Sixteen years after the city leveled it, Stella Street remains a junkie wasteland.
Although she could use a good scrubbing, she's pretty, this petite woman in a black leather jacket trying to flag down cars near Germantown and Indiana by waving her crutches at them.
"Works!" she hollers repeatedly. "Works!"
When a stranger approaches, she admits she's selling packaged syringes she gets for free from a van that exchanges the new "works" for old ones in an attempt to thwart HIV and hepatitis. She needs the crutches, she says, because she injured her leg in a car accident. She needs the money because she's a heroin addict.
She sells herself too. "But no sex," she says. "Strictly head."
She's 34 and has four sons. Talking about them makes her feel bad. "I'm not a bad person," she explains. "I just got a drug problem."
She won't give her name, but promises to come up with a pseudonym. Before her, across Germantown Avenue, the spruced-up Fairhill Burial Grounds look picturesque on this sunny spring afternoon. Behind her, an expanse of flattened fallow earth under a green sign that reads "Stella St." looks ghostly and forlorn.
"Yeah, I remember the drug houses that used to be here," the woman says, though she says she never frequented any because she didn't become an addict until after the city had flattened them.
Glancing down at her green T-shirt emblazoned with the word "Unlucky," she grins. "Hey, call me that in the article," she says. "Call me Unlucky."
A white minivan brakes on Germantown Avenue, its driver-side window descending. Unlucky hustles over and starts negotiating.
March 12, 1992. Two months after Mayor Ed Rendell took office, the city began razing more than 40 squalid drug dens on the 1000 block of Stella Street, one of three obscure east-west thoroughfares situated between Indiana Avenue and Cambria Street along the west side of Germantown Avenue.
It was a major story, played out before a throng of print and electronic media.
PW's 2015 Gift Guide
Dinner with Luke Palladino