Philadelphia Metropolis


Suddenly Famous

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By Gregory P. Pacana

When I was growing up in the 1970s, my neighborhood really didn't have a name.  People used to refer to it as the area between Fishtown, Kensington, and North Philly.   Sometimes people would call it Spring Garden, but for the most part they didn't call it anything.

Today just about everyone knows the name of my neighborhood -- it's called Northern Liberties and is considered to be a premier neighborhood in Philadelphia.

Its official boundaries are Girard Ave. to the north, Spring Garden Street to the south, 6th St. to the west, and Front St. to the east.  I have seen significant deviations in these boundaries, particularly by Realtors attempting to sell or rent properties in North Philadelphia.   I once looked at a rental property on 12th Street that was listed as being in Northern Liberties.  Today, just about everyone wants a piece of my old neighborhood.

When I was growing up Northern Liberties was somewhat of a joke.  Occasionally the kids in Fishtown would make fun of us because, well... we didn't live in Fishtown, and our neighborhood didn't really have a name.   At that time Fishtown was where all the cool kids lived.  Incidentally, those same kids attended the Immaculate Conception school and hung at the Tip Top playground, both of which were located in Northern Liberties.

Back in those days, Northern Liberties was mostly known for being the home of the Schmidt's Brewing Company.  We also had the infamous Daniel Boone School, a reformatory school where the incorrigibles who couldn't make it in the Philadelphia public school system were sent.

Northern Liberties.jpgThe only traffic we had back then were from the big Schmidt's trucks that used to slowly but routinely roll through the neighborhood hauling their beer. Parking was rarely a problem in Northern Liberties.  Residents were almost always guaranteed the parking spot in front of their home, though after a snow storm a milk crate or beach chair was often needed to guard one's space.

When I grew up, I left Northern Liberties and moved to a high-rise apartment in Center City. My family remained in Northern Liberties and the neighborhood remained pretty much the same up until around 1990 when I decided to return.

During the 1990s, my old neighborhood began to change. The old Schmidt's Brewery, shuttered for years, and was torn down.  New bars and restaurants began popping up on 2nd and 3rd Street.  Places with names like Poor Henry's, Liberties, and the Bulls Head Inn.  Apartment buildings, lofts, and condominiums, were being constructed.  Art galleries and boutiques were popping up.  There was also an incursion of new people moving into my old neighborhood.   The population had nearly doubled since I had left.   And the average price of a typical home was approaching $300,000 - a figure unheard of in the old days.   

Eventually even the old Daniel Boone reformatory school would be gutted and converted into a four- story apartment building housing new one, two, and three bedroom apartments.   It seemed like no matter where you went in Northern Liberties a construction project was underway. 

But it wasn't just the fa├žade of my once simple, unpretentious neighborhood that was changing.  The folks that were moving in were a different breed.  These were not the blue collar, middle-aged people of my youth.  These were young adults and they had professional high-tech jobs. They even dressed differently.  When they weren't going or coming to work they could be seen walking around the neighborhood in flip flops or sandals with their pure breed dogs and carrying little plastic poop bags.  And the bars were not the typical "man bars" of my youth, these bars had funny names and served beer with even funnier names.   Gone were Schmidt's, Ortlieb's, and Schlitz, they had been replaced with beers named Yards, Dogfish, and Troegs.  

Northern Liberties was once one of the most traffic-free neighborhoods in the city and street parking was never a problem.  But now just take a ride through the neighborhood on a Friday or Saturday night.  The traffic along 2nd and 3rd Street can be overwhelming. And if you did decide to stop somewhere, there's almost never any place to park.   Where had all these cars come from?  What are all these suburbanites doing in my neighborhood?

So, Northern Liberties is now perhaps the "hottest" neighborhood in the city of Philadelphia.  The number of restaurants, bars, coffee houses, not to mentions condos and art galleries is impressive.  The real estate values have soared and in the eyes of many Northern Liberties is the place to be.

But for this 40ish blue-collar guy who grew up there in the 1970s, went to school at Immaculate Conception, and hung out at Tip Top playground it is all a bit overwhelming.


Gregory P. Pacana is looking for a good parking space in Northern Liberties.



Photo: Northern Liberties sunset by Matthew Johnson




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