Coltrane Watch: The Backstory

Blog by Jazz Philadelphia | Research by Suzanne Cloud

Interventions surrounding the Coltrane House over the last decade—from nearly all quarters of the Philadelphia jazz community—prove how anguished advocates have been over the condition and the future of the property. What follows is a breakdown of some of the attempts at intervention since the house was transferred to someone outside the Coltrane family. This information has been compiled from research, interviews, and the personal experience of researcher Suzanne Cloud, who has been involved over the years in efforts to save the property. 

Our hope with this report is simply to inform the community of all currently known efforts to intervene with the property, which is in disrepair, and adjacent to a property for which a demolition permit has been applied for—but at the time of this post, not issued—by the Philadelphia Department of Licenses & Inspections. 

A Timeline of Attempted Interventions to Save the John Coltrane House in Philadelphia from 2011 – 2021

  • 2011 – Filmmaker Rob Armstrong and writer Tom Moon approach the owners* about making a film about John Coltrane, which will highlight the house. They solicited a grant from the Pew Center of Arts & Culture for the project through the Preservation Alliance.
  • 2012 – The Pew Center of Arts and Culture awards $71,825 for the project and the grant includes money to do a community study on what to do with the historic property. Because the grant is not awarded to the owners directly, they withdraw from the entire project and community report. The short film, Coltrane’s Philadelphia, is made nonetheless and debuts at the International House and on WHYY in August 2013.
  • January 2012 – Don Gardner, who passed in 2018, was in 2012 the executive director of the Philadelphia Clef Club. He invites Suzanne Cloud, then executive director of Jazz Bridge, to meet with a representative of the owners at Clef Club to discuss fundraising to rehab the home.
  • April 2012 – A meeting is held with the Office of Arts, Culture, and the Creative Economy at City Hall with then director Gary Steuer and representatives from Jazz Bridge, LifeLine Music Coalition, and the Philadelphia Clef Club. The group plans and implements another “Great Day in Philadelphia” photo with Mayor Michael Nutter to raise attention about the need to rehab the house.
  • August 2012 – Homer Jackson, executive director of the Philadelphia Jazz Project, along with pianist Alfie Pollitt, percussionist Robert Kenyatta, and songwriter James Solomon meet with  the person managing the house. She wants their help to form a John Coltrane House Planning Committee.
  • 2013 – The Preservation Alliance releases its exhaustive study which included, as part of the process of developing the report, four focus groups. Every stakeholder with any ties to the success of the Coltrane House is invited to weigh in. To read the study, click here.
  • July 2013 – The Philadelphia Jazz Project presents a benefit performance for the Coltrane House with pianist Alfie Pollitt, saxophonist George Barron, bassist Lee Smith, and drummer Alan Nelson. A jazz walk event featuring public art installations all through Fairmount Park celebrating eight Philadelphia jazz icons, including John Coltrane, is presented.
  • September 2016 – Philadelphia Jazz Project presented nine days of Coltrane-related events as part of Philadelphia Celebrates John Coltrane. A city-wide series of events for Coltrane’s 90th birthday. The owners do not participate.
  • December 2016 – Philadelphia Jazz Project met with Fairmount Park Conservancy, pianist Alfie Pollitt, Touré Fernandez (who is related to past and present owners of the house) and consultant James Solomon to discuss how to engage the owners of the Coltrane House in the future of the Fairmount Park plans. The owners do not participate.
  • September 2017 – The Philadelphia Jazz Project attempts to involve the owners of the Coltrane House in a 7-day Coltrane celebration, but they do not participate.
  • Feb. 2018 – Jazz Bridge reignites attention to problems with the deterioration of the house. Suzanne Cloud, then executive director of Jazz Bridge, tries to get in touch with the person now managing the historic property. Diane Turner, curator of the Blockson Collection at Temple University, has also been trying to find a way to support the project, but is not able to get through. After speaking with Paul Steinke, executive director at the Preservation Alliance, Suzanne Cloud hired a videographer in March 2018 to take drone photos of the historic property to assess damage from the outside.
  • March 2018 – Jason Fifield took drone photos of the Coltrane House that reveals damage to the outside. Suzanne Cloud sends the photos to Paul Steinke, executive director of the Preservation Alliance, in an attempt to get help from the Philadelphia Historic Commission.
  • 2018 – Faye Anderson, advocate for the preservation of Black historical buildings in the city and the head of All That Philly Jazz, gets involved and is included in a panel at WHYY about urban planning and preservation. The owners are unhappy that conversations are proceeding without them, and they make clear they will only participate if the money goes directly to the family to manage.
  • 2020 – The Philadelphia Tribune and the Philadelphia Inquirer both publish stories on the deterioration of the Coltrane House.
  • January 2021 – The house next door to the Coltrane House, owned by the same family, is sold to a private developer.
  • February 2021 – The new owners of the house next to the Coltrane House apply for a permit of demolition, which reignites concern for the house among the jazz community.
  • March 2021 – A petition to stop the demolition gains over 10,000 signatures in less than two weeks, and an ad hoc committee is formed by local jazz advocates and organizations to keep watch on the proceedings. The Philadelphia Inquirer again reports on the story, this blog, “Coltrane Watch” is started, and sources confirm that the Coltrane family is interested in starting conversations with current owners about the future of the house. Coltrane Watch has again spoken with L&I, who has confirmed that if a permit is issued for demolition of the house next to the Coltrane House, it will appear in the appropriate public records database.
  • April 2021 – A new report is forthcoming. Within the next week, the Strawberry Mansion CDC will be releasing a report about the house and development possibilities. 

Stay tuned for more information as the #ColtraneWatch continues. 

If you have information, additions, or corrections to our research to share, please send it to hblakeslee@jazzphiladelphia.org and info@suzanne.cloud and we will enter it into the larger record we’re creating.

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* The ownership and management of the house are difficult to untangle, but here, “owners” refer to members and associates of the Gadson family, including Aminta Gadson, Norman Gadson (deceased) and Leonora Early (deceased). Please note that jazz producer Leo Gadson is not part of the ownership/management group. It’s our current understanding that the Coltrane family would like to be the main party interacting with the current managers of the house as they try to come to a resolution to protect the property.

One Comment on “Coltrane Watch: The Backstory

  1. This is such a sad commentary on our country’s indifference to art and artists in Jazz .WE have preserved Louis Armstrong’s residence in Queen’s It is the only native American art form next to Indian bead work. A story told me by my mentor ,Adolphe Sandole with whom I studied for about eight years (”73-’81) shows the character and discipline of the artist, John Coltrane.
    Adolphe told me that one Saturday afternoon about 2PM (late 50’s?), he and John La Porta and another friend, went over to Coltrane’s house (this one)to visit him. They knocked on the door and could hear him practicing in another room. The horn stops. …footsteps….door opens there’s Coltrane in a sleeveless undershirt , horn strapped around his neck. Big smile. …”Come on in guys, the beer’s in the refrigerator…I’ll be with you in a minute…. just finishing up”,”.
    The three sat down at the kitchen table. Each had a beer….and another ..and another —-all the while Coltrane was in the next room “finishing up” (playing).
    Adolphe said they had no idea how much time had elapsed until Coltrane finally came out of the room about 6 or so when he finally opens the door, says “Got to go guys….good to see you ..thanks so much for comin’ over….we’ll do it again sometime”.

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