Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Give Philly Books for the Holidays

This has been a good year for books about Philadelphia and its buildings. Architect James B. Garrison, who specializes in historic preservation work at the firm formerly known as Hillier (Now some ridiculous combination of letters, such as RMJM), has just published a gorgeous survey of Philadelphia great houses, called "Houses of Philadelphia, Chestnut Hill and the Wissahickon Valley 1880-1930." The book, which is part of Acanthus Press' suburban domestic architecture series, is a follow-up to his previous treatise on John Russell Pope. There are long, lovely discourses on the great houses you've always driven past and wondered about, like the French Village in West Mount Airy, with its conical Norman turrets.

In many of the entries, Garrison was able to provide images of the houses in their original attire, and after shots. The before and afters of Lindenwold, in Ambler ( just outside Philadelphia) are striking. You'll never guess that this is the house that became the castle visible from Bethlehem Pike, now home to the Catholic Sisters of the Holy Family of Nazareth.

I was especially pleased to see that Garrison included Square Shadows, a 1932 modernist house that George Howe designed in Whitemarsh. The staircase pictured in the book is to die for, and just goes to show how great modern design can hold its own against the painted ladies that dominate the rest of the book.

Garrison isn't the only author to deliver a follow-up book this year. Nathaniel Popkin, who makes frequent guest appearances on Brad Maule's Phillyskyline blog, has just brought out a sequel to his earlier "Song of the City." Called "The Possible City", it uses a stream-of-consciousness style to try to imagine a different, better Philadelphia. This time Popkin has included some of Maule's wonderful, evocative, off-beat photos that always make you look at Philadelphia in fresh new ways. He doesn't get nearly the credit he deserves in the book. His name should have at least been on the cover!
Earlier this year, the historian Thomas H. Keels published a book that will not soon be forgotten: "Forgotten Philadelpha, Lost Architecture of the Quaker City". It's one of those heartbreaking works, like Edward Arthur Mauger's earlier "Then and Now" that reminds you how many great buildings Philadelphia created and then casually discarded. Keels takes a high-low populist approach. So along with all the lost Furness, you'll also find Tasker Homes and the amazing Aquarama.


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