filbert; you are about to enter one of our most cherished living monuments, the Reading Terminal Market. Walk around, taste, drink, enjoy! From Wednesday to Saturday, you can buy pretzels and shoofly pie from Amish and Mennonite farmers. The market is open every day except Sunday, and you can also find jewelry, somewhat unusual clothes, organic soaps, and any kitchen tool you may ever have wanted at Foster’s Gourmet Cookware. Citizens managed to save this beloved shopping and eating place from destruction by the Convention Center, and you will be grateful, as we are. Chinatown surrounds the Reading Terminal, north to Spring Garden and east to about 8th Street. It is open for dinner and enriched by a variety of Asian restaurants. You find classic stores and markets, but check also Lily Song’s New China Bookstore at 1010 Race Street for music and videos as well as books, and her brand new Shanghai Bazaar at 1016 Race.

On Market Street, the Gallery, at 10th Street, is linked underground by an enormous food court to Market Place, eastward, all the way to 7th. Chain stores like K-Mart and a sometimes better variety of clothing and shoe stores, perfumes, and candies proliferate. The anchor store strives to maintain the elegance of the old Strawbridge and Clothier. You can walk with air conditioning to 7th Street and visit the exceptional African American Museum at 7th and Arch Streets before getting to Independence Hall: you will find there over a million photographs of African American life in Philadelphia, as well as records of the slave trade and all aspects of enslaved and free Black life in America, including the epochal struggle for liberation. The Atwater Kent Museum is immediately south of Market, at 15 South 7th, and it contains one of the most extensive collections of Americana in the country, including Norman Rockwell paintings. Across the street, the Balch Institute of Ethnic Studies still houses artifacts, collections and a very important library, even though it has merged with the Historical Society of Pennsylvania.

Independence Hall, Society Hill, and a Little of South Philly

The National Historical Park, the “most historic square mile in the US,” is obviously a “must see” for your kids (just make them go!). The Park is on both sides of Market, between 6th and 5th, with the Liberty Bell enshrined in the middle, the Visitors Center on the left (north) side of Market and farther away the beautiful and brand new Constitution Center. Kim Scheppele has organized for us a special session in the Center, on the often conflictive process by which it came to be. The U.S. Park Service runs several tours daily in the summer, most of them free. They will show you Independence Hall, Bishop White’s house (at 309 Walnut) and Dolly Todd’s at 4th and Walnut. Widowed in 1793 by the yellow fever epidemic, Dolly later married a young politician, James Madison, who turned out to be a good bet. Independence Hall is the “cradle of the country,” as they say, and the building itself is worth seeing. The lovely, shady Washington Square is south and to the right of Independence Hall, but a few blocks down you will find the stately 18th century First Bank of the United States at 116 South 3rd and two great buildings by William Strick- land, one of the 19th century great American architects: the Philadelphia Exchange at 3rd and Walnut, and the Second Bank, on Chestnut, between 4th and 5th. Still, my favorite is Carpenter Hall, in the park, between the First Bank and Chestnut Street, site of the First Continental Congress, as delightful an example of 18th century architecture as one can find in the country. Crossing Chestnut, on the north side, between Fourth and Orianna, you can enter Franklin’s Court, where Franklin’s print shop and rental houses used to be. The first Post Office opens on the Market Street side, and our great Philadelphia architect Robert Venturi has erected “ghost houses” and “archeological exhibits” to represent what no longer is. The subterranean museum is equally imaginative and fun for children.

Society Hill, the area that surrounds the National Historical Park on the south is one of the first and most successful urban renovations in the United States. It is impossible to tell you what to do in detail, but we are lucky that our colleague George Dowdall has offered to guide a walking tour. This extraordinary district encloses the largest concentration of 18th- and early 19th-century houses and cobblestone streets in the country. If you cannot go with George, get a guide book, or a map from the Visitors’ Center and explore Society Hill on foot, discovering the elegant St. Peter’s Church (at Third and Pine, in front of Thaddeus Kosciusko’s house), the Physick and Powel houses, and the lovely Pine and Delancey Streets. Walk through Head House Square, all the way south to the Old Swedes or Gloria Dei Church, built in 1700, at Water Street between Christian and Washington (a long way, but worth it!); it is exactly like a little country church in Central Sweden.

You may want to wander around in south Philly and head west on Christian toward the 9th Street market, which non-locals call “Italian.” It is a great outdoor food market, open every day except Sunday afternoon and Mondays, a bustling street of stalls and shops between Christian and Federal and a living demonstration of the city’s changing ethnic composition. You can also walk west on South Street from Head House Square. South Street is the historic dividing line between Society Hill and Philadelphia’s formerly black neighborhoods (where W.E.B. Dubois did his research for The Philadelphia Negro); a nightly Mecca for young people, it is quiet during the day. It has some fun shops in a neighborhood of excellent BYOB restaurants, and a great store for used books, the Book Trader at 5th.

Old City, North of Market

Every guidebook will send you to Elfreth’s Alley on North Second Street, the oldest street continuously inhabited in the United States, of which the residents are inordinately proud (Lewis Mumford derided, their exaggerated love for these “mean little houses,” but they are really cute; there is one you can visit, and realize how small the people must have been!). Your kids will love Fireman’s Hall, at 147 North Second, where Franklin founded the first volunteer fire company. I love Old City with its old cast-iron buildings, its little streets, its old factories (converted into super-expensive lofts, alas), its working stores dedicated to restaurant equipment, its vistas of the Ben Franklin Bridge, which is lighted in delicate blue at night, its harmonious architectural and social eclecticism. It has great new cafés (try Le Petit 4’s pastry shop at 160 North Third) and truly interesting galleries and shops. Claire Renzeti recommends The Clay Studio (139 North 2nd) and The Works Gallery (303 Cherry Street). Along Third Street, the Tribal Home offers antique objects from Africa, while Flotsam and Jetsam and Indigo Arts offer more eclectic items. Further north, at 501 Vine Street, find the renowned Wood Turning Center, a gallery and resource center. One can find fun clothing and accessories on North Third, or at Me & Blue, at 311 Market Street, on the second floor.

Old City extends north of Market, between 5th and Front, starting at the Constitution Center and moving toward Girard Avenue and the gentrifying Northern Liberties (if you can, check out Second Street between Spring Garden and Poplar at night!). Old City has more than its share of historical sites: Ben and Deborah Franklin are buried in the old Christ Church burial grounds at 5th and Arch. A few steps north on 5th Street, visit the United States Mint and take the self-guided tour, or go half a block south, toward the unique National Museum of American Jewish History, housed together with the “Synagogue of the American Revolution.” Heading east, down Arch Street, are other sites to visit: the most important Quaker Meeting House in the country, on the right, between 4th and 3rd, site of the Yearly Meeting and a haven for progressive movements in the city. Inside, you will find scenes of the life of William Penn that emphasize the founder’s historical importance; around it, a very interesting burial ground. Just across the street from the Meeting House, you can see through iron gates the charmingly restored houses of historic Loxley Court, as well as a huge and rather ugly statue of Ben Franklin made of pennies. Cross Third Street toward Betsy Ross’s House—the much married lady probably did not live in this one, but in one just like it in this neighborhood. It is well worth a visit, especially with the kids. At 235 4th Street, going under the big bridge, you will find, beside the Painted Bride Art Center, the oldest Methodist church in continuous use in the world, St. George, with its museum and lovely garden. Opposite St. George is Catholic St. Augustine, rebuilt in 1847 after the original was burnt down in the frightening anti-Catholic riots of 1844. I left beautiful Christ Church for the end. It is on Second Street, just off Arch, but it is reachable from Third, through the uneven cobblestones of lovely Church Street. As you go, stop at Old City Coffee on your left, which was for many years the only place with decent espresso in Philadelphia ... how times change! At the Rectory, rest in the peaceful garden off Market Street, and enter the magnificent interior. It is the most historic shrine in America, but to me it symbolizes a sort of utopian Jamesian view of America, graceful and simple and unassuming, against the somber and hierarchical mood of much grander European churches. Christ Church’s interior, where George Washington and Betsy Ross came to worship, resembles an airy, sun-drenched, white drawing room. It is one of the places I prefer in this remarkable city.

Rittenhouse Square and Traditional Shopping

You can spend a lot of time here, but my description is brief. Seven blocks south from the hotels, on Pine, beginning at 13th, you will find our charming Antiques Row, all the way to Pine and 9th. Between 9th and 8th admire the first hospital in the United States, Pennsylvania Hospital, and its delightful medicinal herb garden.

Second, you should go toward Rittenhouse Square: walk to Broad Street, turn left, go to the famous old hotel Bellevue at the corner of Walnut and Broad, which has a few pricey shops and a lower-level food court where I particularly like the Mexican food stand. However, two blocks north, at Chestnut and 17th, Liberty Place has the ubiquitous “rather upscale” shops and food that you find everywhere; the glass-enclosed atrium is nice, although it has now become an urban cliché. Daffy’s, the big discount store at Chestnut and 17th is a lot more fun and full of real bargains in European designer clothes. Return to Walnut Street and turn right. Walnut, 17th and 18th Streets are the domain of fancy restaurants and elegant stores. The latter you can find in every big city, but we are grateful they have not fled to the suburbs. Walking west on Walnut, you will soon arrive at Ritten- house Square, one of Penn’s four original squares, a green island of repose surrounded by open-air cafés and hotels (the Rittenhouse boasts Lacroix’s restaurant, considered “sublime” by connoisseurs). At 130 South 19th, the very European café La Colombe, has exceptionally good coffee, better than in Italy [although some say that Caffé Hausbrandt, close to the hotels at 207 S 15th Street, is better, maybe; what it does have is Internet access from 7 am to 10 pm]. Off Rittenhouse Square, at 18th and Locust, is the famous Curtis Institute of Music, where you can inquire if the students are offering any concerts (they are free in season) and the Art League is one block South. In the streets adjacent to Rittenhouse, or around Fitler Square, at Pine and 22nd, and all the way to the Schuylkill River, are some of the prettiest urban sights in the United States.

I have only begun to scratch the surface of Philadelphia! But I cannot omit the University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology, at 3260 South Street, a beautiful, Victorian, and hip University City. It is truly one of the country’s best, with Egyptian and Mayan holdings and temporary exhibitions that are worth the trip. And our superb Fairmount Park, the largest urban park in the world, with its grandiose old villas, Japanese Tea House, Memorial Hall, and two superb River Drives. Other things to know about include: Temple University’s urban archives, the Charles Blockson Afro-American Collection, the concerts at Rock Hall, the dance performances, and the excellent student theater; the remnants of grandeur, industrial and bourgeois, amidst the devastation of North Philadelphia; the Freedom Theater; Edgar Allan Poe’s house; the Octavia Hill Association; the Wagner Museum of Science; the Taller Puertoriqueño on vibrant North 5th, the main artery of the Barrio. I also have not mentioned the authentic working-class neighborhoods (Kensington, Fishtown, Port Richmond, Pennsport to the south), or the house of John Coltrane and that of Paul Robeson, or some of the most beautiful residential wooded areas I have ever seen in any city—Mount Airy and Chestnut Hill—or the Wissahickon Valley, which could easily be somewhere in the mountains, miles away. Or Manayunk, with its now fashionable Main Street, the bike race’s “Wall,” and the old canal . . . .

But you will come back. If you look with open eyes and mind at this old contradictory city, you will never again condone one of those ignorant jokes about Philadelphia. And you will feel sorry for those living in gentrified and prettified cities without even knowing they do.