I wrote “A Pittsburgh Primer” almost a year ago and at the time promised to write a piece on my native city, Philadelphia. Here are my top five Philadelphia moments.
1.) The Reading Terminal Market
This is one of my favorite places in all of Philadelphia. As soon as you step through its doors you are hit by the multitude of tantalizing aromas coming from the more than 100 merchants selling fresh produce, meats, and other food wares. Not only is it a place to do one’s shopping for your everyday necessities, it’s an attraction too, a place to marvel at, a place to see how shopping used to be for the masses long before the age of supermarkets. The Reading Market began its operations at its current location at 12th and Arch Streets in 1893. Anything you could want or need is there-beautiful cuts of rare meats, exotic produce whose names are unfamiliar, Pennsylvania Dutch baked goods, artisan soaps-the list is endless.
2.) Driving by Boathouse Row at night when all the houses are illuminated
Located on the east bank of the Schuylkill River, Boathouse Row consists of 15 boathouses housing social and rowing clubs and their shells. Declared a National Historic Landmark, all of the boathouses are at least a century old, some built more than 150 years ago. In 1979 lights were installed to outline each of the boathouses and reflect them in the Schuylkill River. This was done after talk of destroying the then decaying Victorian structures. It was thought that the lights on the buildings at night would serve to make them not only more visible but also more appreciated. In my opinion, they are one of the city’s most stunning yet simple attractions.
3.) Walking in the path of history
Although the city may have been eclipsed by New York City and Los Angeles, back in the day (as in the 18th century), Philadelphia was la creme de la creme. It was the site of many of the country’s firsts, including the first zoo and the first hospital in the British North American colonies, as well as the temporary nation’s capital when then muddy and inhospitable Washington D.C. was literally being built. Philadelphia was also the site of the drafting of the Declaration of Independence and the United States Constitution. I love walking along the streets in Old City, a neighborhood near the Delaware River where William Penn and the Quakers first settled in the late 17th century, an area that still retains its historic origins in look and feel with its cobblestone streets and more than 200 year old buildings. To stand where important figures like Thomas Jefferson, Ben Franklin, and George Washington once stood is simply incredible.
4.) The Philadelphia Museum of Art
I’ve visited the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Louvre in Paris, the Prado in Madrid and the National Gallery in London, but the Philadelphia Museum of Art remains my favorite. Its location, the building’s architecture, its collection, it’s all world class. Construction on the current building began in 1919 and the first section was finished in 1928. It is in the style of a quasi-Greek Revival design and the facade of the building is of Minnesota dolomite. It is one of the largest museums in the United States and its collections comprise more than 225,000 objects. My favorite pieces are J. M. W. Turner’s The Burning of the Houses of Lords and Commons and Claude Monet’s Poplars. My favorite non work of art is the view it offers of the Benjamin Franklin Parkway and the city’s skyline from atop its massive steps. It’s a view that I never tire of.
5.) Japanese House and Garden-Fairmount Park
I visited here once while in elementary school but it wasn’t until I was in college and accompanied by my Japanese roommate Misako that I fully appreciated what a lovely and bucolic site it was. Shofuso (its official name) is an authentic replica of a 17th-century Japanese scholar’s house and garden. Built in 1953, it came to Philadelphia in 1958 after being on exhibit at the Museum of Modern Art in New York City and has remained ever since in West Fairmount Park. In addition to the house, the outside grounds consist of a viewing garden with koi pond and island, a tea garden and a courtyard garden.