Arrivederci, South Philly
One of those blacks who moved from the neighborhood is Fields himself, who recently bought a house seven blocks away in a predominately white but changing section near Snyder Avenue. He pauses before explaining the move, then says: "It wouldn’t pay for me to invest in a neighborhood like we have here. Part of the job of a leader is to encourage people to do better, and if you’re not doing that, then you’re not doing your job." Hmmm. Anyway, Fields says he is finding less hostility than he expected from his new neighbors. "At first," he says, "people thought, well, here comes another black family and they’re going to tear down the neighborhood. But they have other black neighbors who have been living there and they felt safe with them. They just didn’t know me as a person, as Percy Fields." Now, he says, "There’s nobody saying, ‘We don’t want you on this block,’ they’re saying, ‘You have to keep this area up.’ "
That may be what some are saying, but not all. "Ohh, it’s terrible," laments a woman, who owns a home nearby, about blacks who have moved into the neighborhood. "We just look around and we cry."
There is also cause for concern at the only financial institution based in Fields’s area, the St. Edmond’s Savings and Loan. The S & L’s vice president and secretary is-Packer Park’s Tom Parenti.
At one time, Parenti says, all the institution’s savers and borrowers lived within one mile of the office. Now, he says, "The ones who have the money to invest in our association went and bought bigger and better houses, and one by one we lost all our depositors in this area. We lost their mortgage business, too." In response, St. Edmond’s, with about $15 million in assets, now lends mortgage money anywhere within a 100-mile radius of the city, including all suburban areas and the Jersey shore.
The northwest quarter of South Philadelphia is where the negative changes affecting the entire area-loss of population, increase in house vacancy and crime, decrease in city real-estate tax assessments, loss of businesses-have been most severe. The "old" neighborhood, the one Tom Parenti was raised in and Percy Fields moved into, has become a sliver.
Dom Falcone has been in a good position to watch that sliver shrink. He was born in the area, though today he lives in Packer Park, and he manages a sleepy Realtor office here. At one time the small office sold a house a week; now, with sales dead, he lives off managing some center-city apartments and rental houses near his office.
Of the few houses he does sell, almost none go to whites from the neighborhood. "You can’t sell real estate here to neighborhood kids because they see it, they feel it-they’re afraid. The only people we’re going to sell this neighborhood to are people who are tired of center -city rents and other outsiders."