Hunting Park Bounces Back

The heart of a North Philadelphia neighborhood beats its bad rep.

By Tara Murtha
Add Comment Add Comment | Comments: 24 | Posted Jan. 5, 2010

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On a recent late December afternoon, as winter’s first truly bone-chilling winds whip, the park’s fields are deserted and its pool empty except for leaves. Bordered by Old York Road, Roosevelt Boulevard, Ninth Street and Lycoming Street, the park’s a yawning expanse of open space and trees in a neighborhood of tight rowhomes and three-story mansions carved into apartments. A recreation center sits in the middle of a circle that sprouts curvilinear walking paths.

Inside the recreation center’s gymnasium, a crew of about 10 teenagers breaks a sweat practicing on the basketball court. The floor feels like it’s been pounded down to the concrete. In a room next door, three younger boys hang out. The trio are sons of 39-year-old Leroy Fisher and 38-year-old Steve Irving, two neighborhood buddies who helped co-found and coach for the North Philadelphia Aztecs, an after-school sports program that is one of the most well-known and respected community groups in the area. The teams use the park for practice.

The Irving boys, 11-year-old Steve and 9-year-old Samir, are balancing on Rip-Stiks, those newfangled two-wheel skateboards, circling the room like stir-crazy goldfish. Fisher’s son, 14-year-old Joseph, watches as the brothers mess around, crashing and laughing.

Even though all three boys come here to play sports, it’s just not the same park that Joann Taylor, Leroy’s mom and Joseph’s grandmother, remembers.

Taylor, an attractive woman who looks much younger than her 68 years, smiles as she recalls family reunions in the park in the 1960s. She talks of bright afternoons full of ice tubs stocked with cold lemonade, and of volleyball, baseball and swimming—Hunting Park boasts a giant public pool, built on a spot that used to be a miniature man-made lake, complete with a little bridge. 

“We had to have the park because we couldn’t afford to rent halls and stuff, families being so large. The park was one of the best places to go,” she says. Taylor, who used to travel from 25th and Dauphin to use the park, liked the area so much she moved into the neighborhood in 1970, when Leroy was 1 month old.

“It was nice. You could come out in the summertime in the evening and walk through,” she says. She brought Leroy to the park as a baby and young boy. Then everything changed and the park wasn’t a place for honest, decent people anymore. Taylor, Fisher and Irving recall that the ruination felt sudden, practically overnight.

“Without question,” says Fisher, “1984 and ’85 was when it took place.”

Fisher, an upbeat guy whose bearlike physique backs up his professed love for football, speaks cautiously and sometimes euphemistically when talking about problems he’s seen in the park. He shakes his head as he describes what happened to the park and neighborhood once crack hit the streets and infested its corners. 

Like everywhere else it arrived, crack was instant karma. In this neighborhood, the bad company it brought with it gravitated toward the edges of the park.

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Comments 1 - 24 of 24
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1. Rice&Peas said... on Jan 6, 2010 at 01:24AM

“I am glad to see that the work of caring neighbors has led to the improvement of the neighborhood. I hope it continues.

Shout out to the "Big Man" Ryan Howard for donating some money to the area.”

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2. Anonymous said... on Jan 6, 2010 at 08:12AM

“I am really glad to see a positive story about Philadelphia, especially about Hunting Park. I moved out of the city for a couple of years with plans to move back, but all of the murder laced headlines are making me question that decision. Philadelphia has it's problems for sure, but it's also full of people who care to make a difference. When the media highlights these positive stories, it's inspiring to everyone. Let's see more of this and start a chain reaction of inspiration and change!”

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3. Anonymous said... on Jan 6, 2010 at 08:58AM

“Great story and so well written. I am inspired! Thank you and good luck to these amazing people, their projects and their park.”

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4. Travis said... on Jan 6, 2010 at 09:59AM

“Excellencent cover story. I'm happy to see that the neighborhood is finally getting a renovation. I often go there for summer cookouts. To bad that the exposure to the park came with bloodshed of an off-duty cop. It should be have to be that way. Folks should always show interest in their local park or rec center, its our green open space.”

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5. Ed said... on Jan 6, 2010 at 10:20AM

“I have known Fisher a long time and the guy loves his Aztecs. The park & the kids are his life its good to see that other people are working with him & everyone in his organzation to improve the park and neighborhood. We need more people like this so that people can feel safe and enjoy life & and have fun doing it”

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6. Thrill said... on Jan 6, 2010 at 10:38AM

“Tara Murtha,

Another well-done piece. Well researched and executed. You really captured it. Kudos.”

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7. Georgette said... on Jan 6, 2010 at 11:06AM

When the kids in this program looks for a hero, they don't see one or two but they see many hard working MEN, doing what is needed to get the job done. They keep these young people focus on being apart of a team, not just thinking how to do things solo. Real men help develop the minds of young men, giving them choices for change, and the Aztecs are hitting the mark everytime. The park and the kids and their instructors are family, and what a wonderful family you have become in the Logan Community, keep up the good work. As a man or boy thinkth, so is he. Continue to build up the character that is within each and everyone of these kids.”

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8. Anonymous said... on Jan 6, 2010 at 11:07AM

“State Rep Tony Payton and his staff deserve a good amount of the credit for the efforts that have been taken to secure the park (by way of increase lighting and real-time camera surveillance) for increased utilization by the law-abiding citizens who so desire.”

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9. PJ said... on Jan 6, 2010 at 12:38PM

“Great cover story~! As someone who taught summer enrichment programs in the nearby Logan Community, I can attest to the positive change that's happening!”

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10. Jorge Santana, Hunting Park United said... on Jan 6, 2010 at 01:42PM

“This is a great story for Hunting Park. Its good to see that the community's hard work is starting to pay off---but there is no time to rest on laurels here. In 2010, Hunting Park United---the park's community based stewardship group---will be setting up a community garden, fixing up baseball fields, and elevating site lines for security improvement. I ask anyone interested in the revitalization of Hunting Park to get in touch with us at

Dear Anonymous: thanks for recognizing the hard work Tony Payton's office has put into Hunting Park. I did find it strange we weren't mentioned at all, but the most important thing is that the community is being recognized.”

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11. Lisa Mendez said... on Jan 6, 2010 at 04:17PM

“I'm glad to here that something good is happening to this park. My grandmother still lives across the street. I remember spending summers with my brother and cousins playing in the park and taking walks with my grandparents. We were always dodging broken glass, trash, and used condoms. It was pretty disgusting. My grandfather would carry a large branch with us in case anyone would try to bother us. Hopefully the people surrounding Hunting Park will keep it in good condition once it's revitalized.”

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12. J Berry said... on Jan 6, 2010 at 05:32PM

“glad to see the Aztec & Hunting Park communities cinderella's story come to a full circle”

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13. A Perez said... on Jan 7, 2010 at 08:53AM

“As I resident of Hunting Park, it's great to see a positive story. Thanks to the author and to the many block captains, residents, community organizations, churches, Payton and Quinones-Sanchez. We're working toward a transformed community!”

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14. Upawayjoy said... on Jan 7, 2010 at 09:34AM

“As a frequent visitor to my daughter, A Perez (above) I can attest to the good that is happening in this neighborhood. She and her husband and several other young professional couples have committed themselves to living in the neighborhood and raising their families there. They have been active in the community church at 6th and Cayuga where they work alongside others in the neighborhood to improve the lives of others. Good story...”

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15. brent fisher (leroy fisher's nephew) said... on Jan 7, 2010 at 07:06PM

“brilliant piece, and I am proud of the community for believing in the restoration of such a historic place. This park is where I play football for the first time . It's a similar story for 1000's of othe children that got there football start with the north philly aztecs. I am proud to have been apart of that organization and even more proud of my uncle leroy fsher "chuck" he's the guy in the picture above just in case you didn't know......”

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16. Anonymous said... on Jan 7, 2010 at 08:44PM

“The comments are almost as interesting as the article itself.”

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17. Peace said... on Jan 8, 2010 at 03:12PM

“The story itself is very interesting,with the exception of factual data. There is a lot to be told about hunting park community and the Park. There are a lot of great Leaders in the Hunting Park Neighborhood that should have been aware of the interview. This community have been organized with strong leaders such as Committee People, Block Captains, Volunteers, State Represenatives, Ward Leader, and our Council Persons forover 30 years. Until we learn to respect one another and unite and focus on the same vision together we will continue to release these type of articles and recieve a bandaid approach to a wound situation. Just a little food for thought. United we stand Divided we fall . All leaders need to get together and stand to for one cause the betterment of our community. Peace!!!”

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18. the filly flash said... on Jan 8, 2010 at 08:13PM

“So what they re-do the park? How about re-doing the trash dump, OOPS, I mean the neighborhood around it? I would say a fleet of bull dozers and back hoes should do the job. What a joke. They fix it up and how long will it be until the scumbags that live near there tear it all up again? WHAT A WASTE OF MONEY! State Rep Tony Payton should be ashamed to waste yet MORE money! As for these "strong leaders" and all the praise for the "block captains", GET REAL. When they roll to their little meetings, their sons are selling drugs on their corners. What a repulsive story and an even more repulsive WASTE of money! Leave the ghettos be ghettos because we all know that until all the waste that lives there is removed, it's still gonna be ghetto. Prime example: Nolibs. Someone came in there, moved out the scumbags that lived there and wahlah look how nice it is now! Bottom line: Leave the park as it is, and clean house in that neighborhood!”

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19. Ryan K. said... on Jan 9, 2010 at 02:22PM

“"Filly Flash," you are cordially invited to coffee, lunch, or dinner at your earliest convenience here in Hunting Park. Call any time: 215-668-9555”

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20. lalaw9833 said... on Jan 9, 2010 at 09:55PM

“Leave it to a ham 'n egger like filly flash to spill negative on the efforts of restoration and revitalization of this historic park. It's the anomynous voice of negativity from people such as filly flash and others like him who take issue with anything positive that happens in neighborhoods like Hunting Park and many others around the city. I would suggest to flash that if you are so sketical of the plans for Hunting Park, and of the progress being made to raise up this community, there is nothing stopping you from extending a hand to help make a positive change. Bottom line, if you don't have anythng nice to say, don't say anything at all.”

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21. gina said... on Jan 11, 2010 at 09:55AM

“Its a wonderful thing that you are doing in the community. Its well needed and our children deserve it. Keep up the good work I always knew that u would grow up to be somebody special. May God continue to bless u and your family.”

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22. Tif said... on Jan 14, 2010 at 03:34PM

“good to see the old neighborhood in a positive light. I wish I could get my hands on a hard copy of this article. The front page pic alone was inspirational”

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23. Anonymous said... on Jun 5, 2010 at 02:45PM

“This article really is great- I overlooked the posted date and thought it said Jun not Jan, but this is still relevant now. Even though many are working to improve hunting park, many things still need to be done and covered. I am a student at Temple University and I am working on stories from this neighborhood for one of my classes. If anyone lives there or knows someone who lives there, who wouldn't mind speaking to me, I appreciate it greatly if you could let me know. My email address is

Thank you”

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24. Ms Karen Douglass said... on Jun 4, 2011 at 04:43PM

“This article is really for Philly, in the past I would have nothing to do with that area, now that I have returned to philly and after reading this article I would very much like to be a part of this movement of change in my home town.. You've got my vote......”


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