Philadelphia’s Magic Gardens
Recently, my dad moved from Boston to Philadelphia. While I was sad to say goodbye to Boston and his cozy condo in Cambridge, I’m also excited about a future of visits to his new home in Philly and for the exciting opportunities he has found there. While my Dad has actually been there since October, this Father’s Day was the first opportunity I had to pop over to see him. I’d been to Philadelphia once before, though really I was busy in the suburbs with a beautiful wedding, so I didn’t really get much Philly flavor.
I absolutely love my dad’s new house in downtown Philly, and I wish I had taken more photos. My father and I share a love of the sunshine, and he found the perfect spot as I don’t think I’ve ever seen an urban living arrangement with so much outdoor space — a back patio, two balconies and a roof deck! The whole house suits him and his style so perfectly — and best of all, there’s a room for me.
After a laid-back Father’s Day Sunday hosting brunch and then dinner for a rotating cast of friends, we split the next few days between playing tourists and working at my Dad’s office (wow, what a difference sitting in a desk versus hunching over a hostel bed makes!)
Our first stop was Philadelphia’s historic center, including Independence Hall and the Liberty Bell. I was all for a little cultural immersion — until I saw the lines. It was the height of end-of-the-year field trip frenzy, and I started to convulse slightly when I saw the hordes of screaming school groups lining the corridors. So that didn’t last long. Always an excuse for a next time, right?
I was a lot more excited about our next stop, anyway. Philadelphia’s Magic Gardens are a “mosaicked visionary art environment, gallery, and community arts center,” the brainchild of fellow Pratt alum Isaiah Zagar. Friends who have visited PMG have raved about it, and my dad has brought every guest he’s had so far in Philly — I couldn’t wait to see it for myself.
I was not disappointed.
Dad hard at work as usual!
These “gardens” aren’t filled with flowers but rather tiles, bike wheels, colorful bottles and other items that some might call refer to as junk. My mind immediately drifted to two places I’d been in my travels, the Treetanic Bar in Honduras and Hang Nga House in Vietnam. What is it that possesses a person to obsessively dedicate years of their life to creating a work of art of this specific variety? Clearly, the fixation knows no borders.
The place really is a photographer’s playground. I visited in the middle of the day when light was harshest, which provided an interesting challenge.
By arriving at opening time on a weekday, we had the place more or less to ourselves. I read every single one of the posted press clippings, but I was still hungry for more. Next time I’m in Philly I’m hoping to hit one of the Mosiac Musings, free 15 minutes conversations with the staff that take place on Fridays at 2:00pm and 4:00pm and on Saturdays through Thursdays at 2:00pm. Some Thursdays, PMG is open late for date night tours including wine! Wouldn’t that be a great first date?
Philadelphia Magic Gardens is a beloved part of the community. In 2002, the owner of the once-vacant lot that PMG was developed on realized the value of his property and attempted to sell the land — which would have meant the destruction of the art space. The community rushed to Zagar’s defense and raised enough money to buy the property and incorporate it into a nonprofit arts organization and public space. I love stories where the people win over profit!
I loved seeing this quirky side of Philadelphia and can’t wait to return to see it again. Next time I hope to stay a little longer and see more of the city’s vibrant museum scene and arts culture. Philadelphia has a great vibe that I wasn’t expecting. I really like this city, and I’m glad — I’m sure I’ll be spending plenty of time here in the future.
Have you been to Philadelphia? Is there anything I should be sure not to miss next time I’m in town?
I LOVE your Dad’s new place, gorgeous! And I could have spent hours and hours taking pics in the magic gardens. WOW!!!
I’ll have to take more photos next time I’m at his house, Andi! It’s really fun. And yes, I can imagine you would LOVE the magic gardens!
Awesome post and photos! I love Zagar’s mosaics. There are quite a few murals of his outside of the PMG which you can visit for free, including two entire alleys filled with his mosaics. They’re close to south street and you could go on this self-guided mural walk with your dad next time you’re in town: https://muralarts.org/explore/mural-mile 🙂
We also loved Reading Terminal Market for food and the 9th Street Italian Market area (it’s more of a neighborhood than a traditional ‘market’) for fresh Italian ingredients if you’re into Italian cuisine.
And there were so many great bars and pubs – we’d love to go back to see more of Philly!
Awesome, Dani! Thanks for the link and for the tips — I am very, very into Italian cuisine!
Hi Sweetie–long time since I have written. My bad. Will do some backtracking soon. There is no question about the perfect tour guide in Dad and I did the same when confronted with the school tour groups but we saw plenty. I laughed when I saw the pic in the MG with Dad sitting in the corner on his phone. So typical. . . Yes, Philly never gets old. I did not see, but have heard the giant HD video wall in the Comcast Center is worth a look at. The condo photos were great. We took in a movie in the home theater and spent as much time as possible on top deck. Love it and they keep adding more couches to it so one night we will all sleep up there–outdoor slumber party!! Love You!
I hope I get invited to the outdoor slumber party! Sounds fun 🙂 And yes, Dad mentioned the Comcast Center. Definitely need a return trip!
Something tells me the majority of those 5 steaks on the grill were for Tucker…
Haha. If he had his way they ALL would have been!
I lived in the Philly ‘burbs for a few months a couple of years ago and fell in love with the city, mostly because of the fantastic food and local beer scene. I never went to this garden, but saw some of the murals near South Street that Dani mentioned. I’ll have to check it out if I’m ever back!
Did you eat Philly cheese steaks? I was kind of scared, didn’t go for it 🙂
I did, and loved them! But I’m also a connoisseur of gross food 🙂 My favorite was at Jim’s on South- with whiz and onions. You definitely have to try one when you’re back!
steaks much? Booya.
Wes if I ever have the joy of hosting you in America the way you hosted me so many times in Bangkok, rest assured that many steaks will be involved. They are a staple of Baackes hospitality.
Hey back–I haven’t been invited to the “slumber party”. . . Just an idea for us all!!
These are really magical, Alex! I’ve never seen such a “mess” 😉
Glad you enjoyed 🙂 Thanks!
1. Its funny that people commented on the amount of red meat Dad has on the grill!
2. That is definitely a “go-to” visitors agenda.
3. Whats great about the gardens is that I loved my B&W photos as much as the color!
Ha, that steak and Tucker photo represents Dad almost as well as the one of him sitting in the corner with his Blackberry…
Looks incredible! I want my own garden that looks like that, ohmygawd I’d never leave the home.
I’d love to do some mosaic-ing in my someday home, though I can’t imagine I’d get this extensive. Short attention span, I has one.
LOL Tucker…I’d be all over those steaks if I were there too! Your dad’s new crib is LAID!
I always have fun times when I go hang with my friends who go to school in Philly, though I haven’t played tourist there in years. I’d love to go do so now that I’m older and actually into that stuff. And I definitely want to go photograph the Magic Gardens some more as a result of this post!
Ha, thanks Kristen, I’ll pass along the compliments 🙂 And yes, Philly is a city that deserves a repeat visit!
Alex, this looks so cool, and having spent some time poking around “Crazy House” in Dalat, I definitely see the similarities! For whatever reason, I had built Philly up to be a drab, boring city in my mind, but obviously I was wrong! I have a good friend who lives in the city and now I definitely think I need to plan a visit when we’re back in the States!
I know how you feel… I was kind of “hmmm” about the move there, but it’s always nice to be pleasantly surprised by places we’ve underrated in our minds! Go Philly!
I love Philadelphia! It’s one of my favourite cities! First visited there in 1995, for a friend’s wedding, and then went back the following year, then again in 2000 and 2001!
Funny, I too first visited Philadelphia to go to a wedding. City of (brotherly) love indeed!
The house does indeed look gorgeous. As someone who lived in the philly area for years you managed to show me something new that I didn’t know. Thank you for that!
You are so welcome Anwar! Hope you get to head back and visit often 🙂
I just loooooove the look of these gardens. Such a quirky place!
Lovely post! Looks like such an interesting place, thanks for sharing!
I love your dad’s place. Do you know who did his outdoor landscaping? I am looking for someone to do a similar backyard design for me. Thanks.
Hey Anita, it was set up generally like that when he bought the house, and now he maintains all the gardening and plantings himself. Sorry I can’t be more help! But I’ll be sure to pass on your compliment 🙂