So Alec is attending camp at the Franklin Institute this summer (fabulous by the way), giving me a chance to roam and stop to read the many historical markers that dot our fair city.

First stop, the Free Library of Philadelphia, Central Branch smack on Logan Square catty-corner to the Franklin Institute.  This gorgeous Beaux Arts style building caught my eye each visit to the FI, so I was glad for an excuse to go within.  Parking sucks, but after having way too many quarters eaten by malfunctioning meters, I finally found some free parking.

I found my way to the ornate portal amongst a maze of construction. (Read about many simultaneous renovations are in process).  Entering the library is a oxymoron.  The threadbare furnishings contrast sharply with the ornate decorations, including my fav, these lamps on the central hallway with ornate carved feet.

The mammoth temple to knowledge bespeaks a past Philadelphia of wealth and intellectual influence.  For the 75th anniversary in 2003, the Library created an extensive website and exhibition that document in delicious details the multiple travails faced by library boosters, who planned for over two decades for what was at the time a world class Library.

 In 1927, its capacity was exceeded only by the stacks at the British Museum, New York Public Library, and the Library of Congress.

However, the current state of the Library is rather sad.  Dim lighting, lack of A/C, and uncomfortable seating rendered it a rather unfriendly place to work.   Books I needed had to be paged by library staff, all of whom were incredibly nice, but rather over-worked.

In many ways, the state of the library is indicative of the state of Philadelphia as a whole.  In 1927 Philadelphia had fallen to the third largest city in the United States, behind Chicago (it’s currently the 5th largest).  Even more importantly, as the U.S. took over as the world’s leading manufacturer, the factory-rich and port-heavy Philadelphia prospered (although there was of course massive income disparity).  The presence of that wealth is still evident throughout the city in the grand buildings that exist even in economically depressed neighborhoods (see for example the cathedral-like Simon Gratz High School, the original part of which is on the right in the picture below).

These shifts have left some lovely historical sites vulnerable and others of them tarted out, like the gorgeous Wanamakers.

before
after (source) shame on Macy’s
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