Category Archives: Neighborhood History

Eastern State Penitentiary Kicks Off Holiday Season with Toy Drive Benefiting Children with Incarcerated Parents

Eastern State Penitentiary celebrates this holiday season with a toy drive benefiting local children whose parents are incarcerated. From November 30 through December 21, anyone who donates a new, unwrapped toy or children’s book at the historic site will be granted “Buy One, Get One Free” tour admission. One in 28 American children has a parent behind bars. In Pennsylvania alone, there are approximately 81,096 children with a parent incarcerated in a Pennsylvania state prison. How can we come together as a community to support families experiencing incarceration during the holidays?

Eastern State Penitentiary partners with Institute for Community Justice, Why Not Prosper, the Center for Returning Citizens, and Ardella’s House to collect gifts for local children with incarcerated parents. From November 30 through December 21, any Eastern State visitor who donates a new toy or children’s book, in its original packaging (but please no gift wrap), will be granted a second admission free of charge.

Visitors may drop off donations even if they are not planning to take a tour. Items can also be purchased online and shipped directly to the penitentiary:

ATTN: Toy Drive

Eastern State Penitentiary

2027 Fairmount Avenue

Philadelphia, PA 19130



New Innovations Happening At The Please Touch Museum

The Please Touch Museum is the keeper of many
Philadelphia treasures and one of them dates back more
than 100 years. Its the model of the 1876 Centennial
Exposition that was held here in Philadelphia in the
summer of that year. The model which is an amazing
representation of the event is 20 by 30 feet with
buildings, lakes, fountains trees, and even an old style
monorail. It is a great representation of what was once

The staff at Please Touch now have a plan to reimage the
1876 model for children of today in their permanent
gallery centennial innovations. This will be a multimedia
interactive where children can become immersed in the
centennial. model. Using state of the art digital means
students can fly through the model and visit the
fairgrounds. After all the prototyping is done students
will be meet the people and see the sights and inventions
that were first introduced to the world here in

Visitors will also get the opportunity to learn how to
develop a healthy community using similar multimedia
devices. Exhibit scheduled to open in late 2019

A Vision of Inspiration

by Jasmine Bullock

London based artist Richard Wilson has taken a simple desire to paint a beloved actor (Will Smith) and created a vivid symbol of inspiration for students to see every day. Recently, his dream became a reality due largely to the support of the Mural Arts program. (Mural Arts Philadelphia is the nation’s largest public art program and is dedicated to the belief that art ignites positive change.

It seeks to transform public spaces and individual lives). This program enabled Wilson to share his love for art and his appreciation for Philadelphia native Will Smith by creating a representation of the actor on the wall of a warehouse adjacent to the Global Leadership Academy (GLA) Charter School (located at 46th Street and Girard Avenue).

When Richard Wilson began work on the Will Smith mural, school was still in session. Student excitement was evident. For example, rising 5th grader Destin Phillips described watching the muralist work as inspirational. He expressed his interest in the entertainment industry; being able to see a successful entertainer on the walls near his school has made his goal to be an actor seem more realistic.

Parents and guardians of students were also thrilled with knowing that a representation of a Philadelphia legend would grace the property where their young scholars come to be nurtured. Student grandmother and former educator Lynette Jenkins knows that the Will Smith mural will help GLA scholars and other area students to understand that although the children like them are from the inner city and attend public schools, they are still capable of finding individual success. Ms. Jenkins is also hopeful that the mural will inspire classroom conversations about the correlation between hard work and success and interest in stories about the success of other Philadelphia natives, not only in the entertainment industry but also in other career paths. The mural serves as an inspiration to not only the students of GLA but also the immediate neighborhood. To date, there are a total of 10 murals in the area and the number is continually growing. From Ed Bradley on Belmont avenue to Reading a Journey on Pennsgrove Street, color and beauty surround Parkside streets. With the recent addition of the Parkside Edge, the residents of the Parkside community have the opportunity to explore and enjoy both the arts in the neighborhood and the natural beauty of the park.

While inspiring the youth of GLA, the Will Smith mural joins a growing set of murals in Parkside helping to beautify the neighborhood and encourage the growth of arts in the community. The many artistic inspirations include:

  1. Wall of Rugs: The Global language of Textiles (4398, US 30)
  2. History of Parkside, Leidy School (4850 Parkside Avenue)
  3. Black Family Reunion (4850Parkside Avenue)
  4. Will Smith (4545 W. Girard Avenue)
  5. Reading a Journey (3969 Pennsgrove Avenue)
  6. On the Block (3956 Pennsgrove Street)
  7. Animal Kaleidoscope (123 W. Girard Avenue)
  8. In Nature Nothing Exists Alone (Zoological Drive)

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.

Parkside’s New Ambassadors Program

Our thanks to all members of the ambassadors program, seen here are Tracy Reed, Quentin Drew and John McFadden.

By Michael Burch

You may have seen the hard-working guys, pictured above, working around Parkside. They are part of a program from the Centennial Parkside CDC called the Ambassadors program. In an effort to learn more about this program, I contacted Chris Spahr, the executive Director of Centennial Parkside and asked him some questions.

PJ: Can you tell me what the Ambassadors program is all about?

CS: The Ambassador Pilot Program helps to achieve one of the goals of the Centennial Parkside CDC, which is to clean and beautify the corridors of East Parkside. To do this, the ambassadors are sweeping streets, cleaning vacant lots, and working to combat illegal dumping in the community. Our hope is that this will encourage residents and business owners to keep their sidewalks and lots clean and beautiful and extend their concern to vacant lots and alleyways in the neighborhood. It is also a sign that East Parkside is no longer a place where people can illegally dump garbage. Rather, we hope that this program will empower residents to take control of their neighborhood and demand an end to illegal dumping.

PJ: How many staff currently and what is their service area?

CS: There are currently three staff members and their initial focus areas are vacant lots, 40th and 41st streets from the bridges to Girard Avenue, and Girard Avenue from 40th Street to 38th Street.

PJ: Do you have a plan to expand the program?

CS: This project, supported by the Knight Foundation and Brandywine Realty, is currently funded through October but the CDC is pursuing additional funding to extend and expand the program.

PJ: One more thing, if residents should need help with a neighborhood problem, can they request help?

CS: Yes, if residents request help from the Ambassadors, this information will be relayed to management at the CDC, who can then add this to the work plan. Residents can also contact the CDC directly to request help with any specific neighborhood problems.

PJ: Thank you for answering our questions.  For residents that have a need to contact the CDC they can be reached at 267-225-8356.


Future Unclear For Welsh Fountain

by Michael Burch

A couple of years ago in the March 2014 edition, the Parkside Journal published a story about the fountain that sits directly in front of the Please Touch Museum. If you are like most people who live in Parkside or the people who drive by it on their way to and from Center City every day, you may not know the name of this fountain or anything about its origin. It is called the John Welsh Memorial Fountain.

John Welsh Fountain in Winter
John Welsh Fountain in Winter

It turns out that this fountain has some historical significance to the area because it was named for and dedicated to Mr. John Welsh for his service to the City of Philadelphia and to his country. He was instrumental in bringing the 1876 Centennial Exhibition here to Philadelphia in Fairmount Park. John Welsh as one of the original Fairmount Park commissioners and became the principal officer and president of the Centennial Board of Finance. If you were anything like me growing up in Parkside, you probably never knew any of this. My friends and I only knew that the fountain worked and that it looked great.

That was a long time ago and the fountain has not functioned in decades. A short time ago the Journal learned that fountain might see new life. After all things have been happening in Parkside, five years ago the Garden Club of America rehabbed Concourse Lake, the Catholic Abstinence Fountain is getting a face lift and serious plans are underway for the Parkside Edge Project to “re-image” the edge of Parkside Avenue beginning next month.

Sometime ago the Journal learned that Philadelphia Horticultural Society has been studying the possibility of rebuilding the fountain. We have not heard anything further from the Society and do not know the results of the study. It is possible that it was concluded that it was not viable to proceed further on such a project. The Journal will be sure to update our readers on any new developments regarding this iconic fountain. If anyone has picture(s) of the Welsh fountain when it was working, please email them to us at

We would love to see them and may show your picture in our next edition.

The Parkside Neighborhood: Rare Roots Run Deep

by Nikia Brown

From every corner of Philadelphia, its anthem rings true, “Philadelphia is the city of neighborhoods.” Historic in nature and diverse in form, the Parkside neighborhood, in particular, provides a vivid illustration of a historic, yet re-inventive Philadelphia. Several eras ago, Parkside was a destination for Sunday strollers and carriage rides, street vendors and park parades. It’s artistically designed Victorian buildings became the home and hope for many European immigrants and African-Americans migrating from the South.

An overview of the Exposition Grounds as seen from the Main Building in 1876. Courtesy:
An overview of the Exposition Grounds as seen from the Main Building in 1876. Courtesy:

In the 19th century, Parkside, formerly known as Blockley Township, was mostly utilized for its lush green lands. The neighborhood’s proximity to the railroad and Center City made it the ideal location for the nation’s 100th birthday celebration—The Centennial Exposition of 1876. The Exposition attracted tourists and settlers from all around the world offering a wide array of ethnic foods, vaudeville theaters, a grandiose soda fountain, hotels, and beer gardens. While the Exposition was a lauded success, Parkside suffered a grave decline after the 6-month long celebration. It took the courage of German-American entrepreneur, Frederick Poth, and the creative genius of 26-year-old architect, Henry Flower, to revive the deteriorating neighborhood.

The 20th century ushered in a surge of newly designed homes, German-born merchants and manufacturers, and a range of occupations from brewer to distiller, lithographer to mechanical engineer. On Viola Street, between 1900 and 1910, many households were owned by second and third generation middle-class European-Americans with Scottish, English, Irish, and German backgrounds. Interestingly, in the 1920s, the overly animated open markets of South Street pushed the newly emerging middle-class Russian-Jewish population to Parkside. The synagogue built on 41st and Viola Street continues to stand as a representation of yet another community that chose Parkside as their settling grounds. Today that synagogue is a Baptist church.

The southwest corner of 42nd and Parkside Avenue as it appeared in 1954. Courtesy:
The southwest corner of 42nd and Parkside Avenue as it appeared in 1954. Courtesy:

Nonetheless, with the devastating blow of the Great Depression and World War II, urban life increasingly proved difficult to navigate driving many of the Jewish residents to more outlying neighborhoods. This, as well as other episodes of, “White Flight” provided African-Americans an opportunity to find refuge in an unfair and uncertain America. Though the neighborhood remained fairly integrated for approximately 15 years, the African-American residents of the Parkside Historical District are the longest residing group to inhabit the area since it was built in 1897. With resilience and gracious tenacity, they weathered the cumbersome economic challenges of Parkside’s past and contributed to what is now one of Philadelphia’s most urban tourist attractions.

Another rendering of a future Centennial Commons area.
Another rendering of a future Centennial Commons area.

With Philadelphia’s recent designation as a World Heritage City and Parkside’s continuing development, this neighborhood is bound to attract, once again, the diverse communities that planted its roots to opportunity. The Fairmount Park Conservancy, with assistance from the William Penn Foundation and the Lenfest Foundation, has funded the creation of the Centennial District Master Plan. The projected 300-million dollar 20-year plan includes streetscape improvements along Parkside Avenue, renovation of the Park’s Concourse Lake, play fields opposite Memorial Hall, and a new transit line that will connect the area to Center City. Today, Parkside residents can envisage a neighborhood that pays homage to the bustling economic activity and immigrant engagement of its distant past. Parkside symbolically stands as the bridge between rich Philadelphian history and the promise of greater cooperation, civic engagement, and community progress.