Thanks, Frank

There’s Save Your Vision Week and National Forest Products Week and Banned Books Week (and about five dozen others). Here at the Daily, we decided to create another: this is Frank Furness’s week and we’re celebrating.

For me, it started with Frank. In 1989, I took George Thomas’s iconic Penn class on Furness, the point of which was to explore social and economic history through the lens of architecture, taste, and identity. It was there I learned that one can read history in the built environment. One can read culture, personality, desire, and ambition too.

One of the key themes of the class was the complicated way in which Furness was a product of and a reaction to the Philadelphia of his youth, and the way he wished, in turn, to shape the city. Like any man–even Robert Moses in New York–Furness’s power was limited. In his own lifetime, tastes changed (as they did for Moses). He fell behind, only at the end adjusting to the new neo-classicism with the design of the Girard Bank on Broad Street (now the lobby of the Ritz Carlton Hotel).

But Furness in his prime was a man of vast imagination, determination, and vision. The very fact that we can read his personality in his buildings is an argument for a vigorous architecture today. If we fail, and continue our blind pursuit of architectural imitation, we fail to tell our own story. Or worse perhaps, the story is our own lack of imagination and confidence.

Furness lacked for neither. Nor for moral backbone, nor artistic clarity. This week, as we celebrate Furness’s 172nd birthday with a series of articles by Paul VanMeter, PhilaPhilia, Peter Woodall, Dan Cox, and Justin Detweiler, and with a birthday party and celebration Saturday night, we ought to take inspiration from his example.

About the author

Nathaniel Popkin is co-founder of the Hidden City Daily and author of three books of non-fiction, including Philadelphia: Finding the Hidden City (with Peter Woodall and Joseph E.B. Elliott) and two novels, Everything is Borrowed and Lion and Leopard. He is co-editor of Who Will Speak for America, an anthology forthcoming in June 2018, and the senior writer of the film documentary "Philadelphia: The Great Experiment."



Leave a Reply

Comment moderation is enabled, no need to resubmit any comments posted.

Recent Posts
Italian-American Heritage & Industrial Landmarks Go Under Review For Historic Designation Recommendation

Italian-American Heritage & Industrial Landmarks Go Under Review For Historic Designation Recommendation

June 17, 2019  |  News

Starr Herr-Cardillo has this roundup of local register nominations on the agenda at the June meeting of the Philadelphia Historical Commission's Designation Committee > more

Homeowners Pay The Price When New Construction Damages Neighboring Rows

Homeowners Pay The Price When New Construction Damages Neighboring Rows

June 14, 2019  |  News

Owners of row houses are left with little recourse when demolition and new construction causes structural damage to their homes. Starr Herr-Cardillo takes a look at a growing citywide problem > more

The Origins Of The Eagles On The Market Street Bridge

The Origins Of The Eagles On The Market Street Bridge

June 13, 2019  |  Vantage

Ed Duffy rides the rails from Manhattan to Philadelphia to give us the backstory on the granite eagle sculptures that stand guard over the Schuylkill River > more

<em>Tonight Is Forever</em> Honors Stonewall Riots & Philly LGBT Activism History

Tonight Is Forever Honors Stonewall Riots & Philly LGBT Activism History

June 11, 2019  |  News

A new art installation at William Way LGBT Community Center connects local and national moments in gay liberation history. Ali Roseberry-Polier takes a look > more

New Exhibit Invites Visitors Inside The Life Of Row Houses

New Exhibit Invites Visitors Inside The Life Of Row Houses

June 6, 2019  |  News

"Rowhouse Workshop," an exhibition devoted to the culture of Philly’s most iconic residential form, opens on Friday, June 7 at Cherry Street Pier. Michael Bixler has the details > more

Introducing The

Introducing The “Mayor of Girard Avenue,” Larry Kane

June 4, 2019  |  Vantage

In Francisville, a sharp spike in real estate development has triggered displacement and a shift in demographics. But Larry Kane, a longtime resident and fixture of the neighborhood, isn't going anywhere. Richelle Kota introduces us to one of North Philly's most beloved residents > more