Precious Places

A community history project documenting Philadelphia's neighborhoods, buildings, and public spaces amidst widespread change


Fields of Knowledge
  • Comm. Development
  • Memory
  • Public culture
  • Social Justice

Organizing Institutions

Slought, Scribe Video Center

Opens to public



4017 Walnut St
Philadelphia, PA 19104


0% Formal - 100% Informal

Slought, in conjunction with Scribe Video Center, is pleased to present "Precious Places," a community oral history project on display from February 17 to March 19, 2011. A reception, free to the public, will take place on Thursday, March 3, 2011 from 6:30-8:30pm, with remarks by Louis Massiah, Scribe's Executive Director, and a special screening of "King on the Avenue" by People's Emergency Center Community Development Corporation featuring Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s 1965 visit to 40th and Lancaster in West Philadelphia (8:54 minutes, 2009).

Begun in 2002 as a way to mark Scribe's 20th anniversary, the "Precious Places" video series documents Philadelphia's neighborhoods, buildings, public spaces and landmarks at a time when much of the city is undergoing widespread change. Unlike many oral history projects, the "Precious Places" program teaches the video production process to groups of neighbors, who create short documentaries about the communities they know intimately.

This selection from the Precious Places video series, produced between 2004 and 2010, represents Scribe Video Center's collaborations with dozens of community groups in Philadelphia, Camden, Chester, Coatesville, and Ardmore. The videos presented at Slought document the histories of buildings, public spaces, parks, landmarks and other sites that hold memories and define the communities where we live.

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Examples include:

711 by 711 Precious Places Group (Southcentral Philadelphia)

The Sydney King School of Dance was one of several neighborhood-based black dance schools founded in Philadelphia during the 1940s, 50s, and early 60s. Through interviews with King's students, this video underscores the role the Sydney King School of Dance played in supporting its community while shaping the direction of American dance and performance.

Cliveden Park: Our Tree of Life by District Community Action Council (Mt. Airy)

Musician and community icon Byard Lancaster uses the metaphor of the great 200-year-old oak tree in the middle of Cliveden Park to introduce us to the neighborhood. Across generations, the park is a place where residents of East Mt. Airy, through their care and upkeep of this green space, show their love for their community and each other.

The Taking of Bodine: Never Forget by Community Leadership Institute (North Philadelphia)

The work confronts the displacement of residents in North Philadelphia through the Neighborhood Transformation Initiative (NTI). Led by neighborhood organizer Rosemary Cubas, the Community Leadership Institute contends that many good neighbors are being pushed out, houses bulldozed and land devalued in a plan that promises "development", but not for the current residents.

Petty's Island: An Untold History by Camden City African American Commission (North Camden)

Perhaps you have seen Petty's Island as you look north from the Benjamin Franklin Bridge. This video digs into the history of the island, from its roots as a Lenape encampment to its use by the early European colonists as a depot for enslaved Africans. Today the ecology of the island is being threatened by development plans to create a gated community. Narrated by Danny Glover.

Scribe Video Center, a Philadelphia-based nonprofit organization, was founded in 1982 as a place where people could work together and gain skills in media making. It engages people of color, women, young people, senior citizens and those with limited economic resources in a dialogue about the potential of the video medium. Scribe advances the use of video as an artistic medium and as a tool for progressive social change. Central to this mission are efforts to reach communities that have traditionally not had access to video training or production facilities.

Community groups come to Scribe to learn how to use the video documentary as a way to explore a range of issues affecting neighborhoods across the city - eminent domain, deterioration, preservation of greenspaces, gentrification, neglect and general misinformation. Precious Places, a history authored by those who live in these communities, was one way to bring these concerns into the public sphere. It was also a way to recover some of Philadelphia's lost memories while celebrating its social and cultural richness.

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