Philly’s Next Real Estate Boom


There’s been a lot of talk about the fitful post-bubble recovery of the Philadelphia real estate market. It seems that for every two steps we move forward (home values are up! Days-on-market is down!), we take one backward. (Where’s all the inventory?)

But now — finally — industry experts are optimistic, as Philly’s rising real estate market is showing signs of genuine, sustained momentum. We didn’t have to search long before we saw it for ourselves: About halfway through writing the story you’re about to read, one of our editors put his Pennsport home on the market — in the dead of winter, mind you — and sold it. In two days. His story is far from the exception. There’s a mountain of evidence that points unambiguously to one thing: Real estate in Philly is heating up, and it’s projected to get even hotter this year. If there ever was a moment to get in, it’s now. So whether you’re buying your first home, moving to your second or scoping out a luxury condo, consider this your playbook for coming out on top.

For the First-Time Buyer

Ready to take the plunge? You’ll need your cash firmed up and your wish list flexible.

The budget: $150K to $300K

Buyers lured from the clutches of Philly’s rental scene (where the average one-bedroom apartment is currently going for about $1,200 — and even higher in Center City) are finding that now is a really good time to shift to ownership. Not only are interest rates low — we’re talking mid-three to mid-four percent — but lots of starter-home-friendly neighborhoods are experiencing a housing boom, with home values steadily rising (in the third quarter of last year, they were up a whopping 5.2 percent in South Philly and 4.4 percent in Kensington, Port Richmond and Fishtown) and projected to continue to rise this year. So, are you ready to dive in?

Rule 1 • In this market, your money must be locked and loaded.Yes, it’s the least sexy part of the home-buying process, but unless you get your finances in order up front, you’ll never know what you can afford. Plus, Philly’s current market is Hunger Games-level competitive — as demand and sales activity increase, supply is dropping. You need all your up-to-date information at your fingertips so you can move fast when you see something you like. While you can get a mortgage pre-qualification online, you’ll get a more thorough — and tailored-to-you — assessment by chatting with a mortgage adviser over the phone. She’ll evaluate your credit, tax returns, pay stubs and bank statements to come up with a target price that actually makes sense for your financial situation. “Plus, we can see if there’s anything you can do to improve your credit score or debt-to-income ratio,” says Angela Tobin, senior mortgage adviser with Plymouth Meeting-based Philadelphia Mortgage Advisors. “An unpaid traffic ticket from 10 years ago can really come back to haunt you.”

Rule 2 • Don’t overanalyze. House-hunters of the Internet generation tend to spend as much time on Trulia and Redfin as they do scrolling through Instagram. That’s a good thing, realtors say, because it helps them narrow down the neighborhoods they might want to live in and build a wish list. But you can overdo it: “I often have to help first-timers unlearn things they think they learned from all of their hours on Zillow,” says realtor Elizabeth Clark, of Philly’s Space and Company. It’s the catch-22 of having information at your fingertips: Not all that information is accurate. So it’s important to choose an agent you trust (crowdsourcing recommendations isn’t the worst way to find one) who can draw on real experience to understand where Philly’s market has been and where it’s headed.

Rule 3 • Don’t get too attached to the idea of parking. Of all the popular wish-list items for Philly buyers — central air, hardwood floors, stainless appliances, parking — that last item is almost always the first to go in this price bracket. “The majority of housing stock in Philadelphia, particularly in Center City, doesn’t have parking. Period,” says Clark. If you’re really, really set on it, you need to look farther out, in neighborhoods like East Falls, Germantown and Mount Airy, where some houses have driveways and garages, or Kensington or Brewerytown, where street parking tends to be more ample.

If not parking, what amenities are within reach for most first-time Philly buyers? According to Clark: outdoor space, including roof decks, as well as updated kitchens and multiple bathrooms.

Rule 4 • Be wary of the “TLC” project. You have the Property Brothers to thank for your dream of meticulously rehabbing a fixer-upper. But experts across the board say massive renovation projects are usually a bad idea for first-time buyers, especially here in Philly. Why? For one, developers with deep pockets are flourishing in our city, thanks to the affordability of real estate in up-and-coming neighborhoods and the influx of first-time buyers who want move-in-ready homes. They’re who you’ll be competing with for fixers in desirable neighborhoods, like Point Breeze, and they’ll be offering cash and opting out of inspections — two things most first-time buyers can ill afford.

Plus, in Philly, where century-old (or more) houses are common, you may find lots of unpleasant and costly surprises when you begin to open up the walls. Of particular worry is old knob-and-tube wiring, which can pose a fire hazard. Some insurers won’t cover a property that contains knob-and-tube, or will make you update your wiring within a set time frame after closing. According to Debbie Lutz, co-owner of Grays Ferry-based Generation 3 Electric, rewiring a house can cost between five and 15 percent of the home’s value.

“I personally think the best bang for your buck is to find a home with good bones, like a little grandma’s house that needs cosmetic updates that you can get for a good price in a good neighborhood,” says Kristin McFeely, realtor and co-owner of Philly Home Girls, a real estate agency in Old City. These houses offer realistic projects you can tackle — ripping out carpet, painting walls, swapping light fixtures, maybe even retiling the bathroom — that will improve the home’s value without requiring a top-to-bottom, ulcer-inducing gut-job.

Rule 5 • When you find your dream home, you’ll need to pull the trigger fast. “Gone are the days of working with someone for a year before they find something,” says Jeanne Whipple, the other half of the Philly Home Girls leadership team. You may look at only four or five houses total, and agents say some first-timers buy the first house they see. In fact, in a survey of Philadelphia-area realtors conducted last November, 11 percent said they’d worked with at least one buyer in the past year who made an offer on a house without actually seeing it in person.

When you do fall in love with the perfect house, you’ll need to put an offer in fast — another reason, says Tobin, to get your financial ducks in a row before you start looking: “The swiftness with which properties change hands in Philly is astounding. In hot areas, there are usually multiple bids,” she says. In fact, Philly’s average days-on-market — the typical number of days it takes to sell a home — dipped to 61 in the third quarter of last year. That’s the lowest it’s been since 2007, according to Drexel’s Lindy Institute for Urban Innovation. So if you opt to sleep on it, your dream home may be gone — poof! — by morning.

Rule 6 • Make yourself more attractive to the seller. Because you might be jockeying with one or two (or three) other prospective buyers when you submit an offer, it’s important to use all the tools at your disposal. You’ll obviously want to offer a fair and competitive bid with guidance from your agent, but as Clark says, “There are other currencies in the world besides the purchase price.”

Your objective should be to build a good rapport with the seller on the front end, so he or she feels comfortable working with you through the months-long transaction. Ideas: Humanize the deal with a letter detailing why you love the house or neighborhood. (Note: This tactic worked for one Philly Mag staffer, who identified three streets in Fairmount where she wanted to buy, wrote letters to every homeowner on those streets, and found one who eventually sold her his house before it went on the market.) You can ask your agent to sleuth out the seller’s ideal settlement date and write it into the offer. Or you can ask your mortgage broker to reach out to the seller’s agent to make it clear you’re in great financial shape. Says Clark, “It creates another sense of security that you’re on top of your game.”

Rule 7 • Know this: The purchase price isn’t all you’ll be paying. In addition to the closing fees (roughly five to seven percent of the home’s total price), property taxes and mortgage insurance, there’s a realty transfer tax: All buyers in Pennsylvania pay one percent, which goes to the state, and Philadelphia buyers pay an extra one percent, which goes to the city. (Crazy fact: Sellers in Philadelphia also pay a two percent realty transfer tax, which is split between the state and city in the same manner.) Your mortgage adviser should be able to offer you a breakdown of exactly what you’ll be paying and when, so there are no surprises.

Rule 8 • Don’t buy a boat. Or apply for a credit card. Or quit your job. Basically, anything that could hurt your ability to qualify for a loan or alter your income is a big no-no during the home-buying process. Best-case scenario, you’ll have to provide your mortgage adviser with documentation for any new activity or transactions. Worst-case scenario, you’ll be denied your loan.

True story: One broker we know had a client who went out and leased a motorcycle a week before closing to celebrate his new house. But because of the new debt, he no longer qualified for his mortgage, so he lost the loan — and the house.

Rule 9 • Remember: Your home is more than an investment. While it’s smart to approach your first house as an investment, you need to remember that you actually have to live there, too. Striking a balance between buying a home in a neighborhood that makes sense for you now and investing in one that will put you ahead financially when it comes time to sell is easier to do if you know a couple of facts.

First: Agents say most Philly first-timers end up staying in their starter homes for three to seven years, so you might want to consider your needs now (space to work from home, a back patio to entertain) and what you’ll need out of your home a few years down the road (whether you’re planning on getting married, having kids or adopting six dogs).

Second: From a dollars-and-cents perspective, in Philly you get the best resale value out of homes with two to three bedrooms and at least a bathroom and a half. Anything smaller will shrink your buyer pool significantly.

On the market: $295,000. 1232 South 20th Street, Point Breeze. What you get: Two bedrooms, three bathrooms, finished basement, Juliet balcony, patio. Photography by Courtney Apple; styling by Beka Rendell.

On the market: $295,000. 1232 South 20th Street, Point Breeze. What you get: Two bedrooms,
three bathrooms, finished basement, Juliet balcony, patio. Photography by Courtney Apple; styling by Beka Rendell.

On the market: $295,000. 1232 South 20th Street, Point Breeze. What you get: Two bedrooms, three bathrooms, finished basement, Juliet balcony, patio. Photography by Courtney Apple; styling by Beka Rendell.

On the market: $295,000. 1232 South 20th Street, Point Breeze. What you get: Two bedrooms,
three bathrooms, finished basement, Juliet balcony, patio. Photography by Courtney Apple; styling by Beka Rendell.

Brewerytown • The vibe: This neighborhood just north of Fairmount is in the midst of a renaissance, with a slew of rehabbed properties and new building projects drawing interested buyers. Commercial growth along West Girard Avenue is blossoming, too. What’s nearby: Fairmount Park’s Lemon Hill and, across the Girard Avenue Bridge, the Philadelphia Zoo; there’s also Crime and Punishment Brewing Co., Rybrew cafe, Brewerytown Bicycles and SpOt Burgers, the former food truck that just opened a storefront at 2821 West Girard. Word on the street: This year the city will invest $1.5 million in streetscape improvements—more landscaping, bike racks, trash cans and lighting—along West Girard from 33rd to College Avenue.

Point Breeze • The vibe: A mix of residents ranging from millennial newbies to older families with decades-old roots calls this conveniently located South Philly neighborhood home. New construction has in some cases been met with resistance, but the community continues to grow. What’s nearby: Watering holes like South Philadelphia Taproom, American Sardine Bar and newcomer Buckminster’s, plus the freshly refurbished Ralph Brooks Park, a project of Philadelphia Eagle Connor Barwin, with a new playground and basketball courts. Word on the street: Rumor has it the crew behind Rittenhouse’s shuttered Nodding Head brewpub might be opening a new brewery in Point Breeze, which would add to the neighborhood’s growing appeal.

Port Richmond • The vibe: This tight-knit community includes a sizeable Polish-American population that has a long history and deep neighborhood pride. The Fishtown and Kensington boom is beginning to seep into Port Richmond, bringing a new wave of buyers looking for quality homes in a stable, safe neighborhood. What’s nearby: Krakus Market and Czerw’s Kielbasy for traditional Polish eats; Green Rock Tavern (everybody raves about the pierogies); the beloved Tacconelli’s Pizzeria; and the newly minted Monk’s Dog Run, the result of a community effort to repurpose an abandoned lot at Monkiewicz Rec Center. Word on the street: Although the Port Richmond Trail just opened a new half-mile-plus extension along the Delaware Riverfront, work on the multi-use path isn’t complete yet. This year the city will break ground to extend it—and Delaware Avenue—even further, to connect more easily to Bridesburg and other points north. The result: a more bikeable Port Richmond.

From left: Route 15 trolley rolling down Girard Avenue in Brewerytown; American Sardine Bar in Point Breeze. From left, photo by: Jeff Fusco; Neal Santos.

From left: Route 15 trolley rolling down Girard Avenue in Brewerytown;
American Sardine Bar in Point Breeze. From left, photo by: Jeff Fusco; Neal Santos.

For the Move-Up Buyer

Got your eye on that spacious home with a glorious third bathroom? You’re not the only one.

The budget: $350K to $800K

It’s a seller’s market — news that might elicit both heavenly chimes and minor fits of panic for those looking to unload their first homes and begin the quest for a bigger pad in the Philly marketplace. The economy has wholeheartedly bounced back since the Great Recession of 2008. So, too, has the housing market, and owners are taking advantage by selling their homes for handsome prices. Compared to 2012, the average days-on-market is way down in nearly every zip code, while median prices of properties sold in parts of Fishtown and Kensington, for example, are up by 45 percent. Numbers like these give a tremendous edge to sellers but could be hell for buyers, who face stiff competition in just about every neighborhood. You can navigate the booming move-up market and come out in one piece, if you know the full story.

Rule 1 • Take a lesson from the past. “Once you’re ready to move up from your first house, you’ve learned the foibles of homeownership,” says Jennifer Seal, listing agent with Redfin’s Philly outpost. “You’ve figured out what you can and cannot live with.” Think about it: Do you need a space to entertain, or a bigger kitchen? Do you want to drag your trash through the house, or do you want an alley? How important is gardening space?

You might find what you need in an unexpected place. A house in a slightly left- (or right-) of-Center City neighborhood might check all your boxes — for a great-looking home with a yard and parking, check out East Falls or Mount Airy; for a grand Victorian, you might want to look in Cedar Park or Spruce Hill in West Philly — while still delivering the benefits of city living: proximity to work, ease of commute, and a walkable (or bikeable) lifestyle.

Kevin Gillen, chief economist with Meyers Research and senior research fellow at Drexel University, says the positive push in Philly’s housing market stems from growth outward from Center City to the periphery, specifically around key transportation infrastructure like SEPTA’s Broad Street and Market-Frankford lines. “I never thought I’d say ‘$400,000’ and ‘Kensington’ in the same sentence, but it’s really all about the trains, buses and bike lanes,” he says.

Rule 2 • The hassle of a project might not pay off. Here’s an argument in favor of turnkey: All new-construction homes come with a one-year warranty from the builder, which offers some peace of mind and could help eliminate buyer’s remorse. You’ll also probably get a 10-year tax abatement — meaning that for a decade, you’ll pay taxes on the pre-build value of your land rather than the post-construction value. Space & Company realtor Michael Garden points to this as a major factor in luring the move-up buyer back into the real estate game.

“The cost to live in a $500,000 restored home is about the same, month to month, as in a $600,000 new-construction home with a 10-year tax abatement,” says Garden, who now estimates that a quarter of his business in the move-up market is in Northern Liberties and, increasingly, Fishtown.

On the flip side, existing homes that are renovated up to 85 percent (basically, a gut job) are also eligible for a tax abatement. So if you love a classic Philly rowhome but want a sleek kitchen, a spa-like bath or even a dreamy outdoor space, you still can snag a deal that makes financial sense in the long run.

Rule 3 • Sell first, then buy. When you bought your first home, the trickiest part was probably coordinating your lease with your closing date. Now, you’re house-hunting and keeping your current home open-house-ready, all while navigating the financial rigmarole that comes with buying a new home and terrified that you’re going to somehow end up with two mortgages and no escape. The good news: There are ways to minimize the angst.

Guillermo Salas, broker and owner of Re/Max Platinum, advises unloading your first house before you take on a second. Let’s say you do sell the place but can’t necessarily move out right away: You could rent it back from your buyers for the short term in what’s called a post-settlement possession addendum. It’s a pre-arranged agreement between both parties in which the seller is allowed a short-term stay in the old house (typically from a few days to three weeks) while figuring out a new living situation. “It’s not going to work in every instance, but we’ve been able to do it quite a bit,” says Salas. “It really relieves some of the stress.”

On the buying side of things, experts advise making yourself as attractive to the seller as possible (see Rule 6 in the First-Time section) and being as flexible as possible on the closing date. Average days-on-market in Philadelphia has been hovering around 65, and sales typically take between 30 and 60 days to close.

Rule 4 • Be prepared to escalate. Competition among move-up buyers is at least as fierce as in lower price brackets. Many agents say the city’s limited inventory is the biggest hurdle homebuyers are facing in the current market. So if a quality home is priced properly — especially in a highly desirable neighborhood like Fairmount, where the average days-on-market last year was 62 but dipped to a swift 38 in November — it’s a given that lots of buyers will jump right in and make an offer.

So, what does being prepared look like? You might consider including an escalation clause in your offer, to get a leg up on the competition. It promises the seller that you’ll beat any competing offer up to a certain dollar amount by $1,000, or whatever figure you determine feels comfortable. “If you really want to win, that’s a great way to do it,” says Jimmy Caraway, a buyer’s agent for Redfin in Philadelphia. “It shows you want the house and that you’re going to put in the work to ensure it closes.”

Rule 5 • Not all new construction is created equal. It’s easy to think that just because a place is part of the hottest new development in Queen Village or Grad Hospital, you’re getting a top-of-the-line home. But as with true love, it’s good to remember: It’s what’s on the inside that really counts. So don’t be afraid to ask deeper questions, and be wary about taking everything at shiny face value.

Chad Ludeman, president of Postgreen Homes in Kensington, suggests that simply knowing the name of the architect who designed the home — something most home buyers never think to ask about — can go a long way, because it lets you further research his or her projects using resources like the American Institute of Architects website. Reputable architects, he adds, can add financial value to the home.

It’s obviously a major plus if a home is designed with energy efficiency in mind, and even better if it’s LEED-certified or built with super-insulated materials. At the very least, Ludeman suggests looking for a home that’s Energy Star-certified: “It ensures you’re going to get an above-code house that’s energy-efficient.”

Whether you’re following the construction of the home or not, be sure to know what type of lumber was used for its bones. Professionals say to look for two key words: “engineered lumber” — that is, wood specifically manufactured to be dead plumb and strong. “It’s the top thing, material-wise,” says Ludeman. “There are guys out there that don’t care about energy efficiency, and that’s okay, but they’re using the right lumber to build a home that lasts.”

Other key items for your checklist: a commercial-grade roof (you want TPO, rubber or fiberglass, not lower-quality asphalt); Energy Star-rated windows (double-pane, airtight, and not made of cheaper vinyl); and a moisture-resistant subfloor, because it’s almost guaranteed to get wet during construction.

Rule 6 • If the suburbs are calling, you have to answer ASAP. There are lots of buyers in the move-up segment looking for suburban homes, but supply is pretty limited. Meaning: The good houses go quickly, so as in the city market, you have to be ready to pounce.

“For people who don’t want to move into the city, we’re seeing a trend in walkability,” says Debbie McCabe, vice president of Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices Fox & Roach in Devon. “Buyers, including downsizing baby boomers and younger established professionals, are looking at Bryn Mawr, Paoli, Wayne, Ardmore and Narberth.” The draw of jobs and cheaper land for new construction has also pushed buyers westward toward downtown Malvern, which was formerly the end of the line for Main Line buyers.

508 Gorgas Lane, East Mount Airy. Photograph by Courtney Apple; styling by Beka Rendell.

508 Gorgas Lane, East Mount Airy. Photograph by Courtney Apple; styling by Beka Rendell.


Spruce Hill and Cedar Park • The vibe: University City’s employment boom has created a real-estate ripple effect in surrounding West Philly, specifically the neighborhoods along Baltimore Avenue. The pretty streets lined with gorgeous Victorian homes have become very attractive to the move-up set, especially those with young kids: Spruce Hill is in the catchment for the Penn Alexander School, one of the top public elementary schools in the city. What’s nearby: Woodlands Cemetery for serene walks; Clark Park, which has farmers’ and flea markets, outdoor theater shows, playgrounds and sledding; Dock Street Brewery and Clarkville for pizza and beer; Baltimore Avenue Dollar Stroll, a popular summer street festival; outdoor jazz concerts at Malcolm X Park. Word on the street: University City District and SEPTA are working to remake the 40th Street Trolley Portal into a lively — and safe — public amenity with seating, programmable space, bike parking and meadow-like landscaping.

Fishtown and South Kensington • The vibe: With its collection of restaurants, bars and shops and street art galore, Frankford Avenue is becoming the most sought-after corridor in the city. It’s also the main hub between Fishtown and South Kensington, two old-school Philly neighborhoods that are seeing growth as residential development pushes north along the El. What’s nearby: Anything revelers could want, including live music spots (Johnny Brenda’s, Kung Fu Necktie, the Fillmore), eats (Pizzeria Beddia, Fette Sau, La Colombe’s mother ship) and plenty of places to drink. Word on the street: A boutique hotel is in the works near Frankford Hall, and a massive riverfront event space with lodging and restaurants is planned at the former Delaware Power Station, adjacent to Penn Treaty Park.

The Mount Airys • The vibe: Looking for some fresh air and a little green space to call your own? Head to East or West Mount Airy. Both hamlets are just a quick train ride away from Center City (and a short trip to Conshohocken and the northern suburbs) and offer timeless homes with beautiful style. What’s nearby: The Wissahickon for hiking, biking and outdoor activities; Weaver’s Way food co-op; two SEPTA regional rail lines; top bars and eateries (Earth Bread + Brewery, Goat Hollow, Trolley Car Diner, McMenamin’s); an established arts scene. Word on the street: The Free Library’s Lovett branch on Germantown Avenue is undergoing a major redesign to incorporate a new public park with a reading garden, an amphitheater and an area for creative play.

From left: Nachos at Loco Pez in Fishtown; Clark Park in Spruce Hill. From left, photo by M. Kennedy for Visit Philadelphia; Jeff Fusco for Visit Philadelphia.

From left: Nachos at Loco Pez in Fishtown; Clark Park in Spruce Hill. From left, photo by M. Kennedy for Visit Philadelphia; Jeff Fusco for Visit Philadelphia.

For the Condo Buyer

Homework is essential. Is your dog permitted? And how thin are the walls?

The budget: Under $800K

Right now, young professionals and empty nesters are riding high on the low-maintenance-living wave. And with the Philly condo market booming — the wide range of options includes everything from airy lofts in Callowhill to retrofitted units on cobblestone streets in Old City — the forecast looks especially sunny: Industry experts say the market value for condos is only going to keep increasing as the city prospers. Just be sure to have a clear picture of what you want most going in: Like everything else in the housing market right now, the best places are selling fast.

Rule 1 • Know your boundaries. The glorious thing about condo life is that you own and are responsible for the inside of your unit; building management is responsible for everything else. Make sure you nail down the details on gray areas to find out whether a broken window or burst water pipe will fall on your dollar or the building’s.

Rule 2 • Buy the parking space, even if you don’t own a car. Sometimes, you can rent it out. According to agent Melanie Stecura, realtor at Kurfiss Sotheby’s, “If you’re on the fence, pony up and buy the parking space. If it comes down to your unit or another without a space, a buyer will go for yours with parking, even if it’s smaller.” Your spot will become even more attractive to future buyers as city-planning mores move toward fewer and fewer parking spots. If your building doesn’t offer parking, try renting a space in a nearby garage. Otherwise, good luck with street parking!

Rule 3 • Prepare for extra tacked-on fees. First, there’s the monthly condo fee (which ranges from 25 cents to 70 cents per square foot of your unit). Then there’s the capital contribution — three months of condo fees that are due when you sign. It’s put into the building’s reserve in case a major building-wide renovation is required (see Rule 8). And then, in some buildings, you’ve got the move-in fee, because you need to reserve the freight elevator for the day. Oh, and there’s also a fee for renting out the common area for your birthday party, because someone will need to clean up after you. And then … well, you get the picture.

Rule 4 • Know the building’s renter ratio. Sorry to crush your Airbnb moneymaking
dreams: Most complexes cap the percentage of units that can be rented at any given time — some at as low as 25 percent — because transient tenants make a complex less desirable. If living among renters doesn’t bother you, buildings with higher renter-to-owner ratios could save you some cash, as the price point is usually lower.
Ask your agent to find out the renter ratios for your top-choice buildings so you can weigh your options side by side.

Rule 5 • Don’t buy a walk-up if you plan to sell anytime soon. As more and more suburban-dwelling baby boomers start sleuthing out city living (see the High-End Buyers section on page 72), your condo will be in high demand — as long as it has an elevator. Many buyers don’t want a place where they’ll have to worry about a lot of stairs. One flight is okay, according to Iris Felder, a realtor at Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices Fox & Roach in Society Hill, but more than that and your buyer pool for that elevator-less flat will be limited.

Rule 6 • If you’re noise-sensitive, look out. Many units, especially older ones, don’t have great soundproofing, so — surprise! — noise is the top complaint among condo dwellers. When touring, ask your would-be neighbors to turn on their music and TV, to gauge the noise levels you can expect day to day.

Rule 7 • Your pit bull might not pass muster. Many complexes strictly enforce breed and weight restrictions — if pets are even allowed in the first place.

Rule 8 • Watch out for a surprise $15,000 bill on your doorstep. Special assessments aren’t uncommon, and you should know if one is coming. Every month a percentage of your condo fee is saved in a reserve account, but special assessments occur when the building needs more work than there are funds reserved. Residents have to cover the cost out-of-pocket, a detail that will be addressed in your condo documents. Speaking of which …

Rule 9 • Read your documents. ASAP. When your offer is accepted, you have five days to review the condo resale documents, which list any near-future assessments and increases, pending lawsuits, and the financial health of the condo association. If there’s a lawsuit pending, that’s a red flag. Not only does it indicate poor management and a host of headaches down the line; you may have a hard time getting a loan.

If you don’t like what you see, you can walk away without any repercussions. However, when those five days are up, the unit is yours, for better or worse. Feeling overwhelmed? Get a lawyer to look over the documents with you.

On the market: $568,900. 309 North 3rd Street, unit B, Old City. What you get: Three bedrooms, two bathrooms (including a master suite with a bathroom and two walk-in closets), upgraded kitchen, two patios. Photograph by Courtney Apple.

On the market: $568,900. 309 North 3rd Street, unit B,
Old City. What you get: Three bedrooms, two bathrooms (including a master suite with a bathroom and two walk-in closets), upgraded kitchen, two patios. Photograph by Courtney Apple.


Old City • The vibe: Philly’s historic hub is home to eclectic boutiques and a huge arts community. It’s a magnet for tourists, of course, but you’ll also find locals — young and old — who enjoy the proximity to nightlife. Here, you’ll find smaller boutique condo buildings with only a handful of units and a tight-knit resident community. What’s nearby: Historic Christ Church and Elfreth’s Alley; the Delaware Riverfront (think Spruce Street Harbor Park and Race Street Pier); dozens of art galleries; and more bars and restaurants than you can count. Word on the street: Phase two of the Race Street Connector, a beautification project on the northern side of Race Street between 2nd Street and Columbus Boulevard, will begin later this spring. Improvements include new sidewalks, lighting, plantings and a shared-use side path.

Callowhill • The vibe: Out-of-use industrial buildings have been morphed into new loft condos, appealing to buyers looking for interesting spaces with a gritty feel — exposed brick, structural beams, rustic hardwoods — and a growing neighborhood. What’s nearby: Gallery spaces like Vox Populi and Grizzly Grizzly; restaurants, including all-day brunch spot Café Lift and Bufad pizza; music venue Union Transfer; plus Prohibition Taproom, Brick and Mortar and other popular bars. Word on the street: Plans for an elevated Viaduct Rail Park, which will transform unused rail lines that run through Callowhill into a green space akin to New York City’s High Line, are trucking full steam ahead, with more than half the needed funds raised for the project’s first phase. Advocates hope to break ground later this year.

Queen Village • The vibe: It may not be the first place you think of for condo living, but agents say buyers looking for a quiet, family-friendly neighborhood that’s still close to city life often end up in this southeastern quarter. Just note: Parking is at a premium. What’s nearby: Restaurants and bars, from classics like Dmitri’s and Bistrot La Minette to newbies like the Hungry Pigeon and Imli; Three Queens Yoga, among other wellness choices; Mario Lanza Park, with its enclosed dog run; lots of boutiques along Fabric Row. Word on the street: Residents want to transform the median strip on Bainbridge between 3rd and 5th into what they’ve dubbed “Bainbridge Green,” a more useable 22,000-square-foot public green space, according to the latest plans.

From left: Mario Lanza Park in Queen Village; pizza from Bufad in Callowhill; outdoor dining along Market Street in Old City. From left, photo by: R. Kennedy for Visit Philadelphia; James Narog; J. Fusco for Visit Philadelphia.

From left: Mario Lanza Park in Queen Village; pizza from Bufad in Callowhill; outdoor dining along Market Street in Old City. From left, photo by: R. Kennedy for Visit Philadelphia; James Narog; J. Fusco for Visit Philadelphia.

For the High-End Buyer

Parking. Privacy. Pools. You want it all — and for enough cash, you can get it.

The budget: $900K and up

Our region’s high-end market is on the brink of a dramatic shift. On the one hand, more properties over $1 million — 181, to be exact — have sold in Philadelphia in the past year than in any year prior, thanks largely to the city’s brand-new (and still growing) luxury condo market. In fact, two ultra-luxe buildings under construction right now — One Riverside in Fitler Square and 500 Walnut in Society Hill, both delivering in 2017 — have already sold about half their units. While demand for high-end city properties is ramping up, it’s waning in the suburbs, as boomers and empty nesters are beginning to leave their pads for city living. If the ’burbs are what you want, this is great news: Experts say the exodus to Center City is about to open up major inventory in the suburban market.

Rule 1 • In the city’s high-end market, you’re paying for major amenities … Like the 24-hour concierge at Two Liberty Place, who will stow your delivered groceries in your fridge while you’re at work; residents there can also enjoy catered breakfast from R2L restaurant every single morning. (Oh, and did we mention the private R2L entrance with individual wine cellars for tenants only?) If cars are more your thing, the futuristic automated-valet parking garages at 1706 Rittenhouse and 500 Walnut whisk away your wheels and deliver them back like gigantic vending machines — literally no one touches your car but you. Over at One Riverside, residents can make use of a private entrance to the Schuylkill River Trail, an on-site private bike-share program, an outdoor terrace and kitchen, and a spacious private park. One Riverside also has a fully furnished hospitality suite that you can rent for the duration of your guests’ visits instead of sending them to a hotel. And that’s not to mention the fitness suites, lap pools, gigantic hot tubs, yoga studios, saunas and on-call massage therapists at your fingertips.

Rule 2 • … And location. “Better to buy the right property on the right street than the one that’s the most desirable on the inside,” advises Laurie Phillips, of Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices Fox & Roach Realtors. Why? Because insides can change, but in a crowded city like Philly, prime locations tend to stay prime forever. Worth noting: Units on Rittenhouse Square that Dranoff Properties sold in 2011 appreciated as much as 65 percent in the three years that followed.

Rule 3 • You might have to make your own million-dollar unit. Despite a relative boom in high-end properties, supply is still super-limited, especially in Center City, so if you’re able, it might be best to buy two adjacent units and combine them. Just be sure to consult with your realtor about your reno plans before you start tearing down walls: When it comes time to resell, that custom mini bowling alley in the bedroom might turn off potential buyers.

Rule 4 • Want to own a Philly brownstone? Now’s your chance. A domino effect of Philly’s new wave of luxury condos is that older empty nesters with homes on some of the city’s most desired blocks are downsizing from their big, gorgeous brownstones to move into hassle-free condo living. That means homes that haven’t been on the market for years — sometimes decades — are becoming available.

Buyers have taken notice. “Last year I gave 39 showings in two days for a home at 21st and Delancey,” says Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices Fox & Roach realtor Kristen Foote, who specializes in high-end properties in Center City. According to data from Drexel’s Lindy Institute for Urban Innovation, 34 home sales here topped the $1 million mark in Q3 of last year (eight of the deals were actually over $2 million), which was more than double the number of sales in this price bracket during the preceding quarter. Even crazier? Those high-end home sales set a new quarterly record, shattering the previous record of 25 in the third quarter of 2008.

Foote says demand for these properties is being fueled by suburban baby boomers who have older kids and want to move to the city but need more space than a condo affords. The most desired street remains Delancey, but addresses in Society Hill and Fitler Square are also at the top of buyers’ lists. While many of the homes need renovations — “They’ve been highly customized to the homeowners’ tastes, so buyers will probably want to put their own touches on them,” says Foote — many of them come with beautiful gardens, roof decks (or multiple roof decks) and elevators.

Parking is another story. “You can’t put a figure on the value that parking adds to one of these homes. It’s almost priceless,” says Foote, who notes that as many of Center City’s parking lots are being redeveloped for other purposes, parking is really at a premium. Her advice? If you find a home you like that suits your needs and has parking, pounce on it — fast.

Rule 5 • If you’re escaping the city for wide-open spaces, you’re going to play more of a waiting game. It’s no secret that the suburban market trend is leaning toward owners downsizing, as empty nesters begin to move from larger suburban homes to more compact city dwellings. But the trend hasn’t reached its tipping point just yet. While many suburban owners are seriously considering taking the Philly plunge — one source tells us it’s the topic of conversation at every Main Line cocktail party — they’re sitting on their homes for the time being because they want (and can afford) high-end, high-quality places but haven’t found exactly what they like.

“There hasn’t been enough construction in the [luxury] condo market to make people pull the trigger,” says Steve Darlington, associate broker at Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices Fox & Roach. These buyers want new places with top-notch amenities, open floor plans and updated interiors, and there simply aren’t endless options with those amenities in the city — at least, not yet.

So if you’re looking for the perfect suburban dream home, be patient. As more luxury condo options pop up on the market, mansions in the ’burbs will also appear.

On the market: $2.25 million. The Residences at Two Liberty Place, Rittenhouse. What you get: A 54th-floor penthouse with sweeping city views, three bedrooms, four bathrooms, custom wood flooring, and a top-of-the-line kitchen with marble countertops. Photo courtesy of Don Pearse.

On the market: $2.25 million. The Residences at Two Liberty Place,
What you get: A 54th-floor penthouse with sweeping city views, three bedrooms, four bathrooms, custom wood flooring, and a top-of-the-line kitchen with marble countertops. Photo courtesy of Don Pearse.


Rittenhouse Square • The vibe: Some of the most coveted addresses in the nation abut this historically desirable central park. It’s where Philly A-listers go to be seen, but residents can enjoy total privacy and seclusion. Here, you can find old-money brownstones or brand-new five-star condo units. What’s nearby: Well, everything, really: restaurants like Parc and R2L; bars that include Tria and A.Bar; arts powerhouses, including the Kimmel and the Academy; and green space like the Schuylkill Banks, Rittenhouse Square and Schuylkill River Park Dog Run. Word on the street: Chef Chris Painter, formerly of Starr’s Il Pittore, is returning to Rittenhouse with a new wine bar in ROOST Rittenhouse, an extended-stay hotel at 19th and Chestnut.

Washington Square and Society Hill • The vibe: These eastern neighborhoods offer the luxury of Rittenhouse but with less of a scene — i.e., quieter residential streets that feel set off from some of the bustle. Go here for the gorgeous and meticulously maintained historic rowhomes. What’s nearby: Washington Square (of course) and all the historic sites, but also Talula’s Garden and Talula’s Daily; Walnut Street Theatre; chef Michael Solomonov’s crown jewel, Zahav; and, just a short walk away, Franklin Square and the shops and dining in Old City. Word on the street: The Curtis Center, which flanks Washington Square on the northern side, is getting redeveloped as a luxury apartment building with 55 units and ground-floor retail, including a large restaurant space.

Chestnut Hill • The vibe: This northwest neighborhood is where you go for suburban-esque living — think an ivy-covered mansion on a half acre of land — with a city address. If you’re not lured by Germantown Avenue’s small-town charm, take a look at the area’s amazing private schools and country clubs. What’s nearby: The Wissahickon and pretty Morris Arboretum; dining and drinking options including Mica, Paris Bistro and McNally’s (get the Schmitter sandwich!); a slew of boutiques along Germantown Avenue; the just-opened 21,000-square-foot Fresh Market grocery store. Word on the street: About 41 acres of land, including the nine-hole golf course at the Philadelphia Cricket Club, has been designated preserve space by the Natural Lands Trust, protecting it from future development.

From left: The Dandelion in Rittenhouse; Woodmere Art Museum in Chestnut Hill; dessert from Talula’s Garden on Washington Square. From left, photo by: Nell Hoving; J. Fusco for Visit Philadelphia; Courtney Apple.

From left: The Dandelion in Rittenhouse; Woodmere Art Museum in Chestnut Hill; dessert from Talula’s Garden on Washington Square. From left, photo by: Nell Hoving; J. Fusco for Visit Philadelphia; Courtney Apple.

Published as “The Next Housing Boom Is Here” in the March 2016 issue of Philadelphia magazine.

A Class of Their Own: African-American Homeschoolers in Philadelphia

Ameenah Muhammad-Diggins guides daughter Amaya and son Anwar through a science lesson. | Photograph by Scott Lewis

Ameenah Muhammad-Diggins guides daughter Amaya and son Anwar through a science lesson. | Photograph by Scott Lewis

Ama Mazama, slight in stature and wearing a tightly fastened Ruth Bader Ginsberg ponytail, is revving up an Epson projector on a cold and rainy December morning. The head of graduate African-American studies at Temple University, Mazama — a self-chosen name that translates to “tender and violent love” — is both gentle and commanding at the head of a class. When she’s listening to you, the 48-year-old mother of three squints ever so slightly, as if not quite hearing you or not quite trusting your line of reason. But she politely guides you, in her French-Caribbean accent, to a logical answer nonetheless.

Mazama teaches a lesson on cognitive psychology in a classroom that looks ill-equipped for the task: devoid of whiteboards and desks, outfitted with drums and a piano. There’s commotion from a dog in the nearby kitchen. Only two pupils are present. The four of us are cloistered in the “music room” within Mazama’s three-story stone home in Germantown.

As she introduces today’s discussion topic — spiritual intelligence — I can’t help but think it’s a little heavy for her 10-year-old son, Kiamuya, and 13-year-old daughter, Tamu. Minutes later, the three are not only discussing an array of metaphysical ideas; they’re doing so bilingually, alternating “okay” with “d’accord.” Mazama’s kids scribble in their notebooks and exchange occasional giggles, the way children in the back of a traditional classroom would. But their curriculum is far from traditional, even by homeschooling standards.

Mazama is known nationally as an Afrocentrist scholar and linguist, a translator of Marcus Garvey, and, increasingly, one of the most prominent voices of an emerging segment of alternative education: black homeschooling. According to survey data by the National Center for Education Statistics, the overall homeschooling population has doubled from 850,000 in 1999 to more than 1.7 million in 2012 — including, say Mazama and other researchers, an unheralded group of African-Americans. When Mazama started teaching her oldest boy 13 years ago, she says, there was nothing by way of research on the topic. The assumption was that the motivations of homeschooling black Americans were no different from those of the two archetypal camps that were doing so: religious fundamentalists and crunchy-granola progressives.

“People assumed they were doing it for the same reason as white parents,” Mazama says. But once she started interviewing parents in seven regions across the country, she found otherwise. Black parents were nearly as likely to cite racism (24 percent) as their primary motivation as they were to blame the low quality of education in brick-and-mortar schools (25 percent). When Mazama dug deeper, interviewing parents one-on-one, she reached a more damning conclusion: “Racism was interwoven into every reason why they disengaged.”

By racism, she means not only bigoted name-calling, but the full gamut of marginalization within schools: the dearth of black teachers; the over-representation of blacks in special education and disciplinary actions; their under-representation in honor tracks; the Eurocentricity of curricula; the 15-point gap in high-school graduation rates between blacks and whites. But the data, however important, wasn’t as devastating as what Mazama heard. As much as parents want to believe in American education as the great equalizer, its infrastructure remains skewed for some to succeed and others to fail — or, at best, simply to get by.

“It’s not necessarily that they stopped believing in quote-unquote the American Dream,” says Mazama. “It’s rather that because of the way things are set up now, their children don’t have enough of a chance to participate in that.”

SINCE 1993, WHEN homeschooling was legalized in all 50 states, the most vigorous lobbying force in everything from blocking state mandatory-testing laws to providing federal aid for college-bound homeschoolers has been the Home School Legal Defense Association. The nonprofit is a self-described “Christian organization” whose membership accounts for about 15 percent of homeschooling families. But the national visibility of the HSLDA — and its outsized presence in statehouses and the press — has fed a popular stereotype about which kids are being homeschooled: namely, those rocking Bible-camp t-shirts, or, if you’re a fan of tabloids, scandal-damaged pseudo-celebs like Josh Duggar. That image has endured even though an emphasis on religious and moral instruction has been declining as the primary motivating factor of homeschooling parents in recent years.

It’s estimated that more than three percent of the school-age population, or about two million American kids, are currently homeschooled. (Thanks to myriad challenges, precise demographic data on homeschoolers both here and across the country are hard to come by; the NCES plans to release specific figures early this year.) Today, 10 percent of all homeschoolers are black, according to the National Home Education Research Institute. Mazama’s research suggests many of the families of those children share a unique dissatisfaction with traditional education. What she’s found is playing out in our local courtrooms: Call it “diversity on the suspension roll but not the honor roll.” This past November, a group of parents filed a complaint against the Upper Dublin School District alleging that black students account for 45 percent of district suspensions though they make up just seven percent of the student body, and that blacks are systemically excluded from upper-level courses and gifted programs. A similar charge was leveled at the Lower Merion School District in a 2007 federal lawsuit claiming black students had been placed in special ed despite middle-of-the-pack test scores. Though that suit was dismissed by a district judge who wasn’t convinced racial bias could explain the numbers, enrollment of black students in Lower Merion’s honors and AP courses has since doubled, and the racial gap in special education has narrowed.

With double standards in schools ranging from cash-strapped inner-city institutions to those in posh suburban districts, Mazama found that black parents didn’t know where to turn to educate their kids. One increasingly popular option is to bypass the schools entirely. When Nicole Madison pulled her oldest daughter, Noelle, out of first grade at a Catholic school in Chestnut Hill, it was the sit-up-straight-and-stand-in-line pedagogy that gave her pause more than any sense her daughter was mistreated because she was black. But the more Madison talked to other parents who’d kept their kids in school, the more she heard “horror stories,” as she describes them: anecdotes about the disparity of resources, how black students fare far worse than whites on standardized tests, how one friend told Madison that her sixth-grader went to court for making terroristic threats because he used the word “kill” on the playground.

“I think the perception is that when you look at a 10-year-old African-American boy and a 10-year-old Caucasian boy, the African-American boy is more likely to act out on purpose, as opposed to just being a kid,” she says.

That’s not to say some black students aren’t misbehaving, or to discount environmental factors inside the home that could be at fault. But when they are disproportionately punished as far back as pre-K, by the time they reach high school they may be branded as problem kids — in turn, making them more likely to act out. The statistics from Upper Dublin and Lower Merion reflect disparities nationwide: Black public-school students are three times more likely to be suspended than whites and account for 31 percent of school-related arrests — feeding the so-called school-to-prison pipeline — despite making up just 16 percent of the K-through-12 student body. It’s a self-fulfilling prophecy with residual effects.

Ameenah Muhammad-Diggins, a first-year homeschooler in Burlington County, saw how her son, the only African-American child in his private-school grade, was viewed through that prism despite being a standout student. “He brought a science project in and they were like, ‘Whoaaaaa, he did so well, oh my God.’ And I’m thinking, it’s a good science project, but why are you amazed?” she says. “I felt he was not expected to do as well as everybody else.” After she pulled her nine- and 11-year-olds out of school last summer, Muhammad-
Diggins says, she felt the need to undo all the damage wrought by that marginalization: “We spent the last month just kind of trying to rebuild their self-esteem and doing more exploratory learning.”

How to insulate black children from a potentially toxic school culture is a theme throughout Mazama’s research. For this, she coined the term “racial protectionism,” which she defined in a paper for the Journal of Black Studies:

Racial protectionists shared the view that schools, public or private, could not, given the racist nature of American society, be emotionally safe for Black children. Racism was talked about as an inevitable fact of American life and schools as a place where Black children were bound to experience dire racial oppression and hostility in the form of the suppression of African American cultural identity and imposition of Whiteness as the ideal norm. …

In her homeschooling, Mazama moves to circumvent that “imposition of whiteness.” Aside from a novel each by John Steinbeck and Ernest Hemingway (she has a soft spot for those stories), her children read no white authors; during the lesson on spiritual intelligence, all the examples in Mazama’s PowerPoint were African-American or Native American. “I made a point of not teaching anything from white history, white literature, white nothing,” she says.

Though the concept of racial protectionism harks back to Marcus Garvey and the Nation of Islam, don’t confuse black homeschooling with a modern-day separatist movement. Mazama’s approach is exceptional. I spoke to 10 other homeschooling parents, and most take part in multicultural homeschooling groups; none have strong feelings about Afrocentrism. What they do share is a desire to teach black history without relegating it to a single month.

“It’s going to be hard for you to sit in a traditional classroom and find resources and topics that address what’s going on with black people unless it’s February,” says Andrea Thorpe, a Burlington County mother, expressing a universal sentiment among the black parents I interviewed. Thorpe runs a Facebook group for African-American homeschooling moms that has grown from 15 to 1,600 people over the past 18 months. One function of the group is to serve as a forum for swapping notes on black-related historical sites to visit on field trips, books with strong black characters, and how to teach current events related to race. “I had no idea there were that many black families homeschooling,” Thorpe notes, “so it’s nice to know that you’re not by yourself.”

But is the attempt to remove institutional racism from a child’s experience a form of sheltering? After all, racial tensions are all over the news; prejudice and discrimination await after the kids end their homeschooling. Nicole Madison, who now lives in Plymouth Meeting, insists it’s quite the opposite: Her daughter wouldn’t have been as well prepared for facing racism in college without homeschooling. “I think because she had such a firm foundation, knew who she was already, it didn’t hurt her the same way it might’ve hurt her if she’d grown up feeling that systematic racism her entire life.”

HOMESCHOOLERS LIKE RYAN JOBSON, a freckled, African-American freshman at Swarthmore College, are helping to dispel the broader stereotype. He’s your classic overachiever: He started fixing computers when he was seven and ran a business at 12. Despite never having taken a standardized test, he placed in the 98th percentile on his ACT science exam. “When I meet somebody, I usually say, ‘Hi, I’m Ryan, the homeschool kid,’” he says, with a smile highlighting his dimples. Jobson’s introduction is one part sly strategy to make an impression and one part a polite way of saying, This is who I am, get over it. Having been homeschooled is as much a part of his identity as his decisions to enroll in a black-studies course and to double-major in engineering and computer science. He proudly wears it all on his sleeve.

Jobson grew up in wealthy suburbs and with ample resources, much like your prototypical homeschooler. Thanks to the logistical and financial challenges of teaching your own children, homeschooling parents tend to be married, higher-educated and higher-income. But for some, like Nicole Madison, the challenges of homeschooling are enormous. Following a divorce, Madison faced the daunting task of educating three—soon to be five—kids alone. She got a late-night copywriting job and functioned on four hours of sleep for a time.

In Philadelphia, though, there’s a movement to make it easier to opt out of standard education. Enter Natural Creativity, a homeschooling center in Germantown. “We need a place for working parents where children can go and be a part of a community of other families and get support for the transition out of school,” says Diane Cornman-Levy, the center’s executive director.

Two years ago, Cornman-Levy forged the idea for the center with Peter Bergson, the co-founder of Open Connections, a 40-year-old “progressive education” campus located on a 28-acre farm in Delaware County — something like a cross between a Montessori school and a commune. Educators are mere facilitators, while kids are left in the driver’s seat of the curriculum, suggesting what the group programming should be and what individual projects they’ll pursue. One mother who sent her kids there told me her kids were using power tools — safely — by the third grade.

The city spinoff opened in a temporary location — the First United Methodist Church of Germantown — in January, with plans for a permanent home soon. Costs per family are based on parents’ ability to pay, to allow for more socioeconomic diversity. All signs point to greater racial diversity, too: About half of the two dozens kids enrolled in the program so far are black. That doesn’t surprise Cornman-Levy. “When I talk to families about Natural Creativity, I connect to African-Americans faster than to any group,” she says. “They get it — I don’t have to sell the fact that school is doing these things not in the best interest of their child.”

When I ask Mazama what she’s heard about a homeschooling center opening up less than a mile from her home, I get one of her gentle, skeptical stares. We’re standing in her foyer, the sound of rain pattering outside. She knows nothing about Natural Creativity — a response suggesting that homeschooling is growing too fast for even a researcher to keep up.

A racially integrated homeschool experiment like Natural Creativity is another means to expand the growing share of black self-educators, so Mazama is all for it. She points out that Maryland’s Prince George’s County, the bastion of black upper-middle-class life in America, has a booming black homeschooling population. Mazama doesn’t think it’s a coincidence. “These are black people who see that there’s definitely a problem and they decide to do something about it, to remove themselves physically from that environment,” she says.

With racial inequality seemingly at every turn of their children’s lives, black parents view homeschooling as an opportunity to claim authority over at least one area: education. Consider it a new twist on the old African-American proverb “Each one teach one.” Ever the iconoclast, Mazama sees the potential for this movement to ripple out through society: “There was this woman I spoke to who always would say this: ‘If all those black men in prison had been homeschooled, they would not have ended up there.’”

Published as “A Class of Their Own” in the February 2016 issue of Philadelphia magazine.

Why I Carry a Gun

Peter Breslow at Philly Mag’s offices on February 19th. Photograph by Claudia Gavin

Peter Breslow at Philly Mag’s offices on February 19th. Photograph by Claudia Gavin

It’s noon on a busy Friday in Rittenhouse Square, and I’m seated along the inside window at Rouge, one my favorite lunch spots in my city. Things feel very different today. It’s the first time I’m carrying a gun, and I’m a bit uncomfortable, to say the least. Besides having a bulge in my right front jeans pocket that I’m afraid everyone can see, I find myself scanning the room as I wonder who else could be armed. I also wonder: If the unthinkable happened here, where could I take cover? And how would I react?

That might sound a bit paranoid, given the likelihood of a violent event at a tony Center City bistro that sells $18 burgers. I never thought I’d become a “gun person.” To me, the culture of buying and shooting guns always seemed stupid. I’m a local guy through and through — grew up in the Northeast, graduated from Cheltenham High — and have spent most of my career in public relations and marketing. (You may know my mother, Philadelphia PR legend Tina Breslow.) Today, I’m the married father of a 17-year-old high-school junior. We live in Upper Gwynedd, but I’m in the city frequently to represent my clients, who include chefs, restaurateurs, real estate developers and fashion brands. I travel in some elite circles, but I’m also a guy’s guy — hockey dad, sports fan, craft beer lover, cheesesteak eater, bullshit-caller. While I support the Second Amendment in general, I never imagined exercising my right to own a gun. Or that, like a wallet or cell phone, I’d want to carry it with me at all times. Read more »

Trends: Gun Ownership in Philadelphia and Pennsylvania

Stories like Peter Breslow’s aren’t uncommon. As the newly initiated gun owner himself recently learned, mass shootings like the ones in Paris and San Bernardino have a history of spooking Americans into buying guns — and that seems to apply in Pennsylvania as much as anywhere else.

Pennsylvanian interest in concealed-carry permits spiked last December after attacks in California and Paris, mirroring a national trend.

Officials at sheriff’s offices across the greater Delaware Valley say that following those attacks, gun license application numbers soared. In Chester County, Sheriff Carolyn Welsh saw them double after the shootings in Paris, and once tragedy struck in San Bernardino, they really took off — from about 200 applications a week to between 60 and 80 a day.

Gun Permits Issued in Philadelphia, 2004–2014

Gun Permits Issued in Pennsylvania, 2004–2014

Earlier this winter, WNEP and the Morning Call found similar trends upstate in Lehigh and Lackawanna counties. “You never know who’s going to do something, so you have to be prepared,” one Scranton resident told WNEP, after waiting a mere 10 minutes required to get his permit.

There’s another kind of fear that’s been driving firearm sales in recent years — paranoia about President Obama. The thinking goes that if the commander-in-chief is going to enact gun control legislation, it’s best to stock up while the getting is good. In Philadelphia, elsewhere in Pennsylvania, and across the country, sales have climbed during Obama’s time in office, and they’ve spiked when he’s tried to advance gun restrictions.

Smith & Wesson manufactured Peter Breslow’s gun. The company’s stock price swelled to an all-time high last month following the shooting in San Bernardino and Obama’s announcements about new gun restrictions. Chart courtesy of Bloomberg.

Smith & Wesson manufactured Peter Breslow’s gun. The company’s stock price swelled to an all-time high last month following the shooting in San Bernardino and Obama’s announcements about new gun restrictions. Chart courtesy of Bloomberg.

Guns Sold or Transferred in Philadelphia, 2004–2014

Guns Sold or Transferred in Pennsylvania, 2004–2014

NRA spokesman Lars Dalseide says that Philly-area residents should consider owning guns if they’re worried about the security of their homes, families, or businesses (in other words, he says, “If they feel there’s need for self-protection”), but Shira Goodman, executive director of advocacy group CeaseFirePA, begs to differ.

“It does happen, that people interrupt crimes,” she says. “But it doesn’t happen that much.”

The numbers, it turns out, come down on Goodman’s side: last summer, a Washington Post analysis found that for every criminal killed in self-defense, 34 innocents die.

The truth is that despite protests to the contrary, more guns really do mean more gun violence — and that’s according to years of research. Studies have shown that an increase in guns correlates with an increase in homicides, and with an increase in suicides. While mass shootings are harrowing events that demand serious attention, the disproportionate media coverage that they have received threatens to muddle the truth, which is that the average American is much more likely to die from a gun-related suicide than from a gun-related homicide.

In some ways, Pennsylvania is ahead of other states when it comes to gun safety legislation. We have our own state-run background check system, so when a resident buys a gun, he or she is processed not only by the local system, but also by the national one run by the FBI. And the Keystone State requires that all handgun sales be accompanied by a background check, which isn’t the case in some states.

But we can also buy firearms here without a license, registration, or training, and Pennsylvania does not limit how many guns we can buy. Our neighbors New Jersey, Delaware, and New York all have more restrictive gun laws than we do.

Goodman urges Philadelphians to speak with their local representatives about gun legislation. “Let’s have rules that protect us,” she says. “Just like you have the right to carry that gun, I want the right to be safe.”

My Last Call for Drinking in Philly

Illustration by Tim Parker.

Illustration by Tim Parker.

I tend to begin a lot of stories with, “I was listening to a radio program, and … ”

Ideally, you assume this anonymous program is Fresh Air or This American Life. Perhaps a great new podcast you’ve never heard of. I’d settle for Radio Lab or All Things Considered.

We’re about to get pretty personal here, however, so I’ll come clean with you up front: I was listening to Preston & Steve. It’s pretty much always Preston & Steve. I’m 31 years old, and I think fart sound effects are funnier than ever. There you have it. Read more »

Let Us Now Praise Philly Dive Bars

It seems like every weekend there’s a new craft-beer bar opening in the spot where some smoky old watering hole used to be, or a freshly buffed-up pub transforming a neglected neighborhood corner. The trend is emblematic of a larger — and largely positive — transformation in which gritty, faded, forgotten Old Philly is being reincarnated into bright and sprightly New Philly. Fair enough. But change — even good change — has always made Philadelphians dig our heels in and cling just a little harder to the unchanging. Who can blame us? Last year brought the probable end of Little Pete’s and the inauspicious opening of a Cheesecake Factory. Sometimes Old Philly should win. Which is why it’s time now to pay tribute to some of the stalwarts. The holdouts that have evaded the reign of the $20 bar burger. Those scrappy, dark taprooms where no barkeep has ever worn a bowtie, where nobody asks for extra bitters, where you can show up at 12 noon or 12 midnight and enjoy the High Life (or a Citywide Special). We spotlight the bars we passionately hope never get remade into coolly polished pubs. Because change is good, and so is craft beer, but nothing replaces the timeless draw of the dive.

Photography by Gene Smirnov

Tattooed Mom


530 South Street
Established 1997



259 South 15th Street
Established 1937

Donna’s Bar


2732 East Allegheny Avenue
Established 1981



229 South 45th Street
Established 2001

Bob and Barbara’s




1509 South Street
Established 1968

Atlantis: The Lost Bar


2442 Frankford Avenue
Established 2004



2201 Lombard Street
Established 1976

Ray’s Happy Birthday Bar





1200 East Passyunk Avenue
Established 1938

Dirty Frank’s


347 South 13th Street
Established 1933

Published as “Let Us Now Praise Philly Dive Bars” in the February 2016 issue of Philadelphia magazine.

Seven Fabulous Florida Trips for Philadelphians


Considering that they’re nearly a thousand miles apart, Philly has always had an unexpectedly tight relationship with Florida. There are the old-money Main Liners who’ve long wintered (yes, you know you’ve arrived when you use it as a verb) in Palm Beach. The rabid Phillies fans who cheat the start of spring with a visit to Clearwater. And the parents who get ransom notes from their darling children, saying: “Take us to Disney or there’s gonna be trouble.” Nothing wrong with any of those reasons to visit Florida, but if that’s all you’ve seen of the Sunshine State, you’re missing out. What follows are seven itineraries that will leave you tanned, rested, and just maybe dreaming of gators.

Edited by Tom McGrath and Ashley Primis

A pool at the  Miami Beach Edition. Photograph by Nikolas Koenig.

A pool at the Miami Beach Edition. Photograph by Nikolas Koenig.

Bold + Beautiful

The art of fitting in in Miami Beach

Those in the see-and-be-seen crowd (read: people who don’t mind packing more stilettos than flip-flops) will feel right at home in the buzzy barrier-island resort city. You can eat, shop and dance, but mostly you’ll just feel fabulous.

The Hotels
At the clubby Miami Beach Edition, hotelier Ian Schrager encapsulates all the flash of Miami: vast expanses of glossy white Carrara marble, gold columns, sleek rooms, and a staff of alarmingly beautiful people. For even more glamour, snag a room at the Fontainebleau, one of Miami Beach’s most iconic spots, with palm-lined pools, four signature restaurants, and one of the top spas in the city. Edition: 2901 Collins Avenue; from $429. Fontainebleau: 4441 Collins Avenue; from $399.

The Fun
Highbrow: The Miami Design District teems with impressive architecture, galleries, and glitzy shops like Hermès and Louis Vuitton. Meanwhile, Miami’s heralded Art Deco District is best discovered via a walking tour ($25), which sets out from 1001 Ocean Drive at 10:30 each morning.
Off-the-beaten-path: Leave an afternoon free for Wynwood Walls, a collection of large-scale murals by some of the world’s best graffiti artists.
Outdoors: Run, walk, bike or rollerblade (you can rent the latter two at Fritz’s Skate, Bike & Surf Shop) along the Miami Beach Boardwalk, a 40-block pathway that unfurls along the beach.

The Food
High-end: A newcomer to the South Beach dining scene, Bázi — managed by a Philly native and Starr expat — turns out stellar riffs on Asian cuisine.
Brunch: Go to Wynwood Kitchen & Bar (located within Wynwood Walls), order the cachapa — a traditional sweet and savory Venezuelan dish comprised of cheese sandwiched between corn pancakes — and dream of it long after your tan has faded.
Where the locals go: You can’t leave Miami without eating at least one taco (or five). Your best bets: the unfussy and often jam-packed Coyo Taco, and the unassuming Bodega Taqueria y Tequila, where a walk through the faux bathroom — seriously, open the graffiti-splashed Porta-Potty door and keep walking — rewards you with a nonchalantly cool bar and lounge, plus great happy-hour tacos for $2. — Emily Goulet

Phillies spring training at Bright House Field. Photograph by Getty Images.

Phillies spring training at Bright House Field. Photograph courtesy of Getty Images.

Come for the Phillies, Stay for the Culture

A fan’s guide to Clearwater and St. Pete

The Phillies have given us little to cheer for of late, but during spring training, hope is eternal. Enjoy the Gulf Coast beach-town vibe of their springtime HQ, Clearwater, or use cosmopolitan St. Petersburg, with its bustling — and gay-friendly — bayside culture, as home base.

The Hotel
You could spend the entirety of your getaway in the immediate vicinity of the historic, stately Vinoy Renaissance in St. Pete. While your days away in the spa, at the resort’s private golf course, or with a piña colada on the Veranda patio. Or wander around the Yacht Basin just outside the proudly pink hotel’s front door. 501 5th Avenue NE; from $179.

The Fun
Highbrow: The folks behind the Dalí Museum have turned the artist’s shticky oeuvre (hallucinogenic trompe l’oeil, dude!) into a must-see attraction at their new architecturally adventurous, mustache-forward waterfront digs.
Off-the-beaten-path: Studio@620 is the epicenter of St. Petersburg’s homegrown arts and culture scene. On Friday nights, the St. Petersburg Shuffleboard Club opens its doors to the public for the St. Pete Shuffle. Cruise through the Spanish architecture of the historic Roser Park neighborhood (founded by Charles Roser, by some reports the inventor of the Fig Newton).
Outdoors: The Carpenter Complex and Bright House Field in Clearwater are the spring home of the Phillies and the summer home of the team’s High A affiliate, the Threshers. No Phillies Clearwater expedition is complete without a stop at Lenny’s diner, a madcap home-team-friendly outpost with sassy waitresses, a famous danish basket, and a guy who’ll make a balloon-animal likeness of you if the mood strikes him.

The Food
High-end: Don’t let its location in the downtown Sundial Mall dissuade you: Fabrizio Aielli’s stunning Sea Salt starts with the basics — an expansive raw bar, a (no joke) salt list — and spins it all up into something transcendent. Newcomer Brick and Mortar serves seasonal New American cuisine, with nods to an owner’s Indonesian and Spanish roots, that has the locals buzzing.
Brunch: The Sunday buffet at 400 Beach Seafood and Tap House piles the snow-crab legs and shrimp high, does a killer pork verde, and makes tres leches cake to elbow into line for.
Where the locals go: Florida’s Gulf Coast is becoming a beer hot spot (the upshot of Yuengling’s Tampa satellite brewery?), with stops like Cigar City (Tampa), Green Bench (St. Pete), Saint Somewhere (Tarpon Springs) and Dunedin Brewery making the Bay Area’s Craft Beer Trail a worthwhile endeavor. — Brian Howard

 A suite at the Gates Hotel. Photograph by Manolo Doreste/In Focus Studios.

A suite at the Gates Hotel. Photograph by Manolo Doreste/In Focus Studios.

Jimmy Buffett Wasn’t Lying

And other things you need to know about Key West

There’s something called Keys Disease, a mysterious affliction that leads people to quit their jobs, sell their homes, and decamp for this tiny island 150 miles southwest of Miami. Key West is a genuine escape — a place where you can be yourself, or be somebody else.

The Hotel
The recently opened Gates Hotel channels the laid-back Key West vibe without sacrificing creature comforts (like cozy Turkish cotton robes and towels) or going overboard on the nautical theme. If you can pull yourself away from the poolside bar, the Gates offers a fleet of chic blue bikes for exploring the rest of the island (a necessity, since the hotel is a few miles from the heart of the city and there’s no guest shuttle service). 3824 North Roosevelt Boulevard; from $249.

The Fun
Highbrow: The Ernest Hemingway Home & Museum is a must-see. Take the 30-minute guided tour of his Key West hideaway, and you’ll probably catch one or two descendants of his famed polydactyl (six-toed) cats lounging in the shade.
Off-the-beaten-path: Drag shows are a mainstay of Key West nightlife. You can catch performances every night at Aqua and 801 Bourbon Bar, located just a few blocks apart on Duval Street.
Outdoors: Fort Zachary Taylor Historic State Park is Key West’s only proper beach. Even though its shores are man-made (Key West is surrounded in part by a coral reef, which means no big waves and few natural dunes), it’s worth a visit just to marvel at the beautiful blue-green water.

The Food
High-end: Nine One Five is a welcome respite from the endless succession of raucous bars on Duval Street. The menu is eclectic, with an emphasis on island cuisine: grouper ceviche, smoked ahi tuna with saffron aioli, crispy whole yellowtail. But the fries are also to die for.
Brunch:: Snowbirds and locals alike rave about brunch at Sarabeth’s, a New American spot with a lovely patio for outdoor dining.
Where the locals go:: Sandy’s Cafe is a venerated hole-in-the-wall serving authentic Cuban fare — including probably the best, sloppiest Cuban sandwich in town. Order one with everything on it and grab a seat at the outdoor counter. Mind the
roosters. — Chelsea Edgar

The Marina Channel at South Seas Island Resort. Photograph courtesy of South Seas Island Resort.

The Marina Channel at South Seas Island Resort. Photograph courtesy of South Seas Island Resort.

Water, Water Everywhere

Getting back to nature on Captiva Island

This tiny island off the southwest coast of Florida has the charm of Cape May, quiet beaches and all, plus a seemingly endless parade of wildlife to watch from wherever you set your sandals down.

The Hotel
Anyone who makes it out of the gates of the South Seas Island Resort during a stay here deserves a medal. With water everywhere you turn — miles of beaches with dolphin-speckled deep-blue water and a bevy of pools — multiple waterside bars, a golf course, and mouthwatering fish tacos you won’t mind eating over and over again, you’ll need Olympic-level strength to pull yourself away. 5400 Plantation Road; from $219.

The Fun
Highbrow: Shelling is one of the island’s big draws, but if spending hours hunched in the Captiva Crouch, as locals call it, sounds like the opposite of relaxation, a visit to the quirky Bailey-Matthews National Shell Museum gives you a taste of the exotic finds minus the aching back.
Off-the-beaten-path: There’s no shortage of serene nooks that feel like they were plucked right out of a Nicholas Sparks novel, but the Chapel by the Sea, a century-old interfaith outpost right off the beach, is one worth taking a seat in.
Outdoors: J.N. Darling National Wildlife Refuge offers a change of scenery, with 6,400 acres of mangrove forest and marshes and four miles of walking trails. Just look out for alligators. Captiva Cruises keeps the water in view with trips lasting anywhere from 90 minutes to a half day. Opt for the Out-Island Cruise to check out Cabbage Key, a car-free hundred-acre island that feels about as far from Philly as you can get.

The Food
High-end: With walls decorated in everything Alice in Wonderland, the Mad Hatter makes over-the-top obsession look cute. Prepare to walk out stuffed with seafood, and obsessing over something yourself — the unforgettable phyllo-wrapped shrimp.
Brunch: Don’t expect white tablecloths at diner-style spot RC Otter’s. Do expect breakfast potatoes that will wipe away the morning-after pain of one too many piña coladas.
Where the locals go: Head to laid-back Doc Ford’s Rum Bar & Grille for the mojitos; stay for the Yucatan Shrimp and the conversation you’re sure to strike up with a fellow patron who’s been coming to the island every year for half a
century. — Adjua Fisher

Ponce de León’s Fountain of Youth; Timoti’s Seafood Shak. Photography, from left: Fountain of Youth Archaeological Park; Deremer Studios.

Ponce de León’s Fountain of Youth; Timoti’s Seafood Shak. Photography, from left: Fountain of Youth Archaeological Park; Deremer Studios.

Down South

The carefree charms of Amelia Island

The barrier island in the northern part of the state feels way more Georgia than it does Florida, thanks to grassy dunes, twisted live oaks and Southern hospitality. If decompression time with the fam sounds like just what you need right now, a few days on this island couldn’t be more ideal.

The Hotel
You know all those appealing things about big resorts? Beachside pool, sprawling spa, lounge-chair service, outdoor restaurants? The Ritz-Carlton Amelia Island has all of that, but without the loud music, bikini-clad tarts or snooty staff. 4750 Amelia Island Parkway, Amelia Island; from $399.

The Fun
Highbrow: Part of this island’s appeal is its lack of fancy anything — a trip here feels blissfully more Castaway than The Hangover. But for some culture, head to Fort Clinch in Clinch State Park, to tour the Civil War garrison and chat with the reenactors. For more history, Saint Augustine, and Ponce de León’s Fountain of Youth, is about a 75-minute car ride, though you might have better luck de-aging at the spa.
Off-the-beaten-path: Yes, there are still wild horses running around in America. See them on Cumberland Island, a national park in Georgia that’s accessible only by boat (private or ferry).
Relaxing: Do not miss the spa at the Ritz. Treatments are first-rate, but the facilities are the real appeal.

The Food
High-end: Salt, at the Ritz, is the fancy place to eat on the island. Enjoy foie gras, lobster, or the thoughtful vegetarian menu. Timoti’s Seafood Shak in nearby Fernandina Beach has baskets of fresh seafood and a covered outdoor seating area.
Brunch: T-Rays Burger Station serves hash browns, biscuits with eggs and free-form burgers, in a converted gas station.
Where the locals go: DeNucci’s twists up soft-serve and cult favorite Dole Whip in a candy-colored shop the kids will love. —Ashley Primis

A Taste of the Tropics

The beauty of Boca Raton

Boca has long had a rep as the place where everyone’s Jewish grandmother lives, but in fact, its historical vibe, Southern charm and hint of the tropics make it a great spot for a relaxing vacation even if you never see Bubbe. (Still, you really should give her a call.)

The Hotel
Recently redesigned and right off the famous A1A, the Waterstone Resort instantly shows its bona fides as a seaside getaway with its tropical color palette. Stay on the intercoastal side of the hotel for views of the turquoise waves, palm trees and tons of boats (as long as you don’t mind the party music you’ll be hearing off in the distance). There are beachside rooms as well, and if the shore is more your cup of tea, luckily you’re only a quick walk away. 999 East Camino Real; from $169.

The Fun
Highbrow: If you’re a history junkie, take an Uber to the Brazilian Court Hotel in West Palm. The homey hotel was built in the 1920s, and many of the original aspects remain. There’s the Frédéric Fekkai Salon and Spa if you’re looking to do some
pampering — beat the heat with complimentary lemon water while stylists attend to your hair. In Boca, check out Mizner Park, which houses the Boca Raton Museum of Art and plenty of upscale shops.
Off-the-beaten-path: Take the 20-minute ride down to Delray’s Pineapple Grove Arts District and search out the hidden-
gem art galleries. There’s less foot traffic than in other parts of the popular Delray area, and when you’re finished seeing quirky sculptures and other creations, have a drink at Beer Trade Co. — it’s honor system here, so just grab what you want right out of the cooler.
Outdoors: In Boca, exercise is almost inevitable. Rent bikes at Boca Bike Shop, then ride along A1A and sightsee some beautiful beachside mansions.

The Food
High-end: City Oyster & Sushi Bar in downtown Delray is a good choice for an upscale atmosphere. There’s an extensive menu of seafood-centric classics, but it’s the sushi and sashimi that set this place apart.
Brunch: Farm-to-table Max’s Harvest in downtown Delray serves everything from fresh salads to an unlimited Bloody Mary/champagne cocktail bar (with any garnish you could possibly imagine, including gumballs from a gumball machine). Sundy House is more low-key, situated in a lush botanical garden filled with ponds and beautiful white decks.
Where the locals go: Don’t miss J&J Seafood Bar and Grill — a tiny joint with the freshest of seafood. — Rachel Chernaskey

The Luxe Life Lives

Or at least it does in Naples

Come to this opulent beach town on the Gulf and soak up the life of the one percent. It has great seafood, upscale shops, beloved golf courses, and one of the most dazzling (and tranquil) beaches in the country.

The Hotel
The rooms at the Naples Grande Beach Resort are just plain sexy, with hip sheets and rugs, oversize tubs, and balconies with views that will immediately put you at ease. Speaking of ease: The hotel spa’s 50-minute Swedish massage will make your back pain melt away. 475 Seagate Drive; from $439.

The Fun
Highbrow: The Waterside Shops feature an array of high-end stores including Gucci, Nordstrom, Louis Vuitton and Ralph Lauren. At the Baker Museum, you can spend an afternoon gazing at contemporary art and a night listening to chamber music, all under the same roof.
Outdoors: There are plenty of options, from a private manatee safari to deep-sea fishing to paddleboarding. Ask the concierge at the Naples Grande to hook you up.
Relaxing: There’s no better way to chill out than to go to the beach and people-
watch. The water is warm and translucent, the sands are soft and white, and the beachgoers are tanned and beautiful. Wildlife enthusiasts will enjoy Barefoot Beach Preserve Park, where you’ll find sea turtles, a tropical tree hammock and a dazzling sunset.

The Food
High-end: The Catch of the Pelican is the place to go to get local seafood. The grilled octopus tastes like it was caught that morning, and the fennel-crusted ahi tuna is barely cooked, just as it should be.
Brunch: The Naples Grande offers a great one. Or check out the original Tommy Bahama restaurant, a short walk from Naples Pier, and enjoy the burgers, awesome outdoor space and live music.
Where the locals go: If they’re in the mood for a cheesesteak — seriously — they head to Old 41 Restaurant. Owner Tony Backos is a Philly native, and he makes his cheesesteaks with rib eye and Amoroso rolls. The Philly Breakfast, with two eggs, home fries and scrapple or Taylor pork roll, is just as good. — Holly Otterbein

Published as “Sunshine State of Mind” in the March 2016 issue of Philadelphia magazine.

The History of the Philly Boo


Mark Gail/MCT/Getty Images

As the clock wound down in the second quarter of the Eagles game against the middling Tampa Bay Buccaneers, the visitors had already piled on four touchdowns. All signs — particularly the Birds’ defense, which resembled matadors and turnstiles — pointed to a rout. In the wake of a heartbreaker loss to the lousy Miami Dolphins the week before here at home, a letdown against the Bucs had season-ending implications. The fans knew this. Which is why, as the players jogged off the field at halftime, a shower of boos rained down. These weren’t your garden-variety “We’re not happy” boos. This was a deafening, guttural roar. A seismic display of frustration. A tsunami of “You suck.” Read more »

I May Live in Pennsylvania, but I’m No Pennsylvanian

Illustration by Mario Zucca

Illustration by Mario Zucca

A few months ago, I was walking to the train station when a squirrel hopped onto a nearby metal fence and stared at me with its licorice-chip eyes. Without thinking, I said, “Hello, squirrel,” as if that was proper etiquette rather than the behavior of a three-year-old. It’s not the first time I’ve done it, either, which is embarrassing. But there’s an explanation.

Growing up in Center City, I spent a lot of time in Rittenhouse Square. The park was always full of squirrels, and I loved watching them play with each other and dig in the trash cans for that still-warm McDonald’s french fry. They were at least as cute as the guinea pigs I had at home, and certainly smarter. (No one’s ever accused a guinea pig of being too clever.) I came to see them as fellow city residents — my peers, even. Today, as an adult, I still think of them as friends. Read more »

One of Us: Patty Jackson, WDAS-FM DJ


Illustration by Andy Friedman

My name is … Patty Jackson. Well, that’s my air-personality name. My given name is Patricia Nolan, which is an Irish name, and they didn’t think it was urban enough, so they named me Patty Jackson in 1982. My father was very mad. He said, “What’s wrong with my name?”

I was born … right here. I’m a proud South Philadelphian, from 23rd and Ellsworth.

I went to school … at Southwark Motivation, which was part of South Philadelphia High. I didn’t go to college, because I started my broadcasting career six months after I graduated from high school.

The most important African-American in Philadelphia history is … Cecil B. Moore. He was brave, brash, a little before his time. They had never seen a man like him. Read more »

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