Historic Philadelphia with Kids
HOTEL MONACO, HOAGIES & HISTORY IN PHILADELPHIA.
I planned our trip so that we would arrive by train and experience the city on foot. This is a family trip, a historical tour with the kids. This is how we roll: each pulling a small carry on spinner through the station to the subway below, which swiftly transports us across the Schuylkill River toward Historic Philadelphia. We emerge on a sunny, bustling sidewalk and wonder: Do we go straight for the cheesecake or drop our bags at the hotel first? Our spinner bags make perfect makeshift chairs and since we are lollygagging, we eat cheesecake under the canopy of an oak tree. Hello Philadelphia!
I am impressed by the location of our hotel. Hotel Monaco (433 Chestnut Street ; 215-925-2111) is directly across the street from Independence Square, so that Independence Hall, the Liberty Bell and Independence Visitors Center (1 North Independence Mall West ; 800-537-7676) are all within view. I love Kimpton Hotels and often choose them when traveling with my children. Pioneers at reusing historic buildings (this particular property was once the Lafayette, built in 1906) Kimpton Hotels are unique and lively and intimate all at once, but the best part is the wild use of pattern, color and whimsical décor, which my kids think is really cool. The hotel is part of our Philadelphia adventure.
My oldest son studied Philadelphia and the birth of our nation this year in school, and as we journey through the exhibits I discover that my 7 year old knows much more than I realized. I consider trips like this requisite support to my kids’ education and pat myself on the back for making it so fun for them. Actually, it’s truly fun for me too. I love everything about it. I love the friendliness of the actress who pretends she’s Betsy Ross and teaches the boys about the upholstery business she operates from the ground level of her home. I love the films (check out “Choosing Sides”) and other high quality exhibits in the beautifully designed Visitor’s Center. I love the hoagie and cheese steak breaks; although we have been encouraged to taxi out to Tony Luke’s or Geno’s, we choose instead to walk 2 blocks to Campo’s (214 Market St ; 215-923-1000) and find ourselves in hoagie heaven. We decide this must be the best in Philly, it couldn’t possibly taste better! I enjoy being inside Independence Hall. I watch my children, mesmerized by the docent’s soft voice as she describes the mood, the attendees and the challenges of the first Constitutional Convention held in this very spot. Central arguments, high stakes and who sat where – historical snippets bring this history to life. As an added bonus, she describes its use as a courthouse and casts herself as a criminal, escorted inside the ring, locked into a gate and ready for trial.
We take a walk to Rittenhouse Square. We go for the park, for Philadelphia’s best coffee at La Colombe Torrefaction (130 South 19th Street at the corner of Walnut Street ; 215-563-0860) and for an easy sidewalk café brunch at Parc (227 South 18th Street ; 215-545-2262). While there we check out the galleries at Philadelphia Art Alliance (251 South 18th Street near Manning Street ; 215-732-2412) and explore the neighboring side streets. We gaze upon “Courtyard of Justice” and consider the controversy that arose when this beautiful 38 foot long mural was proposed for the ugly side wall of an expensive row house bordering a parking lot: It was considered inappropriate for such an upscale neighborhood. The mural was commissioned by local lawyer, Paul Rosen. I like what he said: “A mural about justice is proper in every neighborhood.” He chose an artist named Michael Webb to come up with the image, which portrays “a leafy scene in a stone courtyard with statues of legal giants such as attorney Clarence Darrow and former US Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall.” The City of Philadelphia Mural Arts Programs is the largest public art program in the country and has supported artists and transformed Philadelphia public spaces with over 3,000 murals to date. There are several ways to experience the murals, including taking a tour. We simply stumble upon them while walking around Philadelphia, turning a corner and suddenly coming face to face a massive work of art.
Society Hill is a similarly quiet and charming area of Old City (just a short walk south of Independence Hall) that features a green square surrounded by historic buildings. Washington Square Park is home to the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, a memorial to those who fought in the American Revolution. A plaque on the tomb reads: “Beneath this stone rests a soldier of Washington’s army who died to give you liberty.” My sons are fascinated, and after asking lots of questions they become pensive, until we dawdle off toward St. Peter’s Church. Built in 1761, George and Martha were once regulars here and apparently Benjamin Franklin had his own pew (#70). Outside in the graveyard: Charles Wilson Peale (who painted portraits of Washington, including “Crossing the Delaware”), Col. John Nixon (who gave the first public reading of the Declaration of Independence in 1776) and seven Indian chiefs who died of smallpox on a trip to Philadelphia in 1793. The death of Indian Chiefs to small pox raises my eldest sons ire and leads us into an interesting conversation.
Eventually, all this conversation leads to lunch. I had done my research and reserved a table at Amada Restaurant (217-219 Chestnut Street between 2nd + 3rd ; 215-625-2450.) The kids pick out small plates for us, while I sip Sangria. For desert we walk 2 blocks north to Franklin Fountain, (116 Market Street near Letitia Street ; 215-627-1899) an early 1900s ice cream saloon. It’s hard to find a seat here in this long, narrow establishment. We don’t mind, we grab our ice cream and head up to our last stop of the day: Elfreth Alley, which is billed as America’s oldest residential street. We like the fact that Elfreth Alley was home to a diverse group of neighbors in the late eighteenth century. Members of Christ Church, a Jewish Merchant who led the Mikveh Israel Synagogue, a newly freed slave and immigrants from Germany, Ireland and other parts of Europe once lived side by side here, each seeking opportunities in newly established America.
Posted on October 29, 2014. All photos by Map and Muse.