Alvin Plumer

Alvin Plumer (1925-2014), who lived all his life in Philadelphia, explains why everyone calls him Buddy. While he never lived in Society Hill, and his real estate office was always on South Street, as a realtor he was as much a creature of Society Hill as any lifelong resident; and he has a prodigious memory. His parents moved to 117 South Street when he was three, and his father opened his real estate business there the same year. After graduating from Temple University in 1947, Buddy got his real estate license and broker’s license and became a member of the family business.

There were a lot of children in the neighborhood: Irish, Greek, and Polish, but no Hispanics and a few black families; Buddy names the small streets where the black families lived. His family attended Neziner Congregation at 771 S. Second Street, an Orthodox synagogue that abruptly became Conservative because of an action of Buddy’s mother.

He describes where he played (winter and summer), what he played, and with whom he played as a child. He rented bikes from Joey Bishop’s parents. He talks about the Dock Street Market, including the food wholesalers, the innumerable bars and casual restaurants, and a couple of big fires and explosions. He describes South Street when he was a kid, with all the stores occupied, mom-and-pop operations with the family living over the store. He tells some stories about his family’s real estate business, including: a part they played in assembling the properties for Abbotts Dairy’s ice cream plant; a contretemps with the Redevelopment Authority over a house on Lombard Street; and the day a man came into the Plumers’ office, shot Buddy’s mother, and killed his aunt.

Asked as a realtor how the redevelopment of Society Hill affected his business, he says, “Certainly, it has affected me very positively, because prior to the redevelopment of the area, things were going down, and [it] acted as a stimulus to people coming in, putting money into the area, increasing real estate values.” Buddy is identified with Queen Village’s renaissance, which followed redevelopment in Society Hill. He acknowledges that redevelopment displaced people, but minimizes its impact on those displaced. He criticizes the Redevelopment Authority for its harsh treatment of property owners in the beginning, but says they learned from their mistakes and modified their approach as the process went on.


DS:      This is an interview with Buddy Plumer. The date is February 4, 2009. The location is 226 South Street, in Philadelphia, PA. The interviewer is Dorothy Stevens.

[Tape is turned off, then on again]

DS:      Now, Mr. Plumer, tell me, when were you born?

AP:      1925.

DS:      1925. Were you born in the hospital or at home?

AP:      I was born in the Medico Chi Hospital, which at that time was at Nineteenth and Race Streets.

DS:      Say that word again?

AP:      Medico Chi Hospital.

DS:      Where did you live, as a child, with your family?

AP:      Well, at that point, my family was living at 2020 Green Street, in a house (1:00) that my [paternal] grandfather bought from Adolph Ochs, who later became the owner of the New York Times. My grandfather bought the house with all the furnishings and converted into three apartments; we lived on the first floor. The second floor was occupied by Sarah Paley, the grandmother of Bill Paley, who founded CBS. Actually, my grandfather had moved to the Twentieth and Green area in 1915, (2:00) from 124 South Street, where he came in 1902 from New York. His father-in-law came to the 100 block of Pine Street in the 1880s. The family has had a physical presence on South Street, either as residents or as businesses, since 1902.

DS:      As a child, you grew up on Green Street?

AP:      We moved from 2020 [Green Street] in 1928 to 117 South Street, where my maternal grandparents lived. They had bought that house new in 1910. They had come from England in 1908 with my mother. My mother lived at 117 [South Street] and went to school here, the same schools that I went to later, and became a school teacher. (3:00)

DS:      Your father? His roots were?

AP:      My Dad, Louis Plumer, was born in New York City and came here when he was five weeks old to 124 South Street.

DS:      What did your father do? What was his occupation?

AP:      Dad graduated from South Philadelphia High School, after going to elementary schools at Third and Lombard [Wharton School] and Sixth and Spruce [Binney School], and then McCall School. When he graduated South Philadelphia High, he went on to Peirce School. At that time, it was called Peirce Business College and [he] went there for two years. At that point, while (4:00) still in school, Sarah Paley, who I mentioned before, got him a job at the Congress Cigar Company, their family business. Dad worked there until he was 21, when he got his real estate license and went into the real estate business.

DS:      Was the cigar factory in this neighborhood?

AP:      At that time, it was at Second and Market, and eventually they built the building at Third and Spruce, which later became Metropolitan Hospital. That’s all gone now.

DS:      Right. Then your mother and father met…?

AP:      They were neighbors, across the street.

DS:      Oh.

AP:      Both my parents went to the Wharton School at Third and Lombard and then to the Binney School at Sixth and Lombard and then to the McCall School for seventh and (5:00) eighth grades.

            I went, first of all, to kindergarten, at Front and Lombard, at the old Stanfield House. I went there for two years for kindergarten, then to the Wharton School through the fourth grade, and to the Binney School for fifth and sixth grades, and then on to Bartlett Junior High. At that point, where my parents had gone to McCall School, when I was ready to go there, [it] was a trade school. When they finished building the Bok Vocational School downtown, McCall School again became an elementary school. I grew up in the neighborhood. When I graduated from Bartlett, I went on to Central High (6:00) and Temple University.

DS:      Wonderful. Do you have brothers and sisters?

AB:     I have one sister, who went to the same schools I went to, except for high school. She became a school teacher.

DS:      Tell me about the house that you had on the 100 block of South.

AB:     We lived at 117 South Street.

DS:      What was it like? Did it have plumbing?

AB:     Oh, yes. My grandfather was involved in building those four or five houses on South Street. They moved into one at 117 [South Street]. At the point when we moved in, the ground floor was a drug store, and we lived on the second and third floors. It had plumbing. It had heating. It was a modern building. In 1928, the drugstore moved out, and my father opened his real estate office there, moving it from its original (7:00) location on the 1900 block of Green Street, a building that my paternal grandfather owned. My mother was a teacher. She taught at the Mt. Vernon School, at Third and Catharine Streets. She taught fifth grade. In 1929, she developed a heart condition that originated in London [when she was] a young child. She felt that it was too hard to teach school, so she went into the real estate business with my Dad.

DS:      When you graduated from Temple, did you come and work with your Mom and Dad in the real estate business? (8:00)

AP:      I had worked in the office as a young child, so it was kind of natural for me to stay in the real estate business. At Temple I took real estate courses. I graduated in 1947, June of ’47, and started to work in the office and became a member of the firm. I obtained my real estate license and my broker’s license. In fact, I took the real estate broker’s license [examination] together with my Mother, who was only a sales person at that time; we both passed.

DS:      Tell me, it’s snowy outside today. What would you have done outside as a child on a snowy day like today? What did the local children do?            (9:00)

AP:      Oh, we had snowball fights [laughs], running up and down the various little alleys that traversed our house, and played [together] many times right in my own home. We had the old Stanfield House [Captain John Woods House], where I went to kindergarten, which was a great playground, with a gymnasium.

DS:      Indoor and outdoor playground?

AP:      Indoor and outdoor; [it] would have been on the southwest corner of Front and Lombard [Streets]. They had a very good staff. I remember, the Executive Director there was a Miss Green, and the Athletic Director was George Bellis, a terrific guy, who taught you how to play various sports and so forth. My Dad had always been interested in (10:00) sports, so he encouraged us to do that.

DS:      Was this a public school or was it privately owned?

AP:      It was not a public school. It was some foundation that ran the thing. I think it was under – if I remember it correctly – a college settlement house, and they had several places. This was one of their places. A lot of the neighborhood children went there. Many of the neighborhood children went to parochial schools, but those who didn’t went to Stanfield House and then on to the other public schools.

DS:      Were there a lot of children in the neighborhood?

AP:      Yes, there were a lot of children. They lived on main streets, little back (11:00) courtyards, and so forth, and I was friendly with all of them.

DS:      Were there black children?

AP:      A few. Not very many.

DS:      Where did they live?

AP:      Some came from Lombard Street, but a little farther out. Then I remember a little block – a group of houses off the 600 block of Hancock Street. We used to call it “Up the Harbor.” It was in back of Hancock Street, and there were two or three houses there that were occupied by blacks for a long period of time. In my elementary school, for example, I don’t think we had more than one or two black children.

DS:      How about Hispanic?

AP:      Not at that time. There were children who were Polish, Irish – many Irish. (12:00) There were, [on] the 300 block and 400 block of Gaskill Street, some Spanish Jews. The Levy family, for example, I remember; there were a number of them. There were a lot of Greek children. Some of the kids that I played with went to St. Joseph’s School. Some went to St. Stanislaus’ School, St. Philip’s School. Principally the children in my classes were not Catholic, because the Catholic kids went to the parochial schools. Occasionally, there were a few Catholic children whom I was (13:00) friendly with. An Italian family lived across [the street]; the father was a barber, the Gilbert family. I think their real name was Gilberti, but Dad shortened it to Gilbert. I was friendly with all those kids. In fact, I remember, with some of the Catholic children, I would go with them and wait outside of St. Joseph’s Church while they went to confession. That happened many times.

DS:      Your family. Were you associated with any religious institution?

AP:      Our family had belonged to the old Neziner Congregation [at 771 S.] Second Street. I think they joined around 1915. They weren’t particularly religious, but we went to temple on High Holidays and occasionally other times. Interestingly enough, (14:00) the congregation at that point was an Orthodox congregation (the women [had] to sit in the balcony, and she felt she was kind of segregated, way before her time). My mother, in 1925 – I think it was right before I was born – together with a group of other women there on the High Holidays walked [in] and sat downstairs with the male congregation. From that day on, that synagogue became a Conservative congregation [where the men and women could sit together]. The President [of the congregation], by the way, at that time, was an Irish Jew. His name was Isaac Schreider. He lived in the 700 (15:00) block of South Second. He kind of schooled my Dad, who was not religious, to take an interest in the synagogue, and Dad, in a business-type way, became the President when Mr. Schreider died, in 1947, and served for 33 years as the President, even though he wasn’t a religious person

DS:      Let me understand this. Your mother had to sit upstairs, but she wasn’t Orthodox.

AP:      That’s right. The Orthodox segregated the women, separated them, and that was against my mother’s beliefs.

DS:      Tell me about summertime, here in this neighborhood as you were growing up.

AP:      Summertime we played outside. Over at Stanfield House they had all (16:00) kinds of sports. All ages participated. They had a very small outdoor swimming pool that was about three feet deep. They had all kinds of activities. George Bellis ran them. They had an Olympics, and various children represented their national backgrounds. They had competition in tumbling, football, and baseball, even swimming in that three-foot tank, concrete. There were always activities in the neighborhood. Later on, back I guess in the early ‘40s, I started to go to the neighborhood (17:00) center, at Fifth and Bainbridge. There I joined a group of other fellows. We had a basketball team and played basketball. Many of the fellows also were varsity players at various high schools.

DS:      Who sponsored that?

AP:      I think it was sponsored by Federation of Jewish Charities. They had various activities there, not only for children, but English as a Second Language, for example, for adults coming over. That wasn’t just for Jewish people. It was for everybody. (18:00) Most of my friends were mixed, different religions and so forth. It’s been the story of my life all over.

DS:      Did you ever go down to the river?

AP:      Yes. We rode the ferry for fun. We’d stay on there until we got kicked off.

DS:      That was the ferry on South Street?

AP:      Yes. The South Street ferry, which went from South Street to Kaighn Avenue in Camden. In the summertime, they ran a little river boat – it took us to Red Bank, New Jersey, a national park. It took you down to – we used to call (19:00) it Soupy Island – because down there they’d give you soup. They had swimming and so forth. Loads of people would come and go down to this ship, which made several sailings a day down there, and also from Allegheny Avenue, I believe, another ship. They had a merry-go-round down there; it’s still there today. They’d have all kinds of sports. They had swimming. My parents, because of polio, said, “No, you can’t go swimming there.”

DS:      Was it in a pool? Not the river?

AP:      Yes, that place is still in existence. I don’t know about the transportation, but I can’t think of the right name, although I have newspaper clippings –

DS:      It’s like a recreation center? (20:00)

AP:      It was a park.

DS:      A park?

AP:      We went down there occasionally. I probably went down there at least a couple of times a month. My mother would go with us, or an aunt, because my father’s family was large, with nine children. My mother was the only one from her family.

DS:      You said you boys would go on the ferry and ride back and forth?

AP:      Oh, we would do that occasionally. We never went swimming in the river, although some kids did. Later on, I would ride a bike. I never owned a bike until I was about eleven. I used to go down and rent one, down around, near Moyamensing Avenue and McKean Street, where Gottlieb’s Bicycle Shop [was]. Their son, Joey Bishop, became the (21:00) famous comedian and actor, but I remember him as a young kid. We’d ride bikes. Finally, I got my own bike, and we’d ride down along Delaware Avenue. I was always cautioned, “Be careful of the trains,” and “Be careful of the trucks on Delaware Avenue.” In the wintertime, for example, we would ride sleds down Lombard Street hill. That was a lot of fun.

DS:      There was a hill there?

AP:      Yes.

DS:      As you went from Front Street, you came to Water Street going east to the river?

AP:      Yes, there was another little street, too, past Water.

DS:      Oh, so there was another little one?

AP:      Two little streets. Water Street had a few houses on it.

DS:      Swanson? (22:00)

AP:      That sounds right.

DS:      It would be Front Street, Water Street, Swanson Street, Delaware Avenue.

AP:      Delaware Avenue. At the foot of the South Street hill – because there was a hill – was a small office building called the Marine Building. Mostly people connected with waterfront activities were tenants there. A couple of lawyers. On Water Street, there were a number of houses, and that all went when they cleared it for the expressway, I-95. I had some friends on that street.

DS:      Who lived down there?

AP:      There was one black family there and a couple of black store owners, a cleaner and presser, Mr. Johnson, in that block between Front and Water. There was a (23:00) woman right on the corner of Front and South, it would have been the northeast corner, by the name of Fanny Washington. A very fine person. Later, I remember, we sold her a house up in Mount Airy. She had many, many foster children that she would take in and raise – and adopted many of them.

DS:      Was she married?

AP:      Yes.

DS:      Did she have children of her own?

AP:      I believe so. I can’t be certain.

DS:      She would adopt children?

AP:      Fanny was the kind of person [who would] always stop and say hello and talk to you. Friendly. There were other families on that block that were Polish and very friendly. There was a bar, I remember, on the southeast corner of Front and South, (24:00) Maronski’s Bar, and I was very friendly with their son, Tommy. Tommy Maronski was a real nice kid. He went to parochial school, but we got together after school every day. He and another young man, Charlie Gilbert, whom I mentioned before – we were really good friends.

DS:      I understand there were a lot of bars in this neighborhood.

AP:      Yes.

DS:      Serving people who worked down at the Dock Street produce center?

AP:      Dock Street, Dock Street – there would be daily workers: work for the day, get paid, get drunk. For example, starting at Spruce Street, there was a bar on the corner  (25:00) of Second and Spruce. There was, I think, one in the middle of the block. There was one at Second and Delancey, one at Second and Pine on the southeast corner was a bar. On that same block towards Lombard Street was a bar, owned by Irish people who lived on Bainbridge Street. There was a bar at the corner of Second and Lombard, the southwest corner. There was a bar – two bars, I believe – on Second Street between Lombard and South. Of course, the market was there in the days I’m talking (26:00) about, right down the center of the street. The area between Lombard and South Street was pretty well fully occupied.

DS:      Was that [the market] an enclosed building?

AP:      It was an enclosed, cast-iron building, really falling apart. What is now the Headhouse, on Second Street between Pine and Lombard, a portion of the market, there were only one or two occupants in my day. Maybe early there were more, but I really only remember several. It was enclosed, but it was brick. Of course, later on they removed the sides and restored the Headhouse. I remember a newspaper stand on the corner of Second and Pine, where the Headhouse is now. It had an awning outside. I remember that. (27:00)

DS:      This is where Lois Beck’s parents – or mother –

AP:      Lois Beck’s mother – not her Dad; he was a fireman. That’s another interesting story. Lois Beck’s mother had a meat stall in the portion of the market off of South Street, between South and Lombard. They used to call her Pork Chop Rosie.

DS:      [Laughs] Why? She had good pork chops?

AP:      Well, that’s what everybody called her: Pork Chop Rosie. Very nice person. Her Dad was a fireman.

DS:      Her Dad or her husband?

AP:      Her father, Frankie Beck.

DS:      Lois’s father. (28:00)

AP:      Lois’s father. Her mother’s sisters and all were very active in the neighborhood in various forms, and I think one of her aunts and uncles also had a meat stall in the market. I’m pretty sure I’m correct. Frankie Beck was a fireman at the fire house which was then on Queen Street between Front and Second. I remember one time there was a fire in our synagogue, and he ran in and grabbed the Torahs and saved them. Lois probably could tell you a little more about that. There was another firehouse on the (29:00) 200 block of Pine Street, on the south side of the street. Used to hear sirens all the time, and I was a little afraid of the siren noise.

DS:      Lois asked me – Lois and I talked last Saturday; she sent me an email and asked me to have you tell me the story about the bananas ripening in the Man Full of Trouble [Tavern] building.

AP:      That was the Feinstein family.

DS:      At Second and Spruce?

AP:      Between Second Street and Front Street. There used to be a Little Dock Street, too, that cut through catty corner from Spruce Street into Second Street, where the condos [Society Hill Towers] are right now. There were buildings on either side of that little cut-off. (30:00)

DS:      Were there buildings in the middle of the cut-off?

AP:      No. That whole area was a wholesale area, a wholesale produce, wholesale groceries. The fish market, of course, was down on Delaware Avenue one side, Front Street the other side. The poultry market was between – wholesale poultry – was between Spruce and Lombard.

DS:      On Front?

AP:      On Front. There were a few produce companies on the 300 block of South Second and on the 400 and 500 blocks of South Second, right up to South Street. When Abbotts came in, they had built along Lombard Street; on one side was their plant and (31:00) the other side was a big garage.

DS:      The garage was on the north –

AP:      The north side of Lombard.

DS:      The plant was on the south?

AP:      Yes.

DS:      This was between Second and Third?

AP:      Right. They had a little area, just north of South Street, leading in from American (32:00) Street, right across the street here, and it was this area they used for parking and so forth. When the staff would go home, we’d play baseball in that little area.

DS:      When did Abbotts’ plant start, approximately?

AP:      I’m not sure exactly, but in my day, there was a little building on American Street, right at Gaskill, and I remember the name of Lifter [Ice Cream Company factory]. Abbotts had bought that, and I think originally it was part of their company. Then they built the plant north of that from Gaskill to Lombard Street. A little further in time, they came to us, I guess it was around 1958, and asked if we would be able to obtain properties along Second, South and a little bit on Third Street for their expansion. I believe we were lucky enough to assemble thirty-one properties. There were three or four hold-outs. The city came along, (33:00) and – in order to keep the industry here – used eminent domain, obtained those properties, and ripped down the rest of the block. They built the freezer plant, which went from Second to American, and the rest of the area they used for parking. They used that until the early ‘80s, when Abbotts was sold to Southland Corporation, the corporation that owns the Seven-Eleven Stores. They bought the ice cream division. They moved that to – their milk factory was in South (34:00) Philadelphia at Seventeenth and Wharton, out that way – and they occupied that. They said to us at the time they could produce enough ice cream in the winter to service the summer without hiring all this additional help that they used to hire. In the early ‘80s, we were lucky enough to market the property to Jack Blumenfeld, who built Abbotts Square. Then you saw everything disappear when the new building went up.

DS:      When the Redevelopment Authority came in and the neighborhood was going to be changed, the food produce center had already moved south? (35:00)

AP:      They moved down to where they are now.

DS:      Right. You must have seen quite a change in this neighborhood at that point.

AP:      Well, there was a period of time when nothing was happening. You know, wondering what’s going to happen. I remember, sadly, we had a building that we had bought –

DS:      Your parents?

AP:      Well, I was in the business.

DS:      Oh, right.

AP:      – at, I think it was 121 Lombard. When I bought the building, it had no electric, no plumbing, and so forth. We bought it very reasonably. We put electric in, indoor plumbing, and heat. We had it for a number of years. Then (36:00) [the] Redevelopment [Authority] came along and [inaudible] wanted it. They offered us $4,300 for the property. My father said, “I want to be the developer. I’ll move in there and restore the house.” It’s a nice, wide house. They said, “No. We can’t let you do that.” We fought them and got, I think, $5,000 for the property. Within one year, they sold it to a developer for $21,000. It kind of embittered us, because we would have restored it. The 100 block [of Lombard Street] was one of the first blocks where they did a little bit of work and, of course, Delancey Street and so forth.

DS:      In the 100 block of Pine there was a man called George. I think he was of Polish or Russian descent. Would you have known him? (37:00)

AP:      The one family that I really knew on the 100 block of Pine was the Zorick family. I don’t think they were Polish. Walter Zorick was in my elementary school and junior high school class.

DS:      Walter?

AP:      Very nice guy. He had brothers. One brother was a big, tough guy, and yet he had a heart of gold. I can’t think of his name now. Zorick was shortened from another name.

DS:      They would have been on the north side?

AP:      They were on the north side of [Pine] street. Walter’s not here any (38:00) more, but [he was] a really nice guy. When my grandfather came there, way back in the 1800s, it was mostly – a few residences – but mostly food services of some kind. People would live upstairs.

DS:      Wholesale?

AP:      Wholesale and retail. Mostly wholesale. There was what eventually became Penn Maid Dairies; they were there and a few others, and some wholesale produce. It was a whole mixture, but nothing like it is today.

DS:      When the Redevelopment Authority came in, those businesses had to leave?

AP:      Oh, yes. One of my former partners in this business, Arnold Levit’s father, (39:00) had a garage in the 400 block of South Front, and most of his patrons and himself were truck drivers, or truckers who serviced the poultry industry. I think that Arnold Levit’s father rented some of those trucks to those guys. There was a family, Malatesta family, that lived there, and a couple of the sons became policemen. They lived on the west side of Front Street. There weren’t too many residences in that block. I remember that.

DS:      Were there chicken houses, or were they called poultry –

AP:      There were chicken houses, where they slaughtered chicken. My (40:00) grandmother used to take us to get kosher poultry there. For years, I didn’t eat chicken, because I saw them slaughter the chicken, and it just turned me the wrong way. My wife can tell you that. I still don’t eat very much chicken. Then there was – right at Second and Delancey – there was a larger poultry firm by the name of Joseph Packer.

DS:      On the corner?

AP:      On the corner.

DS:      On which corner?

AP:      It would have been the northwest corner at Front and Delancey.

DS:      At Front and Delancey?

AP:      Yes. Joe Packer, Jr., happens to be a very close friend of mine. He became     (41:00) the president of the Prudential Savings and Loan Association in South Philadelphia. At that time, it was Alvin Progressive, and I remember the name, because my right name is Alvin, although nobody calls me that.

DS:      Your first name is Alvin?

AP:      Yes. That’s another story, because my mother wanted to name me Alan. My aunt – my father had a sister – said she didn’t like Alan. She was going to name me Alvin. When my mother found out the next day – they’d already filled out the papers – she said, “We’re going to call him Buddy.”

DS:      Your middle name is Buddy?

AP:      No, my middle name is Harris. I’ve always gone under the name of Alvin, but in school they called me Buddy. All my friends call me Buddy. My wife calls me Buddy.

DS:      Tell me, in the 100 block of Delancey, Spruce, Second, Front, that big (42:00) square block became a vacant lot in the ‘60s. What was there before?

AP:      A bunch of various different things. There were some wholesale grocers, a couple of auto body shops. In the 300 block of South Second on the west side, there was a big parking lot, gas station and auto body shop. A couple of restaurants on that block, the 300 block. The Feld family had a restaurant, and the Pollau family had a restaurant there.

DS:      This is in the 100-block square, where Delancey Mews is? (43:00)

AP:      This is the 300 block of South Second on the west side of the street. One would have been 302 South Second, and the other one would have been 306 South Second. They serviced mostly the owners or the white trade over at the food market. I think I told you there was a bar on the corner of Second and Delancey.

DS:      On the southeast corner?

AP:      These guys used to go and work for the day, finish work, go to a bar, and get an eye opener, they used to call it. Then maybe pop down somewhere in the 200 block of Delancey, which was an awful block, and …

DS:      What made it awful?

AP:      Just the conduct of the people. You could walk there and wouldn’t be (44:00) afraid.

DS:      It wasn’t dangerous?

AP:      No, but there were drunks and so forth. I remember we managed a few properties in that block. I remember the name of Izzy Rugowitz, who had four or five buildings in that area. He sold a couple of them to Bob Trump, who got in there and really started things in that particular street. But there were some good houses [coughs]. But getting back to the Feinsteins. You asked me about the banana place. Mr. Feinstein was a banana broker. They would bring bananas off the ship. His was a very small operation compared to the larger one, the Levin Brothers. They would ripen the bananas with gas, and there (45:00) was an explosion in this place.

DS:      The Man Full of Trouble [Tavern]?

AP:      Right. They lived in the 300 block of Pine Street. They were very good friends of my Dad and his second wife. In fact, my Dad and Mrs. Feinstein and my stepmother took a trip around the world together. They were really nice people. Unfortunately, one of their children, a son, Bernhard Feinstein, was killed in the war. We remained friends for a long period of time.

DS:      Did it blow the building up? Or did it just blow up the inside of it?

AP:      I really don’t know.

DS:      You just remember there was an explosion.

AP:      I know there was another fire in that block. There was a company called L. Shrager and Sons, wholesale grocers, in the 200 block of South Second. A very large (46:00) building. It had a terrific fire and burned the whole building down. I remember that one, but I don’t remember exactly. There’s no one I could ask.

DS:      Another question that Lois Beck wanted you to talk about was Longo’s Pool Hall on South Street.

AP:      Longo lived at Sixth and Catharine, but he had a first-class billiards parlor on the second floor of the Woolworth’s Five and Dime in the 400 block of South Street. I was there, but I wasn’t a pool shooter. (47:00)

[End of first side of tape. Beginning of second side of tape]

AP:      – others who were, but it was a good operation.

DS:      She said that Willie Mosconi played there? And Minnesota Fats?

AP:      Anybody who was famous in billiards probably was there.

DS:      Another question: the wonderful black shoeshine man at Fourth and South?

AP:      That I don’t remember. I remember all the delis up there and things like that.

DS:      South Street? Do you want to talk about when you were growing up what South Street was like?

AP:      When I was growing up, all the stores were occupied. Most of them, except for a few chain shops –

DS:      Change?

AP:      Chain.

DS:      Chain shops?

AP:      A chain shoe store. (1:00)

DS:      Oh. Chain.

AP:      A couple of menswear stores, mostly shoe stores. Every other store besides that was more or less a Mom and Dad type operation –

DS:      Where they lived upstairs?

AP:      They lived upstairs. It was rare, even though we were friends with the kids, that we got into those houses. They used to come to our house; my parents always had “an open door, an open refrigerator.” Anybody wanted could help themselves, but it was rare that you got invited into somebody’s house like that. The hours were long. They would open at seven o’clock in the morning and be open until twelve or one [the next morning]. I used to love to walk up at Christmas time and see the various toys (2:00) and displays in the windows. I knew most of these people by name.

DS:      Marvin Cohen?

AP:      Marvin Cohen was originally at Ninth and South.

DS:      Did you know him?

AP:      Sure.

DS:      I mean, were you his age? Did you play with him?

AP:      No. They didn’t live in the neighborhood. For example, Al Berman had a big menswear shop in the 400 block of South Street. My sister was the same age as Norman Berman, one of the sons.

DS:      Was she younger than you?

AP:      Five years younger. They were in the same class in school and things like (3:00) that. By and large, I knew most of my friends from school. There were a couple in the 100 block of South; there were a couple in the 200 block that I was friends with. Louis Fine, for example; his parents had a grocery store. He’s an admiralty lawyer today. People like that. There was a hardware store in the 200 block, Bereson’s. There were two Beresons, one in the 200 block and one in the 300 block. Two brothers had hardware stores. They had a son named Sidney who I was friendly with. There was another family that had a dress shop – Irving Axelrod. The son I was friendly with [sound of intercom ringing and a voice over the intercom].

[Tape is turned off, then on again]

AP:      – were buddies. (4:00)

DS:      Is it time?

AP:      Yes. I was president of my high school class at Central. Our class principal, a very close friend of mine, Harry Kenny, from the Irish of South Philadelphia. We just had this portrait done of him, and we’re going over to the framers to pick out a frame. Harry was very close to me; I talked to him every day for 40 years.

DS:      Good friendships.

AP:      At any rate, some of the shop owners – we weren’t particularly close. When I married my wife – Pearl is from New York – when we first got married – well, before, we were courting for about a year, I’d have to go up to New York. She lived in (5:00) a section of New York, in Queens, that was all Irish. At any rate, she was the captain of the varsity rifle team in Queens College. I’d have to go up and meet her at a rifle match. We did get married, and she came down and finished her two years, junior and senior year at Temple. She was offered a scholarship to go to Drexel for rifle; Temple didn’t have a rifle team.

DS:      Oh.

AP:      We’ve been married 58 years.

DS:      Wonderful. That’s quite an accomplishment. Tell me, in this article you talk about a drayman. What’s a drayman? [Drove a horse and wagon.]

AP:      Draymen. They used to be truckers. (6:00)

DS:      Why would you call them a drayman rather than a trucker?

AP:      I didn’t invent the name.

DS:      Oh.

AP:      You know, we had relatives in the neighborhood, too. Next door to us at 117, 117 ½, [South Street] was my grandfather’s sister and her family. They kind of all settled in this particular area, mainly because my grandfather had come.

DS:      There was a lot of family support. Did you ever feel afraid growing up?

AP:      No. Unfortunately, the year I graduated high school, in 1943, (7:00) March 29 – I hate that date – a man came into the office. Didn’t say anything. This is a hold-up. Shot my mother and killed my aunt. At that time, we used to have Coast Guards patrolling the streets and policemen a lot. One of the bullets went through the front window and smashed it, just as the Coast Guard patrol and the motor bandit patrol was riding by was riding by. They chased him for about a block and a half and caught him. In daylight. My mother was shot, and my aunt died.

DS:      Did she live after that?

AP:      In 1958 she died. (8:00)

DS:      From the bullet?

AP:      No, but it had effects on her. She was shot twice in the neck.

DS:      At that point, what hospital would have taken care of her?

AP:      Pennsylvania. When I came home from school that day, got off the trolley, which went west on South Street, and turned from Front onto South and saw this mob of people, it was kind of devastating. Mother was in the hospital a couple of weeks, and fortunately recovered, and [was] not afraid to stay in the office after that.

DS:      Strong woman.

AP:      The man was a mailman from West Philadelphia, James Monroe . Pick up a few bucks or whatever. I had to live through the hearings and all that. The Coast Guard (9:00) man that captured him, that tackled him, they had big write-ups in the paper about him. But, that was very unfortunate.

DS:      Why would the Coast Guard have been patrolling that area?

AP:      They patrolled the whole riverfront.

DS:      They did?

AP:      During the war.

 DS:     Oh, during the war.

AP:      March 29, 1943. Height of the war. The surprising thing, thirteen years to the day before that, my father’s uncle, [who] lived next door and had a grocery store, was murdered.

DS:      Again, for robbery?

AP:      Yes, but they never caught him.

DS:      That did not make you afraid of this neighborhood.

AP:      No.

DS:      Especially when it was going through the redevelopment period?

AP:      Many times, you did not even lock your door at night. (10:00)

DS:      Why do you think people felt so safe that they wouldn’t lock their door at night? It just wasn’t done? Or was it that everybody had just about the same things…

AP:      I have no idea.

DS:      [Laughs] No idea.

AP:      My father said, growing up, in the summertime when it was hot, people didn’t have air conditioning, maybe they had a fan if they were lucky. Many of them slept outside.

DS:      That probably contributed also to the reason why you knew everybody and there was excitement in the area.

AP:      We would spend summers occasionally down the shore when I was in college, my first year in college. I would go down the shore and come home on a Sunday (11:00) night, get off the ferry at Market Street, from the railroad, and then walk down Second Street at 12 o’clock at night. No fear. That’s the way it was.

DS:      You had a happy childhood?

AP:      Oh, yes.

DS:      You wouldn’t have traded it for anything?

AP:      I had no opportunity to go anywhere else. We always managed to take some kind of summer vacation, my sister and I, even though my parents were busy in business. We would team up with families nearby in New Jersey farm areas or down at the shore and live with people, and they would come down maybe on the weekend to see us. That was it. We did that for many years.

DS:      Well, thank you very much, Buddy.

AP:      Any time. (12:00)

[Tape is turned off, then on again]

[The following part of the interview was recorded at a later date]

DS:      OK, Buddy. I have another question. How did the redevelopment of Society Hill affect you as a realtor?

AP:      Certainly, it has affected me very positively, because prior to the redevelopment of the area, things were going down, and [it] acted as a stimulus to people coming in, putting money into the area, increasing real estate values. When they did that and we sold some, commissions would be higher. When they initially did the first area in    (1:00) Society Hill, which was Washington Square East, I believe, they started at Lombard Street it affected us very positively. That also encouraged the area to the south, which became known as Queen Village. I worked initially with the Queen Village Corporation, which was started by the various institutions in the area, Settlement Music School, the various churches, Neziner Synagogue. They formed the Corporation, worked with people from Penn, got a government grant of $100,000. My Dad was on the committee, and then they hired me as a real estate advisor, and I worked with them for about ten years, giving advice. We actually helped them acquire some properties. (2:00) That in itself [brought] about renewal in Queen Village.

DS:      That was after Society Hill had taken off?

AP:      After. There were many things that happened: expressways. The Crosstown Expressway – we killed that, fortunately. Things of that sort. The regional stimulus in Society Hill, for example, and the area to the west by the Redevelopment Authority, certainly [had] a positive effect on us.

DS:      How about the displacement of some of the older people, the people who were here originally?

AP:      There were some displacements. I think that the people, for the large part, (3:00) that got displaced, were looking to get displaced. They were able to get funds for their properties. Initially the amounts that they received were low, and there was a problem with that. But as things came along, their prices increased, and I think they did pretty well. Actually, I think the displacement was minimal. There was displacement with, not the Redevelopment Authority so much, as with the expressway, I-95, because (4:00) there were houses that were taken, and many of them were older people, and they didn’t want to be taken, in areas from Front Street down towards the river. It was really necessary, because some of them were in bad shape. Some of them were in good shape, but there was an effect.

DS:      How about the businesses, like the businesses on Pine Street?

AP:      There were some commercial businesses, for example in the 100 block of Pine, that were taken. There were some businesses along Front Street.

DS:      Do you think those people wanted to leave?            (5:00)

AP:      For the most part, I would say yes. The commercial market was really down. Except for one or two situations, I think they wanted to leave.

DS:      The food distribution center had moved, too, so that changed it for them.

AP:      It affected Second Street. It affected Front Street. Dock Street, of course, was gone. I think that it was really a positive effect on the city.

DS:      On the arrival of the new people, what are your feelings on that?

AP:      It was positive.

DS:      One other question, as a realtor, how did you feel about the job that the Redevelopment [Authority] did in Society Hill, the way they went about it, (6:00) what occurred?

AP:      I think as time went on, they improved. The initial situation, when they first came in, they came in like storm troopers, and you couldn’t really effectively remunerate those properties that they took to the degree that they should have. The property that we ourselves had, I might add, and wanted to re-do and move into, in the 100 block of Lombard Street, the amount that they paid for the property was very low. (7:00) We appealed it and got a very small increase, but within a year the Redevelopment Authority – they had rejected us as the developer – sold it to an individual redeveloper for five times the amount that we received for the property, within one year.

DS:      Within one year you think it changed that much?

AP:      Yes. It wasn’t change; that’s what they sold it for to that developer. I think that they learned lessons as they went along, and prices increased, and they weren’t as – well, that storm trooper thing that I was saying, they really did come in like that. I think eventually the prices were better and people were more resigned to going along with what (8:00) they were doing, but there was some problem in the beginning.

DS:      Yes, we heard stories of how eviction notices would be nailed to their front door if they wouldn’t cooperate.

AP:      I don’t know about that, but I do know that there were problems initially. The neighborhood really needed re-doing, and that part was there. Bacon had visions, and he was correct.

DS:      What has occurred that you approve of?

AP:      Well, certainly, I think that the re-doing of Society Hill – let’s stick to Society Hill – was such a positive effect on the city, affected other areas, affected us here in (9:00) Queen Village. It was something that was absolutely a necessity.

DS:      Tell me your opinion of, having grown up here, when do you think, what dates would you say that this neighborhood began to deteriorate?

AP:      In the late ‘40s.

DS:      In the late ‘40s?

AP:      Right after the war, when people started to move into other areas – this area was very crowded – started to move into the suburbs. Shopping centers were built away from where we had streets like South Street with clothing stores and so forth. I think around 1948, ’49, you started to see a lot of people move. It was then that we saw vacant (10:00) stores. We weren’t able to attract people who wanted to live in the suburbs. The return of the veterans from the war affected people. They didn’t want to stay downtown. They wanted to go out to other districts.

DS:      The returning veterans wanted to go out to the suburbs?

AP:      I think so. The GI bill enabled them to buy properties in other areas. We ourselves, my parents who had lived here on South Street all their lives, bought a home in West Mount Airy, a big stone single home. After they moved, my father was (11:00) sorry they moved. He wanted to be where his office was. They moved back and I bought the house from them when I was first married in 1951. We kept that house until 1956, when we sold it and we ourselves moved, because my wife had taken a teaching position in New Jersey. [We] moved over there, to what is now Cherry Hill; it was Delaware Township. She did it because of her job. Many of our friends had moved. For example, my high school class. I graduated Central High in [the 179th Class] January of ’43. At that (12:00) time, every one of my classmates who graduated lived in the city. Today, only a few, after all these years, live in the city. Of course, many of them have dispersed to other areas, but those who remained geographically in the Philadelphia metropolitan area, there are only, I would say, half a dozen who live within the city boundaries. Just a good example. Many of them who do live in the city boundaries still live in Center City.

DS:      People started to move out; stores became abandoned?

AP:      Definitely. (13:00)

DS:      Just not occupied, and houses not occupied? Did the locals then – or did somebody – come in and start buying them up, or did they just remain empty?

AP:      Many of them remained empty. Now, let’s look at South Street. It wasn’t until, I would say, 1969-70, when there was a little bit of a change, when some of these artistic young people came in and located here because the properties were cheap. I remember selling Eyes Gallery, for example. I remember selling to Zagars two properties in the 400 block of South Street for $10,000. They opened up their gallery and rented their other building that had been a men’s clothing store, where they opened their (14:00) Eyes Gallery. That’s just an example. From that particular instance and several others, it started a move into a better direction. They could buy these properties reasonably, fix them up, and have their galleries and so forth. That was the beginning of the beginning of the change.

DS:      Well, that’s been very helpful. Thank you.

AP:      Any time.

[Tape is turned off, then on again]

DS:      We’re talking about the Crosstown Expressway, and you’re telling me that it was to go from –

AP:      Bainbridge to South Street and right across the city [river to river]. We actually got a notice that they were going to take our property at 226 South Street; that’s what we (15:00) owned at the time. Our office is still there. When we got that notice, I bought two properties so we wouldn’t be affected. I bought 301 South Street, together with my Dad, and I also bought a property where the Bell Savings and Loan was at Passyunk and Monroe Streets. It was a double property. Jay Gross had his real estate office there, and Bell Savings was next door. The way I bought it was kind of funny. Nathan Gross, one of the owners of Jay Gross and Company, came in and said, “Buddy, I want to sell you one of our properties. We’re moving to Center City.” He says, “It’s two properties. I’ll sell them to you for $10,000, and give you a $10,000 mortgage at six percent. What do you (16:00) say?” I said, “Sold.” We did buy it. We bought 301 South Street, which was owned by the Goldman Shoe Store Company, but they didn’t occupy it. It had been a little furniture store. We did that just for protection, in case we had to move from 226 South Street, which was a much bigger property. Nothing happened.

DS:      What year would this be, approximately?

AP:      It would be the late ‘70s, from ’76 –. No, I’m sorry, ’66.

DS:      ’66?

AP:      They had – the State Highway Commission – had already purchased four properties, one in our block here on American Street, American and Bainbridge, the old Randall Public School, where my Dad went to first grade. They purchased that. (17:00) It was an organ factory, pipe organ. They purchased that, and after they did, it laid there, a deplorable, rat-infested building until somebody came along and redeveloped it. They bought that; they bought several properties up in the 500 block of South Street that extended through to Kater Street. I think it was only four that they purchased. When the [Crosstown Expressway] project was abandoned, those properties went back on the market, and they [the State Highway Department] did sell them at auction.

[Tape is turned off, then on again]

DS:      Do you want to tell me about the 100 block of Delancey?

AP:      There were garages, vacant properties, few food people on that block. (18:00) It was just a mess. Taprooms on the corner. It wasn’t very pleasant.

DS:      Any residential on that block at all?

AP:      There were a few. In the next block, too, there were nice houses in some parts of the 200 block, and the rest of it was a mess. There was a pretty bad taproom on the corner, would have been the northwest corner of Second and Delancey. Constant fights and things like that there. [Here’s a story.] Central Penn National Bank was on Second Street, where Wachovia or Wells Fargo is now. (19:00)

DS:      At Second and Pine [northwest corner]?

AP:      Yes. Beyond that, there were four properties on Pine Street just adjacent, where the [bank’s] parking lot is now, and four properties on Delancey Street. They were owned by the Gornish family, who had them for many years. Normally, they never sold anything. Before Central Penn it was South Philadelphia National Bank, which was our bank, and First Pennsylvania.

            At any rate, the president of South Philadelphia National was a very, very fine guy by the name of – his last name was Arnold. Arnold called my Dad in and said, “We’re trying to acquire the properties adjacent to us, the Gornish properties, for a drive-in, and we’re getting nowhere with them. Do (20:00) you know them?” And he said, “Yes, I do. Normally they don’t sell anything.” Dad had known, in fact, they owned properties right here in this block. Arnold says, “See what you can do.” Dad went to see Ed Gornish; there were three brothers, Sid, Ed, and I forget the other guy’s name, and a sister, who happened to be a woman cantor, which was rare in those days. At any rate, he went to see – oh, he went to see George Gornish, who was kind of a top guy there. George said to him, “Give me $30,000, and I’ll sell them.” That was a lot of money. Dad went back to Arnold and told him, “They want $30,000.” “We had them appraised. We were going to offer them twenty,” (21:00) he [Arnold] said. [Dad replied] “You’ll never buy it. He came to me and said thirty. He’s a man of his word. He’ll do it.” They drew up an agreement. In between, they [South Philadelphia National] merged with Central Penn, but the sale went through.

            Now, at that time, there were four properties on Pine and four on Delancey that went right through. When the Redevelopment [Authority] came in, they – the bank – traded the properties on Delancey Street for the frontage on Second Street where the drive-in goes in, and they sold off eventually those pieces on Delancey. Then we had a client by the name of Izzy Rogowitz, who owned I guess about five properties on the 200 block of Delancey Street. He was a good client. We handled a number of his (22:00) properties, and Bob Trump came along and bought a couple of them through us. Then we sold off eventually the other ones he had. He kept them in reasonably good condition, but most of them were tenements and black occupied, people who worked on Dock Street, day workers and so forth, a lot of drunks and things like that. At least they conformed and passed the minimum housing codes. When Bob Trump bought his and did over a couple of properties, that started that block off, and then of course Redevelopment [Authority] came in and got some of the others. There were some reasonably good properties, especially towards the western end of the street on that block. But, I wouldn’t want to walk down that block at night then. (23:00)

DS:      Dangerous?

AP:      I mean, I just wouldn’t. A lot of drunks. These guys that worked as day workers in the market would come and get drunk and lay on the street. There were places where they can get a nice lodging for a quarter in some of these lodging houses.

DS:      For a quarter!

AP:      Yes. Right along Second Street, on the east side of the street, from Pine to South, there were three or four of those lodging houses.

DS:      A quarter was pretty much the going rate then?

AP:      Yes.

DS:      This would have been in the ’50s? ‘40s?

AP:      I guess that started to disappear right after the war. We had the market, of (24:00) course, on Second Street, and that was a mess.

DS:      That’s what you said. It was falling down?

AP:      You know Lois Beck’s parents and relatives of her; not only her parents, but I think her uncles had meat markets in there. You think back about all these things; it just comes to you as you go along. I know you had talked to Tom [Guglielmo] in my office. He’s got a lot of pictures.

DS:      That’s what he said.

AP:      Our block down below, before South Street started to change, really was a (25:00) mess. We had moved out in 1943. The date unfortunately sticks with me with that – March 29, 1943, and we bought those buildings across the street, but my family had been there since 1902. My grandfather lived on the 100 block of Pine, which was a mix of commercial and residential.

[End of Interview]


© 2009 Project Philadelphia 19106™. All rights reserved.

About the Interview

Dorothy Stevens
Cynthia J. Eiseman
Interview Location
226 South Street
Interview Date
February 4, 2009
Plumer, Alvin
Narrator Type
Lifelong Resident
Oral History Sources