Kensington: An Interview with Lifelong Resident Hazel O’Brien

A man on a bicycle waits for the light to change at an intersection on Frankford Avenue, while three young women cross the street.]

A man on a bicycle waited for the light to change at an intersection on Frankford Avenue, while three young women crossed the street.

A lot of people tend to judge a book by its cover, and Kensington is no different.  Driving down Frankford Avenue through Kensington, you would be hard pressed not to acknowledge this neighborhood has seen better days.

Hazel O’Brien, a patron of Chuckles and a lifetime Kensington resident, discusses the transformation the area has undergone since the years of her childhood almost sixty-years ago. Chuckles Bar sits at the intersection of Frankford Avenue and Clearfield Street, and it’s one of the few businesses still lining the street of this once-flourishing business district.

In the 1950s, O’Briens’ father worked as a bartender in the same building as Chuckles, coincidentally the building her apartment is in now. “You could shop on Frankford Avenue the same way you could shop on Kensington Avenue, and it was all [like] family.” O’Brien said.

Out of the meager amount of businesses still open in the area, many do not provide much in the way of food-shopping options. A Family Dollar store can be found on one block of Frankford Avenue, the street the City tried, rather unsuccessfully, to rename Kings Highway. There is a used clothing store on another part of the street, in addition to a few rough looking bars. In the picture most locals paint of this neighborhood a decade or more ago, it seems to be a place much changed.

A young boy rode his bicycle down Lehigh Avenue.

The social and nightlife scenes were bustling with activity in the 50s and 60s, while industry and job availability were still replete.  The building where Chuckles Bar now conducts business has changed hands several times since O’Briens’ father worked there. In those days, there were rooms to rent for guests and entertainers such as the Three Stooges and the Marx Brothers who stayed there when they came to Philadelphia. Parades were held for a myriad of occasions and the whole neighborhood participated in the festivities and other community events. These are the kinds of things O’Brien remembers about her childhood spent in Kensington.

Will Kensington live to see a rebirth from the dark times the neighborhood has experienced over the last two decades?  O’Brian does not think so, as long as the trend of job and resource shortages continue. Perhaps inciting more residents to become active participants in changing the day-to-day life in Kensington is a key to changing its future.

Outside a corner store on Frankford Avenue, a chair and lone car seat sit next to a pay phone.

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