I received this from Ray Murphy this morning and wanted to share it with
the list. My post, Vigilante Vandalism, refers to it, partly because I
thought that it was already posted on the list. So with no more delay.
Duane Ball would laugh if he knew that—by default—he has been accused
of being a gentrifier.
But Duane died two years ago, so he’s not around to defend himself from
an attack on a new neighborhood restaurant that opened in his honor. *On
Wednesday, balloons filled with paint were thrown at the front of the
new Gold Standard at 48th and Baltimore and the word “gentrifier” was
scrawled across its front.*
To call Duane or his partners--who now run the new restaurant and have
lived together on South 48th Street for almost thirty-years--gentrifiers
is more than unfair.
Duane bought his house with Roger Harman in 1976 when the block was
still red-lined by most mortgage companies. They then proceeded to open
a restaurant—-the original Gold Standard--on a block of 47th Street that
would not be called gentrified today, let alone then.
That restaurant only lasted a few years. After a twenty year stop on
Penn's campus, Roger, Duane and third partner Vincent Whittacre built
Abbraccio at 47th and Warrington on an abandoned lot just a block from
The guys took a huge risk in opening Abbraccio. Although the Dahlak and
Gojo and Vientiane paved the way, they did not know if there was enough
business here in West Philly to support another restaurant. But before
Abbraccio you would have been hard pressed to find somewhere nice to eat
a sit-down meal for an anniversary, birthday, funeral or graduation not
just in Cedar Park, but in the whole of West and Southwest Philadelphia.
That’s why Abbraccio's tables were so often occupied by many different
kinds of people--pretty much the opposite of the crowd you might find in
a gentrified spot.
*On June 19, 2007 Duane died at home. *I was there—along with a lot of
the other neighbors Duane and come to love as family in his 30 years in
Duane's interaction and devotion to this neighborhood taught me a lot
about what community means. Duane had a family of origin for sure, but
it was his West Philadelphia family of choice that sustained him.
Duane’s loss made it almost impossible for Abbraccio to keep going. But
his memory also compelled Roger and Vincent to stay in the business.
The new Gold Standard exists in part as a monument to Duane's love of
this neighborhood. It was here, I think, that he found his idea of a
paradise on earth. Duane really loved his house and this neighborhood.
Although we have a history of neighbors seeking utopia (Google
“Movement for a New Society,” a group which started the land trust that
still owns a few group houses, the co-op and the A-Space today), we
certainly have our share of problems too.
*There are inequities here.*
Many of the folks who were my age when they moved to West Philly in the
1970s now live in houses worth 20 times more than they paid for them.
Increased home values means that there has started to be some
displacement of the renters--including people of color, LGBT folks,
immigrants and others--who have always guaranteed the neighborhood's
While queer people feel pretty safe here, I have been a called a fag at
least three times in the past year alone on the block where I live.
Crime is also an issue: And it seems to only increase as the gap in
income grows. And there has always been a town and gown relationship
with Penn--especially when it comes to race
So what was Wednesday’s petty act of vandalism about? *Was the attack a
trial balloon? An attempt to define the sense of conflict that seems to
be brewing in our neighborhood about all of the changes going on?* If
so, I think the agitators may have their hearts in the right place, but
are attacking the wrong people.
Traditionally the idea of gentrification is that higher income earners
purchase land and property to displace lower income people. It has
almost never been the case in Cedar Park that gentrification has
occurred. And it is certainly not the case when it comes to the new
This neighborhood is far from perfect. But there has been literally
decades worth of time invested by blacks, whites, Asians, Latinos, the
young, the old, queers, straights, Catholics, Muslims, Protestants,
Anarchists, Atheists and so many more to be intentional about this
community. To keep it a place where all are welcome, all can afford to
stay, and all are valued.
*Throwing balloons filled with paint onto a community space—-especially
one few of us ever expected to see come alive as it has—-is not the act
of someone who really cares enough to be a part of this community, or
who even really understands it. *
When I first went to the new Gold Standard, I was overwhelmed. A once
dreary corner was now filled with excitement and the happy faces of West
Philadelphians. It was a place that a man I knew and loved would have
been very happy to spend his time.
I certainly hope the folks who defaced the Gold Standard are made aware
of how ignorant their attack was and apologize for it.
And in Duane Ball'ss honor,* if i**t's time for an honest dialogue about
the changing character of this neighborhood, let's have it. But it must
be conducted in good faith, with trust offered from all involved if
we're to stay true to the values we've established as a
community.* After all, we have a long history of working together in
this neighborhood to solve problems.
"We forfeit the right to worship God as long as we continue to humiliate negroes…
The hour calls for high moral grandeur and spiritual audacity." Abraham
Joshua Heschel to President Kennedy, 1963
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