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Updates on demolition of brownstones, photography projects, and tacos

December 4, 2013

As always, we here at West Philly Local aim to keep neighbors abreast of community news and inform you of updates to that news. For today’s installment of updates, we’ve rounded up news about three big projects we’ve featured in the last three months that verge from the exciting (tacos!) to the conflicting (another expensive development!). And, of course, if there are other updates you’d love to know, we’d love to hear them in the comments.

 

Groundbreaking for Philadelphia Episcopal Cathedral’s $110 Million Development

Brownstones

Photo by West Philly Local.

Tomorrow, Philadelphia Episcopal Cathedral and Radnor Property Group (RPG) will hold a groundbreaking for 38Chestnut—the $110 million mixed-used development at 38th and Chestnut Streets that will see the razing of two historic brownstones (pictured) formerly used as the Cathedral’s parish house. The demolition will make way for a three-prong 326,000 square-foot project (owned by 3737 Chestnut, LP and developed by RPG) to be completed in 2015, and will include the construction of an allegedly “state-of-the-art” 25-story apartment building targeting professionals and grad students, as well as the Episcopal Cathedral Center that features a three-story office building with ground floor retail, a community center, and an early-learning childcare center. Additionally, as part of a settlement with the Preservation Alliance, the development will also see the renovation and maintenance of the cathedral itself. The groundbreaking starts at 2 p.m. at the Cathedral, located at 13-19 South 38th Street.

As we reported in November, the demolition to the two 19th-century brownstones has been nothing but contentious since it made news last summer. In an 8-2 vote, the Philadelphia Historical Commission approved the Cathedral’s hardship application to bulldoze the two historically-sanctioned houses, which were on the list of Philadelphia Register of Historic Places. The Preservation Alliance appealed this decision almost immediately, but came to an agreement with the Commission in March, in which a 50-year preservation and restoration plan is implemented and maintained by the Cathedral, with project funds set aside for immediate work on the house of worship.  Continue Reading

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Elena’s Soul owner Algernong Allen to run for State Representative in 188th District

December 2, 2013

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Rumors have been swirling around in the neighborhood for a couple of months and finally West Philly Local can confirm: Cedar Park-based entrepreneur and community organizer Algernong Allen is running for State Representative in the 188th District in the 2014 election.

Allen, 40, a Democrat who grew up near 58th and Warrington, will vie for the seat that Rep. James Roebuck has held since 1985. The primary is slated for May 20, 2014.

Allen is the former owner of the popular Elena’s Soul Lounge near 49th and Baltimore, which was destroyed by fire on Christmas Eve 2012. Allen currently serves on the board of Cedar Park Neighbors and is heavily involved in local community organizing, including work as a block captain. Allen is also a board member of the Baltimore Avenue Business Association.

Here is Allen’s launch video on YouTube:

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‘Them That Do’ Profiles of West Philly block captains: Juanita Hatton, 3900 Poplar Street

November 27, 2013

Editor’s Note: West Philly Local is proud to present the fourth in a series of vignettes of local block captains drawn from Them That Do, a multimedia documentary project and community blog by West Philly-based award-winning photographer Lori Waselchuk. Check Them That Do for more information, updates and additional photos.

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Juanita Lewis Hatton / Photo by Lori Waselchuk.

 

 

Juanita Lewis Hatton leans over the thick black back-support belt, noisily adjusting the Velcro clasp. “Oh God!” she says. “I suffer with this back pain. It’s not as bad as yesterday, mind you,” she tells me.

Ms. Hatton was preparing to step outside and distribute her monthly newsletter door-to-door for the residents of the 3900 block of Poplar St, where she is the block captain. She lives on a street peppered with vacant lots, abandoned buildings and dilapidated homes. Yet the street has no visible trash and the grass in vacant lots is cut.

Hatton moved into her two-story row home on Poplar St. in 2009. Within the first week of moving in, she swept as if it was an obvious thing to do. The neighbors were intrigued. They questioned the 72-year-old grandmother to find out which government agency she worked for.

Hatton’s answer: “I don’t work for the city. I just don’t like livin’ around dirt!”

Hatton has been a block captain for over a total of 38 years. Most of those years she served her former block in Nicetown where she became known as the ‘Granny of Nicetown’. She rallied her neighbors to board up abandoned houses, organized neighborhood watches, planned summer festivals and flea markets, connected civic and health resources to the community and she spearheaded the rehabilitation of Nicetown Park on Germantown Avenue. Continue Reading

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Meet American Queen TJD: Not the female Basquiat

November 22, 2013

Art part of "American Queen" series from Tiffany Davis (Photo courtesy of Dais)

Art part of “American Queen” series (Photo courtesy of Davis)

Too many Basquiats. Not enough new artists.”

Black acrylic etches the lines of the first five words atop three stacked yellow crowns that run down the canvas’s vertical. The letters of the last two words—arguably the most prolific—are bold white on top a banner of black at the end, serving as the eyes of a symbolic queen. The background is a sea of baby blue with random strokes of white, red, navy and yellow.

In a way, Tiffany Davis’s anchor of her “American Queen” series—and the series itself, which includes “Never Condense Art,” a spin on Andy Warhol’s infamous soup cans—is both reverence and dismissal. For her series, the 29-year-old West Philadelphia artist (who goes by American Queen TJD (Facebook page)) takes elements from her favorite artists—like Jackson Pollack’s splashes or Jean-Michael Basquiat’s crown—and treats them as foundations for a larger purpose. Davis then washes the distinct trademarks away with her own deeply felt abstract expressionism—each canvas a kaleidoscope of color and words that call to a greater mission.

“Anybody can reproduce anything that Basquiat did, but why would you want to do it?,” Davis said, talking from her hotel room on Sunday as she waited for the Eagles game to begin. “I can probably make a name for myself [if I called] myself the female Basquiat, but why should I have to do that?”

Davis, who works during the day as a program director at Drexel University, hung up the hats of her successful fine art-cum-clothing line Cocky Persona last year in order to concentrate on the canvas-based visual work. It’s art that projects a message, with all canvas infected with the moments taking place in her life or in the world at large. (Her next string of pieces will reflect her recent trial — losing her rented South Philly home this past weekend to a fire. The day of our conversation, she was in the process of moving back to her childhood home at 56th and Larchwood.) You can read it in the words that brand each canvas, like “Waste no time. Live,” “Breathe. Passion proves itself,” “Love you first,” or “Worth, state of mind”—positive reinforcements from the gut.  Continue Reading

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‘Them That Do’ Profiles of West Philly block captains: Anita Harris, 5300 Wyalusing Avenue

November 20, 2013

Editor’s Note: West Philly Local is proud to present the third in a series of vignettes of local block captains drawn from Them That Do, a multimedia documentary project and community blog by West Philly-based award-winning photographer Lori Waselchuk. Check Them That Do for more information, updates and additional photos.

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Anita Harris in The Farm at N. 53rd St. and Wyalusing in July, 2013.

Anita Harris’ inspiration to become block captain didn’t seem particularly ambitious when she started. “I needed something to do,” she explained.

Anita was already working fulltime as a secretary and raising her two daughters.  She simply wanted to make her block of 5300 Wyalusing safe and clean.

But I’ve learned to listen closely to Anita, because behind her efficient language is an ocean of commitment.

Early in Anita’s term as block captain, she met Skip Wiener of Urban Tree Connection. Skip’s organization was working with residents in the Haddington neighborhood to plant flower gardens and trees to rehabilitate crime-ridden vacant lots. Anita joined their efforts and was able to help build several gardens on and around her block.

Five years ago, Skip told Anita that he wanted to start growing food.  It was then that Anita devised a monumental plan for the ¾ acre abandoned lot behind her house.  The lot was once a construction company’s storage site, but it had been abandoned for over 30 years and still contained buried drums of oil and other hazardous construction waste.

“Why don’t we build a farm?” Anita asked as she showed Skip the property.

Skip remembers seeing the lot for the first time. “It was a nightmare. You couldn’t see a foot into the property because the weeds were so high. The space was being used as a chop shop, there were fires, nighttime prostitution, and drugs. It was a very dangerous place.”

For five years, Skip and Anita worked with residents, the city, volunteers, and organizations to clear the lot, remove the waste, replace the soil, and build an urban farm.  It has been slow and intense work, but The Farm at North 53rd and Wyalusing is fully functional with three greenhouses, a packing shed, cold storage and compost stations.

The Farm produces and supplies fresh vegetables and herbs that are sold to Neighborhood Foods farm stands throughout Philadelphia. Anita spends her Saturdays picking, packing and selling the produce at the vegetable stand on the 600 block of North 53rd Street, right around the corner from her home.

The 53rd Street farm stand will open once more this year on Saturday, November 23rd from 10 a.m. – 2 p.m. to help families prepare for Thanksgiving.

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Meet Milena Velis: Her “scary” pumpkin illustrates a frightening reality

November 14, 2013

2013 West Philly Local Pumpkin Carving Contest Reader's Choice Winner Milena Velis

2013 West Philly Local Pumpkin Carving Contest Readers’ Choice Winner Milena Velis.

On first glance, Milena Velis’s carved pumpkin seems out of place.

A thick, padlocked chain marks an X in front of a fence. In the distance, the moon rises above a school building framed by bare, gangly trees.

It’s an image in stark contrast to the werewolf, skeletons, pumpkin heads, and haunted forest that comprised the entries in West Philly Local’s 2013 Pumpkin Carving Contest. But while Velis’s pumpkin may not show a spooky motif synonymous with Halloween, it could be considered the most frightening of them all.

After all, what’s more terrifying than the School District of Philadelphia shuttering 24 schools—including local University City High School and Alexander Wilson Elementary—and laying off nearly 3,000 staff members in the face of steep budget cuts and choked funding?

The chilling implications of the public education crisis on Philadelphia and its families is largely why Velis’s pumpkin, which took two days to design and nearly three days to carve, won Readers’ Choice in the contest. To the many West Philly Local readers who voted, her pumpkin symbolized the “scariest thing” to happen to Philadelphia this year. Velis said this was her intention with her Scariest Pumpkin category entry—to memorialize what happened at the beginning of the school year.

“Part of it is just that there’s something so unbelievable about the permanent closing of schools that it does take a while to process it. That’s true for a lot of people,” Velis, a 29-year-old Cedar Park resident, told West Philly Local. Continue Reading

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