On our way back to Scranton after visiting the Jersey shore, we stopped in Philly for lunch. Philly is full of great spots – both old and new. While I used to cover the city as part of my sales territory decades ago, I rarely spent any extra time exploring the town. In the late 80s and early 90s, the city wasn’t exactly living up to it’s “City of Brotherly Love” moniker if you know what I mean.
Finally, in 2005, after passing on exploring the nation’s birthplace for decades, we decided t1o be total tourists and took the kids to all of the historic places. If you haven’t done so, you should add it to you list. It’s one of the few cities in our nation with such deep historical importance.
Today, we decided to just grab lunch and hit a few of the more iconic tourist/Instagram spots.
Reading Terminal Market
Our first stop was the legendary Reading Terminal Market – one of the country’s oldest public markets. This place dates back to 1893 and is housed in a National Historic Landmark building.
Every city should have a public market – a combination of farmer’s market and food court full of booths highlighting butcher shops, cheese mongers, seafood, bakeries, chocolatiers and many other unique offerings.
I’m always amazed at the colors Mother Nature provides in her bounty. While all of this looks delicious and likely came in fresh from the Amish farms out in Lancaster county, we weren’t in the market for vegetables for lunch.
Pat’s or Geno’s or Jim’s?
Any time we’re near Philly, we always made sure to stop by for an iconic Philly Cheesesteak. In case you’ve lived in a cave and haven’t heard about Pat’s and Geno’s, they are located across the street from each other in South Philly. Each has their own loyal following. Even though we’ve tried both over the years, we keep going back to Pat’s.
These places are amazing. All cash. No credit or debit cards. I’m sure it’s to facilitate faster payment, wink wink… The customers are encouraged to know how to order before approaching the window. At Pat’s, there’s a sign with instructions.
The rookies are obvious based on their questions at the window and their fumbling for cash, but they are quickly humiliated and passed through the line.
Today, I wanted to shake it up a bit. We ordered two from Pat’s and then made the short drive to South St to try Jim’s – another legendary shop.
The newbies were evident here as well. There were two guys in front of us in line. As we got closer to ordering, the one realized it was cash only. He tried negotiating with the staff, obviously to no avail. The cashier pointed him to the ATM in the corner of the restaurant. He left and came back with cash but lost his place in line.
Jim’s wasn’t bad, but I’ll stick with Pat’s. Why do I feel like I cheated?
On our way out town, we turned our quick lunch stop into a photo safari – hunting down some of the Insta-worthy shots around town.
Philly is known as “The City of Brotherly Love” so the LOVE sculpture was a must stop. The sculpture is immediately recognizable and known throughout the US. What I didn’t know was that it was originally created in 1965 by artist Robert Indiana as a print image for the Museum of Modern Art for use in their Christmas card series. It was then made into a postage stamp before first appearing as a sculpture that would be housed at the Indianapolis Museum of Art.
In Philadelphia, the artwork is displayed at John F. Kennedy Park, now more commonly known as Love Park. The park opened in 1965 and was dedicated to JFK, but in 1976, during the country’s bicentennial, the LOVE sculpture was placed there temporarily. After two years it was removed, but was immediately brought back to become a permanent part of the park.
The next stop was City Hall. The building was constructed from 1871-1901. It sure seems like a long time – even in those days. Typical Philly union issues I’m sure.
At the time, it was designed to be the tallest building in the world at 548 ft, however, before completion it was surpassed by the Washington Monument and the Eiffel Tower. When the tower was completed in 1894, it became the world’s tallest inhabitable building – and remained so until 1908. See, even back then everyone got a trophy.
They installed a clock on each side of the tower. At 26′, the face is actually larger than “Big Ben’s”. When the clocks were installed, they established a custom. Each night at 8:57, the tower lights go dim, then turn back on at 9:00. This was to allow anyone within visual distance of the tower to set their clocks or watches. I never knew this, but I’m told that the tradition continues to this day.
Atop the tower is the 37′ statue of the founder of Pennsylvania, William Penn. It remains the tallest sculpture atop a building in the world. He faces northeast, towards Penn Treaty Park, where he signed a peace treaty with the Lenape tribe in 1683.
Based on a “gentleman’s agreement”, it remained the tallest building in Philly until 1986. That’s when One Liberty Place was finished. I remember all of the controversy over One Liberty and the supposed curse that would be put on the city if a building blocked William Penn’s view.
Up next was a quick stop by Independence Hall. This building was built in 1753 and was known as the Pennsylvania State House, aka the Capitol Building of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania until 1799. Of course, it’s more commonly known as the place where the Declaration of Independence and our nation’s Constitution were debated and adopted.
On previous trips, we took a tour of the interior of the building so we passed this time. Still, it’s hard to not be in Philadelphia and not take in some of the most historic sites in our nation’s history.
The building has seen its share of renovations over the years with the original steeple being demolished due to structural issues in 1781. The steeple you see today was built in 1828.
The building was held in such high regard that in 1865, the train that was taking Abraham Lincoln’s body back to Illinois, made a detour to stop in Philadelphia so that the beloved President could lie in state in the Assembly Room of the Hall.
Today, the building is actually owned by the City of Philadelphia. It was sold to the city by the Commonwealth in 1816, but it took until 1948 to restore the interior and have it and the associated other landmark buildings, such as the one just across the street that houses the Liberty Bell, dedicated as a National Historic Park,
From deep historical significance to Hollywood. Another iconic location within Philly is the Rocky statue – thanks to the success of the eponymous movie series featuring Sylvester Stallone. The series produced nine films over the years – and there will likely be more in the future.
In the original Rocky movie from 1976, there’s a scene in which the main character, Rocky Balboa is running through the streets of Philadelphia and ends atop the 72 steps of the Philadelphia Museum of Art – celebrating with arms raised.
Before Rocky III began shooting in 1982, Stallone commissioned an artist to build a bronze statue of the main character. The statue would be placed at the top of the steps of the Museum and would be a prop in a scene in the upcoming film.
After filming was complete, a debate ensued over the statue – should it remain and be considered “art” or was a a movie prop that needed to be removed. The steps had already become a major tourist attraction in Philly with movie fans running up the steps ala Balboa and celebrating like the champ. After being moved around town to various sites, the statue was permanently located in a park area near the base of the steps of the Museum.
Heading out of town, we took advantage of the slow traffic on the Schuylkill to snap a photo of Boathouse Row, another National Historic Landmark. I’ve passed by these historic boathouses for decades, admiring them from a distance, but without ever knowing their history. In the evenings, they’re framed in lights and look like a storybook or movie scene. The lights now change colors with the seasons making the scene even more visually appealing – especially with the reflection off the river.
The history dates back to 1821, when a dam was built along the Schuylkill to contain the river. A side effect was that the waters of the river were calmed and it made it great for ice skating in the winter and rowing in the summer. The downside was that it also created a breeding ground for mosquitoes. When the insects took over, the wealthy that lived along the river abandoned their homes. They would ultimately be condemned, but by 1860, the city approved construction for three new boathouses.
Today, there are 15 structures and each one is home to a different rowing club (or clubs) – most of which are part of what’s called “The Schuylkill Navy”. Many in the rowing community consider Boathouse Row the unofficial “home” of the sport. Drexel, Penn and LaSalle are local universities that use the boathouses as their home as well.
I often say, you need to become a tourist in your home town – or the towns you’ve passed through without considering their history. There’s so much to learn about each and every town we take for granted. Stop and appreciate what makes that place unique.
With Philly now in the rearview mirror, our next stop was Scranton!