Wednesday, July 11, 2012

I walk in the footsteps of giants

My newspaper's new newsroom occupies a floor of Philadelphia's old Strawbridge's department store. It's a spooky feeling to walk to my desk through a corridor identical to the one where, one floor below, I had once pawed piles of socks, T-shirts, and boxer shorts.

The Beaux-Arts-style building dates to 1931 and was the second store the Strawbridge & Clothier company built at the site. Before that, Thomas Jefferson had his office here when he was secretary of state, across the street and a block up from where he had earlier written the Declaration of Independence (with some judicious copy-editing help).

But neither Jefferson nor his doubtless stream of important visitors captures my imagination as immediately as does another figure who once worked here and who is even more intimately associated with Philadelphia.

(That's an introduction to my new newsroom. Read and see my farewell to my old one.)

© Peter Rozovsky 2012

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Anonymous solo said...

Best of luck with the new premesis, Peter. I hope the fact that it's now on Market Street is not telling, that the paper will not be subject to that savagely uncompromising arena: the market.

Can't see it happening, though. Certain newspapers are like Van Goghs, or Matisses or Warhols: vanity projects for billionaires.

At least, it sounds like the building might have some interesting ghosts. And if Google Maps is anything to go by, it sounds like your, er, favourite watering hole, the Pen and Pencil Club, will be closer than before.

July 12, 2012  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Thanks. Our new owners measure their wealth in political and philanthropic muscle and millions, rather than billions, of dollars.

As for the indignity of being shielded from the rough and tumble of the market, may it happen!

The building and the neighborhood are full of eminent American ghosts. Independence Hall and Benjamin Franklin's grave site a few short blocks away, and Edgar Allan Poe's house is a bit closer to this office than to the new place.

As for the P&P, its proximity has been less of an issue since a passable pub opened a block from my house a year and a half ago.

July 12, 2012  
Anonymous Elisabeth said...

I'm actually rather envious of you now working in a former grand old department store. Although I realize your circumstances may cause you to regard the move in a much different way...

Macy's set out to destroy L.A.'s greatest department store, Bullocks/Bullock's Wilshire and did so very effectively. I will never shop at Macy's.

I believe you said you have a colleague who is also interested in department stores and their place in US social history...? If s/he has not already read William R. Leach's Land of Desire: Merchants, Power, and the Rise of a New American Culture, 1994, I highly recommend it. "It chronicles America's transformation, beginning in 1880, into a nation of consumers, devoted to a cult of comfort, bodily well-being, and endless acquisition."

The book includes a section on how museums took their cues on exhibition design (and continue to do so to this day) from the display of goods in the the more luxurious department stores.

July 17, 2012  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Our previous building had been underused for years, and the failure to find good use for the space was one of the many sign of a previous owner's near-murderous incompetence. So moving out was not a bad idea, and the new building is not a bad place to be.

I'd bet that that colleague (my boss, actually) knows that book, but I'll mention it to him. And you might like Geppy's Museum of Popular Culture in Baltimore, should you be up that way. I remember being surprised based on its exhibits at how early advertising and celebrity product endorsements began to figure in American life.

July 18, 2012  

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