flowers in the dumpster

Garden in the Dumpster!
A signed agreement with the owner did not protect these gardeners once the property had been sold

child watering
Photo archive:
from rubble to oasis, 1994-1999

On June 19, 2002, a front end loader began the destruction of the raised bed at the center of the award-winning 2100 Fitzwater Street Garden. According to garden volunteers the owner of the middle of three parcels, architect Stuart Rosenberg, sold the property to developers Richard Brown and Joseph Byrnes of Oxford Real Estate (1500 Locust Street) without informing the gardeners, a violation of his signed agreement with them.

The eight-year-old garden, a labor of love for organizer Kathleen Garvin and dozens of volunteers, has been instrumental in pulling together the block and improving the community. Despite the frantic efforts of Garvin and her neighbors to negotiate a delay and efforts of other community stakeholders to mediate, the construction crews arrived without warning just hours before a community meeting -- prompting efforts to save the uprooted plants by neighbors and representatives of the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society's Philadelphia Green. The sudden assault on the garden ran contrary to assurances given by the buyer's attorney that no demolition would begin until after the gardeners had held their meeting.

The center of this garden is now occupied with a house that, we understand, has plagued its new owner with repeated construction deficiencies. The remaining lots are covered with the aftermath of careless construction workers. For updates, see the end of this page, using the link immediately below.

Fast Facts | Pictures | What You Can Do | Updates

Fast facts about the garden
According to the garden volunteers

Parcels: 2120, 2122, 2124 Fitzwater Street
Garden Coordinator: Kathy Garvin
Year established: 1994
Philadelphia Green City Gardens Award: 2000

Investment: dozens of volunteers, thousands of dollars in grant money, thousands of man-hours

Oldest gardener: Mrs. Lillie Dickerson, 100

Former owner of 2122 parcel: Stuart Rosenberg, architect, who had been a block captain when he lived on the block and then sold the plot without notifying gardeners, according to neighbors.

Buyers: Richard Brown and Joseph Byrnes, Oxford Consulting LLC, 1500 Locust Street. They gave the gardeners less than a week to find financing to purchase the plot before attempting to level the raised bed in the center of the garden.

Attorney for Buyers: Richard C. DeMarco, Fineman & Bach, P.C.

The garden, fall 2001: click for enlargement

2122 Fitzwater street - click for more info
The garden, January 2003: now reduced to two forlorn lots separated by an ugly new house

Pictures from June 19 Demolition

front end loaderFront-end loader takes a big bite out of the center raised bed.

[Click here for a view of the raised bed before demolition]

Dump those flowers!With advance warning, gardeners could have removed plants like this one carefully, with rootballs intact. Instead, the bare-rooted plants had to be salvaged from the dumpster. Here, crews loaned by a sympathetic landscaping contractor from the 2000 block of Fitzwater await the signal to sift through the rubble in the dumpster.

"Get away from that. These plants don't belong to you any more," the front-end loader operator told Garvin, taking the shovel out of her hands when she tried to dig up this prized shrub to save it. "I really loved that plant. I bought it as an orphan plant at a nursery," Garvin explained. "It was the last one, and it didn't have a tag. I've never been able to identify it." Now it's gone, one of the many plants taken away by Philadelphia Green for relocation in other gardeners.

bobcatTopsoil and granite blocks being dumped on young dogwood. Similar dumping also obliterated a prize rosebush.

"I asked them to save the granite blocks from the raised bed," Garvin explained. I guess all plants look like weeds to them, so they just dumped willy-nilly."

Blythe and GarvinGarden Organizer Kathy Garvin, right, and Lisa Blythe work the phones trying to stop the destruction of the garden.

"I can't believe Stu did this to us," said Blythe. He was our neighbor. He lived on this block. There were block planning meetings in his house. We trusted him to work with us." Some of the gardeners feel a deep sense of personal betrayal at not having been offered the opportunity to buy the lot.

Adds Garvin, "We thought we did everything right." Like many community gardeners, she was unaware that unless such an agreement is recorded on the deed, the sale of the property will leave gardeners vulnerable.

Mrs. DickersonOldest gardener Lillian Dickerson, who celebrated her 100th birthday last Saturday, June 15. Offered large sums for her home by a developer, she says she has no plans to leave -- she's been here, after all, since 1910.

"I have really enjoyed working in the garden," says Dickerson, "and I have a lot of respect for Kathy and what she has done. I hope we can keep the garden."

triageGardeners checking plants pulled from the dumpster. The plants have been placed in plastic bags and their roots watered. Garvin and her associates donated the plants to other community gardens in the hope that they will not meet the same fate in their new locations.

Real BlightMeanwhile, houses on the block stand vacant and boarded up. It makes no sense to destroy the focal point of the block while genuine blight still continues.

"How come they got to tear down this garden when they got those bummy old houses right across the street?" asked some of the children when they saw the garden being torn up.

Green spaces such as the 2100 Fitzwater Street Garden have the potential to transform neighborhoods without additional investments of public funds. Ironically, it is probably the efforts of the gardeners of Fitzwater Street that played a key role in the real estate boom the heralds this garden's possible demise.

neighborsGarden in the dumpster. Neighbors and community gardeners from the area stand in disbelief.

"I bought on the next street, just behind the garden, just because of the garden," said one dumfounded neighbor. "It never occurred to me that something like this could happen." His back deck can be seen in the "before" picture.

The gardeners had hoped that one solution might be to acquire one of the parcels on either side and arrange an exchange with the new owner, keeping a two-parcel garden. Others see this as just one stage in a plan to acquire all three.

"You don't have to be a rocket scientist to figure this out," said one. "Bulldoze the middle and it will be much easier to get the other two parcels. With three parcels to develop, it becomes a much more attractive project." And a much less attractive block.

What You Can Do

Gardeners are determined people, and it may be possible to save this garden if enough people act now. Here are some of the things you can do.

  • Attend the garden meeting (June 19, 2002, 7:00 p.m., at the garden).
  • Help the gardeners form a plan to safeguard the plants and garden structures on the remaining two lots.
  • Write, call or fax City Council representative Anna C. Verna, whose district this is, and Mayor John F. Street, who's pushing a Neighborhood Transformation Initiative. Tell her you support efforts to preserve part or all of this garden and other key gardens in the 30th Ward in order to keep some greenspace in our neighborhood. We have NO PARKS AT ALL and rely on these volunteer-maintained oases to soften the urban landscape.
  • Work to make it socially and economically unacceptable to buy houses built on land ripped away from the gardeners who made the block so attractive. If you're buying or selling in this neighborhood, think about whether you want to do business with folks who act like this. (That's architect Stuart Rosenberg and Richard Brown and Joseph Byrnes of Oxford Realty, in case you've forgotten the names.)


  • The Hon. John F. Street, Mayor, City Hall, Room 215, Philadelphia PA 19107. Fax 215-686-2180
  • Mrs. Anna C. Verna, City Council President, City Hall, Room 405, Philadelphia, PA 19107-3290 (215) 686-3412, (215) 686-3413 FAX: (215) 686-1932

Kathy Garvin and the gardeners wish to extend a special thank you to Congressman Brady's office, especially Stan White, Chief of Staff, for their prompt efforts in negotiating a brief delay during the week of June 10 while the gardeners sought to secure the necessary increased funding to purchase the parcel. They also wish to thank Michael LoFuorno and his staff from Composite, Inc., Landscape Architecture, for their support and assistance through the ordeal on June 19


young announcers
6/20-Young resident "interviews" during meeting with FOX-TV reporter's microphone

June 20, 2002: Despite a torrential downpour, about twenty people attended the meeting the evening of June 19. Present were gardeners, neighbors, Terry Mushovic, executive director of the Neighborhood Gardening Association/Philadelphia Land Trust, and 30th Ward Leader Terry Gillen. Various options were explored, and attendees were urged to contact Anna Verna's office, preferably with minimal negativity. Because this represents neighborhood transformation of a peculiarly repellent kind, Garvin suggest that you also contact Mayor John F. Street and let him know what you think of an administration that allows the transformation of a neighborhood amenity into an opportunity for private profit.

young gardeners
6/20--When gardeners went in to retrieve additional uprooted plants placed on the adjacent lot, the children scampered in behind them and grabbed shovels, as they'd always done. It has been difficult to get them to understand the change in situation.

June 21, 2002: Read this report in today's Philadelphia Inquirer. Note that the developer received the building permit June 6 and made his first attempt at demolition June 14 -- giving the gardeners and their supporters virtually no time to arrange to purchase the property. According to Garvin, the interval between learning of the purchase and attempted demolition was only six working days -- just four days after she had told them her buyer was trying to arrange financing. "Now I wish I'd ignored the advice I got and gone ahead with that restraining order," she added.

On a more hopeful note, the story reported that, according to City Council President Anna C. Verna's office manager, Maryanne Mahoney, Verna would be receptive to engineering a swap so that the developer could have 2124 and the gardeners 2120 and 2122. It also reports, however, that DeMarco says Oxford has received no such offer and that plans are to build "a beautiful house" on 2122.

July 15, 2002: I can't decide whether the South Philly Review is adding insult to injury, or injury to insult. Their remarkably belittling piece in the June 27 issue is illustrated on the web using my photos. Did they ask me? Did they give me photo credit? (No, and no.) Did they tell me it didn't matter because the issue would go offline the next day? (Yes.) Did they edit out my comment about their photo poaching when they printed my letter to the editor? (You bet!) Are my photos still online, along with the story? (They finally came down some time the week of July 22, along with the story.) They printed my letter (edited) and Terry Gillen's (probably also edited).

South Philly Review doesn't plan to print Kathy Garvin's response. According to editor Sandra Pilla, it arrived too late.

Also in the news: Denise Cowie did a lengthy, and thoughtful, feature on the fate of commnity gardens in the July 12 Philadelphia Inquirer.

The gardeners have obtained Legal Counsel, Alexander Z. Talmadge, Attorney at Law, working pro bono for the community. On July 8, 2002, Talmadge filed a complaint in the Philadelphia Court of Common Pleas against Stuart and Sandy Rosenberg, sellers of the 2122 Fitzwater property, and Richard Brown, Oxford Consulting, buyer of the property. Rosenberg and Brown violated the Community Garden Agreement dated October 7, 1996, causing irreparable damage to the stonework and horticultural items on the property. Judge Esther Sylvester ordered a two week delay in further demolition of the property by Oxford Consulting. Garvin and Talmadge continue to pursue potential legal action.

January 2003. The beautiful garden is now The House of Bad Karma. With its history, it will be interesting to see what sort of a person would be willing to buy it.

March 2004. One of the two remaining properties is being transferred to the Neighborhood Gardening Association by the City of Philadelphia; the status of the other property is still under negotiation.

Laura Blanchard gardened in a community garden one and a half blocks east and one block south of this one until it too was developed, June 2005.