A train station by any other name would smell less sweet

Posted: August 01, 2014

IF YOU MOVED to Philadelphia during the last, say, 20 years, you speak a different language than the rest of us who are natives and have been here a while. I include myself in the latter group because, sure, I was 6 weeks old when my parents moved back north from Baltimore, but 42 days does not devotion make.

We wax poetic (or "paoh-edd-ig") about East River Drive. We remember that the other side with the great view of Boathouse Row used to be called West River Drive, proving for posterity that Quakers are much better at educating folk than surprising them.

We walk by that building that occupies, imperious, the square block at 13th Street and think "there's Wanamaker's," and wonder when Logan Circle turned into a Square.

We see banking behemoths with names that change as frequently as Hugh Hefner's sheets and think: That dome there belonged to Girard, those pillars to Provident, that arch to Fidelity.

The new Philadelphians, which means anyone who arrived A.R. (After Rizzo), are wonderful, energized and in some cases more devoted to this endearingly disappointing metropolis than those from the original tribal bloodline.

They get annoyed when we complain about rotting, rutted curbs ("there are bike lanes as wide as the Mississippi!"), talk trash about our politicians ("Fumo is redefining comeback, really!"), prefer scrapple to Starr ("you must try the organic, holistic sushi!") and curse Ruben Amaro (actually . . . I have nothing for you there).

But they will look at you sideways if you tell them that 16th and Walnut - smack-dab in the middle of Walnut Row - is not part of Rittenhouse Square. They will say, legitimately, that the "Philadelphia Story" is set on the Main Line so a little paoh-edd-ig license is expected and stop being so parochial. At this point one of us old-timers will ask "Yo, what parish you from?" and the newbie will run away to a nice BYOB in Old City to shake off that annoying native dust.

My point in all of this (yes, there is one) is that no matter how shiny and upscale and certifiably gentrified we become, there is still something valuable in hewing to tradition and leaving some of the things that make Philadelphia, Philadelphia, alone. That includes venerable landmarks like a place I travel through on an almost daily basis: Bill Gray Station.

What, you say, mouth open with the remains of a soft pretzel? Where's that? I mean, did they go and change the Pattison subway stop again? Or have they done to Broad and Olney what they did to Broad and Columbia and erase any geographical significance from the place?

I mean, who was Cecil B. Moore and what did he do with my subway stop? (And hold the emails, I actually do know who Cecil B. Moore was.)

A couple of weeks ago, I heard that they're planning to rename 30th Street Station after longtime, and in some precincts revered, Congressman Bill Gray.

Both of our senators are on board with the plan, which I'm fairly certain is one of the few times Bob Casey Jr. and Pat Toomey see eye to eye on anything. Pity that it has to be on something like this, which is another example of why people who don't get Philadelphia shouldn't leave their fingerprints on Philadelphia.

Much as I love him, Toomey is from the Lehigh Valley by way of Rhode Island, so I don't expect him to get how important "30th Street Station" is to those of us who use it at least weekly, even more. And Casey is from the same city as Kathleen Kane and Joe Biden. Cluelessness, like fluoride, must be endemic to whatever river runs through Scranton.

I was saddened when they renamed East River Drive after the Kelly family, even though they did a lot for the city. I was even more annoyed, and wrote about it, when they made West River Drive a tribute to Martin Luther King Jr., who had even less of a connection to the graceful Schuylkill expanse.

If you were in a particularly ornery mood, you might accuse me of racism because I've managed to diss three legendary black men in one column (along with a blonde princess and her Irish kinfolk.)

But that's beside the point. I'm really tired of seeing pieces of our public patrimony being given over to people as rewards for service that this group or that thinks is important, regardless of what they look like.

You want to honor Bill Gray? Name a courthouse after him, a room in City Hall, a street in his old district. Don't take something that is so profoundly symbolic of our city and its history, a place that has seen soldiers passing through on their way to boot camp and then war, that has seen presidents and priests, movie stars and mothers, athletes in their glory and adolescents on their first adult voyages, and turn it into a memorial to one man.

The fact that he was a good one makes no difference. That station belongs to us all, and we like it just fine the way it is, thank you.


Christine M. Flowers is a lawyer.

Email: cflowers1961@gmail.com

Blog: philly.com/flowers

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