November 25, 2002

The Best and Worst of the City of Brotherly Love

Arranged in Thoroughly Random and Unrelated Pairings

PHILADELPHIA - LOVE IT: The PSFS Building is one of Philadelphia’s many outstanding architectural achievements. I know this because I was taught this. In every survey course in 20th century American art, and certainly in any survey of American architecture, as well as any book on that subject I have read, the PSFS Building, completed in 1932, is cited as one of the earliest and best of America’s skyscrapers.

I have to admit that I did not accept this verdict until I moved to Philadelphia. Even the incomparable Roberta Bernstein, easily one of the two or three best professors of my undergraduate career, failed to impress upon me the masterful achievement this building represents. (In fairness, Dr. Bernstein’s survey course, in which I learned more about art than I ever would have imagined and more than I care to admit I have forgotten, was focused on painting and sculpture.)

Part of the problem, I believe, is that until recently, every photograph, without exception, of the PSFS Building I saw was taken from above, looking down from on high. This perspective not only does no justice to the PSFS Building, it makes the structure appear ordinary, pedestrian, even lacking. I know now that one cannot appreciate the PSFS Building -- originally the home of the Philadelphia Savings Fund Society and now the Loews Philadelphia Hotel -- without looking at it from street level, a view I have shared with the photograph presented here.

The PSFS Building

12th & Market Streets, Philadelphia

From this perspective even one who knows little to nothing about the finer points of architecture -- or even the basic elements of architecture, a group in which I would include myself -- immediately recognizes the structure as a masterpiece, the horrendous radio tower now affixed to the top notwithstanding. And I am fortunate in that my place of residence affords me the opportunity to view the PSFS Building every single day.

PHILADELPHIA - HATE IT: What is with the litter?

At least 10, and perhaps as many as 20, years ago, or perhaps throughout that ten-year period, I recall Philadelphia having been referred to routinely as “Filthydelphia.”

I also remember articles in various publications making note of the fact that, at the time, Philadelphians were found via numerous studies to be more likely than the residents of any other major city in America to litter and, worse, to think nothing of doing so. (Sorry, Google it yourself. We’re going way back here, folks.) I’m pleased to say that conditions have improved markedly from those the media described in the past as well as from my own memory of Philadelphia during that era.

Nonetheless, Philadelphia has a long road to travel in this regard, though I do not blame Philadelphians entirely or exclusively for this shortcoming. To cite just one of the city’s litter-related shortcomings, I have yet to encounter a single street corner on which there is more than one municipally maintained garbage can, let along the four on each corner that are required to maintain the standards other urban Americans enjoy. (I am painfully aware of the scarcity of trash receptacles because I own a dog, and the last thing I want to do, three times a day, is bring that nasty bag all the way home, only to have to make an extra trip to my building’s garbage carts before heading upstairs.)

“If you build it, they will come.” Absolutely. And if you put out trash cans, people -- even Philadelphians -- will use them.


Post a Comment