Looking back: Franklin Redevelopment stalled

Published 10:57 am Friday, August 14, 2015

Aug. 14, 1965

The Berkley redevelopment and public housing project in Franklin has come to a standstill. Before further action can be taken, the federal Public Housing Authority (PHA) in Philadelphia must approve the City’s revised plan; and, now, surprisingly, must respond to school matters.

As it stands, the Franklin Redevelopment and Housing Authority (Authority) has proposed to split the Berkley demolition project into two parts. Public housing will also be divided. Berkley is the neighborhood, with substantial sub-standard housing, that is located between the backside of Franklin High School and the General Vaughan Armory.

If and when official approval from PHA comes through, construction of a 75-unit public housing complex on the southside of Franklin will begin immediately.

When it is completed, approximately half of the 27 acres in Berkley will be demolished and cleared. The displaced families will be moved into the southside location — a 22-acre site, now owned by the Camp Foundation, adjoining Southview Cemetery and the R.A. Pretlow estate.

Then, 75 public housing units will be constructed on the previously cleared Berkley site. After completion of Berkley public housing, the other half of Berkley will be demolished and cleared. Displaced families will have the opportunity to live in the new Berkley public housing complex or buy residential lots for individual homes.

Preceding, is the revised plan that is to be presented to PHA officials.

Earlier, on April 15, 1965, PHA approved just one public housing complex, with 150 units, to be built on the southside location. However, a complaint was sent to the Franklin Authority from Berkley homeowners saying they wanted the opportunity to continue to live in the Berkley area, in private homes or in public housing.

The group, known as the Berkley Home Owners League, met several times then hired a Richmond attorney to present the complaint to PHA.

The complaint stated that Berkley families were being discriminated against by not being allowed to live in Berkley after the area is redeveloped. Most would like to live in Berkley public housing apartments and not automatically be sent to the southside public housing location. Still others would like to have an option to purchase property in the “new” Berkley.

The PHA reversed itself and told the Franklin Authority to split the public housing project and submit a new proposal. The local Authority said OK — as they had originally advocated.

Authority member James Piette said, “We now know local management of redevelopment does not go as far as we thought. Everything we want to do will first have to be sent to Philadelphia for approval.”

Dr. A.B. Harrison, Authority member, said, “The South Franklin public housing site is so far removed from any white settlement that it appears to preserve segregation. The two-site public housing project will remove any thoughts that redevelopment means segregation.”

City Manager Harold Atkinson, former secretary of the Authority, said, “We should deliver our proposal to PHA in person and not send it up there with a five-cent stamp.”

So, Executive Secretary of the Authority Frank Jester went to Philadelphia to deliver the message.

“Now, can we begin the long-awaited urban renewal project?,” Jester asked.

“NO,” says PHA.

Before we give final approval on the Berkley redevelopment and housing plan, we want to know about school desegregation in Franklin. We want a statement of school policy toward integration for the next five years.

In response to all of this, Hanes Byerly, Publisher, wrote an editorial in The Tidewater News: “The Franklin School Board has filed all of the requested information with HEW in Washington. Franklin intends to desegregate its schools. This is a function of the School Board and it is being done through ‘freedom of choice’.”

“PHA is becoming involved in a project already being handled by HEW.

“Franklin Redevelopment and Housing Authority is nothing more than a tool to satisfy the wishes of PHA in Philadelphia. As soon as the Franklin Authority does something, PHA wants something else or wants a change.

“PHA must approve each little move and now it is becoming involved in the operations of the school system.

“Franklin wants and needs urban renewal in Berkley. Public housing was not, and still isn’t, the main concern. It has become necessary because displaced low-income families must have a decent place to live. So, with redevelopment comes public housing.

“In a referendum held two years ago, a majority of Franklin citizens that voted asked for a redevelopment and housing authority,”

“The question now — when do we get started with urban renewal?”

CLYDE PARKER is a retired human resources manager for the former Franklin Equipment Co. and a member of the Southampton County Historical Society. His email address is magnolia101@charter.net