Yep, you read that correctly. Nope, it’s not a sprite-filled forest in the middle of the city.
Philadelphia’s Magic Gardens is one the city’s best and most eccentric gems, and I don’t say that just because it’s filled with glittering pieces of glass. The “Gardens” is actually a public art piece that spreads over a block of South Street. Made entirely of random, shiny, beautiful and strange objects that, on their own, may be mistaken for trash, this created world of tiled mosaics ignites a sense of awe in the visitor as they wander through the 3,000 square feet of man-made tunnels behind the sanctuary’s gate. There is no trick or specific activity associated with the space. The public is simply invited to explore, and perhaps to consider the concept of beauty in a new way.
The artist responsible is Isaiah Zagar, who once owned a folk art store in the area and began tiling the outside of his home in 1994. The lot was at risk of being sold in 2002, so community members joined forces and turned it into a non-profit organization that was opened to the public. Zagar’s murals can now be found all over Philly but are especially concentrated between South and Bainbridge between 4th and 11th.
Just past the PMG is an alley in which the entire side of a building is tiled with the glass that’s used in the Gardens. There’s a huge portrait of the artist’s wife, Julia, here, as can be seen in one of the pictures below. References to love and other likenesses of the wife can be found elsewhere in the Gardens. Check out the site for more pictures, including some obscenely cute wedding and engagement photos. (Yes, the space can be rented for private events! Hello, perfect dinner date spot.)
Walking through the PMG, it’s hard to not feel like Harriet the Spy in the 90s movie when she finds that lady’s yard filled with the most dazzlingly random items hanging from trees and strung through fences – an imaginative kid’s paradise. That’s really the most beautiful part, that sense of youthful wonder that comes from realizing that art can be found so unexpectedly, whether in a stranger’s backyard or during an unsuspecting jaunt down South Street.
The PMG is accessible by walking East to 10th Street after taking the Southbound Broad Street Line to South Street. Visiting hours from April to October are Sunday-Thursday 11:00am-6:00pm and Friday-Saturday 11:00am-8:00pm; from November to March, they’re Sunday-Thursday 11:00am-5:00pm and Friday-Saturday 11:00am-8:00pm. General admission costs $5 for adults and can be purchased at the door. However, you PEX holders can get in for FREE with this printable ticket and your OwlCard.
And now, I will let the pictures speak for themselves.