philly file · February 23 2018

Hidden in Plain Sight

If you're like me and muse about the many layers of Philadelphia, both seen and unseen, then you took advantage of The Philadelphia History Museum at the Atwater Kent and Hidden City's mash up this past Thursday night. I left with a greater appreciation for this great city thanks to an evening of great insights into the thought process behind Philadelphia: Finding the Hidden City. The evening of conversation with the authors, photo presentation, and wine was hosted in the Main Gallery-a perfect backdrop with vintage photographs and the world's largest walkable map of Philadelphia.

"However, part of the very charm of Philadelphia is a perpetual feeling of nostalgia, loss, regret for the old days."
—Nathaniel Burt

Tourists, preservationists, and urban explorers can all agree that Philadelphia is unique and houses some of the most beautiful material culture. Glittering gems like the Philadelphia Art Museum and the City Hall are as important as its shuttered sisters like the darkened power plants along the river. Hidden City's publication is not a history book. It dives into the past while grappling with the future using two guiding lights: Philadelphia is a city of infinite layers and is a city of living ruins.

The crown jewel of the book, to myself and the authors, is the photo of the Metropolitan Theatre. Nathaniel Popkin explained how this one image perfectly encapsulated both ideas.

  • Built in the early 1900s, the building was used for its intended use for only a short time before moving through many revivals. Crumbling plaster and brick surrounding a billowing blue tarp lead the viewer to believe that the theatre was long abandoned.
  • The wear and tear hides the many years of revival the building experienced, including the church group housed below the tarp.

A special collection of items from the museum's vast collection highlighted how the aristocrats and the horizontal integration of the city's family owned businesses helped shape its composition. Don't worry if you missed this event! You can discover layers of Philadelphia hidden in plain sight for yourself with The Heritage Center of the Union League: Risk and Reward on view through the end of June.

Philed by Kim Iburg

Philadelphia History Museum
15 South 7th Street
Philadelphia, PA 19106 US

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