Ronnie Polaneczky: Made in America made me excited once again to live near Parkway

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Fans cheer for Drake on Sunday as he performs on the Rocky stage in front of the Art Museum steps.

AT THE RISK of ticking off my Fairmount and Spring Garden neighbors, whose homes were within a hundred loud, reverb-packed yards of the Budweiser Made in America concert, I've gotta say that I loved it.

I hadn't expected to. I had expected merely to tolerate the two-day megaconcert, the way I've come to tolerate the frequent neighborhood disruptions triggered by gatherings on the Ben Franklin Parkway.

When I moved to the Art Museum area almost 30 years ago, I relished every concert, fireworks extravaganza, bike race, holiday parade and marathon on the boulevard that is my front yard. Each was an excuse to throw a party, and I liked how my home became the gathering spot for outsiders who needed a place to crash before and after the fun.

But by the 10th Thanksgiving parade, the 15th bike race and the 20th Fourth of July fest, the novelty of living alongside Center City's front yard pretty much wore off. No disrespect to our Founding Fathers, but when you've seen 20 booming Independence Day fireworks displays from your front steps, you've seen 'em all.

This time, though, the hubbub felt different - even from 2005's Live 8 concert, whose megawatt acts and international cachet brought dazzle similar to Made in America's. This time, the Parkway and its surrounding grounds were so transformed, physically, that I became disoriented when I strolled around the site on Friday evening, as workers used forklifts to move pallets of Budweiser and audio technicians fiddled with performers' sound checks.

A cavernous tent stood in the middle of the Von Colln ball fields, at 23rd Street and Pennsylvania Avenue, and lounge chairs and blow-up sofas dotted a makeshift "beach" near food-and-booze stands. It took a few seconds before I realized that I was standing on the baseball diamond where my kid once played T-ball.

In front of the Art Museum, the main stage was so expansive, its projection screens so huge, that I temporarily forgot that behind the stage were the 72 steps that, if this were a typical Friday sunset, would be dotted with sweaty Rocky wannabes.

Mini-lights swung in ropes across the Parkway, giving the feel of a fairground midway. And concessions stands, placed at odd angles, visually altered a space usually so familiar to me that, on any other day, I could traverse it in my sleep unscathed.

There was something unexpectedly delightful about being inside a space that had been so thoroughly reimagined, that I saw it with new eyes. It made me feel giddy about a Parkway event in a way I hadn't felt in years.

Then again, I love my new workplace, too. In July, the Daily News left its longtime digs at Broad and Callowhill streets for the third floor of the former Strawbridge's department store, at 8th and Market. I am writing this column in a corner where, I'm almost sure, I once browsed for bedding. The space feels familiar and brand-new at the same time. It's wild to be here.

I also feel tickled when I visit a friend who's renting a condo in the former headquarters of the Philadelphia School District, at 20th and Winter streets, which I haunted like a ghost during the state takeover of the city's schools. I think my friend's bedroom used to be occupied by the district insider who once slid me some secret memos across his desk.

And I have to chuckle when I see the Phoenix high-rise, at 16th at Arch, touted as a luxe address. The building was a dreary dump years ago, when it was home to city departments like Licenses & Inspections. Who knew the tony future that awaited stuffy rooms where city functionaries once translated city codes for the confused citizenry?

Clearly, I'm a sucker for the reinvention of public spaces. No wonder the Made in America tour didn't get under my skin the way it should have, given that Mayor Nutter has yet to tell us what we, as a city, have gotten out of sealing off our public space to benefit a private entity.

For now, at least, I know what I got out of it: a chance to see my neighborhood landmark in a brand-new way. And - thank you, God - the gift of seeing it quickly revert back to its grand, familiar and quieter old self.

Because two days of thumping reverb from the DJ tent, fun as it was, was plenty.

 


Contact Ronnie Polaneczky at polaner@phillynews.com or 215-854-2217. Follow her on Twitter @RonniePhilly. Read her blog at philly.com/ronnieblog, or for recent columns go to philly.com/Ronnie.