Lisa Wilson, the owner of 20-plus-year-old Jamaican Jerk Hut on South Street, has been tied up in litigation for two years with one of the area’s newer condominiums, Symphony House. Those who trend the In Her Shoes location remember 2009 when the famous outdoor patio was shut down because of a court order and zoning code issues; the Symphony Residence Tower Condominium Association doesn’t appreciate the live reggae music coming from JJH’s outdoor space. That complaint and resulting action on the residences’ part cost Wilson 70 percent of her business. Fortunately the zoning board gave Wilson a variance to allow her to reopen her outdoor patio, but the residents of Symphony House, Center City One Condominiums and Academy House can still hear the music (sound travels far, huh?). Wilson has invited them for dinner at JJH, offered to lower the music and even end the live music sessions at 9:30 instead of 11pm, but to no avail; the residents of the 32-story condo whose “insular properties exceeds the current standards for sound transmission” can still hear those steel drums and want something more concrete, pun intended.
Wilson’s landlords, architects Robert Venturi and Denise Scott Brown, are on her side, as well as her friends, regulars and those who have fallen in love with what she has created in the city. Annette John-Hall, a Philadelphia Inquirer columnist who reported on the issue back in January, makes an excellent note: “The pulse of the city is a selling point, if you believe the Symphony House website: ‘In the mix. Above it all. . . . The rhythms of the city at your feet. Where Beethoven and Brahms are your neighbors.’ But not Bob Marley.” To the residents’ credit, JJH was operating illegally before the variance was issued and currently there are no sound barriers to protect the residents whose units directly face the stage. As for the complaints from the Academy House, well, we can’t imagine the sometimes-outdoor music coming from JJH four blocks away is louder than the riffraff and noise spilling out of McGlinchey’s.
No matter the fodder going on about this issue, it would be sad to see something as unique to our city as JJH go under for having the lack of funds to fight a battle with a much larger corporation. Let’s hope Wilson makes some appeasing changes and that the Symphony House residents looking to live a suburban life in an urban environment can learn to appreciate more than a tangential approach to culture allows.
View the docket here.