Attraction

Philadelphia’s Magic Gardens

Artist Isaiah Zagar’s masterpiece on South Street

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Photo by R. Kennedy for Visit Philadelphia
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Overview

Covering an indoor and outdoor space equivalent to half a city block, Philadelphia’s Magic Gardens glistens with creativity, urban renaissance and a hint of madness.

Isaiah Zagar, a local artist who began tiling South Street in the 1960s and never stopped, constructed the space out of cement, bicycle spokes, bottles, ceramic shards and other artistic knick-knacks.

The tiled passages of the Magic Gardens weave over- and underground — and, perhaps more than anything, through the mind of a dedicated and inspired artist.

Zagar has created more than 100 mosaics in Philadelphia, the majority of them along the South Street corridor.

A walk around the neighborhood unveils not only the work of the artist, but also of a geographic renaissance.

The History

In the 1960s, a group of artists and entrepreneurs began renting derelict storefronts and recreating the South Street neighborhood. At the forefront of that movement was Isaiah Zagar.

Zagar's mosaic wonderland is constructed from bicycle spokes, bottles and other knick-knacks.

In its early years, the Magic Gardens faced an uncertain future. Zagar began building the labyrinthine sculpture on land he didn’t own and, in 2004, the absentee landlord put it up for sale.

After a public outcry that resulted in an outpouring of community support and donations, the nonprofit organization Philadelphia’s Magic Gardens was formed to purchase and maintain the grounds.

Today, the Magic Gardens complex is the gateway to both a moment in Philadelphia’s history — the South Street Renaissance — and the work of an extraordinary artist whose odyssey continues to be living, working and playing on Philadelphia’s South Street.

Don’t Miss

More of Isaiah’s incredible work is on display at The Eye’s Gallery, a Mexican folk art shop owned by Isaiah’s wife, Julia.

In the six-block walk down to The Eye’s at 402 South Street, much of Isaiah’s artistic portfolio lines the walls and sidewalks of his favorite neighborhood.

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