PHILADELPHIA isn’t a glamorous city. It’s not glitzy or flashy, and it doesn’t overdo attempts to wow the eye. While this city does boast beautiful attractions, and has picturesque pockets here and there, that’s not really what Philly is all about. Philadelphia is all about backbone.
This is the place that gave birth to America. It was a Philadelphian (Stephen Girard, for whom both the street and college are named) who personally saved the U.S. government from financial collapse in 1812. That’s not a typo. I did say personally.
‘Rosie the Riveter’
lived all across this STILL great nation, yet few places personified her with as much power and eloquence, as the Naval Shipyard located at the southern end of Broad Street. Whether it was the men who gave their lives in the fight, or the women who built the ships to get the men to the fight; Philadelphia’s role in ending Hitler’s run was by no means a “bit part”. (Yo, Western Europe, you’re welcome!)
Philly is a backbone. This is what we do. In a world that seems hellbent on making things as complicated as it can make them, Philly is decidedly and unashamedly straightforward. We work in straight lines here. Even our skyline is a direct example of that way of thinking and being.
A skyline may seem like a funny thing to write about in relation to all the things I was just talking about, but I think it goes hand in glove. My friend Maureen gave me the necessary kick in the ass to make sure I wrote this, so it’s to her that you owe this article. You’ll see where I’m going with this, when you get to the end.
For now I’ll start at the beginning.
That is an iconic shot from the movie ‘Rocky’ which came out in 1976. That means that shot was probably filmed in 1975. That hazy spire down the road from Rocky? That’s City Hall.
City Hall was the tallest building in Philadelphia from about 1894 until 1987. It was the tallest building on Earth from 1894 to 1908. For decades there had been a sort of gentleman’s agreement among architects here, to neither build nor design, above the hat of William Penn’s statue perched atop City Hall.
(Funny thing about that is, Penn was a Quaker and would be mortified that a statue to his honor even existed. If he were alive to see it, he’d demand it be torn down. Just sayin’…)
As you can see from the ‘Rocky’ picture, back in 1975 we didn’t have a skyline. We had a sky dot. You need at least two points to have a line, and we only had one point until 1987. Since 1987 however, there have been many skyscrapers built, crafting an actual, and respectable skyline.
Everything you see in Philly taller than City Hall, is under 30 years old. Once we stopped standing in our own way, with a self-imposed limit to our potential, we took off running and have never looked back. I’m proud to see that we haven’t joined in the “Who Can Build It Tallest” mania, that infects the minds of so many cities and countries around the world. When we build big, it’s on our own terms, and for our own reasons.
However what I find most telling is how we’re building. In most cities, the skyline has skyscrapers dotted around their downtown area. In Philly, almost every skyscraper we have, is located either on or within a block of, Market Street. Our skyline is built in a straight line more or less.
Like a backbone.