This narrator (1928-2008) was born in Philadelphia and lived in Society Hill all his life. His father worked for GE and, like other residents of the neighborhood, began buying houses to generate income. Initially they were rooming houses, but later were converted to apartment houses. The narrator, while he also worked for GE as an engineer, implies that he inherited some of the houses from his father and continued to operate them as apartments. Meanwhile, in the 1940s, when he says Redevelopment actually began, the city of Philadelphia began buying properties in Society Hill. Rather than maintaining them, however, they let them decay. The city did not issue permits to other owners to improve their buildings.
He talks a little about growing up in the neighborhood, describing several elementary schools that served the neighborhood and the various businesses around Fourth Street, Spruce Street, and Orianna Street – the streets near his home as a child. He speaks of his mother shopping on South Fourth Street, where the pushcart vendors were. He recalls the people who delivered goods to your house by horse-drawn wagon. He mentions various clothing stores on South Street.
He returns to his complaint that the City took a long time to start the redevelopment of Society Hill after they had decided to do it. He laments the loss of parking garages. He says he had a lot of friends in the neighborhood when he was a kid. But most of them are gone now, having died or left when redevelopment came and changed the character of the neighborhood. He says there were black people in the neighborhood on particular blocks, but no Hispanics.
[Transcriber’s note: The narrator requested anonymity. He is referred to here as A2. Relatives he mentions by name are given letters instead. Some passages in the interview have been redacted because they are irrelevant to this project.]
DS: The date is July 12, 2006. And we are at 116 Delancey Street. I am Dorothy Stevens, and I am interviewing A2. Where do you live now?
A2: 316 Lombard Street.
DS: And when were you born?
A2: I was born March 28, 1928, on Delancey Street; I think the address was 312 Delancey. A midwife delivered me.
DS: A midwife at your home?
DS: Interesting. Is that where you grew up then, your childhood was at –?
A2: No, I guess we stayed a short period of time. Me and my mother and father and my brothers. Then we moved to 232 Pine Street, and from 232 Pine Street (1:00) my parents bought, from the Norwegian Seamen’s Church, a property at 262 S. Fourth. I guess I was maybe three years old or something when we moved there. I stayed there until I was thirty-four.
DS: At that point, you were thirty-four? What happened?
A2: At thirty-four, my brothers were getting married, I was the only bachelor, and the house became too much for my mother and father to take care of, so we bought some property at 314-316-318 Lombard and converted it. It was a ramshackle old neighborhood theater. I don’t know how many bottles of wine—wine bottles—we had in that basement. [Laughs] Must have been about three dumpsters full of wine bottles. It was in pretty bad shape, and we rehabilitated that.
DS: Had people been living in it before or had it been empty?
A2: I guess it was used as a flop house for people to use, mostly boozers and things like that.
DS: In your family, you said your brothers. What were your siblings? You have how many brothers?
DS: Three brothers, and any sisters?
A2: No. We were all boys.
DS: Were you the youngest?
DS: Did you have a church affiliation? In the neighborhood?
A2: Not in the neighborhood. We’re Polish descent, and we used to go to – (2:00) the part of Poland that my folks came from was on the border with the Ukraine. I guess they got mixed up with the Byzantine rite of the Catholic Church. We used to go to St. Mary’s Cathedral; I guess it’s at Franklin and Brown.
DS: Franklin and Brown.
DS: Your mother and father came from the same area of Poland? Did they come married [to the United States], or did they come when they were teenagers?
A2: I guess the history of that part of Europe was pretty muddled. I guess they were landowners, both on my mother’s side, my father’s side. [They were] happy there and got (3:00) married there. Then they wanted to draft [my father] into the Austrian army. He’s not Austrian. Why should he be drafted into the Austrian army? That didn’t sit too well with him, so he figured he was going to go over to the United States – [he] left my mother there – to make his livelihood in the United States, and he did. Subsequently, he brought my mother [over]. Thank God that he made a lot of money. He still had a grant over there, lands in Poland. He missed his family and went back. Thank God, he had two kids here in the United States during that period of time. They were American citizens. (4:00) [My father and mother] went back [to Poland], right? Things changed in the period of time [since] they left Poland to be here in Society Hill. They didn’t like what [had] happened, because my mother and father were industrious people. They knew how to make money, but they were being robbed left and right by relatives, neighbors and everything else.
DS: Here or in Poland?
A2: Poland. I guess my father thought that my mother – he didn’t want to hurt her, so he kept it to himself, but [he thought] “This was a mistake, coming back here. I want to go back to the United States.” One day, my mother said to him, “I’m sick and tired of our relatives here abusing us, [and the] neighbors and so I want to [go] back.” He says, “You made me the happiest guy in the world. Let’s go back.” They came back [to the United States]. (5:00)
DS: They had had two of your brothers here before they returned to Poland? Then when they came back to the States, they had the other two? You and your other brother?
A2: The other kid, OK, he was next to me. He was born in Poland, then they came back. Now there was a little tussle trying to get through Ellis Island, right? [An official] says, “We don’t know you were here, went back to Poland. Blah, blah, blah. I don’t know if we want to let you back into this country.” Then [my father] says, “Hey, wait a minute, I have two American children here.” Then the doors flew open, and they got back [into the United States]. Somebody up there always looked after my mother and father, as well as me.
DS: It’s a wonderful story. When they came back, can you put a date on that?
A2: Seems like my son took me through all this stuff. They were here (6:00) before World War I. That’s why [my father] didn’t want to go in the Austrian army. They were here before, what was it? 1917? Whenever World War I started. And they stayed here for quite some time, because [they had] two kids. Right? I guess the war was over, OK, when they went back. I could fix those dates for you. I could come back.
DS: I just wanted an approximate timing of when he first came and when he came back. You’re saying it was after World War I.
A2: He didn’t go back to Poland until after World War I.
DS: He went back to Poland after World War I, but he came to the United States before?
A2: Before, much before. About 1908. (7:00)
DS: So, in the United States, what was your father’s job? What did he do for a living?
A2: He worked at General Electric for a period of time. At least, when I was born that’s where he was. Then he bought that house at  S. Fourth, and I guess I was born in the heart of the Depression. Somehow, right, he stayed with GE, and the time came when he started buying additional property. A good way to make money is to provide living accommodations for people. He bought a couple of houses. That’s what he started to do.
DS: Oh. (8:00)
A2: Right now, I guess we’ve got eight properties in the city. Thirty-two apartments that still to this day are no trouble, because my mother and father knew how to run the business. I just did what they did. That was a secret to success in running rental properties.
DS: These would have been – back when you were young – these would have been boarding houses? Apartments? House rentals?
A2: In ’62, in the old days, right? My kid asked me one day, he was small, he says, “Pop, what’s your favorite TV program?” I didn’t have a favorite TV program to watch. He says, “Why, were we poor?” I says, “It doesn’t matter if we were poor or if we were rich, because TV wasn’t invented at the time.” In those days, I guess everyone had a hard time with the summer heat. Philadelphia was always humid, yucky heat. One time (9:00) my son said, “When is this day going to be over? Is it still the same day?” I guess he wasn’t too happy about it. “This day never seems to end.” Wait till you get to be twenty-one to see how fast time flies. I remember that little sermon.
You know, when the sun would go down, the people would sit outside on the front stoops. Across the street, it was 275 S. Fourth Street, [there was] a For Sale sign. Now, that place had the most hideous, grotesque big bay windows, so they tore out the first floor. There was a guy, Tommy Ward, was a painter, paper hanger, and he used to do business in that day. My mother said to my father, “See that building across the street there? I can’t stand looking at that building. Why don’t you go and buy that house?” (10:00) Oh, what a good idea! They did buy it then, OK? To make my mother happy, right? He [my father] found a Russian bricklayer, I guess Sixth and Pine, Seventh and Pine, and, you know, they got an estimate from him. The guy did a marvelous job. We even replicated the keystones that were on the second and third floors. Marble lower case staircase and bricks duplicating as much as possible what was there before they butchered that house. There were people that were tenants living there. That spread and we bought 327 Pine and 232 Pine and, from the Redevelopment Authority, 264-266 S. Fourth Street. (11:00) We wound up in big places. I guess what we started repairing, that 275 [S. Fourth] was the first. I wanted to be a lawyer, OK?
DS: You wanted to be a lawyer?
A2: Yes. My father says, “I don’t think you ought to be a lawyer.” I says, “Why?” He says, “It goes against everything I ever taught you: to tell the truth. Most lawyers are liars, and they don’t care who they represent. They have no scruples. Most of them.” He says, “We have this tenant, Jay, who was at the old School of Engineering. Get that? (12:00) I think our kid’s a smart kid. His parents are smart. I think you ought to be an engineer.” I said, “Well, I guess so. OK.” It didn’t take much to sway me. I went to the U of P [University of Pennsylvania], because back in the ‘40s, early ‘40s, being a good son, I had leanings toward being an engineer, good at math, good at science. That’s when we undertook that conversion; it was a successful conversion. I said, “That’s great!” So, I did show up at Penn.
A2: The family’s an engineer. It suited me great. In fact, my two kids, I never told them what they wanted to do. Both in mechanical engineering, and one studied (13:00) electrical engineering. That’s when we started that conversion process in the early ‘40s. By eminent domain, right, they took all these properties. We didn’t own the property, and they didn’t give you a title on anything. Things really progressed as slow as possible. I tell you, things got – buildings started to decay, and you weren’t allowed to fix them until they decided how they were going to fix them, until they decided how they were going to handle the situation. The politicians really know how to screw things up real good. Now me, believing that everybody’s honest. It’s just that they were not the right people in the job. I think they did that on purpose. (14:00)
DS: You’re saying that this was in the 1940s that this began, and you’re calling the conversion [is] the conversion of the neighborhood from –
A2: From tottering on the brink of complete disaster. Right?
A2: A lot of houses, OK? These people from Poland came over here and these people, a lot of them, owned property that they took care of, but there were other people who let them decay. I went there and fixed it up. I was an engineer. I guess my first love really is buildings, not building weapons systems. [Laughs] I had a great career as an engineer. When some of my friends said, “What did you do?” I says, “Well, something that looked like it was so insignificant to me. I guess I am one of the few people that can boast of something that I made that is up on the moon. (15:00) And that’s a LEM.
DS: A lemon?
A2: A LEM, a Lunar Excursion Module. I worked for RCA, and RCA got bought out by GE, and GE got sold to Martin Marietta, and Martin Marietta merged with Lockheed Martin. I was a principal member of the engineering staff all through that period. In fact, I was one of the early ones on the original team that developed this weapons system that the Navy uses. They have them on cruisers and destroyers now.
This LEM thing was when they shoot these modules, these people get to the moon. Light, space, weight [are] at a premium. I said, “If they’re going to land a guy on the moon, how are they going to communicate back with Earth?” They laughed and said, “Well, we need (16:00) an antenna, and it has to have so big a diameter.” They said, “Oh, my God, we can’t settle with that, because you know there’s other things they have to put up there with them, oxygen, and all the other stuff.” I said, “Well, fold it up.” “What do you mean by that?” I said, “I’m gonna fold that antenna up. It’ll be like an umbrella. Can you stand that?” “Yeah.” They went up there and they unfolded it and were able to communicate back to Earth. When they were there, they left that umbrella there. Someday, somehow, maybe somebody will go there and say, “I wonder what the hell this is.” I had a rewarding career as an engineer.
The older kid, he likes it. He’s doing great. (17:00) The younger kid was doing great. His mother got sick [in] I guess it was ’96, and thanks to one of our tenants, she wound up with cancer of the esophagus, my wife. One of our tenants was a nurse at Jefferson Hospital. We were going to Pennsylvania Hospital. [She’s] still there, I guess. Oh, there are some of these doctors. As an engineer, they would never be engineers. I tell you.
DS: Let’s go back to –
A2: Now here, OK, that was the beginning of the redevelopment stuff for (18:00) our family, and that was, say, 1947. About ’44, maybe.
DS: In 1944 your family realized that the neighborhood was going downhill and that something –
A2: They realized that. They bought in 1932, right? It was a sound building, and they took care of it. It’s like an automobile. I always put over 100,000 miles on my cars, because I follow the manufacturer’s specifications. A lot of people don’t.
DS: Your family started buying houses and renting them. Were they apartments? Apartments with kitchens and the whole thing? They weren’t boarding houses? No.
A2: The first one was a boarding house, because nobody had any money back (19:00) in the ‘30s.
DS: That was sort of the way it was, wasn’t it? People needed a room and a –
A2: Right, but that wasn’t a good business, right? Like people say, “Is it going to be furnished apartments that you want?” No, they will ruin your furniture. We used to scrutinize the people pretty good. If you weren’t any good, out you went.
DS: Let’s go into the Redevelopment Authority coming into the neighborhood and how that affected you and your family. The food produce center moved out. ‘59? ‘58?
A2: Dock Street, that was an eyesore. It didn’t contribute anything to the (20:00) neighborhood. I guess, I’m not real familiar with – I guess I was maybe four years old, [when we] lived at Fourth and Spruce [262 S. Fourth). [At] Third and Spruce, there were two cigar factories, on the southwest corner and the northeast corner of Third and Spruce. Then there’s the house on the Fourth and Spruce corner, on the northeast corner, Brown owned that house. This guy wanted to put a luncheonette there so people who worked in the cigar factory could go get a sandwich or something. They butchered that building. You can see it if you pass by. [Laughs] That’s what was happening in those days. We put (21:00) the original front back on 275 [S. Fourth], yet you had these people doing whatever they wanted to do. There was this dead zone now where we can’t do anything. You have to paint houses; you have to do routine maintenance to a house. A house is like a living body. If you don’t take care of your body, they plant you early in the grave.
DS: Who was saying – who was enforcing this dead zone?
A2: They didn’t know what to do.
DS: Was it the Redevelopment Authority?
A2: Yes, they had the authority to go; yet it took a long time. What in hell is this going to take – we want to take possession of our property. We want to do repairs, and you people are stopping us, and so on and so forth. Finally, they finally moved (22:00) and that’s when we could go and do that work that I was saying to the front of 275 [S. Fourth]. We went on to – I guess I got out of college in 1951, and [went] back [to] 232 [Pine Street], where I had a short stay – maybe a year – that I worked in that building. We moved to Fourth and Spruce [262 S. Fourth], and picked that place up on an auction. Then from there we went and picked out the two lots.
See, on Fourth and Spruce, to show you what kind of neighborhood it was, the corner, the one that was on the corner, they made a gasoline station out of it. You’d never know that by looking at what’s there now. That store was a very good neighbor, B. Ellman and Son. He was a custom tailor for men’s clothing. It was 262 [S. Fourth], (23:00) heading toward Locust Street. Well, they came in with eminent domain. They knocked out the gasoline station; it became history, and B. Ellman and Son – he sold his property to the Redevelopment Authority and they knocked that one down. Now there was an empty lot there for years, right? They said, “Look, you want to buy it?” I guess it stayed that way for maybe 10, 15 years. They were very slow.
See, politicians moved at a snail’s pace. I hate politicians because they always compromise. Then when you compromise, you’re neither right nor wrong. You’re somewhere in Never Never Land.
DS: The Redevelopment Authority took a long time to decide which (25:00) houses would stay and which would go and [then] give you permission to get ownership of the buildings that you wanted and to fix them up. Did they tell you how you had to fix them up?
DS: You had to submit all kinds of plans and blueprints and so forth, to do that? Were there any other interactions with them that you can remember that were significant?
A2: Then Rizzo came in, right? Rizzo, he wanted to be the mayor forever. They had bad bumper stickers, “Rizzo Forever.” Well, people forget, he’s one guy that had [a] 32% increase in property taxes. In order to be Rizzo forever, he had to have (26:00) a lot of friends, and everybody was his friend, because when somebody would come along, right, he’d go do what they – make them happy, right? At the expense of taxpayers. That’s the way I feel, OK? That’s not too good. Then after folks like myself and other people came in and started fixing up the ramshackle things that were, you know, easily brought back to life and this is a nice fireplace, a nice place to live. I never had the opportunity to come down here, because when I was a kid, there were places that were no zoned for me. OK? “Don’t go past South Street. OK? Don’t go past (27:00) Lombard Street.” South Street only if it’s absolutely necessary, because, you know, they had drug addicts on Second and South [Streets], right?
DS: And this is back in the –
A2: In the ‘50s, ‘60s.
A2: That used to be the hangouts. You had drunks hanging around the place, right? Second Street here was a no zone, too. Because those people that were drunks, right? Talk about homeless. They used to bag out between Pine Street and Lombard Street on Second Street. Right? You’d get robbed, too. You know, it wasn’t a very – I guess today it isn’t safe, either, right? They’re all on Bush because these people are slaughtering each other over there, but you can’t change things. This guy is trying to do good, bring democracy to these people. I guess eventually when we pull out, they will (28:00) come to grips with it, like we did back in 1776. It wasn’t – you know – the Revolutionary War didn’t put an end to all the trouble we had in this country.
DS: Let me go back to what you were talking about. You said there were no zones. No zones. Who was putting this on you – you or your parents? Parents?
A2: My parents. Where to go for my own good and safety.
DS: You were not allowed to go to Second, you were not allowed to go past – south of Lombard. Where did you play?
A2: I had my own friends around Fourth and Spruce. It was a haven. Really, that was one of the good parts of Society Hill. It didn’t go downhill, right? Once they got over the gasoline station, B. Ellman and Son, that house wasn’t anything. Somebody put it up and they knocked that down. But then 262 [S. Fourth] was there. It is still in (29:00) its original condition. There was an undertaking parlor on Manning Street used to be called – right, and I think the neighborhood there was pretty – it didn’t change much. It had a lot of gypsies moving around – not gypsies. I just saw a thing on TV, guy says, he apologized that he didn’t know the cave men were still alive. Did you see that commercial?
A2: These people that have – they’ve agonized. They move around. There was stability there. Where there was stability, that’s where good houses are standing today. They’re still there. Third Street, OK? The west side of Third Street was the same thing, the Powel House. Again, there were people that took care of their houses, up to Willings (30:00) Alley and past. If you have any luck – I guess my parents were lucky in buying that Norwegian Seamen’s Church and started real roots there.
DS: Norwegian Seamen’s Church?
A2: Norwegian Seamen’s Church.
DS: Where’s that?
A2: Used to be 262 S. Fourth. And they moved it [from] there – I guess they moved to Chestnut Street, Second and Chestnut. They moved to Third Street. They moved to between Market and Chestnut [22-24 S. Market Street]. And I guess they are still in the area–
DS: This is the Seamen’s Church you’re talking about? [Now called the Seamen’s Church Institute at 475 N. Fifth Street].
A2: This area, too. There were a lot of seafaring people in this area early on, in the ‘40s. Now the United States had a merchant marine, OK? We got out of that business (31:00) for some reason, and a lot of Norwegians would come here, right, and they spoke Norwegian. [Laughs] Just like when my parents came over here; they didn’t speak English. They’d find – they were quick to learn, because everybody wanted to be part of the big American melting pot. Some of these Hispanics, they’ve got the wrong tree, as far as I’m concerned. Forget Spanish. To this day, when they tell me today, “Push 1 for Spanish,” well, that irritates me, because as an American, we speak English.
DS: You told me that – I think you said that your parents started that Seamen’s Church? No?
A2: No, but it was there. It moved, I guess. If I recall correctly, on Third Street, the west side of Third Street between Market and Chestnut. (32:00)
DS: As a child you’d play on the street?
A2: Yes, or go in somebody’s house.
DS: There were a lot of children around?
A2: Oh, there were a lot of children around. There were some good kids around. They were good, and there were some my parents told me, “OK, you can play with them.” I remember now, when I walked to grade school –
DS: Where did you go to grade school?
A2: Wharton School, it used to be, at Third and Lombard.
DS: Where the parking lot is now?
A2: Right. The kids there were OK. I – everybody tells me how great St. Peter’s School is. Well, those kids in [Wharton School] – when I went to that school, right, there was no screaming, no yelling, no shouting, no fighting, no kicking footballs around. You went there. When the bell rang, it became deathly silent. You lined up, right, (33:00) and went to your classroom. I tell people I’m a graduate not only of the Scientific School at the U of P, but I’m a graduate of the Wharton School. [Laughs] Not affiliated with it [U of P], but I tell them what it was, the Wharton School. From the Wharton School, I went to the Horace Binney School that was between Fifth and Sixth on Spruce Street.
DS: That was like a junior high school?
A2: It was a continuation, I guess, approaching high school. Of course, the Wharton School, they tore it down. It was really ancient. I guess people feared for the safety of the pupils there. That house at 262 [S. Fourth] originally was built by Horace Binney…. (34:00)
DS: Which house?
A2: 262 S. Fourth.
A2: That’s the house that my parents bought [first]. From there, right, that Horace Binney School was in bad shape [Laughs], so we’ll try McCall’s School. McCall’s School that took me up to – through the eighth grade. Then I went to the Bartlett Junior High School.
DS: Eleventh and –
A2: Eleventh and Catherine. Then from there, right, I guess I had a choice. I was always a smart kid, thank God to my parents. “Did you do your lessons?” “Yeah.” “Give a listen to the radio and let me see what you did.” [Laughs] Didn’t let me go too far off the leash, right, thank God. Now, that has its rewards, right? ‘Cause (35:00) I have two kids. I have a lot of educated people that say, “How come that when you tell your two sons to do something, they do it and my kid fights with me?” I said, “Don’t thank me. I had nothing to do with it. I just brought my kids up the way my parents brought me up….” On Spruce Street between Third and Fourth, there was the Topkis Real Estate building on the corner. OK? And my buddy, Jerry Cohen, lived upstairs there. Across the street there was a laundry. The Altmans had a hand laundry, right, [at] Fourth and Spruce, back when people didn’t have washing machines, I guess, and they had to do with the scrub board. [Jerry] did something right somewhere to get cleaned up. On the other corner (36:00) was that Richman’s luncheonette, but that changed dramatically, I tell you, with the time.
DS: Going back to your education, where did you go to high school?
A2: Central High. I was a smart kid. [Laughs].
DS: Then from there to the University of Pennsylvania?
A2: I never strayed from here. I guess I’m a Society Hill kid still.
DS: Was there ever any organized sports or anything like that for the boys in the neighborhood?
A2: That was taken care of in the school system.
DS: In the school system?
A2: Right. Hey, I went to Central High. They had a track team, a football team, a baseball team. All these schools had that. Now, you know, today, that these politicians (37:00.) I had a good education in the public school system, right, a very good education….
DS: Where? Orianna Street? St. Joe’s?
A2: I’d say St. Joe’s. That was [the] Yellow Cab parking lot and garage. Then there was a chemical plant, Rorer, and they give you that stuff for ulcers, I think. On Manning Street, there was the Bell Telephone Company. You could see between the undertaker that little car path there – I guess only a horse and wagon could go through there – (45:00) was the Bell Telephone Company. There have been dramatic changes from what was there.
DS: The chemical company – I’ve heard that talked about in other interviews. You say that was making medication for people with ulcers? Are you talking about things like Maalox?
A2: Yeah, that’s it. Rohr. R-O-H-R, I think. [The Rorer Group]
DS: That was the chemical, because –
A2: Not chemicals per se, but –
DS: They were manufacturing – [pharmaceuticals].
[End of first side of tape. Beginning of second side of tape]
DS: Tell me what it was like when you were three, four in the house [262 S. Fourth] that you grew up in. Did you have toilets inside? Hot water?
A2: We did have toilets.
DS: Who owned the building?
A2: It was built by Horace Binney. It had all the comforts of home, had a back yard.
DS: Everything you have now except air conditioning?
A2: Right. It had central heat.
DS: Wonderful. What kind of heat?
A2: Hot air furnace. The back of the house is like two sections to that house. The front part [was] then like an apartment. That lot is about 110 ft., so I guess they built a stairwell in the back and then, where the stairwell was, I guess additional [were a] couple more rooms attached to the house. (1:00)
DS: You never went down to South Street?
A2: I wouldn’t say “Never.” I didn’t have a halo, as some kids, but I was on my toes until I’d say, “Let’s get the heck out of here, tout de suite.”
DS: Did you marry a local girl?
A2: Well, she was from the Northeast here.
DS: You didn’t meet her here in this neighborhood? No.
A2: A lot of girls here. Strange thing about that: I had a lot of girlfriends. My mother, she didn’t think I could see it. She didn’t like this one. She didn’t like that one. (2:00) I was a man about town. I brought my wife home; [my mother] liked her. I could see that. She said, “What are you going to do with Z? I don’t think I have any stupid sons, and I don’t think that you’re stupid. I wish you wouldn’t let her go.”
DS: Your mother said that?
A2: I said, “I’d better take another look at this one.” I did, and I saw all the attributes that the girl had that I was too stupid and too blind to see. My wife never had any problem with her mother-in-law, either. I think my mother, her mother-in-law, loved her before I did.
DS: Her name was Z?
A2: Z. A lovely person.
DS: Did she come from Polish descent, too?
DS: Her parents came over the same way your parents did? (3:00)
DS: Great. Did your children go to school in the public-school system?
A2: Yes, up until – they went to McCall’s School and then they had this – again, thank God I had two pretty smart boys. Thanks to their mother. She taught those kids how to read when they were three years old. My wife, I tell you she was an amazing woman with the English language. She knew about phonics and everything else. The kids were lucky to have her, as I was lucky to have her as a wife. They had the Masterman School so when they were getting out of the Wharton School – out of McCall’s School – (4:00) they would go to some junior high school. The smart kids went to Masterman. She went – you know, the kids got into Masterman because of their academic credentials in the lower schools. I guess she was – again, she was a very nice-looking girl. They made her the president of the Home and School Association there. I guess she served three or four terms.
Then there was a problem. The kids wanted to go to school that had – wanted to go to – they wound up at Masterman (5:00) at any rate. [W]hen it was [time] to go to high school – I went to Central High – so I said, “You’re going to go to Central High.” No, they didn’t want to do that. [Laughs] So, resistance. “Where do you want to go?” “I have a friend that had a brother that went to St. Joe’s Prep.” They wanted – the oldest kid wanted to go to St. Joe’s Prep, because he wanted to go to a school – now see, Masterman would have taken him through, I think, through high school, [but] he wanted to go where they played football…. From Masterman, (6:00) right, they went to St. Joe’s Prep. I was kind of glad; they got a good education there…. So, I was always in a cheer when they took the guys from Central High out with a broken leg. I cheered like crazy for them. I was in the cheering section.
DS: I guess now, childhood memories. Redevelopment Authority memories. Stories of dealing with them. Just anything else that you can tell me. Landmarks. You (7:00) say that it wasn’t a bad thing that the food produce center moved out. That needed to happen.
A2: Well, that was – again, I was amazed. These guys coming early in the morning with horses and wagons. Right, I remember them, too. Like, you say, where did my friends – we used to wait for a guy to deliver the ice to come with his truck, right, because a day like today, with high humidity and high temperature. He’d chop the ice block up to take in, because not everybody had an electric refrigerator. We’d wait until he’d chop it up, and there’d be pieces of ice. We’d go take the ice and suck on the ice and cool off. [There was] Richman’s Luncheonette; he had ice cream. There was also the Schwartzes, that had ice cream and candy, some canned goods, and some groceries. There was John Mahr, again on Spruce Street. He used to (8:00) have some beans, some delicatessen type meats, fresh meat and some fresh produce. My mom would always go past South Street, because they had pushcarts there with produce –
DS: Fourth and South?
A2: Fourth and South, right. That was down – the school was on South Street, down from Fifth Street. Fourth Street had various and sundry foodstuffs there, too. She’d go there. The Headhouse Square, here, right? The part from Pine to Lombard – that was just desolate, but from Lombard to South, they used to have groceries, meats, and all of that. And – (9:00)
DS: Was there a covered section to that – at that point there was.
A2: It was bricks. [The] place had a fire or two. The firemen used to come down, and they’d come from way over in West Philly to help put the fire out. [They’d] walk out with hams and things. [Laughs] Watch out. Well, what the heck? That’s how you learn. I had a well- rounded education in this neighborhood, the dos and the don’ts.
DS: Tell me, from Pine Street – the Headhouse – from Pine Street to Lombard was empty?
A2: It was brick, too. It was bricked up. They tried to open it up, but I guess there wasn’t enough interest in it. South Street was a hub there, where there were clothing (10:00) stores and everything else there. From, let me see, South to Lombard, you can go there. There were a lot of people that would go there. In fact, my mother used to buy meat from Rose Beck, right? She had a meat and refrigeration and all.
DS: This was when you were a child?
A2: Yes, remember that? School was always – I never had a problem in school, thanks again to my parents watching me and helping me. Nearly every teacher liked me, and I liked them, too.
DS: When the Redevelopment Authority came in, were your parents still alive?
A2: Yes, they were. He was putting – my father was pushing. What the hell’s going on? [Laughs] Right? When’s this going to happen? … See, like when he started renting apartments…. (11:00) … See, there was stability in the neighborhood. It’s not like now. The houses go up for sale, right? Scalpers come in here. You’re a long-termer here, right? (13:00)
A2: I’m a life-long-termer here. You knew everybody, who was good, who was industrious, who was –. You know, you knew the ones that weren’t good, and, you know, they would go and, you know, somebody fitting the mold of the enclave that we had here when I was a kid would be accepted. We did our own policing. Right?...
DS: Tell me about the delivery people. People tell me about the ice being delivered to the houses, and hucksters coming around selling produce and breads and things like that. Somebody called a Givella man?
A2: Givella water. [He pronounces the v like a w.] (16:00)
DS: Givella. Can you spell it? People have told me about this, but nobody can spell it.
A2: I’d have to go back to – I have a friend. I’ll get the spelling. She’s Italian. This is basically, I guess, the Clorox of the day. The stuff usually worked. They cleaned. There was a lot of cleanliness, too, cleaner than most people today, you know?
DS: Well, they didn’t have the good medicines that we have today. You had to keep things clean to keep disease down, right? Or do you think it was just the way they were brought up?
A2: The way they were brought up. A lot of these people had their own medicine, too. You know, I remember, every Sunday, right? We had chicken soup, OK? For some reason chicken soup is still good to ward off and get rid of colds. A lot of that stuff they knew what the heck to eat….
DS: Most of the people who were in the neighborhood worked in the neighborhood?
A2: Well, I worked at Sixty-ninth Street, right? Sixty-ninth and Lombard, I would say. My (27:00) buddies, my close buddies, they were working, I guess, [at] Eighth and South. There used to be his partners dragging you into the clothing stores, measuring you up or selling you a suit and all that. They were in that business. There was real estate people on the corner.
DS: So, where would you buy your clothes? On South Street?
A2: Yes, because they knew – OK? There were good clothes and there were bad clothes. And then, OK, there was Sam Gerson, one of the best places on South Street.
A2: Sam Gerson. He was on Sixth and Bainbridge. OK? That guy there – if you bought a Gerson suit, it was a good suit. And then, OK, as I became more affluent, (28:00) it was Diamonds, from Seventh to Eighth. You buy a three-piece suit, I never wore them suits out. And then you talk about quality. You just had to know where to go buy stuff, too. When the renaissance started, on Second Street there was a French restaurant called Jeannine and Jeanette, I think. And they used to buy their meat from Rose Beck, where my mom used to buy her fresh meat….
DS: Your memories of the Redevelopment Authority are not particularly bad. You were eager to have them come and do –
A2: Yes, it was a long period of time, I guess a part of the political process. A political process moves at a snail’s pace. I guess it really wasn’t the Redevelopment Authority didn’t know what they wanted to do, but it was the people who control (30:00) the purse strings to have it happen.
Now one thing that really hurt, see, I always had a car. There was always a kind of parking problem. Orianna Street, right? We used to rent from Kling, OK? He had a big – I guess it was a stable or something, in earlier times, for horse and wagon. We rented this place. I had a garage to put my car in all the time. Well, when redevelopment started, I said, “Where the heck do you have things for, like, a garage?” “Oh, this land is too valuable for that.” I was frightened. I said, “Well, we’re – horrible deals are going to infiltrate the neighborhood. You’ve got to make some provision for it.” To this day, there’s no garage. I wound up on Lombard Street, (31:00) because they knocked down that one on Orianna Street, and I had one other garage. I’m at Fourth and Spruce and walk two and a half blocks. Then I had a garage of my own. It’s still there, right. In the infinite wisdom of a lot of these city planners, who are directed by politicians what they could and what they can’t do.
DS: Fred Ottaviano told me about – your family was in the stevedore business.
A2: No, they attempted that.
DS: Ok, that wasn’t really the –
A2: That wasn’t the competition, because you had to pay payola. Another thing that my father told me, when a guy comes from City Hall and has his palm out, you tell him, “What’s the violation and we will correct it.” That’s the way it is, right? (32:00)….
DS: Ever go down to the river?
A2: River never had any attraction to me. There was on Lombard Street, I guess, somewhere, there was a steep hill. All the kids would go down there, but unfortunately there were a lot of freight cars moving back and forth on Delaware Avenue, right? That would take you right down to Delaware Avenue. I guess I never liked the snow too much, because being skinny I didn’t have any blubber to keep me warm, so I never strayed toward the river.
A2: Swimming. There was a place called Forest Hills over in New Jersey. (36:00) Me and my cousins would take a bus over to New Jersey. I must have been in my teens then, thirteen or fourteen. We’d go swimming there.
DS: You had a lot of family in the neighborhood?
A2: Yes, my cousins. Like I say, these people, they call themselves Ukrainians, but they weren’t really Ukrainians because they were on the Polish side of the border, right? That’s how they got that Ukrainian Church. That’s the church that I was married in.
DS: Pine Street?
A2: Right. We didn’t go to the Roman Catholic Church. That’s the one thing that my wife never forgave me for [Laughs]. She was Roman Catholic, OK? I was supposed – you know – the jurisdiction between the clergy was she had to get married in my church, but we survived that, too.
DS: Did you ever have any interaction with St. Peter’s or Old Pine or the (37:00) other churches in the neighborhood? Did they do activities for the children?
A2: They did. Old Pine Street Church. In fact, we used to conflict when I had to go to the church. I didn’t intermingle with that.
A2: Bible reading. We read the Gospel. I was smart enough to know what the heck they were talking about, so I didn’t have to listen to these fairy tales. I didn’t believe in Sunday Schools.
DS: Other stories. Neighborhood stories or …. nothing else that you can think of?
A2: I had a tight bunch of friends that I was with, right? (38:00)
DS: Are they still in the neighborhood?
A2: No, some of them are dead.
DS: Did most of them leave the neighborhood?
A2: Yes, because redevelopment changed the character in the neighborhood. See, like I have cousins. Most of my friends were Jewish. There was one time – I guess there was a problem. I was – my brother, Y, taught me how to take care of myself if there was ever a need for fisticuffs. My brothers. They were younger by and large. A new kid moved into the neighborhood, and this new kid, right, (39:00) was a bully. He’s trying to bully my friends…. That kid became one of my best friends….
DS: [Laughs] Is he still here?
A2: No. See, he was transient. See, they lived in apartments. Early on there were a lot of, you know, for rent real estate that were apartments. On the corner, across (43:00) the street, where Harry Altman used to live, there were buildings [with a] front apartment where the landlord used to live. They had apartments there. The corner, that brown house here. There were six apartments there. They were sort of transients, but it was not movement like it is now. I practiced engineering for forty years. Same desk job, a wonderful pension and everything, because the transition, like, it was from RCA to GE – GE was the best company I ever worked for. Jack Welch, people hated him. He was the CEO. But, you know, I didn’t have to move, like a gypsy.
DS: Tell me, were there Hispanics in this neighborhood? Blacks?
A2: Yes, there were some blacks. Lawrence Street.
DS: Lawrence Street? Off of Pine? (44:00)
A2: Between Lawrence Street, the Powel House, Fourth Street, from Spruce to Pine. There were some blacks. Then again, they melded into it eventually. …We were in the “Bloody Fifth Ward” and [my brother] Y says, “Go get Hatty Hays up on Lawrence Street (45:00) to come in to vote.” I said, “Well, OK.” I go down, ring the bell. I could see that Hatty Hays was already loaded. I said, “My brother, Y, said you can come down to vote.” Even though the taprooms were closed, I guess the speakeasies that proliferated around here weren’t, so she came down. She wanted to vote six times. OK? Then she wanted to get paid for it. [Laughs] OK? “Hatty, we told you once, you can’t vote again, right?”
DS: Hatty was black? Any Hispanics?
A2: There was, but they – it wasn’t like, let’s see… I guess it would be the lower number [on S. Fourth, but there – You know, [indecipherable] because, again, the rest of the people would have nothing to do with them.
DS: They came there for the work in the produce center?
A2: There wasn’t many people who worked in the produce center.
DS: That lived here?
A2: Lived here.
A2: No one.
[End of Interview]
©2006 Project Philadelphia 19106™. All rights reserved.