Philadelphia's Magic Gardens

by sockii

One of the most unique places to visit while in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania is the Magic Gardens created by Isaiah Zagar on South Street.

One of the most unique and delightful places to visit when in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania is Isaiah Zagar's Magic Gardens. Indeed, those first passing by the Magic Gardens on South Street often come across the awe-inspiring sight unexpectedly, and simply must stop and stare in disbelief at what they are seeing.

Is it art?

A junkyard?

A strange hallucination?

The mind-boggling creation of a mad genius?

Many would say the Magic Gardens are all of these things, and so much more... Philadelphia's Magic Gardens (PMG) is a mosaic-covered "art environment", where light and color, broken bottles and mirrors, ceramics and dolls, tiles and paintings all combine to create a truly magical space. The indoor building and outdoor sculpture garden take up an entire half a block on South Street, and is open to the public every day to explore, photograph, learn and inspire.

If you'd like to learn more about Philadelphia's Magic Gardens, please read on. You'll find information on how to plan a visit, the history of the space, and of course more information about the artist Isaiah Zagar himself. You can also learn more about the documentary "In a Dream" now available on DVD, celebrating the life and work of Zagar from an extremely personal point-of-view: that of his own son.

All photographs on this page were taken by the author, sockii. View my full Magic Gardens Photography Gallery on Flickr.

Philadelphia's Magic Gardens

Welcome to the Magic Gardens...

Philadelphia's Magic Gardens

About the Magic Gardens and Creator Isaiah Zagar

The Man and Story Behind the Mosaics

Magic GardensIsaiah Zagar was born in 1939 and received his art education at the Pratt Institute in Brooklyn, New York City. In 1968, after serving for several years in the Peace Corps in Peru, he moved to South Philadelphia to open the Latin American shop The Eyes Gallery. This would be the first Philadelphia area site for one of his mosaic-covered spaces, as he wanted to create a "Folk Art Environment" for the gallery.

He and his wife Julia were committed to trying to beautify and revitalize what was, at the time, a very derelict neighborhood in Philadelphia. Together they bought run-down buildings and remodeled them, often adding mosaic art to both their interior and exterior spaces.It was in 1994 that Zagar started working on the vacant lot adjacent to his studio on South Street. This would be the origins of the now-famous "Magic Gardens".

After building a large fence to protect the 3,000 square foot space, he began what would become a 14-year effort and journey of building tunnels, creating grottoes, building walls and layering them with tiles, found objects, bottles and mirror fragments. The mosaic work also covers the entire building of the studio, creating a flowing indoor/outdoor environment. But the mosaics are not simply random collections of miscellaneous objects; they tell the story of Isaiah's life and the lives of his family members. They mark important world and neighborhood events, from the local dance community to the victims of September 11, 2001.

Philadelphia's Magic Gardens

Philadelphia's Magic GardensOf course, by the early 2000s this once-rundown neighborhood was now one of the hottest destinations in Philadelphia, overflowing with artsy boutiques, restaurants, night clubs and music stores. The long-absent owner of the lot at 1022-1026 South Street demanded that Zagar purchase the land for $300,000 or else he would have it demolished to make way for new construction. Those in the community rallied together to save the space, holding fund raising events, accepting private donations, and eventually with the help of a loan Zagar was able to purchase the property, which is now incorporated as a non-profit organization.

Today, visitors of all ages are able to explore the Magic Gardens and experience Zagar's unique artistic vision for themselves. They can take guided tours or simply wander about on their own, take workshop classes on mosaics led by Zagar himself, and enjoy scheduled events featuring music and dance. It is a complete artistic environment and a celebration of art and creativity for all ages.


Philadelphia Magic Gardens, About Us

Isaiah Zagar, Wikipedia

Philadelphia's Magic Gardens

"In a Dream"

The Award Winning Documentary about Isaiah Zagar

Explore the world - and the mind - of Isaiah Zagar in this critically acclaimed documentary about his life, his art, and his tumultuous family relationships.Filmmaker Jeremiah Zagar (son of Isaiah and Julia) premiered the film at the SXSW Film Festival in Austin, Texas in 2008, where it won the Emerging Visions Audience Award. It would also win "Best Film" at the annual Philadelphia Film Festival in 2008.The film has been lauded for the way Jeremiah was able to capture his very own family so objectively, even while documenting the emotional turmoil of his parents' relationship falling apart and his father's mental instability.

"Unusual, probing, and honest" said the Boston Phoenix, while The Boston Globe said "the sheer visual impact of 'In a Dream' is breathtaking."

Visiting Philadelphia's Magic Gardens

Basic Visitor Information
  1. Philadelphia's Magic GardensLocation: The Magic Gardens are located at 1020 South Street, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, 19147. Getting there is easy from anywhere in Center City, and its also on the Route 40 SEPTA bus.
  2. General hours: The Gardens are typically open during the following hours of the day: Summertime (April - October): Sunday - Thursday: 11:00 AM - 6:00 PM; Friday and Saturday: 11:00 AM - 8:00 PM. Wintertime (November - March): Sunday - Thursday: 11:00 AM - 5:00 PM; Friday and Saturday: 11:00 AM - 8:00 PM. The Gardens are closed on Thanksgiving, Christmas Eve and Christmas Day with shortened hours on other holidays and during private events.
  3. Admission prices: $5 for adults, $2 for ages 6-12, free for children 5 and under. No reservations or advance tickets required unless you are a self-guided group of over 20 individuals.
  4. General rules/policies: Casual photography is allowed, as are food and drink. Children under 16 must be supervised by an adult, and running/horseplay in the Gardens is not allowed.
  5. Guided tours: Take place throughout the year, including through the surrounding neighborhood where more mosaic art by Isaiah Zagar can be found. Check the Magic Garden Website for further information.

Links and Resources Related to Philadelphia's Magic Gardens

Where to learn more...
Philadelphia's Magic Gardens

I hope you've enjoyed this brief "virtual" tour of Philadelphia's Magic Gardens. It's one of my favorite places in Philadelphia to visit and explore, especially when I can bring others there to experience it for the first time themselves. There is always something new to discover there, whether it's a different way to view the world around you, or even a new way to view yourself.

Do you have and final thoughts or comments to share about this page or the Magic Gardens? If so, please sign this guestbook before you go... and thanks for visiting!

Updated: 11/05/2018, sockii
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sockii on 04/17/2015

It's definitely worth visiting if you want to see something really unique to the city of Philadelphia, that's for sure!

AngelaJohnson on 04/17/2015

Wow, Zagar sure took a risk putting so much work into a vacant lot he didn't even own. I'm glad it was saved. I've never been to Philadelphia, but if I ever visit, I'll look for this unique and magical garden.

Mira on 04/16/2015

It looks amazing. I love that piece of photo + photo of camera, and the ceramic work reminds me of Niki de Saint Phalle Tarot Garden. It's great learning about the Magic Gardens.

LindaSmith1 on 04/16/2015

I lived in Philadelphia for years. I never heard of the Magic Gardens.

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