It sure ain’t Fishtown….25 Years Later

23 Oct

Some call me a Urban Pioneer it’s a name that fits. Being of a creative bend I have always sought out the neighborhood the rents were low and the dangers were high.I am currently having much Deja Vu due to the rapid change in my hood. My college years were spent on South St.,then an abandoned retail district ,I watched as the gentrification took it from bohemian to destination. I moved on to another undiscovered hood. Fishtown has been my home for some 30 years. A blue-collar enclave just North of Center City Philadelphia. 30 years ago it was a post industrial community consisting mostly of third generation Irish and Polish citizens. The exodus of the local industry had left behind the tenacious Fish Towners who held on to their properties and guarded against the intrusion of transients. The housing stock remained in fairly good condition,due to their loyalty to their hood and the fact that just about everyone here was related in some way to each other. Houses here were passed from generation to generation. Fishtown is an “olde” town. William Penn first landed right here a few blocks from where I now write this. The roots here go deep. Some can claim all the way back to Penn.

I moved here due to the proximity of center city and I-95 and the cheap real estate. I was one of the first that sent signals through the hood that strangers were moving in. Fishtown was at that point a rough hood, “tappies” [bars in philly speak] were on every corner drunkenness was common. many nights I witnessed brawls safely from my third floor. My location on a commercial street saved me from close examination by neighbors so it took a very long time to get to know any of the residents. They were a suspicious lot back then and kept to themselves. It was years before I was accepted, but now I’m a official resident of the hood and suspicious of the the new residents, just as my neighbors were suspicious of me.


I busied myself in turning my halfway house residence into a home. As I peeled away the layers I discovered that 1603 Frankford was a barber shop, a diner and then a school for training wayward boys. I don’t quite remember how I ended up in the Philadelphia Inquirer, but I did. Ellen Kaye was responsible for a weekly home tour in the magazine section. For years anxious Philadelphians first turned to the back of the mag on Sunday mornings to see who got in, from Chestnut Hill or Bryn Mawr. One of those Sundays it was moi, in my decidedly unfashionable Fishtown row, a real shock to the mainline gentry, I’m sure. I think in retrospect Ellen had something to do with the revitalization of Fishtown for her daring choice and I’m proud to say so did I.



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