Fact: inspiration can come from anywhere. For our agency, one source is definitely Creative Mornings. A morning lecture series that brings together creatives from a variety of industries to discuss a common theme, it happens once a month in 177 cities around the globe. We’ll be posting a recap each month, so check back here or come join us!
A Quick Recap: An Outsider’s Perspective
This month’s global theme was Curiosity, and Philadelphia’s talk was led by Pete Woodall who talked about how his youthful curiosity led to the co-founding of Hidden City Daily, the online publication of Hidden City Philadelphia. Hidden City highlights the known and unknown places, buildings and landmarks in the city and explores Philly’s rich architectural and historical landscape.
Attributing his heightened sense of curiosity toward Philly to the fact that he didn’t grow up here, Woodall moved to the city during his adolescent years and believes that being an outsider allowed him to have a fresh perspective. This was coupled by the fact that due to growing up in the ’80s with lots of freedom and time, he and his friends ended up exploring abandoned buildings, climbing rooftops and going into subway tunnels for fun. In effect, he likened curiosity to a “social phenomenon” that he fostered while exploring the city with his friends.
One quote in particular summed up the sentiment of his lecture pretty well:
“The less you know, the more you can imagine.”
However, while he loved exploring the decaying, “post-apocalyptic” landscape of Philadelphia in his youth, Woodall didn’t start documenting his findings until he moved back to the city after living in San Francisco for 10 years. One of the first places he photographed was the Cramp Shipbuilding Machine and Turret Shop. Despite having always passed by it in his earlier years, he never set foot inside until that day, capturing the light pouring through the red painted glass window.
Taking that photo eventually evolved into a passion project: while his friend searched up the history of the buildings, he would take photographs and post them to his Flickr account. The Internet was a great platform to share his findings and also be inspired by others.
However, Woodall did raise the question of whether the pervasiveness of social media and photographic documentation has overexposed its subjects or taken away from the novelty of the experience, resulting in the paradoxical nature of urban exploration: in revealing a hidden place, you are also to an extent taking its secrets away. Nevertheless, he conveyed that he still finds joy in the serendipity of exploring Philly and the chance encounters he’d have. Case in point: being kicked out of a building by a man with a very large machete.
Balancing the Old With the New
Like Woodall, I did not grow up in Philadelphia. A New Jersey native who moved here for college, I’ve been in Philly for the past six years. The city also felt very new and foreign to me at first, but I’ve grown to love it. However, in my time here, I’ve also seen how much the city’s landscape has changed and continues to change—sometimes for better, sometimes for worse. Many of the buildings that Woodall explored in his youth have either been renovated, restored or demolished in order to build something new and with that, there are many mixed implications and feelings.
Here’s what’s left of the historic Royal Theater on South Street, one of Philadelphia’s very first African American owned and operated theaters. The facade is being preserved because @presalliancephl holds an easement on it. Demolition of the rest was OKed by the City and is now but a fleeting memory. Keep your eyes peeled for another comical facadectomy. The design for what will fill the lot looks like it belongs in a suburban strip mall. #blackhistory #worldheritagecity #historicpreservation #thisplacematters #cinematreasures #demolitionphilly
The truth is change is not always easy, but one of the things I love about Philly is seeing the blend of old and new: the cobblestone streets and landmarks in Old City, the industrial warehouses and factories by the Delaware River, the modern skyscrapers in Center City and the art deco remnants of theaters and buildings sprinkled throughout. In fact, our agency is located in the historic Cast Iron Building on 7th and Arch. Once part of the famous Lit Brothers department store, its beautiful Victorian facade still stands today.
Like that of most cities, the narrative of Philadelphia is told through its history, architecture, people, art and more. Exciting and new things are happening, but I hope the city can still stay true to her roots as well. As for me, I hope to take note from Woodall and look more closely at the nooks and crannies of this vibrant city—and of course, to be constantly curious in anything I do.