Favorite Spot: North Lawrence Street in Northern Liberties
Neighborhood: Northern Liberties
Address: 1100 North Lawrence to 876 N. Lawrence
I am: I’m a freelance writer splitting life between the stoops of Northern Liberties and the Pocono woods, author of Between the Pond and the Woods, a website for caregivers
Years in Philly: 30 years
Current Home: Northern Liberties
My love note:
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.