Stories about life in Liddonfield housing project and its impact on the Northeast Philadelphia neighborhood of Upper Holmesburg. These true stories reveal how government policy affected the lives of real people, from the project residents to area homeowners during the 5 decades of Liddonfield’s existence. Stories and articles are written by a former resident of the project.


Rosemary Reeves, Blogger, standing on Philadelphia Skyline

Nov 7, 2011

Public Housing Memorabilia: The New Fad

by Rosemary Reeves

The HOPE VI Program has ensured the disappearance of housing projects across the United States and given rise to an unexpected twist in collecibles.  Mandated in 1992, the program calls for the demolition of housing projects, having designated them as antiquated remnants of a bygone era and a failure in social engineering.  But those in power who implemented such a mandate might not have anticipated the birth of a new fad - public housing memorabilia.

Do a search under "housing project" on Ebay, choose "collectibles" in the drop down categories menu of the search bar and a list of public housing memorabilia appears.  The site offers vintage press photos of housing projects as well as personal photos for sale, and more.  Among the most interesting items listed are old newspaper ads placed by the construction companies who built the public housing developments.  From Chicago's Cabrini Green to Philadelphia's Liddonfield, memorabilia from housing projects across the United States is making its way to Ebay.

So, what's the going price for these items?  Most photos are selling for just under $15.  Vintage housing developer ads are generally around $10.  A newspaper clipping dating back to 1950 in which the gas explosion at Vincennes Housing Project in Indianapolis made the headlines, can be bought for $29 as of the date of this article.  The most expensive item listed is a John Hartford Housing Project LP for $160.  Whether the prices will go up as time goes by due to the rapid disappearance of public housing developments, remains to be seen.

Among the photos on Ebay are images dating back to 1961 of homeowners holding up signs and marching in protest against proposed housing projects to be erected in their neighborhoods.   But overwhelmingly, the vintage snapshots of public housing life serve as a reminder of a time when compassion for the poor was viewed as proof that ours was a great and charitable nation.  Indeed, many of the press photos are of the public housing residents themselves shown in a positive light, perhaps to convey that housing projects were a successful social experiment.  In one Baltimore Sun photo, an elderly woman in a wheelchair is photographed about to put food in her oven.  In a different photo, children romping happily in a public housing courtyard are caught on camera by a journalist.  A heartwarming 1940 press photo of a young man slicing bread for his family while a child looks on captures a bygone era  at Jane Addams Housing Project in Chicago.

What is clear is that the press was very interested in public housing as a social experiment in its early years, from 1940 to the early 1960s.  They leaned toward taking pictures that actually appeared staged, if you look closely.  Many portrayals of the residents almost take on an advertising quality.  Whether they were exploited by the press for the purposes of showing public housing as a roaring success is a matter for experts and future generations to decide.

One thing is for certain.  The assertion that housing projects have historical value is becoming more widely accepted.  Public housing memorabilia is fast becoming the new fad.  But how will that change things in terms of the people who actually lived in public housing developments that are now demolished?  Perhaps they will have their place in history at last, their stories told in their own words and with their own photos.  Maybe they'll even make a few bucks, selling their memorabilia.

Related Posts:  Public Housing Pulp Fiction 

Related Sources:  public housing memorabilia on Ebay

No comments:

Post a Comment

Thank you for commenting on!