Dept. of Second Thoughts: Neighborhood Group Will Drop “Newbold” From Its Name

The name always riled some longtime Point Breezers.

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The South Philly Tap Room in the neighborhood Image | Google Street View

There’s no clearer sign that a neighborhood is being gentrified than when a group of new residents carves out a little portion of it and gives it a new name. That’s what happened in Newbold, the sliver of Point Breeze that stretches from Broad to 18th and Washington Avenue to Wolf Street.

But now it looks as though some residents are trying to un-ring the bell. Last week, the Newbold Neighbors Association voted to take “Newbold” out of its name, though they haven’t decided what to replace it with just yet, Passyunk Post is reporting.

The name was invented by John Longacre, the developer who opened the South Philly Tap Room, American Sardine Bar, and the Point Breeze Pop-Up Beer Garden, which was controversial even by Point Breeze standards. The name itself was controversial from the get-go, which you can tell just by reading the very tortured-sounding “What is Newbold?” section on the association’s website:

The area known as Newbold is a part of the Point Breeze neighborhood of South Philadelphia.  Because the city of Philadelphia doesn’t officially name neighborhoods, anyone can choose to call where they live Newbold, or choose not to if they desire.

Our goal is to strengthen the fabric of South Philadelphia through volunteer and civic engagement.  We are not interested in renaming neighborhoods, but we do have an area that we focus our efforts on, stretching from the south side of Washington Ave. to the north side of Passyunk Ave., and from the west side of Broad St. to the west side of 18th St.

Longacre told Billy Penn in an interview that he came up with the idea of naming the area to give it more of an identity, because Point Breeze covers such a large area, and to help revitalize the commercial corridor on West Passyunk Avenue. But the name bothered some longtime residents, who felt like a piece of their neighborhood was being taken over by newcomers.

“There’s contention with the name,” said Miguel Garces, president of the neighborhood association. “It creates a lot of friction. A lot of people really don’t like the name Newbold, and we want to move past that.”

Garces said the meeting when the vote was taken was well attended, and included a lot of residents who hadn’t previously been involved with the group. The association will choose its new name in a vote later this month.

“This is one way can try to take a step and get more people included in the process,” Garces said.

Claudia Sherrod, a civic-group leader who has been critical of the the name “Newbold,” said she was pleased the group had voted the way it did, and thinks it will bring the neighborhood closer together.

“You can only work things out if you’re open for a dialogue,” Sherrod said. “Otherwise you can’t do anything.”

Longacre didn’t immediately return a phone call or email on Monday. 

Residents clash over neighborhood names all the time, and real-estate people in particular sometimes try to invent new ones. Lately, there’s been a push to use “Midtown Village” for the area more commonly known as the Gayborhood. The area north of Chinatown is also in dispute, with different people using different names, including Chinatown North, Callowhill, Spring Arts, Eraserhood — even the Loft District. There’s really no bottom to how bad it can get; some are even trying to use “JuNoGi” for the area just north of Girard Avenue above Northern Liberties.

Race is a factor in how residents think of a neighborhood, too. A Harvard study from last year found that longtime black residents of changing neighborhoods tended to describe their neighborhoods as large, using a name like South Philly, while newer, white residents went in for smaller boundaries and used names like Graduate Hospital or Southwest Center City.

It’s not the first time Newbold Neighbors Association has put its name up for a referendum. Members voted in 2013, too, but the name was split between the existing one and East Point Breeze Neighbors Association, with neither one pulling in a two-thirds majority that would have made the name permanent.

By now, “Newbold” has been around long enough that some people are still going to use it. So what will the neighborhood association pick up in its place? Will East Point Breeze carry the day?

The association is soliciting suggestions via email, at [email protected]. A clever commenter on the Passyunk Post story has a couple ideas, including “OldBold” and “WaBroPa.” The group’s next meeting is Wednesday, August 24th, at 6:30 p.m. at Reed St. Presbyterian Apartments.

Follow @jaredbrey on Twitter.