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Book Reviews ...
Reviewed: Still Philadelphia: A Photographic History 1890-1940 by Fredric M. Miller, Morris J. Vogel and Allen F. Davis
Reviewed by: James Generic
Around the Turn of the Century, Philadelphia was in a turning point in its history. Put together by Temple University's Urban Archives collection, the authors do an excellent job crossing architecture with people. The South Street area was becoming increasingly Jewish as refugees from Russia fled, rubbing elbows with the Black community of the 5th ward. Italians and Irish flooded South Philly. Irish, Polish, and German immigrants flocked to the new industries in Kensington. The middle class areas of West Philadelphia and North Philadelphia became the first "street-car" suburbs, commuting daily to their office jobs in the downtown Center City, as Broad Street was widened at the same time to provide room to the new "automobile". At the same time, vast amounts of row housing put the working class (of all different origins and colors) very near their factory work places. There is a classic picture of the Stetson factory (in Kensington) Christmas party, where hundreds of factory workers are in suits lined into neat rows. You can find a Jewish man and an Irish girl courting.
Wow. "Still Philadelphia" is a treasure that any Philadelphian should take a look at. They may recognize some of their streets, and they might not. For instance, Broad and Girard Streets, today is an El Stop, in a working class Black neighborhood near Temple University, in the 1890s was the site of several mansions of the Well-to-do class of Philadelphia (who's descendants now live on the Mainline of the suburbs.) South Street, today a smorgousboard of dinky strange shops and tourist attractions, a century ago was a Jewish marketplace (though the traffic doesn't seem to have changed.) 58th
and Baltimore, now a working-class Black neighborhood just blocks away from gentrification, was in 1906 farmland.
As our city rapidly changes, a city with thousands of Latino and Asian immigrants arriving, struggling neighborhoods, and areas balancing gentrification with building neighborhoods that meet the needs of the already established community, it's fascinating to look back to an earlier time when the city struggled with similar, yet different issues.