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Philadelphia bike sharing program looking for sugar daddy
By Tom MacDonald, @tmacdonaldwhyy

A bike sharing program is continuing to move forward in Philadelphia and the city is looking for a company with deep pockets to buy naming rights.

Deputy Mayor for Transportation and Utilities Rina Cutler says grants from both the public and private sector should cover the $10 million to $15 million cost of rolling out a bike share program.

"Eventually there will be somewhere between 150 and 200 bike share stations they will hold about 10 bikes a piece," said Cutler. "When the program is fully operational in 2015 there will be somewhere between 1,500 and 2,000 bikes."

The city is seeking a corporate sponsor to buy naming rights for the program, as Citibank did in New York.

Cutler says the bike share will not be citywide though it will cover a great deal of the city.

"From the Delaware River into West Philadelphia, from the Navy Yard through Center City and up to Temple University’s main campus in North Philadelphia so it will be pretty extensive," she said.

The city has set up a website at seeking private property owners willing to host bike share stations.

A new documentary film about John Coltrane proposes that Philadelphia is the city of a Brotherly Love Supreme.

The legendary jazz saxophone player lived in Philadelphia through most of the 1950s, nurturing the artist toward a breakthrough that sent bebop on a spiritual path.

"Coltrane’s Philadelphia," a 28-minute documentary produced by the Preservation Alliance for Greater Philadelphia, will premiere Wednesday evening at the International House in University City. WHYY contributed editing facilities to the project.

Click the link for the full story.

Opera Philadelphia reaches out to new audiences with portable performance

By Peter Crimmins 

This fall, Opera Philadelphia will yank opera out of the opera house and go into places where opera is usually not seen, or heard.

In November, the company will stage a contemporary work, “Svadba,” in a former municipal pump house on the Delaware River waterfront. The building, now undergoing renovation, will be the new home and performance venue of FringeArts, the company that stages the annual Fringe Festival.

"Svadba" is set in the hours before a traditional Serbian wedding. The music is written for six acapella voices, sung by the bride and bridesmaids.

The 50-minute opera has no men, no orchestra musicians, and very little set design, making it easily portable to almost any location.

"One of our missions is to advance the genre of opera," said Opera Philadelphia director David Devan. “There is a broad range of of repertoire that I feel is better suited to be performed outside the opera house. There is new work that doesn’t need a 2,500-seat theater and an orchestra pit.”

"Svadba" will be staged in addition to Opera Philadelphia’s regular season of productions, all of which will be held in the more traditional theaters of the Academy of Music and Kimmel Center.

The FringeArts building — which will not be completed in time for the 2013 Fringe Festival — will cozily seat 200 people. The performance of “Svadba” will be followed by a traditional Serbian wedding feast, sans bride and groom.

The four performances meet Opera Philadelphia’s mission to foster new opera and new opera audiences.

"People relate to art differently — or performing art differently — depending on the space," said Devan. "There is a real hunger for more intimate interaction with artists who are performing on an extremely high level."

The performances are funded in part of the Knight Foundation. In the following season, Opera Philadelphia is planning a similar alternative opera in the Power Plant studio beneath the Ben Franklin Bridge.

In a Phillies family outing, you win some, you lose some

Speakeasy essay by Courtenay Harris Bond

I used to loathe baseball. But when I married a man who nearly attended umpire school and who coached high school baseball for 12 years, I realized I’d have to start paying some attention to the sport.

So I read Doris Kearns Goodwin’s “Wait Till Next Year,” her memoir about bonding with her father over America’s favorite pastime. When I had kids of my own, I read it again. And now, occasionally, I even find myself at a Phillies game, as I did on a recent Saturday with my husband and three children.

My vacillating until the last minute before committing to going worked in our favor, letting us watch ticket prices tumble online to a point where we could afford a handful in the nearly nosebleed section for the first game of a Phillies-White Sox doubleheader. When we finally set out, my son in his Phillies hat, his twin sister in her Cole Hamels shirt and my husband and 3-year-old in their Roy Halladay red, we were already running late.

"Jonathan Papelbon annoys daddy," Georgia, 6, said, as we sat in traffic on the Schuylkill Expressway, listening to the game’s start on the minivan radio.

"Why?" I asked, marveling that my daughter already knew more about this sport than I did.

"Because he always fiddles around before he pitches."

When we eventually neared Citizens Bank Park, we decided against trudging the 10 blocks to the stadium in the heat with our three kids from the cheap lot where my husband usually parks. So Jeff steered us into a closer, more expensive one. Only after we’d already handed over $15 did we realize we were navigating through a sea of tailgaters. College students lumbered around with beer cans and sat on coolers swilling Miller Lites. One group had even set up a DJ.

"Probably not where we wanted to park," my husband said.

"Those two men don’t have shirts on!" Jane, 3, exclaimed.

We passed a man hawking margaritas as we entered the ballpark. “Eight percent, oh yeah!” he cried. “Get your buzz going!”

Kenny Chesney crooned over the sound system—”Sit right here and have another beer in Mexico”—as we finally clambered into our seats. I did want a beer, but I was afraid I would dehydrate. A swollen storm cloud loomed overhead. Little breeze stirred the humid air between the close-crouched bodies.

Forget the baseball; where’s the Phanatic?

"Water is running down my face," a woman behind us said.

"It’s so hot," Georgia complained. "We should’ve gone to the pool!"

"I can’t see the Philly Natic," Jane lamented.

Jimmy Rollins momentarily distracted us from the heat. “Come on Jimmy!” fans called. Two balls and two strikes, but then he got a hit. Applause scattered around us, until a White Sox player starting arguing with the umpire.

"Get him out!" a man hollered.

"Give him a beer and send him to the air conditioning!"

"Give him the hook! It’s hot out here!"

"I want to see the Philly Natic," Jane whined.

Unfortunately, my daughters and I missed his first appearance when we took a bathroom break during the fifth inning. But eventually the Phanatic jumped back atop the Phillies’ dugout, jiggling around in his suffocating green fur.

"He’s dancing!" Jane shouted.

"He must be hot on there," Georgia said.

Close game

But our older daughter clapped when Darin Ruf hit a home run, tying up the score 3-3. I even heard Georgia mutter, “Come on, Chase,” when Utley finally came up as a pinch hitter. Griffin sat focused through eight innings, clutching his glove, hoping to catch a foul ball.

And as we headed out at the top of the ninth, reaching our minivan just as the storm clouds emptied, the Phillies and White Sox were still neck and neck.

A 41-minute rain delay gave us time to make it home to see the rest of the 11 innings on TV. We were disappointed to learn, just before bedtime, that the Phillies lost, 5-4.

It was too late for our kids to stay up for their team’s 2-1 victory in the second, 13-inning game. And we never did see the Phanatic shoot hot dogs out of his cannon into the stadium seats.

But we can always wait till next year.

Philly auditions for the Apollo bring on the best and the peculiar

By Peter Crimmins, @petercrimmins 
Video by Kimberly Paynter, @KPaynter

The famous Apollo Theater in Harlem was in town on Saturday to scope out Philadelphia talent for its weekly stage show, “Amateur Night at the Apollo.”

About 300 people came, some lining up outside all night beforehand, to get their big break. 

"We will not tell you today whether we want you or not," Producer Marion Caffey told a roomful of hopefuls. He needs to fill up a full show of talent every week, so the call might not come this week, or next week, or even this year. "If we want you, trust me, we will call you because that’s our business. We do want you."

The first person in line, the one issued a piece of paper with the number “1” on it, was Tasha Underwood of West Philadelphia. The singer with a powerful voice was trained on gospel and R&B. She has been performing most of her life, first in a Little Miss America pageant.

"I’m going to be singing one of the songs from ‘Dreamgirls,’ ‘I Am Changing,’" Underwood, 45, said. "Because I need their help. That’s one of my finale songs."

The open audition attracted a range of talents, including rappers, dancers, instrumentalists, songwriters, comedians, spoken-word poets and a ventriloquist speaking through a leather-jacketed lion hand puppet.

A good amateur show, Caffey said, should have a spectrum of talent.

"Not necessarily the best—we look for something entertaining. There are bad people that entertain, and good people that entertain," Caffey said. "Of course, we are always looking for our next star. You know that person in the first four notes. The room changes. Other than that, we are looking for talented people. They can be really entertaining and good, but not necessarily a star."

Caffey gave some special attention to ‘The One,’ an original song sung in a falsetto by its author, Justin P. Graham, accompanying himself on acoustic guitar. He also flagged a comedian who improvised a dead-on Denzel Washington and a singer with the chops of Eryka Badu.

"You got that copywrited?" Caffey asked Graham, which he had. "Someone is going to steal that song."

This is the 79th season of “Amateur Night at the Apollo.” Caffey, the producer since 2009, said he believes the Apollo has never before come to Philadelphia to mine for talent. “I always hate to say ‘never’ because it’s been going on since 1934. In recent years, first time.”

"My name is Bran Stratton, I’m contestant number 9, and I’ll be singing ‘I’m Still Holding On,’" announced the gospel singer from Erial, N.J. Stratton has been singing since he was 6 years old. Now 59, this could be his big break.

"I am still holding on," Stratton said. "I’ve been doing it for a long time. You never give up, never stop, you keep on going on. You never fail until you quit."

Of the approximately 300 people who auditioned Saturday, maybe 5 percent to 10 percent will get called back. The rest were urged to keep plying their talent at other auditions.

Philadelphia Salvage company takes over foundry with 200 ‘orphan’ pianos 

by Kimberly Paynter

A 100-year-old decommissioned bronze foundry in North Philadelphia will be a new home to Philadelphia Salvage, a Mt. Airy company that retrieves lumber, tile, glass and other materials to sell or re-purpose. The salvage company plans to use the former Bureau Brothers space to expand their wood workshop, including re-fashioning materials from the foundry to enhance the work space.

After a month of getting settled in the new building, carpenter Brian Forest is working on a sign for a new project but says the presence of over 200 “orphan pianos” left by the previous leaser, Robert Haaz, have become an obstacle to the crew.

"They are vestiges of our history, physical remnants of a bygone era," says Haaz, who was unable to remove the pianos before Philadelphia Salvage moved in and is still hoping to retrieve them.

Haaz, a piano tuner in the city since 1973, says he is ashamed that it has become beyond his control to take care of the pianos. He accumulated the instruments over more than 20 years — some were trade ins, others were from schools and piano movers. Haaz had more pianos than he realized when it came time to evacuate the foundry.

Philadelphia Salvage owner Chris Stock describes his first tour of the piano filled foundry as “surreal.”  He plans on hiring someone to evaluate the instruments.  Many keyboards are caked with dirt and can no longer produce a note, but Stock hopes to donate working pianos to the community.  The crew working at the foundry labeled the pianos with blue masking tape for possible salvageable materials, such as ivory keys and ornamented veneers.

Philadelphia Salvage recently made a deal with STARR Restaurants to furnish an eatery in New York. He said that the company has outgrown their space on Carpenter Lane in Mt. Airy.  The new space will allow for the company to take on more orders for custom furniture.  Stock credits the boom in production to consumers who appreciate “practical reuse with great design.”

Haaz said he has a lot of mixed emotions about leaving the pianos.

"I would like to see those which still have their integrity intact, remain musical instruments." He added that dismantling them for their parts would be "like shooting an elephant for the tusks."

Philadelphia Orchestra scores with classic Philly sport moments

The Philadelphia Orchestra and the Philadelphia Eagles will get closer than ever on Wednesday evening, when the Fabulous Philadelphians will score a reel of Philly sports highlights at the Mann Center.

During “Symphonic Sports-tacular,” those strange bedfellows will be joined by the Phillies, the Flyers, the Union and the 76ers, all of which provided video highlights from their archives. The Eagles’ play-by-play announcer, Merrill Reese, will emcee.

"There is a sequence of movement and great plays of Julius Erving. We can remember him swooping across the lane and laying the ball against the Lakers," said Reese. "You have some black and white footage of (Chuck) Bednarik leveling Frank Gifford in that Eagles-Giants game that was a big part of that 1960 championship season."

All the while, the Philadelphia Orchestra will perform, live on stage, some of the greatest hits of classical music, including excerpts from Smetana’s “Dance of the Comedians” and Saint-Saens’ “Carnival of the Animals.”

Reese will be joined onstage by humorist Peter Schickele, better known as P.D.Q. Bach, and the two will provide color-commentary of the Philadelphia Orchestra’s performance of Beethoven’s Fifth.

The music was programmed by Steven Reineke, who will also conduct. The music director of the New York Pops says some of the music will be stadium-friendly, including John Williams’ “Imperial March” from “Star Wars” and the theme of Monday Night Football.

"There’s also a segment — a slo-mo reel — about the grace and beauty of sports," said Reineke. "That’s where we combine Saint-Saens’ "The Swan, he famous cello solo from "Carnival of the Animals." with "Swan Lake." It’s all about the grace and beauty of sports."

This is the first time the Reineke, and the Orchestra, has combined classical music with sports. It may not be the last: Reineke hopes to make an end run with the concept into other cities, to play off their own teams.

Seeking paragons — and touchstones — of Philadelphia ideals

By Peter Crimmins, @petercrimmins

The art gallery at Temple University is asking all of Philadelphia: What are the fundamental ideals of this city, and who best upholds them?

The Morris Animal Refuge, for example, believes the measurement of a society is how it treats its animals. Those at the shelter have the document to prove it.

In a video posted on, director Jim DePaul explains the Philadelphia shelter’s founding charter, written by Elizabeth Morris in 1889, established the fundamental concepts of humane shelters everywhere.

"Why shouldn’t Philadelphia’s ideals encompass animals as well as people?" he said.

The Morris shelter is just one of 25 nonprofit candidates vying for votes as part of Restoring Ideals, a project of Temple Contemporary, WHYY, and the Conservation Center for Art and Historic Artifacts. Temple Contemporary’s advisory board boiled the best of Philadelphia down to three characteristics: tolerance, equality, and independence.

The public is now encouraged to vote for the organization that best represents those ideals. The top 10 vote-getters will be featured in an upcoming exhibition at Temple Contemporary, the gallery of Tyler School of Art at Temple University.

"It’s really about connecting present-day Philadelphians to think about the ideals with which we may have begun, in terms of a city, and connecting those ideals to organizations that continue this good work," said Sarah Biemiller, assistant director of Temple Contemporary.

Each of the 10 winning organizations will choose one object from the archive, or filing cabinet, or closet, or reception area wall that reflects their history and needs some tender loving care.

The Philadelphia Folklore Project has a collection of propaganda posters comprising a visual a history of Philadelphia political activism; Project HOME has a silk-screened T-shirt that supported its first neighborhood homeless shelter; and Spiral Q Puppet Theater has puppet frozen in the act of eating a row home (Spiral Q has been twice removed from its previous homes).

The Conservation Center for Art and Historic Artifacts has assembled a team of material conservators — specializing in paper, textile, wood and metal — to work in the gallery of Temple Contemporary. The public will be able to watch as they stabilize the objects against the ravages of time.

"Of course there are limitations, but I’ve worked in this field for 25 years and have seen some pretty incredible miracles happen," said Ingrid Bogel, director of the Conservation Center. "Objects come in and you think there may be no hope for this, but often we can bring things back from the brink of disaster."

After the voting period closes Aug. 5 and after the objects are treated by conservators, they will be exhibited in the gallery next spring.

9 plays

Crowdfunding could make homeowner of West Philly squatter


At a Philadelphia Housing Authority auction last week, a squatter placed the winning bid on the home she’d been living in for the past eight years.

Jess Meyers, 28, had raised enough with online crowdfunding to make the down payment of $2,500. Now she’s going online again to raise the rest.

A new squat

The story of Jess Meyers’ West Philadelphia rowhome begins with a drug addict and the dog he left behind.

"You watch this dog, you get the house," one of Meyers’ friends was told by a future neighbor.

That was her introduction to the area near 52nd and Funston — a spot with more than its fair share of Philadelphia’s 40,000 vacant properties.

"We were like, ‘Let’s just go check something out around here, let’s see what we can do, if there’s something that’s fixable, something we could work with,’" said Meyers, who had previously been squatting at an abandoned apartment tower known as Paradise City.

"A haven"

After settling on what she describes as a former crackhouse, the homeless Meyers and her then-boyfriend took up residence and started fixing up the place.

The home improvements won over the admiration of her neighbors, one of whom put this reporter in touch with Meyers.

After a few years, Meyers says it felt like home, becoming, along the way, a free hostel of sorts for “traveling punk hobos” like her.

"When you need a place to stay, my house has been a haven for that," Meyers said. "Sometimes even people that aren’t travelers that just need a place to get on their feet. Sometimes it’s hard. If you don’t have a place to live, how are you going to get a job?"

Her pitch

Meyers says she gets by as a handywoman. But without enough saved up to the buy the building she calls home, she’s asking online donors to chip in.

"At the $100-level you get a one-night stay there," she says, with a laugh. "At the $1,000-level you get a weeklong stay and a T-shirt and a patch."

Meyers says she’s helping reverse the blight that has overtaken this run-down slice of West Philadelphia. Helping her, she says, is helping hundreds like her.

"[The city] should be letting people who need a home come in and fix these places, instead of leaving them there," Meyers said. "The neighbors don’t want them like that."

Her story was enough to nudge a few dozen supporters to pony up online payments. But now the clock is ticking on 60 days to cover the rest of her winning $8,000 bid. With closing costs, she says the total price of going legit on her “new” home will be about $9,800.

Meyers has what she calls a “fairy godmother” in her corner, willing to cover some of what she can’t raise and ready to accept repayment in handywork.

She’s not allowed to stay at the house until the closing costs are paid, Meyers says. If she can’t pay in full, the housing authority will retain ownership.

Nonetheless, Meyers seems confident it will all work out. “I’m going to win. It’s my year,” she said.