An Artsy Peek Into Hidden Philadelphia

i’ve been wanting to participate in Hidden City Philadelphia events for a while now, and i finally had a chance thanks to the 2013 Festival that happened to coincide with my business trip out here. from what i gather, the last time it happened was 2009, so it’s a pretty big deal. basically they find abandoned sites around town (!!! you know how i feel about abandonment!) and ask artists to come and do an installation in them. i went to three places today, two as part of a combination with a West Philadelphia mural trolley tour and one that came recommended by a fellow attendee at the second site.

Kelly Natatorium (by Camp Little Hope)

inside the old city water works (which later became an aquarium and even later became a public pool before closing in the early 70s), the artists in cooperation with local schoolchildren are exploring our relationship with our dwindling supply of water. they are building boats that deal with three possible futures — fracking in the Delaware Valley, aging infrastructure, and climate change. they also served tea (delicious peach iced) in little plastic baggies, whose purpose, according to them, was two-fold: 1) that’s how many developing nations serve drinks, and we need to think about them and their current and future water situations as well, and 2) as you hold it, you are viscerally aware of the liquid and how much you have left.

Iced tea in a bag from the fracking solution at the Bibotorium

The Fracking boat, which is to be a floating research and communications vehicle

Edge of the abandoned pool

Plants growing by the edge of the abandoned pool

Bibotorium at the Natatorium

Window in the Natatorium

The "aging infrastructure" and "climate change" pools at the Natatorium art installation

The “aging infrastructure” and “climate change” pools

Hawthorne Hall (by Rabid Hands Art Collective)

this run-down apartment building in West Philadelphia housed a theater on the second floor and functioned as an entertainment venue, with fraternal organizations hosting performances, boxing matches, and dances. the theater is currently abandoned, replete with very peeling paint, and for the art installation an imaginary fraternal organization called the Society of Pythagoras has turned the place into their secret clubhouse (the artists used found materials on site).

Make Your Mark

Not a part of the festival, but this is the other side of the building


Hawthorne Hall entrance

Part of the art installation

Art in a closet

The top floor

Accessed by a secret door, the third floor holds a very interesting dining room

Bay window #nofilter

Abandoned bay window in the building

Part of second floor installation

The theater

Down to nowhere

Staircase (not part of the installation)

Fort Mifflin / Mud Island (by Ben Neiditz and Zach Webber)

first off, who knew there was a historic fort located literally next door to Philadelphia International Airport? (certainly not me, and i spoke with a local who didn’t know it existed either — i thought GPS was leading me astray.) surrounding the fort is a sea wall, and you have to walk on top of that to the forest to the southwest that separates the fort from the airport. built up in there are dwellings constructed from found materials. this was, hands down, an amazing experience. in a forest, next to a busy airport, littered with detritus, are these buildings hidden amongst the greenery. the discovery was the best part, since the path was unmarked — round a corner, come across a shack. look up, discover a treehouse. and i won’t spoil the surprise of what’s in some of the old fort casements — just be sure to peek into both of them. let’s just say one of them wasn’t very pleasant after doing a ghost tour of the fort.


I can't tell what is part of the installation and what is not. Maybe that's the idea?

Shanty on the water

Fort Mifflin installation

Reeds? Weeds?



I don't know what is part of the art, so I will assume everything is

I don’t know what is part of the art, so I will assume everything is

Ramps to nowhere

Ramps to nowhere


A shack

More shack

That shack. Just beyond this was a fence, and beyond the fence were those round tanks you see in the map above.

House semi-supported by stilts

House at the top of a hill

The view from the top of the house on stilts. Did I mention we were right next to the airport?

View from the top of the house, with Fort Mifflin and a US Airways plane coming in for a landing.



the festival concludes at the end of June, so if you’re in town, it’s well worth checking out. note that there are 6 more sites that i didn’t visit, and be sure to wear comfortable shoes because you’ll have to do a bit of work to explore these previously-hidden places!

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