Drive by the 2300 block of Pennsylvania Avenue any summer night after 8 pm when the automatic timers turn the twinkle lights on, and you’ll spot a deck glowing like a pint-sized ocean liner cruising the night skies of the city. The deck, one of the city’s most eye-catching, sits atop Jim Trachtenberg’s stunning modern house crafted from two adjoining rowhouses.
If your invitation to this year’s Fourth of July party didn’t arrive, don’t worry. No one else got theirs either. Trachtenberg, host to an annual party that boasted perhaps the best views of the city’s fireworks over the Art Museum, is making the party even more exclusive this year: Just his fiancee Kathryn Miller and their immediate family. "After 35 years, I’ve retired my entertainment hat," says Trachtenberg whose prime location, just yards from Mark di Suvero’s bright orange steel "Iroquois" sculpture, has even the local TV crews drooling for access.
Too bad for the rest of us because this deck, built to resemble the rear of a yacht, is a bit of eccentric charm on the roof of this double-wide house in the Art Museum area. Carefully constructed with espresso-colored African cedar wood, outfitted with authentic nautical lights, stainless steel railings, and even possessing a nod to a boat wheelhouse with a separate deck just big enough for some nautical flags and a captain’s chair, this is the ultimate urban getaway.
Trachtenberg bought the first house in 1977 and truly appreciated its desirable location when Pope John Paul II visited the city drawing millions to line Benjamin Franklin Parkway for a peek at the Popemobile. Through the decades, he’s enjoyed concerts, parades and fireworks along the Parkway from this sweet spot, not to mention the unobstructed view of the Art Museum from the master bedroom.
In 1998, he bought the neighboring property and then gutted both interiors, moved the front entrance to the side on Judson Street, and reworked the space using his design know-how honed through years of working at his family’s custom furniture manufacturing business, Tracey, Inc., located in Northern Liberties. The result is a sleek, contemporary domicile with a clever use of space reminiscent of a ship builder’s thoughtful efficiency. The rooms are all smartly designed for the ultimate flow of space and serenity. Miller’s green thumb, perhaps from her country girl Iowa roots, are in evidence in the home, from the healthy happy orchids found throughout to the beautifully landscaped exteriors.
Though the party has been put on hold this year, Trachtenberg at age 60, has a busy schedule of work and fun to keep. "I’m not done," he says with a laugh. "Life is worth living, baby."
About the author
Sarah Jordan is a National Magazine Award-nominated writer who lives in Philadelphia. She has written extensively for national and regional magazines and newspapers and is the author of four books. Jordan has written on parenting, lifestyle, design, travel and the arts for magazines and newspapers including Parents, Parenting, Philadelphia Magazine, Philadelphia Inquirer, Philadelphia Inquirer Magazine, New Jersey Life, Philadelphia Weekly, Seven Arts Magazine and Playbill. She authored The Teen Owner’s Manual: Operating Instructions, Troubleshooting Tips, and Advice for Parents, The Pregnancy Instruction Manual: Essential Information, Troubleshooting Tips, and Advice for Parents-to-be, co-authored The Worst-Case Scenario Survival Handbook: Parenting and The Worst-Case Scenario Survival Handbook: Weddings. She is currently obsessed with surfing.