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.

FIGHT THE STIGMA!

FIGHT THE STIGMA!
Rosemary Reeves, Blogger, standing on Philadelphia Skyline

Jan 30, 2012

Healing Begins on Both Sides of Liddonfield Housing Project

by Rosemary Reeves


I attended the Upper Holmesburg Civic Association meeting on January 19 where the topic of discussion was Holy Family University’s proposed plan for development of the former Liddonfield Housing Project site.   The meeting took place at St. Dominic Marian Hall.   I used to walk through those doors as a student there while my family lived in the project.  

Even before I was old enough to attend school, the spot where Marian Hall stood held great significance for me.  In the few seconds it took to walk up the steps and into the hall, I remembered the time I was three years old and cut my foot so badly it needed stitches.  Mom didn’t have any money for a cab or a bus, so she started to carry me to the hospital.  She made it as far as the sidewalk in front of Marian Hall.  Suddenly she said, “I can’t go on anymore.  You’re too heavy.”  Then she waved down a car and we hitched a ride to the hospital.  I still remember the young couple who drove us.  Not their faces.  Their faces are long faded from my memory.  It was their kindness and concern that I remember.

I was not particularly comfortable at first going to this meeting.  I knew there would be mostly homeowners in attendance, the same people who cheered the demolition of my old housing project.  Then there was the tension between  Liddonfield residents and homeowners that went back to the 1960s, long before there was any serious trouble in Liddonfield.  The wounds were still fresh on both sides.

Now that Liddonfield was gone, I expected the homeowners in attendance to be upbeat.  But when I walked into the hall I saw something quite different.  Instead, they seemed like a people battle-scarred and weary from years of conflict with the housing project in their midst.  Anxiety filled the room as they sat with furrowed brows and pursed lips in the lull before the meeting commenced.  Their eyes expressed doubt, as if they were used to empty promises.  Despite being the victors in the Liddonfield versus homeowners decades long debacle, I got the impression they were still languishing among the spoils.  There was none of the exuberance I expected.  To my surprise, though Liddonfield had been demolished, it seemed that Upper Holmesburg homeowners were still waiting to exhale.

I signed the guest list and looked for a place to sit.  Two women were occupying one of the long tables.   I introduced myself to them.  In the same breath, I told them I was a former Liddonfield resident.  They looked at each other as if a Liddonfielder was the last person they wanted to meet.  I almost grinned at the mix of discomfort and bewilderment that came over their faces when I asked to join them at their table.  I had a hunch that they would rather suffer my presence than be impolite.   

As I thought, they invited me to sit with them.  Immediately, I let them know that I blogged about Liddonfield as well as being a former project resident and handed them a leaflet advertising PublicHousingStories.com.  On the leaflet was a photo of Liddonfield taken in its heyday side-by-side with a photo of the project taken in 2010.  “Oh, just look at how the project used to be and what happened to it!” said one of the ladies.  I had chosen those photos to illustrate a timeline.  Liddonfield had existed for more than half a century.  I gazed at the photos with her.  In the earlier picture, the project appeared clean and well maintained.  In the later one, the buildings were dilapidated, the sidewalk was busted up and the place appeared uninhabitable.  “It’s such a shame!” she said.

“Tell me about your experiences with the project,” I asked the ladies.  One looked me straight in the eye as if she wanted to, but there was a moment of hesitation.  “It’s all right.  Don’t hold anything back,” I reassured her, “I need to hear it all.  Please, tell me everything.”

Once they started talking, they poured their hearts out to me while I listened.  It was one thing to read about homeowners complaining of crime in the project.  It was quite another to see the pain in their faces as they told stories about prostitutes in front of their homes and people dealing drugs in their driveways. Then there were the less serious but harassing types of infringements on their personal space.  “In the summertime, they [the project residents] played their boom boxes so loud the whole neighborhood could hear it,” said one of the women.  She lived close to the project for 35 years.

A gentleman sat down at the table.  He was an acquaintance of the ladies.  He introduced himself to me and said, “You’re the woman from the Internet, aren’t you?  The one that blogs about Liddonfield.”

I replied that I was.  “These ladies were just telling me about their experiences with the project,” I remarked.  Right away, he told me that a drug dealer had been killed on his friend’s property, which was across from the project.  I felt great sympathy for these people.  Though it hurt to hear these awful things about Liddonfield, I listened without interrupting.  What I hoped for were our wounds to begin healing.

A speaker came up to the microphone, announcing the start of the meeting.  I thanked the ladies and gentleman for talking with me and turned my attention to the speaker.  Sister Francesca Onley went up to the podium and informed the attendees about Holy Family’s plan for the former Liddonfield site.  Toward the close of the meeting a member of the audience said he objected to any more low-income housing in the neighborhood and wanted reassurance that none would be built there.  Paul DeFinis, who is Chairman of the Zoning Committee replied, “I don’t think anybody wants what we had there in the past.”  

The audience clapped in thunderous agreement.  During the applause, memories of my childhood in Liddonfield flashed like images on a movie reel.  In my mind’s eye, I saw the bullpens where the housing project moms hung their laundry.  I saw myself riding a tricycle along the Liddonfield sidewalk.  I saw my Liddonfield playmates greeting me in times long past.  I saw my mother’s face smiling at me as I tried on clothes from the Goodwill truck. 

Just then, I felt a gentle nudge on my shoulder from one of the ladies I had been talking with.  The audience was still applauding and her eyes conveyed sympathy.  “It’s only because of how bad it got,” she said, “You understand?”

I smiled and replied, “I do understand.”  She smiled back.  The cheering of Liddonfield’s demise was a blow.  The fact that this homeowner tried to comfort a former resident feeling the loss was priceless.

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Related sources:

NEast Philly.com article by Shannon McDonald, Holy Family’s plan for Liddonfield property receives applause, cheers from Upper Holmesburg residents

1 comment:

  1. Great article...I love the way you wrote it. Lindenfield is a part of your life just as my childhood neighborhood will always be. I can always revisit my old neighborhood but yours is gone..but always in your heart and mind.

    As for the rest of us, we could not wait to see it go...forever! Our neighboor hood has been infected with these dirtballs and now they want to bring in a new batch from north philly.....aint going to happen.

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