Action Philadelphia was a short lived Idea and Company charged with improving the Image of Philadelphia. It existed for about 1 year in 1970, and took bold steps to alert both residents and visitors that Philadelphia was a great place to live and work - and to be proactive and pass the message along. This is the story...
ACTION PHILADELPHIA
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From Philadelphia - The City of Brotherly Love
Beginnings
In October 1969, a group of young Philadelphia Executives headed by John R. Bunting Jr., then president of First Pennsylvania Banking and Trust Company, formed a Civic group called "Action Philadelphia" to promote the image of Philadelphia and initially based on the successful Forward Atlanta campaign. This was the result of numerous Civic leaders at the preceding Greater Philadelphia Chamber of Commerce meeting, who raised concerns about the declining business climate and deteriorating transportation facilities in the greater Philadelphia area. Additionally, a 1966 study by The Greater Philadelphia Movement (GPM) had also indicated a need for improving the city's image. Bunting, acting as Chairman of the board of the new group, assembled 16 liked minded Philadelphia executives to join the group. Bunting chose John C. T. Alexander, a 35 year old senior vice president and secretary at Industrial Valley Bank to act as president and chief executive of the group.

The newly formed group included Frank G. Binswagner, Jr., president Binswagner Corp., W. W. Kean Butcher, partner Butcher and Sherrerd, Parks B. Dilks Jr., attorney, D. Morris Dorrance Jr., president of Philadelphia National Bank. Also, J. L. Everett, vice president Philadelphia Electric Company, Louis C. Fischer, president Gino's Inc., James M. Gassaway, vice president Strawbridge & Clothier, John T. Gurash, president INA Corp., Robert D. Harrison, president, John Wanamaker. Additionally, Irving K. Kessler, executive vice president, Defense Electronics Products RCA, D. Herbert Lipson, Publisher, Philadelphia Magazine, Roger L. Larson, retail general manager, Sears Roebuck and Co., Thomas B. McCabe Jr., vice president, Scott Paper Company, and Warren Scruggs, director, Hurley Ashburne Agency Inc. Nathaniel R. Bowditch, senior vice president, First Pennsylvania Bank, was named Secretary, and Bertrum W. Zumeta, economist with Philadelphia Electric Company was treasurer.

New Office, Kick Off & Initial Projects
External Links
Temple University - Philadelphia isnít as bad as Philadelphians say it is Slogan
Temple University - Philadelphia isnít as bad as Philadelphians say it is Billboard
Action Philadelphia Billboard along Schuylkill Expressway in 1970
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Email us with any Additional Info or Comments
In January 1970, Alexander, Cleveland and one secretary, move into a compact and modest office - suite 610 - in the  Land Title Building at 1400 Chestnut Street in Center City Philadelphia. Action Philadelphia is now open for business. Alexander joked at the time "If all three choose to lunch at the same time, last one out locks the door".
 

Alexander and Cleveland initially contact Philadelphia Adman Elliott Curson regarding ideas and slogans for Action Philadelphia. Curson had recently done an Ad Campaign for the Philadelphia Chamber of Commerce that featured a shot with a comedian in front of a vintage microphone that read "I went to Philadelphia last Sunday and it was closed". At the time, Pennsylvania Blue laws were still in effect and there were some restrictions on the sale of Alcohol on Sundays in Philadelphia.

 

Another part of Curson's Ad campaign featured a quote "I went to Philadelphia last week. And it wasn't as bad as Philadelphians say it is". They work on reducing to a single slogan The slogans are printed on brochures in a black and white format (color printing at the time is exorbitantly expensive) to be used at the upcoming Greater Philadelphia Chamber of Commerce Winter Conference, that was hosted by Action Philadelphia.

 

If Action Philadelphia had an official kick-off, it was the Greater Philadelphia Chamber of Commerce Winter Conference held at the Philadelphia Bellevue-Stratford Hotel on January 13, 1970. Principle speakers are John Bunting, John CT Alexander, Philadelphia Mayor James H. J. Tate with participants being Philadelphia Congressional members, executives, business people, and community leaders. The morning session is characterized as "A morning of praise", and the afternoon session "An afternoon of being mean." The morning session is talks by Bunting, Alexander and the Mayor, and the afternoon session keynote speaker is City Councilman Thacher Longstreth, followed by a session entitled "Why we don't have..." with various participants and moderated by Gunnar Back, News Analyst, WFIL-TV.

 

The agenda for the conference has a simple cover page with the phrase "Philadelphia isn't as bad as Philadelphians say it is". An additional handout for the conference has again a simple cover but with the phrase "I went to Philadelphia last week. And it wasn't as bad as Philadelphians say it is" - with the note "An actual and recent statement by Robert E. Locke of Los Angeles, California". See Action Philadelphia Scrapbook Page. After the conference, Action Philadelphia hires Philadelphia firms N. W. Ayer for the principle Advertising, and Lewis & Gilman for Public Relations.

One early Action Philadelphia project was to make known on a national level the Presidential Medal of Freedom Award to  Philadelphia Orchestra Conductor Eugene Ormandy, by President Richard Nixon on January 24, 1970. Ormandy, born in Hungary, had emigrated to the United States in the 1920's, and succeeded Leopold Stowkowski as Philadelphia Orchestra Conductor in 1936. Nixon traveled to Philadelphia to give the award at the Academy of Music which was celebrating its 113th Anniversary. Action Philadelphia placed full page ads in the New York Times and Washington Post, commemorating  the event with the caption "The Night the Maestro Cried"

Eugene Ormandy receives Presidential Medal of Freedom
Slogans & Billboard Campaign

Probably the most controversial project undertaken was the slogans on Billboards on the Schuylkill Expressway that Action Philadelphia put together. The idea was to empower Philadelphia residents with catching slogans to help promote the city. The first idea was reprinting the slogan developed with Elliott Curson,  "Philadelphia isn't as bad as Philadelphians say it is". This slogan, was placed on a billboard on the Schuylkill Expressway near Conshohocken in January 1970 (shown at top). The Billboard had a dark blue background, and yellow letters. Billboards like these at the time were made by tracing out each individual letter, and then painting each. The reported cost of the first Billboard was $1000.

 

 

 

Reaction to the Billboard was mixed and mostly negative. Many people - both residents and business people were concerned with what was perceived as a negative tone or that the slogan implied Philadelphia was "bad". In an effort to convey a more positive tone, a later Schuylkill Expressway Billboard had the the Slogan "If you like Philadelphia, tell people. If you don't, do something about it" - using an empowerment theme.

 

 
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Schuylkill Expressway Billboard with updated Slogan - background color was yellow, and letters were blue
Return to Cleveland Caprice

In March 1970, a somewhat more traditional slogan was developed that was "Visit the city where America started. Philadelphia." This slogan was printed on posters in a red, white and blue format, and put on Double Decker buses in London's Trafalgar Square, Piccadilly Circus and St. Paul's Cathedral area. Elliott Curson Advertising developed and planned this bus campaign.

 
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London Bus with Action Philadelphia slogan
According to John "CT" Alexander at the time, Action Philadelphia would involve itself in specific projects aimed at "Stimulating Enthusiasm for the great assets and advantages we already have in Philadelphia". On November 17, 1969, Action Philadelphia Inc. was registered in the state of Pennsylvania as a non profit corporation, by Morgan, Lewis & Bockius of Philadelphia. The annual budget was targeted for $1 million. On November 30, 1969, Alexander hires Advertising man Richard (Dick) Cleveland as Director of Communications. Alexander and Cleveland had just completed a very successful Ad Campaign for Philadelphia based Industrial Valley Bank (IVB).
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Action Philadelphia Logo
Earth Day, Blueway & other Projects

In June 1970, Action Philadelphia developed a project called "Blueway". Blueway was to be means of directing visitors to Center City Philadelphia from the airport. In 1970 the typical route from the airport to Center City was Penrose Avenue over the then Penrose Avenue Bridge (later renamed Platt Bridge) to 26th Street and onto the Schuylkill Expressway to Philadelphia. The route was barren, often littered with trash, unattractive as it passed large refinery oil tanks, and did not appear to be headed to a city. The overall Blueway project was to be a combination of special Blueway signs with airplane logos, blue road markers, the Penrose Avenue bridge was to be painted blue, and Atlantic Richfield was asked to paint some of the large oil tanks blue, therefore giving the driver and continuous Blue means to navigate to the city. If successful, Action Philadelphia was to propose similar programs for other routes. The Penrose Avenue Bridge was painted blue, but beyond that it is not known if additional parts of Blueway were implemented, due to state highway department approvals and at this time Action Philadelphia was experiencing difficulties in the projects already underway.

 

The selection of the name "Blueway" was an odd choice, because at the time the "Blue Route" (now Veterans Memorial Highway Interstate 476) was a well known area construction project through Delaware County famous for years of delays, and often the subject of jokes. Some newspaper articles at the time confused Blueway and Blue Route, and one Bulletin article described how the Blueway would work, but referred to it as the Blue Route.

 

 

On left, image of one of the Blueway signs. The dark portion was to be dark blue, and the others light blue. This one was to be used for the route from the city to the airport, a similar one would be used for the route to the city without the airplane image.

Also in June 1970 another ad campaign was developed by Action Philadelphia with the opening line  "One test of a city that works is how easily you can get to it and back". This campaign was canceled before it even got started, because it implied commuting on Penn Central wasn't easy or comfortable. The broken down Penn Central at the time was being invested by the Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission, and ad campaign would have compounded issues. Action Philadelphia was to revise the campaign with one that encourages businesses to stay in Philadelphia, or others to relocate to Philadelphia.

Earth Day and Earth Week in April 1970 consisted of large gatherings in major cities to raise awareness of Environmental issues. In Philadelphia, there was a large gatherings on Independence Mall and Belmont Plateau. Action Philadelphia printed a reported 5000 "Pollution Tickets" for the event. The tickets were issued to cars parked in Mid City Philadelphia during this time, stating that the owner would be sentenced to "breathe the foul air" he helped to produce by driving a motor vehicle into the city, and repeated offenses "will bring you and millions of others to an untimely end", and to avoid further violations "the motorist is advised to use mass transportation facilities or obtain and maintain an antipollution unit on the muffler system of the vehicle.

 

During the gathering at Belmont Plateau, CT Alexander congratulated the thousands of participants in the park with their concern for the environment, but asked them what they will do tomorrow - "Will we go back to what we have been doing-fouling our nest?"

 

Much more to add - Check Back Soon....
Notes, Sources & Acknowledgements

This story is based on primarily newspaper articles from period Philadelphia newspapers, and my faint but reliable memory of the Action Philadelphia Slogans, Expressway Billboards and a bridge somewhere in South Philadelphia being painted. This includes articles from the Philadelphia Inquirer and Daily News via Newspapers.com, The Temple University George D. McDowell Philadelphia Evening Bulletin Clippings, Philadelphia Free Library microfilm collection for the New York Times and Washington Post, and Philadelphia Museum of Art Archives Evan H. Turner collection. Special thanks to Elliott Curson. Other sources are being actively pursued.

 

 

Buttons, bumper stickers and perhaps flyers were made. A number of photographs in newspapers at the time, show the buttons (as shown on left) and we are researching the bumper stickers and flyers. The buttons show the Philadelphia isn't as bad as... slogan with white letters on black background. This color combination was used in a number of brochures. A collection of images is being assembled on Action Philadelphia Scrapbook Page. A "Public Service Announcement" was aired on Philadelphia radio stations giving the listener the address of Action Philadelphia at the Land Title Building to send for posters.

Action Philadelphia Links
Action Philadelphia Scrapbook
The Night the Maestro Cried
Troubles and Consolidation

As early as March 1970, numerous newspaper articles at the time reported unenthusiastic reaction to Action Philadelphia's slogan "Philadelphia isn't as bad as Philadelphians say it is" on the Schuylkill Expressway billboard, and an overall sediment that Action Philadelphia was too brash. By June, the billboard was changed in an effort to appease, but things never seem to get on track and gain momentum afterwards.

 

The initial budget announced for Action Philadelphia was reported by John Bunting in 1969 to be about a million dollars - which was to come from Philadelphia corporate sponsors. Most did not come through, or were substantially less than committed. In June 1970 only $165,000 was available to Action Philadelphia. In addition, Action Philadelphia was consolidated with SPEDCO - Southeastern Pennsylvania Economic Development Corporation for it's advertising.

 

A July 8, 1970 Philadelphia Bulletin article about Action Philadelphia confirmed the consolidation with SPEDCO, and Alexander and Cleveland sited reasons as Action Philadelphia was considered too "Brash", and that unfavorable economic conditions as the reason reduction in sponsorship donations. Cleveland went on to say that Action Philadelphia had rustled some feathers, but felt that this Brash "firecracker" approach was necessary, and needed to be continued.

 

With this adjustment in budget and reduction in enthusiasm by the board of directors, a new phase was planned by Action Philadelphia for the second half of 1970, which was aimed at suburban Philadelphia residents, followed by another campaign in 1971 directed at Philadelphia residents. The specifics of each of these is not known in detail, and is currently being researched.

 

An article in the July 12, 1970 Philadelphia Bulletin noted that to save money, five Action Philadelphia commercial spots were written, produced and recorded by Dick Cleveland at home on a loaned Tape Recorder, with his family dining room table used as the production studio. 

 

Infighting by the Action Philadelphia's board of directors was reported and continued throughout the summer of 1970. By October 1970, Action Philadelphia was all but shut down. Dick Cleveland had moved on to Mel Richman, Inc. in Bala Cynwyd, CT Alexander was still on board due to a two year contract. There looks to be little substantial activity from Action Philadelphia for the remainder of 1970. One article in the November Philadelphia Inquirer, stated that Action Philadelphia was absorbed by the Philadelphia Chamber of Commerce. CT Alexander left join Philadelphia Electric, but soon moved on to National Liberty Corp. in Valley Forge.

 

 

 
1971, Beyond and Legacy

There is very little reported in Philadelphia newspapers in 1971 pertaining to Action Philadelphia - this is being researched further. Minor mentions are here and there, but it looks to be that Action Philadelphia was very quickly forgotten. Any newspaper mentions of Action Philadelphia or it's projects are usually just a portion of a sentence, typically about the slogan/billboards and subject is along the lines of "what were they thinking..." and often part of a joke.

 

The legacy of Action Philadelphia is simply the slogan "Philadelphia isn't as bad as Philadelphians say it is" - when it is mentioned it is usually associated with Elliott Curson, and the memory of the billboard on the Expressway.

 

From 2000 to the present Philadelphia had experienced numeruos major positive changes - It now had a more contemporary skyline with the lifting of building heights not to exceed the height of William Penn on City Hall, historic buildings were being preserved (Lit Brothers store) the Airport had numerous modernization projects, a new Convention Center located in center city, the city sports franchises were making it to the playoffs more often, and all the while Philadelphia retained it's historic heritage. References to Action Philadelphia and the Slogans dwindle during this time, but a few surveys indicate a much more positive attitude from Philadelphian's about the city. There is somewhat of a reverse of opinion of the slogan when mentioned in print and now on the Internet and that being - "Philadelphia it isn't as bad..." - "and is really pretty good". This being a reflection of sediment of more Philadelphians feeling good about the image of the city, and finally able to relate to the slogan - albeit many years later. Maybe Action Philadelphia was just way ahead of it's time.

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