books on Philadelphia history in the studio and using previous episodes, we assemble each script which has narration lines and speculative expert lines.
We examine how the characters develop, how narrative arcs flow and where are the emotional power points in the story. How do different stories align?
We invite experts in for interviews. They tell us what they know. Questions of the experts are framed around the script and we try to learn what they know.
We keep an eye on the narrative story, character, and our interest in learning. The scripts are revised based on having learned new things in the interviews so that we get a much more vital, much more in-depth, and more profound ways of thinking about the script. Once we have the revised script we like, we assemble archival materials and work with our director, Andrew Ferret, who directs the reenactment scenes. The reenactments are meticulously devised to work with the script and expert lines so that they are believable and not distracting to the story. Original music is composed by Patrick de Caumette. We then work with it and work with it and with our experts. It’s a long process. It’s not done in one chunk.
If there was funding, the episodes cost millions of dollars, we’d be done by now. We did the post-World War II episodes out of sequence because they were cheaper. We didn’t have the talent to do it well at that point
You do a lot of work for Hidden City Philadelphia an online and offline venture which “pulls back the curtain on the city’s most remarkable places and connects them to new people, functions, and resources.” There was a festival in 2009 and in 2013. Will there be one on 2017?
No. The festival was started by Thaddeus Squire who is a cultural entrepreneur. It was based on the ideas in Perennial Philadelphians, a book by Nathaniel Burt. The main idea was that Philadelphia was hidden beyond the comprehension of most Americans. It was a mysterious city hidden behind clouds of industrial smoke with lots of hidden anachronisms. Philadelphia is not like any other place in America. Thaddeus took that theme and created the Hidden City Festival so people could discover for themselves lost relics of the Gilded 19th Century Philadelphia age – places not normally accessible to the public.
The conceit was that there were mysterious places hidden away that could be revealed and reimagined. In 2010, when we began to imagine what became Hidden City Daily. Could you take that same conceit of satisfying discovery and exploration and learn and imagine the future of the city? Could we create a confrontation between the past and future? We thought how could we do that on an everyday basis. So, we created the Hidden City Daily.
We thought if we were going to make a web magazine, we better elevate the conversation about Philadelphia. We insisted on high editorial standards. It was a terrible time for journalism. There was no financial model to speak of so we decided to rely on the passion of involved interests: preservation, architecture, infrastructure, landscape architecture, transportation, and history. We decided to draw on contributors to those interests. For the most part, we could not afford professional writers. We made up for that with strong editorial standards and rigorous editing. The Hidden City Daily was launched five years ago on September 7, 2011 with crazy ambitions which have more or less worked out. We’ve published about 2,500 articles, many of which have had an impact on various discourses.
In what way?
In a subtle way. A tremendous amount of what we do is tell the narrative story of buildings. Buildings are the product of someone’s imaginative or inventive ideas. Buildings are created by people as a product or laboratory or cultural invention. We explore the way each building followed that person’s or set of person’s ideas and needs such as economic needs and how that building has been adopted by another generation for their uses – how that building has been reimagined and reused in layers and layers across time.
A lot of what we do is tell the story about how individual sites connect to the present in ways that tell a subtle story about what really is preservation and the complex, complicated and sometimes contradictory nature of the city itself. People come with different ideas, assess what’s around them, seize on, export what they’ve got, and try to make do or make the city better. We’ve been on the forefront of covering, in various ways, situations involving specific buildings but also administrative failures of the city. We have been at the forefront of reporting on many many interesting developments in the city - both public space and infrastructure - like the Reading Viaduct – as a place for architectural criticism and design criticism. We record on the way people organize to protect or maintain or install some item for the benefit of the public such as a public garden or a community garden. We cover the way artists and creative people have taken up some aspect of the city for both the benefit of neighborhoods and their own careers. Ways architects envision and work with materials of the past. Our reporting has led to focused attention on the preservation of key buildings around the city; we’ve led reporting on: the soda tax’s impact on recreation centers, the high cost of union labor, the trouble with Community Benefit Agreements, the crisis of Jeweler’s Row, the failed architecture of the Museum of the American Revolution, etc.
Who is your audience for Hidden City Daily?
All the people in the fields I mentioned: real estate people, architects, history buffs, and those who care about the city. We do have a national audience. It’s not very large but it’s of interest to people who like this kind of approach to journalism – the storytelling, the seriousness of our approach, the way that we embrace and come to our readers really love the city more. Our audience is about 50,000 individual readers. That’s been steady for several years now. We also have a vigorous audience on social media.
Is there one particular landmark where you think the Hidden City Daily coverage has made an impact?
I’m proud of our coverage of several aspects of preservation and architecture. I’m proud of our coverage of the product of the Reading Viaduct. That project has now developed legs of its own. I’m proud of our coverage of things like Dilworth Park, of major losses like the Boyd, and losses that didn’t hit the radar like the church where Marian Anderson learned to sing, at 12th and Fitzwater. I’m proud of our coverage of things like the 19th street Baptist church, a Frank Furness building, that has amazingly endured. I’m proud of our coverage of schools, firehouses, and churches such as St. Laurentius Church in Fishtown and buildings on the 1900 blocks of Samson Street