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Philadephia’s Magic Gardens

by Suzanne Fluhr on November 2, 2015 · 32 comments

Philadelphia's Magic Gardens by Isaiah Zagar

Philadelphia's Magic Gardens by Isaiah Zagar

Philadelphia’s Magic Gardens is indeed a magical place.

You know how sometimes when you live somewhere, you might have never visited places in your home town that most visitors (tourists) go. I’m sure there are a good number of New Yorkers who have never made it to the top of the Empire State Building nor to the Statue of Liberty. Here in my home town, the City of Brotherly Love (and Sisterly Affection), I meet Philadelphians who are at least slightly embarrassed that they have never visited Independence Hall nor the Liberty Bell.

Two years ago, we had a visit from our favorite Canadian, four pound, long haired chihuahua travel blogger, Montecristo, and his people. They had a few days in Philly by themselves and raved about somewhere I had heard about, but had never visited, Philadelphia’s Magic Gardens. In fact, it was one of their favorite places and Montecristo wrote a blog post about it from his perspective—8 inches off the ground. On a crisp fall day, I finally walked myself the 1.2 miles from our Center City apartment on Rittenhouse Square to 1020 South Street to visit this half block long public art installation by mosaic artist, Isaiah Zagar.

Even before arriving at the Magic Gardens, you will come across other walls in the neighborhood decorated with Isaiah Zagar’s signature mosaic murals. There are thirty within a few blocks of the Magic Gardens itself. Don’t arrive for your visit to Philadelphia’s Magic Gardens looking for plants and flowers. Instead, what you’ll find is the somewhat manic representation of the inner world of the artist expressed in tiles, mirror shards, words, “folk art statues, bicycle wheels, and colorful glass bottles” that completely cover an inside area and, even more impressively, an adjacent 3,000 square foot multi-level outdoor venue.

Philadelphia's Magic Gardens by Isaiah Zagar

This statement explains Isaiah Zagar’s vision for the Magic Gardens.

It is impossible to view Philadelphia’s Magic Garden’s without feeling that you have been granted entry into a very personal space. If you want to understand more about what you’ve seen, the artist’s son, Jeremiah, produced an award winning 2008 documentary, In a Dream, sharing the deeply personal mental health issues that both afflicted and inspired the artist. You can watch the documentary trailer here:

Philadelphia's Magic Gardens by Isaiah Zagar

Virtually every inch of the 3,000 square foot “garden” is tiled, including high vertical walls.

 

 

In 1968 Mr. Zagar and his wife, Julia, moved to a not yet gentrified part of South Street at the edge of Center City Philadelphia after a stint in the Peace Corps in Peru. They opened a gallery and Zagar worked on his mosaic craft. In 1994, he started tiling abandoned lots adjacent to their home that grew into the Magic Gardens.

I paid a modest $7.00 admission fee to visit Philadelphia’s Magic Gardens which is entered via a building at 1020 South Street. (If you are coming from the west (Broad Street), you will first come to some see through gates, but you cannot enter the Gardens there.) A reduced $5.00 fee is available for students and seniors. (I was happy to learn I wasn’t quite yet a senior). If you plan to visit, you can check up to date pricing, opening hours and tour times at the website of the non-profit that was created to preserve and protect this massive work. I spent about half an hour at the Magic Gardens. Other visitors stay for hours. Photos are permitted and according to Montecristo, it is very dog friendly, but you should probably check to make sure that is still true before you show up with Fido.

Philadelphia's Magic Gardens by Isaiah Zagar

The Magic Gardens art installation is multi-level.

Philadelphia's Magic Gardens by Isaiah Zagar

Philadelphia's Magic Gardens by Isaiah Zagar

If you visit on a hot day, you will find shaded places.

 

 

 

 

 

Before or after your visit to Philadelphia’s Magic Gardens is the perfect time to visit Philly’s famous South Street which is replete with eclectic stores and all types of places to eat and drink. Take time to rest your museum feet and people watch.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Do you think you would enjoy a visit to Philadelphia’s Magic Gardens? Is there a place in or close to your home town that you keep meaning to visit?

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{ 31 comments… read them below or add one }

avatar Nancie November 2, 2015 at 4:59 pm

I would definitely visit Philadelphia’s Magic Gardens. I visited a Gaudi exhibit here in Seoul a few weeks ago, and there are some similarities.

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Suzanne Fluhr Suzanne Fluhr November 2, 2015 at 5:26 pm

Gaudi in Seoul. That would be interesting.

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avatar Donna Janke November 2, 2015 at 5:47 pm

I would definitely enjoy a visit to Philadelphia’s Magic Gardens. It looks fascinating. I love the tile work. And I think I would have to plan the trip with my sister – I think she would love this too.

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avatar Sue Reddel November 2, 2015 at 7:01 pm

Philladelphia’s Magic Gardens looks like something I’d really enjoy visiting. I can imagine taking in all those beautiful mosaics. I’ve never heard of it before but will have to visit on our next trip to Philly. I can see how your Zentangles could be inspired by a walk through these gardens.

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avatar Laurel Regan November 2, 2015 at 9:47 pm

Amazing. I would definitely visit the gardens, spend a lot of time there, and take a ton of photos! Thanks for sharing this lovely spot.

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Suzanne Fluhr Suzanne Fluhr November 3, 2015 at 11:54 am

It is difficult to stop taking photos at the Magic Gardens. Everywhere you turn is another “Wow” moment.

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avatar Betsy Wuebker | PassingThru November 3, 2015 at 3:49 am

This does remind me of the whimsical aspects of Gaudi and the exuberance of Mexican tile mosaics. What an amazing place! I had no idea it even existed, but now on a return visit to Philadelphia I’m giving it priority.

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Suzanne Fluhr Suzanne Fluhr November 3, 2015 at 11:53 am

Now that you have a place to stay in Philly, I hope you’ll make a return trip. I wouldn’t mind revisiting the Magic Gardens with you.

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avatar alison abbott November 3, 2015 at 8:21 am

I’ve had the pleasure of traveling on 3 trips with Isaiah and his wife Julia. They are both remarkable people, but nothing prepared me for my actual visit to the Magic Gardens. It is truly a wonder as well as a gift to the city of Philadelphia. In Cuba, I witnessed Isaiah reuniting with Jose Fuster (another mosaic artist who has done something similar) and it was truly a magical moment for all of us.

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Suzanne Fluhr Suzanne Fluhr November 3, 2015 at 11:53 am

I’d love to hear the story of how you met Isaiah and Julia.

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avatar Anita November 3, 2015 at 9:02 am

Philadelphia’s Magic Gardens sound fantastic! I am a big fan of “imaginary worlds” portraying artists’ inner visions, and love mosaics, too. Isaiah Zagar’s work looks to be right up my alley. I’d be one of those visitors who stays for hours….

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Suzanne Fluhr Suzanne Fluhr November 3, 2015 at 12:06 pm

If you are fond of inner visions and mosaics, you might end up being locked in the Magic Gardens at closing time!

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avatar Jacqueline Gum November 3, 2015 at 1:30 pm

This may be something to come to Philadephia specifically to see. And I loved the documentary. Very special

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Suzanne Fluhr Suzanne Fluhr November 3, 2015 at 4:04 pm

And then, maybe I’ll get to meet you IRL!

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avatar Patti November 3, 2015 at 10:13 pm

Although it doesn’t actually look like his work, something about these magical gardens reminds me just a bit of Gaudi’s work. While walking the Camino we spent 2 nights in Astorga and there is a small cathedral designed/built by Gaudi that had quite a bit of glass work and interesting shapes and cut outs. Okay, so maybe it does look a little like his work. 😉

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Suzanne Fluhr Suzanne Fluhr November 3, 2015 at 11:55 pm

Patti, you’re in very good company in feeling that Zagar’s work is reminiscent of Gaudi’s. Now that you mention it, I think it’s the mosaic tiles (rather than the embedded “stuff”, i.e. bottles, folk art, bike tires, etc.). They very much remind me of some of the tile work in the Parque Guell in Barcelona.

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avatar Irene S. Levine November 4, 2015 at 8:16 am

Philadelphia’s Magic Gardens truly look magical. Having a guest is the perfect excuse to visit the wonderful things around you.

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avatar Anita @ No Particular Place To Go November 4, 2015 at 8:31 am

This reminds me of a fantastical walled garden we ran into on the small island of Utila off the coast of Honduras a couple of years ago called the Jade Seahorse (link to some photos from our post here if you want at http://noparticularplacetogo.net/2013/09/14/a-place-for-dr-seuss/Utila) We were captivated by the mosaics of many different materials and, if we ever make it back to Philadelphia, I’d love to see the Magic Gardens. As a non-artistic person (I can’t I even do your favorite hobby zentangle!) I so admire those people who are creative!

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Suzanne Fluhr Suzanne Fluhr November 4, 2015 at 2:34 pm

You could do Zentangle—-seriously, that’s the point. Anyone can do it.

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avatar Maddy Resendes November 4, 2015 at 2:05 pm

Wow! How many years has this been open to the public? I moved to California from Philly in 1980, but have been back for many visits. Never heard my father, who was a local Philadelphia art teacher and ceramicist mention it nor my Uncle John, another local artist who at times worked in mosaic himself. I return to Philly primarily to visit friends and family but it is such a great tourist town!! I really need to wear the Philly “tourist hat” more often!!

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Suzanne Fluhr Suzanne Fluhr November 4, 2015 at 2:35 pm

This would be a great place to add to your “Places to Visit in Philly” list the next time you visit family here and it will give you all a break from family togetherness. 😉

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avatar Roz Warren November 5, 2015 at 8:43 am

I’m adding this to the list of places that I plan to visit upon Officially Becoming A Senior.

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Suzanne Fluhr Suzanne Fluhr November 5, 2015 at 11:46 am

Because then your admission fee will only be $5 instead of $7?

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avatar Cathy Sweeney November 6, 2015 at 12:57 am

Yes, I know I’d like to visit the Magic Gardens. Zagar’s mosaics look fantastic. It is so true that we really don’t explore our own areas as much as we should. I try to get out and about as much as possible, but there’s still so much more of the San Francisco area for me to visit. Keep making Philadelphia discoveries and sharing them with us.

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avatar Suzanne Stavert November 6, 2015 at 11:47 am

Wow I was not familiar with the Magic Gardens – It is so fun to have beautiful places like this in your own hometown. So colorful!

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avatar Patti Morrow November 6, 2015 at 10:30 pm

Wow! I love this place so much I would probably make a trip (or a detour on another road trip) to see it. Having just been at Gaudi’s park in Barcelona in April, I was immediately struck by how much it reminded me of his work. Really quirky and interesting!

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Suzanne Fluhr Suzanne Fluhr November 6, 2015 at 10:43 pm

I how you’ll come someday to see the Magic Gardens and other cool things we have in Philly. And you know I don’t snore too much.

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avatar Carole Terwilliger Meyers November 7, 2015 at 3:40 pm

Philadelphia’s Magic Gardens looks like a hidden gem indeed. Yes, I would enjoy visiting it myself for artsy inspiration.

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avatar Guilie Castillo November 10, 2015 at 2:32 pm

What a fabulous place… I’d love to visit sometime. You’re so right about locals often missing out on touristy stuff… I get it, I hate being a tourist even when I actually am one, but there are limits, I think, and we’d probably benefit from going “tourist” in our own towns 🙂 Here in Curaçao, for instance, where I’ve lived for 12 years, I’ve never been to the Christoffelberg, the highest peak of the island — in a place as flat as Curaçao, “peak” is relative. Even though Curaçao has little tourism, it’s still a touristy thing to do… But the real reason I haven’t been there is this: because of the heat, if you want to climb the mountain (and why would one drive 40 min just to stare at a mountain from below, right?) you have to be there early. “Early” meaning, like, 6 AM. And, uhm… Well, let’s just say I value my sleep 😀

Excellent post, Suzanne. Loved the photos and the info (I’ll look for In a Dream; sounds wonderful!), and loved meeting you, too. Thanks for stopping over at Debbie’s earlier!

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avatar Debbie D. November 13, 2015 at 2:59 pm

This does look truly magical! I’ve always wanted to visit Philadelphia (we did a drive-through once). It’s so true that we rarely enjoy the tourist spots in our own hometowns. Aren’t you glad you went, Suzanne? 🙂 Fascinating story about the artist, as well.

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avatar Joely Smith October 22, 2016 at 8:06 pm

Beautiful – thank you for sharing this magical place and your lovely photos!

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