Today Eyes on the Street continues our Philly Love Notes collaboration with this appreciation of a quiet corner in Northern Liberties.
My love note:
Dear North Lawrence Street,
I forgive your old brick houses and lush maples for their brazen, seductive ways. After all, they were just doing what they’d done for a hundred years before Northern Liberties declined. Yes, before the NoLibs gold rush, this neighborhood was a very “iffy” place to live. I ignored that fact and came here searching for some small house I could afford on my non-profit salary. With few coins in my pockets, I toured many crumbling dumps where only a rat could relax.
Then one fine day I went to see a house on North Lawrence Street. It was near the basement shrine for St. John Neumann, the first U.S bishop to become a Catholic saint. Although I don’t go to church much, I still wonder if the shrine gave the block an extra shot of charm. The nearby “viejita’s house” was on the market for the royal sum of $69,000. It was a small brick home with built-in cabinetry and a grassy yard. But the kitchen floor was sinking and I couldn’t afford to both buy the house and fix the floor, so I moved on. Who, I wondered, would ever pay all that money for a place that needed so much work? (Ha!) But I couldn’t shake off the surge of love that reddened my cheeks every time I drove by.
Las Cazuelas, a Mexican restaurant with its own golden halo, guards the northern end of this street. I started having lunch there so I could keep flirting with North Lawrence. Walking south from Cazuelas past George Street, I would gaze across Lawrence into the secluded beauty of Seedy Acres, one of the city’s fine community gardens. Picnic tables nestle among late-blooming roses and stacked firewood. Neighbors gather there to weed their thyme and trade tales.
Further down Lawrence near Brown Street, you run smack into the only (?) log cabin in metro Philly. The log house was hand-built by Jeff Thomas, a NoLibs resident who arrived during the 1980’s artist invasion. I love the fact that its mortared walls remain -- behind a stockade fence -- long after the area’s been glammed up with $500,000 houses. In fact, the architectural diversity of these blocks makes them even more enchanting.
I never did buy a house on Lawrence Street, but I got one on nearby George for the bargain price of $58,000. No money was ever better spent. It was all I could muster at the time, and it bought me the privilege of living in a thriving community, close to the leafy sidewalks I love. Sometimes I still walk down Lawrence and scan the corners of St. John Neumann Way. Here I thank the spirits that reversed the spell and changed so many sagging houses back into cherished homes.
Philly Love Notes is a collection of reminders. There is too much in the city that is forgotten or overlooked. Philly Love Notes seeks to rediscover those places — to remind the city, and us, that it is loved. Want to share your favorite spot? Drop Philly Love Notes an email with your idea.
Eyes on the Street has teamed up with Philly Love Notes to feature especially plannerdly love notes about places in Philly on this blog. So far we’ve shared love notes about bikes at Rittenhouse Square, a walk through Ed Bacon’s greenways, a twofer about Penn Treaty Park, Drexel Park, Wayne Mills, where the Reading Viaduct meets Noble Street, stoop culture, the Parkway Central Branch of the Free Library, the Woodlands Cemetery, and Frankford.
This piece originally appeared on Philly Love Notes on January 9, 2012.