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Hidden City Festival 2013

May 27, 2013

Four years ago, I was enamoured with Philadelphia’s inaugural Hidden City Festival 2009 that paired contemporary artists to forgotten spaces throughout the city.  This May and June, the festival is back for a second round, with new sites, new artists and amazing discoveries.  Hidden City Festival 2013 is at 9 sites with 10 different artist projects, creating new worlds and ideas in unexpected historic spaces, reaching north into Germantown and Frankford, south to Fort Mifflin, and everywhere in between.

Kelly Natatorium at the Fairmount Water Works

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The entrance to Kelly Natatorium is on the underbelly of the Water Works buildings.  Water Works opened in 1815 with a mission to clean water to prevent disease.  The pollution from the Schuylkill River finally forced the facility to close its operations in 1909.  In the 1960s, a portion of the building became the Kelly Natatorium swimming pool until 1972.  It has remained vacant since.

The artist collective Camp Little Hope  created an interactive work in the Natatorium, utilizing a proposal from the early 20th century to convert part of the Water Works into an educational space. Artists Mary Rothlisberger and Walker Tufts guided visitors through the conversation of the future of the world’s water, dealing with issues of ownership, economy and climate change. Tea was served during the conversation, and it was lovely.

Hawthorne Hall in Powelton Village

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Hawthorne Hall was built in 1895, and has been home to the Knights of the Pythias Union Lodge, Irish National Foresters, and churches. Most of the building now sits vacant but was recently purchased by the People’s Emergency Center Community Development Corporation.

The artist collective Rabid Hands transformed the space into an interpretation of the Society of Pythagoras, working from the idea of secret societies. From the project website: “Rabid Hands Art Collective, featuring members Andrew Schrock, Ben Wolf, Serra Victoria Bothwell Fels, and Vanessa Cronan along with other collaborators, will establish the “Society of Pythagoras” within the ruins of an old clubhouse (complete with its church, theater and bar) using materials collected on the site and around the city. The artists will explore the tangled history of the fraternal lodges that once made the site their home, drawing from past and present secret spiritual and fraternal customs to create a mysterious, multi-storied club built on ritual and exploration.

After passing through the initiation office and swearing an oath of secrecy, visitors will be inducted into the Society of Pythagoras and pass through numerous ordeals as they ascend up the stairs and rise through the levels of the secret society. Built by hand with divine inspiration, the Knights of Pythagoras clubhouse installation will offer a full sensory experience: interactive spiritual sound objects, light baths and ritualistic performance. ”

Rabid Hands member Ben Wolfe, a fully fledged member of the Secret Society of Pythagoras according to this found document, has been featured on my blog back in 2012 when I encountered his work in Detroit.  (Check out the photo of the building on Moran Street that Ben created).

Finding the dining hall was like encountering one of the most magical places in West Philadelphia–the wind blew the orange curtains open, allowing illumination of the dark space and adding to the feeling of something completely surreal.  More information about the site is here.

John Grass Wood Turning Company in Old City

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John Grass was a Bavarian immigrant who founded the his wood turning company in 1863 in Philadelphia.  It was moved into its current location on North 2nd Street in the early 20th century, and remained an operating company until 2003.

The space is in the process of being stabilized, and docents were on hand to explain the equipment and tools found around the space, some dating back from the mid-19th century.

The site is a part of the recent purchase of The Center for Art in Wood (aka the Wood Turning Center), with its gallery and main space located on 141 North 3rd Street, just parallel to the historic site.  Information about the Hidden City project and site description are here.

According to our docent (see image), the company produced a billy club for former Mayor Frank Rizzo in his years as a cop; he specially asked for the inside to be hollowed for the addition of lead.

More information about the John Grass building is at including information on how to help preserve this historic landmark.

Globe Dye Works in Frankford

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A former yarn-dying company in the Frankford neighborhood of North Philadelphia (4500 Worth Street), Globe Dye Works is now a building that houses artist studios, event space, and even is host to film shoots.

A huge vat of the original pigments used to dye the cotton yarn produced at the building still exists.  The company was founded in 1865 and ran until 2005.  Two of Philly’s most well-known young artists, Steven and Billy Dufala, took on the infrastructure of the large industrial space of the building as inspiration for several sculptural installations.

The artists were inspired by the mill and its production of yarn, with snarky illustrations and creation of defunct objects that refer to the manufacturing that took place for over a century at Globe Dye Works.

Check out more work by the Dufala Brothers.

The Historical Society of Frankford

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Around the corner from the Globe Dye Works is the Historical Society of Frankford, a treasure trove of historical artifacts.

The historical society was founded in 1905 and still has many active members dedicated to preserving the collection and legacy of Frankford.

Artist Joe Patitucci from Data Garden was on hand to guide me through listening to the sound installation based on archaic AV technology.  Buttons corresponded to different elements in the collection, including baby carriages and the birds, and activated old cassette players that had corresponding sound.  The sounds were eerie and sweet, ghostly and mournful, almost pulled from the memories of the objects. It was a beautiful collaboration between Data Garden and the collection of the historical society.

Athenaeum of Philadelphia in Old City

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Located off of Washington Square in Old City, the Athenaeum is a treasure of books, founded in 1814 by a group of literati. The Athenaeum is still in active club: a “member-driven literary association and library that houses an internationally significant collection of rare books, as well as architecture and interior design documents.”

Artist Ruth Scott Blackson found inspiration in several books in the collection, including reports commissioned by the Parks Services Department on the original decor of the Edgar Allan Poe house, located on Spring Garden and 7th Streets.

The reports include the scientific composition of paint used on the interiors of the home throughout the past two centuries, and the Munsell Book of Color (below) was used as a reference in Scott Blackson’s reinterpretation of the colors, paired with Poe text. Poe was a guest of the Athenaeum, and his signature is a part of the exhibition.

Fort Mifflin & Mud Island

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Surrounding Fort Mifflin, a historic 18th century site by the Philadelphia airport, is Mud Island.  Artists Ben Neiditz and Zac Webber created installations along the path that follows the perimeter of the fort, and we encountered their work while on an urban plant tour led by the collective We the Weeds.

Construction on Fort Mifflin began in 1776 and was active during the American Revolution; from the Hidden City website: “the fort saw the heaviest bombardment of the war during the British campaign to gain control over the Delaware River and capture Philadelphia. In what came to be known as The Battle of Mud Island, the British killed or wounded approximately 250 of Fort Mifflin’s American defenders. The fort was left in ruins but the defeated garrison never surrendered.  After setting fire to the remains, the last men retreated to Fort Mercer during the night of November 15, 1777. In 1795, work to rebuild a new fort on the site of the original began, and the fort was renamed after Thomas Mifflin, first governor of Pennsylvania. Fort Mifflin was later used as a prison during the Civil War, and in the 1870s a gun emplacement known as the “High Battery” was built outside the fort’s walls on the southern section of the island.”

We the Weeds botanist Zya Levy clarifies the important role of the jewelweed, along with many other plants on the trail, and we concluded with concoctions of stinging nettle and other weed tinctures with the tour group.

Shivtei Yeshuron-Ezras Israel in South Philadelphia

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Converted into a place of worship in 1909, Shivtei Yeshuron-Ezras Israel has been an active place of religious activity for over 100 years.  Located in a three-story row house in South Philadelphia, the experience of entering the synagogue is like stepping back in time as little has changed in its interior history.  Artist Andrew Dahlgren, aka ADMK Knit Lab, is using the second floor of the space,which was once the seating area for women who were not allowed to participate in the religious ceremony next to the men.  The space is now a knitting factory with the whirring of the knit labs knitting machines echoing through the building.  Machines are set-up amongst the peeling paint walls and boxes of memorabilia (including scores of amazing bingo cards from early 20th century) and visitors can work on their own piece, creating a piece for the project within an hour.  The plan is to knit a new facade for the building within the duration of the festival.  The project and the artist can be read about here.

Germantown City Hall

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Within Germantown City Hall are the remains of a once-active government center.  Offices, still intact, are now covered in falling plaster and chipping paint.  Deserted in 1998, the building is currently for sale, and is the site of The Think Tank/Jacob Wick‘s project which asks visitors to share their opinions on Germantown, it’s past, present and future.  You can participate in the project here.

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