Press Release

Cari Feiler Bender: 610-416-1216

What:   Ribbon cutting for Centennial Commons 

Join city officials, nonprofits leaders, and community representatives to formally open the first phase of this new park-within-the-park.

When:   Wednesday, June 13, 2018 (Rain or Shine)

12pm-12:15pm   Walk-through and photo op with VIPs

12:15pm-1pm     Speaking program

1pm                           Ribbon Cutting

Where:   Parkside Avenue at 41st Street, West Fairmount Park


Jim Kenney, Mayor of Philadelphia

Jamie Gauthier, Executive Director, Fairmount Park Conservancy

Michael Di Berardinis, Managing Director, City of Philadelphia

Kathryn Ott Lovell, Commissioner, Philadelphia Parks & Recreation

Vanessa Lowery Brown, PA State Representative

Jannie Blackwell, Philadelphia City Council

Judilee Reed and Cara Ferrentino, William Penn Foundation

Patrick Morgan, Philadelphia Program Director, Knight Foundation

Representative, Philadelphia Streets Department

Representative, Philadelphia Commerce Department

Debra McCarty, Commissioner, Philadelphia Water Department

Chris Spahr and Joyce Smith, Centennial Commons CDC

Calla Cousar, East Parkside Residents Association

Details: This site was the central hub of the Centennial Exhibition of 1876 but has been under supported for decades. With support from the William Penn Foundation and Knight Foundation, Fairmount Park Conservancy and its partners retained Studio Bryn Hanes to upgrade a 67,000-square-foot-area along Parkside Avenue.  The new design features freshly laid walking paths on what was before simply lawn, a rain garden featuring native plants, giant porch swings, and 68 new trees that will increasingly provide shade as they grow. Future phases of the project will be announced at the event.


Fairmount Park Conservancy exists to champion Philadelphia’s parks. We lead capital projects and historic preservation efforts, foster neighborhood park stewardship, attract and leaverage investments, and develop innovative programs throughout the 10, 200 acres that include Fairmount Park and more than 200 neighborhood parks around the city. For more information, please visit myphillypark.org, join us at facebook.com/fairmountparkconservancy, and follow us on instagram and Twitter @myphillypark.


An Evening With Paul Roberson

by Mr. Jim Brown


Recently, West Philadelphia High School hosted a gala celebration of both the 120th birthday of Paul Roberson and the 25th anniversary of the Nutter Center for Community Partnerships and the West Philadelphia Cultural Alliance. This was an evening highlighted by awards to our youth and artistic expressions of a man who was one of the most fascinating human beings of the 20th century. Jason McKinney, who portrayed Paul Roberson and Christopher A. Bagley who was his accompanist, reenacted Roberson’s life onstage in “Moments with Paul”, which was also written by Paul Mckinney. Legendary television anchor Trudy Haynes who was also in attendance, laughingly commented that “I’m expecting the man (McKinney) to be able to sing”. The iconic African-American news broadcast pioneer was frank as she continued by saying “McKinney, I don’t know him but I’m hoping he’s good….and can instill in the listener the same kind of strong enthusiastic feeling and vibrancy that Roberson did when he performed”.

Jason McKinney, an impressive 6′ 4″ tall actor with a baritone voice, gave a commanding performance as he told the captivating story of his character, Paul Roberson, and gave the audience a glimpse into one of the great minds of the 20th century. Roberson was a great athlete, but it was his passion as an activist and lawyer who fought vigorously against racial injustice both at home and abroad (Europe and Africa) that caused him to be blacklisted by the U.S. government during the 1950’s. Roberson was no doubt influenced by his talented and educated family which included ministers, lawyers, social activists and teachers.

After watching McKinney’s performance, I asked the eloquent actor who towered over most of the audience what made him focus on the character and life of Paul Roberson. “I heard his voice”, replied McKinney. “When I was about 15, I asked my father about him and he said ‘oh he’s a great athlete and great lawyer just like me son’ “. McKinney continued by saying “I didn’t know much about him, but when I heard the voice I fell in love with the voice. So when I had the opportunity to… stretch my artistic legs by doing this play,… I used this opportunity to learn more about the man and how tragic his life was.

McKinney explained that much of Roberson’s life story has been lost and expressed the hope that the current generation would try to find this missing information and “tell the story; because if we forget, we’re just like the rest of them”. An enthusiastic McKinney added “…it’s our second time here in Philadelphia and it’s quite an honor and that’s why we love it and look forward to coming back soon”.

In addition to being honored by various universities, Roberson received numerous other awards and honors such as the NAACP’s Spingarn Medal and the Stalin Peace Prize. He was loved by the Russian people who named him the ‘People’s Artist’.

The School District of Philadelphia honored the memory and legacy of Roberson by changing the name of the O.V. Catto School (at 4125 Ludlow St. in West Philadelphia) to the Paul Roberson High School for Human services. I talked to the school’s principal, Mr. Richard Gordan, about what Paul Roberson would have loved about the school that bears his name. He replied that “I’d hope he would be proud of the fact that you had a school that at first was not moving in the direction everyone wanted to see but has in the last five years managed to propel itself into one of the top high schools in Philadelphia. I would hope he would be proud of….the character of the students that we’re developing”.

I also spoke with the Executive Director of the Paul Roberson House and Museum about the concert. “I loved that these men were performing” said Ms. Michael. “They performed very well and captured the crowd. As we look to serve the community, we have a list of activities and things that we do at the (Paul Roberson) house; we have a myriad of things that we do for the house with a lot of organizations and groups to help with the Roberson House”. Ms. Michael proudly explained that”……Paul Roberson was my adopted uncle. I lived across the street from the Robersons and our families go way back. before I was born”.

In 1965, after the death of his wife Eslanda Goode Roberson (a civil rights activist in her own right), Paul Roberson moved to Philadelphia where he lived with his sister Marian until his death in 1976. Born April 9, 1898 in Princeton, New Jersey, Roberson died in Philadelphia on January 26, 1976.

“He didn’t give interviews, not even to the late (black) Philadelphia Daily News reporter Chuck Stone”, said Westside Weekly Editor Tyree Johnson. “He was bitter about the press but good with his neighbors who knew him”.

We thank the late Mrs. Frances Aulston for her dedicated work and passion to bring Paul Roberson’s life to all who visit (the Roberson House) to learn about the man who served the people without prejudice. For those wishing to visit the Paul Roberson House and museum, it is located at 4949-51Walnut Street in Philadelphia, Pa. 19139. The phone number is (215) 474-1378 and the website is www.paulrobersonhouse.org.

A Legacy Continued

By Jasmine Bullock

Ms. Jacquelyn Kelley had a vision to educate young people and expose them to the world around them. She wanted them to experience life outside their neighborhoods, outside their city, state and ultimately outside their country. In April of 2007, this mission became a reality with the first charter for Discovery Charter School.

The curriculum was designed to take an expeditionary learning approach that would combine what students learned in the classroom to what happens in real life situations. It was Ms. Kelley’s desire to build the bridge between the information learned in books and how it is applied in everyday life.

Throughout the years, the school has maintained its original mission by providing a quality education and opportunities for Parkside area youth to travel throughout the world. Each year, kindergarten through third grade students tour the Delaware Valley learning about the city of Philadelphia and surrounding counties. The fourth graders continue their growth by traveling to Washington DC to tour the Nation’s Capital and are hosted by a local member of Congress each year.

Middle school students have the opportunity to take all the information they have learned and put it into application abroad. Throughout the years, several 6th grade classes have travelled to Detroit with a final destination of Canada to explore the route of the Underground Railroad. During this year, the students also pick their 8th grade trip abroad. This gives them two years to fundraise for the journey. Discovery Charter School has been privileged to take groups of student to Africa, Costa Rica, Italy and Spain.

Each year, Discovery Charter School celebrates Founders Day with a school wide “Fun Day”. The School is transformed into a fun zone. Elementary aged students use the gymnasium to enjoy bounce houses, photo booths and pizza. Middle school students gravitate to the school yard where several video game and virtual reality trucks are available for their entertainment. This Founder’s Day DCS CEO, Ms. Elmore, found another way for a legacy of excellence to continue for generations to come. The school hosted its inaugural Spring Gala in celebration of Ms. Kelley’s legacy and the children and alumni of the school. This gala served as a ribbon cutting for the Jacquelyn Y. Kelley Museum. The event featured musical offering from The Sounds of Philadelphia, The Blue Notes and the Tramps.

The museum serves as a home for current students and the community to see memorabilia from Ms. Kelley and footage of the expeditions the school has taken since its inception. There are rooms dedicated to various aspects of Ms. Kelley’s character, personality and vision for the education of young people.

The museum has four rooms that share the history of the school in various ways. Kiosks are set-up throughout the building with photos of the various trips students have taken and film footage of Ms. Kelley and events throughout her tenure. There are also live action and animated videos to meet the needs of all ages visiting the museum. In addition, there is also a room in the museum that is filled with items from Ms. Kelley’s wardrobe as well as a look at the evolution of the uniforms and paraphernalia worn by students throughout the history of the school. The final gallery is a time capsule. The room holds all of the school’s yearbooks as well as a memorial to Jacquelyn Kelley. This museum will serve as a gateway into the past for students to come.

As Discovery Charter School continues to educate and shape youth into proactive, positive citizens, the administration and faculty will know they are continuing the legacy that Jacquelyn Kelley began with her original vision many years ago.

West Park Arts Fest – Saturday June 9th, 2018

Founded by West Park Cultural Center in 2008, the West Park Arts Fest is moving to South Concourse Drive in West Fairmount Park. The site is adjacent to the Centennial Commons project along Parkside Avenue- an exciting public space project by Fairmount Park Conservancy as part of Philadelphia’s Reimagining the Civic Commons initiative.

Fairmount Park Conservancy and Mural Arts Philadelphia are joining West Park Cultural Center as organizers for this free public event advancing the festival’s mission to bring communities together in the park, promote greater awareness of the area’s history and heritage, while celebrating the arts and cultural diversity of Philadelphia. The festival embraces partnership and has over the years been made possible in great part to the participation of many arts, cultural and community partners from West Philadelphia and across Philadelphia.

On Saturday June 9th from 12pm to 5pm attendees of all ages will enjoy stages of exciting culturally diverse performances by some of the area’s best dancers, musicians, vocalists, and spoken word artists. Some of the talent includes the popular West Philadelphia Orchestra, Badd Kitti, Gretchen Elise Music, Lauren Putty White, The Philly Clicks, Jasmin Yahne Dance Company, and many more. The event will engage attendees in dance, art making, and many other activities including guided historical trolley tours through the Centennial District. The Franklin Institute will showcase prototypes of its new exhibition “Game Masters” as well as providing PACTS program activities. Attendees can buy unique items in the Handmade Market, browse other vendors and enjoy refreshments from diverse food vendors. An estimated 3,000 are expected to attend. There are Sponsor and Vendor opportunities.

Fairmount Park Conservancy’s Arts & Culture Program, with the support of ArtPlace America, will commission one artist or artist team to create an outdoor art installation for Arts Fest with interactive elements that draw their inspiration from the neighborhood. Festival goers will also see a standing timeline created by Global Philadelphia that documents Parkside’s history and heritage with pictures and text.

To see more visit http://www.westparkcultural.org /westparkartsfest or call 215-473-7810

Niesha Kennedy, PR Manager West Park Cultural nkennedy@westparkcultural.org

Chess Cadets Championing West Philadelphia- by Jasmine Bullock

Chess mentor Fred Austin Working with students

Throughout the years, movies like Life of a King and Queen of Katwe have shown us how small, local clubs can change lives. This is happening at the 40th and Walnut Streets Library. The Walnut St. West Chess Cadets Chess Club has been practicing and competing for approximately ten years. The club is sponsored by the Local Friends of the Walnut St. West Library lead by group president, Alice Wells.

Each year 30 children ages 6 to 18 participate in the Walnut Street Libraries Chess Club. Children must be in first grade to attend and many of them return for several years. The current program consists of 32 students ranging from age 6 to 13. The children are expected to attend club sessions each week in order to make progress throughout the year. The students are broken into four groups based on skill level. Their continued participation and weekly commitment is exemplified through the wide range of growth throughout the year!

Student success would not be possible without the dedication of 8 coaches. Most of the coaches and mentors are solicited via word of mouth, the After School Activities Partnerships (ASAP) organization and local community groups. Current coach and mentor, Fred Austin, stumbled upon the club in 2011 when searching for a group to play chess with. He was impressed with the enthusiasm of the children and decided to share his talent and love for the game. In past years, former participants have returned to coach younger students while in high school. The club also has unwavering parent support. Each week, parents take turns helping during meeting sessions.

The team participates in approximately four tournaments, sponsored by ASAP, per year and has had several victories as individual competitors and as a team. In their most recent tournament, the Checkmate Violence Tournament at Temple University, Walnut St. West Chess Cadets competed with approximately 300 other participants and went home with four trophies including the 1st place prize!

Each year, the Walnut St. West Chess Cadets Chess Club meets on Wednesdays from September through June. Students are required to complete applications, which are available from librarians. The program runs on a rolling application process. Once spaces are filled, any additional applicants are placed on a waiting list. All students must re-apply each year in August.

For more information about the Walnut West Chess Cadets, contact library personnel at

https://www.freelibrary.org or wswlibraryfriends@gmail.com.


Saving Our Park’s Forests: Restoration Project Underway!

by Jennifer Mahar

Editor’s note: If you have been anywhere near the Horticultural center in the past few weeks you must have noticed all the work going on in the park and the trees being cut down. The Casual Park goer probably pays little attention to the specific types of trees or other plant life found in Fairmount Park. Most of us simply see the ‘woods’ in the park they love and take for granted that they will always be there. However, that’s not guaranteed. Our Park lands take care and nurturing to preserve for future generations. The following article emphasizes why we must now take a more ‘hands on’ approach regarding plant life in our parks. It details what is being done to meet the critical challenge of ensuring the continued survival of a healthy, diverse forests in our city’s parks.

Philadelphia Parks & Recreation (PPR) and the Fairmount Park Conservancy selected the forests surrounding The Horticulture Center, one of the jewels of the Philadelphia park system, as the focal point for a major restoration effort. The Horticulture Center facility and grounds, which include an arboretum, are historic and provide the setting for horticultural excellence in our park system. The facility features a conference center, indoor gardens and greenhouses, and is a destination for ceremonies, including weddings, corporate events and holiday celebrations. Unfortunately, the native forests surrounding the site are being lost. The forest canopy is dominated by a large number of invasive tree species and portions of the canopy are over-run by invasive woody vines, which are tearing the forest apart. The understory is dominated by a limited number of non-native species of saplings and shrubs, and the native herbaceous layer (wildflowers, ferns and grasses) has disappeared. This forest is on a trajectory to become dominated by a limited number of invasive trees, shrubs, and vines, with little aesthetic appeal, diminished wildlife habitat and minimal diversity. Without intervention, the future forest will provide an unfortunate example of neglect and lost potential.

The Horticulture Center Forest Restoration and Protection project includes three distinct Project Areas, identified as Lansdowne Glen ( 12.8 acres); Montgomery Creek ( 10.7 acres) and Michaux Grove (5.9 acres), totaling approximately 29.4 acres in size. The project sites each abut the Horticulture Center and grounds. The current project will demonstrate to our many visitors that carefully planned restoration can transform a degraded forest into a diverse and functional ecosystem.

Urban forests are subject to a wide range of stressors that do not commonly afflict non-urban or “wildland” forests. The cumulative effect of these stresses is too slow to be observed, but over time, the impacts become obvious. The native trees and shrubs are replaced by non-natives, rampant woody vines tear off limbs and encroach into the canopy; regeneration (i.e. seedlings and saplings) disappear, diversity diminishes, and eventually the forest is lost.

One of the most significant stressors, surprisingly, is an over-population of white-tailed deer. Deer are a native animal; however, the abnormally high population that roams our park system takes a huge toll on the native forest. These herbivores selectively and continuously consume almost every native tree or shrub seedling growing within the forest floor. The “carrying capacity,” or ability of our native forest to provide sufficient food for the deer herd, has been overwhelmed. In addition, these same deer also prefer to consume the native plants rather than the non-native or invasive plant species, which have become increasingly common throughout Philadelphia’s forests. This is because that over the millennia, our native deer co-evolved with our native plants and as a result find the native plants far more palatable and nutritious than the non-natives. In addition to herbivory by deer, our forests have become overrun with non-native plants. The Philadelphia region has a high diversity and abundance of invasive plants due to our rich history of botanical introductions and horticultural plant promotion. These two factors – deer browse and invasive plants – will, over time, result in the replacement of our native forest with a degraded landscape dominated by a few species of non-native trees, shrubs and vines. Unlike most wildland forests, urban forests must be maintained and stewarded if they are to survive.

The goal of this forest restoration project is focused on the removal of nonnative species of plants (trees, shrubs and vines) using traditional forestry equipment in order to prepare the sites for planting and to promote the regeneration and establishment of native plants.

Following the removal of the undesirable vegetation, each of the sites will receive targeted herbicide treatment and then be protected with eight foot (8′) height deer exclusion fencing. Deer fencing is visually unobtrusive and the fence will include multiple pedestrian gates so as not to impede access by park users. A new walking trail for education and passive recreation will be constructed within the Lansdowne Glen project area. While performing clearing, the contractor will be “topping” a number of the undesirable trees that are being removed as part of this project. Standing dead trees are referred to as “snags,” which provide valuable wildlife nesting and feeding opportunities. The contractors will also leave large logs or “habitat logs” laying onsite. These provide habitat and help return nutrients back to the soil as they decay. In fall 2019, PPR and the Fairmount Park Conservancy will plant the site with thousands of native trees and shrubs. Some of these plants will be purchased from local native plant nurseries; however, many will be grown from locally-sourced seed at PPR’s Greenland Nursery (off of Ford Rd. near the Organic Recycling Center).

The project should result in the restoration to a regionally-native forest along with a significant increase in plant diversity. Plant diversity is closely correlated with wildlife diversity, so the project should provide improved nesting and breeding opportunities for resident and migratory wildlife. This effort will reset the trajectory of this urban forest and provide an example of ecological restoration that can be used to teach students and practitioners alike.

Heritage Alive: The Reinvention of Parkside’s Historic Places

– by Melissa Stevens (World Heritage Coordinator, Global Philadelphia Association)

What do you picture when you think of “Philadelphia heritage”? Or the Founding Fathers crafting the Constitution? How about children building rocket ships and having tea parties with the Mad Hatter? Philadelphia became a World Heritage City in 2015 in large part because of our historic achievements and our rich array of historic sites. But recognizing the illustrious history of Philadelphia is only half the story.

We are a World Heritage City because of who we are today and how we have taken what we inherited from past generations – the places, ideas, values, and culture – and made it our own. Heritage is alive. And so are our historic places. Many of these relics and reminders of our past can be found right here in Parkside today. Parkside’s Memorial Hall is a wonderful example of living heritage and the reinvention of a historic site.

Memorial Hall was built as the art gallery for the 1876 Centennial Exhibition, which was the first major World’s Fair in the United States. After the Exhibition, Memorial Hall was reinvented several times: as the first home of the Philadelphia Museum of Art and the University of the Arts, as a recording studio for the Philadelphia Orchestra, and as a recreation center.

Today, this National Historic Landmark is home to the Please Touch Museum, where children, rockets, and the Mad Hatter have become part of Philadelphia’s World Heritage story.

Not Far from Memorial Hall is another reminder of Philadelphia”s rich and varied heritage. Shofuso Japanese House and Garden is another Parkside historic site that has undergone several transformations.

Originally, the site was home to a 14th century gate from a Japanese Buddhist temple brought to the US for the 1904 Louisiana Purchase Exposition. After a fire destroyed the gate, the Shofuso House was installed in its place in 1957.

The house was originally built in Japan in 1953, using traditional materials and techniques, for an exhibition on Japanese influences on mid-century modern American architecture. Today, the historic site and museum hosts over 30,000 visitors annually.

Historic Belmont Mansion is another example of how Parkside is constantly reinventing itself.

Built in the 18th century as the residence of an English lawyer and farmer, today it is an underground railroad museum, highlighting the history and culture of African Americans, who make up the majority of Parkside’s current population. Parkside’s historic places are living heritage sites, where the neighborhood’s past generations left their mark, and where current residents go to connect with their roots and imagine their futures.

News that is from, about, and benefits our Parkside Community in West Philadelphia.