By Len Lear
If you love Philadelphia and enjoy searching for the nooks and crannies that make Philly such a fascinating city of neighborhoods and ethnic bouillabaisse, then you have to visit Big Blue Marble Bookstore, 551 Carpenter Lane in West Mt. Airy, this Saturday, Nov. 18, 2 p.m., to meet David S. Traub, who probably knows more about Philly’s “secret city” than anyone.
Traub, 76, an architect, will be discussing “Discovering Philadelphia: Places Little Known.” It is his new book (released Oct. 30) of photos from Philly’s “secret city,” a network of unique buildings, streets and places in the city that readers might otherwise overlook.
Traub takes a geographic approach to Philadelphia’s unusual sites. He divides the book into seven broad locations, each a web of neighborhoods with a distinct character: the historic district in center city; South Philadelphia; North Philadelphia; West and Southwest Philadelphia; Northwest Philadelphia; the River Wards of Fishtown, Port Richmond and Bridesburg; and the Northeast Philadelphia
This book carries on the mission launched by the center city resident with his earlier book of photographs, “Searching for Philadelphia.” That book is also divided into seven distinct sections: Alluring Entryways, Narrow Streets, Walkways, Hidden Courtyards, Secret Gardens, Tiny Parks and Unnoticed Builidings.
According to Camino Books, publisher of the new book, “With a playful and neighborly tone, Traub turns a keen architect’s eye to the doorways, small parks, alleys and other treasures hidden in plain sight. With its stunning and intimate views and its thoughtful captions, ‘Discovering Philadelphia’ is an ode to the history and diversity of a great American city.”
Traub, a native of Louisville, Kentucky, studied architecture at the University of Illinois and the University of Pennsylvania, where he received a Masters of Architecture degree. At Penn in 1964, he studied in the Master’s Class of the legendary architect, Louis I. Kahn, with students who had gathered from around the world. During the Vietnam War, he served in the Corps of Engineers in Honolulu, working as an architect on both military and civilian projects.
From 1970 to ‘73, Traub worked in Kahn’s office, where he was assigned to two of the most important projects in the office at that time, the Kimbell Art Museum in Fort Worth, Texas, and the Mellon Museum of British Art at Yale University in New Haven. In 1974 he established his own office and has been in private practice ever since. His firm, David S. Traub Associates, Architects, Planners and Interior Designers, has carried out a variety of projects in the residential, commercial and institutional fields. Among his clients has been the City of Philadelphia, for which he designed projects for the Department of Recreation and the Fairmount Park Commission.
“Most of the places I have chosen to show (in the new book),” he told us in an interview last week, “are diminutive in scale, anomalous in their context, old, charming, even quaint. Some of the places shown are historic in the usual sense of the word, but many others would not be mentioned in the history books. Though the focus is on the old, the Colonial through to the Victorian, some of the places shown are what we call ‘modern.’
“An effort then has been made to show the incredible range of architectural and landscape styles embraced within the expanse of the city. Given the limitations of the book’s size, it chronicles only a few of the special places to be discovered. What is shown hopefully will serve as an enticement for the curious urban traveler to conduct a tour of discovery of his or her own.
“That urban traveler will soon agree that the narrow streets, tiny houses, idiosyncratic buildings, small parks, hidden courtyards and secret gardens are the features that give the city the intimate feel that is its most endearing characteristic. It is because of that intimate feel that I chose to stay in Philadelphia to make a life for myself after the university.”
Unlike many recent publications, “Discovering Philadelphia” does not show what has been demolished and lost. Traub does feel those books are important, but he wanted to make sure that every place and building in his new book must still exist and be accessible for everyone to enjoy.
“In my view,” said Traub, “what uniquely characterizes Philadelphia is the pervasiveness of single-family houses throughout the city. Indeed, for a city the size of Philadelphia, there are relatively few apartment buildings. This is what leads me to say that a contemporary slogan for Philadelphia should be ‘A City of Homes.’”
For more information about Saturday’s event: david-s-traub-architects.com or 215-844-1870. More information about “Discovering Philadelphia: Places Little Known” at www.caminobooks.com