What started out as a fun way to share Philadelphia’s buildings and the stories behind them has now evolved into a successful writing and touring gig with Hidden City Philadelphia and even part-time work in the field of Commercial Real Estate.
Read on to find out how blogging has led GroJLart to other incredible opportunities and just an exciting life in general. Note: This interview was conducted over email and I can not reveal GroJLart’s actual name because he is anonymous.
Philaphilia’s logo taken from the Philaphilia website / Original artwork by GroJLart
GroJLart is 36 years old and from Central Jersey — yes, he believes that is a real place. According to GroJLart, he wound up in Philly for grad school in 2003 and never left. Out of an innate curiosity to learn everything he could about the environment around him, he began doing independent research about the various buildings, parking lots and public art in Philadelphia.
“After researching all this stuff I had no one to tell about it,” GroJLart said, “and my wife got tired of me telling her about all the buildings and other pieces of built environment we would walk by in Center City.”
At the same time, the Real Estate bust of 2009 sparked a lack of online content about cities, land and buildings. GroJLart noticed this and felt an inner spark to re-ignite that type of blogging. Thus, Philaphilia was born.
Philaphilia became an official blog in April 2011. Like most great blogs, it started out with humble beginnings. According to GroJLart, most of his initial blog posts were short and poorly-researched.
“I cursed and talked [casually] in them because I felt like I needed to express myself,” said GroJLart, “I didn’t think anyone was going to read it anyway.”
Turns out, people were definitely reading it! College professors, historians and journalists had their eyes on Philaphilia, to name a few. Even professional Real Estate developers were interested in what GroJLart had to say:
“One time, a reader invited me to have a drink with him because I wrote about his building,” GroJLart said, “This started a chain of events that lead me to my Commercial Real Estate consulting gig – I went from writing about buildings and parking lots to actually having the ability to affect them in the real world.”
Drawing depicting the Comcast Center as a monster that William Penn has to confront from atop City Hall / Original artwork by GroJLart
GroJLart was first contacted about his blog just a month after starting it. Since then, he has been invited to attend events and has been interviewed by TV, radio, newspapers and blogs. He has even been asked to speak at functions and contribute written material to various architectural museum exhibits.
According to GroJLart, blogging empowers common citizens to break through barriers that have long existed in Philadelphia’s “elite” journalism bubble.
“Up until only a few years ago, the press seemed like an elite club that was in touch with everything going on, but was only releasing information to us in small, strategically timed segments,” said GroJLart.
GroJLart believes blogging and journalism have essentially merged, especially in Philadelphia. He remains largely optimistic about journalism in the future because of this.
“You can see how Inga Saffron, architecture critic for the Inquirer, first gained local attention by blogging about architecture, then got picked up by the Philadelphia Inquirer and even got a Pulitzer Prize in 2014,” said GroJLart.
Today, GroJLart spends most of his blogging time writing for Hidden City Philadelphia. Although he does not maintain the-blog-that-started-it-all as closely as he did between 2011 and 2014, he still shares his Hidden City articles on Philaphilia. When he’s not writing or consulting, you can find GroJLart giving tours of Philadelphia for Hidden City, which he enjoys. As the name suggests, GroJLart conducts detailed tours of Philadelphia’s hidden streets and architectural gems. His next tour, “Forgotten Chestnut Street” is happening May 6. Tours fill up quickly so don’t hesitate to sign up– only $14 for students!
GroJLart encourages bloggers who are just starting out to keep it up, “even when you think no one is reading it.” He also stressed the importance of keeping your information private when publishing content on the internet.
“I see story after story about people’s lives getting ruined over something they typed on the internet under their own name and face,” said GroJLart, adding “I write under a pseudonym because I’m a relatively private person. More people know GroJLart than my real self and I’m fine with that.”
The origin of “GroJLart” comes from a comic he drew at the age of 13. How did he come up with the name Philaphilia? It’s a merging of the suffix -philia (unusual fondness) with the first five letters of Philadelphia.