The South Philly landmark known as the “Singing Fountain” on East Passyunk Avenue got its name because of loudspeakers that can broadcast actual songs. The small triangle where it is located was created by the intersection of East Passyunk Avenue, Tasker Street and 11th Street. Passyunk Avenue is slanted because it was once an Indian trail that William Penn allowed to cross his original street grid. It comes from the Lenape word “Pachsegink” that means “in the valley.”
I am old enough to remember when that triangle was mostly empty except for a flag pole. Then it held a gas station and later a cheese steak shop. Finally, it was all purchased in 2004 and transformed into a public plaza by the Passyunk Avenue Revitalization Corporation. They removed the structures and installed the fountain, along with the new plaza.
At first there was a fence around the mermaid-topped fountain, but that was removed in 2011 and benches installed, plus a checkerboard table with its own seating. PARC also planted trees and bushes making the whole plaza an attractive public space for people to gather, especially during the COVID crisis. In fact, because of so much traffic, PARC is now making new plans for this space. We should know soon when work begins.
Meanwhile, it is a mecca for all kinds of gatherings, including marriage proposals, musical performances, Christmas trees and menorahs. My good friend Adam Leiter, executive director of the East Passyunk Avenue Business Improvement District, books all kinds of entertainment for the fountain. My favorite professional musical groups that have performed there are Snack Time Band and Elegance String Quartet. There are also amateur musicians who just take out their instruments and play. Adam even trusts someone like me to play a short program with another friend, Paula Kozak, on our guitars. We don’t have a date set, but it will be in the fall.
Besides these special events, the fountain attracts people in the community who are dining in the many local restaurants, shopping or just hanging around. I just go there for the fresh air and the socializing. Because of all this interaction, I can safely say that I have met people from literally all over the world including 5 continents. That’s right. I have met some now living in our community, or close to it, who were born or descended from countries around the globe.
Here are some examples. I have met and conversed with people from countries in Asia like China, Korea and Thailand as well as Israel in the Middle East. There are also new local residents from places in South America like Peru. Other fountain visitors have come from European countries that include England, Ireland, Germany, Italy and Greece. (My own family immigrated from Italy in the last century.) I even met recent immigrants from Algeria in North Africa who made me review my high school French to communicate with them. And of course there are always Mexicans and Canadians from our own continent.
Of course, I must include meeting fountain visitors of every race and ethnicity from all over the United States, not just tourists, but people who want to live and work in our bustling, multi-cultural community.
English long ago took the place of Latin as the universal language. (Don’t worry, Latin isn’t going anywhere.) What really delights me is the ability of small children to speak not only their parents’ native tongue but also English. For example, I met a very young little girl who, because of her mom, is bilingual in Greek and English. I also recently enjoyed reading a book to a Chinese boy in English. He then turned to his mother and said something to her in Chinese. Speaking of books, I must mention the box filled with books located on the Tasker Street side of the plaza. You can leave a book, take a book or do both – all free.
Everyone who knows me knows that I have lived in the East Passyunk Avenue neighborhood my entire life. As a child, I knew only Italians and some Jews who lived and did business in our immediate area. People tended to cluster with their own ethnic group. Never in my life did I anticipate a time when so many people of different origins would come to settle in this part of town.
The culture is certainly changing. It is reflected in the variety of restaurant menus, the blending of languages and the sense of true community. And we can all mingle at the singing fountain – a beautiful and dynamic “melting pot.”
– Gloria C. Endres