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South Street Sights

Posted on Tuesday, November 20th, 2007.

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.

The Zagars

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.

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