Philadelphia’s Magic Gardens: Fine art or hoarding? (photos)

Bottles form an arch at Philadelphia's Magic Garden.

Visitors to Philadelphia shouldn’t miss the Magic Gardens, an amazing tribute to one man’s artistic vision.

Over several decades artist Isaiah Zagar has transformed a decaying building on South Street into a work of mosaic art.

>> Scroll down for more photos of Zagar’s work

Ceramic tiles, glass bottles, bicycle tires and folk pottery line the inner and outer walls of this inner-city lot. Even the bathroom and trash area are covered with glittering patterns.

Fine art or hoarding?

You won’t realize the full scope of Zagar’s work until you enter the outdoor garden. The artist has created a maze of archways, tunnels, and winding staircases– built entirely of what might commonly be called “junk.”

It’s hard to imagine someone spending the time and energy required to cover every inch of this home in mosaic. The attention to detail is almost obsessive.

A pair of nudes at the Magic Gardens.

Local favorite

I visited the Magic Gardens this September when I attended a Meet, Plan, Go event in Philadelphia.

Before setting out on a Mega Bus from Penn Station, I emailed local expert “Mr. Philadelphia” (Albert Lee) for sightseeing advice.

I knew Mr. Philadelphia wouldn’t steer me wrong; he’s the social media concierge at the Independence Visitor Center and a native son. The Mosaic Gardens was one of his top picks.

Great location

The gallery only opened in 2002 but has already become a popular tourist attraction. It’s not hard to see why.

The admission fee is just $5 and it’s located in the heart of South Street, home to funky bars, tattoo parlors and boutiques.

In addition to the Mosaic Gardens, the neighborhood boasts several Zagar murals and a folk art shop owned by his wife.

  • For more info: Visit for hours and upcoming events. If you’re curious about mosaic artist Isaiah Zagar, check out the documentary In A Dream (2008), directed by his son Jeremiah.

What do you think– is this fine art or hoarding?

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About Leslie Koch

I'm a New Yorker with a passion for travel and art. I founded after returning from a year-long backpacking trip around the world. Find me on Twitter at @leslietravel.