1975 – 1980

This project highlights an assortment of some of the who, what and where that enabled Old City’s creative heritage to come together and stand apart. While what is reflected here is by no means comprehensive, it is representative of some of the essential aspects of Old City as a creative phenomenon during a specific era.



Old City in 1975 was a very different world than it is today. The neighborhood was a declining manufacturing district made up of 19th century buildings, many of which had been razed to make way for the mall and park areas that spired out from Independence Hall along 5th Street. Additionally, the development of impending highway construction on two other borders left its boundaries further isolated. As an urban neighborhood, Old City had lost its vitality and proud sense of place and purpose. What had once been a thriving mercantile district interspersed with pockets of residential houses had been slowly devolved into a lost landscape. The silver lining was that the vacant warehouse loft spaces and low rents provided artists with a unique opportunity to live and work.

Support for the research and development of The Old City Arts History Project has been provided by The Pew Center for Arts & Heritage.


Through this Discovery process Philadelphia Dance Projects (PDP) has initiated a cultural history project that is designed to explore the legacy and influence of artists working in Old City Philadelphia from 1975 to 1980. The Old City Arts History Project has been established to investigate the arts in relationship to place and to consider how the work of the artists of the time sparked a physical, social, and cultural transformation that engendered the reinvention of Old City—a neighborhood that continues to evolve today.

Old City’s creative legacy was forged by the social intersection of visual artists, dancers, musicians, performance artists, sculptors, potters, poets, writers, photographers, filmmakers, storytellers, cartoonists and makers/inventors.


Some of these artists banded together in a loosely formed organization called Old City Arts, whose self described primary purpose was to “enhance the integration of the arts into the life of the [Old City] community and Philadelphia as a whole” through festivals, performances, collaborative works and exhibitions.


“South Street is where it used to be. Old City is where it’s at”

– Philadelphia Magazine April 1976

Old City Arts

Old City Arts was formed in 1976 through the encouragement of Daehler Hayes, Minister of the Old First Reformed Church at 4th & Race Streets,, The group was able use the not-for-profit aegis of the church to secure modest funding for spring and fall festivals each year.


OCA envisioned their purpose, “to enhance the integration of the arts into the life of this community [Old City] and Philadelphia as a whole.”


Old City Arts thrived for nearly 5 years and at its height had a membership of nearly 200 members. In 1978, a local building owner rented a gallery space to the group at Fourth & Wood Streets for $1 a year. It was also at this time that PENNDOT temporarily leased the group (also for $1 a year) a full city block scheduled to become the crosstown ramp (676) off of I-95. The block was bounded by 3rd , 4th, Wood and Spring Garden Streets. It was often referred to as “No Man’s Land” by the artists.



Beginning in June 2018, project leads gathered news articles, posters, slides and photographs, sundry video and super 8 footage and ephemera. Research included conversations and interviews to gather first hand recollections of some of the personalities who lived or worked in Old City at the time. The team met regularly with Thinking Partners to review findings, refine the progression and scope of the project, and to outline a suitable format for organizing the information gathered. Work on a web site has begun through a collaboration with Old City web developers, The 215 Guys.

Some of the materials gathered through this project will be placed in the Special Collections Research Center at Temple University Libraries.

Project Team

Terry Fox, PDP Director
Jeff Cain, Project Manager
Brett Mapp, Community Liaison
Melissa Rachleff Burtt, Thinking Partner
Margaret Winslow, Thinking Partner
Ishmael Houston-Jones, Thinking Partner


The research for the OCA History Project is ongoing...

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