Earlier this month, I attended a panel discussion on “Art in Public Space” held in the Hamilton Garden of the Kimmel Center. As I waited for the program to start, I checked out the view from the top floor. What I saw left a hole in my heart.
The hole is where Philadelphia International Records once stood.
Kenny Gamble and Leon Huff have earned their place in history.
Sadly, the building that held the stories of the songwriters, musicians, producers and arrangers is now lost to history. For the love of money, African Americans’ cultural heritage was erased from public memory.
Gamble and Huff sold the historic building to Dranoff Properties which plans to build a luxury hotel and condos for the one percent. Three years after the demolition of “309,” there’s just a hole in the ground. The reason: Dranoff Properties is waiting for a corporate welfare check to the tune of $19 million before breaking ground on the “biggest, tallest and most expensive” project the company has ever done.
In the poorest big city in the country, spending taxpayers’ money to further enrich the rich is the sound of Philadelphia.
On the first day of summer, I had to report for jury duty at the Juanita Kidd Stout Center for Criminal Justice. As I stood in line to go inside the Jury Assembly Room, I noticed a panoramic mural. I made a mental note to check it out during the break.
It is clear the details only could have come from folks who were there. So it was no surprise to learn the mural was conceived by Doug Cooper in collaboration with “Philadelphia elderly.” Cooper wrote:
I brought together more than 40 elderly residents to complete it, and I worked jointly with them at the Center in the Park in the Germantown district of Philadelphia. Local artist, Deborah Zwetsch and I assembled their memories over the previous 80 years.
The memories of the elderly are highly personal. Some are sentimental, some painful, some humorous, some ordinary.
There is nothing ordinary about the depiction of the Ridge Avenue jazz corridor.
Ridge Avenue is ground zero in the Philadelphia Housing Authority’s plan to transform the Sharswood neighborhood. There is widespread concern that PHA has no plan to preserve the neighborhood’s cultural heritage and historic resources.
Cooper’s mural, showcasing Pep’s, the Showboat, Blue Horizon, Uptown Theater and jazz clubs on Ridge Avenue, tells part of the story of Philadelphia’s rich jazz heritage. We must capture the rest of the story while the folks who were there are still here. If we don’t, their stories will be lost for current and future generations.