City Announces Developer for MOVE Bombing Area

AJR Endeavors will start construction on the Cobbs Creek site later this year.

In this May 1985 photo, scores of row houses burn in a fire in the west Philadelphia neighborhood. Police dropped a bomb on the militant group MOVE's home on May 13, 1985 in an attempt to arrest members, leading to the burning of scores of homes in the neighborhood.

In this May 1985 photo, scores of row houses burn in a fire in the west Philadelphia neighborhood. Police dropped a bomb on the militant group MOVE’s home on May 13, 1985 in an attempt to arrest members, leading to the burning of scores of homes in the neighborhood.

The Philadelphia Redevelopment Authority has chosen a company to redevelop 36 rowhomes in West Philadelphia where police bombed a house full of black liberationists in 1985, killing 11 – including five children – and destroying more than 50 homes. 

The disaster, known as the MOVE bombing (named after the group targeted in the incident), has marked the area since then. As Jared Brey wrote in Philadelphia magazine last year:

“But if you walk the block today, it’s still clear that something went wrong. Half the homes on the 6200 blocks of Osage Avenue and Pine Street are vacant; front doors are covered with slabs of plywood and padlocked. The fire stopped burning 30 years ago, but the wounds have never healed.”

The PRA announced on Tuesday that a company called AJR Endeavors will oversee the site’s redevelopment, which includes rehabilitating 36 homes for private ownership. Construction will start later this year and last 18-24 months, according to the PRA.

The total development will cost about $3.2 million. Through the PRA’s Fine Art program, AJR is required to contribute one percent of the project’s cost to a public work of art.

PRA Executive Director Greg Heller said the association “will work closely with Councilwoman [Jannie] Blackwell’s office and the development team to make sure that the community is engaged throughout the development process.”

The PRA did not include more detailed plans in its announcement.

This is the second time the agency has hired a developer in attempt to fix the site – shortly after the bombing occurred, the city hired two building contractors, Ernest Edwards and Oscar Harris, to rebuild the homes.

In 1987, following a year-long investigation, a local grand jury charged both men with stealing $208,112 in city funds while working on the site, according to an article published that year in The New York Times. Then-Mayor W. Wilson Goode’s administration of ”gross mismanagement and incompetence” was blamed by the jury for allowing the thefts to happen, the newspaper reported.

In 2000, the PRA offered homeowners money to leave the site, and most did. Since then, the area has been left mostly untouched.

“PRA, City Council, and city officials understand the tragic events that took place on the blocks of Osage and Pine,” Councilwoman Blackwell said in a statement. “We needed a developer who is sensitive to the complexities of the project and the community dynamics. Restoring these homes is a difficult task, but it is the right one, and the one the community wanted. We will continue to work together throughout this process.”

The site will receive a state historical marker later this year, after students at a private elementary school in West Philadelphia, the Jubilee School, researched its story and submitted a request for a marker to the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission, WHYY reported late last month.

In a statement, AJR Endeavors said project would not be “easy … by any stretch of the imagination, but we are going to do it right. We owe it to the residents of this community so that we can all finally move on from the events of the past that have left a scar on this neighborhood for too long.”

Follow @ClaireSasko on Twitter.

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