Revealing the physical and cultural intricacies of Philadelphia, from the intimate to the monumental
Finding the Hidden City
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Joseph E. B. Elliott, Nathaniel Popkin, and Peter Woodall
Philadelphia possesses an exceptionally large number of places that have almost disappeared—from workshops and factories to sporting clubs and societies, synagogues, churches, theaters, and railroad lines. In Philadelphia: Finding the Hidden City, urban observers Nathaniel Popkin and Peter Woodall uncover the contemporary essence of one of America's oldest cities. Working with accomplished architectural photographer Joseph Elliott, they explore secret places in familiar locations, such as the Metropolitan Opera House on North Broad Street, the Divine Lorraine Hotel, Reading Railroad, Disston Saw Works in Tacony, and mysterious parts of City Hall.
"From neighborhood churches and factories to former prisons and power plants, Philadelphia: Finding the Hidden City reveals an urban landscape and a way of life that have all but disappeared. Nathaniel Popkin and Peter Woodall unearth the soul of a city and recall a time when dreams were manifest in brick, carved wood, iron, and stone. Joseph Elliott's poignant photographs show the care and craftsmanship invested in the making of these spaces, evoking a sense of awe and mystery, and also a sadness for the fragility of this built environment, reminding us of the need to preserve a cultural history being swept away by indifference in the name of modernization."
"This book is Very. Cool. Delving into great abandoned factories, churches, and public buildings, plumbing the underground city (tremendous, atmospheric photographs), this is a brainy tour of a town hidden from itself."
"The book makes an eloquent and concise case for us to pay more attention to the history of our built environment and to allow that history to inform our future.... The excellent photographs never cease to be surprising, revealing the unique quality and character of a variety of Philadelphia spaces."
"Written by two expert urban observers and photographed by one of America's most lauded architectural photographers, the book marks out the elements of Philadelphia's hiddenness through its vivid layers and living ruins, including in places like the Metropolitan Opera House, the Divine Lorraine Hotel, and Reading Railroad.... The book is as much visual as it is literary; Joseph Elliott's striking photographs bring the viewer intriguing images of a city living, breathing, and always changing."
"The book's text plays a supporting role to its star: Joseph E. B. Elliott's photographs of Philadelphia places lost, hidden, and hiding-in-plain-sight. The artwork will delight any Philly lover and inspire plans to go explore these physical manifestations of the city's often-forgotten history in person. And that is perhaps the central mission of Hidden City and this book: To look at present day Philadelphia and see its messy, glorious past. The prose ambles along as if a charming pendant on a stroll through town, here noticing a faded photograph that inspires a winding exposition on the incidental preservationism of Father Divine, there pointing out an architectural curlicue belying a nondescript storefront's original use as a theater or a five-and-dime. This is no orderly tour through the city's architectural history, it's a wandering tale of discovering the past as it peeks out from behind modernity's façade. Philadelphia: Finding the Hidden City belongs on your coffee table, not your reference desk."
"The book presents a brilliantly cross-referenced, significant slice of the modern history of the city, much of which is likely unknown or overlooked by the lion's share of its inhabitants.... The intricate narrative of Finding the Hidden City is beautifully written, even lyrical. The authors...have pulled together a vast amount of material, and have done so with impressive, scholarly thoroughness and thoughtfulness. And the photographs are spectacular. There are so many complicated, fascinating, interrelated themes introduced, and presented in astounding, rich detail.... (I)t makes a significant contribution to understanding this great city."
"This collaborative project between two journalists (Popkin and Woodall) and a professional photographer (Elliott), all of whom share a common interest in Philadelphia's oldest built environment, does not highlight the restored tourist destinations in the City of Brotherly Love but rather its more neglected parts, where splendid buildings are beginning to decay. It takes readers through a brief tour of Philadelphia's cultural history from 1916 to the present and provides historical context for more than 25 structures, including bridges, buildings, a railroad, and a water filtration chamber. More than 100 beautiful color photographs fill the pages.... VERDICT This will interest anyone who wants to become familiar with Philly's off-the-beaten-path historic areas. Readers interested in a slice of the city's lore and architectural history will also find it enjoyable."
Introduction: Markers of the Hidden City
Joseph E. B. Elliott is a Professor of Art at Muhlenberg College and an Instructor at the University of Pennsylvania School of Design. He is the author of The Steel: Photographs of the Bethlehem Steel Plant, 1989-1996 and (with Aaron V. Wunsch) Palazzos of Power: Central Stations of the Philadelphia Electric Company, 1900-1930.
Nathaniel Popkin is co-founder of the web magazine Hidden City Daily and senior writer for the documentary film Philadelphia: The Great Experiment. He is the author of Song of the City: An Intimate History of the American Urban Landscape and The Possible City: Exercises in Dreaming Philadelphia, as well as the novel Lion and Leopard. His literary criticism appears in the Wall Street Journal and other publications.
Peter Woodall is a former newspaper reporter and producer for public radio. He co-founded the web magazine Hidden City Daily and is the project director of its parent organization, Hidden City Philadelphia.