Greg Rockliss and Casey Hansen Conan are planning to be wed at Eastern State Penitentiary.
Mike Allebach of Allebach Photography
The Magic Gardens on South Street provided a glittering backdrop for Anne and Derek Lindeman’s wedding.
Food trucks and string lights transformed The Armory into a wedding space for Audrey Colflesh and Mike Burlando.
Looking for an iconic city landmark, Kerry and Tom Davis chose the Franklin Institute for their reception.
Mary Fran Torpey and Adam Dole’s wedding took place within the belly of Lucy the Elephant in Margate City.
When Greg Rockliss lowered himself to one knee on New Year’s Eve 2012, revealing the glint of his grandmother’s engagement ring and asking Casey Hansen Conan to be his wife, she didn’t hesitate to say yes. But then, a second question followed:
“Can we get married at the prison?”
He meant Eastern State Penitentiary, the historic landmark on the edge of Fairmount where Conan has worked for the past five years. When Conan moved to Philadelphia in 2007, it was her job there as an actor in the “Terror Behind the Walls” Halloween show that gave her a reason to stay in the city.
“There’s something about that building that’s so alive and so lovely,” says Conan. “It was really the thing that solidified that Philadelphia is where I wanted to be.”
Since then, Eastern State has become like a second home to the couple, who live together in Fishtown. It seemed like an obvious, if unusual, place to say, “I do.”
But there’s another impetus: It’s unlike anything that’s been done before. While Eastern State allowed staff members to wed there in 2009 and in 2011, Rockliss and Conan’s wedding will be the first since the space officially opened as an event venue. And the novelty is important, since they, like a growing number of couples, are taking steps to make sure their wedding is unforgettable.
“Almost every couple that comes to us says, ‘I want something different and out of the box,’” says Kathy Bado, who owns the Wedding Factor Boutique & Event Studio on Logan Square. Bado says she believes the trend toward individualization began with all the wedding content on the Internet.
“Years ago, the only time you even thought about weddings was when you attended one. Now, if you look at Pinterest, you’re not even engaged and you’ve already seen it all. Everybody wants something that no one else has done, but you’ve already seen so much that even the wonderful things seem ordinary now,” she says.
According to Brides magazine’s 2012 American Wedding Study, 59 percent of couples used Pinterest for wedding planning, spurring a generation of do-it-yourself brides with one-of-a-kind weddings. “Traditional” has become tired.
But it’s not just the Internet that urges individualization. Like Conan and Rockliss, who are 32 and 28 respectively, more and more couples are marrying later (the average age of marriage is now 27 for women and 29 for men, according to a 2013 Bowling Green State University study). Delaying marriage might be linked to less conventional weddings, according to Elizabeth Pleck, author of Cinderella Dreams: The Allure of the Lavish Wedding. Younger brides tend to be more traditional, suggests Pleck, because they tend to be tied to their parents as decision makers. Older brides and couples paying for their own weddings are more likely to make their own planning decisions and, in turn, reject tradition.
Eric Gromball and Amanda Nitti waived tradition last May with their wedding, bathed in faux-moonlight, inside the Franklin Institute’s planetarium.
“It was so nostalgic for me, because I went there as a kid so many times,” says Gromball, who grew up just outside of Philadelphia.
The couple had also considered the Please Touch Museum and the Constitution Center for their wedding, but the former was too expensive and the latter was too big. The Franklin Institute felt just right.
“When we first told people, they were kind of like, ‘This sounds weird,’” admits Nitti of the chosen venue, “but once they got there, everyone was like, ‘This is the coolest wedding we’ve ever been to.’”
After the ceremony, guests wandered through the museum, sipping cocktails from bars in the Electricity and Changing Earth exhibits or posing next to the museum’s beating Giant Heart.
“We’ve been to a lot of weddings and they’ve been beautiful,” says Nitti, “but we just wanted something unique.”
“And unique to Philly,” adds Gromball.
For out-of-town guests, a distinctive venue can serve as a good introduction to the city. Other couples have accomplished this with weddings at the Philadelphia Zoo, Citizens Bank Park and 30th Street Station. (The train station no longer rents out its historic marble-lined waiting room, but has already received an inquiry for a wedding at its adjacent outdoor space, The Porch.)
“A lot of my family had never been to Philadelphia before, so I wanted to have the wedding at an iconic Philadelphia landmark,” says Kerry Davis, whose wedding reception was held at the Franklin Institute.
She and her husband Tom, who live in Havertown, liked the Institute’s atmosphere — but because religion is important to them, held their wedding ceremony in St. Mary Magdalen Parish in Media, where Tom had grown up going to church.
Only about a third of brides opted to hold their weddings in a house of worship in 2012, compared to more than 40 percent in 2009, according to a national survey by wedding websites The Knot and Wedding Channel. Rather than aspiring to tradition or elegance, brides in 2012 described themselvessimply as “fun.”
Fun was essential for Audrey Colflesh and Mike Burlando, who eschewed tradition by marrying on the third floor of the 23rd Street Armory.
“It looks like a castle from the outside,” says Colflesh. “It’s a very raw space, so we were forced to be extremely creative in creating the atmosphere.”
The couple transformed the place by bringing in local food trucks and hung string lights, drawing inspiration from the Food Trust’sNight Markets. (Colflesh says her vision for the lights and handmade pom-pom decorations came from Pinterest.)
Unorthodox sites like the Armory can work well for weddings if they’re outfitted to handle events. Bado, who helped plan Colflesh and Burlando’s wedding, encourages her clients to seek spaces already equipped with the correct permits and facilities for events, even if they’re unexpected or unusual wedding spaces.
Bado points brides toward spaces like Front & Palmer, former home to the Siemon & Sons barrel factory.
“It’s clear as soon as you walk in that Front & Palmer was not built to be an event venue, but is, in fact, repurposed from its older existence as an industrial space,” says Seth Schwarzman, who co-owns the space with his wife. The brick walls, paired with high ceilings and structural beams, give a nod to the space’s industrial heritage, while a large Warren Muller chandelier adds elegance to the lobby.
Despite its unconventional aesthetic, Front & Palmer hosts at least one event per week —most of them weddings.
Choosing an unusual venue can sometimes trim the overall cost of the wedding. Anne and Derek Lindeman, who paid for their own wedding, saved money by holding it in the Magic Gardens, the mosaic metropolis on South Street.
The Lindemans originally planned to get married in the backyard of their Victorian home in Audubon, N.J., but balked when they tallied up the cost of vendors, including rental of a backyard tent.
By moving to the Magic Gardens, the Lindemans avoided those bills, as well as the cost of wedding décor (the space was already glittering) and entertainment (their guests spent much of the evening admiring the mosaics). Since the Gardens could only fit 75 guests, the Lindemans needed to cut their original guest list in half and, accordingly, reduced the amount they spent on food, drinks and favors.
“It became an excuse to cheapen the wedding,” admits Anne, who says they ended up spending less than $13,000.
After planning her Magic Gardens ceremony, Anne created cleverweddingideas.com, a website that shares ideas for other couples who don’t want the “cookie-cutter wedding.”
“When I got engaged, I started looking at things on Pinterest and I thought, this is so cool,” says Anne. With inspiration from the site, she made D.I.Y. wedding favors and ordered custom cake-toppers — a pair of sloths, the couples’ favorite animal — from Etsy.
“I wanted someone to look at it and say, ‘Oh, that’s totally something Annie would do.’ And it was! Everyone kept saying that.”
Couples like the Lindemans want their weddings to feel “so them.” This was also true for Mary Fran Torpey and Adam Dole’s wedding, which took place within the cavernous belly of Lucy the Elephant, the six-story structure in Margate City, N.J. It had been a landmark on their first vacation as a couple — what Torpey describes as “a place that felt like it belonged to both of us.”
The room was just big enough to accommodate their 70-some guests. But due to the historical nature of the building, they were prohibited from putting up decorations. And because of space constrictions, they couldn’t serve dinner inside, and instead offered cake, cannoli and champagne under an outdoor tent — another way that their wedding was different.
Rachel and Nick Adams’ unique wedding took place in an industrial studio called Power Plant Productions, former home of the Wilbur Chocolate Factory, where Rachel’s great-grandparents met and fell in love. (The factory moved to Lititz, Pa., in 1930.)
“My great-grandparents both worked there, and my great-grandfather Lou used to throw Wilbur Buds at my great-grandmother, because he thought she was pretty,” says Rachel. “So this place was really special to us.”
While it’s no longer a factory, it maintains much of its industrial charm: exposed brick walls and a staircase that spirals around a smokestack in the middle of the room.
“I mean, people could’ve walked in there and said, ‘No way — this looks like a warehouse,’” admits Nick. “But Rachel really had a vision. From the day we got engaged, she was on Pinterest mapping out different ideas so that when we looked at different venues, it was like, ‘Can I put this wall into this place?’”
It turned out that she could. With her great-grandfather’s hat hanging near the makeshift altar, the space reflected both her great-grandparents’ love story, and hers with Nick. In lieu of a cake, they served various desserts — including Wilbur Buds chocolates.
Undoubtedly, Conan and Rockliss are hoping for the same effect with their upcoming wedding at Eastern State Penitentiary, where they will exchange vows in the heart of the prison’s rotunda, surrounded by seven original cellblocks.
But as much as they believe Eastern State reflects the life they’ve built together in Philadelphia, they recognize the importance of preparing their guests for the unusual space.
“I think most of our guests think it’s really exciting, but some of them seem to be a little confused,” says Conan, who has been warning guests they won’t be allowed to smoke in the prison or wear stiletto heels on the old floors.
“My mom’s first reaction was to ask if it was an active prison,” says Rockliss. “Then I took them to see the building, which my dad thought was amazing and my mom — well, my mom was very quiet.”
But their guests are coming around, and the couple is looking forward to introducing the space.
“You hear ‘abandoned prison’ and you’re not thinking of this beautiful castle-like structure that Eastern State is. So I’m excited to see the reactions from people who are seeing it for the first time. You walk up and it just looms and blows you away,” says Conan.
No matter how their guests feel when they arrive for the wedding in April, one thing is certain: It’ll be a day they will not soon forget.
Four-month-old Inka Wall dishes up traditional Peruvian plates
The panpipe music plays softly in the sunny dining room of Inka Wall, a restaurant that is barely...
Sa Bai Dee serves solid Thai, but the Laotian offerings are what set it apart
Owned by a Thai wife and Laotian husband, Sa Bai Dee specializes in fare from both locales. And...
With Japanese, Korean and much more, H Mart's food court is a thing of beauty
Stocking up on a gallon-sized jar of kimchi, green grape juice sodas and some of the most...