Two sides to naming a Philadelphia landmark

Posted: February 12, 2012

Looking for proof that there is no such thing as a coincidence? Take the intersecting lives of Georgie Woods and the Hoods of East Falls.

Woods, legendary Philadelphia radio personality and activist, went to the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s March on Washington. So did the Hoods, who are Quakers and have been active in social-justice causes for . . . centuries. Woods pushed for the desegregation of Girard College. So did the Hoods.

Now, their paths are crossing again. Councilman Curtis Jones Jr. has proposed renaming the Robin Hood Dell East amphitheater to honor Woods. Jones said the idea occurred to him when he was talking to a group of young people in front of a mural of Woods and not one knew who he was.

"Clearly there is a compelling argument for Georgie Woods," Jones said. "When they tried to bar Martin Luther King from coming to Philadelphia, it was Woods who fought to get him here."

When Jones introduced the idea, he did not know how the Robin Hood Dell East got its name. Heard in the Hall explained last week that it was named for the Robin Hood Tavern, owned by the Hood family. The tavern once stood nearby, and the theater sits in a dell named for it. The "East" was added to distinguish it from the Mann Theater, first known as Robin Hood Dell West.

Valerie Keppley-Hood read the story and realized that a piece of her family's history could be lost if the city renamed the site.

"Robin Hood Dell was donated by our ancestors to the City of Philadelphia and is a meaningful part of our family history," Keppley-Hood wrote in an e-mail to Jones. She recounted how the Hood family had let revolutionaries cross the ford on their property, viewed by their Quaker meeting as a break from their pacifist vows. "The Hood family has remained in this city since the days of William Penn, and we are a quiet, but active family of Quakers who have been involved in the struggle for social justice for hundreds of years."

Her 12-year-old son, Ryan, in particular, wanted his family's name preserved. Keppley-Hood sees this as an opportunity to help Ryan learn about civics and government, and hopes to find a solution that maintains the family's name but also honors Woods

"We have discussed this as a family, and we are willing to meet to discuss a way to preserve our family name at the Robin Hood Dell as well as pay tribute to a fellow social activist," she told Jones.

Jones says he's ready to talk. The Hood family is not the only party to raise concerns; the Parks and Recreation Department asked Jones to keep in mind that naming rights could be sold for revenue.

"I think there is room for compromise," Jones said. The situation even reminded him of Woods, who, when introducing some of his favorite products, such as Coca-Cola, liked to say: "This is so nice, they named it twice." - Miriam Hill