ON THE BLOCK near 17th Street where the image of the fiery and flamboyant civil-rights lawyer Cecil B. Moore once looked down onto the avenue that bears his name, a new building has risen.
Near where the colorful mural of Moore once spread across the wall of the now-demolished Adelaide's Variety Store, large banners now proclaim: "Luxury Student Apartments."
On this block near Temple University, each new boxy apartment building has six or more stark, gray electric meters facing the street at eye level. A real-estate ad lists one building as a single-family house in a residential area, with "14 bedrooms and 10 baths." Its price: nearly $800,000.
Formerly named Columbia Avenue, this once-vibrant business corridor was scarred for decades after three days of riots in August 1964, fueled by rumors that a white police officer had beaten and killed a black woman.
Now, the new development has created a tug-of-war for the soul and future of the avenue: Will the surrounding area continue to be known as the Cecil B. Moore neighborhood, featuring the street signs that show Moore holding a cigar? Or will it be known - as some developers want - as TempleTown, the name of a real estate company?
"The area is supposed to be zoned commercial," said Ken Scott, president of Beech Companies, a North Philadelphia development firm that opposes street-level residential construction. "Our goal is to restore it as a commercial district. There can be residential upstairs, but the first floor should have commercial. We're trying to create jobs and a business district."
A struggle for identity
The struggle over the avenue and the neighborhood's identity made headlines last month when Christine Brown, director of community service at Beech, learned that Google Maps had imprinted the name "TempleTown" onto its online maps of the neighborhood.
After a flurry of email complaints, Google removed the TempleTown designation.
Beech also started a petition campaign to ask city officials "to stop the name 'TempleTown' from being used to represent the Cecil B. Moore neighborhood."
A top Temple official said the university does not support calling the area TempleTown. But some longtime residents of the neighborhood say Temple's influence is apparent.
"They don't rent to us," Donte, an area resident who declined to give his last name, said one day recently on the avenue. "They only rent to Temple students. Where are we supposed to live?"
Much of the controversial new housing is leased on ground floors behind vacant or nonexistent commercial space that sometimes is only one small office, Scott said.
"It's terrible with the [electric] meters out front," Scott said of the new apartments. "It's a whole hodgepodge, with no consistency in the design. Any colors can be thrown onto the buildings."
Beech also has developed student housing at its International House, on the avenue near 15th Street.
Several real estate investors agreed that the area is oversaturated.
"I would love to see all the buildings on Cecil B. Moore, from Broad Street heading west, to be thriving businesses on the first floor," said Nick Pizzola, a landlord in the area for eight years.
"We don't need more student housing on Cecil B. Moore. I'm not really sure why it's happening.
"It's a detriment to people who have established businesses who have been there for a number of years. Now all of a sudden, they are surrounded by residential."
Under the city's "Philadelphia 2035" plan, the avenue would be residential west of 18th Street, according to Dave Fecteau, a city planner for North Philadelphia.
But the new residential listings are east of 18th Street.
"What you've got is a situation where the city does not adhere to its own principles," said David Elesh, a Temple sociology professor. "Somebody is putting influence to work. This is Philadelphia."
Some city officials think that any development is better than none at all, he said.
Mayoral spokesman Mark McDonald referred questions to the city's Zoning Board of Adjustment, where phone calls were not returned.
"It's useful to have stores next to one another so that a corridor can become a destination for shopping," said Peter Angelides, senior vice president at Econsult Solutions, an economic-consulting firm based in Center City.
"But the question for Cecil B. Moore is: How big can that corridor be? Is Broad to 18th too large, or too small?"
Jane Roh, a spokeswoman for Council President Darrell Clarke, said his office is looking into the buildings that have ground-floor apartments behind vacant commercial space and will check with the city's Department of Licenses and Inspections.
Roomy Spaces and Temple Villas, two developers of residential properties in the neighborhood, did not respond to Daily News requests for comment.
Ron Redmond, 44, opened Ron's Professional Barber Shop 15 years ago on the avenue near Bouvier Street. But he has been frustrated for nearly two months while new buildings have gone up on both sides of his shop.
In fact, the sidewalk was fenced off until Redmond complained to Clarke's office. But the noise and dust still kept customers away.
"I feel like I should be compensated," he said.
On a recent Friday, when business was especially slow, a barber known as Frank Styles said: "We are being squeezed; we are being strangled."
Styles said residents are also angry at Clarke and Mayor Nutter, because black men can't get jobs despite all the construction going on: "Where are the jobs these politicians promised?"
Some residents say they are inconvenienced because they have nowhere to shop for basic needs.
"We used to be able to come here to get what we needed," said Antoine Pittman, 23, a neighborhood resident, as he walked down the avenue the other day.
"We didn't have to go downtown. Now we've got to go out of the area to shop."
Coltrane played there
Kenneth Salaam, who was 16 when he marched with Cecil B. Moore to end segregation at Girard College, said that before the riots the avenue had restaurants, dry cleaners, shoe-repair shops, and food stores.
In the 1940s, John Coltrane played in jazz bars along Columbia Avenue.
Johnny Gossett, a local leader of the United Negro Improvement Association, said the real problem is that Philadelphia decided it would no longer be a blue-collar town with factories and industries that employed thousands of people.
"Now it's all about being a university town," Gossett said. He said people in power have been making plans to take over the neighborhood for years.
Delores Johnson, whose family once owned businesses on Cecil B. Moore, said that even after the riots, there were shops and restaurants, like Ida's at 19th Street. Then came the 1980s, when crack cocaine hit the area like a plague.
Today, at Columbia Seafood, a store near 17th, owner Bo Chung, said he doesn't get much business from students.
"The students don't come to buy seafood like the older residents did," said Chung. "Now the older community is moving out.
But he said students' cars take up all the free parking on side streets, while his customers get tickets when they park out front.
John Yun and his brother Joseph opened Hue, a fusion food market, two years ago near 16th Street. So far, business has been good.
Yun described Hue as "my version of a healthier Wawa," with organic food and hot sandwiches.
A few Temple students also said the avenue could use more stores.
Chris Hornstein, a sophomore, said he wishes there were "more places to buy food and stuff to do."
Joe Cohen, a senior finance major, also said the area needs more kinds of businesses. "There are seven pizza places around here," he said.
Cohen added that students never refer to the neighborhood as "TempleTown."
"Nobody I know calls it that," said Cohen. "We know it as the Cecil B. Moore neighborhood."