The Scenic Route

To Philadelphia

by Tim Witzig

Recently we took the scenic route to Philadelphia. Taking route 78 west to route 513 south to Frenchtown NJ. Travelling 78 west one moves into in trees, rolling hills, farms, and fields fairly quickly about 20 min outside NY. Route 513 is a very picturesque 2 lane “country road” where a single white steeple might punctuate the trees or a horse farm hugs the road. Arrive in Frenchtown (Great cycle shop and cycling trail head for the D&R Canal trail if you love to bike by the way). 

From quaint Frenchtown travel south on 29 towards Lambertville, NJ. Along the way you might stop in the town of Stockton NJ for coffee or lunch at the indoor Stockton Farmers Market. Travel on to Lambertville NJ along 29 south one of America’s scenic highways. If you have some time for Lambertville just stop and stroll. Shops of note: Bucks County Dry Goods, and if you are crafty or looking for unique objects to populate an art piece or collage peek in at Don’t Toss It. 

From Lambertville take the very narrow bridge over the Delaware to the sister town. New Hope PA. If there is enough daylight left, stop and get ice cream with the motorcycle bikers who never seem as tough when they are scarfing down an ice cream cone. If the day is waning, you might want to get a move on, because the road from here is heavily wooded and beautifully dark in the evening. Twisting and turning best done with some daylight and a GPS set to Philadelphia. We set ours once in New Hope PA after turning left (southward) at the only traffic light in New  Hope right after you cross the bridge from Lambertville NJ

What we like about Philadelphia? The Barnes Foundation Museum collection of Cézanne, Monet and Renoir and of course the museum structure itself, The Philadelphia Museum of Art in which one can roam stress free in open galleries without the New York crowds (sorry MET and MOMA). It is so wonderful to stroll through a great art collection unhindered and on into museum café, you forget. 

We found this to be the case at every location we visited, including the Barnes Foundation Museum, which utilizes an efficient web based timed ticket that controls the flow of people in the intimate galleries. The collection is spectacular as is the building designed by Todd Williams and Billie Tsien. 

We stayed at the Lowes Hotel in the modern PSFS landmark building. Ask for a room on a high floor facing city hall. Worth the extra room charge. The hotel has a nice bar and restaurant that pairs unique crafted bourbons with your meal. 

Or, try Sampan three blocks away. Delicious modern Asian cuisine. Served in a kind of family style meets tasting menu. A nice dinning experience all round. (Reservation on weekend recommended). Follow up with a fresh baked cookie across the street Insomnia Cookies (delivers to your hotel till 3am). In the morning one might head across the street from the Lowes Hotel to the Reading Terminal Market for breakfast. Marvel at the acres of food vendors and all the Pennsylvania Dutch treats. 

The new museum at the site of Benjamin Franklin’s House Museum designed first as the iconic “ghost house” a standing steel structure designed by architects Robert Venturi and John Rauch with Denise Brown and later and recent below grade museum extension by Quinn Evans Architects. Both are fun clever and engaging museums.

The shops and restaurants along Chestnut Street from the Historic District to Rittenhouse square are top notch). The public murals throughout the central owntown district and the full building mosaics along South Street are wonderful and always a surprise. Pop into the Macy’s and if you are lucky they will be playing the organ in one of the best most original and architecturally preserved historic department stores in the country (Check for scheduled music times with Macy’s). Check a bit of department store History

And finally, check out a Philadelphia’s brick high density low rise housing. Since the early 1970’s Philadelphia has built some great modern low rise housing types that not only blend well with their historic neighbors, but preserve the character and scale of the neighborhoods without resorting to replication and historic pastiche. Architects of note include Louis Sauer whose low rise housing is as beautiful today as it was when it was built. This Architect’s work deserves an entirely separate examination. Anyone interested in high density low-rise housing must visit 
Philadelphia and take a look at what has been built. 

I think what is great about visiting cities like Philadelphia, is that one gains a different perspective. One starts to compile notions of what makes “place” and how subtle and varied those place making forces can be. Every city has a unique history, and relationship with public art and public space. All have suffered years of abandonment then urban renewal, businesses that come and go, and strong retail forces. In the end a city is about people coming together to establish unique goals for their urban environment.