Queen Village: Over Time Neighbors Become Like Family
Tucked away on the eastern edge of Queen Village the residents of the 100 block of Fitzwater Street act more like family than as just neighbors.
“This is the first and only house I ever bought,” said Lucy Erdelac, a 26-year resident of the block. “I walked down Second Street and saw this block and I said, ‘if there’s a house for sale on this block, I’m going to buy it.”
Erdelac, who bought the house in 1986, has watched the block evolve over time. “When I came here it was a very old Polish neighborhood. A lot of very old neighbors, and so the attitude I was met with was not surprising. People would ask me ’are you a renter?’ and I could just hear the total disdain in their voice,” Erdelac said. “It took awhile for people to relax. I was the first person in a number of years who had moved here.”
Erdelac was one of the first in a string of home sales that gave the block a more permanent populace. “The neighborhood started to change with younger people moving in, and then all of a sudden we wound up having all of these neighbors who felt this enormous draw to live here,” Erdelac said.
“It’s very social, people are really aware of each other and people really enjoy each other,” said David Sanders, who has lived on the block since 1994. “It’s a very nice mix of having a kind of small town sense of knowing your neighbors very well, being very much involved in your neighbors lives, but also we’re in a big city. We take advantage of the big city and we’re really aware of being part of and responsible for the big city.”
Joe Canuso, a 16-year resident of block, plays an important role in the city’s arts community. Canuso is the producing artistic director for Theatre Exile, a nonprofit theater company dedicated to enhancing the cultural experiences of Philadelphians. Like his personality Canuso said he believes the block and his house are quite unique. “It’s not your typical row home,” Canuso said. “This neighborhood was gentrified in the 1970s, and this was one of the first houses done by the architect Cecil Baker, who has done a lot of the houses in the neighborhood.
“It has a really unique charm to it,” Canuso said. “This is the house that he lived in and so he took a lot of it down to the brick and the stone and really opened it up. He put in skylights and took out part of the first floor to build an atrium. That was one of the things that attracted us to it.”
Many of the houses on the block carry a historical significance. Originally called Mead Street, the block only became part of Fitzwater Street in 1987 and a majority of the houses were built from the late 1700s to the mid 1800s. In total, 18 of the houses on the block are on the Philadelphia Register of Historic Places, including the Sanders and the Erdelacs’ houses.
“My house really looked like crap when I bought it,” Erdelac said. “The shutters were plastic, so [my husband] went down to the historic society and researched what would be appropriate for the time period and the shutter dogs came from our neighbor. He was cleaning out his basement and found the ones that came off of our house originally.”
Edelac’s house, and many others on the block, is a trinity house. “We found the house’s first insurance policy,” Erdelac said. “It’s a beautiful, handwritten document, and the house was valued at $600.” In today’s market the houses on the block are valued anywhere between $98,000 and $230,000.
Trinity houses are typically smaller and packed closer together. Historically this led to a closer and more personal interaction with your neighbors. For the block these interactions still take place today. “It’s a very diverse neighborhood,” Canuso said. “People are really smart, they’re really friendly and they have great parties.”
“We get together once a month and have a food and drinking fest,” Erdelac said. “Religiously every month we’re together as a big family.”