Some of Philadelphia’s neighborhoods are named afters hills, parks and trees, like Fairmount or Cedar Park. Some were given random names that had origins in the old world, like Kensington.
But many of them, along with sections within neighborhoods, were named after something temporal: a prominent house, its placement within the city, the commerce or businesses that defined it. The great thing about neighborhoods is they constantly change, and the signature landmarks or businesses of an area might have nothing to do it with it now.
So Billy Penn took a look at several of these places and explored whether the traditional name still fits and, if it didn’t, offered up a few new suggestions.
Origin: Philly had some 700 breweries in the 19th century, and many of them were in this area of North Philly.
Does the name still fit?: No. There’s Crime and Punishment brewing company, and that’s about it.
Could now easily be called: Lemon Hill, after a famous mansion in the western area of the neighborhood by Fairmount Park.
El Centro de Oro
Origin: For decades, a largely Puerto Rican community has developed the commercial corridor on Fifth Street between Lehigh and Allegheny. In 2011, the city helped pay for improvements that included painting the sidewalks in gold, giving the name El Centro de Oro (The Golden Center a literal meaning). The area is also referred to as El Barrio.
Does the name still fit?: El Centro de Oro is the best example of an area changing names with the times — maybe the only example in Philly. For a long time, this area of Fairhill was better known as Koreatown for its nearby heavy concentration of Korean residents and businesses. Most of them have moved out to the border between Cheltenham and Philadelphia.
Could now be called: El Barrio and El Centro de Oro are a good fit.
Origin: The fabric stores started popping up in this area of Queen Village more than 100 years ago and for a long time it was about the only place in Philly to get fabric.
Does it still fit?: Yes. Many of the true fabric row stores have closed en masse the last couple of decades — Marmelstein’s, which opened in 1919, closed last year — but plenty remain, such as Adler’s, B Wilk and Fleishman Fabrics and Supplies. The new stores that have moved in
Could now be called: Fabric Row still works.
Origin: Back in the 19th century, Fishtown and neighboring Kensington teamed with shad fisheries and the employees who worked at them, thus the name Fishtown. Legend has it Charles Dickens assigned the name, but Dickens never wrote anything about it in any of his journals or known correspondences.
Does it still fit?: Not in the traditional sense. Those shad fisheries closed a long time ago, and you’re not going to find many people fishing anywhere in the neighborhood (though you’ll probably find some fishermen a couple miles up and a couple miles down the Delaware).
But in a new way, residents are upholding the name. Many people post their address on a sign with a fish.
There’s also this:
Could now be called: The Arctic (for all the Arctic Splash containers littering the streets); Johnstown (after Johnny Brenda’s, which is arguably the anchor of Fishtown’s resurgence).
The French Quarter
Origin: Um, apparently Philadelphia has a French Quarter? According to this City Paper article from 1999, the first year the area was officially recognized, the French Quarter is Walnut and Sansom between 16th and 19th streets.
Does the name still fit?: Though few people seem to know about our French Quarter, it actually makes some sense. There’s a decent amount of French restaurants and cafes: La Colombe on 19th and Walnut, Parc, Le Cheri, Lacroix (Le Cheri and Parc are technically just outside the boundaries). Plus Rittenhouse Square Park seems kind of French. But this area used to be even more French in the late ’90s. The City Paper article mentions several more restaurants and dessert shops that no longer exist, and Queen Village arguably has more French-inspired businesses than the French Quarter. Between Sixth and Seventh streets on Bainbridge, there’s L’etage, The Good King, Bistrot la Minette and Creperie Beau Monde.
Could now be called: Maybe just stick to Rittenhouse Square and forget the French Quarter.
Origin: The Philadelphia Polyclinic opened in the late 19th century and in 1916 became the hospital for Penn’s graduate school of medicine, better known as Graduate Hospital. The neighborhood assumed the name.
Does the name still fit?: Sort of. The hospital is still standing between Lombard and South streets, but it hasn’t been called Graduate Hospital for some time. Penn sold it off in the ’90s before buying it back about a decade ago. Now the facility is called Penn Medicine at Rittenhouse.
Could now be called: This neighborhood has a ginormous amount of nicknames; some have to do with the old Graduate Hospital and some don’t: G-Ho, South of South, SoSo, Southwest Center City.
Origin: George Gray owned a bridge, land and a ferry in this part of Philly in the 18th century. Apparently people really liked the ferry.
Does the name still fit? Sadly, there’s no more ferry.
Could now easily be called: ODN (Ol’ Dirty Neighborhood, in honor of Ol’ Dirty Bastard getting arrested at the Grays Ferry McDonald’s); Cowtown (there’s a new neighborhood tradition of playing Cowchip Bingo every year).
Origin: The Italian Market touts itself as the oldest, continuous-running outdoor market in the United States. The first stalls and vendors sprung up in the 1880s and by 1915 it had become an official site.
Does the name still fit?: Sort of. The Italian Market still features the traditional market and some of the best Italian restaurants and food stores in the city. But in the last 20-plus year it has been saved from irrelevance by dozens of Mexican and Asian stores and vendors. As a community-relations officer told Fox News last year, “I don’t call it the Italian Market no more.”
Could now be called: Mexican Market, International Market.
Origin: Seventh and Eighth streets around Sansom have been covered with jewelry stores since the 19th century.
Does the name still fit?: Absolutely. Aside from a few restaurants and bars, this area is still completely decked out in jewelry stores.
Could now easily be called: Jewelers Row still fits
Origin: This part of Philly north of Spring Garden and south of Girard was too far north for anyone to venture in William Penn’s day. And per British tradition, anybody who purchased land in the city limits got free “liberty lands” just outside the city. The Northern liberty lands were in this area.
Does the name still fit?: Not even close.
Could now be called: Central Liberties (C-Libs); Trumptown (because Donald Trump’s son-in-law owns the Piazza); Spring Girarden.
Origin: An old mansion built in the area in 1728 was named “Richmond Hall,” the same name as a prominent London suburb. The Port comes from the neighborhood’s port activities.
Does it still fit?: Kind of, but not as much as it once did. Most of the Delaware River commerce has dried up, but some remains, including the Tioga Marine Terminal, the largest marine terminal of the Philadelphia Port Authority. The mansion is long gone.
Could now be called: Port Richmond still fits.