A Side Street Saga Continues

Irving Street | Photo: Maria Gorshin

Red brick townhouses framed by shutters and ivy line a collection of little streets that intersect only steps from the bustle of Philadelphia’s Locust and Spruce Streets.

The noise of the city falls away within the embrace of Jessup and Irving Streets as if muted by years of history. But it’s here, in an enclave of gentility, where tensions between neighbors quietly simmer as a legal battle rages for the future of a narrow stretch of cobblestones.

The area in question is referred to as an alley, a street or a stub depending on who is speaking. It measures either 15 feet or 10 feet; has been in public use for over a century or abandoned for more than 21 years and is either a haven for illicit public behavior or not depending on whether you are interviewing Lynn Landes during a tour of her home on South Jessup Street or engaging in a lively e-mail dialogue with South Jessup residents Julie Seda-Bigas and Cheryl Navarro. They are three of the main actors in what can be seen either as a neighborhood dispute or as a case for the common good of Philadelphians.

If you are confused it means you are beginning to understand the complexities of what is taking place behind the scenes in one of Philadelphia’s favorite hidden places. One set of neighbors is, depending on your point-of-view, either trying to gain ownership of a section of Irving Street that has been in the public domain for over a century or attempting to clarify title on their property in order to obtain permits to have the area repaired, restored and maintained according to historic preservation guidelines. Another set of neighbors is either interfering with the right of two families to exercise their rights as property owners or fighting to prevent a “land grab” that would result in a charming public side street becoming privatized.

1910 G.W. Bromley Philadelphia Atlas

More than 300 Philadelphia side streets exist in a limbo of ownership, much like Irving Street. How this scenario resolves after a scheduled February 9th court appearance could impact the future of those historic cart ways–areas that tourists, artists and photographers have long enjoyed exploring throughout the city

The confusion arises from the fact that the east side of Irving Street was never put on the Philadelphia City Plan back in the 1800s. That omission left the ownership of the area open to interpretation.

“All we’re doing is asserting our legal rights and doing it responsibly and ethically,” said Ms. Seda-Bigas who, together with her husband, Modesto Bigas-Valedon, and Victor and Cheryl Navarro, seeks to establish deeded ownership over the contested area. “Irving Street is on city plans and only a dead ended stub was not included because it was never dedicated to the city,” she said. “A street is only a street if it meets the definitions provided under city code.”

Current Google map of the area

Ms. Landes heartily disagrees. “Once someone builds a street and the public uses it no one can deny it’s a city street.” A journalist and lifelong activist and environmentalist, Ms. Landes has created two groups–Save Irving Street and The Philadelphia Society of Small Streets–to raise support to see Irving Street added to the City Plan once and for all. “The pivotal issue is whether it’s been used by the public and it has for 200 years.” Her neighbors introduced photos of a white picket fence that lined Irving Street in 1965 and an image of  the area chained off from South Jessup Street more recently as evidence that the east side of Irving hasn’t always been accessible to the public.

Legal documents filed by the Navarros, Bigas-Valedon, and Seda-Bigas make it clear that the families’ intention is to “take ownership and responsibility” for land that has been essentially abandoned since the death of its original owner, Edward Shippen Burd, in 1848. The wealthy property owner bequeathed the land to no one. Now the South Jessup Street neighbors are “attempting to correct a problem which has existed for almost two centuries–the lack of private or public ownership of the alley,” according to documents dated December 28, 2011.

Ms. Landes and her husband Clifford W. Landes are also drawing from history, as well as the doings of Edward Burd to support their viewpoint that Irving Street belongs to Philadelphia. They have submitted a deed dating back to 1814, made out to Reverend Absalom Jones that “establishes how Mr. Burd laid out and sold houses with reference to the use of the…15-foot wide Irving Street.” The words “free use” and “privilege in common” are seen as key.

Photo: Maria Gorshin

The main concern on Irving Street is the potential for loss of access to a portion of city history should it one day be gated off and perhaps hidden from view.

“We have always categorically denied these allegations,” said Ms. Seda-Bigas, in an e-mail. “On May 24, 2011 we participated in a public meeting sponsored by the Zoning and Governmental Affairs Committee of the Washington Square West Civic Association where we reassured all concerned neighbors that we have no intention on blocking the street.  Whatever is giving people this impression is not based on actions or statements from our part.”

The appearance of a planter in the middle of Irving Street mobilized Ms. Landes to take immediate legal action: “This week we’re filing in court to have the planter removed.” But it seems that neighbors’ access to Irving Street is protected by enforceable proprietary law acknowledged by both sides. “There are easements in that area that would preclude anyone attempting to permanently block it,” said Ms. Seda-Bigas.

In a statement prepared by attorney Richard C. DeMarco, the families poised to win deeded ownership of Irving Street reiterated their commitment to keeping the area accessible to neighbors and in view of the public: “We have no intention of erecting a gate across the Alley; and even if it was our intention, such an action would require approval by the Philadelphia Historical Commission, an approval which we believe would be unlikely.”

How the struggle will end for one small portion of Irving Street is unclear but what is obvious is that all involved care passionately about their corner of Philadelphia. All agree that Irving Street is in dire need of restoration–starting with repairs to broken curbs and bulging cobblestones that present a tripping hazard–and have stated their desire to see the historic integrity of the area preserved.

Photo: Maria Gorshin

As the legal wrangling continues Ms. Landes is encouraging residents of other small streets to organize and get on Philadelphia’s city plan before conflicts over ownership arise in their communities. About Irving Street she says, “I am absolutely committed to defending it as a symbol of historic preservation.”

Ms. Seda-Bigas is equally determined to protecting Irving Street. “Our ideal is to be able to preserve and maintain its historic character as responsible citizens,” she said. Ms. Seda-Bigas remembers exploring Philadelphia’s historic side streets during childhood visits to the city. “When looking for a place in the City to raise our family we looked for homes with historic character. Upon finding Jessup Street we immediately loved it and felt this would be a caring and warm community for our children to grow up in. And that has been the case.”

Asked what it has been like to live with the strain of all that is taking place on Irving Street, Ms. Landes  acknowledged “it’s been very divisive for the neighborhood and difficult for us.”

“Living in one of Philadelphia’s favorite side streets these days feels like we’re in a modern version of The Crucible where rumors become facts and innocent people are wrongfully accused,” said Ms. Seda-Bigas who, together with Cheryl Navarro, has felt unfairly portrayed in the press. “My family keeps me grounded,” she continued. “Many neighbors who support me, remind me every day they see me down or sad, that, ‘this too shall pass’.”

 

About the author

Maria Gorshin is a lifelong writer with twenty years experience writing about travel, leisure, tourism, and entertainment for clients around the globe. She recently served as the lead writer on an archaeology based children's animation series associated with the Supreme Council of Antiquities in Egypt. Previously, Maria contributed to the development of history-based attractions for a leading theme park company. Her first media position was with the Wall Street Journal. She is an enthusiast about all things New York, the city where she was born and raised, and Philadelphia, the city she is just now beginning to explore. She writes about NYC's past and present at CityGirlWrites.blogspot.com and is a frequent contributor to WestSideRag.com and UntappedCities.com.

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39 Comments


  1. Gregory James Larkin

    The Landes’s are hypocrites. They took over the public easement behind their house and made it part of their backyard. Just saying.

    • Sarah Getz - Philly Mom

      Fascinating. As I read it, they’re trying to keep the lane PUBLIC, yet you make it sound like they’ve fenced it in and landscaped a lovely brick firepit.

      Maybe we read different articles?

  2. Lynn and Cliff Landes

    We appreciate publicity for the Irving Street situation, but a few comments and corrections are in order. First and foremost, please contact Mayor Nutter and ask him to support putting Irving Street on the City Plan, so that it remains in the public domain for all to enjoy.

    Good intentions aside, if Irving Street is privatized, the current or future owners can prohibit public access. In a 2007 neighborhood meeting, the Bigas-Valedon’s and Navarro’s asked for permission to erect a gate. Despite recent denials about erecting a gate, they continue to make it very clear that they still want to control public access to Irving Street. Logically, a gate is the only way to do it.

    Regarding their desire to fix Irving Street, they have had at least five years to fix their own curbs, which remain a tripping hazard to this day. But, more to the point, we and many of our neighbors have successfully prevailed upon the Streets Department to restore the adjacent historic street, Jessup, and that work will take place this year. If the Bigas-Valedon’s and Navarro’s would have joined the many neighbors and Philadelphians who have signed our petition to put Irving Street on the City Plan, it could be repaired at the same time as Jessup Street. Instead, they want Irving Street for their own personal use. We believe Irving Street should remain in the public domain for all to enjoy.

    Regarding the 1965 photo of a white picket fence across Irving Street, the previous owner of Bigas-Valedon’s house at that time, says that there was never a white picket fence across Irving Street in 1965 nor at any time in her memory. Regarding access to the back alleys, that is not now nor never has been a public access right, but instead private easement for residents. Our gate does not affect any other residences but our own, nor have we claimed the alley as our private property.

    Again, we appreciate the publicity for Irving Street and hope the public will contact Mayor Nutter and support putting Irving Street on the City Plan!

    Lynn and Cliff Landes, http://www.SaveIrvingStreet.org

  3. I also attended the 2007 meeting to discuss multiple options for reducing crime and prostitution on that dead end stub of Irving St. The topic of gating off the stub was actually proposed by a different neighbor and the thought at the time was to turn that space into a small neighborhood park similar to that found around 8th and Waverly. The neighbors collectively decided this was not an option we wanted to pursue and the subject was never brought up again, except by the Landeses in this current dispute. Meeting minutes including all of the options discussed were distributed to those who attended.

  4. A neighborhood meeting in 2007 occurred to discuss lewd activity in the Alley. Many suggestions were offered to mitigate this lewd activity including: extra lights, cameras, and gating the area.
    The neighbors present voiced their opinions about all suggestions specifically about not gating the area. All of the suggestions that were agreed upon were implemented by the abutting property owners.

    We have and had no intention of gating the area.

    Our intention is to clarify title legally, obtain permits legally and pay to have the area abutting our properties historically repaired which include the heaved cobble stones which pose a tripping hazard not only for us, but for all easement holders of record.

  5. Sarah Getz - Philly Mom

    I love Philly’s little streets. They didn’t work for the age of the carriage and car, but they’re perfect for today’s urban dwelling pedestrians and cyclists.

    I hope our city eventually ‘rides this through’ and once again comes to treasure and maintain our small-dwelling byways.

    Thanks for hanging in there Irving Street!

  6. I support the effort led by Cliff and Lynn Landes, largely because of their point that privatization now could allow future closure of the end of Irving Street, and also because of the context here, of the many other streets which could also be privatized, and with that, remove some of the amenability these little streets add to the whole city, as one asset Philadelphia offers in what really is a competitive global market.

  7. The area should not be privatized. There are many areas like this in Washington Square West. People should not be able to ‘take it over’. There is no reason why the homeowners can’t make repairs to the cobble stone street area. The city will not pay for it anyhow.

    By the way, I realize you have no desire to gate the area. But what about someone else? I remember the Navarro’s house was up for sale about four years ago. Who is to say, they would not put their house up for sale again. The future owners may want to gate the area.

    • We are committed to maintaining the historic appearance of the Alley. We have initiated discussions in February 2011 to discuss the possibility of granting a preservation Easement to the Preservation Alliance of Philadelphia over the Alley.

      It is our intention that the historic appearance of the Alley be maintained now and in the future.

      Homeowners need permits to repair the historic alley. Title needs to be clarified so that permits can be obtained.

      Privitization is a misnomer because it is not on city plan.

      • Lynn and Cliff Landes

        Cherie – We beg to disagree. You are not clarifying your title. You are trying to gain title to Irving Street, which is a very different matter. Also, Irving Street is not an “Alley”, but a “high integrity” historic street that is included on the Philadelphia Historic Street Paving Thematic District Inventory, a vital part of a very unique and historic 4-way intersection in Philadelphia.

        Your continued references to lewd behavior on Irving Street are not born out by the facts. The fact that your permanent residence is in Doylestown, Bucks County, may play a role in this misinformation. The last time we checked, the police department had no record of lewd behavior in several years on your part of Irving Street. The adjacent neighbors also have stated that such is not the case. Of course, we live in a neighborhood with clubs and restaurants, so there is more activity at night, but not to the kind and degree you and the Bigas-Valedon’s claim. And if such were the case, that is life in the city and it does not justify privatization of a unique historic street.

        Despite your commitment that you will maintain the “historic appearance” of Irving Street, you are not now maintaining your own historic curbs and sidewalk, for which you are responsible. Your discussion in February with the Preservation Alliance of Greater Philadelphia to agree to some sort of historic easement, has proceeded no further from that day to this, according to the folks at the Alliance.

        Even if you did agree to a historic easement (and we question what that would really protect), you are not now honoring our easement rights and those of 14 of our neighbors. Easement includes pedestrian and vehicular access. You and the Bigas-Valedon’s are in violation of our easement rights by blocking our access to Irving Street with planters, not repairing your hazardous curbs, and not restoring your historic brick sidewalk, which is why we have been forced to take you to court. Those papers will be filed this week.

        The bottom line is that if Irving Street becomes your private property, the public will no longer have the right to walk on this historic street. It is very clear by everything you and your attorney have written, that the public may be able to view, but not touch, this historic gem. And, tragically, a 200-year tradition will be lost.

        Lynn and Cliff Landes
        http://www.SaveIrvingStreet.org

        • Why would Cherie need to go to the police to find or create a record of the lewd activity? All she needs to do is open the Washington Square report every month to know that prostitutes get cited in this area all the time. More importantly, Cherie would never be unkind to a neighbor dealing with used condoms at her door, especially a neighbor who has toddlers who touch everything on the floor. Cherie has been supportive, caring and outspoken about practical solutions to this problem. She has been respectful to everyone in private and public.

          The Navarros support us in our efforts to care for the alley and it was Cherie who helped me come up with a ‘system’ to deal with the used condoms left behind in the area: put on gloves, disinfect the area, and throw them away. When we came to the neighbors in 2007, what we asked for was support, suggestions, help. We did not ask permission to do anything. For one, the City would be the only entity entitled to grant us a permit. For another, we were newcomers seeking support, suggestions. While a handful of people seem to claim we exaggerate, so many people have come up to us with suggestions and thoughtful words of support. It’s sad to see our neighborhood divided.

          We never expected our intentions to be distorted as they have. This is painful, insulting and unwarranted.

          • Lynn and Cliff Landes

            Julie – We never expected that you and the Navarro’s would take such a step, of seeking to annex historic Irving Street, when you were well aware of the strong opposition it would provoke. You have some local support, but we have the support of most of our neighbors and the near unanimous support from the general public. Frankly, people do not understand why you are doing this, other than to take for yourselves what rightfully belongs to everyone. Please take the time to read the heart-felt messages left by many of the following petition signers to put Irving Street on the City Plan and protect it for all to enjoy — http://www.ipetitions.com/petition/irvingstreet/signatures.

  8. This is a moot point. The Streets Department does not add stub streets to the city plan. Case closed, no lawyers required.

    If there’s a 1965 photo of a white picket fence, then the memory of the person who lived there doesn’t mean a damn thing. What would be more accurate about the events of 50 years ago? A person or a photo?

    • Lynn and Cliff Landes

      The Streets Department can add dead end streets to the City Plan, particularly if they are historic streets. City Council can also put streets on the City Plan.

      The 1965 photo of the alleged white picket fence can be found in the following court document – http://www.saveirvingstreet.org/PlaintiffsResponse.pdf. To our point of view, the photo is highly suspect.

      Here is a 1958 photo of the Navarro’s house, which was found in the files of the Historical Commission – http://www.saveirvingstreet.org/images/223SouthJessupSt.1958b.PDF.

      This photo shows part of Irving Street bordered by a brick sidewalk, but there is no white picket fence in evidence.

      • Jessup Street Resident with near term memory

        The discussion as to whether or not the photo of a fence from 1965 is real or not is absurd. In more recent times, the area was closed off for a least two to three decades. A chain ran between two ballards stretched across the area in question when the Navarros moved into their house in 2007 and when the previous two owners purchased the house. The chain deterred public use of the property as well as parking.

        It was only a year or two ago that the Navarros and Bigas-Valedons took the chain down after one of the ballards was knocked over. In fact, the two families have improved access and beautified the area. In addition to removing the chain, the Bigas-Valedons removed a large ginko tree that was damaging their house, giving visual shelter for prostitution and causing the Belgium block and curbs to heave. They placed planters over the heaving stones to protect their children, themselves and anyone else who uses the area to access their backyards and to deter parking. See picture above. They have also repaired the sidewalk that was damaged by the overgrown tree and ivy . They have graced the area with roses and flowers. All these actions have made it easier, not harder to maneuver through the area. I can attest to that as one of the residents with easement rights.

        But it seems no good deed goes unpunished. On top of everything else, the litigious Landes are now trying to force the removal of the planters, among other things. Perhaps they think orange “danger” cones, tape or netting would look better. I find their motives questionable as they never complained to the previous owners about the chain or access when it was more difficult.

        • Friend of Irving Street

          The planters that are blocking Irving Street, send the message to the public to “Keep Out!” The Bigas-Valedons and Navarros don’t own that property. What gives them the right to block it with planters?

  9. If the intent is NOT to block it off, but rather simply fix the street, why have a desire to own it? I would not want to waste my time fixing up a street for anyone and everyone to walk all over when they’d like to. Why would you?

    AND none of us should be thinking in the now. More importantly, what will happen in the future long from now? Why WOULDN’T the next owners want to BLOCK OFF a space they own from the PUBLIC? Anyone would. I would.

    It’s best to enjoy the street Seda (Julie) and Modesto, fix it up because it’s a great luxury to be next to a great street (and the right thing to do) and leave history in the hands of the people.

    The theories on the ownership side sound fair, but if you break down the logic, It seams way to suspicious and imposable to believe.

    I hope.

  10. The first photograph does not show the relationship of this small section of Irving Street, east of the intersection with South Jessup Street, as one would see it approaching the western section of Irving Street, from Quince Street. From this aspect this small section is clearly seen as a continuation of Irving Street (which is a protected, historic cartway)

    I have owned the house on the north west corner of this charming intersection since 1974 and care deeply about preserving its 200 year old integrity. I feel very strongly that it should be added to the City Plan, thus it could be restored along with South Jessup Street, this year when repairs are to be made. It would then remain available for everyone to enjoy.

    I do not question the good intentions of the Navarros, Bigas-Valedon and Bigas-Seda, however, my concern is that FUTURE owners of these two properties either side of this small section of street, could use it for parking or prevent access by the general public by any number of means.

  11. Wash West Resident in Fear of Retaliation

    It is clear that all parties want to preserve the historical character of Irving street. They just disagree as to how best to go about it. The Bigas-Valedon family and Navarros (who are the families who live on this extension, use it the most and who keep it clean) think the best way to do so is to clarify title (which by current law reverts to them in the absence of any heirs), privately make repairs to the heaving stones and curbs, and insure future historical preservation through an historic easement and protection of all existing easements.

    It is also clear that the City has informed the Landes that it has no interest in putting the Irving Street extension on the City Plan and that it does not meet any of the legal criteria which would allow them to do so. Councilman DiCicco, when approached by the Landes before he left office, said he had no interest in asking the City to change its laws regarding this extension. The Zoning committee of the Washington Square West Civic Association after a hearing requested by the Landes, ruled that it has no interest in pursuing the matter further.

    The Landes believe that the best way to restore and protect the historic character of the Irving Street extension now and in the future is to force the City to change its codes, put it on its City Plan and then force the City to make repairs. They have run a media campaign to try to galvanize public opinion. The propaganda that they have distributed and planted on line, in blogs and in small presses all over the city is often misleading, showing pictures of parts of Irving and Jessup Street that are not affected and describing activities (weddings, tours) that occur on parts of Quince, Irving and Jessup Street that also are not affected. Their propaganda uses emotionally laden words like privatize, land grab, fencing off, etc. Unfortunately, too many media outlets take their PR releases at face value and do not do due diligence by talking to all parties concerned before publishing.

    Most of the neighbors who have easements and who are impacted by the Court’s decision to grant quiet title, believe that the best chances for improving the conditions of the Irving Street extension would be if the Bigas-Valedon and Navarros family clarify their deed and make the necessary repairs to the street under the purview of the Historical Commission and that the Preservation Alliance grant them the historical easement they have requested. This would protect the area now and into the future.

    Most of the neighbors know that the City has limited funds for street repairs and that the Irving Street extension would not be very high on anyone’s priority list. All we have to do is look at the condition of Jessup Street and the decades of neglect it has suffered.

    As a resident in the Wash West area, I am deeply saddened by how events have unfolded and how neighbors have found themselves unwillingly in the spotlight. We have endured the public spectacle of whether it is necessary to change the law regarding snow removal of Jessup Street in spite of the fact that there never has been and never will be a problem about how the little streets are shoveled. We have endured a public fight as to whether or not the Streets department should be allowed to make full structural and historical repair of Jessup street in favor of spot repairs. To date neither has happened.

    Controversy and neighbors at odds with each other have become a pattern for Jessup street. The vast majority of people who live in the area are exhausted by the tension and wondering who or what will be attacked next and whose integrity will be questioned. A little further from the epicenter, people find this melodrama comic or newsworthy. But for those of us who live here, it is just sad.

    • Over this matter, we have endured countless intrusive and unwelcomed flyers, emails, paper and web postings, mass media publications (for only one of which – Ms. Gorshin’s posting – were we invited to give our perspective before press), and even an attempt to make a Washington Square West meeting nothing more than spectacle by inviting the news media – and I have remained silent, allowing my articulate wife and neighbors to speak for me. However, that a local resident would post his or her feelings anonymously for fear of retaliation underscores the fact that we are being bullied, plain and simple. It is particularly disturbing that this bullying has spilled out of the neighborhood and has affected my professional life and that of my wife’s and our neighbors, coming perilously close to an assault on our characters. The magnitude of the negative campaign to subvert our efforts to take an unclaimed dead-end cart way and make it walkable, presentable, and to maintain accessiblity – something that we have categorically promised to do with enduring oversight by the historical commission, standing easements, and vigilant neighbors – seems incongruous when compared to the ostensible motivation to preserve the historical character of the neighborhood. Given this incongruity, the true motivation for such a robust negative campaign which perpetuates acrimony and discord and which makes everyones’ life miserable remains speculative.

      I have absolutely no intention of allowing such incessant bullying and intrusive tactics to deter us from pursuing what the law would allow us to do. Certainly, the restoration of the cart way which we plan will have a positive effect on all of the local residents’ property values, not just ours. Moreover, I am incited, as any American of any descent should be, to act when any one among us is fearful of expressing his/her opinion openly for fear of reprisal.

      • Lynn and Cliff Landes

        Some comments and corrections:

        One of the most disturbing strategies employed by the Bigas-Valedons, the Navarros and their small, but ardent group of supporters is to make us the issue, not Irving Street. They have use defamatory language, accusing us of harassment and intimidation of themselves, public officials, and others, not only in public statements, but also in court documents. The statements abovefollow that same strategy.

        We are very grateful that we have the support of most of our neighbors and the near unanimous support from the general public to keep Irving Street open for the public- http://www.ipetitions.com/petition/irvingstreet/signatures.

        It has been our successful relationship with city officials and particularly John Gallery of the Preservation Alliance, which has resulted in placing S. Jessup Street on the list of four historic streets to be repaired this summer. The entire neighborhood has been notified of this. If Irving Street is put on the City Plan, it too can get repaired using these special dedicated funds.

        To that end, we, our attorney, and supporters of Irving Street continue to speak with various City officials in an effort to put Irving Street on the City Plan. We have reason to be hopeful.

        Contrary to the claim that they are only clarifying their title, the Bigas-Valedons and Navarros are seeking to acquire Irving Street claiming ‘adverse possession’, meaning that they have owned, possessed, maintained, and controlled it for 150 years; a claim that is clearly unfounded. Their claim, that they already own to the center of the street, applies to “paper streets” that have never been built or streets that have not been used by the public for at least 21 years, none of which applies to Irving Street. The most important legal criteria for determining if a street is public is “public use”, not city maintenance nor official dedication nor official acceptance – http://www.saveirvingstreet.org/Legal.htm

        Also, contrary to the assertion that the Bigas-Valedons and Navarros will respect easement rights and only want to properly maintain historic Irving Street, this week we will file papers in court on the grounds that the Bigas-Valedons and Navarros continue to block vehicular access to Irving Street and are not maintaining their historic curbs and sidewalks, thereby violating our easement rights and those of 14 of our neighbors.

        Again, contrary to comments above, the folks at the Preservation Alliance say that there have been no talks with the Bigas-Valedons and Navarros about a historic easement for Irving Street since February of 2011. Regarding Washington Square West Civic Association, we personally asked them to take no action on Irving Street until we could provide them with more information on the legal aspect to the situation.

        As for using the news media to inform the public, the public has every right to know when one of Philadelphia’s most charming and historic intersections will be put off limits to the public forever. That said, most of the reporters who have covered this story have come to us and not the other way around.

        • Yet One More Jessup St. Neighbor

          Cliff and Lynn, you are correct. This is personal. You have made this personal from the very beginning when you attacked the Bigas-Valedons and Navarros by publicly questioning their intentions, motivations, and integrity rather than trying to work with them to find a solution that would meet everyone’s needs.
          For those who do not know Cliff and Lynn Landes as neighbors,they are not the easiest people to get along with. They see nothing wrong with nagging one neighbor along the street about the sound of their windchimes or the lavender smell of another’s dryer sheets. They even openly bragged about gating off the alley way behind their house and invited neighbors in to see it.
          When asked to be a part of a neighborhood meeting to discuss options around resolving problems with the condition of the 200 block of Jessup Street, the Landeses participated until they realized that their opinion was in the minority, and then announced that they did not believe in consensus and that they would proceed with their plan – regardless of what the majority of the neighbors wanted to do.
          In my opinion, Cliff and Lynn assume that what they want is the only right course of action and see nothing wrong with taking trash-and-burn attitude towards getting what they want – because ‘it is right.’ For the Landeses, facts are a matter of perception and perception is the key into the hearts and minds of the listeners. Again, in my opinion, the perception of “support” is great for the Landeses. They talk about the great support by their Jessup Street neighbors for their attempts ‘Save Irving St.’ What they fail to mention is that a large portion of that support comes from people who either own a parking space in the parking lot at the end of the street, or are absentee landlords living in other states or other counties outside of Philadelphia.
          They also talk about no crimes being reported to the Police Department recently. That may be true, I’ve never called to check. However, they know there have been problems with that dead end section of Irving St. On Fri, Nov 12, 2010 at 11:10 AM, Lynn sent the neighbors on Jessup St. an email with the following subject line: ALERT! 2 muggings – Jessup and Quince.
          ALERT! 2 muggings on Jessup and Quince
          We just learned about the first mugging a few days ago. It happened about two Sundays ago around 10:30 pm. A young man who works at More Than Just Ice Cream left work and went next door for some take out. He was chased down Jessup and around the corner at Julie and Modesto’s by a group young black men. They took his cell phone, $4, and then hit him in the head. The police were called, but no one showed up. Unfortunately, the kids next door didn’t tell us about it until a couple of days ago.
          Last night at 8 pm another mugging occurred at the top of Quince near Locust……
          Cliff and Lynn Landes want to be perceived as historic preservation activists within the Philadelphia community. They have selected the little streets of Philadelphia is their niche and have proclaimed, as seen in the above article, that their intention is to make Irving Street, a “symbol” of their efforts.
          Lynn Landes is a professional activist. You search for her name on Google and you will see a multitude of activities and actions she has pursued over the years. I have nothing against community activists and I think it’s great that our President cut his teeth as a community activist. However, Cliff and Lynn Landes are not that type of community activist – they are simply bullies who abuse the system to get what they want. And what they want right now is to be taken seriously as historic preservation activists in Philadelphia. In order to get that credibility, they need a win, and they are doing everything they can to get that – even if it means bending the truth a bit.
          Sadly, this issue is not improving, and regardless of what the courts decide, I have no doubt that Cliff and Lynn will persist harassing the Bigas-Valedons and Navarros and whoever else they feel may be getting in the way of what they want. They are simply bullies with the skill to be destructive.

          • Jessup Street residents for keeping Irving Street Open To The Public!

            The Landeses have done more for Jessup Street in the time they’ve lived here than anyone else we are aware of. Cliff is always sweeping up the street and both he and Lynn have worked with various city departments on trash, sewer and street issues. They are always friendly and say hi to everyone, despite the fact that there is a clique here that doesn’t seem to like them very much. Two summers ago Cliff Landes organized the restoration of the brick sidewalk for five properties, including the Bigas-Valedon’s, using 100 year old bricks he found for sale. He and Lynn even helped Mrs. Bigas-Valedon carry the bricks into her back yard. Cliff laid the bricks himself for four of those properties. The sidewalk looks like it has been there for 200 years! Lynn has been very active on many worthwhile causes and thank heaven we have people like her who care so much. It is a shame that their good works have been twisted by people who would rather engage in personal attacks than stick to the subject, whether Irving Street should remain open to the public or annexed for private use. We vote for keeping Irving Street open to the public!

          • How my background as a freelance journalist,and our interest as a couple in community activism, can be construed as being bullies is mystifying. However, let me take this opportunity to invite anyone interested to visit my website, http://www.LynnLandes.com. My other websites and Meetup groups are listed there, as well as my bio. One of my favorite things to do is lead free tours to identify wild edible plants in the Lemon Hill / Art Museum area. We’re called, the Wild Foodies of Philly.

        • The Landes exaggerate that most of their neighbors support their actions when the opposite is true. Most of their neighbors just wish they would focus their abundant energy elsewhere and that their recent obsession with Jessup and Irving Streets would just go away.

          The Landes also exaggerate that they have near unanimous support from the general public to keep Irving Street public using their own petition as proof. Since there is no way to leave comments without adding to the numbers on the on-line petition form, there is no way to register a difference of opinion. The petition has been on line for over a year and only has 139 signatories the last I looked. Hardly representative of “near unanimous support.” Since many of the signatories based their opinions on misinformation, I would discount a good deal of even that support. That misinformation includes erroneous statements such as the one above claiming that one of the most charming and historic intersections will be put off limits to the public forever. This is a fiction. 1) The intersection is not even part of the quick claim; and 2) the area east of the intersection will be preserved, repaired and even more accessible than in the past. The Landes are fear-mongering.

          • Save Irving Street

            I read with interest the letters submitted here. I, for one, would be interested in hearing more about the pertinent and legal ramifications of this problem. A number of the letters, unsigned, appear to be just personal attacks on the one couple. The letters from that couple seem to be clarifying issues and responding in defense of themselves. This is an issue to be decided through the process of law. Personal attacks on people with the intention of destroying their credibility and reputation have no place here and are an obvious measure of the people who choose to act in this manner.

          • I agree with the post below that most of the posts here do not clarify the legalities of the issue and that most of the posts are personal in nature and very unattractive on all sides. If the issue was just being dealt with in the courts and not through the media and flyers, I think the fate of the Irving Street extension could have been resolved with less rancor all around. In fact, the issue probably could have been mediated.

            However, when the Landes chose to make a media campaign out of it, to deliberately and publicly misrepresent their neighbors intentions and integrity to other neighbors, government officials and the public-at-large, the facts of the case get lost. It is not surprising that people will push back when publicly attacked and push back with both facts and rancor when given an opportunity such as this blog.

            We can only hope the courts will decide the legalities of the issue soon. However, the courts will not decide the secondary issue that is being demonstrated here and that is how neighbors should resolve their differences and act for the common good of all who live here without resorting to actions which are personally hurtful. What are the social boundaries and ground rules by which we should all play. That is the problem that has plagued community relations on Jessup street.

          • Save Irving Street Mary

            We support saving Irving Street.
            Irving street is a small part of this neighborhood as this neighborhood is part of the history of the birth of our country. It represents the early part of the 1800s, just after the capitol was moved to Washington D.C. For 200 years, this community has remained relatively intact. If this small piece, Irving street, is privatized, then the two to three hundred Philadelphia small streets, in legal limbo, could be subject to the same actions and possible end. It is the small treasured alcoves, nooks and crannies that give these neighborhoods their charm and character.
            Every person in this neighborhood is feeling the angst and discomfort surrounding this issue, but rest assured, the majority support saving Irving street and the efforts of the Landeses.
            There has been an ongoing attempt on the part of the “privatize Irving Street people” to paint the Landeses as aggressive, threatening people. Nothing could be farther from the truth. They are good neighbors, who often help others. They are always involved in keeping the community clean, green and safe. The whole idea of fear over retaliation is ludicrous and is again, an attempt to distort someone’s image. The Landeses and the people of this neighborhood have a sincere belief in the cause to save Irving Street and have acted on it honorably. No one has been bullied. No one has been threatened. Reasonable people can accept having disagreements over an issue, but personal attacks to discredit and destroy someone’s character because you don’t agree with them, only speaks of that person’s character.
            Suggestions and offers have been made on two occasions, by members of this community to fix Irving street. These offers were rebuffed. “We will do it ourselves” was the response. And why is that? The center of the street is heaving and unsafe. Yet offers made to fix it were rejected. Instead, planters were placed there giving the impression of staking a claim and saying to the public, stay out.
            What was it that the letter above from Cherie said? “We are committed to maintaining the historic appearance of the alley”. “It is our intention that the historic appearance of the ally be maintained now and in the future. Do look at the photo on http://www.saveirvingstreet.org/images/223southjessupst1958b.pdf. In this 1958 photo of the Navarro home, before it was modernized, the brick sidewalk is intact. In the photo above, taken recently, the sidewalk has been turned into a garden. An intrinsic part of this historic street has been removed, and sadly, the whole building no longer resembles the others around it. What was that line? “It is our intention that the historic appearance of the alley be maintained now and in the future.”
            If the Bigas-Valedons/Navarros are successful in this effort, they will be responsible for taxes, maintenance etc. and they will become liable for whatever happens there. Does anyone then believe the public will be allowed access to this area. It is more likely, if they are legally responsible for what happens there, then measures will be taken to keep the public out. Does that mean a fence or perhaps, a wall?
            In a letter above, this whole situation was called a “comic melodrama”. It is an offensive statement to make. This is neither, comic nor melodrama. We who wish to save Irving street are serious and sincere in our efforts. We in Philadelphia are keepers of our special history and we must value it.
            Save Irving Street.

      • Another Jessup Street Resident

        Victor,

        I too as a Jessup Street resident have remained silent on the issue for fear of blowback from the Landes’s. Something that has not been reported anywhere is the fact that the Landes’s have harassed the Bigas-Valedon-Seda’s over other issues well before this Irving Street thing ever started.

        • More Jessup Street Residents for an Open Irving Street

          The above comment is completely crazy. It is the Bigas-Valedons, Navarros, and their supporters who have conducted a mean-spirited campaign against the Landeses (and some of their supporters). It started two years ago when the Landeses succeeded in getting the Streets Department to commit to repair Jessup Street. The Streets Department wanted to remove the street to another site and replace our historic curbs with new granite. Many of us felt that we would lose the historic integrity of the street that way. We wanted to keep our historic curbs and gutters, so the Landeses asked the Streets Department for an onsite restoration instead. That position was also supported and promoted by the Preservation Alliance, but it was opposed by this other group (who now support the Bigas-Valedons and Navarros). The Streets Department decided to do it our way, the way the Landeses and the Preservation Alliance had lobbied for. Since then, this other group has tried to make life miserable for the Landeses, spreading rumors that they are mean and vindictive. Nothing could be further from the truth. It is shocking to see a group that has so publicly and actively engaged in character assassination, accuse the Landeses of what they themselves are guilty of.

          • Lynn and Cliff, I have heard it said that you have:

            • Reported neighbors to the Historical Commission because you did not like the color of the mortar selected when they repointed their home;

            • Reported a neighbor to his employer because you felt it inappropriate that he’d contacted someone he knew at the Streets Department for information about the Street’s Department’s sustainable street program;

            • Reported neighbors to the Streets Department because they did not immediately replace their sidewalk after removing a tree – even though it had been an exceptionally wet and cold season.

            Is there any validity to what I have heard?

          • Lynn and Cliff Landes

            This is in reply to Hilary Wittich’s posting below. We did it this way because there was no “REPLY” box to use so that our response would appear below Hillary’s.

            Hillary: You have been one of the driving forces in the strategy to make us, not Irving Street, the issue. It does you no credit and distracts from a meaningful debate. What does your posting have to do with Irving Street in any meaningful way? Do you really believe that we’re working so hard to save Irving Street because we don’t like the Bigas-Valedons and the Navarros? They are very attractive and nice people, in general. But, they are completely off-base when it comes to Irving Street. Your posting appears to be about one of these couples. Unfortunately, you took at face-value what you were told, but you didn’t get the whole story. If you had asked us, we would have told you. A neighbor called us up and asked us to respond to your insinuations because they thought that it made us look bad. So, here we go:

            1. absolutely not. We were talking to the Historical Commission about other issues when the subject of the workmanship of their morter work came up. We didn’t think much of it, but we weren’t complaining and were as surprised as anyone when an overeager Commission employee showed up. It happens. A Historical Commission employee told us we needed Commission approval for our sidewalk, which eventually proved not to be true.
            2. absolutely not. Someone else must have reported him to his employer, but we have no idea who that was. Frankly, we didn’t realize he had done anything wrong. We wrote to the Water and Streets Departments to make sure that they knew that he was not representing our viewpoint, regarding repairs to S. Jessup Street.
            3. absolutely not. We complained after several months had passed by. That sidewalk is part of Irving Street and leads to the back alley which is part of our easement rights.

            Now, please do yourself and everyone else a favor. Focus on Irving Street and not on us.

  12. I find it hard to belive that a Street that has existed all these years does not belong to someone. Someone built it, and how could this be that the city or anyone owns “it”. I many parts of Philly people park their cars in these dead end streets and who would want that. Please leave this street for the people of Philly. If repairing it is an issue, why not have “friends of a non existing street”. I’m in for $100. Also I have the skill to repair Belgin Block (see the monument for the 100th ann. of the first electric streetcar in “philly” that I built at 4th and bainbribge st. in 1992.

  13. I support the effort led by Cliff and Lynn Landes, mostly because privatization may result in future closure of the end of Irving Street. One of the most unique aspects of our neighborhood and the reason it retains it’s beauty is that these small streets are open for the public to enjoy.

    • I have owned my house on charming Jessup Street since 1986. I would hate to see any part of the neighborhood privatized and not accessible to all.

    • I live on side street in Washington Square West. I, too, support the effort led by Cliff and Lynn Landes. Allowing homeowners to take private possession of a street – even a little stub of a street – would set a dangerous precedent. The lack of inclusion of this street in the City Plan was obviously an error. Private appropriation of public resources is wrong.

  14. This Pot of worms is the dumbest arrgument neighbors could get into. If there is criminal activity in this street, call the police, if you would like to sweep the street do so. I would thank you for the effort. If you would do some thing to beautify the street, do so and again I will thank you. I am a born and raised Philadelphian who has been selected by his friends and neighbors to serve this country. I have Owned property and Lived here scince 1971, I like the area and I like my neighbors, years ago people used to get up in the morning and sweep the sidewalks, sweep the streets and never asked to own any more than their home. Peace and love to all. Barry sandrow

  15. Thanks to everyone for caring so much about the little streets of Wash West and the city in general. I want to keep this discussion from devolving into personal attack, so I’m going to ask you, if you have more to say on this issue, to keep away from name calling and innuendo. Best to keep this high-minded and at this point, probably face to face, or in a community forum. –.ed

  16. The mortar color chosen had already been reviewed and approved by the Historical Commission. Those who cited the neighbors would have discovered this if they’d first approached the neighbors with their concerns. If that initial contact had been made, an opportunity to work together to select a different authorized color would have been possible.

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