Growing Up in Philadelphia: The Lost City

Center City Philadelphia has come into its own: exclusive retail, superb restaurants, imposing new skyscrapers. So why do I miss the dirty, second-rate downtown I grew up in?

Children playing in the Art Museum fountains, August 1973.

Children playing in the Art Museum fountains in August 1973. Photograph by Dick Swanson/The National Archive

Eddie Gindi seems genuinely excited as he stands at the dais in the Union League. The executive vice president and co-owner of Century 21 department stores is explaining why a new Philadelphia location at 8th and Market is the logical next step for a chic discount chain that until now has stuck to New York and New Jersey. “I saw with my own eyes,” he says, “the massive money and time being spent to make Philadelphia a retail center.” Philadelphians, he says, are fashion-savvy, creative and artistic: “They get it.”

The audience at this meeting of the Central Philadelphia Development Corp. laps it up. The gauzy visions of a prosperous and dynamic Center City that once seemed like pipe dreams have, in large part, become reality.

Center City’s population is growing. Developers are breaking ground on skyscrapers. National retailers like Intermix and Michael Kors are coming to Walnut Street, where rents soar above the national average. Last year, Philadelphia was feted in the New York Times, the Toronto Star, the Guardian, the Washington Post, Food & Wine, the Globe and Mail, Condé Nast Traveler, Bon Appétit, and countless online outlets. GQ wrote, “Philadelphia has more going for it now than ever.”

Every now and then, a well-dressed woman will stop me and ask for directions: “Where is the shopping street? I think it’s called Walnut?” I’ll point the way, and then imagine her browsing at Barneys and Lagos, then having a drink at Rouge’s sidewalk cafe before heading back to her room at the Hotel Monaco. “Who is this woman?” I’ll think. Does she imagine she’s in some sophisticated, classy city? I suppose so.

For some native Philadelphians like me, all of this is difficult to absorb. This city has been the butt of jokes for so long — going back to W.C. Fields, after all — that it’s still hard to believe that newcomers and investors finally consider it worthy.

I mean, I’ve been singing Philly’s praises since I was a kid, but the moniker “Filthadelphia” (and its concomitant reputation) was so widespread, it was the first thing a new friend brought up to me when we met during my semester abroad. In Spain.

Yet I sometimes miss the grimy Center City of my youth. I liked its gritty spirit.

I WAS BORN AT Hahnemann Hospital in 1968, swaddled, and taken to a studio apartment, where I slept in a dresser drawer until the crib arrived.

My parents bought a house on Rodman Street soon thereafter, and all the photos from my toddler days seem to show one neighbor or another lying flat on his back, with a big smile, obviously intoxicated by some natural plant.

The late ’60s and early ’70s in Philadelphia were pretty relaxed. The Lombard Swim Club had a topless section. My friend’s dad picked us up in his car one day without any clothes on. Parents kept their stashes in the open. Kids discussed open marriages in art class, and the 2000 block of Sansom Street was the bohemian center of the west-of-Broad universe, with head shops, cafes and clubs that leaked strains of poetry, jazz, disco, and the smoke of that natural plant.

There were also those nightclubs and discos: Élan, Black Banana, Artemis, Revival, London Victory Club — which, in glossy Studio 54 hindsight, must make Center City sound somewhat glamorous. It was anything but.

Philadelphia’s decline was well under way by the time I was born. Manufacturing was collapsing, the population was falling, and the tax base was turning to dust. Frank Rizzo dominated City Hall, first as police commissioner, then as mayor. Crime spiked. There wasn’t the money to pay for things like clean streets. Racial strife and police brutality were endemic. Center City fared better than most neighborhoods, but it wasn’t immune.

Schuylkill River Park, now family-friendly with its dog park (with special areas for big and small dogs) and creative landscape architecture, was rather seedy. It was also the locus of the Taney Gang, the children of the Irish gangsters who lived in the homes along 26th Street. They ruled that neighborhood. It was the kind of place where if you wanted to rape a girl or light a homeless guy on fire, you could get away with it. They tortured me and my friends during grade school because we had no choice but to encroach on their turf: Our school was at 25th and Lombard, and recess was at “their” park.

Fitler Square wasn’t much better. Patty Brett, the owner of the uniquely unchanging Doobies at 22nd and Lombard, remembers packs of wild dogs running loose in the area: “There were many abandoned churches and gas stations in our neighborhood. Lots of graffiti on everything, and a general fear of walking down the street late at night. People were mugged a lot, and women didn’t travel in most Center City areas alone.”

In my high-school years, street crime was so commonplace that we hardly took note of it. My boyfriend was pulled into an alley between Walnut and Chestnut and held at knifepoint; my necklace was ripped off while I was walking; my mother was mugged; purses were torn from shoulders; people threw bottles into store windows on days when the Phillies lost. The sense of lawlessness was pervasive. When we walked to school at 17th and the Parkway, dealers would try to sell us drugs (and I have no doubt they sometimes succeeded).

City Hall was a mess. That beautiful building’s courtyard was the kind of place you either avoided or walked through as quickly as possible, dodging mysterious puddles and smells, with soot or something like it crunching beneath your feet. Last summer, Kurt Vile played a concert in that now clean, bright courtyard, and I looked at the people in line at food trucks, friends meeting up and hugging each other, people dancing, and I thought, “What the hell happened to this place?” That courtyard has gone from 12 Monkeys to Frank Capra on Ecstasy. A lot of Center City has.

I MEET SO MANY people now who have moved to Philadelphia in the past 10 years — and stayed. I’m both stunned that they chose Philly and aggravated by all their c­omplaints — which, if they’ve moved here from Portland, can be quite numerous.

It’s dirty. There’s too much crime. The buses and subways are gross. There’s trash everywhere. People don’t pick up after their dogs. There are rats in Rittenhouse Square. There aren’t enough bike lanes.

Bike lanes? BIKE LANES?

Recently, a seersucker-and-madras-clad man at a Mural Arts event I went to railed against graffiti’s “cancerous, corrosive effect” on Philadelphia. He got puckered and red in the face and stomped out of the room. I guess he wasn’t here in 1976, when KAP the Bicentennial Kid tagged the Art Museum and the Liberty Bell. When I was a kid, the graffiti was so omnipresent, it became the city’s signature.

Likewise, when transplants complain about SEPTA subway cars and buses, I marvel. Back then, these were not only the primary vectors for graffiti, but had torn and broken seats and rusted poles. In 1980, this magazine called subway trains “slums-on-wheels.” Buses weren’t much better. (I got to smoke my first cigarette on the 40.) The transit stations and concourses were so much more dismal back then that now when I find a SEPTA station unpleasant, I recall what used to be and think, “Aw, that’s just a tiny puddle of pee. It’s almost cute.”

We’ve got it so good, it’s unreal. So why do I long for the old days?

In part, it’s basic childhood nostalgia. But I think it’s also that we Center City kids of the ’70s and early ’80s enjoyed a lot of freedom in our comparatively down-at-its-heels, unmanicured downtown. Today, I can get stopped at the doors of an upscale hotel or silently ejected from a fancy boutique with an icy glare. Back then, it was like there was no one on duty. It was great fun.

THERE WERE A PAIR of arcades on Chestnut Street between 15th and 17th: the dark, dirty Zounds, and the shiny new Supercade. Zounds was rough. You could get your wallet stolen, or at the least your pile of quarters. People might offer you drugs. You might take drugs. But it felt like home. Supercade was too fresh and clean. Too eager. We didn’t trust it. (This suspicion of nice things began early.)

Once the quarters were spent, or stolen, we could head over to Day’s Deli at 18th and Spruce to get fries. Or we could go to Deluxe Diner for milkshakes; the Midtowns I through IV; one of the two Little Pete’s; or even R&W, which was kind of repulsive but good for private conversations in the empty back room. Now R&W is the Japanese restaurant Zama. The food is better, but kids don’t go there to spill secrets over a shared can of seltzer and a ham and cheese sandwich.

Day’s Deli was my favorite, until it closed; the rumor was that someone affiliated with the restaurant had “put the profits up his nose.” It adjoined a convenience store, and in back were rows of booths where you could while away hours smoking cigarettes with Jasons, Jennifers and Michaels. At the time, we felt our conversations were only a shade less sophisticated than My Dinner With Andre.

During the Mummers Parade, my friends and I would zoom through the halls of the Bellevue-Stratford hotel, dashing between parties full of strangers in the rooms that faced Broad Street. There was always a lot of food and drink, and no one noticed the kids who’d sneak in and out, grabbing rolled salami off of linen-draped deli trays.

One year, we heard “a judge” was hosting one of these parade-watching parties. Only one of us was brave enough to go in; the rest waited outside, flat against the wall, like felons in a lineup. Our friend came out with big news: There was a baggie of cocaine in the room. Cocaine! Wow! I remember thinking we might get in trouble, and also feeling jealous that my friend seemed to be able to identify cocaine.

PEOPLE OFTEN FEEL sorry for me because they assume Center City wasn’t a real neighborhood. But it was. Many of us went to preschool, elementary school and high school together. Mostly latchkey kids, we stuck together after class ended. We knew every corner of each other’s homes, including whose Rittenhouse Square rooftop made for the best water-balloon launching pad.

Jason’s exotically beautiful mom lived on Pine Street, but his dad’s place was on the Square. Sandy and her three sisters lived at 22nd and Delancey, across from Valerie and, randomly, Julius Erving, who’d open the door sometimes, be very tall, and close the door again. Susan and Lizzy were on Panama, right across the street from each other, while Liz No. 3 lived at 17th and Pine with her mom and stepdad and the largest dining room table I’d ever seen.

The boy I loved unrequited all through high school was on 21st and Delancey. The girl who took me to Houlihan’s on the Square with all the cool kids lived at 18th and Delancey, across the street from towheaded Laura and her little brother Adam, both of whom have passed away, which is a sentence I shouldn’t have to write while I’m still in my 40s. Sweet Tom, who took me to both proms and was basically my first husband, lived at 25th and Lombard. And so on.

The point is, it was plenty neighborhoody. And instead of a suburban Dairy Queen parking lot, we had Rittenhouse Square.

This was the center of our universe. This was where we went to try new things — to kiss, to reveal secrets, to drink, to smoke. This was the place to reconnoiter, the hub, the treehouse club, the HQ. Life unfolded there.

The Square had no profusion of roses in front of the lion statue. The pillars around the fountain were chipping, like teeth losing their enamel. Tumbleweeds of garbage traveled by. The old benches, the ones without armrests in the middle, were wide and deep enough that homeless people could sleep on them. And they did.

Later, the park would get a curfew; we’d get in trouble for standing bare-legged in the fountain; we’d be turned out while tux-wearing dancers ate fancy food. One thing remains the same, though: the rats. I admire them for sticking it out.

ONE BOY WHO accompanied our Bellevue wanderings was the son of a South Street fortune-teller. He was missing several teeth. He gave me my first French kiss at the TLA, back when it was a movie theater that showed cartoons during the day, repertory film at night, and Rocky Horror Picture Show at midnight.

The boy moved to New York, which was sad (according to my diary), but I miss the old TLA more. In fact, I miss all the movie theaters of my youth. There were so many: the Eric Twin Rittenhouse at 19th and Walnut; Sam’s Place and the SamEric at 19th and Chestnut; Eric’s Place at 15th and Chestnut; Eric’s Mark 1 at 18th and Market; the Goldman Theatre at Broad and Chestnut; the Roxy (when it showed films from odd places like Canada); more I’m not thinking of. Now these places are a CVS, a Mandee, an empty lot, a soon-to-be-demolished historic relic.

Not surprisingly, we saw movies constantly, and relied upon them as instructional manuals. Senior year, a friend and I went to see Hannah and Her Sisters. I was just starting to understand that I’d have to become a grown-up, and I didn’t really know what that meant.

In Philly, it was hard to tell what adulthood was. There was no single grown-up world, no monolith. This was no bland suburb, no Peyton Place. Sit in the Square, as we did, and it was a pageant: People were black and white, gay and straight, rich and poor. Many were hobbled by some kind of frailty. There was the Duck Lady (who quacked); the Pigeon Lady (who stood for hours with pigeons all over her); the Wow Bum, who just yelled, “Wow!”; any number of “bag ladies” who’d walk through the Square laden with belongings; the men who exposed themselves. Then there were our parents, the incense vendors, all those hookers on Broad and on 13th, my Quaker teachers with the puzzling facial hair. Which kind of adult would I be? How would I find my way?

I sat and watched Hannah and Her Sisters in the theater at 19th and Chestnut and found a tiny fragment of a road map. Yesterday, in the same building, I found a bottle of sunscreen.

AS A PERSON WHO works in Center City — and who writes about real estate and economic development — I can’t claim to be disappointed by downtown’s success. By any measure, Center City is booming, and that is a good thing. I don’t want to step in dog waste, or walk 10 blocks before I can find a trash can. I don’t want a Rittenhouse Square ringed by abandoned construction sites rather than beautiful hotels. I want people to live here, to thrive here. I want jobs and revenue and, yes, maybe digital signage, if that’s what it takes to lure serious investment into more challenging parts of town.

But there’s something about the national retail chains, about the people in teal, about the loss of diners and movie theaters — in all their sticky-floored glory — that makes me feel Center City has edged a bit too far toward the post-Giuliani NYC model of moneyed, sterilized urbanity.

Or maybe I just miss my old neighborhood.

Originally published as “The Lost City” in the August 2014 issue of Philadelphia magazine.

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  • Janet Calderwood

    This is terrific, Liz!

  • CityGirlWrites

    You’ve captured for Philly what so many of us miss about dirty old New York. Happy for all the good that has taken place in both cities, sad for what is being lost.

  • Val Patterson

    Wow~great job. Loved this piece!

  • Rokstedi

    oh man, I remember fighting those Taney kids. Fat Fran and them circa 1979. I was on of the few black kids at the Philadelphia School back then. You think the jewish kids had it bad? Ya’ll don’t know the half of it! Awesome article

    • Expelled by Quakers

      Were you that one black kid at The Philadelphia School besides my friend Monica? We got expelled from there (for something I swear we didn’t do!) around 1982. Good times!

    • Tamar Klausner Klein


    • Liz Spikol

      Hey, I wasn’t writing just about the Jewish kids. I was writing about all the kids I went to school with. Does anyone know what happened to Doreen Stevenson? I think about her all the time.

  • kimada

    Philly’s closest thing to Studio 54 in the late ’70’s was the DCA Club, where Gia hung out and the DJ Kurt [can’t spell his last name]co-wrote “Hot Shot.” There were many nights there when you could really think you were on top of the world, in the coolest place on earth (even without the drugs, not that they weren’t rampant). And there was a boutique on Chestnut Street called “Up Against the Wall” which at one point actually sold Fiorucci jeans ($35 in 1977). And the shoe store Ronald Phillip on Sansom Street with the best, kind of macho-looking boots and shoes (after platforms went out of style, which was well before the 70’s ended). The gay guys with their short hair, Frye boots, and green army jackets from I. Goldberg, oblivious to the masses who thought gays would have blow-dried hair, flowered shirts, and pastel pants (no, those were the straight guys on their way to THEIR clubs and discos). Ironic world, those seventies!! And right here in Center City Philadelphia!!

  • TheCatus Kid From South Street

    No Mention of the “Car Thieves” aka Philadelphia Parking Authority…

  • Dave

    Not Supercade – Spaceport!

  • Johnny Domino

    “That courtyard has gone from 12 Monkeys to Frank Capra on Ecstasy.”

    Worth the whole read. Bravo!

  • Ricky G.

    An excellent of your best. Economically/money driven change is rancid. Center City, Olde City, Northern Liberties, East Passyunk and of course Manayunk…all that change is for the dollar not the city or its rooted citizens. Christopher Lasch wrote NARCISSISTS trivialize history. Tearing up old Philadelphia for ticky tacky little boxes is being done by narcissism and greed, with little concern for the cities history of neighborhoods and culture. URBAN RENEWAL is always the clarion call for bad things.

    • Laura5757

      Is it really? Because I’m a recent transplant and I treasure Philadelphia for it’s beautiful buildings and interesting history. I also chose a house built in 1919 so I’m not sure really where you think urban renewal means a complete whitewashing of Philly’s history, architecture or culture? Investing in a city like this is a brilliant thing to do and why is that automatically greed? We (transplants) live here too, we are just as much a part of this city as you are, whether you like it or not. Also, I remember not even being to walk safely in my (now) neighborhood at night ten years ago and now I can go jogging safely around it- change can be a very good thing.

  • citizenplanner

    Love this article!! I think you must be about 5-10 years younger then I am based on descriptions but still all rings so true. Having gone to City Center Elementary (Before it was greenfield) I would add a few things, great memories of playing in John Wanamakers after school, running up and down the stairs, spraying friends with perfume etc. , swimming in Logan Circle and checking out the Mutter’s museum. I remember fights in Fitler square between the Taneys and the public school kids getting kind of scary.

  • Louie Lopez

    Having just moved from Fla and being from LA, my wife and I had no idea what Philly was about. My wife’s job moved us here, but once here are very excited by the energy the city has.
    I loved this article BC it’s easy to see what it was like then.
    Having just purchased a house in Point Breeze, and being part of the “change” were excited for the direction the city appears to be taking. Great article!

  • Dragon

    What great memories!

  • Jennifer

    I just moved to Philadelphia in 2001, but I still feel the change that you are describing. At that time you could get away with swimming in the fountains on the Parkway. Philly felt like a place where you could “get away with things” and weren’t being watched. I liked it and miss that element although it is nice to see the city improving.

  • Kathleen A. Foy

    First on my agenda is to thank all those kids that want to
    the school on 25th and Lombard, you saved me from getting a beating
    when I was kid. The point I am making here is that most of us in the 70’s that
    lived in Philly did not escape a fight. And for the most part these fights were
    clean fist fights (no guns or weapons were used; those who carried anything
    were the exception, not the rule). I would also like to say the “Taney Gang”
    and the “Taneyville Terrors” were a made up names to scare the Center City Kids
    which apparently worked.

    I am from Schuylkill, a neighborhood in Philadelphia that began
    with Irish immigrants and lasted for four generations. An area built on blue
    collar, hard working families that came to know each other very well. We
    protected our homes and made sure our streets were safe from the likes of race
    riots, rapists, and idiots who would put a homeless person on fire. The
    homeless of the 70’s were not strangers, we knew their names and sometimes we
    knew their families. Most of the homeless of that era were war veterans, family
    members who fought and didn’t quite make it home. We fed them sandwiches and
    soup from our refrigerators and handed them clothing to keep them warm. We
    created block parties and dance events to gather money for families in need. We
    worked and played and fought for the playground at 26th and Pine,
    for in the 70’s you fought to keep your area safe or you lost it. Take a good
    look at Kensington, North Philly, and South West Philly for what happens of you
    didn’t fight back. Politics also played a large role in demise of Philadelphia
    neighborhoods, which I will not get into now.

    This article calls my parents, grandparents, brothers,
    sisters and friends gangsters? This is why you are called an “outsider” for we
    know if it wasn’t for the hard work and heavy handedness of my neighborhood
    their wouldn’t be a school on the corner of 25th n Lombard nor would
    there be a dog park, a pool and flowers outside the lovely row homes you see

    On behalf of my friends and family, you are welcome. It was
    the people of Schuylkill that worked, fought (sometimes hospitalized) so that
    the only thing that was taken from you was your necklace. To which I was sorry
    to read had happened to you.

    • peerlessp1970

      Are you telling me that there was no Taney Gang? It was all made up?

    • Mary Miles-Nash

      Thank you Kathleen!

    • Danielzinho

      this is clearly some glorified BS. The 70s are long gone. Just be honest with yourself. It’s not going to tarnish your family name or your ancestry. Grow up and take a bite of reality.

      • Laura5757

        There’s nothing wrong with having some nostalgia- honestly people who don’t have any at all are pretty heartless, soul-less creeps.

        • Danielzinho

          Right. If you’re going to respond directly to me, make it a little more relevant to my post. Nothing wrong with nostalgia. There is something wrong with militantly confronting other people’s nostalgia with lies and anger just to try and protect your own and make sure your neighborhood looks good.(????) I’m not sure her anger at other people expressing their memories really changes anything. It’s kind of scumbag-ish.

    • Liz Spikol

      Hi Kathleen, like all neighborhoods, yours was a complex place. I won’t get into it here because there are too many stories, many of them very disturbing, and the primary angst of my childhood was caused, in fact, by the Taney Gang. It is not all made up. The things I mentioned — the rape, the fire — those happened. That doesn’t vitiate your experience, which I’m certain was the majority experience, in the same way that the numerous coke addicts and dealers I knew growing up doesn’t negate the wonderful people and families I knew and loved. There are bad people in every neighborhood, and we were all just kids. But when you’re young, you don’t know that the kids that are beating you up are just kids too. And make no mistake: They were very bad to us. Very bad.

      As for homelessness, I am glad to hear the people you knew were kind to those without shelter. Not everyone in the entire neighborhood was kind to every single person who was in that situation, especially those homeless who grappled with behavioral health issues as well. We’re talking about kids here. Kids are mean when they don’t understand difference.

      • Pat B

        Ok Liz when and where did these rapes happened ? Also when and where did the homeless person get set on fire? If you are going to write about these so called crimes have proof to back it up. If you can not back up your article then these comments should be retracted.

        • Laura5757

          Seems like a bit of bullying going on…about bullying. Ironic.

        • Danielzinho

          You’re an idiot. She can write about any memories that she wants. What are you gonna do??? Sue her on behalf of your neighborhood from 40 years ago? gtfo.

  • Sean

    I’ve never read a better article describing my own childhood, I’m going to save this forever but I think the reason people feel it is a real neighborhood is that although it seems I’m 5-7 years younger than you I didn’t know any of the people you mentioned. I lived at 19th & Lombard and Taney St & South (two blocks away from sweet Tom) and in the burbs if I lived that close I bet I would have known everyone but the way the city is, even people on your block are anonymous unless they are in your exact class or doing some other event with them. Still, I miss it all.

    • Glen trs

      I have a group called fairmount originals, its exclusively for old time fairmount people, you want to hear about the old city and childhood?

    • Glen trs

      there are many neighborhood groups on facebook, all talk about the old days, rekindle the days reading them.

  • David Moore

    I too miss the Center City of my youth, and early adulthood. I lived just about everywhere in Center City over the years, and barely recognize it now. Seems like a suburban shopping mall now.

  • Gwyneth MacArthur

    I got myself expelled from there on purpose. Lol! And, yeah, Taney. We were West Philly. The Taney kids would show up at our parties with razors hidden in their hands. And, omg, the Duck Lady! She was always in the McDonald’s on Penn Campus. Thanks so much! I couldn’t love this article more!

  • Gwyneth MacArthur

    Anyone remember 6 Cent Sam from South St.!?

  • Matt Gberg – FSS ’87

    Love it Liz!! Great piece!

  • kathy

    This article about the Taney kids is untrue and disgraceful. My childhood friends are the Taney kids. A community that knows each other and if one of the kids were to harass anybody you were reprimanded by your neighbors and your parents knew about it before you arrived home. Never in my life did I hear or see a person being raped or homeless person harmed or insulted in this community. With that being said if you came into the neighborhood to cause trouble, well trouble you received. We protect our own. Love the Taney kids. Sincerely – Kathy Barrett

    • gradesoversports

      Let’s face it and call a spade a spade. As long as you were Irish, there was no problem with the Taney kids. Anything other than being Irish basically got your head beat on. Not much love for the Taney kids here…

      • paddy

        Both of my parents came off boats from Ireland, but that didnt help me when I walked through their area. They didnt like outsiders period.

      • Richard Green Hartwell

        I grew up at 24th and Waverly ,my best friends were the Mcginleys from 22nd and Delancey and many other friends of Irish ancestry to numerous to mention and we hated the Taney’s they were bullies who we were in constant battle with! They were just plain ignorant.Oh by the way my
        grandmothers were from Ireland.

    • Danielzinho

      Grow up Kathy. I can see that you’re still protecting your own. But you don’t need to lie about things from 40 years ago? Haven’t you done absolutely anything in life in the last 40 years?

    • Liz Spikol

      “We protect our own.” That says it all.

  • Glen trs

    you guys should have crossed the parkway and entered Fairmount, we would of showed you a lot more then the secluded, small stomping grounds you guys had. we were all over the place, maybe even partied with some of you. whereas CC wasn’t our ‘turf” we knew it, owned it like the good little philly kids we were. I was born in 56, saw a lot happen, a lot change, and yeah, we used to walk into those rich parties in Cosby kid clothes (eg art museum, hotel service doors etc snuck in thru the tunnel elevator) and we were not kicked out right away, but actually invited and marveled at as if we were some anomaly of the city underworld, some newly discovered rare species the privileged avoided until and unless they wanted something we could supply. rich kids were so easy to fool too. lol

  • Julie Odell

    This is just gorgeous writing in every way. Thank you, Liz Spikol.

  • FillyFanatik

    Liz..I feel ya! All the things you mentioned….with the exception that I was reared in South Philly…(now called Southwest Center City!?) …..the movie theaters,the freedom to wander through Penn’s Archaeological Museum..with out some snotty guide person boring me,and the funkiness that WAS South Street….these are the things I miss most of all. Sure,Philly is cleaning up its image…but I’m reminded of that old bible verse which i will paraphrase…”What does a man gain if he owns the world..but loses his soul?” I fear that in its attempt to become a “world class city”…Philadelphia is losing its soul in the process..

  • mamaphoto1213

    Did you know Rachel Goodman? She was a Philadelphia School kid too. I
    had tons of friends that went to FSS in Center City, while I went to
    CAPA. But I spend eons of time at the goat with all my from FSS and my
    fellow WAVES company members, before making the long walk home to 18th
    and Callowhill. This article is magic for me! It’s everything my life
    was about. I now live in Boston and even though I live here,
    Philadelphia will ALWAYS BE MY HOME. You will never get the Philly out
    of me, ever. I showed this article to my teenage nieces and they were
    blown away because now I had proof that other kids grew up like I did
    and lived to tell about it. Thank you for making my day. Now I need to
    get home for a visit pronto.

    • Rokstedi

      I remember Rachel Goodman and Paul. John Glazer we use to call glaze face. Hahaha. 9 year olk kids man I tell ya. My cousin Mark Dennis went there for a.minute. myself, mark, and robert kersey were the only black kids there during my time there. It was a great time back then. Don’t get me wrong with my previous posts but I am not gonna ignore Taney kids and their parents. That would be foolish

  • Rokstedi

    No it wasn’t just about the Jewish kids. Maybe I should explain a little better. When we would play football at the football field next to the playground (it was much more a football field back then) the Taney kids could call us all kinds of names that were derogatory to black and Jewish people. Most of my friends of went there at the time were Jewish and lived mostly north and east of TPS. I however lived off of South bridge where those trinities were painted black and white. The walk from TPS to South Street bridge involved fights, rocks, and being chased home. Luckily for me, there were many older kids coming from the JFK vocational school to catch the 40 so if I could make it to South street I was cool. But getting there? No Taney Street gang was real. Mostly kids, but real. Maybe we should say the Taney street gang and their parents. They would do the yelling and screaming, there kids would do the rocks and fighting, when the numbers were in their favor.

  • laurenalice

    This is awesome. I’m not even half done and am completely smitten. 2000 block of Sansom: the Crimson Moon!

  • Rachel Hildebrandt

    Liz, this piece is so well done! I’m a native Philadelphian, too. I’m a bit younger, but your message resonates.

    Clearly, you’ve hit a nerve…

  • Andrea

    Does anyone else remember Ulanas (sp?) at 3rd and Bainbridge? They had a multi-level dance floor with sofas all around….I remember ’79– smoking, snorting…it was a crazy fun place and I was only 17– dancing dancing

    • Kat

      Ulana’s is still alive and well … it’s more of a punk rock alternative dance house now

  • Joseph Duff

    Great article, and thank you for sharing. I dont think its a bad thing that Philadelphia is turning around, not matter what the reason. I grew up in Philly and thought my neighborhood was everything, but thats ridiculous. Philadelphia has opportunity now, and the people who live grow up here need to support it, in order to reap the benefits.

  • elissa

    This is a great article!!! Love it! I grew up off South Street in the 70’s and 80’s with my Jewish extended family. They lived at 5th and pine since 1930 and, watched as the area transformed into “society hill” they watched as their world left and the new families moved in creating my childhood friends. People put down growing up in the city and choose to move to Collingswood or Mt. Airy for their kids these days….i often like to remind them that city kids can turn out just fine and that children from the suburbs can develop depression too! I love this city and i love that i grew up here. I wouldn’t change it for the world! I agree with everything you said! I miss the theaters and diners. And, holy cow city hall courtyard was full of crazy and piss! And, I love that i can bike down the street and still holler out to the same kids I’ve known since I was 10 :) great article! Thanks for keeping it real!

    • Laura5757

      I think it is more the school district that worries people- not necessarily Philadelphia itself.

  • germanbakerygirl

    I worked at Rindenlaub’s bakery at 18th and Walnut in the late 80s. One Mother’s Day morning that guy who used to yell “WOW” swung open the door to the crowded bakery/diner and yelled, “HAPPY MOTHER’S DAY ALL YOU M****** F*****S! The place went silent and then burst into laughter.

  • Sarah Clark Stuart

    I grew up in the Cleveland Park neighborhood of Washington DC in the 1970s and spent three wonderful years running around my neighborhood and Georgtown and Tenley Circle and Adams Morgan like you did here. Your article not only captures what it was like to grown up in Center City during that time, but also what it was like to be a young teenager living in an urban environment going through a very difficult financial transition. It was also a time when kids were given considerable freedom and could live their lives beyond their parents’ reach. You captured a moment of my childhood. Thank you for writing this wonderful piece. BTW, nothing wrong with bike lanes. Just sayin.

  • phillypaul

    I live on the 1200 block today and can tell you it is still a special place. The neighbors are friendly, the kids play in the street, and we all look out for each other. We have talked about it and decided that the fact that there is no parking (the street is just a bit too narrow) facilitates the gathering outside to talk most mornings and after work or evenings. The best times are when an informal chat turns in to an impromtu block party!

  • Jland

    Great piece; thanks for sharing the memories. I loved those theaters, and the playground that was Philly’s downtown…

  • Atombird

    The Polo Bay in the Warwick. What a place. Some Hall of Fame (shame?) moments there!

  • Laura5757

    Absolutely one of the best articles I have read in a very long time. Very well-written and incredibly interesting.

  • Meeg

    This article brings back a flood of memories..I lived in Schuylkill,My Irish immigrant family lived/lives on Pine Street between Taney and 26th. I lived on Bambrey St and went to St. Mary’s at 5th and Locust, I also lived near Rittenhouse Square and hung at a little arcade called Solar Systems on Samson Street.

  • Sue B

    “We protect our own”. Isn’t that what a neighborhood is all about? I grew up in Schuylkill. I was one of the “taney gang”. I honestly did not know there was a gang until I read your article. My parents were the “gangsters”. The church going, God fearing kind. Did you ever sit at your dinner table with a homeless guy? I did, on the occasional Sunday when my father would bring them home to feed them. Never did I see one set on fire.

    When I talk to my adult children about my childhood, it goes something like this. I grew up in a neighborhood where everyone knew each other, if not related. “It takes a village to raise a child”. Our parents took that literally. We had block parties, benefits to raise money for those in need, etc. If one family had suffered a loss, or fell on hard times, the entire neighborhood was there to help. We had a University House, which was located at 26th & Lombard. We would go there to play basketball, volleyball, etc. When the building caught fire, our parents came together and rebuilt it for us kids. Our mothers were at home caring for their children, while our fathers went to work. Babies were left out in play pens, while Mom was in cooking dinner. Never had to worry about someone harming or stealing a child. Our door was never locked, it didn’t have a lock on it.

    I had friends that grew up in Center City. One at 22nd & Spruce, and the other lived on Delancey Street. Their houses were the weekend party houses. Their parents were never home. I remember asking “won’t your neighbors tell your parents, you had a party”? Her response “we don’t talk to our neighbors, we don’t know them.” WHAT? They had huge houses, and all the money they could ever want. The only thing they did not have were parents. They were cared for by nannies as babies, then became latch key kids. I remember, as a teenager being so jealous of these girls. Now, I realize, I was the one to be envied.

    I guess you can understand why I would find your article to be a bit offensive. You labeled our neighborhood, Schuylkill, as this horrible place. Where in fact, it was a wonderful place to grow up. I can, partially understand. I believe, growing up in Center City, you didn’t get the wonderful opportunity, to be a part of a real neighborhood. I no longer live there, but my mother does. She no longer knows all her neighbors. I now have to worry about her walking to the store alone, putting out her trash, or shoveling snow. You see, when I was young, the elderly never had to do these things. It was our job, as the neighborhood children, to take care of them. My old neighborhood has turned into Center City. Very sad.