Residents of Germantown’s West Winona Street fight crime, talk about the block’s history

At first glance, the rowhomes of the 400 block of W. Winona St. resemble many other tree-lined streets in Germantown. But the block’s thoughtful and caring neighbors revealed a historically rich and tight-knit community.

Some residents have lived on the block most of their lives. Others have left Germantown, but childhood memories enticed them to come back.

Barry Le Land fits into that latter category. Born on West Winona Street in 1944, he moved away but returned in 1989.

“I went to school and grew up here and didn’t even have keys to the front door because it was never locked,” Le Land said. “There was virtually no crime. I used to sleep on the porch at night in the summer.”

Crime intrudes

In most neighbors’ eyes, the block has almost always been quiet and peaceful. However, it is still susceptible to crime and other issues that plague much of the city.

Most recently, residents have grown concerned with the displacement of former public housing tenants from the nearby Queen Lane Apartments, which was closed a year ago.

The Queen Lane Apartments were built atop a Potter’s Field, an unmarked burial ground for African-Americans during the 18th century. Its demolition is still delayed on account of historical-preservation and other concerns.

Some neighbors, including Le Land, are members of the Northwest Neighbors of Germantown, a civic organization which has been actively monitoring the planning of new public housing slated to take the place of Queen Lane Apartments.

Concerned block residents fear overlapping crime around the neighborhood is attributed to the scattering of former Queen Lane Apartment occupants into the area.

Other neighbors aren’t certain why there appears to be an increased criminal element, but the block agrees the residents must do as much as possible to preserve the safety of the street.

Other concerns

Group member Mark Marney has lived on West Winona Street for 14 years. His home borders Cloverly Park, which marks the beginning of the street. The park is quiet and clean during the day, but has problems at night.

“There is a drug dealer who conducts his business in the park,” Marney said. “Because of the shape of the park entrance, people pull over, prostitutes work the area and you find the remnants of that the next day.”

Marney understood that crime, no matter the severity, has negatively affected his block.

“There’s petty crime on the block in the big scheme of things, but I’m a firm believer that little things that go unchecked become bigger and bigger,” he said. “When people on any block see anything inappropriate or illegal, they must keep reporting it to the police.”

Despite problems, love for the block

Although the area around West Winona Street has faced new challenges in recent years, most residents are happy with the state of the block.

Jeff Templeton, 40, has lived on West Winona Street for 10 years and has served as block captain since 2009. He grew up visiting a friend who lived on the street.

Templeton rehabilitated his current home with his wife after helping build his best friend’s house across the street.

As block captain, Templeton sponsors block cleanups and tries to bring his neighbors together.

“When we have block cleanups, I put a flyer out with my phone number in case neighbors can’t get out and need someone to cut the grass,” Templeton said. “I don’t mind doing it.”

Herman Corbett, 74, has lived on West Winona Street for more than half a century. He said he could not imagine leaving.

“This is a quiet neighborhood and you can’t beat it,” Corbett said. “If I had a choice to move anywhere I wanted, I’d still remain right here.”

Glen Fuller was the previous block captain of West Winona Street and has spent the past 15 years there. He asked Templeton to take over as block captain, but still puts great effort into beautifying the street.

“The block is very quiet and peaceful and the neighbors are really nice,” Fuller said. “They really care about each other.”

The younger members of the block emphasized the importance of helping older residents. In fact, Templeton has deputized his daughters as junior block captains to instill a since of civic duty and responsibility to others.

Residents remained optimistic that West Winona Street is on an upward path.

“I think that we should all move together as one mass of people instead of ones who can help themselves and ones who can’t,” Templeton said. “Do as much for your neighbor as you can do for yourself.”

Fatia Kasumu and Zach Martin are Temple University students. They produced this piece for Philadelphia Neighborhoods in collaboration with WHYY/NewsWorks.

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