Showdown on Hurley Street

Events on what may be the city's worst block provide a stark glimpse into a Philly many Philadelphians never see. One former resident survived to tell the tale.

By Jeff Deeney
Add Comment Add Comment | Comments: 11 | Posted Aug. 22, 2007

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Photographs by Jeff Fusco

Hurley Street--a tiny West Kensington side street between C and D just north of Allegheny, where residents park their cars halfway on the sidewalk--is so narrow you can stand on one side and spit on to the other.

The margin of error on streets this size is razor thin, and drivers here tend not to take much care. A lot of cars on Hurley get clipped, which is why so many are missing side mirrors. There's no reason to drive down Hurley unless you're here to cop a bag of wet, weed or Xanies. But then most of the buyers are locals on foot looking for nickels and dimes.

Hurley Street, say cops who work North Philadelphia, may be the worst block in the city. Most of its 100 or so residents say they'd leave if they could.

Most Hurley Street residents rent the squat two-story brick row homes they live in. The houses are worth about $13,000 each.

You can rent a three-bedroom on Hurley for $500 to $600 a month. Today five properties on the block stand empty with "FOR SALE" signs hanging from their facades. Many have been on the market for months, and some for longer. There are five boarded-up abandoned properties on the block too, one of which is tagged with scrawled black graffiti that reads "SMOKE, SMOKE."

The racial makeup on the 3200 block of Hurley skews black, but there are Latin and white families too. Because people live on top of each other here, their lives spill onto the sidewalk, particularly in summer, when the treeless block heats up like a brick oven.

Few people on Hurley work. Most live on supplemental security income or welfare, or share in some kind of black-market revenue. People hang out 24/7. On Hurley Street, one family's drama is every family's drama. In fact drama may be the only thing on Hurley that's not in short supply.

The most recent Hurley Street drama begins with the arrival of a new family--a young man from North Philadelphia named Ramon, his proud roughneck girl Shawn, their two daughters ages 2 and 5, and Shawn's younger brother Hakeem.

Mental block: A recent fracas left Hurley Street looking like Beirut.

They've come to Hurley because they want to get out from under Shawn's mother.She "irks her life," Shawn says. Ramon doesn't get along with her either.

They've also come to Hurley Street because all they can afford is Hurley Street. The house they're moving into has been vacant so long the landlord is grateful for any rent. Shawn and Ramon know the block is rough, but rough is all they've known. "Ain't nothing here I ain't seen," Shawn says.

Ramon and Shawn are no saints. Ramon has priors for holding weed, having guns without permits, forgery, bad checks and drug dealing. Still, he's soft spoken and good looking with a big, disarming smile, and you want to like and trust him despite his past. He's now working construction for a relative.

Shawn struggles with anger that can flare into blind rage. She's lanky and long-legged, and sucks on the knuckle of her index finger in between blurted hard-to-follow rapid-fire sentences.

Shawn also likes to fight--and she's good at it. She says her mother used her like a trained attack dog on the streets as a kid, siccing her on troublemaking neighborhood women. When you tell her fighting is bad, she smiles slyly. She got fired from the Checkers at Second and Lehigh for fighting on the job, but hopes to start soon at the McDonald's next door to it.

Ramon and Shawn's children are little dollops of smiling sweetness. They like to splash in the kiddie pool Ramon has set up on the small square concrete slab that is their backyard. Shawn has a tattoo of a Hershey's Kiss on her right forearm--a tribute to her daughter. A banner bearing her oldest daughter's name waves from the piece of candy. She thinks her daughter is like a little piece of chocolate delight.

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Comments 1 - 11 of 11
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1. Allegheny Resident said... on Jul 5, 2008 at 10:16AM

“I live around Front & Allegheny and I can let any reader know that the 25th police district although they try very hard to keep the peace... They have the worst district in the city now. From anywhere near K&A (Kensington & Allegheny) all the way to 5th, 6th, 7th, 8th and Allegheny all in between Allegheny and Tioga are danger havens. Every block is the same. Even mine. This is what we live. The city needs to help us...”

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2. Allegheny Resident said... on Jul 5, 2008 at 11:15AM

“I live around Front & Allegheny and I can let any reader know that the 25th police district although they try very hard to keep the peace... They have the worst district in the city now. From anywhere near K&A (Kensington & Allegheny) all the way to 5th, 6th, 7th, 8th and Allegheny all in between Allegheny and Tioga are danger havens. Every block is the same. Even mine. This is what we live. The city needs to help us... ”

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3. otters21 said... on Jan 2, 2009 at 11:38AM

“What a heartbreaking shame.This block and many others around it used to lovely with solid hardworking families living in the neighborhood. Crime was almost unheard of until the early to mid 90s. People took pride of their block and kept it almost spotless. Now its just another victim of the evil cancer known as white flight and the decent manufacturing jobs drying up in the area.”

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4. 3221 said... on Dec 30, 2010 at 12:00PM

“I lived on Hurley Street in the late 60's to mid 70's. It was a great "Philly" street. Hardworking families that cared for their neighbors. My aunt, grandmother and other cousins lived on the same block. Elderly ladies would scrub their stoop every week. It was home and it was a great place to grow up. After reading about Hurley Street, I am disgusted by what has happened to my old neighborhood. What a shame!”

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5. 3222 said... on May 3, 2011 at 01:05PM

“Ahh, nice to see the old block doing so well. I was lucky only to be there a few years after it went into its downward spiral and get out of there in 97. I had so many great memories growing up there, playing stick ball at the end of the block and freedom with all the other kids. Too bad it went down so quickly, but I'm glad to be out of there.”

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6. Steve Lee said... on Dec 7, 2012 at 11:59AM

“This is a shame, brings tears to my eyes! I grew up on 3200 D street, 1969-1985 when I left for the USAF. When I was young, I LIVED on the 3200 block of Hurley street, all day every day. Was a decent neighborhood back then. I could probably name 20 people I grew up with that lived on that block, many I still stay in touch with. Don't know what else to say, people have ruined that block and ruined the neighborhood.”

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7. Anonymous said... on Mar 20, 2013 at 10:18AM

“All these years later, this story still brings chills. I learned the story as it unfolded, wrenching details hour by hour. It is incredibly hard for low income families to find decent and affordable housing in Philadelphia, and it is seldom in a safe and beautiful neighborhood. The comments about the story are a powerful message: it WAS a good neighborhood when there was economic opportunity; poverty is evil: it is not a definition of any person but it is an indictment of the priorities of our government on all levels.”

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8. Former Resident said... on Oct 23, 2013 at 11:11AM

“I remember reading this in 2007 and now again in 2013. I lived on the block from the 60's until the 80's. I never had a key to my front door. It was never locked as we never had any crime to speak of. Typical liberal rant from Anonymous blaming the government. We were just as poor in my time as now. Becoming enslaved to entitlements takes away respect for yourself and for others. Crime follows.”

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9. lamar lewis said... on Aug 1, 2014 at 12:49AM

“Yeah it's me y'all up here saying shit but don't no shit talking about the block this and the block that. Bitches'.pussy I had that block poping every body love me every body so fuck y'all and this haft ass newspaper talking shit but don't no shit .an I'm still out here I'm around get at me”

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10. Chris Schaeffer said... on Mar 18, 2015 at 05:19PM

“i lived on that street for the first 17 yrs of my life. First of all no one's mirror was ever taken off by a driver! That's because the people knew how to drive and they didn't drive on the curb either.
What is there to say? Everyone knows what that neighborhood was like back in the day, I lived at the Rec always something to do, and I can count the times fights broke out! It just didn't happen because we weren't ANIMALS LIKE THESE"PEOPLE" and it's an insult to everyone who ever lived there. They are less than animals I don't know how they live with themselves, oh yes I do really good drugs! I would like to buy the whole block and just set it on fire and start from scratch and these classless animals wouldn't put a foot on that street!”

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11. Jeff said... on Mar 21, 2015 at 04:19PM

“So thats all thats all that happened, a new family moved in???”


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