Archive for November, 2012

A Magical Trip to South Street

November 14, 2012

It’s a stretch of South Street that you once walked blocks to avoid. Now South west of 9th has a Whole Foods, a farm-to-table restaurant (Supper), and a hair salon that charges $50 a cut. It is also home to Philadelphia’s kookiest and most endearing attraction, known as Magic Gardens. As the story goes, artist Isaiah Zagar began tiling dilapidated South Street buildings in the 1960s with porcelain and glass discarded from the city’s shuttered factories and warehouses — and he never stopped. He tackled the vacant lot where the Magic Garden now sits in 1994 and worked on it for 15 years. The community stepped in to save Zagar’s work from demolition about a decade ago, when the lot’s owner wanted to sell it, and the half-block complex is now run by a non-profit. When I visited last year for the first time, it instantly reminded me of Watts Towers in Los Angeles, Simon Rodia’s stunning spires of found objects like porcelain, green glass, and sea shells. Watts also narrowly missed the wrecking ball in the 1950s when the arts community stepped in to save it.

Anyone can gape at the tiled courtyard from the street, but to fully experience Philly’s Magic Gardens, pay $7 and wander through the labrynthine rooms, closets, and basement. Even the bathroom is embedded with folk-art statues, cut mirrors, and tiles. It will take you at least an hour to soak it all up, longer if it’s a nice day and you have time to wander the courtyard and sculpture garden and view the documentary by Zagar’s son that chronicles the family’s life. On some Sundays, you’ll find the 73-year-old artist himself holding court in his studio and happy to answer questions about his folk-art masterpiece.


Gettysburg Bed and Breakfast (includes ghosts)

November 6, 2012

In the spirit of keeping Halloween alive, I thought I’d mention an interesting accommodations option in Gettsyburg that might not make it onto the town’s usual hotel listings. It’s a cozy wood-paneled room in the David Stewart Farmhouse, a private home whose owner opens up to visitors who don’t mind two dogs, four cats, and some ghosts who date back to the farm’s former life as a Civil War hospital.

The room, which includes a queen-sized bed, private bath and use of the home’s charming kitchen and family room, is listed on for $100 a night. Not bad, when you consider that some of Gettysburg’s sterile chain motels go for that much. (I used for a weekend stay in NYC earlier this year and had a great experience.)

Here’s what the owner has to say:
“I will be your only “living” host, but there are many others who reside with me. They have lived at the farm for many many years, some for hundreds of years. Yes, the house is haunted, but they are all friendly! I have been here for 30 years and have lots of interesting stories that I’d be happy to share with you if you are interested.”

Other things to know: there’s a four-night minimum, the stay includes use of a nearby fitness center, and the house is about four miles from the center of town.