Philadelphia is a collection of neighborhoods unlike anywhere else in America. It's the nation's fourth-largest media market, sixth-largest city and eighth-largest metro area. But unlike places such as New York, Chicago and L.A., it prides itself on being one cohesive city. We're not divided by boroughs and rivers, north sides and souths or allegiances to different football teams.
It's the City of Brotherly Love and the City that Loves You Back, and while we may have harsh notoriety among the rest of America, when you're one of us, you're one of us, from Somerton to Overbrook to Eastwick.
But as cohesive as we might be, we are still fervently attached to the neighborhoods in which we live or grew up. You might have a preceding reputation depending on where you're from, be it Germantown or Kensington or the Northeast, but exploring what makes each of Philly's dozens of neighborhoods unique is a favored pastime.
We scoured the Delaware Valley from Academy to Wissinoming for some of the city's most interesting and beloved neighborhoods to create this list of five Philadelphia fun facts about ten of Philly's most popular neighborhoods.
Spanning from the Schuylkill to the Delaware Rivers between Spring Garden and South Street, Philadelphia's vast Center City houses the downtown core and historic district. Extending from the oldest part of the city through the colonial town's first westward expansion, much of what makes Philadelphia Philadelphia lies between the rivers.
The heart of the Center City experience is the skyline forest surrounding Philadelphia City Hall and stretching down the Ben Franklin Parkway into the Museum District. Center City, the retail downtown and central business district, might extend from river to river, but it's the area bounded by William Penn's original park squares, Logan Square, Franklin Square, Rittenhouse Square and Washington Square, anchored by Centre Square where City Hall and Dilworth Park now sit. But Penn couldn't have imagined what he'd see if he looked up today — five of the 75 tallest buildings in America.
Five Center City fun facts
The Comcast Technology Center, opened in 2018 (not to be confused with its neighbor the Comcast Center which opened 10 years earlier), is the 10th tallest building in the Western Hemisphere and the tallest outside of New York or Chicago, coming in at 60 stories and 1,121 feet
The Grand Lodge on North Broad Street is the home of the oldest Masonic Temple in the U.S., the third oldest in the world and was once presided over by Provincial Grand Master Benjamin Franklin. The full name of the building is The Right Worshipful Grand Lodge of the Most Ancient and Honorable Fraternity of Free and Accepted Masons of Pennsylvania and Masonic Jurisdictions Thereunto Belonging.
The Franklin Institute's building at 20th & The Parkway is actually the science museum's second location. The institution's original spot near the Liberty Bell (in the building housing the recently-shuttered Atwater Kent Museum) was deemed too small by 1934 and moved to its current setting. The giant rotunda inside the museum's entrance that features the famous 20-foot-tall statue of Benjamin Franklin doesn't actually belong to the Franklin Institute. That part is the Benjamin Franklin National Memorial (the museum begins past the rotunda), managed by the National Park Service.
The block of Sansom Street between Seventh and Eighth is one of the most historic locales in the entire world of jewelry. Known locally as “Jewelers' Row," the block features dozens of jewelry-related retailers and artisans and dates back to the turn of the 19th century. Not only is it the oldest diamond district in the United States (second largest behind New York's), it featured the world's first rowhome-style housing.
Opened in 1809, the Walnut Street Theater is the oldest continuously-operating performance theater in the entire English-speaking world. For its first three years, the theater hosted a horse circus and “horse dramas" before being converted into a traditional theater venue. The first performance was an 1812 production of “The Rivals," which was attended by President Thomas Jefferson and the Marquis de Lafayette. The Theater was the first to offer air conditioning, gas footlights and electric chandeliers, as well as where the “curtain call" originated (for actor Edmund Kean).
Affluent Chestnut Hill lies quietly at North Philly's northernmost point. During the time of the Revolutionary War, Chestnut Hill was a popular vacation spot for the Center City elite due to its bucolic beauty and higher elevations, which offered cooler summer temperatures. The neighborhood has been called Chestnut Hill since at least 1704, named for the plethora of now-nearly extinct chestnut trees.
Often referred to as Philly's garden district, Chestnut hill lies aside the 2,000-acre Wissahickon Valley Park and its 50 miles of trails. Featuring tree-canopied streets lined with historic mansions and Victorian townhomes, the cobblestoned neighborhood is populated with quaint boutiques, trendy restaurants, brewpubs and charming green spaces.
Five Chestnut Hill fun facts
In the 1950s, Temple University almost moved its campus to Chestnut Hill. As the city grew dense around Temple's North Philly campus, the university grew concerned about parking and the inability to expand. Apprehensive about a move's economic impact to the North Philly area, Mayor Joe Clark stepped in and secured enough federal funding to satisfy Temple.
The 87-foot-long Thomas Mill Bridge over the Wissahickon Creek, built in 1855, is not just the only conventional covered bridge left in Philadelphia, but it's the only remaining covered bridge standing in any major U.S. city
Founded in 1854, the Philadelphia Cricket Club is the oldest country club in America. It was formed by a group of recent University of Pennsylvania graduates in order to find a place to play cricket together. Today, the club still offers cricket along with many other elite sports and three championship golf courses.
Designed by architect Robert Venturi in 1962 for his mother, the Vanna Venturi House is renowned as one of the first important works of the postmodern architecture movement. In fact, the home is so historically significant that it was featured on the PBS documentary “Ten Buildings That Changed America."
More than 50,000 rabid fans attended the annual Chestnut Hill Harry Potter Festival each year. But when Warner Brothers got wind of it and sued the festival for copyright violations, the seven-year-old festival had to be canceled in 2018. But the festival returned in 2019 as the much more generic and copyright violation-free “Witches and Wizards Festival."
Nuzzled between Wissahickon Valley Park and Fairmount Park, and overshadowed by its Roxborough and Manayunk neighbors, East Falls is one of Philly's most overlooked neighborhoods. The former sleepy neighborhood is getting a slow makeover to keep up with its trendier adjoining neighbors, creating new shopping districts and welcoming new bars, restaurants and coffee shops.
But East Falls has always been a desirable location for the well-to-do and those aspiring to be, escaping the bustle of Center City (just ask Princess Grace). It's an escape from the city into greener pastures, featuring the gorgeous Schuylkill River and Wissahickon Bike Trails, and a place for intellectual advancement as home to Thomas Jefferson University East Falls Campus (formerly a lot of other names).
While the neighborhood's namesake, Schuylkill Falls, no longer exists thanks to the rise in the river level due to the 1822 damming of the river at the Fairmount Water Works in the Museum District, the river still dominates life in East Falls along Kelly Drive and Ridge Avenue at the top of Fairmount Park.
Five East Falls fun facts
Actress and royal Grace Kelly grew up at 3901 Henry Avenue. Kelly was the star of such films as "High Noon," "Dial M for Murder," "Rear Window," "To Catch a Thief" and "The Country Girl" – for which she won an Academy Award – and later became Princess of Monaco when she married Prince Rainier III. Princess Grace grew up in the East Falls home with her mother Margaret Katherine, the first woman to coach athletics at Penn, and her father John, a three-time Olympic gold medal sculler and President Roosevelt's National Director of Physical Fitness. It was at the home that Prince Rainier asked Kelly for her hand in marriage. Their son Albert II is the current reigning monarch of Monaco.
Dating back to 1836, Laurel Hill Cemetery was the second major rural garden cemetery opened in the United States. The cemetery houses 33,000 burial spots, including the internment of several famous Revolutionary War-era figures (including the aforementioned David Rittenhouse), more than 40 Civil War generals, 28 Congressmen, six mayors, photography pioneer Robert Cornelius, philanthropist Peter Widener, author Owen Wister and legendary Philadelphia Phillies announcer Harry Kalas, whose gravesite features two seats from Veterans Stadium. The grounds also host concerts, film festivals and art exhibitions, where patrons sit right alongside the tombs and mausoleums.
The Drexel University College of Medicine Queen Lane Medical Campus began its life as the Female Medical College of Pennsylvania, the world's first medical school exclusively for women. Upon its relocation to East Falls in 1930, the new Medical Campus of Philadelphia facility became the first-ever purpose-built hospital in America, creating the first combined teaching and care hospital. The campus went through several name and ownership changes, including the Medical College of Pennsylvania and Hahnemann Medical School before being acquired by Drexel University.
How many names can one school have? East Falls' largest institution of higher education began life as the Philadelphia Association of Manufacturers of Textile Fabrics' Philadelphia Textile School in 1884 in Center City. The school moved to its current East Falls campus in 1942, changing its name to the Philadelphia College of Textiles & Science, better known as Textile, in 1961. To reflect its expanded curriculum, the school changed its moniker once again in 1999 to Philadelphia University. Not done yet, in 2017, the college merged with Thomas Jefferson University and took on yet another new name, Thomas Jefferson University East Falls Campus.
Herb Magee has been the head men's basketball coach at Thomas Jefferson University/Philadelphia University/Philadelphia Textile since 1967. In that time, Magee has racked up nearly 1,100 wins, one of only four head coaches in history to surpass 1,000 and one of four in NCAA history to coach over half a century.
Together with neighboring Northern Liberties and Old Kensington, Fishtown represents the heart of hip and trendy, hipster and young professional Philadelphia. The former riverside expanse of fisheries and industrial lots has revitalized and gentrified over the last decade, making it one of the most desirable neighborhoods outside of Center City.
The increase in profile has been followed by an increase in housing prices among the residential corridors, and blue-collar workers and third-shift laborers have been joined by an influx of artists, entrepreneurs, gig economists, tech start-up dreamers and restaurateurs.
And with the new population came artist lofts, galleries, brewpubs, co-working spaces, music clubs and some of Philly's coolest and popular restaurants and bars around Girard and Frankford Avenues like Pizza Brain, Frankford Hall, Fette Sau, Joe's Steaks, Sketch Burger, Barcade, Garage and Evil Genius Beer Company.
Five Fishtown fun facts
Although many mistakenly believe the statue of William Penn atop City Hall faces Penn's Landing, he, in fact, faces Fishtown's Penn Treaty Park. The park marks the spot where, in 1683, in what was then called Shackamaxon, Penn entered into a peace treaty with Chief Tamanend of the local Turtle Clan branch of the Lenape Native American tribe, a peace that would last for a then-unheard-of 70 years. The park itself, a 40,000-square-yard green space along the Delaware River, was opened nearly 200 years after the signing of the treaty in 1893. While the famous Treaty Elm, under which Penn and Tamanend signed the agreement, came down in a storm in 1810, a new elm tree, grown from a seedling of the original, was planted on the spot in 2010.
In 2015, Bon Appetit Magazine named Fishtown's Pizzeria Beddia “The Best Pizza in America." The small seatless, two employee, first-come, first-served until-sold-out location at East Girard Avenue and Shackamaxon Street closed in 2019 in preparation for a move to a larger space (with seats and reservations) a couple of blocks away on Lee Street. The move to a new location certainly hasn't stopped the accolades from pouring in. Not only was it named the fourth “Best New Restaurant in America" by Esquire, and Time Magazine also honored it as one of the “World's 100 Greatest Places." Not the world's greatest restaurants, but the world's greatest placesof any sort.
Fishtown's odd name comes from the vocation of many of its residents during its early history, where a large percentage of its population worked in the neighborhood's shad fishing industry. A local legend insists the name was coined by Charles Dickens during a visit to the city in 1842, however, records show the name in use in publication at least a year before the storyteller's visit.
Rivers Casino Philadelphia, formerly known as SugarHouse Casino, was the first (and at the time of publication, only) gaming casino in the city of Philadelphia. The facility, on the former site of the Jack Frost sugar refinery, is a 1.3 million-square-foot complex containing nearly 1,800 slots machines, more than 100 table games, 62 “hybrid gaming" seats and a 28-table poker room. The casino offered the state's first legal sportsbook, first online gaming and, appropriately, first online sportsbook. Plans are underway to construct an attached 500-room hotel and 30,000-square-foot events center.
Fishtown is one of the most densely populated music venue neighborhoods in the region. In just a third-of-a-mile stretch of Front Street, sits the 2,500-capacity Fillmore Philadelphia, 450-capacity Foundry, 250-capacity Johnny Brenda's and 150-capacity Kung Fu Necktie.
Coming of age in the 1800s as a factory district, Northern Liberties is one of Philly's most popular redeveloped neighborhoods. Over the last decade, “NoLibs" transformed from industrial vastness into a trendy community of young professionals, students and artists.
A focal point of the neighborhood is the European-style urban plaza called The Piazza at Schmidt's Commons, whose centerpiece is a one-acre triangular open-air courtyard underneath a 40-foot outdoor LED HDTV, perfect for catching the game. And next door is the Piazza Pod Park, a public space including mobile shipping container-based food and drink vendors surrounding a 300 seat urban oasis.
But anywhere you wander in NoLibs feels like a hipster paradise. The neighborhood offers sandwich spots and brewpubs along Liberties Walk, comfort food bistros and vegetarian fare down Fairmount Avenue and if in the mood to roll a few frames, head to North Bowl where they're making bowling leagues cool and tater tots cheesy again. Take in a show at live music venues Franklin Music Hall (formerly Electric Factory), Voltage Lounge or Ortlieb's, grab a brew and hang out at Philly craft pioneer Yards Brewing Company and let the puppers run loose at Liberty Lands and Orianna Hill Park.
Five Northern Liberties fun facts
When William Penn laid out his plan for the city of Philadelphia, it contained two portions: the City and the Liberties to the north. The area above Vine Street was named Northern Liberties by Penn for its “liberty land," or free lots granted to some of the first land purchasers in the region. Thus, not only did Penn name Northern Liberties but also created the first de facto suburb.
In 1771, Northern Liberties was granted autonomy as its own separate city from Philadelphia until the city consolidated in 1854. The city was so popular that as of the 1790 census, it was the sixth-largest in the nation behind only New York, Philadelphia proper, Boston, Charleston and Baltimore.
The Christian Schmidt Brewing Company, better known as Schmidt's Brewing, produced some of Philadelphia's most popular local beer for 127 years until it shuttered in 1987. The brewery was founded by 27-year-old German immigrant Christian Schmidt in 1860 and over a century-and-a-quarter produced brands including Schmidt's, Knickerbocker, Rheingold, Ortlieb's, Duquesne and McSorley's Ale. The entire 26-building NoLibs facility was razed in 2000 and is now the site of the Piazza at Schmidt's apartment and retail complex.
The Mifflin School, near the corner of 3rd and Brown Streets, is the oldest standing school building ever used by the Philadelphia School District. The building, erected in 1825, was one of the first area schools during the construction boom of 1818-1850 when nearly 50 school buildings went up, of which only four remain. The two-story red brick edifice now contains private residences.
The Edgar Allan Poe National Historic Site sits on the edge of Northern Liberties near 7th and Spring Garden. Poe lived at several residences during his seven years in Philadelphia, and this is the only one that remains standing. Poe moved in June of 1843 and stayed for about a year. During his time at this house, he penned works including “A Tale of the Ragged Mountains," “The Balloon-Hoax" and “Eulalie."
The oldest district of the city of Philadelphia is aptly named Old City (no “e" in Old, as many try to add). First settled in 1682, Old City was the core of Philadelphia as William Penn extended the city's borders west in the world's first great planned city. In this area, the Quakers, who were religiously persecuted, settled and flourished.
Over the next century, Old City would grow to see the creation of a new nation, America's birthplace and the cradle of Western democracy. Among the blocks planned and developed by William Penn would rise some of the nation's most important and famous buildings related to the American Revolution, the signing of the Declaration of Independence and the ratification of the U.S. Constitution, including Independence Hall, the Liberty Bell Center, the Betsy Ross House, City Tavern, Christ Church, Franklin Court and the First Bank of the United States.
Today, the historic structures have been joined by a myriad of museums and attractions, such as the Museum of the American Revolution, the National Constitution Center, the National Museum of American Jewish History, the U.S. Mint, Independence Mall and the Independence Visitor Center. But it's not all history in Old City. The area is one of the city's most popular nightlife districts, with hip gastropubs, dive bars, trendy eateries, upscale restaurants, arthouse theaters, galleries, boutique retail and cafes along 3rd Street, Market and Chestnut.
Five Old City fun facts
Despite its name, William Penn never landed at Penn's Landing. The recreational park simply serves as a commemoration of Penn's 1682 landing 15 miles down the Delaware in Upland (now Chester), which at the time was the only settlement in Pennsylvania colony. Penn's Landing now features Spruce Street Harbor Park, the Independence Seaport Museum, the RiverRink, the Vietnam and Korean War Memorials and three important permanently-moored ships: The USS Olympia, the only surviving American naval warship from the Spanish–American War, the USS Becuna submarine, which received four battle stars for service during World War II, and the barque Moshulu, the largest surviving original windjammer ship.
The Liberty Bell scene in the 2003 film “National Treasure" was indeed shot at the Liberty Bell Center in Independence National Historic Park. However, the bell in the film was not the real artifact. The scene in the Center with Sean Bean was shot just days before the real bell, still at the now-demolished Liberty Bell Pavilion, was installed at the brand new facility. The prop in the film was made to scale from styrofoam. The Nicholas Cage chase scenes in Independence Hall, however, were (for obvious reasons) not shot on location. Those scenes of Ben Gates running atop of the building were shot at Knott's Berry Farm in California, where Walter Knott had constructed an exact replica back in the 1960s.
Because Franklin Square (one of William Penn's original five squares) sits between the base of the Ben Franklin Bridge and the Vine Street Expressway, the portion of 6th Street along the eastern entrance to the Square is technically signed as part of Interstate-676. Construction of a true highway would have disturbed the historic square, so a compromise with the Federal Highway Administration was struck to run the Interstate on a surface street. This is one of only about a dozen such instances of an Interstate gap featuring at-grade intersections and traffic lights in the entire U.S.
Elfreth's Alley is well known as the oldest continuously occupied residential street in North America. The 400-foot-long street was constructed in 1702 and contains 32 individual private homes built between the 1720s and 1830s. During its 300 years, more than 3,000 Philadelphians have called the street home, including future First Lady Dolly Madison, alleged flag designer Betsy Ross and financier Stephen Girard. Today, the homes range in price from about $600,000 to $850,000. Only the homes on the street's north side have cable TV drops and wired internet because historic sub-basements couldn't be dug through to place connections.
The 10-year-old restaurant Zahav, opened by well-known chef Michael Solomonov and his partner Steven Cook, is a popular Israeli eatery. In 2019, the restaurant received the James Beard Award for Outstanding Restaurant, often described as the culinary Oscars, essentially naming it the best restaurant in the entire country. Previously, Solomonov has won the Beard Award for Outstanding Chef and pastry chef Camille Cogswell was named "Rising Star Chef." Reservations sell out more than eight weeks in advance.
In the 1680s, Philadelphia city founder William Penn laid out his “Greene Countrie Towne," planned around his original Five Great Public Squares. The one square that has most retained its original cache is the block originally called Southwest Square, now Rittenhouse Square which also gives name to the neighborhood surrounding it from Sansom to South Street between 21st and Broad.
On sunny days, the vibrant park itself is filled with artists, dog walkers, organic food stands and lunching office workers. And surrounding the park is an upscale mix of high-rise luxury apartments, five-star hotels, al fresco dining and trendy coffee shops. The towering apartment buildings casting shadows over the park are home to some of the highest rents in the city, where many local athletes and celebrities reside.
And elsewhere around the neighborhood, arts and cultural institutions abound, including the Curtis Institute of Music, Adrienne Theater, Philly Improv Theater and Rosenbach Museum, as does fashionable shopping down Walnut Street.
Five Rittenhouse Square fun facts
Rittenhouse Square is a popular TV and movie shoot location. Recent productions shot in Rittenhouse include the Chadwick Boseman film “21 Bridges" and the upcoming AMC series “Dispatches From Elsewhere" from Jason Segal. Other classic flicks such as “Trading Places," “Mannequin" and, of course, “Rocky" have also filmed in Rittenhouse. Peirce's College Hall doubled as Haley Joel Osment's school in M. Night Shyamalan's “The Sixth Sense."
Additionally, in 2007, director Robert Downey, Sr. (yes, the father of Iron Man) released the light documentary simply titled “Rittenhouse Square." The film focuses on young love sprouting in the park, as well as the myriad of street musicians that populate the square.
The park was originally planned by William Penn and named Southwest Square. The park and the neighborhood were renamed Rittenhouse in 1825 in honor of David Rittenhouse, the first director of the U.S. Mint. There's also a lunar impact crater on the far side of the moon named for Rittenhouse.
Rittenhouse's University of the Arts can trace its origins back to the founding of the Philadelphia Museum of Art. UArts, formerly Philadelphia Colleges of the Arts, was created by the merger of the Philadelphia College of Art and Philadelphia College of the Performing Arts in 1985. More than a century prior, in 1876, the Philadelphia College of Art itself was created when the Pennsylvania Museum and School of Industrial Art split into the Philadelphia College of Art and the then-new Philadelphia Museum of Art, long before Rocky ran up some steps.
The Union League of Philadelphia is the oldest and probably most notable remnant of what were referred to as “loyalty leagues." Today, the Union League is a highly-elite private social club, but the building, and the society it houses, are so old it was built to support the policies of Abraham Lincoln in 1865.
Sharing a region of North Philadelphia with Manayunk and East Falls, Roxborough is an urban suburb, an oasis away from the city with its own main street and unique identity. Roxborough, much larger than its enclave neighbor of Manayunk, is part isolated exurb, part white-collar suburb and part parkland. The neighborhood is bookended by the Schuylkill River and Manayunk to the west and Wissahickon Valley Park to the east on the border of Montgomery County.
Founded in the late 1600s, Roxborough first came of age as the Industrial Revolution brought saw, paper and cotton mills to the region and former farmland became bustling streets. The neighborhood became purview of some of Philadelphia's wealthy elite, erecting large Victorian homes and taming green spaces.
Today, Ridge Avenue is the backbone of Roxborough, a destination street away from the city core filled with trendy restaurants, boutique retail stores, coffee shops and brewpubs. Despite its distance from Center City, any destination downtown is minutes away via the Schuylkill Expressway, regional rail lines and even urban bike paths.
Five Roxborough fun facts
The neighborhood's odd name dates back to a 1694 letter from Johannes Kelpius describing Roxborough as “where foxes burrow in the rocks," referring to the region as “Rockburrow." Or it was named after the Scottish town of Roxburgh, where one of the region's settlers was born. Depends whom you ask.
The Roxborough antenna farm is home to the broadcast transmission facilities for nearly every radio and TV station in Philadelphia. These towers are set in the neighborhood to take advantage of its elevation and central proximity. At 1,250 feet tall, American Tower is the largest of the 11 towers and carries the signals of WCAU-TV, WGTW-TV and the Entercom radio stations. The first tower on the antenna farm was the one built for Walter Annenberg's WPVI-TV (then WFIL) in the 1950s, which now carries the iHeartRadio signals.
Opened in 1943 as the Wissahickon Farm School, the W.B. Saul High School is — despite being within the city limits of one of the biggest cities in the U.S. — the largest agricultural farm school in the U.S. and offers the largest FFA (the former Future Farmers of America) chapter in the nation.
The Manayunk Canal, which stretches from just behind the Manayunk Brewing Company to the Lock 68 Manayunk Canal Sluice House, was the first canal in the U.S. to begin construction. It wasn't the first to be completed, however, with budget and river tide issues delaying the project. The canal, opened in 1943, was completely dug by hand by immigrants.
Declared one of “The 5 Best Cheesesteak Shops in Philadelphia" by U.S. News and one of “The Best Cheesesteaks in Philadelphia" by SeriousEats, Roxborough's Dalessandro's Steaks is regularly lauded as the best cheesesteak in town outside of Center City, if not the tops anywhere. And, like those famous spots on Passyunk, it sits right across the street from its biggest rival, Chubby's Steaks.
While the region is best known for the South Philadelphia Sports Complex, home to the Phillies, Eagles, 76ers and Flyers, South Philly is much more than Boo-Birds and Phanatics. Blocks and blocks of expanse south of the skyscrapers, each community tells a different story.
At the north end of South Philly lives the famous cheesesteak corner where Pat's King of Steaks sits across from its Passyunk Square rival Geno's Steaks. By the confluence of the Schuylkill and Delaware Rivers is The Navy Yard, a former military base recently converted into office complexes, restaurants, shopping, running trails and brand new apartment buildings.
Along the two-block corridor of 9th Street from Christian Street to the East Passyunk corner, the Italian Market — made famous by Rocky — contains nearly 40 grocers, butcheries, fishmongers, fromagers and chocolatiers which line sidewalks and awning-covered storefronts. And with large, open industrial blocks, the corridor of South Philadelphia along Columbus Boulevard and Delaware Avenue is the city's premier location for supermarkets and big box stores.
Underrated for its livability, South Philly is home to both large families, with multiple generations frequently gathering to chat on front stoops, and young professionals looking for affordable living, it's “the melting pot of Philadelphia," as described by Brandon Baker in PhillyVoice.
Five South Philadelphia fun facts
The World's Fair of 1926 was held in South Philadelphia's League Island Park (now known as Franklin Delano Roosevelt Park). The Sesqui-Centennial International Exposition, created to celebrate the 150th anniversary of the Declaration of Independence, was open for six months and drew more than 10 million visitors. Both the Delaware River Bridge (later renamed the Benjamin Franklin Bridge) and Philadelphia Municipal Stadium (later known as John F. Kennedy Stadium) were both built for the fair, the latter hosting 125,000 patrons to watch a rainy boxing match between Gene Tunney and Jack Dempsey during the exhibition.
The SS United States is a cruise ship built in 1952 docked off Delaware Avenue across from the South Philly IKEA. The ship is the largest ever constructed entirely in the U.S. and owns the record for the fastest ocean liner voyage across the Atlantic both eastern- and western-bound. Permanently moored at Pier 82, “The U" has been the target of frequent plans to be scrapped met with continual ownership turnover and campaigns for renovation.
On Passyunk Avenue, not too far from Pat's and Geno's, the massive Moyamensing Prison once stood. Open between 1835 and 1968, the prison was designed by Thomas Walter, who also designed the U.S. Capitol building. Among the facility's most famous prisoners were influential abolitionist Passmore Williamson, author Edgar Allan Poe (for one night) and H.H. Holmes, one of America's first serial killers, who confessed to 27 murders. During his time at Moyamensing, Holmes published his memoir entitled, “Holmes' Own Story."
While Philadelphians know the Theater of Living Arts on South Street as a 1,000-capacity concert spot for acts from hip hop to indie, the facility has had many lives. The venue first opened in 1908 as a nickelodeon known as Crystal Palace, and over the decades has lived lives as a single-screen cinema, opera house, nightclub, “beatnik" house, repertory theater and, of course, concert hall. The TLA has seen six major renovations and existed under nine different names. During its time as a movie theater, it helped launch the career of John Watters and was one of the first venues to show midnight matinees of “The Rocky Horror Picture Show."
While popularly thought of as the border between the North and the South, the Mason-Dixon Line actually has its origins in South Philadelphia. The proclamation that delineated the path of the surveyors' famous line designated that the disputed border between Pennsylvania and Maryland commence 15 miles south of the southernmost tip of Philadelphia. While the records had been lost for years, a Penn State-Abington study discovered that location to be a house at the intersection of Water Street and South Street which is now under an I-95 concrete strut.
Home to the University of Pennsylvania, University of the Sciences and Drexel University, University City is a lively neighborhood nestled into the southeast corner of West Philadelphia along the Schuylkill River. The district affords the opportunity to experience youthful vibrancy and access to collegiate museums and galleries, gastropubs and bistros and college sports and live entertainment associated with campus life. But while the schools do draw a younger crowd to the neighborhood, University City is more than a few colleges.
University City is a growing district, quite literally, with the new FMC Tower skyscraper and the under-construction 14-acre Schuylkill Yards, a massive multi-tower and public space redevelopment project, heralding the rise of a second downtown. Restaurants, cafes, bars and trendy shops line the east/west corridors of Chestnut, Walnut and Spruce Street, while Baltimore Avenue offers a bevy of retail and service stores. And each Friday at noontime, 52 weeks a year, public radio station WXPN offers a free concert with nationally touring artists at the beautiful World Café Live music hall.
And the area is not lacking for urban green space, which includes spots like Penn Park, an urban recreational park, Cira Green, a 95-foot-high green roof park and Station Plaza, a $6.5 billion public space project under construction around Amtrak's 30th Street Station, the 10th busiest rail station in America.
Five University City fun facts
Are you reading this on your laptop or phone? You can thank ENIAC, the first-ever fully electronic programmable computer, created at the University of Pennsylvania's Moore School during World War II. The project came in late (finished after the war) and over budget (costing more than $5 million in today's money), the 1,500-square-foot ENIAC's first success was performing math calculations used in the construction of the Cold War's first hydrogen bomb.
In a brand new building at 46th and Market Street stood the first broadcast studio in the nation built specifically for TV, housing the new WFIL-TV (later to become WPVI-TV). And at this studio in 1956, Dick Clark spun records while teenagers danced on the show that would go on to become American Bandstand and run for nearly 40 years.
The Palestra, the 90-year-old college basketball cathedral on the campus of the University of Pennsylvania, was not only the location of the first-ever NCAA Tournament Final but has hosted more regular season men's college basketball games, more NCAA Tournament games and more visiting teams than any other arena in America.
Across the street from The Palestra, the Penn Quakers' Franklin Field is the oldest active football stadium in the NCAA. Dating back to 1922, it was the location of the nation's first stadium scoreboard and first stadium upper deck and was also the site of both the first radio and first TV broadcasts of a football game. The historic Penn Relays, the oldest and largest track and field meet in the U.S., has been held at Franklin Field annually since 1895.
In 1984, Drexel University became the first higher education institution in the world to require students to use computers in the course of study, as what amounted to a PR stunt. In partnership with Apple Computer, the school offered students $2,500 Apple Macintosh computers for just a grand, which resulted in a large spike in enrollment.
Michael is a Philadelphia-based writer with a variety of interests, including music, TV, politics, travel and sports (Fly Eagles Fly!). His background includes a decade as a programming executive in network television, six years as a marketing executive at a technology company and time at two magazines and two advertising agencies. He also sits on the board of a non-profit law firm that assists veterans with disabilities. His work has been featured in nexxt.com, Ale Street News and Radio TV Interview Report Magazine. Michael is a proud Syracuse grad (Newhouse) who has lived in Kansas, Chicago, Saratoga and beyond.