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Momentous local events since 1908BY: Dan Rottenberg 12.30.2008
Philadelphia Magazine celebrated its 100th birthday in December by picking the region’s 100 most momentous events since 1908. Who could argue with the magazine’s #1 choice: the invention of the cheese steak sandwich in 1930 (three places ahead of Penn’s invention of the computer in 1946)? But grouches may quibble with some other selections. Browse the magazine’s full list and then consult my list of crucial moments Philadelphia overlooked.
Momentous local events since 1908:
Philadelphia Magazine celebrated its 100th birthday in December by picking the region’s 100 most momentous events since 1908— a smorgasbord of political, commercial, cultural, artistic and sociological moments that, as the magazine portentously advised us, “are nothing less than the story of how we became who we are.” Although I’m still uncertain how I became who I am, I must say the magazine did a reasonably decent job. After all, who— other than scrapple devotees— could argue with the magazine’s #1 choice: the invention of the cheese steak sandwich in 1930 (three places ahead of Penn’s invention of the computer in 1946)?
To be sure, grouches may quibble with some selections. Eugene Ormandy’s arrival at the Orchestra (1936, #65), but not Leopold Stokowski’s? The Phillies’ World Series championship of 2008 (#6), but not 1980? Anne d’Harnoncourt’s arrival at the Art Museum (1982, #69), but not Sturgis Ingersoll, who built the place? Restaurateurs Georges Perrier (#11), Stephen Starr (#20) and Neil Stein (#57), but not Steve Poses? The death of the Budd Company (#19), Schmidt’s Brewery (#45), First Pennsylvania Bank (#29), Wanamaker’s (#55) and the Bulletin (#58), but not the Penn Central or the Reading Railroad? Buddy Ryan (#33) as the man who changed the Eagles “forever,” but not…. Ah, don’t get me started. Surely this is a joke, right?
But enough nitpicking. Browse Philadelphia Magazine’s full list here and then consult my list of momentous moments (great and ludicrous) that, in my humble opinion, the magazine overlooked (some of them, presumably for reasons of modesty, involving Philadelphia magazine itself).
(Please note: My list of momentous events would exclude the failure of any venerable business, of which God knows Philadelphia has lost many since 1908. When an institution survives more than 100 years, its collapse is no civic disaster— it’s inevitable. Such marvels of longevity should be celebrated, not bewailed.)
1912— Leopold Stokowski takes charge of the Philadelphia Orchestra, whips it into one of the world’s finest, and whips its frivolous high-society patrons into a serious and attentive audience.
1913— Paul Cret redesigns Rittenhouse Square into the global prototype of a civilized urban oasis.
1922-25— Reconstruction of Franklin Field into America’s first double-decker football stadium: a shrine whose seats have seen the likes of Hare, Thorpe, Grange, Harmon, Blanchard and Davis, Bednarik et al.
1929— Art Museum, aka the “Temple on Fairmount,” opens on the Parkway.
1930— Low point of genteel Philadelphia anti-Semitism: Leading Philadelphia bankers refuse to rescue Albert M. Greenfield’s teetering Bankers’ Trust Co., triggering a local panic that topples 50 smaller banks.
1940— Philadelphia Inquirer owner Moses Annenberg, in the midst of political vendetta against Albert Greenfield and David Stern, jailed for tax evasion.
1948— Four surviving children of Sun Oil founder Joseph N. Pew create Pew Charitable Trusts, then and now one of the world’s largest foundations.
1948— Philadelphia loses out to New York as site of the new United Nations headquarters, thereby blowing for several generations its best chance to redefine itself as an international city.
1953— Walter Annenberg creates TV Guide, soon to become America’s largest-circulation magazine.
1953— Philadelphia Athletics decamp for Kansas City.
1961— Philadelphia Magazine, at age 53, evolves from a Chamber of Commerce puff sheet into the first prototype of the modern American city magazine— slick, gutsy, independent and sophisticated.
1967— Dark underbelly of the Inquirer’s Annenberg years: Investigative reporter Harry Karafin exposed (by Philadelphia magazine) as a longtime shakedown artist, convicted of extortion 1968; Annenberg sells the paper in 1969 after 33 years of family ownership.
1970-73— Death of the long-proposed Crosstown Expressway, plans for which drove established merchants from South Street, serendipitously gives rise to unplanned hippie/artist counterculture haven.
1973— Philadelphia’s first restaurant renaissance, sparked by Steve Poses, Judy Wicks, Gil Guben, etc., and various other refugees from the ‘60s counterculture, draws national attention.
1977— The Buddy Cianfrani-Laura Foreman affair. South Philadelphia’s favorite corrupt politician seduces (and later marries) an Inquirer reporter assigned to cover corrupt politicians. Who’d a thunk it?
1978— Seemingly at the height of his power, Mayor Frank Rizzo loses his attempt to change City Charter to allow him to seek third term. Coalition of liberals, blacks, Republicans unites to say, “Enough!” by a whopping margin of 66% to 34%.
1980— Angelo Bruno, the “gentle don” of Philadelphia’s Cosa Nostra, assassinated by younger Mafioso who chafed over his old-fashioned moral scruples (he refused to traffic in drugs and preferred conciliation to violence).
1980— Phils win first World Series after 97 years in Major League Baseball.
1981— Italian supertenor Luciano Pavarotti designates Philadelphia’s Academy of Music as home of his newly created Pavarotti International Voice Competition.
1983— Four Seasons Hotel opens, ushering in Philadelphia’s first era of world-class luxury hotels.
1984— Center City commuter tunnel opens, connecting east and west sides of city and suburbs.
1980s— Rise of the Welcomat (now Philadelphia Weekly) and City Paper makes Philadelphia the first U.S. city supporting two profitable alternative weeklies.
1989— After a ceiling crack closes the Academy of Music, 2,000 Philadelphia opera lovers wait in the rain to hear Pavarotti sing L’Elisir d’Amore in a hastily arranged performance at the Cathedral of Sts. Peter and Paul.
1992— High point of religious and cultural tolerance: In a once anti-Semitic WASP city, now 40% African-American, the highest elective offices— mayor (Rendell), district attorney (Abraham) and U.S. Senator (Specter)— are all held by Jews, and no one even notices.
1995— John G. Bennett Jr. goes to prison after his Ponzi scheme, the New Era Foundation, siphons $350 million from a Who’s Who of prestigious Philadelphia not-for-profits by promising to double their money.
2001— Kimmel Center opens, 93 years after Philadelphia Orchestra first explored a possible move to its own concert hall.
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