Architectural Wallflowers is an online exhibit of Temple University’s American Studies Program.  The analog version of the images is displayed in a case on the 9th floor of Anderson Hall on Temple’s main campus.  THAT is transitory and will be replaced by a new exhibition before the end of 2009.  THIS, the virtual version of the exhibition, will last as long as you and we decide it is useful and interesting.

And there was a talk by William Whitaker on March 19th that helped us all process this the old-fashioned way, face to face.  See it’s page on this blog to learn more.  Great title: Heroes and Misfits.

Who are we?  Ken Finkel and Betsy Manning.  Ken is on the faculty of Temple’s American Studies Program.  Betsy is a staff photographer at Temple, is also a longtime chronicler of the city’s forgotten, and sometimes forlorn, buildings.

Salvation Army, XXX Street

Salvation Army, Rising Sun Avenue

Take a look at the images we’ve posted here.  Read the various comments and chime in with your own.

NEW: See a slideshow of these and more images, featuring narration by Manning and Finkel, here.

And if you know an “Architectural Wallflower” in or around Philadelphia that needs good company, scroll down to the bottom of the blog and tell us about it in our “Suggestion Box.”  On occasion, we’ll post a few on the “Selected Finds” page.

26 Responses to “About”

  1. betsymanning said

    I’ve been photographing buildings intermittently for many years. Only in the last ten years did I begin to concentrate on what I call “architectural wallflowers.” And the more I shot, the more I understood what I liked. I’ll still shoot buildings that interest me in a general way, but the database I’ve been building lists more than 300 structures from the 1930s to the early 1970s. My approach? I don’t feel obligated to photograph well-known buildings. The most intriguing structures are the ones that have never been recognized (or researched, or identified or documented). It’s a challenge to try and find out as much as I can about a building. And there are ways: digging online, asking historians or calling architects – sometimes the very ones responsible for these “wallflowers”.

  2. kenfinkel said

    How did this project get started? I met Betsy more than a year ago as she was finishing up her MLA (Masters of Liberal Arts) degree. She had signed up for my course on cultural Philadelphia and soon asked if I would be a reader of her paper on the architecture of Irwin Stein, an architect who studied with Paul Rudolph at University of Pennsylvania and worked in the office of Oscar Stonorov before striking it out on his own in 1956. Betsy photographed a good many of Stein’s little-known buildings – he did more than 150 in the Philadelphia area. I was immediately struck by Betsy’s trust in her own eye, her willingness to be guided by instinct and her dedication to finding a path through a thicket of choices. Betsy’s work on Stein’s building culminated in an exhibition at the Ross Gallery at Penn, mounted by the Architectural Archives.

    Then I learned about Betsy’s longtime, on-again, off-again project to record 20th century architecture in Philadelphia. Those buildings she considers “tripod worthy” are not those already recorded and praised. “It’s not much fun if everyone knows about it,” she claims, “I’m not worried about those.” Betsy looks for – and finds – the buildings that “stand out above the grit between traditional buildings.” Betsy says her buildings are “the architecture of optimism…they trump the grit.”

    Too often though, the find is fleeting. With a “fragile is better” shooting policy, Betsy knows she is following a longtime photographic tradition of architectural brinkmanship. “Nine times out of ten I’m the angel of death,” she laments. You never know which find is about to be reduced to a pile of rubble, but you know they all survive on the edge.

    All the more reason to see these images, to come to the talk and to see the city as a storehouse of architectural treasures.

  3. betsymanning said

    Most of the buildings are found by chance. If I don’t photograph upon discovering them, they are added to my database. I also keep a list (categorized by location and best time of day to shoot) for time I set aside to photograph. I’ve found many well-designed structures that were built as religious, educational, banking and healthcare facilities. Although some are still used in their intended capacities, it is always interesting (and a relief) to see many reincarnated for completely different uses.

  4. kenfinkel said

    Someone once labeled this genre of photography – when you capture images of buildings on the edge, “brinksmanship.” As you might imagine, there is a long tradition of brinksmanship in Philadelphia. PLACES IN TIME: Historical Documentation of Place in Greater Philadelphia is one place to explore the range of photographs (as well as engravings and lithographs) from the past. On one page, you will find lithographic views of financial institutions, mostly all long gone, from the border of a map published in 1886. Be sure to check out Frank Furness’ National Bank of the Republic and his Guarantee Trust & Safe Deposit Co. Just like some of Betsy’s threatened targets in 2009, these masterpieces were in style for a generation and out-of-style the next.

  5. betsymanning said

    Pack a lunch if you go to PLACES IN TIME. The tangents have tangents—it’s like looking up a word in the dictionary, getting stuck on words you don’t know and forgetting the word you were looking for. Read the Frank Taylor quote (Photographs – The Frank H. Taylor Collection – About Frank H. Taylor). I don’t expect my photographs to ‘save’ the buildings I like but, in the same way I love to see how things were, I feel obligated to record how they are now.

  6. Anonymous said

    Brilliant blog. I’ll be back. Keep ‘em coming.

  7. g said

    A-W-W-W-E-S-O-M-M-M-M-M-E
    You get the feeling Betsy sees beauty at that precise moment before it has become self-conscious.

  8. Judy Filipkowski said

    Interesting connection to Oskar Stonorov who I did a research paper, just for fun when I was giving tours for the Foundation for Architecture! And Ken, I took your class at the Library Company many years ago in Care and History of Photography…

  9. Matt DiMarco said

    I was in Ken Finkel’s class with Betsy and was amazed at her interest and work at that point. It is great to see her commitment and dedication to the forgotten architecture of Philadelphia. People are so quick to criticize the modern because they are blinded by the historical, but Betsy is able to see the beauty in it that most are not.

  10. Brad McKee said

    Really wonderful work. So glad to have found it.

  11. Betsy:
    Great article in the Inquirer today.
    Congratulations.
    Please contact me regarding
    the 1950’s modern building on 2100 block Sansom Street,the Sidney Hillman Center,in the Rittenhouse
    Fitler Square Historic District, now threatened
    with demolition.
    David
    David S. Traub,AIA
    Co-Founder Save Our Sites
    215-232-2344
    davidstraub@verizon.net

  12. Marty said

    I saw the pix from the Northeast, which I always considered an architectural desert however, I do fondly remember going to the Penn Fruit on Pratt St and the Otts Photo Shop on Longshore. There are so many more of these types of commercial storefronts in the Northeast on Rising Sun, Castor, Cottman ( had a great cleaning store across from Northeast High), and Bustleton Ave. I am glad you are capturing these images.

  13. Paul Tioxon said

    The Salvation Army on Rising Sun Av was a Shop and Bag market, the evolution from a Unity-Frankford Grocer, a wholesale grocer coop in the city that supplied innumerable corner stores. I think it may have been an American Store or Acme, before that moved to Unruh and Oxford Ave. The Shop and Bag underwent a major renovation, inside and out. The result you see outside today is the result of exterior face lift. That happened by the time I went to high school which dates the facade before 1969.

  14. Jane Dumsha said

    Nope, that was never an American or an Acme. It was the privately owned Lawndale Market. The Acme (or Ack-a-me, as some of my relatives say) at Oxford and Unruh was built as a SuperSaver, which was also in the Acme family.

  15. Fabulous McGear said

    Betsy, terrific article in the Inqy. If you venture to South Jersey and want directions to a 1962 Louis Kahn home drop me an email. Owner is quite protective, decent view from the street.

  16. Ken Weinstein said

    Hi Betsy,
    I read about your interest in 40’s to 60’s architecture in the Inquirer and got pretty jazzed. I have a BS in Historic Preservation and am also a real estate appraiser, (and a real estate lawyer) so I have had an obsession for many years now of most things 20’s, 30’s, 40’s, 50’s and 60’s. (Music, movies, style, history, art, magazines, kitchenware, furniture, and of course, architecture) Since I have been an appraiser since the mid 80’s, I always carried a camera with me in my travels throughout Rhode Island and Massachusetts. I have a nice collection of orignal photos of roadside architecture and houses. I also have a first class collection of roadside postcards of diners, gas stations, motels, etc. It would be a pleasure to share my treasures with you and your colleagues sometime. I live in Narberth and work in Mt Airy so I am always somewhere in Philly. Looking forward to connecting with like minded fanatics,

    Ken Weinstein
    610 420 0932

  17. Dawn Marshall said

    Wonderful work! I have noted buildings like this for years and had not gotten to photograph much of them yet. I am glad that you have documented what I thought was already lost.

  18. Mark Tarantino said

    I would like to be placed on a mailing list by e-mail of your images and work. I read the article in the Philadelphia Inquirer 4/24/09 edition, and am fascinated by your work.

    Thank you.

  19. Sean Mauer said

    Great slide show! – I have taken an interest in photographing many of the same buildings. BTW I love the comments from your friends that just know you will love what most people call the ugliest buildings. I have an extensive collection of photos of “ugly” buildings from the mid-century modern period. I must have several thousand photos from Maine to North Carolina and every where in between.
    Please contact me if you would like to see them and perhaps you would let me see more of your photo collection.
    Sean Mauer
    215 359 8217
    Washington Crossing,
    PA 18977 U.S.A.

  20. Bobbie said

    Betsy,

    I am contacting you because we just purchased a house by Irwin stein. I want to learn more about him, and want others to have access to his work!

  21. nice reading many thanks XX

  22. Tracy said

    I LOVE your pictures. I have always loved the architecturally interesting buildings around this town.

  23. Richard said

    Can someone tell me if Betsy Manning’s presentation “Architectural Wallflowers” is still being given in the Phila area?

  24. Betsy Manning said

    Richard,
    Thanks for asking. Nothing scheduled yet, but I’ll be sure to post something here if I do the presentation again.
    Betsy

  25. Excellent blog. So pleased i found it

  26. Lucia said

    Are you the Betsy Manning that helped sell a firehouse in Danbury,CT in 1984 or 85??

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