West Philadelphia: Garden Court Community Association

Christopher playing tennis
Christopher Gandia, age 8, play tennis with his father, Peter, and two younger siblings.

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On a sunny Saturday afternoon, Peter Gandia and his three children are taking advantage of the free tennis courts on the southwest corner of 47th and Spruce streets. Christopher, 8, and Xavier, 6, run across the courts chasing after their ball, practice their serves, and pose while their father snaps photos. Layla, 2, straps her baby doll into her stroller and runs across the court, pushing with one hand and clutching a slice of pizza in the other.

Christopher playing tennis
Christopher Gandia, age 8, play tennis with his father, Peter, and two younger siblings.

The courts Gandia and his family play on were created after a Church’s Chicken started to build on the abandoned lot that now houses the courts. The community was strongly opposed to having a fast food chain directly across the street from a school. The Garden Court Community Association fought against the unwanted addition to the community, and Church’s permit for a drive-through window was denied due to incorrect zoning.

The association then went to the community to find out what they would like to see in the lot. Half the people said tennis courts and half the people said gardens, so the association split the lot to accommodate everyone. The Philadelphia Department of Recreation agreed to minimal upkeep and donate nets if needed. The city built raised flowerbeds and provided water for the gardens, but they are maintained by a group of individuals organized by the association.

Community Garden
The community Garden at 47th Street and Spruce Street is part of the Garden Court Community Association’s plan to beautify the community.

The tennis court and garden are just one example of what the Garden Court Community Association has done. The association is a group that protects and aids in building neighborly bonds in the area from 45th and 52nd streets between Pine Street and Cedar Avenue in West Philadelphia. Since its beginning in the mid-1950s, the organization has worked tirelessly to improve the blocks and bring about much needed improvement in the Garden Court neighborhood.

A large project headed by the association is the restoration of the commercial district at 48th and Spruce Streets. Forty years ago there was a thriving neighborhood shopping area that included two supermarkets, a drug store, a shoemaker, a deli and a dress store.  The only two businesses that remain in the districts are a dry cleaner and a bar. The area is very deteriorated, filled with vacant buildings and due to its small size the association struggles to received any funding to restore it.

“One of our problems is that a lot of people don’t think of themselves as living in the Garden Court neighborhood. They think of it as the high-rise apartment building, which is called Garden Court as opposed to the larger [neighborhood],” said Freda Egnal, former president of the Garden Court Community Association.

Because the association is a non-profit and doesn’t receive all the funding it needs to bring about the change it wants to, members host different fundraising events to raise money. The main fundraising and social event of the association is a progressive dinner. Many members of the community are involved in the planning and execution of this event. The dinner creates a strong sense of community while helping raise funds for the association.

“I think equally important to us has really been kind of the social piece, the social fabric and maintaining neighborliness,” said Egnal.

Money raised by the dinner helps fund various projects in the neighborhood and things such as youth initiatives which allows youth in the neighborhood to get paid summer internships with local organizations.

Aside from a tennis court and community garden, the association also plays a vital role in funding and sharing ideas about land and space development.

Barkan Park, named after Ben Barkan, founder of the Garden Court Community Association, is located on 50th and Spruce streets. The park is filled with many benches, a healing garden, trees and a jungle gym. It is another accomplishment of the association because it turned a city block into a place for members of the community to relax.

Malcom X Park
A girl and her mother play in Malcolm X Park.

A much larger park is Malcolm X Park located at 52nd between Pine Street and Larchwood Avenue. Formerly known as Black Oak Park, it has undergone a much-needed transformation from an unsafe park with nothing for children to a thriving neighborhood spot.  As friends of the park, the Garden Court Community Association has helped draw attention to the needs of the park. This park provides an inexpensive recreational trip for those who may be unable to go beyond their neighborhood.

“Everything that comes into this park is free of charge and that’s a great service to the people of the community,” said Kevin Sheaff. “It also brings fellowship and brotherhood and sisterhood, so that why I think this park, Malcolm X Park, is important.”

The Garden Court Neighborhood Association still has a lot planned for its little section of Philadelphia. Through embracing culture and diversity, the association hopes to help further the development of Garden Court.

“We’re very proud that this is a very diverse neighborhood, and we’re very different than the neighborhoods next to us, Walnut Hill, Spruce Hill, Cedar Park,” said Egnal. “We’re more diverse, both economically and ethnically.”

As for Peter Gandia and his children, they plan on making trips back to the tennis courts throughout the summer to work on their serves.


1 Comment

  1. I have really been enjoying the articles you are publishing on your site. I recommend them to all residents I come into contact.

    I have been using the tennis courts for four years and use it like my office to help people learn to enjoy life in the moment. Mr Charles King and I think it is a gem in the city that more people need to utilize.

    Keep up the great articles.

    Peace and love.

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