Spruce Hill: Resident Community Organizations Work Together to Help Neighborhood

Homes on Baltimore Avenue, facing Spruce Hill's Clark Park. Many of these homes belong to single families or are rented by University of Pennsylvania students.

Lee Huang has lived in Spruce Hill for 20 years. For 14 of those years, he has been a homeowner, and for nine years, a parent. He is also a member of the Spruce Hill Community Association, one of Spruce Hill’s two registered community associations (RCOs). SHCA supports and works with residents and businesses located within Spruce Hill’s boundaries, between 38th and 45th Streets, and Market Street and Woodland Avenue.


The Green Line Cafe, one of Spruce Hill’s many local businesses.

When asked to describe what SHCA did, Huang wasn’t sure where to start.

“Spruce Hill, to begin with, is just a fantastic community and the community association has been an instrumental part of that for decades,” he said. “We do a lot of events. Many are very family-friendly.”

SHCA holds a yearly Halloween party, an annual May Fair in Clark Park and periodic block cleanups. The association also has a committee dedicated to the upkeep of a bird sanctuary located in a space behind houses on 45th, Locust, Spruce and Melville Streets.

Huang is the chair of the Business Attractions Committee (BAC), which was formed a few years ago after the zoning committee realized that many retail decisions were being made before business proposals were even presented to the committee. BAC’s most recent project has been a local retail survey, which asked what kind of businesses residents do and do not want to see in the area. Huang said that the results of the survey are being reviewed.

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In Huang’s opinion, SHCA also acts as a “center of information” among Spruce Hill’s residents.

“We try to keep on the up-and-up of things that matter to residents,” he said. “[The association] disseminates a newsletter, it posts information to a website … Through our email distribution, we get information on crimes.”

SHCA’s email list has about 390 recipients, 54 percent of which are non-members of the association, according to the minutes of the association’s last meeting.

Matthew Wolfe has been head of the 27th Republican Ward since 1979. In the past, he served as vice president of the Spruce Hill Community Association and held a seat on its board of directors.

“Just the other day I got some information on a rash of home burglaries and what are some tips on avoiding burglaries,” Huang said, referencing the recent string of break-ins in the West Philadelphia area. “I found that helpful as a resident and that came through the Spruce Hill Community Listserv.”

J. Matthew Wolfe, who recently announced that he plans to run for city council, has acted as a director on the Spruce Hill board at various times over the last 30 years, although he is not currently on the board. He is also the head of Spruce Hill’s other RCO, the 27th Republican Ward Committee, which encourages residents to vote and makes sure that the party’s candidates’ messages reach local voters.

“One of the things that I think that both political parties do a bad job is encouraging their activists to also be active with the community associations,” said Wolfe.

Wolfe believes in encouraging the Republican Ward’s committeemen and activists to get involved with the community – and vice versa. “Many times, the leaders of the local community associations are very articulate, very well-informed on the issues of not just in their community but places in the city and they’re the logical people to run for office,” he said.

The two RCOs tend to collaborate the most over zoning issues, according to Wolfe. “Many businesses have issues with the city that they think are significant so it’s important for me to help our candidates meet with them and find out what’s important to them,” he said. The 27th Ward has also been involved with addressing disruptive businesses in the area, most recently the Watusi Pub, which was the scene of a triple shooting and was closed down last September for violating several health codes.

Homes on Baltimore Avenue, facing Spruce Hill's Clark Park. Many of these homes belong to single families or are rented by University of Pennsylvania students.
Homes on Baltimore Avenue, facing Spruce Hill’s Clark Park. Many of these homes belong to single families or are rented by University of Pennsylvania students.

“Nuisance bars have been a longterm issue,” said Wolfe, who also worked with the district attorney’s office to close the Times Cafe.

Huang believes that, although there are still some issues to be worked on, Spruce Hill is a great community.

“It’s been great to be able to take public transit, to shop, to worship, to play, all within a walking distance,” he said. “I think the goal of the community association is to preserve that, but to preserve it in a way that’s dynamic… because cities are all about change.”

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