The final destruction of Goodisville


Philadelphia noir writer David Goodis placed his best writing in a city that is no more, the place cultural historian Jay A. Gertzman calls Goodisville. Covering Skid Row, Society Hill and Southwark, Goodisville ran to the Delaware River. It is the setting of Cassidy's Girl (around Dock Street) andMoon in the Gutter (Southwark). The Goodisville waterfront was paved with sunken cobblestones and crossed by railroad tracks. It was home to buses converted to diners, ships, tug boats, fire boats, barges, decaying piers and rotting warehouses.

The death of Goodisville took about 20 years. Beginning in the 1950's Skid Row was cleared. The food distribution activities at Dock Street were moved to South Philadelphia and Society Hill was redeveloped. Delaware Avenue was paved with asphalt. In the 1960's Southwark was cleared for I-95. The final destruction came at the time of the Bicentennial, when Delaware Avenue was rebuilt, new railroad tracks were laid, and the exciting, living waterfront was converted into the pretty and boring Penn's Landing.

On a day, probably in the summer of 1975, I walked down Delaware Avenue to what was become Penn's Landing. I photographed the rebuilding of Delaware Avenue and the laying of new railroad tracks. By the 1980's, Goodisville was finally dead. Delaware Avenue had become Columbus Boulevard.

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The parcel of Philly real estate known as Goodisville is permanently blighted. The writer heightens the nightmare dangers of the industrial neighborhoods he describes: menacing gangs, derelicts, thieves, rapists, tenement buildings, row houses, wooden "shacks," bars, ratty warehouses, dank alleys, rubbish-strewn vacant lots, and cobbled streets. It’s an archetypal asphalt jungle.

Jay A. Gertzman in David Goodis' Hardboiled Philadelphia

I proceeded south of Washington Avenue, where my greatgrandparents set foot in America, to the setting of
Moon in the Gutter, to photograph the surviving waterfront activity.

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Around New Year's day, probably 1976, I visited the church yard of Gloria Dei (Old Swedes' Church) in the heart of Goodisville. How many Goodis characters lived secret lives here we will never know.



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