[DPW, BUREAU OF STREET CLEANING WAGON SHOP FROM 25TH ST. VIADUCT]
In 1885 an enterprising Philadelphia lawyer named John C. Bullitt authored a bill in the state legislature entitled, generically, “For the Better Government of Cities of the First Class”. Clearly, though, the bill aimed to improve one city of the first class. Attempting to whittle away at the petty departmental fiefdoms that patronage and boss rule had allowed to fester in Philadelphia, the Bullitt Bill set the mayor in charge of large swathes of city government and gave a bloated and squabbling City Council only nominal power. Parallel to some of the Nutter administration’s deputates, the Bullitt Bill established the Department of Public Safety, the Department of Public Works, the Department of the Receiver of Taxes, the Department of Law, the Department of Education, etc. The aim was, in the words of a commentator in 1902:
To improve the government of the city, to introduce business methods in the conduct of the several departments, and to bring about the greater efficiency as well as the curtailment of the police and fire service. It was wrought out by Mr. Bullitt as a labor of love, without fee or reward of any kind. That it has not been altogether successful in the object sought is due to errors of administration. The Bullitt act concentrates the power of municipal rule in the hands of the Mayor.”
Visible only from the elevated 25th Street Viaduct, the painted facade of this former DPW Bureau of Street Cleaning Wagon Shop is an artifact of this era of reform and efficiency. Before the construction of the viaduct in 1926-28, this sign had a radical publicality–it announced to the neighborhood the presence of responsive, efficient, modern government. Inverting the wisdom that urban things get lost as they recede below the surface of the earth, this sign’s import and significance was lost as something rose up to occlude it. Now it has an almost heightened legibility to the odd denizens of the high line than it ever had to the pavement pounders.