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Public Corruption in Chester County, PA

I believe an unlikely mix of alleged drug trafficking related politicos and alleged white nationalist related politicos united to elect the infamous “Bloc of Four” in the abysmal voter turnout election of 2005. During their four year term the drug business was good again and white nationalists used Coatesville as an example on white supremacist websites like “Stormfront”. Strong community organization and support from law enforcement, in particular Chester County District Attorney Joseph W. Carroll has begun to turn our community around. The Chester County drug trafficking that I believe centers on Coatesville continues and I believe we still have public officials in place that profit from the drug sales. But the people here are amazing and continue to work against the odds to make Coatesville a good place to live.

Monday, March 4, 2013

When My Wife and I Moved to Philadelphia in the Late 1960s:

The leader of the Green Street Counts had been murdered across the street the year before we moved there. A pack of about 50 wild dogs lived in the former convent building up and across the street. If we wanted to go somewhere late at night came out and saw the dogs out front we changed our minds and decided we really didn’t need to go anywhere.

One evening while running by the Azalea Garden along what was then called East River Drive I heard a rustling sound. It was thousands of rats driven west to the banks of the Schuylkill by the rat control measures in Philadelphia.

Almost all of our relatives in Coatesville and there were a LOT of them, were terrified to even come and visit us. But we could get to Coatesville in about an hour. Come to think of it it may have been an ideal situation for a young couple.

But we had great landlords, the Mattsons.

Olaf Mattson was a Swedish immigrant who retired from Boeing. He worked with Igor Sikorsky on the first helicopter.  The Mattsons were wonderful people. A lot of young professionals lived in the Mattson's and nearby buildings. They mostly worked downtown and at the University of Pennsylvania, Sunoco, Philadelphia Library and other places. There were 2 Argentine Embassy workers, Maya Schock a Japanese American friend of mine who was enrolled at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts and her Japanese Art Student friend Fujiko Komatsu and Lena Stella, a cardiac surgeon from Sicily who was working at Misericordia Hospital emergency on weekend nights and getting her credits to be licensed as a cardiac surgeon in PA. Lena did not believe in one way signs if you only went a block. It was an international group.

I walked to 7th and Ranstead St to Charles P. Mills Photography Inc. and later to the University of PA Museum where I worked as a photographer.

Harvey Welker the future dad of newscaster Kristin Welker, lived across the street. Harvey met Julie when he spoke at the Philadelphia School Board meetings in concern of HUD housing. Julie now owns  Welker Real Estate.

Now and then I walked down the street to with a sculptor friend of mine Jim Victor to his friend Dave Lynch’s apartment on the top floor of Firehouse on Fairmont Avenue. Dave Lynch is now a Hollywood director.

The blocks to the east were almost entirely made up of Puerto Rican people. On Sundays they would bring their children. Little girls spun around in frilly bright white dresses at the top of the Art Museum steps and had a paseo around the Philadelphia Art Museum Area.

The cherry trees are blooming in April along Kelly Drive and the Azalea Garden  in back of the Museum will bloom in May. I listened to free jam sessions of Afro-Cuban percussion music at a gazebo at the Philadelphia Waterworks on the Schuylkill River.

We had a neighborhood block party at 20th and Mount Vernon that knocked your socks off with ethnic Eastern European music from the Girard Avenue area and ethnic Afro-Cuban music and lots of dancing. There were Sears trash cans full of incredibly good barbecued ribs that were grilled in a back yard on an old full size mattress spring from a charcoal fire underneath.

My friend Jim Victor had a friend and spiritual advisor named Father John McNamee. At the time John was with the Bishop at the Cathedral of Saint Peter and Paul.  As a young man John was actually a more handsome guy than David Morse who played him in the movie, "Diary of a City Priest". I met Father John on the street as he was coming out of a building on Cherry Street. He had just given last rites to a man at a homeless shelter. I can still remember the sad and angry look on his face. 

One time Betsy and I were leaving the Cathedral of St. Peter and Paul after talking to John and she said, “What a waste.” I said, “What do you mean?”  “He can’t get married.” What we didn’t know until I read "Diary of a City Priest" was that he watched families and children and ached for the experience himself.

John wanted to be a parish priest in a needy area of Philadelphia and became the Pastor of St. Malachy Parish in North Philadelphia.

Below is a link to a trailor video from the Motion Picture “Diary of a City Priest” if you watch the entire film Father John has a cameo role as a priest in a Mass service. 

The big attractions, what are now called “the WOW factor” by community planners were the events at the Ben Franklin Parkway, the buildings surrounding it such as the Art Museum, Rodin Museum and further down what is now called Kelly Drive with Boathouse Row. (I rowed for a while at the Fairmont Club) and the largest municipal park in the USA, Fairmont Park.

The first event was “Earth Week, April 16-22”.  

It was very exciting to live in the Art Museum Area at that time. I think that “Earth Week” was a turning point and after that event there was a sort of rocket like climb in people wanting to live and play in the “Art Museum Area”.

Below is the video “Earth Day 1970 CBS News Special Report with Walter Cronkite”. At the time Philadelphia was incredibly polluted. 

The Delaware River had a repulsive odor. 

The Delaware was known as one of the dirtiest rivers on earth by ship captains because fires started from the friction of the ship's bow in the polluted water when they steamed up the Delaware.

The air was so dirty that people including me, when I came back from a run on East River Drive, were sick enough to throw up and nearly pass out from breathing the air. On that same day there were reports of high school football teams collapsing on the practice fields around the Middle Atlantic States.

I did things like running down the stairs to chase away a man who was about to assault my neighbor on her way into the building. I contended with burglars. I actually talked to one not knowing he had just tried to break into our apartment. I was told by a street vendor to please, please stay while he called the police because there was a guy across the street with a 45.

I stepped into a police operation where a who guy was eying my camera suddenly bolted and another fellow with a boom box with a trailing cord ran by and stopped just in front of me where another big black dude with one eye said "I got a gun" and suddenly about 30 Philly cops just appeared.  After I came home I started shaking. 

Gang members were running around our street with various weapons including a bow and arrow. 

There were ups and downs but overall it was an interesting and exciting time to live in the City of Philadelphia. Betty and me both feel very fortunate to have had those experiences.

Property values were low. We could have bought a three-story apartment building between 22 and 23st Street on Mt. Vernon for $9,000.

Even taking into account for inflation the property values in the “Art Museum Area” rocketed up.

Just as an example, the property below was the former convent full of dog feces from the 50 wild dogs living in it and where the leader of the Green Street Counts was murdered. In 1969 it was probably valued at about $50,000, but no one wanted it. The last time it was on the market it was valued at about 7M.

Zoom in and view a "street view":

I expect the property values to go up and in turn our tax rate to go down because of the “Wow factor of Velodrome events, the new train station and the people and developers it will bring to the Coatesville area. See the January/February issue of Chester County Life Magazine:

The Art Museum area was more run down and by some people’s standards unlivable in the 1960s. I think that the most run down areas in Coatesville were not even close to being as bad as the Art Museum Area of the 1960s. We didn’t buy the Mt. Vernon Street property because we couldn’t find an insurance company for homeowners insurance in North Philly, at least for first time homeowners like us. We bought a home in West Mount Airy, Philadelphia in a neighborhood that the real estate man tried to steer us away from because it was "integrated".

We were in our home in West Mt. Airy for just a few weeks when Betsy brought home two kittens that we named Flotsy and Jetsy. The little girls down the street dressed them up in doll dresses. We could walk down the sidewalk to the Carpenter Lane Station of the Penn Central Chestnut Hill Line and be in downtown Philly in 20 minutes.

Our children were born in Chestnut Hill Hospital. Betsy walked them in a stroller around the neighborhood. She was also the town watch block captain and spotted the burglars on her stroller walks.

Now the Art Museum Area has some of the highest real estate property values in Pennsylvania.

I don’t expect the enormous increase in property values that happened in the Art Museum area of Philly. But a four of five times increase in property values in Coatesville is I think, a reasonable expectation.

The areas we lived in Philly were considered high crime areas but it was also a very interesting cosmopolitan and exciting place to live.

I was never without a camera. I walked around North Philly and Center City with what would now be $10,000 worth of Nikon photo equipment. I was streetwise and I could run fast and far. I had a next-door neighbor in Mount Airy who worked undercover as a Philly Cop and outdid Serpico with his wild hippy bead and buckskin costumes. I knew from him that a lot of the homeless people in Philly are really police. So I thought I was safe. Of course the bad guys didn’t have easy access to 9mm Glocks and AK-47s back then.  

But when I say that Coatesville is going to be the best place to live, play and possibly work in Chester County I speak from personal experience.

Betsy and I lived the transformation of neighborhoods with slum priced real estate to real estate that we now can’t come close to affording. But we already own a Coatesville home and I think that makes us very fortunate people. 

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