Boy’s Night Out

“Where are you?” Laura said on the phone, through the car’s speakers.

Busted. So, so busted.

Well, there was no denying it. In these days of Find My iPhone, she really didn’t even need to ask. “Philadelphia,” I said. I was just about to get off on the Broad Street exit of 95. The sun was rapidly declining, and neon magic hour was already in full swing. I was after the Boot and Saddle Bar, which I had photographed previously three years ago:

Boot and Saddle Sign, July 2014

The sign had been restored to its former glory.

Laura laughed. She had spent the day shopping with her sisters all the way up in Williamsport, so she had already guessed what I was up to. “I told everybody, ‘I’ll lay odds he’s driving somewhere to take a picture of a sign, and then he’ll come home and watch Mystery Science Theater.'”

“Wow, that’s spooky. You left out the part about me going to John’s in South Philly for a cheesesteak, but the rest is dead on.”

I got off at the Broad Street exit. It was a gloomy night and it was getting darker. I’ve learned from experience that neon in complete darkness somehow loses its power, so I had to get there before nightfall.

I don’t know if you’ve ever driven up Broad Street in Philadelphia when you’re in a hurry from 95 practically to the middle of the city. I don’t recommend it. Words fly out of your mouth that you don’t even know. I was speaking conversational Bulgarian for a time, and not the nice kind of conversation.

But the night held off, and I was there. Amazingly, I found parking, which was something I found most difficult three years earlier. And there it was:

Boot and Saddle Neon SignQuite the restoration job by Len Davidson, who also restored the Reading Terminal Market sign in 2006. Here’s a before and after from my shots in 2014 and 2017:

Fortunately for me, the night, or rather the daylight, wasn’t quite over. On my way through on Broad Street, I caught a glimpse of the Melrose Diner. I had caught this during the day, but I couldn’t resist a neon diner at night. I worked my way back to Snyder Avenue, just in time.

Melrose Diner SignMelrose Diner at NightAs it so happens, John’s Roast Pork is also on Snyder Avenue, so all I had to do was turn around. This turned out to be one of the more difficult feats of the evening, as the entire city of Philadelphia seemed to choose that moment to drive their respective cars on Snyder Avenue going west. But eventually, the masses went on their way, and I was headed in the direction of cheesesteak goodness.

Mind you, even though I live pretty close to the city, my only experience with a real-live honest-to-goodness Philly cheesesteak was when my father took me to Pat’s…or maybe Geno’s…when I was barely old enough to know what the fuss was all about. John’s came highly recommended, and the day I got my initial shots of the Boot and Saddle, I planned a stop off there, but unlucky me, they just happened to be closed that day.

John’s is a tiny little building wedged into a corner close enough to the docks you can see the SS United States if you look hard enough. It’s a truly no-nonsense place. Order, get out of the way. You’ll be rewarded with tin-foil wrapped loveliness eventually. They called my name, handed me my parcel, I handed them my money. I unwrapped it in the car.

John's Philly Cheesesteak
Last Known Photograph

I only had time to take a quick cell phone picture of it before it magically got devoured by the person driving his car back home. It didn’t make it past Spring Garden Street.

I went home and put on the Rifftrax version of Plan 9 from Outer Space. You can’t beat the classics, I say.

The Philadelphia Food and Sign Festival

Reading Terminal Market, Philadelphia, PA

First off, in answer to someone’s question when I had four posts entitled “The San Antonio Food and Sign Festival,” this is not actually a thing. But it should be. All I’m sayin’.

Second, there’s also no such thing as the Philadelphia Food and Sign Festival (but there should be), other than the one Laura and I created one morning last week when we had the idea to take full advantage of an extra day off during the Columbus Day weekend. There are two places that spring to mind where food and neon intermingle, the first being the Reading Terminal Market, a foodie paradise unparalleled. Truly, if you cannot find it in the Reading Terminal, it’s probably not worth eating.

Inside the Reading Terminal Market, Philadelphia, PA

It took us a few minutes of wandering before we felt like we could actually settle in anywhere, but eventually we found a place that stopped us dead in our tracks. Being an admitted cheese snob, I gravitated over to a stand in the back owned by the Valley Shepherd Creamery. They had several cheeses on display, but the one that took center stage drew us in like nothing else could:

Ten Eyck CheeseAs it so happens, Laura’s maiden name is Ten Eyck.

So, after the world’s easiest sale and we had procured the cheesy comestibles, we came to find out that this was not one of Valley Shepherd’s cheeses, but from one of their partners, Meadowood Farms in Cazenovia, New York. Unfortunately, they couldn’t tell us why the cheese bears the name Ten Eyck. Nor is the internet a wealth of information on the subject. Needless to say, we’re very curious why they named a sheep’s milk cheese in the family of manchego with a somewhat obscure Dutch name. If anyone knows, please let us know!

Tommy DiNic's, Philadelphia, PA

It was ten in the morning, we already had breakfast, and yet we still found ourselves in front of Tommy DiNic’s. There was a cloud of people already there for lunch. Cheesesteaks, you say? Well, even though that is the most famous export of Philadelphia, the Roast Pork sandwich is gaining steam as the sandwich of choice, and DiNic’s is one the best. Roast pork, provolone and broccoli rabe. We had to indulge, even though we weren’t terrifically hungry.

Roast Pork Sandwich at DiNic'sI regret nothing.

Termini Brothers has a location in the Reading Terminal, and if you remember this previous post, I had a debt to settle with my lovely wife. I went to the main location on 8th Street a few months ago, had a tea biscuit and got an unexpected tour, but unfortunately I was by myself. For that reason, I had held off on the specialty of the house, the cannoli. I wasn’t about to leave Philadelphia without going by the main location for a pair of his-and-hers cannoli.

Now I Know Why He Left the Gun

Termini Brothers, Philadelphia, PA

First off, the sign was lit this time around, God bless them, so I went to town with a whole series of new shots. Then we went inside, and quite possibly the most delicious smell that exists returned to my life with a vengeance. Now unconcerned with leaving anyone behind, I could graze with confidence. A cannoli each, certainly. Then a container of pizzelles which looked impossibly good.

And then the girl who was serving us said “While you’re waiting for your cannoli,” she said, “would you like a tour?” Well, I had already had a tour previously, but Laura hadn’t, so we went through and looked in on where the magic happens.

Cannoli, cannoli, cannoli

Laura is smarter than me. When she is new to a place, she does what I never think to do, which is ask the person serving you what their favorite thing is. So she directed us to her favorite: a biscotti topped by a banana and raspberry, then the whole darn shootin’ match covered in chocolate. You’ll see that off to the right.

termini-tray

In order of deliciousness, and there aren’t any losers on this list, mind you:

  1. The chocolate-banana-raspberry thing, which I’m convinced is used as currency in certain developing countries.
  2. The cannoli, which would win most normal contests. Had I not had the chocolate-banana loveliness, I may have considered this the most delicious thing I had ever thought to eat.
  3. The pizzelles, which are outrageously wonderful in their own right.

We ate these later, of course, because there was plenty more to do and plenty more day ahead.

A pity we were full, because it was time to cross another place off my to-do list. I had missed out on the Melrose Diner on Snyder in my previous trip, but I couldn’t pass up

  1. A neon diner sign
  2. with a clock in it
  3. and the clock is shaped like a coffee cup

So off we went.

Melrose Diner, Philadelphia, PABy the way, in case you’re wondering, it was about 11:30. I think the Melrose has been stuck at 8:14 for a while…

Melrose Diner, Philadelphia, PA

But this was not all for this day. My word, no. For that, there will come another day and another post. Or two.

Philadelphia Freedoms, Part 3 (Termini Brothers)

Termini Brothers, Philadelphia, PA

There is a deep mystery about Philadelphia. I shared with you a little bit of that in my first post from Philly, about my friend who couldn’t say enough bad things about the city but still insisted that he loved the place. I was reading up on Sun Ra, the legendary jazz performer and outer space traveler, who came to Philadelphia from New York in the late 60s. In his own inimitable way, he described Philadelphia as “the worst place in America” and “the headquarters of the Devil.” Yet he lived the last 25 years of his life in the city, and enjoyed perhaps his greatest acclaim during that time period.

Clearly, there is a paradox. For instance, take my last stop in Philadelphia last month, Termini Brothers. It is on 8th Street in Philadelphia, and if you’ve never been there, when I say 8th Street in Philadelphia, you’re probably thinking of some decently broad street. In fact, 8th Street is a tunnel burrowed through row homes. Not the worst neighborhood that ever existed, but undeniably cramped. You can hardly believe that a legendary business such as this exists here. But eventually, the tunnel came to rest at Termini Brothers, and if you note the picture up top, you’ll see that to the right, behind that fence, is an unusually large parking lot.

Termini Brothers Pastries, Philadelphia, PA

I came for the neon, and I snapped away for a good ten minutes or so, but sooner or later the scent of fresh baked goodies was going to get to me. I considered putting the camera in the car and indulging, but I figured, what the heck, I’d bring my camera along, too.

Inside Termini Brothers, Philadelphia, PA

First of all, once you step inside, it’s hard to believe that this place is not, in fact, Heaven. The smell is intoxicating. Your eyes want to look everywhere at once, because there’s so much to see, so much history in the building, and so many things you want to stuff in your face. I take it all in for a minute and a girl with the name Brianna on her name tag steps behind the counter. She is smiling and friendly, completely contradicting the stereotypes of Philadelphia floating around in my head, the people who would boo Santa Claus. She suggests the cannoli, which I would certainly go for if my wife was with me and we could share. I briefly consider taking one home, but then I think it would be better to make a return trip with her. A cannoli at home is one thing, but one in a place this rich in history would be that much sweeter. For that moment, I chose a tea biscuit, which looked freshly baked and too good to pass up.

And then Brianna asks me if I’d like to take a tour.

The answer to that question is Yes, I would like to take a tour, please.
Termini Brothers Bakery, Philadelphia, PA
Cannoli at Termini Brothers, Philadelphia, PA
Icing on the Cake, Termini Brothers in Philadelphia, PA

Wedding Cake, Philadelphia, PA

I even got a paper hat with Termini Brothers on it, which I already count among my prized possessions. So, in reality, the question isn’t if I will return, it’s when. Maybe this is what makes us keep going to Philadelphia. Sure, it’s rough in places, and I’m sure there are places that make you believe it’s the Devil’s HQ, but there’s definitely enough to balance all that roughness out. I’ll let you know when I go again, and I’ll let you know how the cannoli is.

Visit Termini Brothers here

 

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!

Roads (Slightly) Less Traveled

Signhunting is not an exact science. Don’t get me wrong, there’s a lot of resources out there for discovering where the good ones are, but at the same time, not everything has been photographed, and Google is only as good as your keywords when you’re looking around on the internet. I like to use “neon sign”  along with the city or town that I’m researching, but invariably I come up with a Bud Light sign or the ever-popular “Bimbo en Repose” for you art and mud flap aficionados. So, every once in a while I kick it in American Pickers mode and just hit a road I’ve never hit before.

Returning from the Llanerch a few Saturdays ago, we headed up route 1, hoping to find something more. However, that area, as interesting as it is, contains no neon or anything old and interesting. Somewhat disappointed, we decided to head back via the Schuylkill Expressway.

“It’s all right,” I said. “It’s Saturday,” I said. “How bad can it be?” I said.

(Philadelphia natives who are reading this: I hope you were not injured when you hit the floor laughing)

After spending three lifetimes to drive the space of two miles, we were allowed to go free. And being somewhat frustrated and being the proponent of the road less traveled as I am, I followed my nose. My nose told me to go up 422, because I had some unfinished business in the town of Royersford.

We had been through a few months before, looking for a neon relic that’s attached to Lebow Furniture. I had to give it a miss due to time constraints, but now I was ready to roll. I wasn’t sure exactly where it was, so I followed my nose down Main Street. Before we got there, we saw a colorful old one in front of Plotts’ Oil. We stuck a pin in that one, because I was after Lebow.

Lebow Furniture, Main Street RoyersfordLebow Furniture is still in operation. Anytime you see a local furniture place still operating these days, it’s pretty encouraging. Especially in a grand old Main Street like this.

Lebow Furniture

Not as encouraging was the appliance store just down the street. The sign for McKissic and Sons is still clinging to the side of the old building, but there’s no other hint that there’s been anything there for years. I dig the arrow shape:

McKissic-and-sons

All that remained was to reverse course and get the Plotts’ Oil sign:

plottsOrange and yellow? Two words: Yum yum.

It occurred to me when I got back that I had found only two signs rolling around Philadelphia and environs and I found three gems on Main Street in Royersford. Which just goes to show you that you don’t always find what your looking for in the most obvious places.

Things To Do in Philadelphia (when you’re halfway alive)

Thanks to several people who have been visiting my To-Do List page and made some great suggestions. It’s terrifically encouraging and it prompts me to get off my sorry duff and research some things my own darn self. Particularly in Philadelphia, which is the nearest major city to where I live. And which I have avoided, due to the fact that I was attacked by the Schuylkill Expressway as a child.

Said sorry duff gotten off of, if that is the correct English, I’ve made quite a few new additions to the list, all in Philadelphia. Please let me know of any more that you know of, and if some of these (particularly Philip’s on Broad Street) are still alive and well.