Tracking Philadelphia’s Trolley Lama: Joel Spivak

Last summer,  Unexpected Philadelphia toured the home and studio of architect,  artist,  author and community activist Joel Spivak and his artist wife Diane Keller.

16_04_11 1 Joel Spivak & Diane Keller DC_4227(Joel and Diane in their art-and-imagination-filled South Philadelphia home.)

Joel,  a co-founder of that merry band of found-object artists known as the Philadelphia Dumpster Divers,  is also the inspired originator of Philadelphia’s National Hot Dog Month celebration, leading tours to classic hot dog stands and giving away hundreds of hot dogs each July to confused-but-happy pedestrians around the city.


But Joel has another avocation:   Known among the Dumpster Divers as the “Trolley Lama”,  Joel is the co-author of two photo-packed books on Philadelphia trolleys and trains:

16_04_11 2 Joel Spivak Books(“Philadelphia Trolleys” and “Philadelphia Railroads” by Allen Meyers and Joel Spivak for Arcadia Publishing)


And on April 25,  he’ll present an illustrated talk on the Fairmount Park Trolley at the Fairmount Water Works Interpretive Center.   (Read on for details.)


Joel’s love affair with trolleys began as a child in the city’s West Philadelphia and West Oak Lane sections.   In both neighborhoods,  his family lived one street over from the trolley line,  and he and his siblings could hear the cars from their bedroom windows.

16_04_11 3 Philadelphia Trolley(Long before Joel’s time,  Philadelphia’s rail cars were pulled by horses.   This photo,  from Joel’s collection, shows the city’s first line, which travelled along 5th and 6th Streets.  It started in 1858.)

On Sundays,  children could ride free accompanied by an adult,  and Joel and his friends would hop on the trolley with help from a willing rider.   Their goal?   To see how far they could loop around the city by trolley,  bus,  subway and el train without retracing their steps.

16_04_11 4 Philadelphia Trolley(Operated by the Lombard & South Streets Passenger Railway in the late 1800s,  the Passyunk & Snyder Avenue line connected with the Delaware Avenue ferries.   Collection of Joel Spivak.)


But Joe’s trolley fascination didn’t end with adulthood.   In 1992,  he placed an historic marker on the former Judy’s Restaurant at 3rd and Bainbridge Streets to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the city’s first electric trolley…

16_04_11 5 Trolley Plaque DC_5090

And he designed a centennial trolley monument on the median at 4th and Bainbridge Streets that looks like a bit of excavated history….

16_04_11 6 Trolley Monument CM_2217    16_04_11 7 Trolley Monument CM_2275(Ever wonder about those “excavated” trolley tracks near the Famous Deli?  Those are Joel’s work,  with help from SEPTA employees.   Naturally,  a trolley birthday party followed for the community.)

He even designed a metallic silver and blue sticker to commemorate the occasion…

16_04_11 8 Trolley Birthday Sticker

(Would you like a free trolley birthday sticker?   Just send a self-addressed,  stamped envelope to Joel Spivak,  616 Carpenter Street,  Philadelphia, PA 19147.)


Joel has also served as president of the Philadelphia Trolley Coalition that nudged the city to save the historic Girard Street trolley line.

And,  yes,   while you can still ride Philadelphia’s 10,  11,  13,  15,  34 and 36 trolleys,  many more routes have disappeared:   Joel noted that every numbered bus line was once a trolley line.   Letter names were only used for routes that began with buses.

16_04_11 9 Joel Spivak DC_5099

(Joel in his trolley cap from his days driving the Penn’s Landing heritage trolley.  His vintage PTC badge originally belonged to operator #3956.)

He was also a volunteer driver on the Penn’s Landing trolley that attracted tourists and helped spur redevelopment along Columbus Boulevard from 1982 to 1995.


On April 25,  Joel will present an illustrated talk on the history of the Fairmount Park Trolley at the Fairmount Water Works Interpretive Center,  Waterworks and Kelly Drives,  behind the Philadelphia Art Museum.   Refreshments are available at 5:30 pm,  and the program starts at 6:15.

Sponsored by the Society for Industrial Archeology,  the cost is $10 in advance or $15 at the door.   You can register by emailing or calling Reese Davis at 610-692-4456.

Hope to see you there!

16_04_11 10 Joel Spivak DC_5170(Joel salvaged this metal lion’s head from the now-vanished elevated train station at 32nd and Market Streets.)