Port Richmond: Where Everybody Knows Your Name

Miniature block parties are nightly occurrences.

The 3100 block of Chatham Street prides itself in being one of the friendliest blocks in the neighborhood. With a Cheers-like atmosphere, the block consists of various types of families that all get along with one another. Residents step out on their front porches or steps to be greeted by their neighbors and asked questions about family and work.

“It’s a lot different from the neighborhood that I grew up in,” says 31-year-old resident Karen Holdsworth. “I had a lot of really close friends, but my neighbors weren’t my friends,” the High School of Creative and Performing Arts teacher adds. “Whereas here all of my close friends are right here, within yelling distance.”

Miniature block parties are nightly occurrences.

Holdsworth lives with her high school sweetheart, Jerry Ceschan, 35, and their 10-month-old son, Little Jerry, at the higher end of the block, across the street from Our Lady of Port Richmond Church. Out front of their house is the unofficial meeting place for the block. Every night they break out the lawn chairs and a few cans of Budweiser and have a miniature block party. Karen says that since everyone works and has to be up early, this is a great way to catch up with friends without going out.  “We spend a lot of time together on this street, which is really nice,” she says. “It’s a lot different from anywhere else I’ve been.”

However, the block is not what you would necessarily call quiet. Residents call it a very musical block as many are musicians. George Kaupp, who currently lives with his sister, block resident Phyllis Carpenter, plays the banjo. He can often be seen relaxing on the porch, plucking away at the instrument. Kaupp has been practicing the banjo for 30 years, as he was a member of the Kensington String Band.

Not too far down Chatham Street live Aria McAffe and Bill Gessner, who play in the pop-rock band, Junietta. McAffe lends her playful, Gwen Stefani-like vocals to the mix while her boyfriend, Gessner, plays the bass. “Everybody else, they like our band so when we practice everybody comes out and listens,” says Gessner. “You see little feet outside and heads poking in the window,” adds McAffe. If the young couple does not seem cool enough already, Gessner and McAffe also have a three-month-old daughter, Sophia.

Baby Sophia looks just like a Cabbage Patch doll.

Aside from tiny Sophia and Little Jerry, there are many other children living on the block.  They enjoy having a friendly and clean block to ride their tricycles and create chalk drawings on. However, it is not always the safest block. Cars, many of which turn off of Allegheny Avenue, drive at high speeds down the residential street. According to Dana Panichelli, the cars often travel as high as 40 miles per hour down Chatham Street. Once they reach the end of the block, many also roll right through the four-way stop sign at the intersection with Clementine Street.

“We were trying to get speed bumps put in,” says Panichelli. Instead, the block was given a “watch for children” sign, which has yet to lessen the problem. Panichelli keeps a very watchful eye on her five-year-old son because of this. Collin likes to pitch a ball across the street to watch it bounce off the wall of the Our Lady of Port Richmond Church’s parking lot. And when kids are playing catch in the streets, speeding cars are a major concern.

Collin and Zachary love to play outside.

But speeding cars are not the only automotive issue that the residents encounter. Panichelli says that many cars were being broken into on the block and the adjacent street two years ago. Only two months ago, it all started again. First it began with someone keying the driver’s side of each car, up and down the length of the block. “When I went outside and saw mine…I almost died because I have a Volkswagen and it’s a newer car,” says McAffe. “I’ve never experienced that kind of cruelty,” she adds and shares how her tire was knifed as well. Gessner also had the rear window to his truck bashed in and his tools stolen.

Holdsworth says that around 10 cars were vandalized and pilfered through between the block and Allegheny Avenue in the past two months. Possibly the biggest loss was when her neighbor Patricia Curran’s car was ransacked. Tax materials were allegedly taken from her trunk along with over $100 worth of items. Forty-year-old resident, Anthony Kulb, says that just last week Curran’s handbag was discovered in a pile of nearly 30 pocketbooks and used syringes behind the Steak Joint at Memphis and Westmoreland streets.

Panichelli says she saw the suspect from her window, and tried taking a picture on her camera phone but was too late to get a good look. “Everybody says ‘man, white, wearing a black shirt,’” says Holdsworth. “That could be anybody.” But the neighbors have taken advantage of their tight-knit block and have been planning ways to catch the person responsible. Although the residents of the block are always looking out for each other and communicating closely, they are still worried about what crimes will follow. “It starts with cars,” says Holdsworth, “but who’s to say they’re not going to houses next?”

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  1. Wonderful article written by two wonderful journalists!! Thank you for We so enjoyed talking with you both and hope you both do well in all you do!!! And feel free to stop by an visit us! Block party: August 14th!!! Love, 3100 Chatham Street

  2. PORT RICHMOND: A Tale of Two Cities; one neighborhood, diametrically opposed by East and west. The burning question is will Kensington sprawl reach Aramingo Avenue before Casino and waterfront development crosses over to the East Side. East of Aramongo and especially North of Westmoreland Port Richmond had has many bucolic pastoral streets lined with trees and well kept front gardens; while West of Aramingo streets are strewn with drug bag litter and hair weave left on the ground from the corner bar ‘cat-fight’ the night before.
    Young journalists need to document and report on these scenes as well. I look forward to seing you both on on the West side…soon, and would gladly be your humble tour guide and facilitator. Guaranteed it’s an education you won’t get in the classroom.

  3. DMB–That would have been a great story, only the Daily News and the City Paper have already covered that angle. Even the Port Richmond Star did it. It good they did something that wasn’t already in the news.

  4. https://phillyimc.org/en/who-decides-what-human-life-most-valuable JSMOOP NO ONE wrote anything about this…in either of our purported ‘community’ papers. I applaud Temle?MURL for these neighborhood Stories. I was part of one in Logan and Hunting Park. And, incidentally, I ducked bullets there…hoping not to have to do that here…and please, before you say “Movce” I LOVE Port Richmond–and moved back here after 25 years away. It’s a community–and we have community issues…and MANy angles from which journalists may ‘cover’ them. Unfortunately, mant tend to be ‘fluff’ pieces and little substance. It was like that when i was at the GUIDE up until 2001 when it closed. Thanks for your comments. I was not trying to downplay anything these young ladies wrote. They did a great job. It was more an invitation to explore–and expand their personal perceptions. Not meant to offend or degrade anyone.
    D M B

  5. Actually, the Port Richmond Star did do an article on the crime in Port Richmond and how it seemed to be more prevalent on the West side of Allegheny than the east side about 6 or 7 years ago. As I remember it, Rep. John Taylor had a community meeting at the then Northeastern Hospital to address the situation. The most recent story concerning the area in the City Paper concerned the slum lord that has been taking advantage of families in the area for some time. I believe that the Daily News also did a story on those same people some time ago. Then there have also been many smaller stories about the area that have portrayed the area in a negative light. It just depends on how much you read and how often. But you definitely find negative reports. It is just nice to see a good one, like the recent article in the DN on a PR bar.

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