March 14th, 2013 | 1 Comment »

Words.  My Mom’s life was all about words.

I am certain that she was stringing them together in complete – and clever – sentences by the time she was one or so.  Because by age sixteen, in 1943, she had written, typed and even bound her autobiography.  All her life she reveled in playing with and making words do her bidding in the art of communicating.  She and Barbara, one of her childhood playmates in Greeley, invented a language of code words – both written and spoken – and they would leave notes for each other in this secret lingo in the front seat of an abandoned automobile in the alley behind their houses.

Mom’s love of life was palpable to all who ever knew her, even for a short time.  Her next oldest brother, Neil, was her great childhood pal, and she admitted that the influence that he and his friends had on her made her a tomboy.  At Greeley High, she and The Gang, her ever-expanding group of girl friends, rode around on the city bus all evening singing songs at the tops of their voices.  Mom was always a singer of silly songs.   Some of them she learned from her mother.  And she passed these ditties with their clever puns, jokes and wordplay on to her sons.  We still laugh every time we sing them – and that’s considerably more often than our spouses or children want to hear them.

By sixteen, when a senior in high school, she was already writing stories for the Greeley Tribune, and that fall, off she went to Boulder to the University of Colorado, where her older sister Eleanor had attended some years earlier.  Like Eleanor, she pledged Alpha Phi and, as they say, history was made.  Alpha Phi was an extraordinarily important part of her life ever afterward.  Lifelong friendships were made.  These were such close friendships that they survived even a little envy creeping in.  One Alpha Phi pal admits that the girls were jealous of Mom’s typewriter – the only one in the house.  But Ann had writing to do, and a lot of it.  She majored in Journalism, and when she graduated from CU she almost immediately headed to the University of Illinois, finishing a Masters in Radio & Television Journalism in just a year.

It was in her post-graduate professional life as a radio station traffic manager that she met our Dad, Paul, the station engineer. We have Jack Hull to blame for setting them up for their first date, by the way; he was Dad’s best friend and the station’s on-air talent. Mom and Dad were married in 1951.  A stint with a Denver advertising agency was soon followed by the arrival of yours truly in 1953, Gary in 1955 and David three years after that.

To Mom’s everlasting annoyance, she never bore a formal Alpha Phi legacy.  But that didn’t stop her from recruiting us for the cause anyway.  All through the 1960s and into the ‘70s, Mom and the Denver Alpha Phi alums sold heart lollipops in local stores, restaurants, banks and the like to benefit the Heart Association.  Ron, Gary and David were roped into delivering the decorated coffee cans with heart lollipops stuffed in their tops and then coming back to collect the money.

We were also responsible for delivering her copy to the assignment desk of the Denver Post on deadline day, while Mom circled the block in the car.  She was writing feature articles and weekly events columns for the Zone Editions of the Post during our elementary and junior high years.  When the Post abolished the Zone editions, she moved her byline to the Washington Park Profile and continued to report and write on community news and feature stories for many more years.

Also for years, Mom was the alumnae editor of the national Alpha Phi Quarterly magazine, and her reporter’s skills were called into play every other summer when she went to the national convention to cover it for the magazine.

Meanwhile, there was the church magazine and a history of the congregation to write and edit, countless bridge games (with or without Dad, who we’re sure was always a reluctant bridge player), the church choir to lend her lovely soprano voice to, clever poems to write for family communications, and of course all those Alpha Phi meetings and events.  Oh, and there were her duties as Cub Scout Den Mother, co-creator of boys’ craft projects (the Cookie Christmas Tree survived in the basement until 2003!), teaching us how to yodel and thus waking up all the neighbors in Palmer Lake, and perhaps most importantly for me: encouraging us to read, read, read; plus editing, advising and mentoring on term papers, poetry, and more recently, my blog.

Thank you, Mom, for all you were and are to me, my brothers, our family and your legion of friends around the world. Your and Dad’s abundant kindness has, I hope, rubbed off at least a little.  The depth and breadth of my love for chocolate almost matches yours. And in our lives we can only hope for a fraction of the return you got on your investment in friendships.  You said when you were sixteen “My greatest accomplishment is having a great many friends.  If friends are an asset, my liabilities are few.”    Well Mom, you are the richest person I’ve ever known.

Your spirit and influence and courage live on forever:  I still have that typewriter you used to help your sorority sisters prepare their term papers in 1946.  You had your words to the end: even when you couldn’t speak them anymore, I know they were with you.  And now you’re gently correcting the angels’ grammar, as you did ours.

Yes, you predicted correctly in that 1943 autobiography: “This I know: whatever Fate has cut out for me, his scissors were a pen point and a book mark.”

I love you.  Eternal rest, grant unto her O Lord, and let perpetual light shine upon her.

YouTube video:


Posted from Cheltenham, Pennsylvania, United States.

Posted in Heritage, Storytelling
November 7th, 2012 | No Comments »
Prism Glass transom Band

“Industry,” with its prism glass transom band

There’s another example of “everything old is new again” in the Pine Street Antique Row corridor.  The historic retail stretch on Pine has seen several new businesses opening in the past few weeks and months.  Our friends and neighbors are delighted; we’ve been concerned about a recent sprouting of empty storefronts that were darkening the retail scene.

Among the new commercial residents that are appearing to mark a hoped-for rebound for the Row is “Industry” and its wonderfully restored storefront that’s casting new light onto Pine Street.  As in most of the late 19th and early 20th century storefront buildings in the neighborhood, the establishment in the 1000 block of Pine draws patrons into its light-filled midst with an eclectic mix of art, fashion and design.  Unique among its neighbors, however, is the storefront’s glittering prism glass transom that provides much of the light to the interior of the store.

Restored by the building’s owner, the prism glass transom redirects and diffuses sunlight deep into the space, providing extra illumination to the interior, and casting a sparkling light at night onto the sidewalk outside.  Prism glass tiles, patented in 1896 by James Penncuick and eventually marketed by the Luxfer Prism Company, quickly became a popular way to enliven and illuminate commercial spaces.    Their usefulness faded, however, as did the transoms in which they were installed, when dropped ceilings and air conditioning made the whole thing seemingly obsolete.

Somehow, the majority of the transom survived, unlike many similar to it when they were ripped out or covered up.  Kudos to the building owner, and to merchant Jay Lamancuso at “Industry” for a handsome restoration of the Pine Street building and the prism glass transoms.  Here’s hoping you light up Pine Street for years to come.

Posted from Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, United States.

July 13th, 2012 | No Comments »

It’s amazing how visceral memory can be, right?  I am so often convinced that a memory – of a place, a building, a face or an object – is absolutely true and completely accurate, only later to have my certitude blown up in a phaser blast of actuality.

As a romantic, a historian and a storyteller, which by the way can be a very dangerous combination, I often get into this kind of memory trouble.  I can be completely convinced that the story I’m happily telling is based entirely on fact. I know that the historic movie palace that I’m trying to help save from demolition was where my mother took me to see “Pollyanna” in 1960 when the power went out and we sat in the darkened theatre for an hour before going home, disappointed.  Only… it wasn’t.  Probably these accuracy/memory lapses are pretty harmless; a not very important and wholly innocent story, and no one at the City Council hearing will know the difference.  Probably.

But what bigger and more cherished memories are fuzzy, or complete fantasy?  Should it matter?

My brothers and I and our spouses have been working for months at the bittersweet task of clearing out our parents’ Denver home of 40 years in anticipation of its being sold.  There are so many memories boxed up, closeted, stacked and filed in that big ranch house and it’s been hard for us to process them.  For example, there’s the hat.  In the basement, in one of the big, round-topped wooden steamer trunks that our Mom had kept crammed with treasures either valuable or puzzling, we found several ladies’ hats.  My grandmother’s, her mother’s.  From the 1910s, and in pristine condition, they told an immediate and lovely story of a well educated woman with far more style than we grandsons had ever known.  So far, so good, the story.  But I was immediately convinced, without reservation or hesitation, that I recognized one of the hats as having been worn by Ariel on her wedding trip to far off Los Angeles in 1912, it being prominently depicted in photographs in the family albums we had just recently looked through again.  So all weekend long, I told and retold the story: to my husband, my brothers and their wives, to cousins, to anyone who would, or would not, listen.  A small story.  But a story regarded by the listeners as significant and delightful.  And soon we were all to  learn: not true.

Of course, the photograph told the real story, and my story went into the fiction section.  Where, now that I think of it, it will stay and continue to be told.  Fair warning:  I’m admitting now that, my faulty memory and all, absolute accuracy can sometimes get in the way of a good, romantic, history-based story.  I promise, however, to try to not tell them at City Council hearings.  Or in court.



Posted from Cheltenham, Pennsylvania, United States.

Posted in History, Storytelling
September 28th, 2011 | No Comments »

Overnight, the second wave of old school, printed yellow pages/phone directories were left on front stoops and in building lobbies all over Washington Square West – maybe in all of Center City.  The first wave came just a few weeks ago from a rival publisher.

Six minutes after we discovered the “gift” on our own steps, the same packages appeared to have been moved en masse from said front stoops and building lobbies to the blue recycling bins on the pavement, as it happens to be trash day.  Convenient; just a few steps required.  There didn’t seem to be a blue bin on our block, or the next, that didn’t have the books placed there in time for collection.

Six minutes later ...

When, oh when, will this ridiculous waste of resources end?  Not all the books are immediately recycled.  Shrink wrapped cubes of them will linger, sodden, on porches for days or weeks before they finally end up as rubbish or recycling.

Posted from Pennsylvania, United States.

Posted in Sustainability
July 29th, 2011 | 1 Comment »

In the news this week:  SEPTA ridership is at a 22-year high.  The price of gasoline and the increasing number of younger people and empty-nesters moving to the center of Philadelphia are probably part of the explanation.  Also, surprisingly but happily, the Gov. Corbett-appointed commission on transportation is recommending increasing state support for SEPTA by boosting taxes on oil companies (about time:  Exxon’s profits are up 40% this year!), raising driver-related fees and dedicating a fraction of sales taxes to mass-transit.

All this is good news for those of us who have given up our cars and live a simpler, greener and cheaper life in Center City.  My husband and I took a deep breath about two years ago and gave up the four-wheeled beast, quickly discovering that we would save more than $6,000 a year in transportation costs, including gas, insurance, parking and registrations.  And that figure was calculated including the cost of transit fares, Philly Car Share rentals when needed and such.

Living car-free in the city is news in lots of other places; a Baltimore news piece is just one of many lately.  Meanwhile, Next American City has done a study on new technologies that can improve transportation experiences, with their first 18 study participants asked to ditch their cars for a week.  Results?  Car deprivation (how addicted ARE we to driving?) made folks think creatively, try new experiences, seek autonomy.  All experiences we had, and ultimately enjoyed, at our house.  Another finding: you may lose a car, but you gain a community.  Our bike-mad friends Juliet & Gavin Riggall from North Street Design have ditched their car entirely, and they certainly know what a rich and interesting biking community they belong to in Philadelphia.

Did we have reservations about jettisoning that carbon-dumping car?  Sure.  But it’s worked out pretty well.  We’re lucky, of course.  We live in the heart of William Penn’s pedestrian-loving grid.  Unlike many of our fellow Philadelphians, we live nowhere near one of the food desert neighborhoods in our city.  And we have a nearby friend who loans us his car when there’s an unplanned, long distance trip called for.

You can do it, too.  Even if, like my husband Marc, you don’t have to bike to work, you’ll appreciate the new bike lanes for slowing down and quieting traffic.  You’ll learn the new skill of SEPTA negotiating.  And be in better shape for all that walking.



Posted from Cheltenham, Pennsylvania, United States.

Posted in Cities, Sustainability
June 9th, 2011 | No Comments »

I’ve just been to a public forum, presented by the Pennsylvania Historical & Museums Commission (PHMC) and hosted by DVRPC, which sought comments on the draft state Preservation Plan.  Many of the participants were fellow preservation-geeks, but it was great to see Fairmount Park folks, staff from the Philadelphia City Plan Commission, the city Historical Commission, higher ed people and reps from the Mayor’s Office of Arts, Culture and the Creative Economy (@CreativePHL) as well.

It was a lively and thought-provoking discussion about how to position historic preservation and the agency’s work out in the world for the next five years.  And the findings of a non-scientific, self-selecting online survey that the State Historic Preservation Office (SHPO) of PHMC undertook formed the basis of the discussion.  Most of the survey results weren’t too surprising:  people who responded are mostly over age 45, and don’t list “historic buildings” as the places that best reflect what they value about their communities.  But if you think about it, the character-defining features of the communities themselves – the neighborhoods, the landscapes, the trails and waterways – that were the top rated selections in the survey actually embody the heritage that we preservationists seek to, well, conserve.

One of the forum-goers even articulated what I’ve been thinking for some time: maybe we should consider a language change, to what our British and Canadian colleagues call “heritage conservation.”  They avoid “historic.” What’s historic, anyway?  The definition gets fuzzier all the time.  And “preservation,” which sounds like we promote encasing cherished architectural artifacts in amber.

It was also good to hear from the City Plan Commission staffers, and to get some context for their decision to create a stand-alone historic preservation category in the newly adopted Philadelphia 2035 Comprehensive Plan. As I have read the plan during the past few months, I’ve had the slightly annoying feeling that perhaps creating a unique preservation section in the Plan suggests that it’s an afterthought.

It’s great to be singled out in positive ways: historic preservation is important and gets its own chapter.  We’ve all arrived!  But shouldn’t conserving the heritage we’ve got be woven in as an integral part of our planning and development goals and strategies?  Is positive, but separate, attention a way of marginalizing?

The PCPC folks agreed that they’d asked themselves the same questions and decided that education of a public that is largely uninformed and at least consciously uninterested in the built heritage of Philadelphia could benefit from a definitive discussion about the issue in a focused section of the Plan.  They’re likely right.

That same kind of education and conversation need to be a compelling part of the Pennsylvania Preservation Plan as well.  We heritage conservators (see, it didn’t hurt) and our partner, the SHPO, will have to make new friends and allies in the environmental, energy conservation and outdoor recreation worlds.  We will have to learn to lobby more aggressively, network more strategically, communicate more broadly and look at what we want to conserve more diversely.  So onward with more work to craft a meaningful and powerful Preservation Plan for the Commonwealth.




Posted from Cheltenham, Pennsylvania, United States.

May 19th, 2011 | No Comments »

Eat at the chef's counter, sip great wine, watch them cook incredible food at Val & Marcie's Barbuzzo













Heritage preservationists have for a very long time been sent to the irrelevance “time-out” corner by many who unfairly claim that they (we, full disclosure) are focused entirely on pretty buildings and not on cold, hard reality.  But old buildings and existing neighborhoods fans really know, as does everyone involved in real estate, planning, architecture and other real world pursuits, that “use,” “use” and “use” are the three most important words in our language.

Philadelphia entrepreneurs Valerie Safran and Marcie Turney know all about using existing buildings, and their neighbors in Center City’s Midtown Village have enjoyed the benefits of the reborn street life the pair have helped foster.  Earlier this week, the AIA Philadelphia Chapter, along with the Preservation Alliance for Greater Philadelphia, saluted their remarkable love for and commitment to urban life in the heart of Philadelphia.  The AIA, at the Alliance’s annual Awards lunch, lauded the partners with the annual Henry J Magaziner, EFAIA Award, which recognizes those who, though outside the “normal circle of preservation and design, have made a significant contribution to preservation of the built environment.”  The duo’s three restaurants (Barbuzzo, Lolita and Bindi) and four shops (Open House, Grocery, Verde and Marcie Blaine Artisanal Chocolates) near 13th and Sansom, reside in older buildings saved and rehabilitated over the past decade by developer Tony Goldman and have joined several other long-standing businesses in the vicinity in turning around what was once considered a “red light district.”

Congratulations to the pair, who even live above the store.  (How else could two people manage such an empire?)  Val and Marcie have made our neighborhood more lively, safer, more interesting and, well, more delicious.  (All their ventures are great,  but @Barbuzzo, already a James Beard award winner, is not be missed.)  Thanks to them and their unflagging energy and creativity.  Philadelphia is much the richer for their commitment.  So is the salted caramel budino!


Posted from Cheltenham, Pennsylvania, United States.

May 9th, 2011 | 3 Comments »

It’s official: I love Philadelphia and I’m inclined to look at city life through a Philly lens. So, thanks to my incredibly creative husband, via his firm @TactileDesign Group, this blog has a new brand and a new look.

The focus is still reflected in it’s original title:
Urban – characteristic of city life, of or related to the city
Prospects – belief about the future, search for something desirable, a prediction of a future course

I’d love to hear your reaction to RE Philadelphia, its look, its content. Just comment! And thanks for visiting.

Posted in Uncategorized
May 4th, 2011 | No Comments »

The new lobby at the Temple Performing Arts Center

Last night, I joined fellow historic building fans and saviors for the Preservation Alliance’s annual preview tour of one of the group’s upcoming Awards luncheon honoree projects:  the former Baptist Temple, now the Temple Performing Arts Center.  What a great rehabilitation project I discovered, and what a perfect architectural example of Philadelphia’s 250-year-old and still thriving reputation as a center of innovation and invention.

Project architects rmjm/Hillier and engineers Keast & Hood were presented with a 100+ year old stone landmark that had been abandoned for more than 20 years.  The team was challenged with transforming it into a performing space with enough flexibility to welcome the University orchestra, rock concerts, weddings and weekend church services.  One of their most interesting tasks required inserting a substantial lobby space into what was originally designed in 1891 as one large preaching barn.  Restored auditorium of the Baptist TempleA big, square open space – no interior columns to intrude on the sightlines of the 4,000 congregants to the pulpit, 200 voice choir loft and “River of Jordan” baptismal font  – had to be divided to provide a traditional, separated lobby with the usual audience amenities and new vertical circulation.

Thankfully, instead of trying to create a historicized, pseudo-19th century lobby, the architects chose a very sleek, modern vocabulary that draws patrons through a glowing glass and steel environment into the stunning, and slightly surprising, restored auditorium.  Meanwhile, the designers also had to engineer a structural upgrade that complemented the four underperforming columns at building corners, which stretch from foundation to roof, that Keast & Hood tour guides described as ” like a waiter supporting a tray on the tips of four outstretched fingers.”

Baptist Temple and Temple University founder Russell Conwell headed up Victorian Philadelphia’s premiere megachurch here, where he built a theatre that was designed to focus his star struck flock’s attention, center stage, on his notoriously uplifting and inspiring sermons.  So the University’s preservation project at Conwell’s Temple can’t be called an adaptive use; it’s still a theatre.  But the careful rehabilitation includes textbook restoration of lots of historic elements, like conservation of scores of art glass windows.  The spectacular central fan window above the entrance now casts a gloriously colorful glow in the auditorium through an enormous – and soundproof – glass wall in the new lobby.

Tourgoers look in vain for the turntable on the stage of the Chapel of the Four Chaplains

One historic element didn’t make the restoration planning cut, however.  In the Chapel of the Four Chaplains, a splendid undercroft designed in an elegant Romanesque style in 1951, the great central arch frames the platform from whence interdenominational religious services were to be conducted.  But the turntable within the arch that allowed the Catholic, Jewish and Protestant altars or regalia to be rotated into view when needed was never fully used, and has now been dispensed with.

Observers like marketing guru Patricia Mann are extolling Philadelphia’s current brand as an incubator of innovation and the logical extension of our long history as a “cradle of invention.”  (See Ben Franklin.) The inventively and beautifully reborn Temple on North Broad is a first rate performance hall, a terrific model of preservation with out-of-the-box thinking, and a worthy recipient of the Preservation Alliance’s Achievement Award.

April 27th, 2011 | No Comments »

This really warm weather brings out the walkers, including me, and a day of exploring Washington Square West confirms that Philadelphia is looking pretty great in all this sunshine.  More historic streetlights are going up on South 12th Street; that block by the slowly rebirthing Odd Fellows Building really needs the light, notwithstanding the horrendous flashing LED’s washing the facade of the new nightclub next door. (And does anyone know what “The Leoncalvo” was, by the way?)

Tulips, azaleas and wisteria splash across the front of the beautiful and historic Pennsylvania Hospital with vibrant color, reminding me of my first days as a new Philly resident and coming upon that glorious monument to Dr. Thomas Bond’s and Benjamin Franklin’s vision that became America’s first hospital.  I knew I was someplace extraordinary.

And then there are the Litter Critters: fanciful re-imaginings of the very functional and very boring Big Belly recycling and trash cans along the sidewalks of Headhouse Square and South Street.  The exuberantly designed vinyl wraps encircling the trash receptacles would put a smile on any face with their individual personalities and colorful palettes. 

Thanks to the city’s extraordinary Mural Arts program (Mayor Nutter just bragged that Philly is the mural capital of the universe!) for their Big Picture art education program.  I finally connected the mental dots about the so-cool, festively decorated trash trucks that started appearing last year.

Similar kudos to the Lombard Street homeowner who, fed up with the poorly located and ugly traffic signal powerboxes on our sidewalks that also serve as major tagger-magnets, hired an artist to make “her” powerbox a perpetual reminder of spring.

It’s quite a spring in Philadelphia:  PIFA is just wrapping up, and what a magnifique three weeks of massive arts festival the @Kimmel Center has brought us.   We had no trapeze lessons, but enjoyed many of the terrific offerings.  Can’t wait for next year.

Now for Penn Relays.  And the first blooms in our own garden.