"What's white flight?" a young white teen asked during a 1993 tour of the building in the photo.
A sign on the corner tavern in the photo says "Ortlieb's Beer." You may recognize the intersection of South Queen Street and Howard Avenue. South Queen was a two-way street.
By the 1980's the tavern was called the Wooden Nickel and had become a center for cocaine dealing (owner Dallas Maurice Bowers disappeared before sentencing in Lancaster County court in 1988 and today lives openly in Houston, TX). The bar was shut down and the building was bought and renovated by Lancaster Area Habitat for Humanity.
At the time the crack cocaine epidemic was raging. Crack vials crunched underfoot. I heard gunfire on almost a weekly basis; saw a man with a straight-edge razor threaten a teen; saw young white people driving in to purchase drugs from dealers.
Saw a boy of about 10 on a bicycle zip past police searching for a dropped stash amid all the trash on the sidewalk, scoop up the bag and pedal away.
Saw a junkie-dealer dance on the street wearing a white helmet in mockery of DADDS (Demonstrators Against Drug Dealers).
Marched with people in protest of the shooting of 18-year-old Debbie Rivera by a 13-year-old boy on the playground of Carter-MacCrae Elementary School.
Walked with unarmed citizens' patrols carrying only walkie-talkies.
Today Lancaster is amazingly revitalized. The credit is due not to any one person or project, but to a cast of hundreds. To name just a few: Calvin Duncan, the retired Lancaster police captain who was president of DADDS, (he passed away in 2006); Tom Hyson (who died earlier this year); the pastors, priests and many people of faith who kept their hands on the tiller: Rev. Louis Butcher, Rev. Edward Bailey, Rev. Albert Belton, Rev. Betsy Iseminger and her husband Jon, Father Pete Greenfield; the good people of the Crispus Attucks Center, the Urban League, and the Spanish-American Civic Association; and the many hard-working families who purchased or rented homes in this former no-man's land.
And yes, the mayors, city council people, and the good people of city hall.
The new shops on East King Street are astonishing. Lancaster has become the western terminus of Main Line Philadelphia. White people (and their money) are returning in droves. Once the county bled the city; now the children and grandchildren of people who fled to the suburbs are back. Here there is affordable housing compared to their families' quarter-acre mansion-ettes. The Pennsylvania College of Art & Design moved here; the Fulton Opera House was beautifully renewed; Frances Veri and Michael Jamanis founded a musical legacy here. Small businesses have bloomed.
The convention center and Marriott Hotel helped insofar as they certainly created buzz but please... Lancaster's real heroes are the everyday people who work without seeking the spotlight or taking undue credit. Here's to the heroes.