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.
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.
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).
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.
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.
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 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.
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.