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

Jan 27, 2013

Liddonfield: One Neighborhood's Struggle With Public Housing

Part One:  A Politician's Legacy, an Architect's Vision

by Rosemary Reeves

This series includes factors influencing the decline of Liddonfield Homes Public Housing Development and some of the heroic steps that were taken by determined homeowners and tenants of the project in an attempt to rid themselves of drug dealers in a neighborhood deemed “low priority.” 

In 1952 Joseph S. Clark, Jr. was the first democrat in 64 years to become mayor of Philadelphia.  While he was running for office, Clark told voters he intended to serve only one term so he could follow the dictates of his conscience in the decisions that he made instead of basing them on a political strategy geared toward re-election.  As he intended, this left him free to devote himself to the goals he set for Philadelphia, which included a major crackdown on corruption in City Hall, more rights for blacks and affordable housing for the elderly, disabled and the poor.

Clark had housing projects erected in neighborhoods throughout the city as a step toward eradicating poverty.  One of the projects on the list was Liddonfield Homes Public Housing Development.  At the planning stage, the Philadelphia Housing Authority (PHA) enlisted the professional services of the architectural firm Montgomery & Bishop to create Liddonfield’s design.  It was the same architectural firm that designed the Philadelphia Public Health Building on South Broad Street.  

Liddonfield Housing Project
Montgomery & Bishop presented the Liddonfield blueprint and architectural drawings to housing authority officials.  Unlike most housing projects, Liddonfield would be low-rise with apartments resembling town houses, lawns for outdoor family activities and a recreation center.  It was a more progressive and family-oriented design than its high-rise predecessors and officials at the housing authority were pleased.

A low-rise required more space than a high-rise for the same number of dwellings, however, and space was at a premium in many parts of the city.  PHA would begin looking for a location within city limits on which to build Liddonfield.  Philadelphia’s Far Northeast had many pockets of undeveloped land.  It was here, in the neighborhood of Upper Holmesburg, where they would find a tract of land sizable enough to accommodate the sprawling, low-rise public housing development known as Liddonfield.* 

At that time, many Americans were leaving the cities and moving to the suburbs.  For those who worked downtown but wanted a piece of the American dream, Philly’s Far Northeast offered the best of both worlds.  Upper Holmesburg was a kind of pseudo-suburbia, with single homes and duplexes as well as blocks of row homes owned by white working-class and middle-class families.  

Lone Star Cement Corporation began construction on the housing project in 1953.  Rows of buildings were erected from Megargee Street and Torresdale Avenue to Tolbut and Cottage Streets.  In 1955, residents began moving into finished areas of the low-income housing development and by 1956 the architects’ vision was complete.  That same year, Liddonfield won the NAHRO’s Award (National Association of Housing and Reconstruction Officials).  NAHRO officials deemed that the low-income housing project “exemplified imaginative design.”

Public housing was racially segregated until then.  Housing projects for blacks were built in black neighborhoods, usually the inner-city.  Those for whites were in white neighborhoods, but in 1954 racial segregation in public housing became illegal.  However, the reality was slow to change and most likely because Upper Holmesburg was a white area, the first people to move into Liddonfield were predominantly white, with the exception of five black families out of the 412 who were placed there.  

Clark kept his promise and only served one term.  He became Pennsylvania senator in 1957.  The architects Montgomery & Bishop would go on to design other homes and buildings in the city.  The public housing development they conceived would exist for more than fifty years, having a significant impact on the neighborhood of Upper Holmesburg beyond anything they had imagined.

Part 2 of this series will be posted Monday, February 4, 2013

*It is commonly thought that Liddonfield was originally a military barracks.  Aerial photographs  have established that the land was, in fact, undeveloped.  

Sources:  University of Penn Architectural Archives; 1956 Lone Star Cement Corporation ad in Civil Engineering Magazine featuring the construction of Liddonfield; National Association of Housing and Reconstruction Officials


Part 2 of Liddonfield:  One Neighborhood's Struggle With Public Housing

History of Liddonfield Involves Key Public Figures in Philly 

Best Quotes From Citizens, Police and Politicians on Crime/Drugs in Liddonfiield

1 comment:

  1. Public housing is a big help to people who cant afford to have their own house. We should be thankful to have this project.


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