At first glance, the 5600 block of Gainor Road, may seem just like any other block in Philadelphia. Residents on this block work on their lawns, pick up trash and tend to their gardens while exchanging a friendly chat with a neighbor or passerby.
Neighbors on this block of Gainor Road talk casually with each other as if they are extended family because in many ways, they kind of are.
“We’re very tight knit. We keep each other informed of what’s going on in the neighborhood. We’re like a family in a family neighborhood,” block resident Jay Johnson said. Johnson, with nearly three decades living on the block, also serves as the Executive Vice President of the Wynnefield Residents Association.
A closer inspection reveals that this small street, which only runs about six blocks, has quite a past, according to resident Nora Levitt who has lived on the block for nearly 30 years.
Levitt, who likes to volunteer at the local branch of the Free Library, said the houses on the block were the first in the area constructed for GIs returning from WWII. At the time, every house looked the same following the typical fashion of homes constructed during the time. But due to the pride residents have for their dwellings, the block slowly transformed into what it is today.
Each person who moved in changed things according to their tastes.
“Every resident would make minor alterations,” Levitt said. “We all take pride in our homes and want to make them represent us.”
Minor improvements and alterations over the course of time rid the block of the cookie cutter appearance it began with. Only one home on the block still has the original front window design, Levitt pointed out.
Long-time homeowners, like Levitt, like to see the changes that other homeowners make to their properties.
“It shows that they take pride in their home when people begin to change it,” Levitt said. “You live here and you pay for it and you pay the taxes, so it’s good that people want to change it and keep improving it.”
This may also explain why the block is so clean and full of flowers and trees. The presence of green lawns and large trees and picturesque flower gardens catch the eye immediately, deeply contrasting many other blocks around the city.
“One thing that drew us to this particular street was that people kept their lawns really nice and seem to have some kind of pride in their property,” Amy Verzella said, who moved to the block two and a half years ago with her husband and daughter. “We have a flower garden and a vegetable garden.”
Aside from a clean block that has many gardens, residents here seem to appreciate the diversity of the block’s occupants.
“We have African Americans, a few Caucasians, some Asians, and a few of our neighbors that are from the Jewish faith,” Jay Johnson said. “We have one neighbor that is a Vietnam vet. He has been on the block for many years. His wife is actually from Vietnam, they met while he was doing his tour of duty.”
On top of the ethnic and racial mix, Johnson also seemed glad to discuss the tenures of his neighbor’s stays on the block. Johnson and Levitt have lived on the block for decades. Mary Ellison has lived on the block for 48 years.
And, long-term residents feel a sense of community with the residents who have not enjoyed nearly as long of a residence on this block. This includes the yearly renters who come from nearby St. Joseph’s University and the families who have moved in only recently and will only stay a semester or two.
Combine the diversity, tenure of the residents and the welcoming attitude of the neighborhood, this block produces a distinctive familial feeling.
It is this tight sense of camaraderie, as Levitt put it, which makes the block such as desirable place to live. This camaraderie is evident through the numerous events the block has each year, including an annual block party and cleanup event.
“The block party brings unity and everyone coming together. Everyone brings out their grills with their family and friends,” Johnson said. “It’s a fun day. The first part of the day we do street cleaning from top to bottom. Then, we come out and have a good time.”
“We do have one neighbor, Ms. Ardy, and for years her family has been the cooks for the block party,” Frieda George said, who moved to the block 25 years ago.
“This is just a wonderful neighborhood and nice block. I couldn’t ask for better neighbors,” George summarized.