Arrivederci, South Philly
The unfamiliar visitor, after a few frustrating minutes of wandering in search of an address, is forced to give in and ask a or pedestrian (if he is lucky enough to find one), "Where the hell is Denfield Place?"
Residents always know; sometimes it is enough to simply stop the first person you see and ask, "Where does so-and-so live?" and he or she will tell you. For the men, mainly white-collar workers and small-business owners, Packer Park offered easy parking in garages and driveways; for the women, a stylish home no one else had ever lived in; for everyone, an escape from street life to the land of lawns and trees just by crossing Packer " Avenue. In 1962, the first houses built cost $12,000 or so; today they go for $80,000 and up, and the section’s larger houses get as much as $115.000.
While the move to Packer Park served our to hold its residents close to their former neighborhoods, it did even more to distance them. True, they were cautious pioneers, but the edge of South Philadelphia
It turns out, is beyond the edge. "Do you want to know something?" Betty asks. ldn’t think I could ever get used to living here. I was almost afraid to move from 10th and Wharton, where it was so warm, so secure. But about a vear later. I said to myself . . . ," and she smiles widely and clasps her hands before her, " ‘ . . I could have moved even further away! I could live anywhere!’ "
Betty Costello isn’t the only Packer Park resident who was reluctant to move there. Ann Parenti says she clung so dearly to her previous home-"the most gorgeous little house on Emily Street"-that she had to be forced out by her husband, who placed a deposit on Packer Park on the sly. Ann remembers her friends on Emily Street fondly for tearing a FOR SALE sign on her house down with a hammer while her husband was at work.
The move was partly to reflect the success Tom Parenti was enjoying as an officer with a local savings and loan, and partly to give the five family members more room. But there was also another reason why whites in South Philadelphia’s northwest quadrant-the section above Snyder Avenue and west of Broad street-go itchy to improve their stations: blacks had begun migrating south into that area.
The blacks in question could have been retired law professors or disabled midgets: it would have made little difference. Experience had taught that black neighborhoods rapidly deteriorated into scary Dockets of vacant houses, graffiti and despair.
Normally the first blacks to integrate a neighborhood are much like the whites who are escaping: working class but previously poor, industrious, law-abiding and home loving. But, says one area Realtor, no whites will buy on an integrated block. So after a neighborhood’s racial mix begins to change, it can change quickly. Not far from the Parentis there were new residents who were poor, and many were renters who depended on absentee landlords to make repairs. Crime, especially street assaults, did rise. The Parenti children, Ann says, were chased and taunted by blacks on their way to elementary school. Their block of Emily Street (about nine blocks from the Rota neighborhood) is still much the same as it was when they left it 18 years ago, but it has nervously watched the distinct border between black and white sections edge closer.