Community Comes Out For Rejuvenation Fundraiser

By Eldon Graham

SWEETBRIAR ROSE serenaded festival-goers with their music all morning and afternoon. Photo by Eldon Graham

SWEETBRIAR ROSE serenaded festival-goers with their music all morning and afternoon. Photo by Eldon Graham

On a usually warm sunny October Sunday morning, a community came together to return green to Bainbridge Street.

Oct. 16 was the inaugural Bainbridge Green Brunch Festival, which organizers hope will become an annual fundraiser to raise money and bring awareness and support to Bainbridge Green, the two-block stretch of Bainbridge Street between 3rd and 5th Streets.

Children frolicked joyfully along both blocks, turning the whole street into their playground.

The festival attendees formed a sea of green – whether on behalf of the Friends of Bainbridge Green or in support of the Philadelphia Eagles, it was difficult to say, but the overall effect lent a surprisingly verdant feel to the early fall day.

The organizations spearheading the festival were a combination of Friends of Bainbridge Green, South Street Headhouse District and Queen Village Neighbors Association. All are firmly dedicated to renewing that five-block radius of Bainbridge Street.

L-R: MICHELLE CURTIS, general manager for Whetstone Tavern & Sky Garten; and Jess Vogel, pastry chef at the Little Bird Bakery & Café, were helping serve up deliciousness throughout the festival. Photo by Eldon Graham

L-R: MICHELLE CURTIS, general manager for Whetstone Tavern & Sky Garten; and Jess Vogel, pastry chef at the Little Bird Bakery & Café, were helping serve up deliciousness throughout the festival. Photo by Eldon Graham

The festival was catered by a number of restaurants in the area, each of which brought a signature dish. The restaurants included Ela, Southwark, Whetstone, Hungry Pigeon, The Good King Tavern, South Street Bagels, Kanella, Sabrina’s Café and Plenty Café. Food was ample. Sampling the many delectable foods was an event in itself, from Sabrina’s Café’s stuffed banana French toast and pumpkin French toast to the pumpkin-pie-spiced cinnamon rolls of the Little Bird Bakery & Café. There was also bottomless coffee, available for anyone who attended.

David Markham-Gessner, an associate from the Friends of Bainbridge Green and the festival coordinator, shed some light on what festival is about and what it brings to the area. “We are advocating and working toward expanding this median to add over 20,000 feet of programming space, green space and community space, meeting space, event space for Queen Village and all of the neighboring communities,” he explained.

He also spoke about how much history is entrenched in the area and why that matters to the community. “This was one of the first Jewish settlements in Philadelphia,” he related. “The area has a rich history. This used to be a covered market. Once it had a much larger green space. It was only in the ’70s, I think, when we started prioritizing automobile traffic in the city that we decided to get rid of the larger green median and prioritize that land for parking for cars.”

Markham-Gessner mentioned how the Friends have begun research on the area and assessing what would be beneficial for the community. “Now we’ve kind of come full circle on the ideology; we’re trying to bring back the green space,” he said. “We have a couple of planter’s proposals which have been produced in conjunction with OLIN architects and Stantec engineers, who have done extensive studies on the area and assessing traffic, land use and community use. We have a couple of initial proposals that could potentially increase the green space in this area by over 20,000 square feet without reducing parking in the neighborhood or immediately in the area.”

Environmental aspects play a factor in remodeling the space. “We are working with the Water Department and every city organization to create a sustainable park – not only a park and meeting space that is sustainable in funding itself, but also a fluid-looking, progressive space that looks towards environmental sustainability, as well as social sustainability.”

The sun was out and so were the people of the Bainbridge community in the south Philadelphia. Laughter filled the air while the early sun delivers shade on the peaceful morning. The event was designed for family fun and community enjoyment and that’s what was had. Photo by Eldon Graham.

The sun was out and so were the people of the Bainbridge community in the south Philadelphia. Laughter filled the air while the early sun delivers shade on the peaceful morning. The event was designed for family fun and community enjoyment and that’s what was had. Photo by Eldon Graham

The Brunch Fest aimed not only to raise money, but to give people an idea of how valuable those small pieces of land are, especially in a communal sense. Markham-Gessner said its first mission was “just to bring awareness to the community to show the Bainbridge Green is a place to show to all the neighboring communities and the community members immediately around the green that this is an active networking hub for this area of the city.

“Money from this event will go toward programming on the space in the coming year. We are going to begin applying for and soliciting grants for design documents – at which point we can start soliciting for construction grants,” he continued.

Jonathan Rubin, chair of Friends of Bainbridge Green, spoke about the organization’s goals. “There are two,” Rubin said. “There’s raising money, and there’s raising awareness.”

But what will happen to the parking spaces that now line the median strip? “Once this park is built, we won’t have to remove the cars,” Rubin assured neighbors. “We would be tickled if we made $10-20,000. It is going to go towards putting in planters, more softening of the space and also going for the big grant money.”

Those worried about the noise from construction need not worry, not right away. Rubin says construction is not set to begin for a couple of years.

First will come the design documents– “What kind of pavers are going to be here, what kind of grass is going to be here, all the trees,” Rubin explained.

Stateside Distilling and 13th Street Cocktails created the brunch cocktails. Photo by Eldon Graham.

Stateside Distilling and 13th Street Cocktails created the brunch cocktails. Photo by Eldon Graham

For the 21-and-older crowd, cocktails were served, including custom-made Bloody Marys. Most vendors were from the neighborhood. Plenty Café is the newest residents of the neighborhood as it prepares to open at its newest location at 705-707 S. 5th Street. The VENDORS are what brought a number of people to the festival, people like Alex Daly, a neighborhood resident. “We know a lot of the vendors in the area,” Daly said.

L-R Polina Ferd, Leon Sakkal, Katie Zurbach and Alex Daly are the four individuals who spontaneously attended the BrunchFest on account of the word of mouth. Photo by Eldon Graham.

L-R Polina Ferd, Leon Sakkal, Katie Zurbach and Alex Daly are the four individuals who spontaneously attended the BrunchFest on account of the word of mouth. Photo by Eldon Graham

Michelle Curtis, the general manager for Whetstone Tavern at 5th & Bainbridge AND Sky Garten, says this togetherness is positive thing. “I think it’s great!” said Curtis. “I actually live in the neighborhood myself. I just think bringing more foot traffic down to Bainbridge is very important and key not only for the community but for the businesses that are on Bainbridge.”

It was easy to bring the restaurants together, Curtis said. “We already kind of know each other and were all friends anyway, so it’s a fun day to all hang out, socialize, and support what the restaurant industry is for us.”

Turnout was great. 1st Dist. Councilman Mark Squilla, sporting an Irish Association gray hoodie, showed up in the crowd and wanted to know how he could be of assistance. “I think it’s a great event,” he said. “We have so many people here that are enjoying the great fall morning and [I’m] looking at opportunities to maybe help activate this space to make it a more functional space for the residents and people of Philadelphia.”

COUNCILMAN Mark Squilla, Tony Mannino and Laura Spina were looking for some Bainbridge Street goodness as they enjoyed lovely weather last Sunday. Photo by Eldon Graham

COUNCILMAN Mark Squilla, Tony Mannino and Laura Spina were looking for some Bainbridge Street goodness as they enjoyed lovely weather last Sunday. Photo by Eldon Graham

Councilman Squilla was not the only one excited about the plan. Heather Blakeslee, a resident in the community who also performed for the festival with her band Sweetbriar Rose, was happy to see the first Brunch Fest fly.

Blakeslee has lived in Philadelphia for the past 12 years, but she grew up in Central Pennsylvania in Bloomsburg. “I live here in the neighborhood. I am thrilled so many of my neighbors are dedicated to making it a better place for everyone,” she said.

The vibe of the community coming together for a noble cause. “I am a huge Philadelphia booster in general,” she said, “and I think the more public places we have in Philadelphia where people can gather, the more of a sense of community and civic pride we have. We have to know our neighbors, and we can only do that if there are more public spaces to gather.”

Blakeslee, spoke about playing their music for a festival event, “we love playing at community events, our band is all about creating community within the music community and the neighborhoods that we live in it’s one of our favorite kinds of events to play.” The band is known to lyrically thrive in urban dive bars, festivals, coffee shops, theatres, backyard gardens, and the occasional living room. Playing for a festival crowd is right up their alley.

You can reach Eldon Graham at egraham@phillyrecord.com.

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