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Dornsife student seeks to save historic building in Mt. Airy neighborhood | The Triangle
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Dornsife student seeks to save historic building in Mt. Airy neighborhood

Photograph courtesy of chrisinphilly5448 at Flickr.

The pandemic has infamously caused mandated cessations of activities from festivals to court dates. However, gentrification has continued to cause immense changes in struggling communities across the city. Around Philadelphia, buildings of rich significance are being torn down to make way for urban housing and artisanal food fare. Mt. Airy has been the subject of gentrification, and Drexel Dornsife doctoral student Samantha Rivera Joseph wants to do something about it.

Being a Mt. Airy community member herself, Joseph has seen buildings being destroyed in her community, even during the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. Both she and her husband, Antoine Joseph, saw the building next to the Philadelphia Sun building being demolished and believed that the Philadelphia Sun building itself was next to meet the same fate. Worried about the loss of the building’s rich history, the Josephs decided to act.

“So we started just thinking about what we can do. We wanted to draw attention to it. We want to try to save it…We realized that, you know, we do have an opportunity,” Samantha Joseph said.

The building they are trying to save holds substantial Black history in its foundation. Its first use was by Malcolm Joseph Ford, a Black education leader in Philadelphia that used the space as an antique store called “Heritage Pieces.” Until recently, however, the building was repurposed as the headquarters of the Philadelphia Sunday Sun Newspaper, a prominent outlet known for “Connecting Philadelphia’s African American Community.”

“My husband grew up in the neighborhood, and he knows a lot of the history,” Joseph said “He knew the newspaper used to run out of there. He remembers it being an active building.”

With such defining roots, it was hard for the Josephs to see it destroyed. After thinking of ideas, the couple then decided to buy the building, ensuring its longevity as an integral part of the community.

“We can try to buy it ourselves. That’s the best way that we can ensure that it doesn’t get bought by a developer, potentially knocked down and replaced by another new development that doesn’t necessarily fit the community,” Joseph said.

However, the couple is not buying the property for personal use; rather, their true intentions are to honor the space’s history through the development of a community and event space. The second floor would be turned into two apartment units that are reasonably priced for the residents of the community.

“We want to make sure that it’s a space where we can actively engage the community, and have it be a space that celebrates collaboration and honors Black history. There’s a lot of monumental things that happened on Germantown Avenue, especially on this block, that we don’t want to disappear with the new development,” Joseph said.

The cost of the project is not to be negated, however. The price tag of the building and the planned construction hits over $500,000, and the closing date is April 30, 2021. The Josephs have invested all their personal savings, family gifts and loans from family members, accounting for roughly $150,000. On the other hand, 50 percent of the budget is from an aggressive bank loan.

“Once this project is running smoothly, then we’ll worry about our personal finances again,” Joseph continued. “But we are invested. All of our savings is in here, plus our parents. My dad took money out of his retirement fund.”

Adding the money up, the couple is still missing 20 percent of the planned budget. The Josephs hope to receive contributions from crowdfunding. Through GoFundMe, they are looking for $100,000. Readers are encouraged to contribute through their GoFundMe page, “Save the Sun Building in Philadelphia.”