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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.