Lifestyle

Temple community relations under Peter Liacouras

Three men shaped Temple’s place in the community more than any others, meet them.

Liacouras, White and Anderson banner

*Note: article amended 4/14/08 at 6:58 p.m.

Peter J. Liacouras was officially made the seventh president of Temple on July 1, 1982. He came to power with a $52 million budget shortfall, the unfinished work of his predecessor Marvin Wachman and tenuous relations with surrounding neighborhoods.

While Liacouras regards Wachman warmly for beginning to reach out to the neighborhoods that surrounded Temple, the university was still regarded negatively for its role in clearing residential properties through eminent domain practices in the 1950s and 1960s.

“From Wachman to Peter, we’ve established a legacy, we just need to hope we have successors,” Anderson said. “Because of the past… people doubt.”

Temple was an entirely east of Broad Street institution before 1956, and the ground Annenberg Hall sits on now was covered with rowhomes as recently as the 1960s.

“Between 1958 and 1970 or so, Temple, which was really a white institution then, displaced a whole lot of black residents, just took their homes.” Liacouras said. “So, of course we weren’t trusted when we first went out into the community.”

But, Liacouras saw a working relationship with all of Temple’s neighbors to be a priority.

“The cardinal rule of our administration was no displacement of residents,” Liacouras said. “If the university wouldn’t protect the community, or at least respect it, then who would?”

TOM ANDERSON AND THE COMMUNITY

For more than 30 years, the face of Temple in the neighborhood was Thomas Anderson Jr., former associate vice president for community relations. By all accounts, Anderson was as good, and fair, and decent a mediator as anyone.

“Tom Anderson had tremendous, really unbelievable, relationships with the community,” said Liacouras. “I used to wonder which side he was on.”

Anderson was brought on by Wachman in 1973, electing the Camden, N.J. native to director of community relations, a newly created position. Wachman, trying to unwork decades of neighborhood misuse, needed someone to be a voice for Temple on the ground.

At the time, the Black Panthers, who had held national conferences in the Church of the Advocate at 17th and Diamond Streets in 1968 and 1970, were rallying in Temple’s backyard, as were other black elements of the city’s activist community.

So, Anderson met the leaders, their constituents and listened to their problems.

“I was always just honest,” Anderson said.

So, when Liacouras came to power nearly a decade later, Anderson was already on the pulse of the community and some bridges had been forged, Anderson said. Still, great distances were left to go, and Liacouras was ready to make them, though he is unflinching in noting the importance Anderson played before and during his presidency.

“How many Tom Andersons do you have to send out to the community?” Liacouras asked. “I always worry about a time when they aren’t around.”

One of the longest-lasting partnerships Anderson forged under Liacouras was one with the Norris Homes, east of Anderson and Gladfelter Halls, providing the community with health services, tutoring and some day care services.

“The Norris Homes were ignored until election time. So, Temple started picking up trash and fixing the sidewalks, creating health service programs and things of that nature,” Liacouras said. “Tom was doing that.”

Anderson brought Temple and its surrounding community closer together, launching an adopt-a-block initiative and a welcome wagon program, still alive today. He coordinated an agreement between the Temple University Greek Association and their neighbors, and initiated a handful of other programs that put Temple students in the community, Anderson said.

“We wanted both sides to better understand each other,” he said.

JAMES WHITE AND THE ARMORY FIRE

On the Monday evening of Aug. 7, 1989, Col. James S. White (U.S. Army, retired), a man of impeccable care, rushed to the 2100-block of North Broad Street, above Diamond Street, where an old armory building was in flames.

White was then the city’s managing director, the highest ranking non-political official in Philadelphia.

“I took to responding to all multi-alarm fires, after MOVE” White said, referring to the city government’s 1985 firebombing of a block of the Powelton Village neighborhood of West Philadelphia to enforce arrest warrants of several members of the controversial MOVE organization. Eleven members were killed, and the scars haven’t healed for any black political activist in the city.

The armory fire turned out to be nothing of the magnitude of that May 13 day, but changed the course of White’s life, if not immediately than certainly in entirety. White was impressed with Liacouras the night of the armory fire, a university president on the streets during a fire on a neighboring block.

“He was so involved in something he didn’t have to be,” White said.

For his part, Anderson was getting people out of their homes, making sure Temple police protected against looters.

“Tom was running up to houses like a man possessed,” Liacouras said, laughing as an old friend would.

Residents who were evacuated from their homes on Carlisle Street, behind the armory, were brought to Johnson Hall, just as the university had done for displaced residents of Powelton Village after the MOVE bombing. Liacouras and Anderson were behind it, and White knew it. So, it came with little surprise that after Liacouras offered White a senior position at Temple following a brief run to be mayor in 1991, he took it.

“Ramona Africa told me he was the only person in city government she would sit with,” said Liacouras, speaking of the only adult survivor of the MOVE bombing. “I knew I needed him on my team.”

White is quiet, calculating and fair-minded. After graduating from Morgan State College in 1954, the native of Cincinnati entered a racially charged U.S. Army, where he was quickly found to be a man of incredible efficiency, earnestness and vision.

After serving in Vietnam, White was charged with initiating army-wide, equal opportunity and treatment practices. He dealt with some of the most complex issues of the most powerful military in the world. Other issues may have seemed less important, but spoke to the value of cooperation, a strength of White’s by any measure.

“They put me in charge of dealing with afros in the army,” White said, smiling, not denying the idea that his task might have had something to do with his being a black man. The army was concerned about the trend growing in the 1960s and 1970s of soldiers wearing their hair long – both white and black – so White suggested a length limit that forced compromise from both leaders and soldiers.

“That’s James White,” Liacouras said. “Consensus building.”

He was hardly just a military bureaucrat, though, rather a decorated veteran. Before his administrative role, he served proudly in Vietnam. While serving in a test unit of 82nd Airborne, his helicopter crashed in Fort Bragg, North Carolina. Still, the details are hard to come by from White, whose humility can be unnerving.

“I’m not accustomed to talking about myself,” White said.

Not long after retiring from the Army in 1977, White moved to Philadelphia and found himself to be an effective administrator in city government. He spent four years in the city’s office of housing and community development, before becoming city commissioner of licenses and inspections in 1984. Then, under Mayor Wilson Goode, White became the city’s managing director. He supervised 24,000 city workers and managed a then $1.2 billion annual budget.

So, it comes with little surprise that White was fully capable of filling his initial role as vice president for public affairs and then as executive vice president. In leading all non-academic Temple affairs, White had a sincere involvement in the community.

In 1995, White cut 11 percent, some $25 million, of the university’s budget, and, among other cutbacks, closed a day care center Temple was funding. In times like these, White had to play the role of bad cop.

PETER LIACOURAS AND TEMPLE TOWN

During his 18-year tenure, Liacouras led a transition that took Temple from a regional commuter school to the professional research institution we know it today. He had a plan of attracting a larger student base, it involved broader recruiting and a wide-reaching advertising campaign. It also involved moving to transform a commuting population and the collection of academic buildings that constituted Temple’s flagship location in 1982 to a truly definable Main Campus.

For doing so, he was criticized for leaving Temple’s role as Philadelphia’s educator. His “Temple Town” vision became a rallying cry for activists against gentrification.

“You had to give it a name for it to make change. Still, we didn’t use the term publicly. We knew the initial response we’d get,” Liacouras said. “I remember in 1986, a riot breaking out at the housing project that used to be at 23rd and Diamond after the name first came out.”

They made signs crossing out the new Temple ‘T,’ just branded in 1983.

“That sure showed the Temple ‘T’ was working,” Liacouras said, laughing.

For Temple Town, he is either called a visionary who enlivened academia on North Broad or derided as an imperialist who decimated communities in central North Philadelphia. During his tenure, from 1982 to 2000, on-campus living had ballooned 175 percent. Students living on or within three blocks of the university’s east of Broad core had more than tripled, from 1,500 in 1982 to 4,800 in fall 2001.

With its history in forcing out residents, Liacouras’s Temple Town seemed a cover up for something sinister.

OTHER URBAN UNIVERSITIES

Liacouras and his administration didn’t go blindly into urban reconstruction. Throughout his tenure, Liacouras and his representatives traveled to universities elsewhere in the country to see how others consolidated a campus amid older communities.

“Look at what the University of Alabama did. George Wallace literally just took two miles on the main street there, just took it through eminent domain and things like that,” Liacouras said, “We visited Marquette to see the great work they did but found they just took the land, too. So we found, really, no one has a good answer to building a top university in an urban setting. Every model we were told to use, invariably, used eminent domain, something we weren’t willing to do anymore.”

After visiting Fordham University in the Bronx borough of New York City, Liacouras decided their own path would be best.

“They literally built a wall,” Anderson said.

“After coming back, I went to the Board of Trustees,” Liacouras joked. “Get the fences up.”

“You can build walls,” White said. “But the community would be part of us still.”

UNIVERSITY EXPANSION

There were three expansions made during the 18-year Liacouras administration that found the most community push back: the Liacouras Center, which opened in 1997, the Tuttleman Learning Center, which opened in Fall 1999, and the James S. White Student Residence Hall, which was named as such in 1999.

Temple first bought the land where the now-labeled Liacouras Center sits in 1988. The university got state funding in 1992, but ran into a resistant City Council motivated by vocal neighborhood resistant. It wasn’t until November 1995 that a compromise was met, and construction of the Apollo at Temple, the initial name of the venue, was underway.

Thirteenth Street, which splits Main Campus, was closed for more than a year for construction of Tuttleman. When the building was in its late stages of development, the administration announced plans to request of City Council the permanent closure of the thoroughfare.

“Nothing that we are requesting from a procedural standpoint is unique,” White said to The Temple News in November 1998. “The issue is safety. The amount of crossing and parallel movement across the 13th Street corridor will be significantly increased when the learning center and other projects are completed.

The most vocal community feedback, particularly from Yorktown, was decidedly negative.

“It sends the message that the campus is closed to the children. Is it OK to throw up barriers, whether barbed or invisible?” said Prissila R. Woods, Yorktown Community Development director.

After the armory fire in 1989, where Liacouras and White first developed a mutual respect that led to White’s later hiring, there was an abandoned, burned-out building just north of Temple’s Main Campus. The university bought and went about finding a way to fill a void it desperately needed filled: student housing. Again, the community fought back, most notably Evelyn Boyer, the block captain of the 2000-block of Carlisle Street.

Like the construction of the Liacouras Center, city leaders, pressured by residents and hopeful for a cause, held Temple to the letter of the law, one that kept Temple from developing on the armory. It was White, a man of meticulous resolve, who found a clause in city zoning of great value to Temple.

“As long as we built in the exact footprint of the armory, we were able to develop the property,” White said. “We decided to even go a little smaller.”

Like Tuttleman and the Liacouras Center after it, this project was completed, with the community involved. The message Liacouras wanted to convey was given, if only to some and with time.

“We’re not colonialists,” Liacouras said. “We want to be neighbors.”

Christopher Wink can be reached at cwink@temple.edu

Watch, read, and explore the Peter Liacouras multimedia package by The Temple News

*The military experience of James White was incorrectly characterized when this article was originally published. White was involved in a helicopter crash in North Carolina, as is now stated.

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