After decades of relative obscurity, Philadelphia, a classic American city, is ready to step back into the national limelight.
ou don't usually don white tie and tails for a birthday party, but then, how often do you celebrate the birthday of a hotel? Yet, here we are—me, Walter Cronkite, and 1,854 other guests assembled to help blow out the candles for the hundredth anniversary of the opening of Philadelphia's Park Hyatt at the Bellevue, "the grand dame of Broad Street." As the crush in the lobby grows, I seek refuge from Philadelphia's elite on a spiral, marble staircase from which I can survey the scene. F. Scott Fitzgerald got it wrong, I think. There are second acts in American life—for hotels, certainly, and, yes, for entire cities.
When the (then) Bellevue-Stratford debuted in 1904, the elegant, 1,170-room French-Renaissance wedding cake embodied Philadelphia's status as one of America's premier metropolises. But as the decades passed, the Bellevue, and Philadelphia itself, lost their sheen. In 1976, Legionnaires' disease killed 29 of the Bellevue's guests, and the hotel closed for over a decade. That same year, Sylvester Stallone's Rocky brought worldwide exposure to the City of Brotherly Love—but as a synonym for gritty urban decay. Indeed, residents were fleeing the city's core just as more vibrant urban areas were coming into their own.
My theory is that, like dogs, each city has its day. In the 1960s, people flocked to San Francisco; in the '70s, Dallas and Houston got hot; during the '80s, it was Miami, full of vice and sockless loafers; in the '90s, grungy Seattle became Nirvana. Now, in the new century, the Bellevue is back, and it's Philly's turn for the limelight.
"I've long thought of Philadelphia as the Next Great American City," says Tony Goldman, a real-estate developer who invests in nascent urban neighborhoods in Lower Manhattan, Miami Beach, and, more recently, here in Philly. "But it's just now being recognized and celebrated for it."