West Philadelphia’s location on the map relative to where I’ve lived and worked and explored over my lifetime has result in me never driving through this section of Philadelphia. There’s no route in which going from Point A to Point B would ever require me to drive through West Philadelphia. The closest I come to visiting this area is visiting a U.S. Immigration Center at 41st and Market, Saad’s at 45th and Walnut, or a few places along Baltimore Avenue. Carroll Park? Haddington? Hestonville? Never heard of ‘em. Wouldn’t have even known these are Philadelphia neighborhoods. Overbrook? Sure, because that’s where Wilt Chamberlain and Will Smith went to high school.
West Philadelpia (I’m defining this as the area west of University of Penn, north of Baltimore Avenue, then up to St. Joseph’s University) has always been the black section of Philadelphia (always meaning for as long as I’ve lived). I’ve always thought it racist and embarrassing that the U.S. South has entire towns that are black towns and had a sense of pride that Philadelphia was home to a range of cultures. Then I thought “I’ve never been to West Philadelphia, I have no idea what that section of the city is like” and I realized Philadelphia’s neighborhood segregation is just as racist and embarrassing the black towns in the southern U.S.
A drive through West Philadelphia reveals that like other parts of a major city there are some bad areas but there are also a lot of nice areas. On a Saturday morning, I drove up Parkside (which in its heyday I imagine was one of the nicest areas of the city—I think this is a sleeping giant type neighborhood and I’m not sure why people are gambling on Point Breeze when Parkside has more to offer and a higher upside, but that’s a whole separate discussion), down 52nd Street, then across Girard to Carroll Park, before heading up 59th Street to the Wynnefield area. The commercial districts were a bit worn out, in need of an exterior façade facelift, but by and large it was a fun drive through a new section of the city. Some sections had smaller row homes extending the entire block, other sections were series of twin homes. The area was similar to the residential expanse of Northeast Philadelphia.
I made a few mental notes of places to stop on a second trip (Bible Way tower). Maybe a restaurant or two as well, like The Angry Waffle or Sweet Treat Hut. I made a quick stop at Overbrook Highschool—we do not build highschools like they used to.