No One Puts the Northeast in the Corner!

It’s a bummer when your own part of town gets the cold shoulder from its neighboring sections.

Honestly, I love all of Philly. If I could write one giant love note praising every single aspect, ugly and beautiful, I would. But when it comes to Northeast Philadelphia, where I grew up, it often seems to be passed over, if not point-blank ignored. In fact, I’ve met some visitors and daily commuters from outside the city who think the Center City skyline is an accurate visual of the city’s size!

Maybe it’s the physical distance between the Northeast and the rest of Philly that creates this vague feeling of estrangement: on a no-traffic day, it will usually take about 20 to 30 minutes to arrive in Center City. It can even take as long as an hour or more, just to go downtown in the city you’re already in.

In 1993 my parents moved to Philadelphia as immigrants. I was two years old so for me Northeast Philly has always been my home. We settled on Borbeck Avenue in a cozy one-bedroom right across from Rhawnhurst Elementary Shool where I attended daycare and kindergarten. I recall it being a huge building, too big and scary to explore, but whose bare schoolyard gave us room to make-believe.

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Photo credit: Laura Kicey

When I was six, we moved to Oxford Circle, across from a library this time. I remember begging my parents to take me to Bushrod Library every day. Summer was spent with neighborhood friends at a day camp and public pool at Max Myers Playground, the only relief from the scorching days.

Max Myers Playground fb - directed from Parks and Rec

Side view of Max Myers playground
Photo credit: City of Philadelphia Parks and Recreation

In 1998, we moved from our two-bedroom duplex to a three-bedroom twin in Rhawnhurst. I transferred to Resurrection of Our Lord School for third through eighth grade. If ever there were a bittersweet turning point during my childhood/early adolescence, it was when I had to leave this wonderful school.

Living a mere five-minute walk from Northeast High School, I could easily have made my return to public school. But I decided to commute past Rhawnhurst and Mayfair to attend St. Hubert Catholic High School for Girls in Holmesburg/Torresdale. St. Hubert has been standing since on the corner of Cottman and Torresdale since 1941. There, I met girls from neighborhoods farther away, with thick Philly accents (and variations thereof).

Resurrection Regional Catholic School Photo Credit: Google Street View

Resurrection Regional Catholic School
Photo credit: Google Street View

I had always planned to get out of the Northeast after high school. It felt too far from Center City where all the excitement seemed to be. At times, it felt like I didn’t even live in Philadelphia and more like I was in a small town with nothing to offer. Today, I can’t imagine feeling that aversion.

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Photo credit: Laura Kicey

Last spring, I studied abroad in Italy for three months. It was an experience I wouldn’t trade for the world. But I noticed something strange: Aside from having missed my family terribly, when I came home I realized I had missed my neighborhood too. All those familiar things we hardly notice: faces of strangers, sounds, smells, signs, images…it was like waking up from a dream.

I recognized people whose groceries I had packed when I worked at Pathmark; the crowd waiting for the 59 bus; the same traffic scene replaying itself at 7:30 in the morning on Castor Avenue; the subtly nasal twang of the Philadelphia accent. Those first few days back were pure sensory overload: everything seemed so unbelievably present. It was like seeing someone you love who you haven’t seen in decades. Surreal.

Northeast Philadelphia - King Taco

Photo credit: King Taco via Flickr

Clearly, I still have a very emotional attachment to the Northeast. I still live there now, and I pass by early childhood landmarks on daily basis, like my old duplex on Stirling Street or Bushrod Library where I worked in 2011. Meanwhile, I see a new generation of kids enjoying Max Myers day camp and pool.

Northeast Philadelphia - PMillera4 (2)

Tacony-Palmyra Bridge
Photo credit: PMillera4 via Flickr

Mayfair Diner

Mayfair Diner
Photo credit: Laura Kicey

Northeast neighborhoods like my own — and like Frankford, Fox Chase, Tacony and so many others — are often disregarded, forgotten, or unknown by people who don’t live there. My two favorite spots in the area, profiled briefly below, hover dangerously on this noticed-unnoticed line.

Ryerss Museum & Library
Neighborhood(s): Fox Chase / Burholme
This relatively small attraction offers a modest glimpse into Philadelphia history. The building is located at Burholme Park, a green space with picnic areas, mini golf-courses, and a batting cage. Once the Ryerss family home, the Burholme estate now houses the family’s heirlooms and trip souvenirs from as early as the late 1800s. Additionally, a pet cemetery resides on the grounds, a result of the Ryerss’ love for animals.

Ryerss Museum

Photo credit: Ryerss Museum website

Pennypack Park
Neighborhood(s): Fox Chase/Burholme, Krewstown, Rhawnhurst, Bustleton, Holmesburg. Entering from the Winchester Avenue entrance (one of many) between the Rhawnhurst and Bustleton neighborhoods, Pennypack is a feast for the eyes. A beautiful 1,600-acre park with a creek winding through, Pennypack is a special place that could use a little more appreciation (after all, it has the oldest standing bridge in the United States). Although the trails certainly have a fair amount of daily visitors (joggers, bikers, dog-walkers, and your pensive strollers), the park’s general state is such that covert underage drinking, outdoor keg parties and misbehavior resulting in injuries have become an issue. Perhaps with a stronger law enforcement presence, or simply a rise in visitors, Pennypack could see an even greater surge in popularity and care.

Pennypack park 4 FOPP

Pennypack Park
Photo credit: Friends of Pennypack Park

  • gilberto gonzalez

    wow – nice article – love Philadelphia

  • Andrew McLaughlin

    makes me miss the northeast when i thought i was glad to get away. nice article.

  • Shawn Lane

    Yup, still happy I moved 1200 miles away.

  • Dan McQuade

    Pretty glad you got those mini Harbison Ave. houses in there. We always called them Lego houses, obviously.

    • kathy

      loved it i am 73 years old at a picnic in malvern over weekend three of us more mature ladies had attended st hubert’s and proud of it grew up in oxford circle

  • Hawaiiguy12

    Shawn, we’re glad you moved 1,200 miles away too! If you didn’t care, you wouldn’t get Philadelphia Mag info. With that said, Northeast Phila. is not my favorite. In general, though, Philadelphia is a far superior city than wherever it is you ran to.

  • Deo

    Grew up in Rhawnhust, went to Resso (Resurrection of Our Lord), lived in Oxford Circle too, had a sister & daughter that went to Saint Hubert so this nicely written article hit home with me.

  • Jason Philyaw

    yeah, Shawn. ya bum

  • Ralphie corner boy

    I live about 20 minutes from “Center City.” My development is off of the Academy Rd. exit of I-95. My development is about 60 years old and resembles Levittown. It is close to the park (right across the street behind my neighbor’s homes). We played in the woods, the dirt hill and huge cliffs and of course, the ‘crik’ aka Wooden Bridge Run which empties into the Pennypack behind Father Judge. All of my childhood places to play have been developed and they no longer exist for the most part (but very much alive in my memories)
    As I got older, I traveled a lot around the US and have come to realize that Academy Gardens (be it ever so humble) is and always will be, Home Sweet Home. I love Philly.

  • Susan

    born and raised in Port Richmond, but spent tons of time in Bustleton, Rhawnhurst, etc. Moved away for a job years ago, but still come home at least once a year (and hit up the Dining Car almost as soon as I get into town!)

  • Colleen

    This article has some nice sentiment, but it really falls flat as a piece of writing.

  • Bruce Albert

    Nice article and love the photos. It brought back many fond memories. I have lived in the Ft. Lauderdale area for 28 yrs. I lived in what was known as Mayfair at the time on Loring St. until I was 18-19 yrs. old and moved to far northeast at Academy & Comly area. I still have many friends that still live in Mayfair/Holmesburg/ Tacony. We all went to either Forrest, St. Bernard, Lincoln or Father Judge. We played at Tacony Park, Forrest school yard, Pennypack , swimming at Vogt and went sledding behind Lincoln before they built Meehan, and road our bikes everywhere.
    That whole area has changed some good some bad. That’s life. When I meet people from Philly and they ask me where I lived, I proudly say Mayfair near Cottman & Frankford!

  • philaman01

    One thing about the Northeast – particularly neighborhoods such as Bustleton and Somerton – is that you are close to all major arteries (95, Street Road, Rte 63, 611, Turnpike, etc). Additionally, Septa bus and regional rail service is easily accessible.