City Life

In Limbo: Logan Triangle Sinks Into Oblivion

June 27, 2022 | by Keshler Thibert

Logan Triangle in North Philadelphia is a poster child for dangerous real estate development and negligent neighborhood displacement. | Photo: Michael Bixler

My family moved into the Logan neighborhood around 1991. It was our first home, and I imagine this was a dream realized for my parents. Up until that point, we had lived in various apartments around North Philly, each one moving progressively north from a rough area to a little better area and so forth.

I was fairly young and do not remember much about that time. Yet, as I transitioned into high school, the commutes that took me through the Logan Triangle left an impression. Many of the homes were still there, but abandoned. Dr. Turner’s office, which became one of the last buildings to be torn down, sat on an island right where traffic turns onto Roosevelt Boulevard. The loss of the pharmacy on the corner of 10th and Courtland is still felt today. Two or three lived-in homes were sitting in the middle of a street surrounded by the empty shells of the other homes. Some houses sat alone in a field riddled with trash and bulging pockets of earth. Squatters poked their heads out of the windows. You could feel them watching you. Once, I bravely walked onto a porch to look in and witnessed someone using drugs in the living room. It was enough to make me run away.

Dr. Donald Turner’s medical office at 922 W. Courtland Street in 2018. The building has since been demolished. | Photo: Google Street View

Piece by piece the neighborhood disappeared and, at the time, I did not know why. All I knew was that I could sometimes hear water under the street and that walking up and down Logan had uneven terrain like when crossing small hills.

As I got older, the homes disappeared in strips. Huge piles of rubbish took their place. I eventually moved away, but began coming back to the area in the early 2000s to see a few hangers-on. Not knowing where they went, I started to feel bad for the last-standing homes. It was easy to see the vandalism and property damage that had encircled them. Residents gradually left their homes to be demolished. What was to come next? That is a question that has not been answered, but there have been attempts.

The Big Sink

Wingohocking Creek and North Penn. Railroad running through Logan in the mid-1800s. Map detail from Samuel L. Smedley, Philadelphia Atlas, 1862. | Image courtesy of Greater Philadelphia GeoHistory Network

Mr. Brown, a resident of Logan since the late 1970s, remembers the early morning explosion on February 14, 1986. He recounted to me how the middle of the block exploded, rudely waking him up. He was astonished as the fires consumed homes in full view of the neighborhood. He remembered learning that the ground had high levels of lead and how the City languished on the issue. What the area residents were now learning was a closely-held secret that had been swept under the rug for decades. Logan was sinking, and the incident was entirely man-made.

As detailed in Harold E. Cox’s 1972 book, Utility Cars of Philadelphia, 1892–1971, in 1906, 80 acres of the area known today as the Triangle and Roosevelt Boulevard were purchased by investors Wolf Brothers. It looked quite different from its current iteration. The boulevard had been built on an embankment to carry traffic across Wingohocking Creek and the North Penn Railroad. At that time, the land was 40 feet below grade.

In the early 1900s ash cars like this one on Race Street would transport ash and cinder to Logan where the loads would be dumped into the Wingohocking Creek to fill in the waterway for future development. | Photo courtesy of Philly H2O

Clarence Wolf, a financial advisor to former Mayor John E. Reyburn and a representative, and later vice president, for the City’s interests in the Pennsylvania Rapid Transit Co. (PRT), discovered an inexpensive way to fill in the area. Back then, the PRT was also in the trash business. Specialized Class P trolleys, referred to as “ash cars,” moved ash and rubbish from areas like Center City and South Philadelphia to an outlying dump, which just happened to be Wolf-owned land along the boulevard.

The dump was the site of frequent fires, yet this didn’t stop the decision to extend 9th Street through it. Filling in the area with miscellaneous and construction debris created a toxic mixture that was gradually exposed to soil and water, resulting in an unstable combination.

The aftermath of a gas explosion on Roosevelt Boulevard in 1959. | Photos courtesy of PhillyHistory.org

In 1959, the first signs that the homes were sinking began to appear. A cracked main on 9th Street was seeping gas into various homes along the boulevard. On October 30 of that year, three explosions and a fire devastated the neighborhood. The occupants described being home when their windows were blown out. Elderly residents made their way through smoke-filled living rooms to the middle of the street only to watch their homes burn. Another resident was returning from work when an explosion pushed her back. Upon regaining consciousness, she saw her home burning in front her. Her only thought was to find her grandmother and get to safety. Other residents experienced similar reactions to being thrown to the floor amid the confusion. They had only a few moments to get themselves together and flee to safety. In the aftermath of the explosions, there was scant news coverage. The gas main was repaired, and life moved on.

Moving Out

An exterior view of homes sinking in Logan in 1979. | Photo courtesy of Temple University Libraries, Special Collections Research Center

A thorough assessment in 1986 discovered that 957 homes were affected by subsidence issues. Hallmarks of the area became cracking foundations, warped floors, and sagging porches. The streets had an overall wobbly appearance. A walk down them required walking up and down bulging pockets.

The United States Geological Survey discovered that an estimated 500,000 cubic yards of coal ash were underneath the streets. The Army Corps of Engineers estimated that improvements would cost over $48 million.

In 1987, the Logan Assistance Corporation was created under then-Mayor Wilson Goode to assistance with relocation. Some of the remaining neighbors whose homes were regarded as “stable” do not have fond memories of that time. A current resident, who did not want to be named, stated, “If you didn’t want to go, they would 302 you.” The 302 label refers to being involuntary committed after being deemed a danger to oneself due to having mental health issues. “After a few days, they looked in on you during a welfare check. If you said yes, then they handed you over, but only after you paid back any dues to the city.” The neighbor went on to state that, in a few cases, families where not left with enough money to help with the move. In some cases, they were relocated to homes in worse shape than their original location. This process would continue until the early 2010s.

The Long Wait

An abandoned and vandalized 18 wheeler currently sits at the corner of 10th and Courtland Streets. | Photo: Michael Bixler

From 1998 to 2013, planning studies were done to both assess the land and hone in on what could be done with it. During this time, the City acquired each property, yet formal plans were never solidified.

As the final homes where razed, the area became a dumping ground. Its proximity to the boulevard allowed for easy access, which, in many ways, brought it back to its original use as a dump. The Philadelphia Redevelopment Authority acquired the area in 2012. From that point forward, the goal would be to find a development company that could successfully deliver a plan to both transform and build on the land. In the meantime, the area was becoming an eye sore that attracted crime. During the summer months, trash was dumped in and around the empty streets, and it left a stench throughout the Triangle. Mattresses, toilets, and refuse filled the area as signs declaring the area a “work in progress” featuring a photograph of former Mayor John Street sat for six years after his term ended. In 2014, the Logan Community Development Corporation folded due to financial issues and some of its duties were transferred to the Nicetown CDC.

Illegal dumping is a big problem at Logan Triangle. | Photo: Michael Bixler

Initiatives to clean and better police the area with cameras had some success. Yet, old habits are hard to break. In 2018, City Councilmember Cindy Bass and the 8th District Trash Task Force witnessed a contractor dumping trash in the Triangle.

In 2015, The Goldenberg Group acquired the southwest corner in a bill to transfer ownership to develop the area. The cost was a single dollar. In 2018, plans were introduced to build a $25 million basketball recreation center that would include indoor courts, a library, and a computer lab. Additional details of the transfer reveal that The Goldenberg Group will have to donate $500,000 into a community fund throughout the project and for an additional 10 years after its completion.

Still Waiting

A 2015 rendering of a proposed youth basketball center to be built on Logan Triangle. | Image courtesy of Philadelphia Youth Basketball

A visit to The Goldenberg Group’s website Pipeline page highlights a number of projects that have not gained any momentum. At the top of that list is the Triangle under the name Logan Point.

Multiple requests for comment sent to the firm’s development director have gone without a response. Similar inquiries to the Philadelphia Development Center (PHDC) only revealed that conversations were ongoing and that the final option period for an extension was set to expire in 2022. Requests to elaborate were denied.

The lack of updates and transparency has left neighbors with mixed feelings about the future of this project. Although I met with a number of people who were anticipating some sort of development, there were others who felt this was a plot to develop and gentrify the area. Someone made the comment to me, “They are trying to move us out to bring in white people.”

A 2016 rendering of The Goldenberg Group’s tentative plans for Logan Triangle. | Image courtesy of The Goldenberg Group

A few of the older residents do not see the point of a basketball development center when there are not many families with children in the area. Some of the ideas floated were along the lines of improving the area like a raised-bed neighborhood garden. Other suggestions were towards Black ownership of businesses that could improve the neighborhood by keeping money circulating in the area. Additional comments simply reflected a loss of faith in anything being done.

A constant talking point is the number of solicitation calls, mailers, and promotions to buy homes cheap. One resident referred to this as the South Philly Shuffle. He remembers when parts of South Philadelphia, Society Hill, and Northern Liberties were rough neighborhoods during Frank Rizzo’s term as mayor. He sees the lack of clarity on what is happening as a repeat of history and an elaborate ploy to get the current Black residents of Logan to move out and for new white residents to move in. He added that, at that point, work on the area will begin.

A Lost Cause?

The House of Faith Baptist Church, UCC at 1001 W. Wingohocking Street. Originally home to United Christ Church and built circa 1925. | Photo: Michael Bixler

The Triangle has found a new use as a truck stop. On any given day, vehicles are parked along the coordinator as its drivers hop into their personal cars and speed off. Recreational vehicles are usually found around the periphery to the annoyance of residents due to the headaches that come with them. Recently an RV caught on fire, while another was found stealing electricity from a few of the surrounding homes via extension cords.

Cracked pavements, newly dumped trash, and weeds growing through cracks have left people who need specialized vehicles for mobility as well as parents with baby carriages to struggle to navigate the streets due to the terrible shape of the sidewalks. An improvised car wash uses some of the space that was marked for the basketball center to service its customers. This is currently the only sign of Black ownership in the area.

A church sits on each end of the Triangle. One caters to a Black congregation, while the other is Hispanic. They exist as the last structures standing on earth stable enough to support them.

As for the residents of Logan, they wait patiently. The cycle of trash dumping and partial cleanups continue under the gaze of cameras. A feeling of ambivalence has set in. For many, including myself, Logan is a lost cause. It was built to fail, and it is too expensive to repair. Yet, other residents remain cautiously optimistic as they sit and wait and wonder if the plans for the area will sink before they ever come to pass.



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About the Author

Keshler Thibert is a voracious reader, book collector, tour guide, and current member of the Association of Philadelphia Tour Guides. He was born and raised in Philadelphia, but has also lived in Atlanta, GA, Santiago de Chile, Madrid, Patras, Greece, and Adelaide, South Australia. Thibert has an interest in social sciences, language, and local history. Read more of his work on Substack.

14 Comments:

  1. John Egan says:

    The best re-use would be to return the triangle to its original state – a park featuring Wingohocking Creek.

  2. Tery Corson says:

    There is more to that area besides the home sinking. In the 90s I belonged to Philadelphia Interfaith Action (PIA). They were instrumental with getting the houses torn down with then Mayor Ed Rendel.
    After the houses were gone they helped the neighborhood make a victory garden. People started getting sick. PIA had the ground tested and it was full of Arsenic.
    The Corp of Army Engineers were sent in to cover that area with 3ft of dirt.PIA was told that that was the best to be done since the contamination went so far down it was impossible to be cleaned up. The city told PIA that because of the contamination nothing ever could be done with that land.

  3. Edward W. Duffy says:

    I agree with John Egan. Northwest Philly is drained by three water courses, the Schuylkill, Wissahickon and Wingohocking. The first two flow freely, occasionally flood but return to their banks, but the third, Wingohocking Creek, is almost entirely encased as a sewer whose dimensions necessarily limit its capacity. This causes it to overflow into Belfield and Lower Germantown, a problem occurring more frequently with global warming. What it needs is a place, typically a wetland or detention basin, to temporarily hold the storm surge, but the lands surrounding it are almost all built up. The Philly Water Department has responded to a similar problem in Germantown with creation of Saylor’s Grove, a wetland at Rittenhouse Street and Wissahickon Avenue, to reduce flooding from a creek that flows as a sewer under Lincoln Drive. Creation of a wetland to detain flood waters of the Wingohocking at the vacant Logan Triangle would be a good solution to flooding for a large area of the City.

    1. Dave says:

      Keshler, Your article was very well written and informative.

      I grew up around 9th and Butler in the 1960s and early 1970s and had no idea of the specific (politics) on the ash dumping in the early 1900s. So sad. I wonder if Clarence Wolf and then mayor Rayburn were aware of the unstable and toxic affect. Obviously, the idea was a cheap solution to a problem at the time.

  4. Keshler, Good work, thank you for doing the research and writing. BTW,I not sure that the ashes were dumped in the Wingohocking creek, they encased it in a concrete conduit. I do recall the 1959 gas explosions on the Blvd., we lived at 9th near Wyoming, had relatives on Blvd., walked over in my pajamas with my family to check on them in middle of the night!

  5. James says:

    A lot of remediation work will have to be done to stabilize the soil before anything can be built to justify the investment, commercial construction of logistic factories would have to be built.

  6. Rick Heimann says:

    Here’s a third vote for a return to nature. Any development would always have the toxic waste problem hanging over it. Just do a serious job of enforcing the anti-dumping laws.

  7. Rick Spector says:

    Enjoyed your article.

    Please watch my video,
    “Let’s Remember Logan”

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=O5NbGO7zQDk&t

  8. Also Davis says:

    The city needs land for expansion of housing and commerce, but clearly, the only way to do it here would be continue demolishing everything, including the streets, and start over with a new neighborhood aligned to its natural features, an open creek/river, and with the land at its natural level, with all the contamination removed. Then it could be rebuilt as part of New Philadelphia for the Future. A medium-density zone for residences and businesses… The original layout of the city is not “sustainable.” Too many too-narrow streets, too-narrow lots, not enough parks.

  9. Harry Lipschultz says:

    Good Day. My name is Harry Lipschultz and my Family owned the Pharmacy at the SE Cor of 10th and Courtlandin the Logan Triangle. My Father (Maxwell) died in 1974 and my Mother (Sylvia) and I ran the store until her death in 1995. I remained ’til 1997 until it became economically unfeasible to continue operations. The City, LAC, etc were NO HELP whatsoever (for different reasons) and were quite content to see us leave; one less stable force gone. The building was torn apart by vandals and left to ROT until it was finally demolished. If you’re interested in more info let me know; I will forward a transcript of a presentation I made before City Council (another useless entity- more concerned with gerrymandering the Triangle for political purposes should anything actually be done so they could take advantage of any “assistance” that might be rendered by outside sources vs helping) in 2003 where EVERY SINGLE MEMBER PRESENT stood up and LEFT…while I made the case for DOING SOMETHING to an empty chamber save for one staff member and the assembled audience. Let me know if you are interested in seeing a copy of that treatise; and thank you for the article. It brought back painful memories, but I have dealt with the issue of associative distress and no longer think about it on a daily basis. Stay safe. HL

  10. Rocco Anthony Buttofoco says:

    Iworked at whiting and paterson at 5th and Bristol in the early 80’s and remember a Gino’s in that area and some of my coworkers lived around there also. What happened to Billy Bob ?

  11. Newman says:

    I live here across from the Logan library. I’m trying to find out as much as I can about the community here. It has potential to be great again

  12. Alex Banias says:

    Thank you for this most recent, very informative but sad article on The Logan Triangle, a big part of my childhood. I finally found out when the UCC Church on Wingohocking was built, as that stately structure figures prominently in my fond memories of visiting my grandparents for special occasions during the 70s when those sturdy sycamore trees would flaunt their beauty and when the comforting sounds of children playing under the street lights at night would ascend to my grandparents’ master bedroom on 4532 North Warnock Street. How I miss those days of simplicity, innocence, and wonderment. The Lipschultz Pharmacy, about 600 feet from my grandparents’ home, will forever be indelibly etched in my mind with that big green sign outside, and the antiseptic smells and big scary dog behind the wooden partition inside. Shout out to Mr. Lipschultz for that treatise. I would like to read it and touch base with you.

    1. Harry Lipschultz says:

      Alex, you may reach out to me at
      Pharmboy1701@gmail.com
      Stay safe.

      Harry

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