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Historic Pittsburgh churches find new life

The New York Times features Pittsburgh houses of worship that have been rehabbed and reinvented in interesting ways.

Like most American Rust Belt towns settled by European immigrant laborers, Pittsburgh in the early 20th century was a deeply religious place, where ornate Romanesque and Gothic chapels, churches and cathedrals rose in nearly every corner of the city. But partly as a result of the steel industry’s collapse, Pittsburgh’s population (now just over 300,000) has been in decline for decades, and congregations have been abandoning their grand old churches in search of smaller, more affordable spaces. Along the way, some of the Steel City’s savviest entrepreneurs have been purchasing many of Pittsburgh’s disused churches and adapting them into clubs, restaurants, theaters and concert venues...

A look at Pittsburgh’s many reused churches, in fact, remains a unique way of exploring the city. A chapel tour of the area, for instance, could include a singalong session at Charlie Murdoch’s Dueling Piano Bar (inside a century-old Presbyterian church built for Ukrainian immigrants), a pottery class at the Union Project (a community education center in the former Union Baptist Church) or even a visit to the Sphinx Cafe, a hookah bar in a rundown former church of unknown provenance in the city’s university district.

Original source: The New York Times
Read the complete story here.

Want a 'Lord of the Rings'-style map of Philadelphia or Pittsburgh?

PA resident Stentor Danielson creates super-cool maps of major American cities -- including Philadelphia and Pittsburgh -- in the style of fantasy author J.R.R. Tolkien.

In addition to his de riguer Etsy store, a seeming must for endeavors of this nature, Danielson also maintains a densely-illustrated Tumblr called Mapsburgh, where he showcases his own work as well as that of other fantasy-minded artists and creators of odd, impractical things. There, brave travelers will get some brief, telling glimpses into the mapmaker’s creative process, which seems to exist at the nexus of fandom and fetishism. A specifically-cited source of inspiration for Danielson, for instance, is this map of Middle Earth from the Ballatine paperback edition of Tolkien’s Lord Of The Rings.

A faculty member at Pennsylvania’s Slippery Rock University, Danielson works with pen and ink and, on occasion, cut paper to create his otherworldly "cartographic art" of quite-worldly places like Boston and Washington, D.C. The artist, who describes his work as "delicate" (read: alarmingly fragile), also takes requests.

Original source: The A.V. Club
Read the complete story here; and click here for Danielson's Etsy store.

Allentown curator and restorer of classic cars earns huge New York Times feature

Allentown's Keith Flickinger is supervising the construction of a compound to house a vast collection of classic cars belonging to Nicola Bulgari, the Italian jewelry magnate.

Mr. Flickinger, who describes himself modestly as a “Pennsylvania Dutch kid,” is the curator and chief restorer of the Bulgari collection, which emphasizes American marques from the late 1920s to the early 1940s. In contrast to the prestigious luxury models and European sports cars that tend to fill the garages of wealthy collectors, the cars that Mr. Bulgari focuses on are the workaday models intended for the middle class.

Many are from defunct brands like Hudson, Nash and Graham. About 125 cars are kept in Allentown, where there are seven warehouse buildings; another 85 or so — including the faster cars — are in Rome, where Mr. Bulgari lives, and are flown to Allentown when repairs are needed.

Why is all of this in Allentown? “Because of me,” Mr. Flickinger said.

The men met in 1995, when a collector based in Allentown recommended Mr. Flickinger’s restoration shop, Precision Motor Cars, to Mr. Bulgari for repairs to a 1942 Buick woody wagon that had been damaged at Mr. Bulgari’s New York estate.
“I did the work and he added a whole pile of other restoration work on top of that,” Mr. Flickinger recalled. “I finished the job and he asked me to take care of his cars worldwide.”

That was a major change for the owner of a small shop. “I used to have 501 customers,” he said. “Now I have just one...”

Besides the seven warehouses, four of which hold restoration shops, the 21-acre Allentown compound includes the grounds of a derelict drive-in movie theater, where Mr. Bulgari is building a track and a 24,000-square-foot Italian-themed stone barn for charity events and collector meets.

Original source: The New York Times
Read the complete story (and check out the slideshow) here.

Gorgeous Wyncote rain garden becomes a teachable moment

Mary E. Myers, a landscape architect and associate professor at Temple University, created a lush rain garden in suburban Philadelphia. Folks in the neighborhood have taken notice. 

"I wanted to increase biodiversity, but I wanted it to be aesthetically appealing, so that people would accept it and want to do it," said Ms. Myers, 62, standing by the sweep of blue mistflowers rolling down to the sidewalk. "People walk by and say, 'What’s that? It’s beautiful.'"

She often gives them some seeds or self-seeded native plants. And when someone from down the street longs for those blue mistflowers, she says, "Don’t worry, the wind will bring them to you."

With the shapes, colors and textures of more than 50 native species here — the elegant branching of the young black gum tree, the dogwood and shadbush turning deep red, the handsome seed heads of hibiscus, the fig-like fruits of the bottlebrush buckeye — this dynamic landscape is nothing like the scruffy patches of weeds too often referred to as rain gardens.

As Ms. Myers said, "It looks intentional and maintained..."

She counted 23 species when they moved in, 16 of them nonnative. Now the count is up to 127, most of them native.

Original source: The New York Times
Read the complete story here.

Philadelphia's Reading Terminal named one of the country's great public spaces

Philadelphia's legendary Reading Terminal Market has been named one of the "Great Public Spaces" in the nation by the American Planning Association.

World-renowned as an enclosed public market, Reading Terminal Market is conveniently located in downtown Philadelphia. The market is situated in a complex of buildings formally known as the Reading Terminal Train Station, occupying the basement and ground floor of the building underneath the old train shed. The market is organized in grid system spanning 78,000 square feet (1.7 acres) and is home to 76 independent small merchants. All of the merchants are locally based, selling fresh foods, groceries, prepared meals, and merchandise. The market is easily accessible to residents and tourists via public transit facilities, including nearby rail stations, seven subway and trolley lines, bus stops, a Greyhound bus terminal, and over 50 bike racks on the perimeter sidewalks...

Over 6 million people visit the market each year, generating upwards of $50 million in annual sales. Because the vendor businesses are 100 percent locally owned, the market's revenues are recycled within the Philadelphia region. The majority of patrons live in the Philadelphia region, and tourists make up about one-quarter of the shoppers.

Original source: American Planning Association
Read the complete list here.

Philly's Springboard Collective, warriors against the 'summer slide,' featured in New York Times

This awesome Philadelphia ed startup earns praise in the New York Times.

Last summer was the second one Tayonna Taylor, an incoming second-grader, spent working with a reading tutor: her mother. Tayonna, who wears glasses and had the sniffles, sat with her mother, Tasia Carlton, in late July in Emily Roggie’s classroom in Wissahickon Charter School in northwest Philadelphia...

[Alejandro] Gac-Artigas founded Springboard in 2011, when he was just 22. He was teaching first grade with Teach for America, horrified by the summer slide. That summer he set up a four-teacher pilot with 42 children and their families. By the end of the summer, the children had gained 2.8 months in reading.

This past summer, Springboard worked with 1,200 students in 20 schools — public, charter and parochial — in Philadelphia and Camden, N.J. In Philadelphia, Springboard is the only summer learning program the school district pays for. Springboard trains teachers for the summer program, and has now started to help them coach parents to help their children during the school year. The full cost of the summer program is about $900 per child, including the teacher’s salary, which is paid by the school.

Original source: The New York Times
Read the complete story here.

Chester County's Longwood Gardens gears up for $90 million upgrade

Chester County's Longwood Gardens -- home to one of America's top restrooms -- will benefit from a $90 million renovation.

The Main Fountain Garden at Longwood Gardens in Pennsylvania will undergo a $90 million upgrade, it was announced on Thursday. The garden, which has been in continuous use since Pierre S. du Pont – Longwood’s founder — turned on the fountains in 1931, will be improved by Beyer Blinder BelleFluidity, and West 8.

The project includes replacing the infrastructure, adding technology for new water choreography and creating new spaces in the five-acre garden. The south wall of the garden’s wall-mounted fountains, which has been closed to the public for the last 20 years, will reopen as part of the renovation.

Groundbreaking is to begin in October and the fountain garden is to reopen in the spring of 2017.

Original source: The New York Times
Read the complete story here.

Business Insider lists the best beers from every state -- who's the PA winner?

Business Insider listed the best beer from every state using RateBeer.com -- the PA winner might surprise you.

The Phoenix Kriek by Selin's Grove Brewing Co. (in Selinsgrove, no less) isn't your typical kriek (cherry) sour beer, given that it's jammy and only slightly tart, not to mention the high 8% ABV.

Editor's choice: Hershey, Pennsylvania, isn't just known for its chocolate. Tröegs Brewing Co. brews an IPA, Nugget Nectar, that's so insanely hoppy that it transitions to a near nectar-like smoothness.

Original source: Business Insider via PennLive.com
Check out the complete list here.

Philadelphia to host Forbes' '30 under 30'

In October, the City of Brotherly Love will host a major event for young entrepreneurs. 

Philadelphia will play host to Forbes Magazine’s “30 under 30″ summit in mid-October, not only a brain-storming session by those who’ve made it, but a springboard for those who want to.

From October 19th to the 22nd, the Convention Center will host a who’s-who list of millenial entrepreneurs, inventors, celebrities and more than a thousand others looking to make their big mark. Randall Lane of Forbes says attendees will get a chance to grab for the gold ring.

“We’re calling it the $400,000 pressure cooker,” Lane says, “where we’re going to have a pitch contest on stage in front of a thousand people, and the winner take all, winner gets $150,000 in investment and a quarter-million dollars in prizes, and we promised Mayor Nutter that one Philly entrepreneur gets a fast track to the finals.”
Lane says Philadelphia is abuzz with millenial energy.

“Based on what we’re seeing you’re doing great,” he says. “Stats we’ve seen show the rise in millenials in Philadelphia is outpacing the rest of the nation.”

Original source: CBS
Read the complete story here.

Study to look at impact of wind farms in Pennsylvania

The Pennsylvania General Assembly's nonpartisan research organization will author a report on the impact of wind farms on the state. Can this renewable energy source work for PA?

Legislators instructed the commission to cover certain basic details, including who owns wind turbines in Pennsylvania, how many there are, which agencies oversee them and how they are regulated.

The report also must include touchier subjects, like comparisons between wind and other energy sources — such as coal, oil, gas and nuclear — in terms of government subsidies and environmental impacts on wildlife and the landscape. It must address wind turbines’ effect on the electric grid and wind energy’s progress in relation to the state’s mandated minimum share of alternative energy in electricity sales.

Original source: Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
Read the complete story here.

PA deemed second-best state for teachers

A study by WalletHub analyzed the best teaching opportunities in the country by state. They examined 18 key metrics, ranging from median starting salary to teacher job openings per capita. Pennsylvania came in at No. 2.

Via Pittsburgh Business Times.

Original source: WalletHub
Check out the study here.

PennDOT to replace 558 bridges across the state

The Pennsylvania State Department of Transportation is thinking big, planning to replace 558 structurally deficient bridges across the state.

PennDOT will be utilizing the new public-private partnership (P3) to complete the projects instead of doing them "in house."
The contractors, engineers, and financiers of bridge replacement project will be selected in the coming month. Their contracts will cover the design and replacement of selected bridges, as well as their maintenance for 25 years. PennDOT’s first P3 contract was signed in 2012, when State Farm became a private sponsor of the state’s highway safety truck service.

Bryan Kendro, the director of P3's for PennDOT says that the new approach can get done in four years what traditionally took eight to twelve years. He says this boost in efficiency will save the state at least $60 million annually. The P3 contract will also contain a limitation on how long a bridge can be closed to traffic: single-span bridges have a 60 day limit, and multi-span bridges have a 110 day limit.  In comparison, some local bridge projects being done directly by PennDOT can be closed to all traffic for two years.

Original source: Newsworks
Read the complete story here.

Philly physicist, Allentown saxophonist and Pittsburgh poet among this year's MacArthur 'geniuses'

Danielle S. Bassett, a 32-year-old physicist at the University of Pennsylvania, is the youngest recipient of a 2014 MacArthur Genius Grant. Pennsylvania had a strong showing overall: other winners include Steve Coleman, 57, a composer and alto saxophonist in Allentown, and Terrance Hayes, 42, a poet and professor at University of Pittsburgh who won a National Book Award for his collection Lighthead.

The fellowships, based on achievement and potential, come with a stipend of $625,000 over five years and are among the most prestigious prizes for artists, scholars and professionals...

The oldest fellow this year is Pamela O. Long, 71, a historian of science and technology in Washington, whose work explores connections between the arts and science. The youngest is Danielle S. Bassett, 32, a physicist at the University of Pennsylvania, who analyzes neuron interactions in the brain as people perform various tasks. She seeks to determine how different parts of the brain communicate and how that communication changes with learning or in the aftermath of a brain injury or disease.

When she received the call informing her of the no-strings-attached windfall, Ms. Bassett recalled being stunned into silence.

“Halfway through, I said, ‘Are you absolutely sure you got the right person?’ ” Ms. Bassett said in a telephone interview. “Then they read my bio to me. It’s an unexpected honor and sort of validation.”

Original source: The New York Times
Read the complete story here.

Check out PennLive.com's fall foliage contest -- and enter your own image

The deadline is fast approaching for the 2014 PennLive.com Fall Foliage Photo Contest. Check out the entries, or make your own bid:

With the midnight Friday, Sept., 26, deadline for entries nearing for the 2014 PennLive.com Fall Foliage Photo Contest approaching swiftly, readers continue to submit their favorite photos capturing the essence of autumn color in Pennsylvania.

Do you have a fantastic photo of fall foliage in the Keystone State? 

Your photo could win the 2014 PennLive.com Fall Foliage Photo Contest and claim a selection of outdoor, nature, travel and gardening books and merchandise for you.

Original source: PennLive
Check out the contest here.

Missing Huntingdon dog shows up in Oregon

Gidget, a missing terrier from Huntingdon, Pa., showed up in an unlikely place. 

Gidget's journey west is an extraordinary one, even by human standards.

And it's not nearly over.

The 7-year-old Jack Russell Terrier went missing April 22 near her owner's home in Huntingdon, Pennsylvania. Five months later, a former volunteer at Bonnie L. Hays Small Animal Shelter spotted her trotting along a road in Tualatin — nearly 2,700 miles from where she began.

Gidget's backstory was realized when shelter technicians identified her through a microchip embedded in her skin.
Needless to say, her owner was shocked when she got the call.

"She was very surprised and excited," said Shelia Farrin, the shelter technician who identified Gidget. "She was like 'I have no idea how she got all the way out there.'"

Original source: The Oregonian
Read the complete story here.
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