Philadelphia Freedoms, Part 2

For part 1, click here

I continued down Broad Street in the hopes of finding two more landmarks from my to-do list. For some reason, I thought both of them were in North Broad Street, but as I pulled up the information in Google Maps, I discovered that they were both on South Broad Street. The first, the Boot and Saddle Bar, was easier to find, since it is still in existence; the second, Philip’s Restaurant, closed a while ago. Little did I know, these two were less than a block away from each other!

Parking was a challenge, considering the nearby bus station and a few diners nearby. I went around and around blocks and got to know some of the peculiar inner workings of Philadelphia’s one-way streets a little more than I would have preferred. Eventually I came upon a spot on the block where Philip’s was. This spot was no bigger than my fist, but I somehow managed to jam my Elantra into it. IN so doing, I tapped the van behind me, and when I got out of the car, the driver yelled out the window at me, “Whiplash! Whiplash!” As soon as I looked at him and wide grin on his face, I knew he was just yanking my chain. He laughed and I laughed and I went to the task at hand.

Philip's Restaurant, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

Philip’s was one of the first places in the city to get air conditioning, thus its placement on the sign. This thing is massive, probably ten to twelve feet tall, which really must have gotten people’s attention back in the day. Notice just below the T in Restaurant? That’s the top of the Boot and Saddle sign!

Boot and Saddle, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

And here’s that sign! This is semi-restored, and as I understand it, actually lights up again. The rest of it could probably use some painting, or not; the bare metal is a bit charming in its own way. So an interesting thing about this sign is that it says “saddle” vertically and “Boot” horizontally, whereas on the other side:

Boot and Saddle, Philadelphia, PA

the opposite is true!

So, what you won’t see in this post is another Philadelphia landmark that is on South Broad Street, the Dolphin Tavern. The reason for this is simple: I didn’t realize it was there until after I got home. But, as these things usually go, it gives me another opportunity to go back!

When I returned to the car, the man in the van was still in the driver’s seat, reclined and dozing. I did my best to extricate my car without disturbing him and moved on to my next sign…


Divine Lorraine Hotel, Philadelphia, PATo finish off a bit of history from the last post, the Divine Lorraine has been vacant for more than a decade. It was originally the Lorraine Apartments when it first opened its doors in 1894, the design of renowned architect Willis G. Hale. In 1900, it was made into a hotel and almost a half-century later, it was purchased by Father Divine, head of the Universal Peace Mission Movement, who renamed it the Divine Lorraine. Bear in mind that Father Divine, although a maverick in the field of racial integration, also claimed to be himself God. This latter seems to have been disproven by his death in 1965.

Philadelphia Freedoms

Melino's, PhiladelphiaMelino’s Hoagies, Philadelphia, PA

A co-worker of mine, who grew up in Chattanooga, used to speak of an alternate childhood life he had lived. During periods of time, he would stay with his aunt, who lived in Philadelphia, and he told me many stories of how he was made fun of because of his accent, and how if he went down the wrong street (as he did occasionally) people would attempt to recruit him into a gang, and a host of other stories like that. Invariably, whatever Philadelphia story he told would end with him saying, with a huge grin and without a trace of irony, “I love Philly.”

And he truly did. Somehow, even though he really hadn’t said anything particularly positive about it, he loved Philly.

Tap most anyone who lives in Pennsylvania who has not lived in Philadelphia and environs, and the very mention of the city’s name elicits an overwhelmingly negative response. Part of this I can relate to, since I grew up in New York but not New York City, so whenever I told someone I was from New York, people made assumptions. For this completely unfair reason I came to dislike New York City, and only age and experience have reversed this attitude.

Be that as it may, my attitude toward Philadelphia was not right. I knew there were several Philadelphia signs on my to do list, and despite the fact that it’s relatively easy access for me to cross them off my list, I still wasn’t doing it. A couple weeks back, I had a free day and I made it up to myself to remedy this situation, so I hopped in the car bright and early and headed south.

I decided to avoid the Schuylkill Expressway, since it blocks up at all hours of the day and night, and headed in from PA 309, hoping to hook up with Broad Street on the north end. There was construction, so I ended whirling through back streets until I reached Broad at the Olney Street Bus Station, where approximately half a million people were waiting for the bus. I turned south on Broad, ready to scoop up some of the treasures. Almost immediately, I came upon my first. And second.

Etkin's and Dairy Maid, Philadelphia, PA

One of the more interesting aspects of these kind of shoots is that on occasion you run into one or two that you had no idea existed. I was after the Boot and Saddle and others I had researched and I had no idea Etkin’s Dairy Maid existed, much less back-to-back like this. I had to maneuver through the one-way side streets before I could turn around and get these, but once I got into position, I got parked and fired away.

Etkin's 1 Hour Cleaners, Philadelphia, PA

Dairy Maid, Philadelphia, PA

Some research on Dairy Maid: they were a Confectionary company owned by a family named Glaser. They bought a number of different companies, including many that sell salt-water taffy. The company still exists, but operates out of Gladwyne, PA. Etkin’s appears to still be open.

Still buzzing from the discovery, I headed on down Broad Street to my main quarry: the Divine Lorraine Hotel. Now a graffiti magnet, the Divine Lorraine was truly a high-class place in its day.

Divine Lorraine Hotel, Philadelphia, PAI went a little nuts with the Photoshop…

This was a considerably more difficult shot. I had to park across the street and tried to hit it up with my long zoom lens. But, and testament to my new friend the 35mm 2.8 Pentax Limited, I still managed to get the above shot (this is cropped, of course). Still, the 75-300 zoom came in handy when it came to getting just the sign.

Divine Lorraine Hotel, Philadelphia, PA

And I hadn’t even gotten to City Hall!

So, back to the idea that I started with: the Divine Lorraine, due to it being very, very closed, does not appear on Google Maps, Mapquest, etc. If you type it into your GPS, you will not find it. Granted, it’s on North Broad Street, and you literally can’t miss it, but this is a special case. There are plenty of others out there that you can’t find unless you have a map, and since it has been removed from the map, there’s no way to find it. So, to help out my fellow sign geeks, in cases like this, I’ll try to include a map of it’s exact position.

More to come!

Won’t you take me to (Quakertown)

News Agency, Quakertown, PANews Agency, Quakertown, PA 2009

In 2009, I had just started my journey. After years of film, I had moved on to digital, which provided me (at least in my own mind)  brand new opportunity to take pictures of any and all things that existed. I’ve said before that the above picture was the first I ever took of an old sign. I didn’t even get out of the car. I was coming back from the Quakertown Farmers’ Market when I saw this, pondered its significance and its age, and most importantly, the chances that it would still be standing in the future. I pulled over. This was the only picture I took that day. Despite the fact that I was pretty sure this sign would be gone in a few months, here it is five years later and it’s still there.

Stop me if you’ve heard this one, too: this sign is on the back side of PA 313 and doesn’t often get direct sunlight, so as a result, even though I love this original shot, I have been trying in vain to get another shot of this with better lighting conditions. Last week, the late afternoon sun was shining, I was within striking distance of Quakertown, and I had some time to kill, so I figured, why not?

To get to the News Agency, you have to pass the building and hook around it in one of those lovely maneuvers that you only have to do in the Northeastern United States (see: New Jersey, turning right to make a left). As I made the u-turn I could see that my trip was not in vain; at last, the sun was shining bright on the side of the sign that faces northwest. I parked in the same spot I had parked in five years ago, fixed my new lens to the K-5, and stepped out.

News Agency, 35mm, Quakertown, PA

While I’m happily taking some new shots, I can see a face in the window of the actual News Agency. Now, bear in mind, I was not especially sure that it was still open after all these years, but it was. A man walked out, and he was one of those sorts of people that you instantly know that you’re going to like. He knew what I was taking pictures of and immediately introduced himself. His name is Phil, he has an impressive mustache, and from what I could gather, is constantly smiling. Much more, as we started talking about this sign, he told me that he was going to be restoring this very sign!

Moyer's Shoes

Above the door to the News Agency is a rapidly-reappearing clue to the building’s past. This was a shoe store in a previous life, and not only that, but Phil tells me that the business is still owned by a family named Moyer. This, of course, is no surprise, because every third person in this part of Pennsylvania seems to have the last name Moyer. (And yes, in case you were wondering, former major league pitcher Jamie Moyer is from nearby Souderton.)

Phil also tells me that the former Dimmig Electric across the street is slated to become a bakery. There were plans for a Brew Pub to move in to the building, but this fell through. The Dimmig Building used to be the Palace Theater, he tells me, and even though I had been by several times, I hadn’t noticed the entryway, which really pointed it to being an old theater. Another thing strikes me: at the word “Dimmig,” it occurs to me that I had spotted another sign here months ago, at the back of the building. I hadn’t taken a picture of it because the sun was against me (once again), so as I left I figured it was a good idea to see if it was still there.

Dimmig Electric, Quakertown, PADimmig Electric, with the News Agency visible to the side, 2014

The back door was open and there was a guy working on the reconstruction. The sign was, as you can see, still in place. I asked him if he didn’t mind me getting a few shots and he basically told me to get them while I could, because chances were these letters would come down soon.

Dimmig Electric, Quakertown, PA

I drove back home feeling good. It’s not often that you get to document a small piece of history, or have a good conversation out on the street. And now, I’ll have to go back to see how the News Agency sign looks when it’s finished!


On my way back, I had to stop in at The Inside Scoop, which is a few miles north of Quakertown on PA 309 in the town of Coopersburg. Although not an old sign, it has pretty much everything one could hope for in a new sign. Since I’ve been revisiting old favorites with my new lens, I figured I would squeeze off a few shots!

The INside Scoop, Coopersburg, PA

Turn In, Tune Out

Turn In, Bath, PA, 2010

When I was in college, to get a little extra money, I would loan out my 1984 Dodge Charger to people who needed to borrow it. One of the guys in my dorm was one of my regulars, and although I was reasonably sure that on more than one occasion he spent the time with my car doing donuts in some unfortunate parking lot (I had to have the alignment adjusted three times in college, and always after this guy borrowed it), I continued to let him do so. One day he asked if I could take the Charger to drop him off at the Knoxville airport. He was practically in tears. Not because he had to go the Knoxville airport, which would be bound to affect anybody, nor because of any tragedy in his life that required him getting on a plane, but because he had had a nightmare the previous night. In the nightmare, he had gone to the airport and in the process of doing so, was involved in a car accident and killed. After telling me this, he detailed all the reasons why he should disbelieve everything in the dream, put aside his fears, and get on that plane. It was a matter of faith.

So, in conclusion, he understood if I just wanted to let him borrow my car, or even if I didn’t let him near my car. Now it was my matter of faith.

I did the only logical thing I could think of. I drove him up to Knoxville and picked him up when he came back, and despite the fact that we were white-knuckling it all the way along I-75, we had conquered fear.

How does this relate to the picture above? Well, a couple weeks ago I had a dream that I went to take a picture of this sign (yes, you read that right. I actually have dreams about taking pictures of signs), and that I got into an argument with the people who ran the place and they kicked me out. When I woke up, I knew it was time to kick my fears in the rear end once again.

My initial shots of the Turn-In Family Restaurant in Bath, PA were some of the first sign pictures I took, and good ones, too. I really felt like I had no need to go back and try again until I had that dream. One afternoon I was within reasonable driving distance of it when I came across another old favorite on the road to Nazareth. I’ve come across three or four remains of old gas stations in Pennsylvania, but the abandoned Texaco on PA 191 is very photogenic. This time, there was a tractor in front, which only added to its allure. As you can see.

Texaco station on the road to Nazareth, PA

But I had to pick up my wife at 5:00, and after I had gotten a few shots of the Texaco station I didn’t have enough time to go to Bath. So my fears would have to wait to be conquered.

When I got the first batch of shots four years ago, I was very skittish about pulling off and getting pictures of signs. I more or less figured that some grouchy individual would jump out the door and tell me what I could do with my camera. Experience has taught me that, with a few exceptions, people are more than glad to have me take a picture of their sign, and in some cases, have rushed to turn on the neon to show me how cool it looks lit up. But back then, I didn’t know that, and really expected outright hostility. Which made my recent dream all the more strange. It seemed like something I should have dreamed years ago.

The next chance came a few mornings later. The skies were cloudy, but I was going to give it a chance because a) you never know when the skies will clear, and b) some shots just lend themselves to cloudy skies. I headed out to Bath and ducked into the parking lot.

Turn In, Bath, PA

Two things I noticed: first, the parking lot when I took the shots in 2010 was empty, and this parking lot was almost completely full, so they must be doing something right. Second, as you can see from the picture above, the portly little chef was missing from the sign, which is a shame. I wondered later if that part of the sign might have been damaged in a storm.

Do I like the shots from 2014 better than the ones from 2010? No, not at all. The first group were taken with bright sun and produced beautiful colors. But in the end, I’m glad I did it, because our fears, however foolish they may be, are meant to be conquered. My first shots helped conquer the fear of being yelled at for doing something I enjoy, and the second shots finished them off.

Turn In, 2014

I messed with the HDR feature in Photoshop for this one. Not bad, but I still like the 2010 shots…