Just about everyone knows that Pope Francis is scheduled to visit our area this weekend on Saturday September 26th- Sunday September 27th. Security will be tight, bridges will be closed, as will major highways and public transportation via SEPTA will be severely limited as well. Though it will be a major inconvenience for many Philadelphians who live and/or work in the affected area, it is expected to bring in millions of visitors to the city. This isn’t the first time that a Pope has visited us, though. Back in 1979, Pope John Paul II came here right after he was inaugurated.
This was a much quicker visit than what is being planned for Pope Francis next month, though. He arrived mid-day on October 3, 1979 and left at 11 AM the next morning for Des Moines, IA. During the time that he was here, he visited two churches and led a mass at the old Civic Center site and the day before, he led a large mass that attracted 1.5 to 2 million visitors at Logan Circle.
Ten years ago this month, the Live 8 benefit concerts (organized by Live Aid founder Bob Geldof) were held in G8 countries around the world and one of the cities chosen for the concerts was Philadelphia. Here are several photos of Stevie Wonder performing on the Ben Franklin Parkway. In one of the photos, he is joined by Adam Levine of Maroon 5 and Rob Thomas of Matchbox 20. Will Smith and members of Maroon 5 and Matchbox 20, along with Dave Matthews Band, The Kaiser Chiefs, Kanye West and Destiny’s Child were among the other performers featured in Philadelphia.
The G8 concerts were held in conjunction with the UK’s Make Poverty History campaign and the Global Call for Action Against Poverty. The Philadelphia concert was one of ten simultaneous Live 8 concerts that was held on July 2nd, 2005. They were held with the goal that the G8 nations would increase their support for aid to Africa and on July 7th, the G8 nations agreed to double aid from $25 million to $50 million. The concerts were also held approximately 20 years after Live Aid and Philadelphia was one of the first cities chosen to participate since it had been one of the sites of the Live Aid concerts.
You may have heard that the Philadelphia International Records building at 309 South Broad St, which since 1970 had been owned by Kenny Gamble and Leon Huff, was recently demolished to make room for a condo and hotel development that new owners Dranoff Properties plan to open at 301-309 South Broad St. The loss of this building is devastating from a preservationist point of view, while almost inevitable given that it never recovered from a 2010 arson fire. Not only does it have a plethora of history as a building that Gamble and Huff had owned since 1973, but before that, it was the headquarters of the equally legendary Cameo-Parkway label in the 1950s and 1960s. Each of these eras represent two distinct periods in which the sounds coming out of Philadelphia, and that building specifically, were not only some of the most popular but some of the most moving and important recordings of each respective time period.
The history of the building is impressive, to say the least. Chubby Checker’s “The Twist,” a paradigm-shifting song that was a massive hit in 1961, was recorded there during the initial era. And during that time period, other Philadelphia artists like Charlie Gracie, Bobby Rydell, the Dovells, the Orlons, Dee Dee Sharp and The Tymes also recorded there.
The second era saw hits like Billy Paul’s “Me and Mrs. Jones,” The O’Jays’ “Love Train” and the original versions of “If You Don’t Know Me By Now” and “Don’t Leave Me This Way” (both by Harold Melvin and the Blue Notes, featuring Teddy Pendergrass on lead vocals). Overall, Gamble and Huff (on many occasions assisted by the producer and songwriter Thom Bell) have over 50 Gold and Platinum records and over 50 Top 10 hits.
After the hits dried up by the late ’80s, it became a major tourist attraction that has always been the site of film documentaries, television specials, receptions and events such as one honoring Motown founder Berry Gordy. While we can debate if a museum to honor Philadelphia’s rich musical legacy (such as ones that exist in Memphis, Detroit and in other cities’ legendary recording studios) is necessary and while it’s also understandable why the building was sold, it’s almost certain that 309 South Broad Street would have been a great site for it. Now, unfortunately, we will never know.
When most people think of professional football in Philadelphia, the topic is usually The Philadelphia Eagles. Fair enough then, as they have been around since 1931 and since the NFL is by far the most prominent professional football league in all of sports. However, it should be noted that between 1984 and 1986, there was another prominent pro football team here. That team would be the Philadelphia Stars of the long-defunct USFL (United States Football League), who won the league championship in two of three seasons in which the league existed and appeared in all three championship games. Technically, though, they were only a Philadelphia-based team for 2 of those 3 seasons as after the 1985 season, they moved to Baltimore. Despite this, they kept their operations here in Philadelphia, though this led to them essentially playing every game on the road.
The Office of the City Representative photo collection at the Philadelphia City Archives includes a few images from the victory parade (see below). The victory parade was held in July 1984 after the Stars beat the Arizona Wranglers in the championship game of the USFL’s second season. The game was held in Tampa, Florida’s Tampa Stadium, which was demolished in 1999.
The Stars had future NFL stars like Bart Oates and Sean Landeta (both future New York Giants player who won 5 Super Bowl rings between them) as part of the championship crew and others like Sam Mills, a future All-Pro for the New Orleans Saints were also on the roster. Their coach for all 3 seasons was Jim Mora, who later went on to successful NFL coaching career with The New Orleans Saints and Indianapolis Colts. Though largely forgotten now, a movie about the team and its role in the development of the USFL is currently in development.
Although I have lived in the West Philadelphia neighborhood of Cedar Park since 2006, I have not really given too much thought to the history of the Charles Dickens statue in the “Park A” part of Clark Park at 43rd Street and Baltimore Avenue. In fact, the statue is of not only Dickens but his character “Little Nell” (i.e. Nell Trent, a character from his 1841 novel The Old Curiosity Shop). I had heard that it is the world’s only statue of Dickens, but this is technically not true, as there is another one in Sydney, Australia and a very recently erected statue of his likeness in his birth city of Portsmouth. Still, I found it quite odd that of all the places on earth where a statue of Dickens could possibly exist, one was here in Philadelphia and not in London, which at least in theory would make much more sense. Thus, I decided to do some investigating.
As it turns out, the statue was commissioned in 1890 by Washington Post founder Stilson Hutchins to be completed by New York City-based artist Francis Edwin Elwell. Initially, the idea was that it would indeed be placed in London. When Hutchins backed out of the deal, Elwell finished it anyway. The statue was then shipped to London and put on display with the hope of finding a buyer. However, this was unsuccessful namely because Dickens expressed a strong desire to not be depicted in such form. In fact, his will does not allow any “monument, memorial or testimonial, whatever. I rest my claims to remembrance on my published works and to the remembrance of my friends upon their experiences of me.”
Then in 1896, the organization that became the Association for Public Art (back then it was called the Fairmount Park Art Association) negotiated to keep the work in Philadelphia. In 1900, the FPAA purchased it for $7,500 (about $213,000 today) and in 1901, it was placed in its current location and it has stayed there since then despite numerous failed requests to move it to a more prominent location. In November 1989, the sculpture was vandalized but ultimately fully restored.
The statue of Dickens and Little Nell is the only statue that is placed in Clark Park and while we’re not exactly sure of how it got there in the first place, the likely answer is due to Clark Park’s namesake Clarence H. Clark himself. Clark was a wealthy financier and developer who sat on the artworks committee of the FPAA committee. Thus, it was purchased by the FPAA in 1900 and placed at 43rd and Chester in 1901.
In addition to the statue of Dickens and Little Nell, the park also contains a large stone from an area called Devil’s Den in the Gettysburg Battlefield during the Civil War. The stone was placed in the park in June of 1916 and was set up there to remember Union soldiers who were treated at the site, which was once Satterlee Hospital, and “services of the patriotic men and women” who cared for them.
Another example of public art in Clark Park is an initiative set up by the University City District called Heart and Soul. Last summer, 4 decorated pianos were set up all over the park with the goal being spontaneous, random piano performances by whoever wandered by and sat down to play.