Blog Post

Fighting for John: One activist’s struggle to save Coltrane House

Faye Anderson will take this fight to whoever will listen, but it’s falling on deaf ears. The lifelong Philadelphian, activist and jazz devotee is the director of All That Philly Jazz. For 10 years, Anderson, 64, has kept a close eye on plans for the restoration of the famed John Coltrane House in Strawberry Mansion, the historic home of the jazz great.

There are no plans for restoration. There is no revival coming. Instead, the Coltrane House is literally decaying.

It’s a complicated process [for the city to take it over or do something] but it’s not like anyone is trying,” Anderson said. “There are 67 [National Historic Landmarks] in Philadelphia, yet the Coltrane House is the only one crumbling.”

The deed for the home is as tangled as it gets. As Anderson explains, Coltrane transferred the property to his mother in 1958, who lived there until her death. A man named Norman Gadson then purchased it in trust for his daughter, Hathor Gadson, in 2004. As trustee, Gadson, who died on in 2007, held the title for his daughter to whom the property would be transferred upon his death.

Here’s where it gets tricky. Gadson is still listed as the owner of record. The property was never transferred to his daughter, who is incapacitated and whose legal guardian is unknown.

Meanwhile, the historic home at 1511 N. 33rd St. sits with boarded-up windows and doors, a shell of its former self and unconnected to jazz’s massive history. “The property is in violation of the Windows and Doors Ordinance, which bans plywood or other boards, [of which] the city imposes a fine of $300 per opening per day,” Anderson wrote. “The third-floor windows are not operable. The crumbling front steps violate the Property Maintenance Code; the list goes on.”

Real estate taxes on the property are unpaid and the account is in collections. To see a home that means so much to the jazz fabric potentially get auctioned off at Sheriff’s Sale makes Anderson sick.

That’s why she’s rallying the fight on her own. She’s petitioned the city and encouraged her allies in the jazz community to do the same. A huge first step would be for the city to designate a conservator under the Abandoned and Blighted Property Conservatorship Act, which would allow a means for people to help.

“Right now, if a wealthy Coltrane fan wanted to pay for the repairs, there is no responsible organization to which to make the check payable,” she wrote. “I will not be complicit to demolition by benign neglect. [We] should hang our head in shame for allowing this National Historic Landmark to become a national embarrassment.”

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Kerith Gabriel is the communications manager at Philadelphia Corporation for Aging.