The quintessential Philly stoop, and the family who defines a summer tradition

Leon, Adele, Ginny, Philip, Diane, Rose Marie, and "Buzzy" (from left) sit on their matriarch's stoop on the 1300 block of South 13th Street in South Philadelphia.

BUZZY GIORDANO SAT OUTSIDE his 93-year-old mother's rowhome on South 13th Street in jean shorts and a sleeveless white and pink shirt, and tried to explain his family's stoop.

"This was actually my grandfather and grandmother's uncle's house, and my mother wanted it," he said Tuesday afternoon.

And then his brother-in-law, Bobby Trama, pushed through the spoked screen door and pulled up a beach chair.

Before his recent retirement, Buzzy was a cop -- the kind who would’ve told you to scram. "My cousin Phil lives in his mother's house behind us," he said, dropping his thumb behind his head.

And then both of their wives, as well as an aunt and a sister, came outside and took a seat and started chatting.

"I'm four blocks away."

And here comes his mother, the matriarch, Aunt Jennie, who sat on a ledge beside the front door.

"And my other cousin lives over there, where the white mailbox is."

They all spread out along the brick stoop that stretches from the front door to the end of the front bay window. No railing.

"A lot of us took over our parents’ house," Buzzy, 64, said.

And then they all started talking over each other.

Stoops and steps

The stoop is a meeting place, it's a time capsule, it's a place where a family's history is preserved and passed down from one generation to the next, just like their houses. But as people in trendy neighborhoods start cashing in their prime locations, and their families splinter, the stoop community suffers. Block by block, fewer and fewer Philadelphians are spending time outside on their stoops.

But not this family; they're out front daily with hot coffee, and on Fridays with cold beer. They roll several generations deep, collecting neighbors as they pass by and debating whether, in Philly, it’s even called a stoop.

“It’s steps. Stoops are Brooklyn,” Bobby said. (Yeah yeah, we’ve debated that too. For this series, we’re sticking to stoops.

So, as Buzzy would say, “up yers.”)

One side of 13th Street is lined with rowhomes, the other side outfitted with a public park. The family likes to sit out and watch the kids play ball, catch a Phillies game on the radio, witness their world change. Some sit rooted in place for hours, others stir and shift and bustle about.

Bobby abandoned the chair and sat on the stoop.

"Everything is games and computers," he said, pulling at his bright teal shirt. "I'll be 62. In the ‘60s and ‘70s, there was none of that stuff. We made our own games."

A break in the conversation was filled with a nonchalant snippet from another: "Come downstairs with me, her nose is bleeding."

Buzzy spread out his palm: "When I was growing up, summertime, 8 o'clock I was out of the house banging on my friends’ doors." He started checking off his fingers: "stick ball, slap ball, pimple ball, half ball."He held up his thumb: "And you didn't come in until dinner, and then you went back out."

A UPS truck passed and honked. Buzzy waved.

"We even know the UPS guy.”

Bobby stood up.

“And another thing,” he said, "I see these young people in the new houses go from the car to the house and don't say nothing to nobody. That's why you don't see nobody sitting outside no more.”

Buzzy: "And these 10-year tax abatements are unbelievable. Some people are tearing down their homes and building whole new homes. It's crazy."

Bobby disappeared back inside the house.

The UPS driver returned without the boxy brown truck, carrying three grocery bags in one hand, stopping at the stoop for a short visit before heading home.

'God forbid'

Buzzy bought his house for $20,000 40 years ago. Similar houses nearby are on the market for $400,000 and climbing.

Friends nudge him about property in North Carolina and, God forbid, South Jersey.

But if he left, he would become a caricature of the quitters who fled pockets of South Philly in the mid '80s and early '90s. "Of all the guys I grew up with,” Buzzy said, “I’d say there's not even a handful of us still living in the city.”

Their loss.

He has three generations of his family in a four-block radius. And what would he do with all that money? Take on another mortgage with higher property taxes?

And let's be honest: nobody wants to cut all that grass.

Buzzy: "They'll have to carry me out that house."


About this Series:
Some Philadelphians spend summers lounging down the Shore, and others spend it sitting on their Stoops. This weekly series, about the places and ways Philadelphians gather, aims to tell the kinds of summer stories started or shared among neighbors. These are city stories that perpetuate long traditions, or cast a wary eye toward new trends. These are your stories, which are quintessentially, and unapologetically, Philly.