Cornerspotter is a Curbed Philly feature in which we show you a historical image of the city and you identify it. Usually.
His name is tofoomeister, and he is a Curbed commenter. Or: Her name is tofoomeister and she is a Curbed commenter. Either way, tofoomeister won our latest Cornerspotter challenge by writing this correct answer in the comments section: "Louis Blaul, photographer, had a studio at 56 N. 8th." [Update: tofoomeister has revealed himself: His name is Adam McCabe.]
That is true, and that's where the challenge image came from. This photo was taken in the late 19th century at Louis Blaul's studio at Eighth and Race (he had another studio at 1937 Germantown Avenue). As with many of the more established photographers of the period, the back of each photo was used to advertise the name and the address of the studio, usually in elaborate script and maybe with a curlicue or three. But Blaul used the back of this cabinet photo, as they were called, as the frame for another image—this one of the street where his headquarters was located. Quite creative, and not at all the norm.
When the woman in this photo gave it to someone as a keepsake, as she surely did, they were probably mildly impressed by Blaul's novel use of the reverse, but kept the photo because the woman was dear to them. In 2012 we don't know who the woman in the photo was, but we do want a keepsake of the street she walked on to get to the studio where the photo was taken. "The built environment is the keeper of history when the human flame dies out." Who said that? Someone very brilliant. Or maybe we just made it up.
Back to tofoomeister, who also wrote: "I'm guessing the constant aspect of the neighborhood is Jeweler's Row, which was the introduction of the rowhouse to the U.S. Am I close?"
Good guess, but not quite. When we spoke of an unchanging characteristic of the neighborhood, we were referring to Chinatown, whose population has been largely Chinese since the 19th century, when immigrant Chinese men came here from New Jersey and San Francisco. As for our other hint—the large work of public art nearby—that was a reference to the Chinatown Friendship Gate at 10th and Arch, but could also have been a punny allusion to the Gallery mall. Either would have been acceptable—or neither, as it turns out. Next up: something from the 20th century, we promise.
· Hint: There's a Large, Bold Work of Public Art Nearby [CPHI]
· Cornerspotter Archives [CPHI]