On the first Friday of each month, the crowds on the sidewalk barely leave room for the passersby or the occasional jogger making his or her way down Frankford Avenue. In front of one gallery, a three-piece band plays through a set of original songs. In total, a few thousand people crowd what is now known as the Frankford Avenue Arts Corridor.
For the neighborhood’s newest, mostly 20-something residents, this is the status quo on Frankford Avenue, something easily taken for granted. For people who lived near this now-ultra-hip creative hub just a decade ago, the sight of it gives pause.
“People would send people on these circular routes so that they didn’t go past the worst of the lots,” said Sandy Salzman, executive director of the New Kensington Community Development Corp. (NKCDC) and lifelong resident of the neighborhood. “Nobody traveled on Frankford Avenue because Frankford Avenue was the pits.”
After the neighborhood’s post-war decline from its status as an industrial powerhouse, many of its dilapidated houses were demolished and much of the resulting vacant land along Frankford Avenue became a favorite spot for local contractors to dump the refuse that was too costly for them to dispose of otherwise.
In the mid-1990s, the NKCDC, with crucial support from a few city government agencies, began the process of rehabbing many of those lots and replacing them with public gardens and, whenever possible, new real estate development projects.
Today, rather than garbage and debris, Frankford Avenue is littered only with coffee shops, art galleries, new businesses and new residential construction projects, which are broken up by gardens and public spaces rather than overgrown, trash-filled lots.
In one particularly striking example – and there are many – on the corner of Frankford and Montgomery avenues, the last of three brand new housing units is under construction on a site that, just 15 years ago, contained one of the city’s most notoriously filthy lots.
“We’ve really focused on Frankford as our main street,” said Salzman, who describes the progress that’s been made along the avenue as “amazing.”