West Philly history captured on new website
THEY CAME bearing stories of growing up in West Philadelphia. Some recalled going to Dick Clark's American Bandstand studio at 4548 Market St., "only to be turned away because they were black," said Meg Lemieur of the People Emergency Center's Community Development Corp. (CDC).
THEY CAME bearing stories of growing up in West Philadelphia.
Some recalled going to Dick Clark's American Bandstand studio at 4548 Market St., "only to be turned away because they were black," said Meg Lemieur of the People Emergency Center's Community Development Corp. (CDC).
Others mentioned the history of Mill Creek, a stream that can sometimes be heard running underneath West Philly in a tunnel built in the 1880s.
And still others remembered when "Black Bottom" was a thriving, middle-class, predominantly black neighborhood full of homeowners, renters, and business owners, before the federal government promises of Urban Renewal, which became known to many as "Negro Removal."
These were some of the stories longtime residents provided to help create an online project, "West Philadelphia History Map," that launched on Monday.
"We wanted to document the area's rich history and encourage people to share stories, old photographs, or a personal memory they have about West Philadelphia," said Kevin Musselman of the CDC.
The CDC and the New Africa Center, a museum that focuses on the history of Muslims in America, worked together to create the online map. It can be found at westphillyhistory.com.
Lemieur said the idea for the map came out of neighborhood planning meetings in the rapidly changing area north of Drexel University.
"We were having these meetings about future development and people told us that they wanted neighborhood preservation to be a priority," said Lemieur, marketing manager for the CDC.
The map pinpoints sites of historic significance and includes numerous details about West Philly, ranging "from the Lenape Indians in the 1600s to Malcom X and MLK in the 1960s - up to the present day."
The map shows that:
* Lancaster Avenue was once known as the "Rodeo Drive of West Philadelphia" because it was a bustling commercial corridor
* The world's first computer, ENIAC, was built at the University of Pennsylvania in 1946.
* And Overbrook High School, at 58th Street and Lancaster Avenue, not only produced Will Smith and Wilt Chamberlain, but also musicians Dee Dee Sharp and Solomon Burke, and Guion Bluford, the first African American astronaut.
The project was funded by a grant from Philadelphia Local Initiatives Support Corp.
Joseph Becton, a retired National Park Service ranger, is working with the New Africa Center. He noted that the history of the Stephen Smith Home for the Aged, established in the 1870s for people of color and named for an African American abolitionist and businessman, could be lost without the project.
"History is slowly disappearing and being reinterpreted in a very fast fashion in this electronic age," he said.
Matthew Kerr, who teaches history at the Charter School for Architecture and Design in Center City, attended a planning meeting to learn about West Philadelphia's history because he will begin working with teenagers in the neighborhood in January during an after-school music program at Mastery Shoemaker Charter School.
"When I was teaching in North Philadelphia, I could tell kids that the Jackson 5 once performed at the Uptown Theater and that Stevie Wonder celebrated his 16th birthday there," Kerr said.
Knowing their history helps students with self-identification - "as far as the way they view themselves," he said.
"You can look at where you come from and take pride in it and the good people who came before you."
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