Initiatives aim to restore historic charm to Tacony’s Torresdale Avenue

After many troublesome years for Torresdale Avenue, Tacony resident and business owners have banded together to restore its charm.

Those involved with the Historic Tacony Revitalization project began working toward their goal of a “Clean and Safe” Torresdale Avenue eight months ago. Despite  having reached some milestones, they still have many barriers ahead of them.

Alexander Balloon, corridor manager for the project, said more than 16 thousand cars pass through Tacony a day, and that he hopes to convince more of these commuters to stop and enjoy Torresdale Avenue. Balloon described Torresdale Avenue as “the heart of Tacony.” As with any beating heart, a strong life force is needed, including a stronger economic backbone for a street with many vacancies.

Cleo Psillos has been a business owner along Torresdale Avenue for 24 years and loves the community she serves at Athenian Restaurant between Knorr Street and Longshore Avenue. She said she is hopeful for improvements to be made.

“Over the years there has been a lot of talk, no action,” she said.

The restaurant owner wants fewer nail salons, hairdressers and dollar stores, with more specialty shops and increased police presence on Torresdale Avenue. Psillos also said she thinks the main problem for lack of outside community attention to the area is parking.

“The way the meters run, it’s confusing,” she said. “Some areas have them, some don’t. Maybe if they would take the meters out it would help.”

The Historic Tacony Revitalization Project’s mission is to restore the corridor and preserve the vision of the late Henry Disston. David Payne, branch manager for the Tacony branch of the Free Library of Philadelphia, works with Balloon and said he wishes to see a more appealing Torresdale Avenue.

The library has recently served as an information center, holding meetings for neighbors to learn about the various programs and ways to participate in improving the area. On a more personal level, Payne said he is passionate about raising Torresdale Avenue to its highest potential. Payne wants the avenue to achieve some of the old-world charm and high moral standards that Disston implemented.

Disston was a self-made man, an immigrant from England who started his own business – later known as Disston Saw Works –  with only a few hundred dollars. Payne said Disston was a man who encouraged core values and set out to make Tacony a utopian society, and that he hopes to see the day when Disston’s dream can again become a reality.

Attention to revitalizing the area concerns more than just the people living in Tacony. Councilman Bobby Henon, D-6th, is also passionate about cleaning up the historic avenue.

“I think Tacony is in need of TLC,” Henon said. Henon has been working with several neighborhoods surrounding Tacony, and said he is trying to produce long-lasting results to improve Torresdale Avenue. He is in the process of procuring a police security camera, and said he hopes those, along with an increase of mobilized police, will help cut crime on the avenue. The councilman has also made calls to the mayor about the homeless people living along Torresdale Avenue.

Balloon said the Historic Tacony Revitalization Project will be an ongoing process and may very likely be included in the Philadelphia2035 plan, although the City Planning Commission is not scheduled to start work with Tacony for at least a year.

“This is a project that will need constant attention, and volunteers will always be needed,” Balloon said, “specially because this project is so heavily relied upon our volunteers.”It will be involved with the 2035 plan, we just hope to see results sooner.”

Laura Robb is a student reporting for Philadelphia Neighborhoods, the publication of Temple University’s Multimedia Urban Reporting Lab.

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