Much has been written about the incidents that took place at South Philly High that day in December, including an ongoing investigation by the Department of Justice. Last month, StoryCorps traveled to the Philadelphia Folklore Project to record the stories of a group of students who were victims of the targeted attacks. In response, they heroically organized a campaign to demand the school district take responsibility – and action – to ensure a safe school climate. (more…)
Hang glidin’ Paul Shaffer.
Paul Shaffer came to the MobileBooth to talk about life before his work in programming and computers. He was excited to have his interview archived at the Library of Congress as a way of passing on his legacy to future generations.
At age 17, Paul was the youngest private pilot in the nation and was flying before he could drive. He later became an avid hang glider, and was one of the first people ever to use a powered hang glider. Unfortunately, Paul was never able to realize his dreams of making a career out of the hobby by advertising and doing special promotions for malls and other businesses. However, about once year, he still takes to the sky for an adventure on his hang glider.
Paul kindly invited Mike and Yuki to visit him at the University of Pennsylvania where he is curator of the ENIAC, first unveiled in 1946 and argued by some to be the first computer.
Yuki Aizawa and Paul Shaffer holding a piece of history.
Spencer Wright (L) and "Max The Barber" (R).
Big Brothers Big Sisters is one of StoryCorps’ many outreach partners. Two Big Brothers, Arthur J. "Maxamillion" Wells III and Spencer Wright, came to talk when our booth was in Philadelphia. Max is a barber, Spencer a recruiter for Big Brother Big Sister. Ironically though, Max was the one who originally recruited Spencer.
Maxamillion’s Gentlemen’s Quarter Barber Parlor is a barber shop that is truly for gentlemen– no cellphones and no cursing please. On the walls, there are pictures of clients from celebrities like comedian Steve Harvey to Max’s Little Brother, Aaquil. But it’s not just a barber shop. Max thinks of the shop as a community networking hub, and is something of an unofficial spokesman for Big Brother Big Sister. After many years of hearing about the program from Max, Spencer finally decided to try it out. He ended up liking it so much that he took a job with the organization!
Facilitator Mike Rauch visited Max for a cut. Sorry, no pictures of the results, but suffice it to say that Mike’s beard is looking the best it ever has. Thanks Max!
In the barber shop. Future Big Brother?
South Street pioneers Isaiah and Julia Zagar.
Isaiah and Julia Zagar came to the StoryCorps booth and talked about how they got married and started in their lives’ work. The couple first met as young artists living on the Lower East Side of New York City. Three months later, they were married and living together. "That gave me a year before I would have to be arrested and put in jail," said Isaiah, who was denied status as a conscientious objector to the Vietnam War.
In their first year as a married couple, Julia and Isaiah joined the PeaceCorps. They were sent to Peru where they met artists and craftspeople who they helped to set up systems through which to sell their work. By the time the Zagars moved back to the United States, Isaiah’s conscientious objector status had been approved and the pair moved into a building on the then rundown South Street in Philadelphia, PA. "It was the only place that would take us," said Isaiah.
Isaiah and Julia lived in the top half of the building and opened the Eye’s Gallery in the bottom half. The shop was stocked with textiles, ceramics, and woodcarvings that they had collected while living abroad. For his part, Isaiah began creating mosaic murals using discarded materials, especially glass, from abandoned warehouses in the neighborhood. Forty years later, the shop has expanded to three floors and now carries crafts and folk art from all over the world, while Isaiah has truly transformed South Street into an outdoor museum. StoryCorps facilitators Mike and Yuki visited Isaiah at his studio and toured his "Magic Garden", an art environment he began in 1994.
Former location of punk rock shop, Zipperhead.
In the 1960′s, it was proposed that Philadelphia’s South Street be replaced by the "Crosstown Expressway", to create a connection between I-76 and I-95. The expressway would have cut through Philadelphia, separating Center City and South Philly. However, amidst turbulent times in the city, a group of artists and entrepreneurs had begun to transform the rundown street into a culturally vibrant community. They dug their heels in and successfully managed to defeat the proposal. The "South Street Renaissance" had begun.
South Street became known as a bohemian hot-spot, and, among other things, was notable in the punk rock scene. Zipperhead, a store selling punk rock clothing and accessories is still operating today on 4th Street, just around the corner from it’s original South Street location. The reputation of South Street spread and it has since become a popular destination, especially among tourists. Unfortunately, with the popularity of South Street came rising real estate values and consequently a disintegration of the neighborhood as it had been known.
Of the many shops, galleries, and restaurants like The Crooked Mirror Coffee Shop, the Gazoo, Yas Restaurant, The Works Craft Gallery, and The Painted Bride Art Center that once called South Street home, only a few remain. Today, on South Street you’ll find more chain stores than chain-wearing punk rockers, but there are still some special people and places that will give you a taste of 1960′s and 70′s South Street. Julia and Isaiah Zagar are two such people. Since 1969, the couple have been running The Eye’s Gallery at 402 South Street. Meanwhile, Isaiah has been busy turning the streets of Philadelphia into a mosaic museum.
StoryCorps facilitators Mike Rauch and Yuki Aizawa recently visited The Eye’s Gallery, former home of the Zagar’s and one of Isaiah’s ongoing mosaic installations. The shop, offering crafts, folk art, and unique clothing from around the world, is part museum, part gallery, part toy store, and packed with treasures in every corner.
After leaving the shop, Mike and Yuki visited Isaiah’s "Magic Garden", one of about 30 sites around the South Street area that feature Mr. Zagar’s mosaic murals. Unfortunately, it was closing time and they could only peer through the fence for a glimpse of an artwork 13 years in the making. Check back for pictures from a return visit to the Magic Garden and details on the Zagar’s StoryCorps interview!
Fence surrounding Philadelphia’s Magic Garden.
Facilitator Mike Rauch outside the East Booth, now parked on 6th Street, right in front of our partner station, WHYY. The booth’s current home is just across the street from the National Constitution Center and a few blocks from The Liberty Bell and Congress Hall, where U.S. Congress met from 1790-1800.
Below: A marker on 6th street describes what once stood in this spot over 150 years ago.