Last Saturday I crossed into another world in Philadelphia at 1020 South Street. I've passed by the gates many times but never ventured inside. What I found was as transporting at the Penitentiary, a place where you can wander and forget you are in Philly at all. After passing my suggested donation fee to the very sleepy door monitor who gave me the robot spiel about the size of the building, I was able to venture up and down, inside and out of the house without interference and enjoy every minute detail and enormous mosaic.
I suggest going on a Sunday morning as you also get to enjoy the gospel singing from the church next door. It was the perfect background music for exploring the grotto paths in the outdoor courtyard, which the streetview only gives a glimmer of. The scale of the whole thing is hard to grasp and the artist, Isaiah Zagar is still at work on the art he began creating in 1994. He walked through the home while I was wandering around. You can also take a walking tour of his many other area mosaic facades including his former business the Eyes Gallery further up South St.
There are great details to enjoy like the ancient ratty laminated binder page of Frequently Asked Questions including "Can I take pictures? Yes. Can you take a picture of me? Yes."
As I left I realized it was a destination much like I would travel across the country to see (or across the ocean to Spain), but it was in my own city and I had never gone before.
Check out more at www.phillymagicgarders.org