Watkins Street Warehouse

Address: 1002 Watkins Street
Neighborhood: South Philadelphia
Year Built: ???
Architectural Style: Warehouse
Architect: Unknown
Current Use:  Art studio

Historical Background
The Watkins Street Warehouse is the latest project by Philadelphia artist Isaiah Zagar. He is in the process of covering virtually every interior surface–walls, ceilings, and eventually floors as well–with his mosaics, while also using the space as his studio for other work.

Zagar has been creating colorful mosaics on private and public walls in the area around South Street since 1968 when he moved to the neighborhood with his wife Julia. His first project was Julia’s still-thriving folk art store, the Eyes Gallery, at 402 South Street. Zagar has been prolific, completing more than 130 murals in Philadelphia and throughout the country. Zagar’s best known work is Philadelphia’s Magic Gardens, an installation on 10th and South that took 14 years to create. He excavated tunnels and grottos, sculpted multi-layered walls, and tiled the 3,000 square foot space. The mosaics incorporate visual anecdotes that reference his wife Julia and sons Ezekiel and Jeremiah through playful images and words, but also integrate elements of the wider world: Latin American artworks, the local dance community, and artistic influences such as Pablo Picasso, Ferdinand Cheval, and Marcel Duchamp.

In a Dream, the award-winning documentary created by son Jeremiah Zagar, offered audiences the first glimpse of the Watkins Street Warehouse, which has not yet been opened to the public. The closing scene depicts the 10,000 square foot South Philadelphia space that Zagar purchased in 2006. The façade and much of the interior are already coated with glimmering tile and glass. When complete, the fully-embellished property will feature light installations from Zagar’s renowned friend Warren Muller, an exhibition gallery for visual art, and a multi-level performing arts space. This former auto mechanic warehouse will allow Zagar and Philadelphia’s Magic Gardens to expand their mission of community outreach and artistic collaboration.

Some Community Stakeholders
South Street Head House District and surrounding neighborhood residents; local schools and colleges; traditionally-underserved audiences including those with visual, physical and mental impairments, and at-risk youth; local artists, musicians and performers (participants in PMG’s Arts on South, Music & Mosaic, Summer Solstice, and workshop programs)

Possible Artistic Uses & Limitations
The warehouse is covered in Zagar’s mosaics which would visually compete with visual art installations. The mosaics contain both visual and textual narrative that could work as a source for theatrical dance, spoken word performances and other specific kinds of interventions.

Hidden City Philadelphia has secured provisional interest and commitment to participate from the owners or stewards of prospective sites for the 2013 festival. We cannot guarantee final festival participation for any site, as many are subject to transitional forces, such as changes in ownership or stewardship, development, hazmat remediation, public-private jurisdiction, access restrictions and, in some cases, continued physical deterioration.

With that said, we have secured interest and willingness from site owners and stewards to engage in a discovery process with artists, partner organizations, and other stakeholders concerning creative projects and public engagement. The realization of any artistic project for the festival will be the result of a collaborative process with, and eventual collective approval of, Hidden City staff, advisors, community stakeholders, and site owners.

Hidden City’s staff are facilitators and advocates with the goal of bringing about a productive and mutually satisfying relationship between artists and the other stakeholders essential to any creative process located in places where art making is not a regular activity.