A year of heroism and heartbreak
As 2012 comes to a close, a look back shows that the Northeast had a lot to celebrate and just as much to mourn.
First, the good news.
St. Hubert High School started the year on the hit list, as the Archdiocese of Philadelphia’s Blue Ribbon Commission recommended it for closing. Friends of the school raised $1.3 million in six weeks to save it, and the archdiocese ultimately announced that the school would remain open.
Last week, bulldozers began to make improvements at Benjamin Rush State Park at Roosevelt Boulevard and Southampton Road. Plans to develop Rush, the city’s only state park, had been put off for decades. Hiking and biking trails will be among the park’s new features when the project is done in 2013.
The former Liddonfiled Homes public housing project could soon be redeveloped into a new Holy Family University campus. The site’s owner, the Philadelphia Housing Authority, has approved a sale to a developer, but the transaction awaits federal approval. Plans call for an assisted-living facility, athletic fields and a block of retail shops to be built.
Fox Chase Cancer Center became stronger with its new affiliation with the Temple University Health System. Next-door neighbor Jeanes Hospital has been part of Temple since 1996.
Monsignor Nelson J. Perez, pastor of St. William Catholic Church from 2002-09, received a big promotion. Pope Benedict XVI named him auxiliary bishop of the diocese of Rockville Centre in New York.
Tacony activist Louis M. Iatarola in October received the Historical Society of Pennsylvania’s Volunteer of the Year award at the Union League.
PennDOT announed in June that it would spend $212.3 million to redo a 1.4-mile section of Interstate 95 between Bleigh Avenue and Levick Street. The work is expected to continue through summer 2017.
Now, some not-so-good news.
The police and fire departments both experienced painful days.
In April, fire Lt. Robert Neary, of Somerton, and Firefighter Daniel Sweeney, of Fox Chase, died when the roof collapsed at a Kensington furniture store. They were investigating the store after a blaze at an abandoned warehouse next door.
In July, Police Officer Brian Lorenzo, of Somerton, was killed as he rode his motorcycle home from work. A drunken driver heading south in the northbound lanes of I-95 struck Lorenzo head-on.
The Roman Catholic clergy scandal made national headlines. In late June, after a three-month trial, Monsignor William Lynn became the first member of the church’s American hierarchy to be convicted in a child molestation case. Lynn, who is imprisoned, is appealing his conviction on child endangerment charges. A jury convicted Lynn of allowing Edward Avery, a priest he knew to be a child molester, to remain in ministry. Lynn was held responsible for crimes Avery committed in the late 1990s in Holme Circle’s St. Jerome parish. Avery, who was due to be tried with Lynn, pleaded guilty before the trial began in March.
A deadly 2011 explosion returned to the headlines in November, when Philadelphia Gas Works agreed to pay a $500,000 penalty to settle a 334-count state complaint stemming from the gas main blast on the 6900 block of Torresdale Ave. in Tacony. PGW employee Mark Keeley, 19, of Fox Chase was killed. Four other utility workers and a fireman were injured. The state’s Public Utilities Commission had accused the Gas Works of violating state and federal regulations in its response to the gas leak that preceded the explosion.
The Northeast received a big jolt last week when Teva, an Israel-based drug maker, announced that it had ceased development plans for a drug distribution center at the former Island Green golf course. The Budd Co. had once built railroad cars on the 1 Red Lion Road site that Teva purchased in 2011 for $40.5 million. The property’s future is undetermined.
Also in November, the Hostess bakery on Blue Grass Road that employed 300 workers closed its doors. The Texas-based company, best known for making Twinkies, went out of business after multiple bankruptcies and a dispute with unionized workers.
In late October, Philly got off relatively easy as Superstorm Sandy raged up the East Coast. There was plenty of wind and water damage, and days of power outages in the city. The Jersey shore and New York were hit hardest.
Crime continued to plague the Northeast.
In January two men burst into the Jin House, a Chinese food restaurant at Tulip Street and Longshore Avenue in Tacony, and shot owner Xiang Huang to death during a botched robbery. The 27-year-old immigrant left behind a wife and three children. The killers remain at large.
On Valentine’s Day, Tyrirk Harris, 27, allegedly shot and killed his Tacony neighbor, Franklin Manuel Santana, 47, after Santana complained that Harris had allowed his dog to defecate in Santana’s front yard. Harris is scheduled for a January murder trial.
One of the most bizarre cases was that of the tire-slasher in the Holmesburg/Mayfair area. Residents were outraged, none more so than David Toledo. Later, Toledo was charged in the crime.
We also said goodbye to several well-known local people.
Arlen Specter, who moved from Kansas to 1213 Stirling St. in Oxford Circle as a young man and went on to become Philadelphia’s district attorney for two terms and Pennsylvania’s U.S. senator for 30 years, died in October.
Cardinal Anthony Bevilacqua died on Jan. 31. He had been archbishop of Philadelphia from 1988 to 2003.
In March, former Pennsylvania Supreme Court Justice Frank J. Montemuro passed away at 86. He lived for many years in Bustleton.
Ed Comly, of Bustleton, died in April at 87. The World War II veteran became an advocate for other vets. He was among the chief proponents of the opening of the Delaware Valley Veterans Nursing Home, at Southampton Road and Roosevelt Boulevard.
The Dungan Civic Association lost its president when Wanda Exline died in March at 84. Rosemary Montagno, original board member and longtime chairwoman of the Franklin Mills Advisory Council, died in November.
Ed Kelly of Rhawnhurst died in August at 86. He was a former president of the Greater Northeast Philadelphia Chamber of Commerce and co-founder of the popular Pennypack Park Music Festival. He was inducted posthumously into the Northeast Philadelphia Hall of Fame in October in a stellar class that also included astronaut Chris Ferguson; the Rev. Leon Sullivan, the civil rights activist; solar power pioneer Frank Shuman, and seven churches 200 or more years old.
While St. Hubert remained open, the archdiocese closed three local elementary schools — St. William in Lawndale, Our Lady of Ransom in Castor Gardens and Our Lady of Consolation in Tacony.
The once-popular Rilling’s Bakery, on Southampton Road, made its final pound cake with butter cream icing in February. The bakery was open for 76 years at various locations.
Politically, a consultant released a report on Traffic Court in November that revealed that court employees and relatives were found not guilty in 85 percent of cases from 2009-11. The figure for the overall public was 26 percent. The report said the offices of U.S. Rep. Bob Brady, state Sen. Mike Stack and City Councilwoman Jannie Blackwell sought “special consideration” most often. The The FBI is investigating the court.
Ed Neilson won a special election and later a full two-year term to replace Dennis O’Brien in the 169th Legislative District. O’Brien, a former House speaker, joined City Council in January.
Another former House speaker, John Perzel, reported to prison after being sentenced to two and a half to five years in prison on corruption charges.
Gov. Tom Corbett, a former state attorney general who led the probe of Perzel, named a Lawndale lawyer, Fran Shields, to a seat on Municipal Court.
The Times had an eventful 2012. In May, editor John Scanlon retired after 25 years. Lillian Swanson, a seasoned editor at The Inquirer and other metro dailies, succeeded him. The paper published a Sunday edition from April through August. In November, a suspicious fire severely damaged the newspaper’s office in Trevose.
Looking ahead, 2013 promises to be a year of surprises.
Will the state finally implement the voter identification law? Will new state legislative districts ever be approved? And will the community prevail in fights to prevent two methadone clinics from opening on Frankford Avenue and State Road?
Stay tuned. ••
Reporter Tom Waring can be reached at 215-354-3034 or email@example.com