Re: RARA-AVIS: Philadelphia Stories

From: Joy Matkowski (
Date: 08 Feb 2002

Argh! I've really stirred up a hornet's nest, haven't I? And here I am trying to get the work done I should have been doing earlier, when I was writing the first batch of messages.
    OK, first, Mark:
"The city flipped from Republican stronghold to totally Democratic almost overnight" falls under poetic license. It wasn't a slow process with suspense-filled elections for decades, but it wasn't literally overnight.

Re "Square miles of homes and factories for the working class were gutted to create Independence Mall, downtown upper-class neighborhoods, and public housing highrises for the displaced. Levittown was born."

Independence Mall was there in 1966 when I started working part-time at the Penn Mutual Life Insurance Co. ("Behind your independence stands the Penn Mutual" but it moved to Horsham). "Improvements" were still being made to the vacant land, but everything had been torn down. The Liberty Bell was in Independence Hall, and I stopped in to see it once a week or so. The colonial houses around St. James--priceless!--and the Dock Street markets were torn down to build Alcoa's Society Hill Towers for the rich; the federal houses south of Pine fell for public housing towers; the factory where my father-in-law worked was leveled to build the IM Pei houses for the well-to-do. The people who owned houses in Society Hill had their deeds pulled, and they could regain them only by meeting redevelopment standards--put up proper shutters in the proper colors, no window air conditioners, no more rooming houses, tear down the brick steps and build marble steps, etc.--which meant that all the poor and working-class people lost their neighborhood and their homes.
    Our local newspaper recently had a feature article on the first blacks to move into Levittown, PA, which might have been a 50th anniversary, matching your estimate and mine. There is (was?) a big steel mill there, and GI Bill mortgages made the houses affordable. Those houses were tiny, though, not even as big as the Queen Village trinities (3 1-room floors). There's a Levittown, New Jersey, too, but it was renamed Willingboro in the 1970s or so. Actually, I don't know why I mentioned Levittown at all--Can I claim poetic license again?

> The Independence Mall that exists now was built in the 70's. The
> Pennsylvania Levittown was just north of Bristol and was begun with the
> idea of building houses for returning GIs and their bigger famililies.
That was started >in the 50's, I think, or maybe even late 40's.
Joy, who sat down here to send e-mail to her boss

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