Encyclopedia of Greater Philadelphia

Philadelphia, the Place that Loves You Back

Opening of Tourist Center in JFK Plaza, 1960Tourism Center opens at JFK Plaza, 1960. (PhillyHistory.org)

What does it mean if a place loves you back? That was the question posed by the Greater Philadelphia Tourism Marketing Corporation (GPTMC) when it chose the slogan “The Place That Loves You Back” to promote the Philadelphia region as a tourist destination in its 1997 advertising campaign. This was of course not the city’s first attempt to sell itself as a tourist destination, but it marked a departure from previous attempts that mostly focused on Philadelphia’s ample stock of historically significant artifacts in Center City (“America’s most historic square mile”) such as Independence Hall and the Liberty Bell, none of which could be said to necessarily “love you back.”

The odd claim that something as abstract as a place loves you grabs your attention, sticks in your head, and thus makes for a successful slogan. It also provided a reply and a challenge to the “I Love New York” slogan – and indeed, a large portion of the print ads that used the “Place that Loves You Back” showed up in New York magazine. The slogan was also meant to conjure up Philadelphia’s heritage as the “City of Brotherly Love,” infused with the Quaker values of universal love, nonviolence, tolerance, and equality.

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Yet the claim that Philadelphia loves you is really the opposite of Quaker-inspired universal love. The slogan suggested intimacy, while universal love is cold and impersonal. If I love everyone, I love no one in particular. And Philadelphia has indeed often been perceived as a uniquely cold and unwelcoming place, as explained by sociologist and native Philadelphian Digby Baltzell in his 1979 book Puritan Boston and Quaker Philadelphia. According to Baltzell, the radical equality and antiauthoritarianism of the city’s Quaker leaders fostered a uniquely individualistic culture that was more tolerant of dissent than the more paternalistic culture fostered by the authoritarian Puritan leaders of Boston. The culture of Philadelphia was one in which people tended to disavow leadership roles and break off into inward-looking groups that were inhospitable to outsiders. As first lady Abigail Adams, who was forced to live in Philadelphia on account of her husband being the president, wrote in a letter to her sister in 1798, “These Philadelphians are a strange set of people…They have the least feeling of real genuine politeness of any people with whom I am acquainted.”

A big city’s reputation is of course always a fiction in that it cannot describe much of what actually happens in such a large place, but it is also very real in that it sets people’s expectations and defines their shared understanding of the community in which they live and work, and which others visit – or choose not to visit, as the case may be. And Philadelphia maintained its antisocial reputation for at least two centuries. One of the characters in Mark Twain and Charles Dudley Warner’s 1873 novel The Gilded Age noted of Washington, D.C., that “it doesn’t need a crowbar to break your way into society there as it does in Philadelphia.” Forty years later journalist Edward Hungerford commented in his book Personality of American Cities, that “there is little use carrying social ambitions to Philadelphia. . .  No city in the land, not even Boston or Charleston, opens its doors more reluctantly to strange faces and strange names, than open these doors of the old houses roundabout Rittenhouse Square.” The same reputation was captured later by the comic actor W.C. Fields in a series of now-legendary quotes, such as, “Last week I went to Philadelphia, but it was closed.”

Negative Undercurrents

Though generally considered a negative characteristic, Philadelphia’s antisocial reputation was intimately connected to the city’s perceived virtues – the opposite side of the coin of tolerance and acceptance is indifference and disregard. How else could we explain the pride that Philadelphians have traditionally taken in their antisocial reputation? As Baltzell noted, “Cheering against the home team is a time-honored tradition in Philadelphia.” Pride in Philadelphia’s antisocial reputation was captured in a notorious billboard that hung over the city’s Schuylkill Expressway in 1972, designed to promote a chamber of commerce event, though it became one of the better-known slogans for the city: “Philadelphia isn’t as bad as Philadelphians say it is.”

Not surprisingly, Philadelphia’s reputation did not help the city’s tourism industry, which by the 1990s had great potential. Big American cities, having recovered from high crime rates in the previous decades, were becoming increasingly popular sites for entertainment and leisure, yet a 1995 Pew Charitable Trusts report found that “Philadelphia has a negative image as a vacation destination” and, “Despite the fact that Philadelphia does have good product, the perceptions – and therefore the reality – among potential travelers is that the product is weak.” Thus the state legislature and the city in 1996 established the GPTMC, funded primarily through a 1 percent hotel sales tax, and tasked with selling Philadelphia to the leisure travel market. The GPTMC hired the firm Longwoods International to do an initial market survey, which found that people who had visited the city within the previous three years were more likely to rate it positively – in terms of being more likely to say that they “strongly agreed” that there were such urban amenities available as “excellent shopping” – than people who had never visited. The conclusion of Bill Siegel, Longwoods CEO and Chairman, was that “To know Philadelphia is to love it.”

Longwoods estimated that the “Place That Loves You Back” campaign attracted over 1 million new tourists to the region, and in 2010 the GPTMC reported 10 million more leisure visitors than in 1997. Philadelphia has thus arguably at least partially overcome its antisocial reputation as it has been promoted as a warm and welcoming place. As Bill Cosby says in one 1997 ad, in a stark reversal of how the city had previously been represented, “there’s nothing warmer than the hearts of THE PEOPLE who live here, in THE FRIENDLIEST CITY in America. My friends, come visit THE WARMEST PLACE ON EARTH.”

Since the city’s antisocial reputation also defined some of the city’s perceived virtues of tolerance and acceptance, it seems worth asking what shared sense of community we gave up in selling ourselves more successfully to tourists. “The Place that Loves You Back” suggests that we offered to welcome tourists into a warm and intimate community. We want you to have fun; in fact, we’re going to insist that you have fun, because we love you and we care. But in making this new offer, have we forsaken the mixed history of tolerance and indifference that allowed anyone to come here and do what he or she wanted while the rest of us didn’t care?

Richardson Dilworth is Associate Professor and Director of the Center for Public Policy at Drexel University.  His books include Social Capital in the City: Community and Civic Life in Philadelphia (Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 2006).

Topics: Distinctively Philadelphia

Gallery: Distinctively Philadelphia

Independence National Historical Park
Independence National Historical Park
The Liberty Bell
The Liberty Bell

Encyclopedia of Greater Philadelphia (Explore in Liberty Bell).

Nineteenth Century Landmarks
Nineteenth Century Landmarks

Library of Congress (Explore in Girard College).

Centennial, Opening Day Crowd
Centennial, Opening Day Crowd

Library Company of Philadelphia (Explore in Centennial Exhibition).

Parade of Progress, 1887
Parade of Progress, 1887

Historical Society of Pennsylvania (Explore in Constitution Commemorations).

William Penn
William Penn

PhillyHistory.org (Explore in City Hall).

Mummers
Mummers

Visit Philadelphia (Explore in Broad Street and South Philadelphia).

Pretzels After School
Pretzels After School

PhillyHistory.org (Explore in Pretzels).

Tourist Center Opening, 1960
Tourist Center Opening, 1960

PhillyHistory.org (Explore in Philadelphia, the Place that Loves You Back).

Sesquicentennial Tourists
Sesquicentennial Tourists

PhillyHistory.org (Explore in Sesquicentennial International Exposition).

A Son of South Philadelphia
A Son of South Philadelphia

Photograph by Mary Rizzo (Explore in South Philadelphia).

Rocky
Rocky

PhillyHistory.org (Explore in Rocky).

Philly Phanatic
Philly Phanatic

Visit Philadelphia (Explore in Sports Mascots).

Queen Elizabeth at Independence Hall, 1976
Queen Elizabeth at Independence Hall, 1976

PhillyHistory.org (Explore in Bicentennial).

Cheesesteaks
Cheesesteaks

Visit Philadelphia (Explore in Cheesesteaks).

Timeline: Distinctively Philadelphia

Eighteenth Century
Eighteenth Century

Visitors to Philadelphia remark on its impressive public buildings, churches, and cultural institutions.

1774-81: First and Second Continental Congresses.

1787: Constitutional Convention.

1790s: Philadelphia is Capital of the United States.

Image credit: Historical Society of Pennsylvania

Nineteenth Century
Nineteenth Century

Philadelphia becomes known as “Cradle of Liberty” by 1830s; by end of century, “City of Homes.”

1820s-50s: Visitors are attracted by innovations and institutions including Eastern Penitentiary, Girard College (shown here), Laurel Hill Cemetery, and Fairmount Waterworks.

1824: Visit of Marquis de Lafayette creates ritual of receiving important visitors in Independence Hall.

1876: Centennial of Declaration of Independence.

1883: First Phillies baseball game.

1887: Centennial of U.S. Constitution.

1885-1915: Liberty Bell exhibited seven times outside Philadelphia at world’s fairs and exhibitions.

Image credit: Library of Congress

Twentieth Century Before 1945
Twentieth Century Before 1945

Philadelphia becomes known as “Workshop of the World.”

1901: First city-sanctioned Mummers Parade on Broad Street.

1926: Sesquicentennial of Declaration of Independence (shown here).

1930: Philly steak sandwich invented (Cheez Whiz comes later, 1952).

1933: First Eagles football game.

1937: Sesquicentennial of U.S. Constitution.

Image credit: PhillyHistory.org

Twentieth Century After 1945
Twentieth Century After 1945

1948: Congress authorizes creation of Independence National Historical Park; demolition to create park follows in 1950s.

1950s: Automobile vacationing increases tourism to Philadelphia as Cold War-era families seek out patriotic historic sites.

1958: July Fourth celebration expands into Freedom Week festival.

1960: New visitor center (shown here) opens near City Hall, away from traditional historic district. Tourism slogans of the 1960s include “Surprising Philadelphia” (1968), “Philadelphia Fling” (1969).

1963: First 76ers basketball game (originated as Syracuse Nationals, 1937).

1967: First Flyers hockey game.

Image credit: PhillyHistory.org

Twentieth Century After 1945
Twentieth Century After 1945

1974 and 1975: Flyers win the Stanley Cup.

1976: Bicentennial of Declaration of Independence, premiere of Rocky.

1980: Phillies win the World Series.

1987: Bicentennial of U.S. Constitution.

1993: July Fourth celebration expands into “Welcome America!” festival.

1993: Pennsylvania Convention Center opens (expanded, 2011).

1996: Greater Philadelphia Tourism Marketing Corp. created (renamed Visit Philadelphia, 2013). Advertising campaigns in 1997: “This is My Philadelphia” and “The Place That Loves You Back.”

Image credit: PhillyHistory.org

Twenty-First Century
Twenty-First Century

2001: Tourism industry hurt by security concerns following 9/11 attacks; new marketing program promises “Philly’s More Fun When You Sleep Over.”  By 2003, domestic visitation to the region reaches 30 million for the first time.

2010: First Philadelphia Union soccer game.

New attractions and institutions open: National Liberty Museum (2000), Independence Visitor Center (2001), Kimmel Center for the Performing Arts (2001), National Constitution Center (2003), Liberty Bell Center (2003), Lincoln Financial Field (2003), Fairmount Waterworks Interpretive Center (2003), Citizens Bank Park (2004), new home for Please Touch Museum (2008), President’s House Site (2010), new home for National Museum of American Jewish History (2010), new home for Barnes Foundation (2012).

Map: Distinctively Philadelphia

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