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Public Art That Vanished From Fishtown

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March 10, 2013   ·   2 Comments

Photo by Roman Blazic

Fishtown once was home to solid middle and lower income families. This started to change in the early 1980’s when I purchased my home. Thirty years later the real estate value of my house has increased by 600%.

Every possible open lot and non-functional building is highly sought after for new housing, business and institutional construction and re-construction.

Fishtown and nearby Kensington gradually, through the years, also became a home and hub for art and artist. There is much to be said of its economic and cultural effect but I’ll focus on public art that has vanished.

Photo by Roman Blazic

Photo by Roman Blazic

Shissler playground, also know as Newt’s to a different generation, had a mural that highlighted the first verse of “America The Beautiful”. This mural could not hold up in style or detail to what can be seen along East Lehigh Avenue. It held its own for vanishing generations of families. Both had quiet pride. Both are slipping away.

The mural seldom received a touch up and was vandalized by graffiti. The Recreation Department installed a baseball-pitching/batting cage made of stark chain-link fencing in front of it. The result of this construction produced unintended consequences. The consequences and the art have both been removed.

Photo by Roman Blazic

Photo by Roman Blazic

The site of the New Kensington High School for Creative and Performing Arts is right behind the playground. This site once was a freight train and distribution yard. Trains would enter from the now dismantled Trenton Avenue trestle.

Photo by Roman Blazic

Photo by Roman Blazic

The sole surviving structure near the corner of Palmer and Front Streets was refurbished into a wholesome produce and fresh fish store. The building was decorated with a beautiful mural that reflected Hispanic heritage. That too is gone.

Photo by Roman Blazic

Photo by Roman Blazic

Photo by Roman Blazic

Photo by Roman Blazic

PositiveSpace, which exists in name only, was an artist group that had as part of their goal, “to enhance the quality of life by intergrating art into the neighborhood.” This Fishtown-based group once hosted, for full family inclusion, a variety of artistic events of various art mediums.

Photo by Roman Blazic

Photo by Roman Blazic

The group’s artistic statement appeared on their sculpture garden gateway, Neigborhood Sign Project, on the 2000 blk. of Frankford Avenue (between Norris and Susquehanna). The group lost usage of the lot and this positive structure was dismantled along with the spirit of the group’s artistic misson.

Photo by Roman Blazic

Photo by Roman Blazic

There are several other smaller wall paintings that have since disappeared such as on the garage/stable next to Rocket Cat Café on Susquehanna Avenue. It was an expression of love for horses and one poignant remembrance to the fallen soldier.

Photo by Roman Blazic

Photo by Roman Blazic

The last one that I’ll mention was a personal favorite. It’s certainly not pretty and artistically challenged but it made my children laugh when they were young. It’s a car painting at a used car lot at the corner of Belgrade Street and Frankford Avenue. The entire block was torn down and new houses were erected. My children are adults now. Gone is their childhood and gone is the art. Two cents: Mostly all new construction here reminds me of how London was once plagued with horrible new architecture.

I am happy that some new public art has since sprung up. I’m hopeful that Fishtown’s artist community endeavors to keep this a pride-filled tradition and not a hipster scene once over.

Roman Blazic is the second of three generations to participate in the arts: photography, songwriting, musical performance and vexillologists. Roman is a Board Member of the Friends of Penn Treaty Park and an active supporter of the Fishtown art scene. He also contributes photographs to the local community groups and newspaper.

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2 Responses to “Public Art That Vanished From Fishtown”

  1. mike says:

    Ive lived in this are for the last eight years and so I dont have the same nostalgic perspective on the area’s state of public art. Many murals in the area have popped up, NKCDC attained funding for a series of art racks (sculptural bike racks)and various galleries have made their home in the area. While there’s no argument that new housing is partially responsible for some small murals being lost, the same can be true of the amount of trash and crime. The hipster scene is just different not necessarily a lesser value or quality than the old amateur graffiti and murals. The community here has changed and that is the issue. There’s always resistance to change because good things get lost as well as the less desirable. I am willing to bet a proper survey would show that there’s more public art in the area than there ever was.

  2. yvonne says:

    This is a fantastic article – and I am so glad you had photos of all of the past murals. I agree with Mike to the extent that the murals are a reflection of a time. However I would argue that the impetus for creation is quite different. The murals in Roman’s article are “fresh”, they were created by the people as a true expression of their place, time, and spirit. There should be easy connections to the current outsider art exhibition at PMA – except that the specificity to place cannot be so connected. The current mural arts of Philadelphia are part of a bureaucratic system, with a purpose and with aesthetic judgement in place among other considerations. Current Philadelphia murals are no longer the rise of expression of the folks who live there – who may not consider themselves to be artists – but just needed to speak. In our communities need to change and grow, I hope we can recognize the importance of our brief history and begin to save some of it in more than the documentation of a photograph.

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