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It’s all about the neighborhoods here in Philadelphia, and Billy Penn will take a deep dive into many of them with these “postcards” throughout the year. We’ll go over their history, their demographics, entertainment options and their neighborhood legends — and the most Instagrammable spots. Love Strawberry Mansion? Buy the stuff.
Welcome to Strawberry Mansion, the northern Philadelphia neighborhood named after a massive home in Fairmount Park. The neighborhood holds a rich history, but experienced a cultural and ethnic shift in the middle of the 20th century. And it was the home of John Coltrane, one of the most influential jazz musicians of all time, and his supporters are attempting to resurrect his old home.
Now, Strawberry Mansion is plagued by drugs and violence — but there are signs the neighborhood could be on its way back.
The neighborhood is bounded by Fairmount Park to the west, Lehigh Avenue to the north, Sedgley Avenue and SEPTA rail tracks to the east, and Cecil B. Moore Avenue to the south.
Population age 20-to-34
3,927 (18.4 percent)
Rent vs. Own
10,776 to 10,262 or 51 percent to 49 percent
Median rents and median home values
Zillow reports the median home value in Strawberry Mansion is $43,000, a 5.4 percent increase from 2013. The real estate company predicts the home values in the neighborhood will rise by 2.1 percent over the next year. In Strawberry Mansion, the median list price is $25 per square foot, whereas the average list price in Philly is $112 per square foot.
The median rent price in Strawberry Mansion is $750, which is lower than the Philadelphia median of $1,300.
Strawberry Mansion is a predominantly black neighborhood, with little representation from other races.
The neighborhood Strawberry Mansion is named after the largest of seven historic houses located at Fairmount Park, which sits directly to the west of the neighborhood. Historic Strawberry Mansion was once known as “Summerville,” and was built in 1789 by Judge William Lewis, a Philadelphia attorney, abolitionist and advisor to Alexander Hamilton. And of course, it was home to a restaurant famous for its strawberries and cream dish. The mansion, which was restored in 1930, is now a museum and home to antiques, fine art and collectibles.
Here’s what the mansion looked like, circa 1950, courtesy of the Philadelphia Evening Bulletin:
Strawberry Mansion was once home to some of Philadelphia’s richest families, but developed as a mixed-income and working class neighborhood in the late 1800s. It became well known across the city for its convenient proximity to Fairmount Park, as well as the Philadelphia Zoo and a number of other public spaces that were often accessed by the trolleys built in 1879.
In the first half of the 20th century, Strawberry Mansion was a predominantly Jewish neighborhood. The community thrived there between the first and second World Wars, and has left traces of its presence in the form of at least 21 synagogues located throughout Strawberry Mansion. The Jewish community formed there, but quickly migrated to places like Oxford Circle, Overbrook Park and Mt. Airy.
And the neighborhood experienced a massive cultural shift in the fifties as African Americans moved from the south in search of factory jobs, and it’s now more than 95 percent African American. Despite decades of violence and a reputation as one of the most dangerous neighborhoods in Philly, some edges of Strawberry Mansion have shown signs of gentrification, as its southern neighbor Brewerytown has seen some restoration in recent years.
Crime in Strawberry Mansion
For six years in the early 2000s, Strawberry Mansion High School sat on every list that ranked the most dangerous schools in the country. By 2013, the school had been outfitted with nearly 100 security cameras lining the hallways, metal detectors at every entrance and mandates that some students empty their pockets before going into classrooms. That year, it was finally taken off the state’s Persistently Dangerous list and the new principal is continuing to look for ways to curb violence.
The school can be seen as a microcosm of the community, where violence and drugs have plagued the neighborhood for decades. Strawberry Mansion’s crime rate is about 50 percent higher than the Philadelphia average, and it’s seen 10 homicides, 11 rapes and 116 aggravated assaults in the last six months. Many of the incidents are sparked by block conflicts or the sale of drugs, most commonly crack, marijuana and PCP.
But there is hope in Strawberry Mansion that crime rates will decrease as community leaders work to mold the neighborhood’s youth. Former federal prosecutor Robert Reed and Strawberry Mansion High principal Linda Cliatt-Wayman have spent the last several years working to not only save the school, but save the community. You can read more about their efforts here.
When King James balled with a Strawberry Mansion legend. This video is a blast from the past: LeBron James during his high school years going 1-on-1 against Maureece Rice, known in Strawberry Mansion as a local basketball hero.
In May 2013, World News with Diane Sawyer did a special report on Strawberry Mansion High School, highlighting its violence and efforts to curb it. After it aired, Toronto-native Drake pledged to build a recording studio inside the high school.
What used to be
Strawberry Mansion has one of the richest Jewish histories in the area. According to Allen Meyers’ book “Strawberry Mansion: The Jewish Community of North Philadelphia,” Jewish immigrants began settling in the area in the early 20th century as the neighborhood was experiencing an economic boom — and because they wanted to distance themselves from crowded conditions in South Philly.
The large Jewish contingent came to Strawberry Mansion largely from eastern Europe, and many of them got to work in South Philadelphia by way of the No. 9 trolley (which was apparently a pretty cool/ convenient thing back then.) Most of the immigrants lived in super nice apartments that were seen as luxury because of their size and proximity to synagogues. Basically they lived in the Piazza at Schmidt’s of the early 20th century.
But Jewish immigrants, after building intricate synagogues throughout Strawberry Mansion, started heading for the suburbs after the first World War. The remaining members of the Jewish community left the area in the mid-sixties after race riots took place near Broad and Columbia Avenue, according to Meyers.
Thing to check out
Find the Fletcher Street Urban Riding Club. The inner-city horsemanship program is based in Strawberry Mansion, and teaches neighborhood kids to ride horses through the city. If you can find them riding horses through the streets of North Philly, make sure to take an awesome photo.
Strawberry Mansion Bridge. The historic bridge was erected in the mid-1890s in order to connect Strawberry Mansion to the west bank of the Schuylkill River.
That time when the superintendent thought closing the high school was a good idea — and then he didn’t. The neighborhood was sent into an uproar in 2013 when District Superintendent William Hite recommended the Strawberry Mansion High School for closure. At the time, the school was only serving one in six of the students in its attendance area because of exodus to charter schools.
But remember: to the community, the high school is in many ways the neighborhood. And they weren’t going to let Mansion High go without a fight. Eventually, Hite changed his mind and took Mansion off his list of 29 schools recommended for closure. He swore it wasn’t because of “politically-motivated cold feet,” but because leaving it open was a “unique opportunity” to change the public school landscape.
Ronald “Flip” Murray – A street basketball legend in the neighborhood who once played for Strawberry Mansion High and eventually went on to play in the NBA
Jazmine Sullivan – A singer/ songwriter whose debut single reached No. 1 on the Billboard R&B/ Hip-hop in 2008
John Coltrane – A saxophonist and composer famous in the fifties and sixties
Henry O Tanner – A Strawberry Mansion native who was the first internationally famous African-American artist
Maureece Rice – A Strawberry Mansion basketball legend who’s got a banner of himself hanging in the high school. In 2002, Rice broke Wilt Chamberlain’s high school career scoring record after reaching 2,681 points. That’s still the city’s all-time high school scoring mark.