Parkside Historic District Coalition

by Michael Burch

The Parkside Historic District Coalition is an organized group of community stakeholders working together since 1996 to help the East Parkside community to confront its problems and to celebrate its successes. The stakeholders are the leaders of the local community and civic organizations, representatives of the local cultural institutions, church leaders, business owners, and government officials.

Birdseye view of Fairmount Park, Philadelphia,...
Birdseye view of Fairmount Park, Philadelphia, with the buildings of the International Exhibition 1876, c1875. (Photo credit: Library Company of Philadelphia)

The Coalition has successfully lobbied for street repairs and improvements in traffic safety. It has monitored and advocated both for and against special needs housing. The Coalition meetings offer information about initatives that are planned for the local community and has worked to support those activities that benefit the residents and businesses of East Parkside.

The Coalition provides a forum for those interested in a brighter future for East Parkside. The meetings are held the fourth Monday of every month, 9:00 am at Christ Community Baptist Church, 1224 N. 41st Street. All are welcome to attend.

Mr. Ken Woodson, Vice President Community Government Affairs at the Philadelphia Zoo is the convener of the Parkside Historic Coalition.

School Choices for Parkside

by Michael Burch
Even though Leidy Elementary School is closing permanently Blankenburg Elementary a public school, a public school, Parkside still has a great variety of schools for children in our area to attend. Parents should be aware of and pay close attention to these varied school choices as the new school year approaches.

Discovery Charter School has recently moved from it’s old location on Parkside Avenue to its’ new and current location on Belmont Avenue.

Discovery Charter will open its’ doors to students at this larger and better equipped location for the first time this September.

Discovery Charter School Under Construction at 4700 Parkside.
Discovery Charter School Under Construction at 4700 Parkside.

Within easy walking distance of Parkside Avenue is the Global Leadership Academy located at 4601 Girard Avenue. Global is another new school addition to our neighborhood. Right across the street from Global is Blankenburg Elementary School which has served this community since 1925. It was on the SRC “chopping block” but was spared and will open in the fall.

A more recent school addition in our area is the School of the Future. It literally sits in Fairmount Park. The School of the Future was built in 2008. During the five years of its’ existence, it has had its’ share of struggles and challenges.

There have been leadership changes and enrollment issues concerning the surrounding community. Hopefully, it appears that the school has solved or dealt with most of its’ “growing pains”. The editors of the JOURNAL are cautiously optimistic that this is true and that the SOF is on its’ way to a great future in Parkside.

Discovery’s old location has recently been taken over by another new school in the area, called Kipp Dubois Collegiate Academy. They are a Charter High school and are new to our area. We wish them well as they begin operation in Parkside.

Fallout from School Funding Crisis

by Manuel McDonnell Smith

As a citizen, I’m always among the first in line to cheer the work of our locally elected officials. With a minimum of public recognition, and a modest paycheck, they take on the 24/7 jobs of keeping our services running and our neighborhoods happy. But recently smiles turned into shock. How have our trusted leaders let the critical issue of school funding turn into the crisis it is today?

My life is a positive example of the powerful benefit of public education. I’ve been able to parlay the meaningful instruction from my Philadelphia Public School teachers into a career path that has taken me from the corners of West Philadelphia to the top corridors of corporate leadership in New York.

Despite these achievements, my heart still yearned to return the community’s investment in me; therefore, I’ve returned home to Philadelphia, enrolling my children in the Public School system and continuing the ecosystem that drives a thriving community. But will this funding shortage also short my kids of the same opportunities I’ve enjoyed?

“When you live in the city, as soon as you have your first kid, you start thinking about schools”, explained Brian Hackford, a co- owner of local business Keswick Cycles to The Philadelphia Inquirer. “You hope your district will get better. Instead it gets worse. Unless you have $35,000 a year [for] private school, at some point, you go, ‘I just can’t do this’.”

It sounds like his hope for educating his children in the city, and contributing to the ecosystem that keeps our city growing through positive schooling here has been broken.

That “burst bubble” is not Brian’s alone; it’s one that’s shared by my friends and the other parents I know who send their kids to school with mine. But that even brings up even more concern.

Because of my strong roots in the city, my family has decided to keep holding on and believing that things will get better. But ours is just one choice to stay. The same Inquirer story profiled two other families who have chosen to flee the city due to the lack of public educational choices for their children. Their choices sadden me. Could their children have been the classroom buddies that my kids will now never have the chance to meet?

Philadelphia Skyline
Philadelphia Skyline (Photo credit: Vlastula)

Maybe their sons, now moved to the ‘burbs, were the guys meant to take my daughters to their first school dances and proms, or even later become their colleagues at firms launched by their future creative wisdoms. They’re gone now, taking not only those possibilities with them, but also part of the strong tax base needed to help fund the good schools, and good teachers that keep the ecosystem of a growing city alive.

For me, the dream is still alive. But I need our elected officials to resolve this debate, and quickly deal with the problems facing public education. The educational futures of my children, and thousands of others depend on their choices today. Not only do I want a better future for them, but for all of the children who are counting on the system to get them to cap-and-gowns.

It’s not too late to put aside politics, and re-deliver hope through positive, assured funding for schools for families like mine. If delivering hope for my family is not enough, then at least consider Brian’s. His family has put their city townhouse up for sale. “We have an offer”, he sadly told The Inquirer. “And if it works out, we’re going.” That sounds like he”s not yet at closing, which leaves yet another chance for you (city officials) to change his and many other minds. We want to believe. Please deliver on the promise of better education for our children!

Transforming East and West Park

by Michael Burch

This writer feels he could live in no better section of Philadelphia than right here in West Park. Fortunately, many other people in Philadelphia also think highly of and have faith in our area. Philadelphia Parks and Recreation, together with the Fairmount Park Conservancy and PennPraxis have begun a new project in East and West Parkside.

Supported by a grant from the William Penn Foundation, PennPraxis will coordinate the study/project. Many resident stakeholders have already been asked to join an advisory committee to help facilitate the study.

English: Smith Memorial Arch, South Concourse ...
English: Smith Memorial Arch, South Concourse & Lansdowne Drive, West Fairmount Park, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania (1898-1912), James H. Windrim, architect. Looking north through south archway. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Clearly, some significant changes are needed in our park. Incredibly, we are 21st century residents living in a 19th century park! If changes are to be made, however, those of us who live here should have a say about what specific changes should take place.

The project is focused on improving transportation to and from the park, upgrading amenities within the park itself, updating basic infrastructure, and making key landscaping upgrades. Some of the key goals of the project are:

  1. A Long Term Vision Plan for Public Investment
  2. A Long Term Set of Planning Principles Informed by Public Engagement
  3. A Series of Immediate, Low Cost Early Actions
  4. A Strategic Plan for Implementation, Stewardship, and Coalition Building

This project will also take a much needed look at things like traffic flow, parking, and new walking and biking trails. There is so much to talk about! Public meetings for Parkside residents will be scheduled in the very near future. Please stay alert for future updates.

Education In Parkside: What lies Ahead?

by Michael Burch

What’s the state of education in Parkside? These days that’s a really good question to ask. Everyone knows that the Philadelphia School System has been under tremendous financial stress; so much so that they have closed 23 schools from across the city. One major causality of the school closings is Joseph Leidy School at the corner of Belmont and Leidy Ave. Leidy Elementary has sat on that corner for 51 years, educating students from the surrounding neighborhoods. This writer should know, because I was one of the first group of students to have attended kindergarten at Leidy. The school was named after the famed 19th century paleontologist and professor of anatomy at the University of Pennsylvania, Dr. Joseph Leidy. It might surprise many people to know that this is not the first Leidy School to sit in Parkside. Years before the current building was built in 1962, there stood just across the street on 42nd and Thompson stood the original Leidy School built sometime after 1880.

Old Leidy School (Source:
Old Leidy School (Source:

The kids in my neighborhood always referred to the original Leidy School affectionately as “Old Leidy”. The building stayed in operation until the completion of the current and now only) Leidy School was finished in 1962.

There was a brief attempt in the early 1970’s to convert “Old Leidy” into a middle school but that did not work. Eventually “Old Leidy” was torn down to make way for the current homes that now sit on her old site. This is a really good use of her land.

Now let’s fast forward to 2013. We now have a “new” Old Leidy School whose useful life as a public school appears to be over. So what happens to her now? Will she become another old derelict building in West Philadelphia? What is to become of her and her legacy in this neighborhood? On a more positive note for the community, Discovery Charter School has moved to its new location at 4700 Parkside Avenue. Discovery has been in Parkside for some years now, but the move puts them in a larger, more state of the art building that can accommodate more students. Ironically, Discovery’s new location is down the street from the now closed Leidy School.

School of the Future Hallway (Photo credit: JohnJobby)

It remains to be determined how many Leidy Students will be attending Discovery Charter. The impact of the school closings on our neighborhood go beyond just Leidy School. University City High School is also closing and some of the students from University City may end up attending the School of the Future at 42nd and Parkside Avenue.

While I am sure nearby schools can absorb the increased numbers of students resulting from the school closings, no community benefits from having a large vacant building in its midst. According to some online sources, Leidy School has a market value of more than 3 million dollars.

Selling Leidy and the other closed schools is a very good idea. It removes these vacant buildings from our community and gives them new life.

What do YOU think would be a good use for the now vacant Leidy School building?
Do you think it will make a good home for another charter school? How about a community or recreation center? There certainly is enough space. Maybe it could be turned into a new apartment building with some new park space added in. The list could be endless

Feel free to email your ideas to the Journal here. I’ll mention community ideas in a future issue of The Parkside Journal.

U-City on My Mind

by Juanita Alexander

I am writing this article as I contemplate the closing of a school that holds a special place in my heart, University City High School. University was often fondly referred to as “U-City” by those of us who were closely associated with her over the years and it is the reason I used this nickname in the title of my article. While it seems strange to me to refer to University City in the past tense, I know I must accept the hard reality that the U-City I knew so well, will not be opening its’ doors as a public high school this coming September.

University City High School, 3601 Filbert St
University City High School, 3601 Filbert St (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Although U-City is not physically located in the Parkside area, it has played a key role in the lives of many Parkside area students who have attended University City over the last four decades. Indeed, the Publisher of the PARKSIDE JOURNAL (Michael Burch), attended U-City in the early 1970’s as the school opened as an important symbol of hope, innovation and promise in the heart of West Philadelphia.

I entered University City as a young and relatively inexperienced teacher in the early 1970’s and I remained there for the next thirty years. It seems as if those years flew right by!! I remember so many special programs and activities, fierce debate teams, independent study programs, fencing team, championship basketball teams, Motivation and Magnet Programs, etc. The list goes on and on.

Over the decades University City has faced many challenges too numerous to discuss here. We have had our ups and downs; through it all the students and staff never lost our unique sense of pride, hope, and family.

The challenge now facing the U-City “family” is preserving a positive legacy for University City. It is surely not just a coincidence that U-City is ending its existence as a “Promise Academy”. The U-City alumni (many of which come from Parkside) should do everything they can to make sure that the building that housed U-City is used in a manner that shows respect for the educational “promise” on which the school was founded. Long live the U-City Spirit.


BAWP Presents The Nancy Kolb Award

by Michel Burch

Parkside is quickly becoming a thriving, bustling community. New businesses and people move into our area every day. No group is more aware of this then the Business Association of West Parkside (BAWP).

BAWP was formed in 1987 to help the needs of businesses in the Penn West Park Enterprise Zone.

Since that time BAWP has been stewarding the Parkside region. One of their many efforts to bring recognition to the Parkside region was the creation of the Nancy Kolb Award.

Screen Shot 2013-08-25 at 8.53.20 AMThe Nancy Kolb award was created in 2009 to recognize the contributions of Nancy Kolb to the West Parkside and greater Philadelphia area, upon Ms. Kolb’s retirement from the Please Touch Museum as its long- time president and CEO.

The award recognizes a business and its leadership which exemplifies Nancy Kolb’s business acumen and commitment to being an interactive, responsive community member.

The award itself is a large model of the Statue of liberty holding the torch and flame.

The original hand was first displayed at the centennial celebration of 1876 near Memorial Hall which is now the Please Touch Museum. It was given to the United States by France to symbolize “Liberty Enlightening the World”.

The BAWP board chose this image, created by the Kinect Corporation for the Please Touch Museum, as a fitting remembrance of the history of the area and the vital role we all play in “enlightening” the communities in which we live, work and own businesses.

Each year the arm is passed on to the business that the board feels best exemplifies the qualities Nancy Kolb instilled in the Please Touch Museum – a sound business model and a commitment to community. The award has gone to the Please Touch Museum (2009) and Brown’s Super Stores (2010), The Mann (2011), and West Philadelphia Financial Services Institute (2012).

Due to the success and response of the Nancy Kolb Award, the Business Association of West Parkside felt that it is only appropriate to add an award honoring a government official and an ambassador of the neighborhood, so in 2012 the West Park Ambassador Award and the Civic Leadership Award were added.

The West Parkside Ambassador Award celebrates an individual who exemplifies the spirit of West Parkside and who, through their efforts and actions, is a tireless advocate for our community and residents.

This award was given to Lucinda Hudson in (2012). The Civic leadership award was given to Rick Redding in (2012) The Civic Leadership Award celebrates an elected or government official who has provided critical leadership and who represents the interest and greater benefit of the Business Association Of West Parkside.

This year’s award winners will be announced in a special recognition awards ceremony held on September 26th. 2013.

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