FBI stakeouts, bombings and mysterious murders are all things you would find in the premise for a high revenue blockbuster hit. But those events can also be found in Powelton Village.
The neighborhood, which is known for an incredibly talented bevy of artists and picturesque Victorian homes, has gone through many changes over the years. Most residents would be quick to agree it has retained a close-knit community.
In particular, the 3700 block of Baring Street has a history of enduring families.
“We’ve lived here for 27 years,” University of Pennsylvania administrator Diane Pringle said. “At the time we were living in a small trinity townhouse on Fitler Square then we had our first child and the place was too small. So we were looking around to buy.”
What drew the Pringles to this neighborhood is similar to what drew most of the families on the block.
“The houses seemed the right size, decent price, had a little front yard and a little backyard, which we couldn’t have got anywhere in South Philly,” Mrs. Pringle said.
The most intriguing aspect of the location for Mr. Pringle was the proximity to Center City and public transportation.
“There’s a bus on the corner and if I walk out and if the bus is not there I can go down to Lancaster and I can look down and see whether the trolley is coming,” the Stantec architect said. “If I don’t catch the trolley I can walk down to the subway or I can walk to Center City. It’s about a 1.7 mile walk which is a half hour walk for me.”
Indeed public transportation is an important consideration when looking for a house to live and raise a family in, but even more important is the culture of the neighborhood. The history of Powelton can be traced through newspapers and has reported on the significant acts of political activism, the hard fought battle between Drexel University and periods of increased FBI activity.
The MOVE organization, a black liberation group founded by John Africa in the 1970s, may be the most prominent memory which comes to mind when discussing political activism in this area. Although the actual history making bombing was just outside of the neighborhood, neighbors can still describe the group’s presence in a former house it inhabited.
“MOVE was here and that was interesting,” social worker and psychotherapist Carol Flood said. “There was always someone with a loudspeaker outside; morning, noon, and night. They had shifts and that was hard but they were several blocks from us so we didn’t have to really live with it.”
Mrs. Flood and her husband Ralph, an English professor at Temple University, moved to the neighborhood in 1968. As recent graduates of the University of Pennsylvania, they said they already knew the neighborhood was full of interesting people.
“People were well educated. There were lots of teachers and lots of artists,” Mrs. Flood said.
What really attracted them to the block was the political climate of the area.
“It was the height of the Anti-war movement and so we wanted to live with like-minded people. There were also people working for civil rights and that’s what we wanted and that’s what we found here,” Mrs. Flood said.
Although the 3700 block of Baring Street does not house many children today, residents said they are happy they chose to raise their families in this neighborhood.
“Yeah, there have never been a huge amount of kids on the block,” Mrs. Pringle said. “But there’s a strong group of families in the neighborhood and when our kids were younger I was part of a mother play group. We met every Friday morning until our kids were in elementary school.”
For the Floods, the same reason they moved into the neighborhood is also the reason why they are grateful their children were able to grow up here.
“They [her children] were exposed to different ways of thinking. They had a completely racially mixed upbringing,” Mrs. Flood said. “Our neighbors on this side were black [pointing to the left] and our neighbors on this side were Japanese and Black [pointing to the right] and the kids just all played together.”
The Pringles also commented on how glad they were the neighborhood has remained mixed.
The neighborhood is deeply entrenched with strong connections preserved by the families which own houses on the block but there is a relationship which does not harbor those same feelings. The relationship between the college students and the long time residents could be described as distantly aware.
Like most college students in Philadelphia with off-campus housing, they live in the neighborhood but are hesitant or indifferent to participate in it. Even though the residents don’t have many complaints about their student neighbors, they have stories about the house parties.
“They’d have a live band in the house and then they’d all stand outside and talk so they could hear each other,” the Pringles said.
The 3700 block of Baring Street has seen many conflicts rise and fall in the few centuries it has been in existence. But today, amid the diversity of the community, comes understanding and education.
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