Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Updating Philadelphia

Typical street with housing and old factory

New style row housing
I have returned to Philadelphia to visit friends, see some new things and get away from intense Florida heat and humidity.  I am staying with a dear friend in the Fishtown section of Philadelphia.  This old neighborhood is going through considerable change as blue collar housing is slowly being displaced and upgraded to accommodate an updated YUPPIE class and thriving art community that has been slowly growing here. Nothing new to a city with numerous top universities.  What is new is that a lot of the educated youth that once came here and left right after college appears to have discovered the wonders of the city.

The city has also been showing a new set top class cultural of cultural venues.  The Barnes Collection is the largest privately held collection of French Impressionist paintings.  The collection used to be housed at a dowdy Mainline mansion that was in one of those noble blue blooded Philadelphia neighborhoods with so many restrictions that made visiting an exercise in determination if not obstinacy.  

Street side Plaza and Bus Shelter

After years of wrangling with the Estate and long after the death of Dr. Barnes the the power brokers that run Philadelphia's cultural institutions saw that this collection valued at more than 25 billion dollars needed to be accessed by the public, better yet, put  under their control.  A major legal battle ensued and broke the estate and will that restricted use and viewing and location.  The  winners hired architects Todd Williams and Billie Tsien to design a world class museum that merited such a collection and displayed the art in the exact same manner as in the original building.  The museum, of course, is in Philadelphia a mere 5 or so miles from its prior Lower Merion location and a world away.  The Museum is a work of art.

Enjoy our musings through the public spaces, not the galleries.  There is no photography allowed in the galleries.  I guess having spent 150 million on the new building now they have to collect it back selling post cards!  I have seen the collection in its original setting and its quirky gallery displays with metal hinges and African masks making all kinds of relationships between the paintings and Barnes.  I did not want to see the paintings as such, I wanted to see the new museum which is unique and provides a museum within a museum.  

There are over eight hundred major paintings by  Picasso, Monet, Matisse, Cezanne, Seurat, Van Gogh, and numerous other major and lesser artists. The way the paintings are displayed is very troubling for me.  Fabulous paintings are arranged by style or color or artist and balanced in a manner where if you have a square shaped painting on  one side of the room then, there must be a balancing one on the other - eccentric and quaint, don't you think?  There are  almost two hundred Renoirs.  These stand out for the manner in which the  Barnes chose to display them as pretty much the wallpaper of the galleries.  They also  are amusing as the are referred to as his white ladies (Renoir that is).  Scantily clad, bosom exposed, 19th Century pornography which Barnes appears to have delighted in. Individually, some paintings are masterpieces and iconographic. Regardless, it is an extraordinary collection worthy of a visit; more so now, that the Museum sets is off in an exceptional way.  Most importantly it is important also as the personal collection of a man of considerable wealth who knew most of the artists personally and who amassed and chose to display this collection according to his whims in an ensemble - something you don't get in a typical warehouse museum.

walkway to main entrance
Parkway signage

Main public hall with massive skylight

Sculptural table and interior fountain evocative  of the Villa Llante.  Great for the many parties that all kinds of donors will be having here.

Fabric and Stone wall panel textures

Central Skylight jets out of building to canopy outdoor terrace and further party space

View facing out of same terrace as above featuring deck seating and outdoor fire place 
Street-side building facade with windows that light collection gallery

Another street-side view of building of outdoor terrace
Race Street Pier
Another recent project is the Race Street Pier designed by James Corner's Field Operations.  This most unique park uses unconventional materials to design conventional objects and reaches a marvelous sense of place directly under the Benjamin Franklin Bridge.  The park is built on existing but abandoned moorings left over from days of great clipper ships on the Delaware River. The park was planted with large specimen plants that according to my friends have filled in even more during this growing season.   It must have been a great location to see the 4th of July fireworks that have at times cascaded off the bridge.  It is not a spot for fishing as it is noted everywhere.  Consensus from my group felt that there are other fishing spots on the river and cutting fish heads or leaving entrails behind my slightly detract.  

Dramatic inward sloping rail.  Possibly Corten-steel panel retaining wall to contain raised plantings.

Terrace with bleacher type seating.  Shiny floor rectangles help light and add interest to the deck

At the end of the pier your are exposed to the Camden New Jersey shore and a panoramic vista of both cities.  It was a warm but breezy spot to spend my first Sunday afternoon away from Tarpon Springs.  As I write this, I have visited other new spots that show a lot of what has taken place to update this great city.  Regardless, after just a few days away I don't miss the humidity nor the heat of Tarpon but I miss my morning walks along the palm lined bayou.  Happy Gardening!

Monday, July 23, 2012

Seminole Heights, Tampa

Wonderful broken Terra-cotta tile entryway

When I first started investigating the Tampa Bay area as a possible place to relocate I started looking in neighborhoods that were in Pinellas County which is on the Gulf and near to my family.  I knew that Tampa had wonderful neighborhoods but of course all of this was on the bay and far from the beaches.  I never looked around for more than discovering places to visit and be a tourist of sorts.  Some years prior to me coming down here an acquaintance of mine moved for work and found a great historic district in Tampa:  Seminole Heights. Upon first visiting the newly married couple I was amazed by the character and beauty and concentration of these great Craftsman homes.

side entry with Japanese flair
The neighborhood dates from the turn of the 20th Century when T. Roy Young acquired 40 acres and developed Craftsman housing three miles north of Tampa as a way to provide elegant housing for the growing city and those early snowbirds who came to Tampa.  The neighborhood is a collection of every style of Craftsman housing imaginable.  Most of the houses are single story with ten to twelve foot ceilings located on a slightly elevated plateau north of the city and bordering the Hillsborough River.  

three bays wide with classic urns

There are combinations of shingle, brick, clabbers with great porches and flanking pylons that frame the  entries.  Certainly my house in Tarpon Springs is an example of the same style, but in Tarpon Springs even though there are many Craftsman houses there are even more Victorian structures due to its earlier development.  So when I visited my friends I was amazed and thrilled to see this gem of a place. I felt like a kid in a candy store.  I kept wondering if I had made and mistake in not looking further than I did.
Great fenestration and doors (note louvered attic vents to cool house)
Of course, these houses are a century old like mine and like anything that old they are in every stage of repair.  Somewhere along new neighborhoods came along with block housing that purportedly is safer during hurricanes, but of course they have their own problems because of materials that are not as natural to the area.  Concrete block tend to hold more moisture than plaster wall cavity houses that breathe naturally.  You leave a concrete block house closed and you will have mildew odor and stains  everywhere if the air conditioning is not left on whereas old Craftmans function just fine. The old Craftsman houses have a natural way of cooling off by not being built on a slab.  They float and have air all around them to keep them naturally comfortable with their wide overhangs that shade and further cool the houses.  Remember, in 1911 there was no air conditioning and people lived here.

Enjoy the wonderful examples of Seminole Heights.  What is remarkable to these house is that because most of them are a century old they have great landscapes all around them.  The streets are spanned by live oaks and beautiful old plants you don't find in nurseries today.

Rare full two-story house

Nice house questionable color!

Wonderful color scheme and giant elephant ear philodendron

Another Asian inspired Bungalow

Crape myrtle entryway

Wonderful Stain Glass Door

Classic Florida Bungalow with flanking giant bird of Paradise plants

Another gem

In 1908 the Gamble family ( of Proctor and Gamble fame) hired Charles and Henry Greene to design and build what would become one of the most celebrated Craftsman Bungalow of its day or any day.  The craze for this architecture swept the nation and every manner of copy was produced inspired from the Gamble House.  From the Asian inspired motifs and joinery, Tiffany windows and light fixtures and uses of exotic wood, houses appeared around the country making homage to this spectacular residence.   The Gamble House cost fifty thousand dollars in 1908.  Most of the homes of Seminole Heights sold for five thousand dollars in 1911.  From 1908-40 Sears  and Roebuck sold seventy five thousand craftsman houses through the mail-order-catalogue in over four hundred styles.  World War II brought an end of the fashion of the Craftsman Bungalow.  After the war we all wanted modern or Googie architecture; a subject for another day.  Happy Gardening!

Saturday, July 7, 2012

As American as Baseball and Mangos?

Dunedin Blue Jays Stadium Home of the DJ's ( their Single-A  Affiliates)
Happy Belated 4th of July.  The weather is hot and the sport is Baseball.  We in Florida are the home of so many Spring Training Camps.  Of course during training season prices change  but the stadiums are still the same.  Closest to me is the Dunedin Blue Jay Stadium that serves the Dunedin DJs, Single-A affiliate farm team for the Canadian team, member of the American League.  Games are inexpensive and often accompanied by all kind of associated events like Wing night, Barbecue Night, Thirsty Thursday $2.00 Beers, Car Shows, Sleepovers, Fireworks, etc.   A lot of fun can be had for a $6.00 admission.  A senior season pass for 70 plus games costs $79.00. The games feature the local DJs with all manner of  disciplined or recovering pros that are here for a period of time and keep the game very interesting.  As you can imagine the local team is made up of starting players, sometimes, so new they don't even have statistics!

The small cozy stadium makes baseball fun again
Regardless, it is a wonderful feeling to be able to drive 10 minutes and park in front of the stadium for free and have a good time.  I have never seen the game from this close in either Dodger or Philly Stadiums.    I have some friends that have a season ticket and are often out of town so they disperse their tickets amongst interested parties of the UU congregation.  So far I have made it to three games and each one has been all the things that baseball used to be for me as kid growing up in Cuba.  Families come and the kids run around the stadium and local roaming hosts have frozen t-shirt contest, or do some kind of quiz show between plays to offer up prizes to the very intimate audience.  So it is, that we celebrated the 4th in this patriotic pastime that is as American as apple pie.
The Mango tree has responded to good weather and lots of TLC
Unfortunately, we don't grow apples or cherries in Florida so we may need to update our saying here to "as American as Mangos?"  Maybe not.  The mild winter has allowed all the nutrients I have pumped into the Mango Tree to produce a respectable crop of mangos.  

A few more mangos to be harvested will give me a chance to catch up eating
Unfortunately, most ripen at the same time.  I am sure that with the rain, pruning and the feedings I have given the tree, it is now well on its way to provide regular and possibly even more bountiful crops in future years. 
Production processing of the crop

As is, the mango tree has provided enough mangos for a few families of ten.  I have started processing the beauties and storing them sliced with some lemon juice frozen or just refrigerated.  Mangos can be very messy to eat so pealing them and slicing them all out once makes the eating a lot more fun when you choose to.   So every morning I have a cup of two of fresh mangos.  Believe me, there is nothing more delicious or naturally sweet.  

Next training season I think I will check out the pro teams.  The Philadelphia Phillies are a few minutes further away in Clearwater, apparently, in a fancier stadium.  By the way we trounced the visiting team.  I can't even tell who it was for they are as unknown as the DJs, but who cares we had a great time!  Happy Gardening!

Monday, July 2, 2012

Tropical Storm Debbie's Little Water and Lots of Gay Pride

After almost 24 hours of solid rain that dropped over 15 inches on Tarpon Springs it stopped.  We were not the worst off as we are right next to the water so all the water quickly went back to its place.  My cottage bungalow almost seemed like something out of the English countryside with a punting canal in front of it.  

As soon as the tide went down (as the picture above is at high tide with the torrent barely stopping for ten minutes) the waters receeded to display a little bit of my damage.  The mulch was swept away and shallow rooted bromeliads that had been interplanted amongst the hibiscus, had floated off around the garden and the river.  The garden suffered from being water logged for too long and some plants have wilted and hopefully will recover.  The plants that have wilted are mostly non natives which serves again to indicate where the bulks of plantings should be in any garden.   The house is fine and never appeared at risk - this time!

The culprits in all this mess were the pickups pictured in the first picture who were having fun driving around looking at the devastation and trying to get award wining journalism images with their Best Buy video cameras.  The results were wakes of which you can see the remains above where mulch and plants alike form a layer like bathroom scum along the lawn.
Street Access to Safford House Museum
All in all, the next day left pockets of water around us where natural saddles in the landscape held water.  For the next two days showers continued sometimes producing continued downpours but limited to an hour or two.  Today, more than ten days after the storm, the newspaper is still discussing a major toll roadway where the State is pumping out millions of gallons of water a day and the road is still underwater - so much for engineers.

Old Sponge warehouse floating above the street turned river
The innocents in this entire affair are dead manatees that drowned and a whole generation lost of Loggerhead and other turtles eggs that were washed away from their nest in our beaches.  For the most part we had few casualties and it is better than burning or boiling as it appears is happening elsewhere in the country.

Members of the UU Tarpon Springs with banner designed by yours truly
Just a week after all this maelstrom the weather is fine and the sun is baking again and people are getting on with their planned lives.  For us Unitarians Universalists we had an engagement to march in the St. Petersburg Gay Pride Parade on Saturday June 30.  Members from our Church joined other UU congregations "Standing on the Side of Love" to send a clear message that we stand for the inherent worth and dignity of every person.  Although some of us are gay most of the Unitarians Universalist marchers are not.

Members of the Unitarian Universalist Congregations
It was hot, sunny and breezy which made our  day that started at the crack of dawn setting up two booths, long and tiring.  There was but one of our members in his 70 who had to be ferried off in a car when the heat got to him from marching, but kudos to Chuck for believing in the cause.  

The parade attracted more 80,000 people, according to the newspapers, and although not a large number by comparison to other places I have lived, it is the largest such event in conservative Florida.  Members of different Unitarian Universalists congregations manned the booths and had lots of fun with the very diverse crowds.

As typical, advertisers trying to support and make a buck off this affluent community were there with their typical  symbols.

Other advertisers chose more innovative ways of getting their products placement out to the marketplace!  

Given, the crowd there was bound to be spoofs on just about everything.  A local Eurobar decided to parade its moniker about and have lots of fun in the process.

Esconced on the back of a pickup (the preferred vehicle in Florida) and giving us a little wave this character kept a lot of us laughing.  But this was no laughing matter.  We were all there because we had to support one another in a world that sometimes is less than supportive and although we have come a long way to achieve recognition and some freedoms there are many that would like to turn back the hands of time or individuals that stick their head in the sand expecting others to earn their freedoms for them.

As a young man I grew up in California and remember Gay Pride Parades San Francisco and in Los Angeles where millions came out in support and you got goosebumps from how proud you felt to be a part of those communities.  My business took me to New York City where Pride is like a national holiday and the characters that come out on these occasions are often as daring and outrageous as possible.  No matter, the reasons for their outrageousness were always for the good of the community and we needed some laughter during all those years when the AIDS epidemic decimated so many of our friends and peers.  This crowd Saturday looked tame by comparison to some other pride festivals I have seen.  Maybe the more we are accepted the less we have to stick out to make people recognize and respect us.  We have come a long way but there is still a way to go.  Happy Gardening!