The Dawsons live on what is left of the 4500 block of North Warnock Street. The family has settled its claim with the Logan Assistance Corp. and soon will move. Of a thousand homes condemned 13 years ago, the Dawsons' will be one of the last vacated.
Their rowhouse is one of five on the block still occupied. The rest are derelicts. Their owners have gone, with or without compensation, some in such a hurry that they left prized possessions behind.
Tours and news conferences have picked up again in Logan, infamous for its sinking-homes crisis.
Politicians walk along the blighted streets, promising frustrated residents more attention and calling for increased financial assistance.
City officials have gone through, too, looking at the many vacant lots and properties to determine which should be dealt with most immediately.
Marva Dawson and others in Logan say they cannot help but think the increased interest in their plight stems from their outrage about the city's response to the most recent sinking-homes crisis.
In June, the city announced that 25 rowhouses in the Wissinoming section in Northeast Philadelphia built on top of a streambed were about to fall down. After initially denying city liability, the Rendell administration eventually conceded that a Water Department excavation might have undermined the houses.
The city ordered the houses demolished and agreed to compensate the owners for the buildings and moving expenses.
Officials began offering compensation within three weeks.
At a news conference in Logan two weeks ago, City Councilwoman Marian B. Tasco said there was reason to think that the problem of sinking homes had spread beyond the ``Logan Triangle,'' the original zone designated for assistance.
That zone is northwest of Roosevelt Boulevard bounded by 11th, Loudon and Marshall Streets.
Tasco called on Rendell to commission a study of whether the zone should be expanded by more than 20 square blocks, roughly doubling its size. The mayor has since asked U.S. Rep. Robert Borski (D., Phila.) and the Army Corps of Engineers to gauge whether other houses outside the zone may be in jeopardy.
Friday, Tasco sent memos to the heads of eight city departments, calling for a coordinated effort on behalf of Logan.
``We've been calling on city officials on an as-needed basis over the years, and they've done that,'' she said. ``But there has to be a consistent way of handling this.''
Since 1987, the Logan Assistance Corp. has spent $33 million to relocate more than 500 families from the triangle. Nearly 200 properties still must be demolished, 67 of which are legally occupied.
Forty-one families were living in those homes before 1986, which means those families are eligible for relocation. The 26 other families are ineligible for assistance because they either bought their properties, or became renters, after that year.
But Tasco and John Thomas, president of the corporation's board of directors, said their goal was to secure whatever state or federal money is necessary to relocate all of the families by Dec. 24.
``Our goal is to reassure this community that it is not a forgotten community,'' Thomas said. ``We want to stabilize the community.''
The Logan crisis began on Valentine's Day 1986, when a gas explosion caused by a leaking main damaged four houses on the 4600 block of North 10th Street.
Engineers determined that the houses, built between 1910 and 1920, sat atop a branch of the Wingohocking Creek that had been inadequately filled. Soon after being built, the houses settled, causing sewer lines to crack and exposing the houses' foundations to the eroding effects of moisture. That caused further settlement - a phenomenon known as subsidence.
Engineers deemed 970 houses unstable. The administration of Mayor W. Wilson Goode created the corporation to pool state and federal money to compensate and relocate the homeowners.
Marva Dawson is anxious to move.
She says her family has been packed and ready for months. They have a place picked out in East Oak Lane.
But even as she prepares to leave, she worries for those in the proposed expansion area now that officials are talking about possibly finding money to help fix up their homes, too.
Recalling statements by officials on recent tours, she said: ``They were giving such optimistic answers that I nearly threw up.''
Dawson says most of the people who moved from her block did not do so because their houses were settling. Indeed, Lindsey Dawson says he did not notice any settling in his house until the kitchen floor began to sag last year.
Their home was originally classified, in 1986, as ``slightly dangerous.''
It was panic that caused people to leave, Marva Dawson said, and then in recent years and months the dangerous conditions brought on by neglect.
The block, she said, bears no resemblance to that which she and her husband moved to from Seltzer Street in North Philadelphia in 1971. The couple, married for 35 years, paid $12,500 for the rowhouse.
Dawson said that back then, her relatives were moving to East Oak Lane and Mount Airy. Warnock Street was close to a park and a nice shopping area on 11th Street and offered easy access to anywhere in the city.
Now, some houses on the block have no windows or doors. Scavengers took the items. They also have taken piping, aluminum siding and fences. Landscapers have even come to take the trees and flowers from gardens.
In their place are mounds of trash illegally dumped, and squatters, addicts, prostitutes and violent crime.
``Those of us who cared, we used to paint up the abandoned houses, to try to keep it up,'' she said as her husband picked up trash from the sidewalk and along the street. ``I don't sleep well because I'm always listening for sounds. You hear gunshots; you hear people walking across the roof.''
To show how bad things have become, Dawson interrupted her birthday lunch Tuesday to walk down the block with a reporter.
``I don't mind spending my birthday telling the tale of Logan because I don't want to see the rest of Logan end up like we did.''
She especially wanted to show 4542 Warnock St., the house of a woman whose children, worried for her safety, one day came and took her away.
She did not need a key. The front door was wide open. The porch window looked like somebody had taken a big bite out of it. Step carefully. Something sharp could be underneath the trash strewn across the floor.
``They took out what they could,'' she said, standing in the middle of the living room.
``But as you can see, it's like someone left in a hurry. This is like all pieces of her life. It's so sad. This is what happened to a lot of people.''
She lifts a picture frame from the floor.
Dawson shakes dust off the frame. ``This is her grandson,'' she said. ``He looks like he was about 9 then. Now, he is about 23 and has a son of his own.''
As she heads back to the street, she stops on the porch, points to Christmas lights and some crocheted flowers on the floor, then peers through the gaping window hole and thinks of fond memories and sad realities.
Walking north, she said the fronts of the houses looked good compared to the rears, which she said look like ``carcasses.''
Each of the houses on Warnock Street has a garage accessible from an alley that extends the length of the block.
Dawson said she had not used her driveway since January and not regularly since the fall. There was so much garbage in the alley that no vehicle could pass. At one end, for example, sat 40 church pews and nearly twice as many used tires.
Later that afternoon, as the Dawsons sit on the steps in front of their house, a man in his 20s walks by. He stops, politely says hello, and asks whether there are plans to tear down the houses. He says he has been sleeping in one down the street.
Lindsey Dawson sends the man on his way.
Sleeping is not all the man has been doing, the Dawsons said.
They point to the work gloves he was wearing.
``That's his job, to go into the houses to see what he can get,'' Lindsey Dawson says.
``At least he is one of the decent ones,'' his wife adds. ``This is what we have to deal with.''