Grit & Beauty
“And then there is the art not found behind glass or in elaborate gold frames. You’ll glimpse it some alleyway off Juniper Street or along the train tracks by the river or on the wall of a half-demolished building. Like the Boyd Theater on Chestnut, the ornate 1920’s art-deco building that’s being torn down and replaced with an Apple store. Or maybe you’ve seen the iconic red neon sign of the Divine Lorraine, designed with features of Victorian architecture; bay windows and wide stone arches. On North 12th Street sits the abandoned Spring Garden School, every wall covered with spiky, illegible graffiti. Mount Sinai hospital in South Philly with butterfly-patterned wallpaper still decorating the children’s ward. There’s the Church of the Assumption, the Hale Building, Delaware Power Station—where they filmed scenes from that Bruce Willis movie, Twelve Monkeys. All of them were magnets for history, built with unique architectural features to each time period. They exhale the sighs of past lives. The views from these rooftops are legendary, all encompassing. Restoration of buildings is bittersweet, demolition is devastating. Today, they attract the underground society of urban explorers that scale rusted signal towers in the overgrown jungle of the Reading Viaduct, stumbling across cardboard beds and broken bottles.
Appreciate the dust. Breathe in those car pollution fumes, the steam funneling from the sewer, the garbage boiling in the August heat. Step over syringes, bone-thin beggars and caution tape. Stop at a halal food truck on Market, a tea house in Chinatown, a diner on South Street tucked between a psychic fortune teller’s apartment and a vinyl record store. Watch Rocky Horror Picture show, midnight at the Ritz, over red wine and popcorn. Catch sight of the skyline at two in the morning from the backseat of a taxi. Pinpoints of gold lighting up office windows, spires spearing the vista, skyscrapers straightening their broad spines in a show of bold superiority. You are huddled in the darkness of the cab, behind a set of blurred headlights. You are dwarfed, too small to be called a planet, but from a distance you could cup the entire city in your palm.”
-Mariah Hall, 2017
Each year, adventurous students go out into Philadelphia and explore the grit and beauty that makes our city unique. Explore the winning submissions: