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!

Update: The Divine Lorraine recently got a facelift and a new lease on life, and apartments are (or were) available there. Details are here.

3 thoughts on “Philadelphia Freedoms”

  1. I don’t think you’ll be surprised that Mod B is pleased with your decision to include a map along with your finds – especially the ones that you’d have to really do some digging to find out where they are.

    I have read about though never seen The Divine Lorraine, and those 2 unexpected signs are news to me too! I’m not from PA so I don’t have a hangup or negative reaction to Philly – but I will agree with you that the traffic on 76 sometimes makes it not even worth it to go down there!

    Glad you got to cross some stuff off your list AND make new discoveries!

    1. Ironically, after I wrote this, I realized I really should have gotten into the history of the Divine Lorraine, because it is fascinating. Father Divine bought it in 1948, along with a number of other different hotels (which his followers called Heavens). Fascinating stuff.

      Also, since it is on the National Historic Register, it’s unlikely to be torn down. I’ve heard of plenty of renovation plans in the works, and there’s certainly a lot less graffiti on it than I’ve seen in other pictures, so maybe we’ll see it restored to its former glory very soon!

      The map: this has been a constant sore spot for me. Someone posts a sign on Instagram or Flickr and they don’t say where it is apart from “Saginaw, MI” or “Philadelphia” without saying for certain where it is. This is especially bad if the sign doesn’t have a business associated with it anymore. The best example I can come up with is the Georgia Girl Drive-In on US 17 in southern Georgia. It’s a fantastic sign, but the business is closed, the building itself is falling down, and due to hours of research (thank you Google Street View) I finally figured out where it was. But it would be a heck of a lot simpler if I just had a map!

  2. My grandfather, David Etkin, was the original proprietor of “Etkin Dry Cleaners”
    I am interested in purchasing a copy of your photograph – please let me know if this is possible. I wold love to give my dad for his 70th birthday – I know it would be quite meaningful as he spent many childhood days in the shop, helping his father.
    many thanks,

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