‘Music’ of construction greets Osage Ave. on MOVE bombing anniversary

Feature for PlanPhilly, May 13 2019

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Connie and Gerald Renfro have lived on an exceptionally quiet block of Osage Avenue for nearly 20 years. With more than half of the houses surrounding them vacant and boarded up, there was no one around to make noise.

Lately, it’s gotten louder — and the West Philadelphia couple is thrilled.

“Every bang, every loud noise is like music to our ears, because we know the bangs and the bumps are coming in to restore our community,” said Gerald Renfro. “The hammering, the nailing, the sawing, the dumpsters on the block, we just love every bit of it.”

Thirty-four years ago, Philadelphia police dropped a bomb on Osage Avenue, killing 11 members of the MOVE organization, including children, and destroying 61 homes.

The Renfro family lived through it, losing the home Gerald grew up in to the deadly fire.

Now on the 34th anniversary of the bombing, 16 of the homes are freshly rebuilt and new neighbors are moving in. In March, the demolition teams made their way onto the Renfro’s section of Osage near the intersection of Pine Street, bringing with them the clatter and debris of a construction site that spans more than half a block.

“My hope is that it will be, once again, a beautiful community,” said Gerald Renfro. “And maybe once again we can be extended family. We’ll be getting to know our new neighbors, they’ll be getting to know us.”

But for decades, the Renfros sacrificed to stay in their home, pushing back against the city many times and experiencing many broken promises. So much so that Gerald has come to believe that the city always wanted to give homeowners the boot and “gentrify this neighborhood.”

Now, he’s waiting to see what will happen. If the rehabs go well, and neighbors move in, he’ll finally invest in necessary repairs to his own home. But not yet.

“We’ve learned not to have total faith in any project that’s affiliated with the city,” he said. “These developers are affiliated with the city.”

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Photography by Kimberly Paynter