Icepack | Jan. 16-23

More Philly development, music stuff and a very merry SNL wedding

Actress Scarlett Johansson
Actress Scarlett Johansson was in Philly to take in a wedding at the Crystal Tea Room which her beau SNL “Weekend Update” comic Colin Jost was officiating. | Image: Gage Skidmore

I am, most certainly, a believer that we are destroying the planet and that all of the worst of true climate change, beyond evolution, is our fault.

I am also someone who despises any, any hint of cold weather hates layering, starts ramping up the thermostat when the barometer hits 49 degrees and lines his finest suits with HeatMax Hot Hands.

So I get the zeal that pushes climate activists to protest, but who are the jackwads who reacted to the last several days’ heatwave with anything but tank tops? If you’re hating on hot weather in the death chill of January, you’re being more ungrateful than Harry and Meghan.

Recent developments

Two of the many things I have written about a lot no matter where I have worked within the last 25 years is Philly developer Bart Blatstein and the northwest and southwest corners of Broad Street and Washington Avenue. From his properties along Columbus Boulevard and back again, from remaking Northern Liberties to Atlantic City, Blatstein has always been equal parts Steve Wynn and P. T. Barnum – the ultimate showman developer. Those corners of Broad and Washington, where the very best thing that happened was Cirque du Soleil? 

Does anyone recall how Philly native/”Bad Boy 4” star Will Smith and his brother Harry Smith had their sights on, and claws into, the northwest corner long before Leo Addimando’s Alterra Group, Metro Commercial Brokers and Kimco Realty put up a Target and a Sprouts, along with 300-plus apartments? Blatstein has been fighting forever to get that corner a high rise tower-condo and mixed-use retail space – a sadly losing battle over a supposed wall cutting off South Philly and Center City, which makes little sense when you consider the more positively received (but not yet agreed upon) miserable Midwood tower at Ninth and Washington – just blocks away from Broad – does even more slicing and dicing of a homey neighborhood and an historically zoned commercial property, of the Italian Market. 

Back to Bart and that southwest corner: Starting with a report from the Philadelphia Business Journal, Blatstein and Giant Food Stores are getting together to make that grocery the retail anchor project of a proposed 80,000-square-foot complex, something huge to go with its teensy tiny satellite Giant Heirloom Markets. (What is with tiny markets, by the way, e.g. the excitement about the mini-Wawa?) Blatstein’s partnering with Giant could be considered a “fuck you” to the Sprouts Farmers Market across the street, which is a shame since Sprouts is the only place where you can get roasted turkey legs in August or January, rather than having to wait until Thanksgiving. 

“Bart Blatstein has always been equal parts Steve Wynn and P. T. Barnum – the ultimate showman developer.”

All things architecture

By the way, if all this development talk has you juiced and dancing about architecture is your thing like it is mine, you’ll get off on Jan. 21’s Dranoff Properties-hosted panel of performing arts, development and architecture peeps such as Pulitzer Prize-winning critic Paul Goldberger, KPF Founder and Arthaus architect A. Eugene Kohn, Kimmel Center CEO Anne Ewers, Philly Senior VP/Director of Research Lauren Gilchrist and Carl Dranoff at the Kimmel’s Hamilton Garden starting at 6 p.m. next Tuesday. They’re going to talk all things Avenue of the Arts.

New music jawns

Last year, I wrote extensively in PW about Girard Avenue’s Brewerytown Beats’ Max Ochester and the label he started, Dogtown Records, to release rare recordings from best-loved, locally legendary R&B, jazz and gospel musicians and singers. That has, so far, meant finding, cleaning and releasing thought-forgotten tapes from acts such as Germantown jazzbos, the Sounds of Liberation (“Unreleased”) and North Philly funkateers The Thompsons (the family band’s 1975 LP, “I’ll Get Over It” got re-released Friday). Not until now, however, have any of the long lost Dogtown acts – and/or their still-living members – decided to give it a go again. 

After several live shows in 2019 connected to “Unreleased,” The Sounds of Liberation are making their first new music since 1973, under the watchful guise of Ochester, guitarist-composer Monette Sudler and Grammy-winning producer Aaron Luis Levinson. 

“Max is Berry Gordy, and I am the Jewish Norman Whitfield of Kensington,” said Levinson of his Dogtown label showrunner and the album’s executive producer.

 “We recorded a new SOL album this past week at the incredible SSL-equipped room built by my old homie David Ivory,” said Levinson of the Montgomery Room (aka MC3.)

“Max and I have been working on various projects for a few years actually. I’m also producing the York Street Hustle at my studio in Ardmore, Range Recording,” he said, speaking of South Philly’s finest 10-piece, ‘60s-soul-inspired ensemble.  

Going back to discussing the Sounds of Liberation disc, Levinson stated that the album’s composition, largely by Sudler, is “killing. And (saxophonist)  David Murray who I knew way back in my New Yawk daze, was the guest on the album – he too slew the dragon and indeed the water turned to cherry wine.”

Condolences

Condolences to the family and friends of Jerry Stevens, the man whose deep, mellifluous radio voice scanned decades, from WIBG to WPEN, to say nothing of his time as program director at WMMR 93.3 from 1970 to 1977. He passed away last weekend.

Work hard. Have fun. Get sued.

I bet Amazon didn’t want this delivered fast: The streaming-sender responsible for the “Free Meek” documentary (along with its producers Jay-Z and Philly’s Meek Mill) is getting sued by Saqueta Williams, a one-time Philly cop, who claims that the Amazon series made her look like a liar when speaking with the Philadelphia Police Department’s Internal Affairs.

WHOWHATWHERE  

Not long before Scarlett Johansson got the phone call for her two Oscar nominations (Best Actress, “Marriage Story,” Best Supporting Actress, “Jojo Rabbit”), she attended a wedding at Philly’s Crystal Tea Room where her fiancé, Colin Jost of Saturday Night Live Weekend Update fame, conducted the wedding of Philly-reared SNL Producer Erin Doyle and Sam Shechtman were the couples whose knot got tied, Jost did the officiating, several other cast members (Beck Bennett, Aidy Bryant, Michael Che, Ego Nwodim) were in attendance, the cake came from Termini’s, and supposedly Scar Jo was an absolute sweetheart to all.

  • A.D. Amarosi's Headshot

    A.D. Amorosi is a Philadelphia-based journalist who, along with Philadelphia Weekly, writes for numerous local, national and international publications including Variety and the Philadelphia Inquirer.