Thursday, April 20, 2006
The Philadelphia Naval Hospital
Photos © 2001 by Brian Bennett. All rights reserved, use without permission and credit is prohibited. Permission is granted to those using photos in personal blogs where no financial gain is made from sale or use of these photos.
That slick site you now see west of Broad Street on Pattison Avenue wasn't always a practice facility for the Philadelphia Eagles. What's now known as the "Novacare Complex" (corporations get to buy their way into naming just about everything sports related these days) was once the Philadelphia Naval Hospital. Younger folks will remember it as an old building that seemed to stand vacant, gathering cobwebs and dust. But for us who have a few years behind us, we know that it was a premier facility for treating troops of every military service during the Vietnam War. This hospital had one of the top programs for prosthetic limbs nationwide, and some of the top surgeons in that field. Today, it's just a memory. Which brings us to this post.
I remember back during it's heyday my uncle Pat was a patient at the Naval Hospital. He suffered from advanced lung cancer, succumbing to it in the late 1960s. Uncle Pat was a master sergeant in the US Air Force stationed in Dover, DE at the base there. Out of tragedies come good things, and the one good thing that came out of his illness was that we got to meet my aunt Ruby and my cousins. My brother, sister, and I had not yet met them until his illness brought him go Philly.
Being able to get on the grounds of the hospital as a kid with their family, you could see it was a big, busy place. And while it was a place where people went because of suffering wounds and illnesses, you could see it was a grand art-deco structure. Buildings like that just aren't made today. At best you get faux art-deco with a lot of glass and steel, but not the real McCoy.
I went to watch the end of the Philadelphia Naval Hospital, to witness the implosion that would bring it down. I've always seen implosions on TV, but this one was in walking distance from my home, so I just had to go and photograph it. Well, the best laid plans of mice and men sometimes go awry. For me, it happened at the hands of an ignorant, misinformed Philadelphia Police officer. That woman made my set plans go awry.
I had it all scoped out. I had checked out vantage points earlier in the week, finding a great spot at 16th & Packer Avenue. There you could see straight down to the hospital with an unobstructed view, dead-on. Firing quickly, I could have captured the fall of that building and had a great sequence of shots. As I set up my tripod and started mounting the camera, Officer Know-It-All came up to me and told me I had to move. As she told it, the area I chose was the viewing area for former hospital employees and neighbors. Yet there were no viewing stands, no police lines, no nothing to indicate it was an official area of any type. An older man came to join me and wanted to witness the implosion from that site too. Again, our erstwhile officer tells us we'd have to go, repeating that only neighbors and former employees could stand there. "Plus", she said, "someone standing here could be hurt". Whether she was talking about from flying debris, the concussion of the blast, or her own foolishness remained to be seen. Just as I was about to protest, the older gentleman said, "What about you? Are you going to stand here and risk getting hurt?" She wasn't pleased. I set her over the top when I asked her why neighbors and ex-employees would be put in harms way. "If you don't get out of here right now, I'm waving that (police) wagon over and you're both going to the police station!" she yelled. What to do? If we stay, we're going into the wagon, and we miss the implosion. Best just to move on down the road.
I made my way over to Broad & Geary, finding a spot to watch, but not a great one. It would have to do, as we were only a few minutes away from zero hour. I didn't even have time for the tripod, I would have to shoot hand-held and risk movement, or else lose the shot. And so, we watched the fall of a great institution on that early spring Saturday morning, June 9, 2001. The few memories I have of that place are etched in my mind, and the few photos of the implosion are found here.
AND YOU MAY REMEMBER...
...The Philadelphia Naval Shipyard in it's heyday. The yard still stands, although not as a military facility. As time marches on, more businesses are occupying the Naval Business Center and the Kavaerner shipyard (or whoever runs it now) continues to slowly crank out ships. Thousands of men and women worked there during WWII building and maintaining warships. Now the only naval ships are those mothballed waiting to become razor blades or whatever else they'll someday use the scrap for.
...The Defense Support & Supply Center - aka "The Quartermaster" complex. Another once-extremely busy military facility. You could stand on the corner of 20th & Oregon and watch bus after bus full of employees empty out and huge masses of bodies stream towards the gates on any given morning. There they made and distributed things like uniforms, medical supplies, and battlefield rations for our troops. The center made it to the presidential list of facilities for base excellence, as it was recognized for it's efficiency and quality. Recognition sometimes means nothing. A year after Bill Clinton recognized it, the government announced it would close, and since has. Now the center has become a retail shopping center at 23rd St. and a light industrial/manufacturing area. Some of the base still remains vacant to this day.
Posted by Brian at 4/20/2006 12:40:00 PM