A weekly series of foul-mouthed investigations into empty lots, dead-ass proposals and other design phenomena in Philadelphia. Find more stories like this at Philaphilia.blogspot.com.
Southeast Corner of Locust and Hutchinson streets -- This spot looks pretty innocent but it hasn't seen a building in over 70 years -- and probably will last another 70. This pile of shit snuck its way into existence and has managed to keep itself flat as fuck for a long goddamn time. Could there ever be a future for this lot? All signs point to "FUCK NO."
Not only is it sad that this lot goes unbuilt, it's also unmarked. This particular location is a major historical site for Quakers, African Americans and Italian Americans. The history of this lot begins with Quaker abolitionist (and badass) Anthony Benezet. This French-born motherfucker was the dude that convinced Quakers that they should be abolitionists in the first place. In 1770, at age 57 (which back then might as well have been age 400), he founded the Negro School at Philadelphia on what is now the south side of this empty lot. This was one of the first Quaker-supported public schools for black children.
|Conjectural image of Anthony Benezet made half a century after his death. He's saying, "There can be only one."
In 1770, this lot would have been on the far western outskirts of the city. It was probably surrounded by vegetation and a shanty-town of wooden houses. As the city developed around it, the school took on different names -- the School for Black People and Their Descendants, the Raspberry Street School (Hutchinson Street was called Raspberry then), and, after Benezet's Death, the Benezet School.
In 1864, the Quakers wanted to open a Mission in the neighborhood, and figured the front lawn of the old Negro School was a good place to put it. The Locust Street Mission Association, as it came to be known, would then inhabit the north side of the lot. The building was built to serve poor African Americans and immigrants in the neighborhood. No less than three different schools ran out of this building at once. The Swarthmore First Day School (later John S. Hilles Memorial School), which taught illiterate Italian immigrants, the Bee-Hive School for Colored Children, which taught African-American children ages 5 to 12, the Joseph Sturge Mission School, and which taught illiterate African-Americans.
By the start of the 20th century, the School District of Philadelphia had taken on the responsibility of teaching black children, so the usefulness of the Benezet School and Locust Street Mission waned. In 1917, the Benezet House Association was formed. They built an addition on what is now the empty lot, combining the old Negro School building with the old Locust Street Mission building into one facility that would serve as an adult education/job training center for poor blacks and immigrants, while at the same time serving as a settlement house.
|Locust Street Mission Association as the Benezet House Association in 1917. Image from PhillyHistory.org, a project of the Department of Records.
By 1934, things had changed. The neighborhood was no longer black nor immigrant, and the now 154-year-old Negro School and 70-year-old Locust Street Mission Association buildings were falling apart. The small amount of government funding the mission was receiving ran out in that year, and the site was abandoned. The whole complex was demolished by 1940, becoming the empty lot we see there now. The Quakers retained ownership of the lot for a while but eventually sold it in 1945.
Currently, the lot is doing duty as a collection of private surface parking spaces and is surrounded by 1979-built housing. Unless all the people that use this parking decide to give it up, this lot will probably stay empty for the rest of all our lifetimes. There should at least be an historical marker here. You see all the goofy shit that gets a marker in other parts of the city... this spot deserves one as well. Shit, let's go even further. How about a 10- to 20-foot bust of Anthony Benezet at the corner of Locust and Hutchinson? That'll do.
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