Telling Fairmount Park’s secrets

For years, a number of film canisters sat, gathering cobwebs, somewhere in the midst of the architectural drawings and historic photographs that make up the majority of the Fairmount Park Historic Resource Archive. But Rob Armstrong finally grew curious enough to call Jay Schwartz of Secret Cinema — which frequently provides venues for obscure footage — to inspect the reels and find out what was hiding within.

“Luckily they were housed pretty well over the years,” Armstrong says. “We were blown away by how cool they were.”

Gathered under the title “Fairmount Park Film Treasures,” these short pieces will have their public debut at the eccentric Ryerss Museum and Library in Burholme Park.

Though that historic building isn’t featured in any of the films, several jewels of the Fairmount Park system are — most prominently, the Japanese House, albeit in an unfamiliar context. The house was originally built in Japan in 1953 and displayed at New York’s Museum of Modern Art a year later, which is where this MoMA-produced piece was shot. It wasn’t until 1957 that it arrived in Philly — and its footage was ours to lose.

In the vault

Other finds include a film tracing the Philadelphia Zoo’s “Cow Elephant and Calf” sculpture from its arrival at the Shipyards from Norway, up Broad Street on a flatbed truck, to its final installation; a home movie featuring the mounted patrol of the Fairmount Park Guard, a police force dedicated to the park system that existed from 1867 to 1972; and a 1981 tour of Valley Green from Schwartz’s collection.