It isn’t sloppy hyperbole to call 13th Street a vein for Philadelphia.
From Pollock Street just south of Oregon Avenue to 69th Avenue south of Cheltenham Avenue, 13th Street runs almost continuously through the entire city. That is almost 15 miles of pavement, some of it better kept than others.
THE MEANING OF 13TH STREET
Maybe you think 13th Street is just a road like any other, somewhere to park your Dodge Neon. If so, I’d say you don’t understand cities. Too many of us don’t understand cities, so we certainly
don’t respect them. Ask Renee Drayton. She lives off Thompson Street, which meets 13th Street just north of Girard.
“I use 13th every day,” she said late last week in a way that revealed she had said it before.
That is probably because she has.
See, anyone with a leg in Temple politics likely finds talk about the permanent closure of 13th Street tiresome.
After all, rumors of its closure have swirled since the 1980s. For a time, closing the portion of 13th Street that runs through campus, similar to the evolution of Berks Street to Berks Mall, was an idea lauded as a means to further transform Temple from a loose collection of buildings and commuting students to the international research university we know it to be today. The growth has sometimes frustrated the surrounding community.
“We’ve been in this battle with Temple for years,” Drayton said.
CLOSING 13th STREET FOR OUR GROWTH
To be fair, Temple isn’t closing any streets. The university contracts out major renovation and construction, so the contractors leading these large capital projects request permitted street closure themselves, said Bill Bergman, Temple’s vice president of operations.
Every time 13th Street is closed, the rumors of its permanent closure resurface. During the summer of 2001, the street was occasionally closed for the renovation and expansion of the Student Center, a $14.8 million project that added more than 50,000 square feet to the building. The year before, the $29.9 million construction of Tuttleman Learning Center forced the street to be temporarily closed again. Often it is Bergman who finds himself entangled in 13th Street worries.
He has been asked about 13th Street before. He’ll be asked again.
SAME OLD FIGHT IS FOUGHT AGAIN
This summer 13th Street was closed for construction again. Old Curtis Hall became the sacrificial lamb to the gods of the ever-expanding Fox School of Business, which will spread out to Alter Hall, the building being constructed at 13th Street and Montgomery Avenue.
The skeleton of what will be the new Tyler School of Art, when it takes its 1,500 students from suburban Elkins Park in Montgomery County to urban Norris Street, north of Montgomery Avenue. Renee Drayton has seen a great deal of Temple’s expansion in her life. I have been here for three years. Drayton has called this neighborhood home for nearly a half century.
“It’s nothing new,” Drayton said. “But we thought this all would have been resolved by now.”Imagine a neighbor who adds another
floor to his home every summer. Temple is legally in right, but eventually you’d like the hammers to stop.
“13th Street will open when these projects are done,” Bergman said unhesitatingly
in an interview in early August. “It’ll be open.”
Some in Temple’s surrounding community seek out conflict with Temple, most look for compromise, but almost everyone is suspicious of the school’s expansion.
“It’s an inconvenience,” Drayton said. “The detours are a nuisance but there is a bigger fight.”
A fight that, despite assurances from Temple, some members of the surrounding community don’t feel is won yet.
Christopher Wink can be reached at email@example.com.