Back in the day, Ridge Avenue was a vibrant commercial corridor. The heart and soul of North Philadelphia was also an entertainment district. The Blue Note was at Ridge and 15th Street.
The Bird Cage Lounge was one block up at Ridge and 16th Street. I don’t know whether it was named after him, but Charlie “Bird” Parker played there. The legendary Pearl Bailey began her singing and dancing career at the Pearl Theater, which was at Ridge and 21st Street.
Some of the jazz giants who roamed Ridge likely stayed at the LaSalle Hotel, which was across from the Pearl Theater. The hotel was listed in the The Negro Motorist Green Book. The Point jazz spot at Ridge and Columbia Avenue (now Cecil B. Moore Avenue) was at the western tip of the storied “Golden Strip.”
Ridge began its steep decline in the aftermath of the 1964 Columbia Avenue race riots and construction of the Norman Blumberg Apartments public housing. Fast forward 50 years, Ridge is on the rise.
In 2014, the Philadelphia Housing Authority announced that transformation of the Blumberg/Sharswood neighborhood was its top priority. The Sharswood Blumberg Choice Neighborhoods Transformation Plan is a massive $500 million project that would, among other things, revitalize the Ridge Avenue corridor.
In an op-ed piece published in the Philadelphia Inquirer, PHA President and CEO Kelvin A. Jeremiah wrote:
The redevelopment of a community is about turning ideas into public policy and putting policy into action.
PHA's revitalization efforts are a targeted, coordinated development model designed to maximize the economic benefits of neighborhood revitalization, not the piecemeal dispersed development model of the past. To transform communities into neighborhoods of choice, there must be good schools for every child, quality affordable housing for all families, and a vibrant small business commercial corridor. The challenge is turning the ideas and rhetoric into policy and practice.
In remarks before the National Trust for Historic Preservation’s recent conference, Marion Mollegen McFadden, Deputy Assistant Secretary for Grant Programs, U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, noted a community has both tangible and intangible assets:
I see preservation’s efforts to recognize and honor the cultural heritage of minority and ethnic groups as a valuable component of strong communities, in particular many of the communities that HUD serves. And I don’t just mean preservation of buildings and places, but also of diverse cultural ties and traditions, the intangible dimensions of heritage that together enrich us as a nation.
McFadden concluded with a quote from HUD Secretary Julián Castro:
History isn’t just a subject for books and documentaries. It’s alive and well in buildings, sites, and structures that shape our communities. They tell us who we are and where we come from – and it’s critical that we protect our past for present and future generations.
The Sharswood/Blumberg Choice Neighborhoods Transformation Plan raises the question: Does PHA value the area’s tangible and intangible assets that give the neighborhood its identity? If so, will a transformed Ridge Avenue preserve the neighborhood’s cultural heritage for present and future generations?
It's back to school in Philadelphia. Thousands of students are returning to schools where there are no nurses, librarians or guidance counselors. And under the leadership of School Superintendent William Hite, there has been a precipitous drop in students' performance on state standardized tests.
While there's no money for classrooms, Hite found $1.2 million to hire bureaucrats for his already bloated administrative staff. Only in Philadelphia would a position be created for a “turnaround” artist whose former employers told him to turn around and get out of town. The Philadelphia Daily News reported that Eric Becoats resigned from his last two jobs “following accounts of his alleged misuse of public resources.”
City Council President Darrell Clarke has had enough. He sent a letter to Hite:
In a recent edition of the Philadelphia Daily News, it was brought to my attention that you have filled six senior level positions at the School District of Philadelphia. I am writing to request that you provide Council with detailed information concerning these positions, including a job description and the manner in which these individuals will contribute to life in the classroom.
Let me be clear about my concern with this announcement. As you may recall, during City Council's consideration of the Mayor's proposed fiscal year 2016 operating and capital budgets, you testified that you were seeking additional funding that would go directly to classroom support, including providing additional teachers to reduce class size and restoring counselors and nurse/health technicians. It is on the basis of your testimony that Council approved approximately $100 million in additional funding for the School District's upcoming academic year.
Given this background, I think it is important to understand how the hiring of these six individuals will enhance the educational experience of Philadelphia's children.
It's true that trouble doesn't last always. However, that truism doesn't apply to a school district whose superintendent inherited a fiscal hole and kept digging.
Since 1995, the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts has paid tribute to the legendary pianist and composer with the Mary Lou Williams Jazz Festival. Williams is the subject of a new documentary, Mary Lou Williams: The Lady Who Swings the Band. The film premiered on public television on April 1.
Missed it? If you’re in the Philly area, you’re in luck. There will be a screening of the documentary on Tuesday, July 14, at the International House. Hosted by the Scribe Video Center, the screening and conversation with director Carol Bash is co-sponsored by the Leeway Foundation, Philadelphia Jazz Project, Ars Nova Workshop and Reelblack.
Sadly, luck is running out on the Women of Jazz mural, which depicts jazz icons including Williams, Billie Holiday and Nina Simone. This civic asset is on the chopping block.
On June 1, I provided public comment before the Philadelphia City Council Committee on Housing, Neighborhood Development and the Homeless, which is chaired by Councilwoman Jannie Blackwell. I brought to Blackwell’s attention the Philadelphia Housing Authority plans to demolish the mural. I made it clear the goal of increasing the availability of affordable housing and preserving the City’s jazz heritage is not mutually exclusive.
COUNCILWOMAN BLACKWELL: Thank you very much. So you're saying they're slated to tear down the mural? MS. ANDERSON: Yes. The Women of Jazz mural at 3200 [block] of Arlington. It will be torn down sometime this year. The date to be determined. COUNCILWOMAN BLACKWELL: All right. I'm happy to work on that.
The complete transcript is available here. Clap along if you’re happy.