Barry Eiswerth

In 1967, Barry and Anne Eiswerth bought 270 South Third Street from the couple who had owned and lived in it for 85 years. The Bowers had rehabbed the façade following Redevelopment Authority regulations, but had done no renovations to the interior. Barry and Anne renovated parts of the interior themselves and kept tenants in three apartments, using the rental income to pay the mortgage. They got to know the neighbors, both life-long residents and newcomers like themselves.

Barry describes the work he and Anne did on their house over the years as “form follows funding.” He also speaks about some of the buildings he, an architect, designed in and near Society Hill. These accounts are interlaced with stories of neighbors, both lifelong residents and newcomers like themselves, who became friends; the second generation babysitting co-op; a community vacation plan; a camping group; and a Sunday afternoon soccer team. He says the families in their group all had limited resources; but they existed on the spirit of sharing things with each other and brought the camaraderie that continues to this day. It exists with the children in the next generation, as well as among the adults.


DS:      This is an interview with Barry Eiswerth. The location is 270 South Third Street. The date is June 20, 2009, and the interviewer is Dorothy Stevens.

              Barry, tell me about when you came to Society Hill. The date approximately?

BE:      For living or just the first time I experienced Society Hill?

DS:      The first time you experienced Society Hill.

BE:      The first time I experienced it was probably 1964. I was a junior in college and was a hallmark for urban renewal. We made a pilgrimage to see Society Hill Towers under construction and look at the neighborhood as an example of urban renewal, as we were doing city planning at that time. We were studying, and it was part of our project to come down and look at Society Hill.

DS:      This is your architecture…? (1:00)

BE:      It was architecture at Penn State.

DS:      At Penn State. You came the whole way down here to see that?

BE:      Oh, yes. We had to have a little fun as well. [Laughs]

DS:      So then how did it develop for you to come to this neighborhood?

BE:      One of my job interviews was with H2L2, Harbison Hough Livingston Larson at that time. I had two job offers and decided to stay close to home. So I came to Philadelphia in 1965. Anne and I met the following year, 1966. We lived on Quince Street. Often we’d take walks down to this area to watch it develop, because I was still interested in it as a development for city planning. And being an architect, of course, that was important to what I was doing in my life.

              And one afternoon, way before we were married, we saw the sign on this house. [Indecipherable] that spring. No, it was that (2:00) winter. My heart skipped a beat. “Oh, wouldn’t it be great to have a house like that!” Now, here we were, 23 years old at the time, both of us. For some reason, the following Monday, I called Barbara Greenfield. I’d never met her before in my life. But with Barbara, you’re adopted immediately, as the sweet young couple. She did everything in her power to make sure that we could have this house.

              The people who had lived here before, the Bowers, had been in this house for 85 years. So they had raised their children; they had been here since their teens, I guess. They were second generation. I remember Charlie Bower saying to me, “If you buy this house, it’ll be a gold mine for you.” Charlie Bower was close to his 90s, I guess. They moved to the Latham, an apartment, (3:00) and didn’t last very long. But Barbara did everything she could go get us into this house. It happened.

              That was the spring of ’67. We were then married later and went on our honeymoon, not knowing that we could close on this house. Neither one of us was making a lot of money. We went on our honeymoon, came back from our honeymoon, and Barbara called at the office and said, “Darling, I’ve got the mortgage all set up for you. Don’t worry. It’s all taken care of.” And sure enough, June we signed the papers and moved in July.

DS:      The Redevelopment Authority was not involved at this point at all.

BE:      No. What was nice was the façade had already been renovated. The house had three apartments, all of which were occupied, and the Bowers lived on the first and second floor. A very old couple. And I remember layers on layers of carpet, which is (4:00) why the floors are so good now. Because there were three layers of carpet, and they just kept putting wall-to-wall on top of wall-to-wall. And very heavy draperies and dark green Venetian blinds. I remember how dark the house was when we came into it. It always was something that – the first thing we did, thinking back, was just tearing all that away. Very similar to the story about St. Peter’s and opening up the windows.

DS:      Your impression when you first came into the house and it was so dark, you were still wanting it?

BE:      It had a lot to do with the façade being restored and so well done. That was under the, of course, the aegis of the Redevelopment Authority.

DS:      In order for the Bowers to stay.

BE:      Or they could have taken the 2% money and moved on, of course. But they took the 2% money and did the façade. But they didn’t do much inside the house. A couple of things, plumbing-wise. We still have the same heating system. It’s a wonderful heating system. (5:00)

DS:      Tell me about what did you have to do. The scope of it.

BE:      The first thing we decided to do was keep the tenants, because we needed the money to pay the mortgage. We kept two of the tenants on the third floor, and in October of that year, I had lost my job, because it was the Viet Nam era, so I was going to be drafted. And Anne was going to be alone in this house and not have any income. I was working on Children’s Hospital. As you probably remember, I was the designer of Children’s Hospital at 34th and Convention Avenue.

DS:      For who?

BE:      For Children’s

DS:      Oh, for the hospital.

BE:      Yes, I was the designer for that.

DS:      You were on your own.

BE:      No, I was with H2L2. It was a $65 million project.

DS:      You said you’d just lost your job. (6:00)

BE:      No, I’d lost my job deferment, and the job deferment was sponsored, because Children’s was being funded by the federal government. I was able to have a job deferment since ’65. But in ’67, because of the Viet Nam conflict, I lost my job.

              At that point, I was ready probably to be drafted to go to Viet Nam. But I had a guardian angel, in Dick Wood, who was chairman of the hospital at the time, a very famous guy, as you probably remember. He and Dick Dilworth went to bat. Dick Wood’s Princeton roommate was secretary general of the National Guard. So he writes the secretary general a letter asking for my deferment to be extended.

              What happened was that – of course, we were on pins and needles – but I got the letter, and I remember having borrowed (7:00) my mother’s car to drive to Williamsport, my selective service office, and – gee, I can still feel it – walking in. The woman we had always feared, who issued the cards for your selective service, was standing there. I handed her the letter, and she says, “Oh, but I just sent your paperwork down to be drafted. It’s down in the Post Office below.” So she goes down with me, and it’s just about to be postmarked. Had it been postmarked, I’d have been off to Viet Nam. So providentially, I got the paperwork back and got my deferment reinstalled and went back to the house. And we were able to live here peacefully for a few years. Oh, well, we still had the tenants with us. Even till Jason was born, we had one tenant.

DS:      What was that year?

BE:      It was 1970, three years later. Kept him until Brendan was born, actually. (8:00) He lived on the third floor. It was interesting, actually. We had opened up the two floors of the house – is this getting too detailed for you?

DS:      No.

BE:      We’d opened up the two floors of the house, in the sense of getting rid of all the carpets and all the window treatments and painted everything white at that time, just to make it glow. We couldn’t afford a lot of furniture, so we decided just to let the space take care of itself.

              I can remember, we used to have dinner parties with this (9:00) group, the Cathers [Dan and Jill] and all the babysitting co-op at the time, Emy and Bill Rouse and the Hogues and all the people who were in our sort of generation at that time who had children at the same time. We had a dinner party here, and Mr. Eurick on the third floor – sometimes we didn’t tell people that he would work the night shift. He’d come down the steps, and we’d be sitting in the dining room, he’d be coming across and people would look at this specter of him coming to go to his night shift. But that (10:00) starts to segue into the community life.

              We started talking about Dan and Jill Cathers. Dan and I worked together at H2L2 for a number of years. Dan and Jill sort of adopted us as mentors. Their children were older. Actually both their children babysat for our children, as well, but Dan and Jill would babysit for our kids early on when they were babies. That sort of sparked, I think, the babysitting co-op we had at the time. I think we had ten families, the Van Dycks [Steven and Barrie], the Todds, the Rouses [Bill and Emy], us. I’m not sure Dan and Jill were part of it – but they were, even though they were older. The Smiths [John and Sue] and the Ducketts [John and Peggy]. We used to trade our kids back and forth and keep books and have points and whatever. And the Snyders.

              We were just at the Snyders’ the other evening, recalling – we always recall (11:00) the same story, because we decided that what we would do was have community vacations, where we would share our children. Skip and Dierdre started us off with Anne and me. We decided we were going to Venezuela, because there was a package deal for $400. And we had no money. So we said, “Skip and Dierdre, if you take care of our kids, we’ll spend our $400 and go to Venezuela. Then we’ll come back, and we’ll trade kids.”

              And this went on. We were able to do this back and forth. So there’s a real community [rapport]. It was really very important to all of us, because we were in our early 30s. None of us had a lot of money, and we were all sort of existing on the same sort of spirit and sharing things with each other, which sort of, I think, brought the camaraderie – the basis of the camaraderie of what exists today. As you’ve seen at the settlers’ meetings, we’re all back together. We come together, not frequently, (12:00) but we all know we’re here. It’s all part of the community. It’s sort of implicit in our bond. It makes it special.

            I think the generational thing – the children growing up and still being friends with each other. I’ve seen that, especially with Jason and all his friends. Less so with Brendan, more so with Jason, because of being on the board at St. Peter’s School, but also with his energy, his social energy, it’s just so important to him. It’s his makeup. It’s sort of – he sponsors all this, and he sort of carries it on with the group, like Pierce [Buller] and Eric [Weinberg]. They all are hanging together and still have those memories that keep them together, which is really wonderful.

DS:      This is Erik Davies?

BE:      No, it’s Eric Weinberg.

DS:      Eric Weinberg.

BE:      Erik Davies, that’s another issue. They were much older than our children. So there’s another bond there because of the babysitting co-op, and also the babysitters as teenagers. Of course, the Davies kids were babysitters for our kids. And there’s still (13:00) to this day that special thing that happens between the babysitter and the baby. And they all talk about each other constantly and are in contact with each other as well.

DS:      Do you know that that babysitting co-op had a generation before, because when our boys were little, the Putneys [Paul and Joan] originated a babysitting co-op?

BE:      I didn’t know that.

DS:      Paul Putney drew up the rules – and Joan – and our generation – our kids were older, and we had done our whole thing until our kids no longer needed babysitters, and then your group came along and repeated it, and it was wonderful. [Laughs]

BE:      And then your kids became babysitters for our kids. [Laughs] That’s a whole subtext to this thing. The other thing that I think was important for us in the neighborhood was that we were always attracted to what was happening on the waterfront, because that was our Sunday afternoon walks, and watching Penn’s Landing happen – or before Penn’s Landing. We were looking at a photograph that was recently in the Inquirer – you probably saw it, a 180-year version; they were showing something that was done in 1805 – and I was looking at the waterfront and Anne and I were talking about that photograph and saying, “Do you remember how we used to go down before Penn’s Landing?” And there were little restaurants and things, beyond Mariners Presbyterian Church and being able to go down to these little restaurants and what was then just a whole neighborhood unto its own. I think you remember that.

DS:      I do.

BE:      But then we also – I mean, I was interested in how the structure was coming together for the formation of Penn’s Landing, how the infill was working and all those kinds of things, the building blocks that made it happen. Sunday afternoons that was always our walk, down through our pasture where the dogs often would relieve (15:00) themselves and down to Penn’s Landing and back again. That was something to watch.

              And I-95 was another experience for all of us. How many years that was dormant. That was our bike path. We’d go down and bike back and forth. And the kids would go down with their battery cars.

DS:      It was a wonderful space. [Laughs]

BE:      It was great. [Laughs] Above and below.

DS:      If you could avoid the broken glass. Tell me the condition of this house when you moved in. Could you move in right away?

BE:      Yes, we did. First thing we did. We took one month, because we had a very wonderful trinity on Quince Street – gee, I wish I had bought it at the time, but we couldn’t do both things – we took one month and decided just to clear out everything that was left here. The Bowers left a lot of things, which we used. And we still have some of the things today. (16:00)

DS:      Like what?

BE:      Oh, tables and chairs.

DS:      So they left the furniture.

BE:      They left some furniture, and things a lot of which we disposed of, but there were some things we just kept anyway, because we didn’t have much. The house was livable. As I said, there were several apartments.

DS:      Plumbing?

BE:      Plumbing was fine.

DS:      Heating?

BE:      Heating was fine.

DS:      And you’re still using the same heater? Is that what you told me?

BE:      Yes. The same boiler. It was excellent. The condition of finishes [was] fine. The kitchen was in a different direction. It ran this way. I don’t know if you remember that or not. It was against this wall. They had a huge freezer in one corner, and another refrigerator in another corner.

             Then this was all knotty pine, rec room knotty pine. What I decided to do – we couldn’t afford to take it apart. I decided just to buy (17:00) gallons of white paint and painted it all out. It had a nice texture. It was very interesting when it was done. I let it be flat so it looked like it was weathered, the white. It was nice. But everything’s livable, usable.

              We took one month to clean out the first and second floors, did some minor electrical upgrades, and that’s about it. Concentrated on this floor first [indecipherable]. Then we had two bedrooms, which we turned one into a library, our front room. That was it.

              But then I had lost my job deferment, I had six months, and Anne was living here alone, and I had to go to basic training, in Fort Dix. Thank God. Another gift from Dick Wood. He kept me close to home. So I (18:00) was only assigned to Fort Dix for six months, but Anne was here alone with the tenants.

              It was an interesting time, because I was very anxious about it, this 24-year-old was living here with these gentlemen up on the third floor. [Laughs] Hoping they always were going to be gentlemen. But then when I got out that March, which would be ’68, we decided to do some more work on the house. My father came down every weekend and we started sanding floors. Believe me, Dorothy, I will never sand another floor in my life. We went through the four big rooms and sanded floors on weekends until we took it down and put layer upon layer at that time polyurethane to seal the floors. Since then, they’ve all been re-sanded and varnish has been put on, the true, historic (19:00) way to re-finish the floors.

DS:      They had paint on them even though they had all the carpeting on them?

BE:      Upstairs they had paint on them. Here they were rough. They had no finish, because they had no carpeting on them. It was like the Powel House, where the floors are unfinished. But I really wanted to have the floors finished here. So upstairs, they were painted. One room was red. The other room was gray. And thick, thick varnish. I can hear my father swearing as he’d wear out the tapes on the sander.

              That’s another story in itself. I never told my father we were buying this house, and being a product of country, pastoral living his whole life, to come to the city and see this place, he said, “Son, you’ve made the biggest mistake you’ve ever made in your life. Why did you (20:00) do this?”

DS:      You didn’t ask him before you bought the house.

BE:      No. It was sort of derelict. You know, the Metropolitan Hospital was here, a lot of issues in relation to commercial things, and not everything was restored. I can still remember him saying, “Oh, God, why did you do this?” I said, “Dad, don’t worry. It’ll be fine. It’s going to be OK.” He grew to like it.

DS:      Did he? He saw it afterwards.

BE:      He saw it afterwards. Well, he was big part of fixing it up with us.

DS:      Was he an architect?

BE:      No, he was in marketing, but –

DS:      But they lived close enough so that they –

BE:      In Harrisburg. They would be down on weekends working on – actually, both of my parents moved us from Quince Street with U-Hauls to this house. Not that we had a lot to move, but they certainly helped. That whole summer got us positioned. And then of course I went away for six months.

DS:      And your mom?

BE:      Oh, yes, she was here, too. Absolutely. Doing – (21.00)

DS:      But she was OK with your moving here.

BE:      Oh, yes. She was much more of a maverick than my father. My father does not like change. Did not like change. Mom understood it. To this day. And I remember when the Towers came on for condominium, she tried to talk my father into buying a couple of units. To this day – she’s 90 years old – she says – we just saw her a couple of months ago – “Yes, we really passed up a good deal.” I said, “Mom, you surely did.” [Laughs]

DS:      She was right.

BE:      She was right.

DS:      And Anne’s parents.

BE:      Her father had died in 1964. Her mother had died when she was 10. So she had a stepmother, and that was [indecipherable] in Swarthmore, who was very good to us. [loud crashing noises in the background]

[Tape is turned off, then on again.]

BE:      Another story. When we were looking at this house, even though our hearts skipped a beat when we saw the sign, the Greenfield sign, we thought we could never (22:00) afford a house that had already been somewhat restored. So we looked at a house, and I figure the exact address was on Delancey just off Third Street, the third or fourth house in on the south side. It was one of Teddy’s [Ted Newbold] houses. It had the sign on it, the famous green sign.

DS:      Ted Newbold.

BE:      Yes. And I can remember, well, maybe since it was only at that time it was only $6,000, maybe we should do this. So I think it was Teddy who met us there one weekend, and I went in, with Anne, and we looked at this house, and it was really a shell. It was very derelict. In fact, I think there were three or four derelicts on the third floor, sleeping. And I remember looking at that. What I did that weekend was I asked Teddy if it was OK if I could just came back and measure the area off that would be the first two (23:00) things that we would do to that house, not thinking we could afford this house, although this was in the running.

              I measured the house, and I liked the fact that it had a southern exposure and a garden to the back. It wasn’t as deep as this garden. It was nice, and I felt that I’d open it up and started to think about just doing two floors at that time and having enough money to maybe do that. I actually did drawings for it. At the same time to think about what that could be from a contemporary standpoint, because it didn’t have the bones that this house had, because so much of it had been damaged. We came very close to putting an offer on that house, and then Barbara convinced us that we had to have this house. We had to have this house, as only she could do. She said, “You have to have this house.” We let it go, and she made sure that we had this house.

DS:      Thank goodness. (24:00)

BE:      But she was a giant at that time. If she liked you, and she thought you were going to be something that would contribute to the neighborhood – not that we knew we would – she knew, and she was living right down the street at the John Penn house. And she was Hell bent that we would own this house. She convinced us that that was the right thing to do. She was right.

DS:      How much did you pay for this house?

BE:      We paid, $39,500.

DS:      Do you remember what the taxes were?

BE:      I don’t. They were probably – maybe – about $1200 at that time. Because some of us – because the houses were somewhat derelict, we’d go appeal the tax increases. I can remember doing that numerous times [indecipherable]. We were all sort (25:00) of on a thin budget at that time.

DS:      Did you have any trouble getting a loan, or the money?

BE:      No, Anne had an inheritance which went directly into this house, and Barbara [Greenfield] went to bat and created the whole mortgage situation for us. It was the point of not having enough income at the time to carry the mortgage. That’s what we had to be careful with. That’s why we had kept the tenants. We had one tenant in the lower level and two above.

DS:      You had one in the basement?

BE:      Well, it’s half a floor above grade.

DS:      These are good stories. Were you involved in the Civic Association or any of the programs that were in the neighborhood at that time? There weren’t a whole lot.

BE:      What programs?

DS:      Well, there was adult education at McCall’s School. They had gourmet (26:00) cooking classes. And also at St. Peter’s School they had some of these programs.

BE:      We would not have been involved in things like that until the kids went to St. Peter’s School. I think Anne was involved with Three Steps, of course, which started at the lower level of the Presbyterian Church at that time.

DS:      And that was –

BE:      That was a pre-early kindergarten.

DS:      Old Pine?

BE:      Old Pine. That’s right. But it was still focused on that tight group of ten families. We were all peers and still very tight in relation to even sharing the kitchens, going to different places, together sometimes. And they formed a group that became the camping group.

              I was telling somebody at the office the other day, who has just started (27:00) to do that. We had three weekends, Memorial Day, Labor Day and Columbus Day. The core of that group would go out camping to different state parks. And we did it for years. And again, the kids were there, and there is still that bond of being out in the woods together. We often reminisce with everybody about that. We shared food and we shared all the equipment. And that same group formed – we had the Sunday afternoon soccer. We organized soccer in the national park at Third and Chestnut, right at the wonderful lawn that connects to the Second Bank. The only reason we were allowed to do that was being a friend of Hobie’s – Hobie Cawood –

DS:      Who was the head of –

BE:      – the national park. Of course, he had hired us, H2L2, to do the (28:00) Bicentennial celebration pavilion for the second [indecipherable]. My firm had also done the mall in 1952 to ’66, whenever it was. It was built in three stages. Hobie and I became friends and he somehow always made it possible for me to do the projects with the national park, [indecipherable] the Graff House and the mall, the pavilions and all the things that were going on at that time. And it was only with his dispensation: we were allowed to play soccer on that very precious lawn on Sunday afternoons. [Inaudible.] But it was the same kids, the babysitting co-op growing up. The same parents. We played parents and kids together.

DS:      I can remember putting our oldest son, Christopher, into the grass at the national park and being told by one of the rangers that he was not allowed on the grass. (29:00) I had just taken him out of his carriage and put him on the grass, just to see what he would do with grass. He’d never seen it. And I don’t know whether it was the chemicals they were putting on the grass or whether it was the rules, but he was very severe with me.

BE:      You didn’t know Hobie well enough.

DS:      I did. Actually, it was before Hobie.

BE:      I would say, the house, over the years, Dorothy, progressed as finances allowed it to progress. It was form following funding in a lot of ways. There were electrical things, like this kind of lighting I wanted to have for the art work, so we grew into it. We couldn’t afford to do everything at the same time. And even having one of the tenants until Brendan was four. (30:00)

DS:      I had read this paper that you – this letter that you wrote on January 16, 2008, and in here you talk about some of the things that H2L2 designed, like the Ben Franklin Bridge? The Parkway? The Rodin Museum. Independence Mall. The Barnes Foundation. The Federal Reserve Bank. The Rittenhouse Square. That’s very impressive.

BE:      We’re 107 years old. That’s what happens when you’re that old. It was Paul Cret who started the firm, the very famous French architect. I’m the fourth generation partnership of that.

DS:      You started with them, and you stayed with them. (31:00)

BE:      Stayed with them. I was 22 when I started, and I’m more than 60 years old now.

DS:      It doesn’t usually happen these days, does it?

BE:      It’s sort of like this neighborhood, isn’t it?

DS:      Yes. Any other stories? Do you have any pictures of the house?

BE:      We had some that are in a file somewhere. I had gone to the Historical Commission, because they had chronicled each of the houses, and I had asked for this house, the house next to it, and the one on the corner at the time (there was one on the corner, northwest corner of Third and Spruce, but it was demolished) and that’s all we have. I think they were taken before the restoration of the façade, like probably 1960. That’s all we have. And the house next door was vacant, as you probably know, until – I mean, was vacant for 40 years while we were here. And the garden was vacant, too. It became a real (32:00) outpost for cats. And one of our cats, Anne probably told you this story, got loose in the garden and got into the house.

DS:      Oh, yes, and you had to rescue it.

BE:      But there was an old woman who had lived in the house for years, a Mrs. Matkowski, and she would come almost every day, and she would grow something in that garden, and she would [indecipherable], and she would come in the front of the house in the afternoon, and her son would pick her up. They lived over on Vine Street. And she would come back to this house.

DS:      What do you think she was growing?

BE:      I don’t know, but she was well into her 80s, so don’t think of that one. [Laughs]

DS:      [Laughs]

BE:      I didn’t think of that one. But it was very interesting from a social standpoint. She still had ties in the house. The front doors inside the house was fabulous.

DS:      Was fabulous? (33:00)

BE:      It had all the details. Obviously, it hadn’t been [indecipherable]. And it still had crystal chandeliers. I would go over and copy details for what I wanted to do here, because the original was there. There were things that were just so incredible. The hardware was all there, and because it had sky light, just like ours – these were all duplicates. They all matched each other, the first four built by Willings and Shippen. Willings was the contractor, Shippen was the person who built them for his children. The indenture – this is Philip Shippen’s house – was the brother of Peggy Shippen who was Benedict Arnold’s wife.

DS:      Who was what?

BE:      Benedict Arnold’s wife. And that was one of Barbara’s selling points, of course. “You definitely have to have the Shippen house.” The house next door had (34:00) incredible detail, but over the years, the skylight, of course, let in a lot of rain and things just started to dissolve. As you know, the house came on the market about six years ago, I guess, and was sold as the feature house of the year, and has had two owners since that time.

DS:      Were they able to save any of these wonderful things? They didn’t save them.

BE:      It was gone. It just disappeared.

DS:      Deterioration.

BE:      Deteriorated. And I remember seeing it at the end, before the developer bought it, and it was – it just evaporated. There was no detail left. Because the water had come down. Every time it rained, it came through the skylight and just washed everything away.

[Tape is turned off, then on again.]

BE:      First is the story about Metropolitan Hospital, which I’m sure you’ve heard numerous times. We always tell it at the Settlers’ luncheon or picnic. Because (35:00) of the way the hospital was organized, the morgue, of course, opened onto Three Bears Park, what was then just Delancey Park, as we used to call it.

DS:      This was Metropolitan Hospital at Third and Spruce.

BE:      At Third and Spruce. It was formerly a cigar factory, six stories high. At least, that’s what Dan Cathers told me. It was the __________ Building, we all remember. It was very industrial. And when that was demolished, then, of course, the site sat there for two years without anything happening to it. The Redevelopment Authority owned it and that was when John Duckett decided to do, the winter of that year, the skating rink, when he filled the depressions in the site, because the foundations had depressed, areas that he filled with water so the kids could skate on it. I have photographs of them.

              Then the next year, that came up for a competition – a design competition. I think Rody [Davies] (36:00) was one, I was another one, [indecipherable], Bill Leatherbee was. There were five of us that competed with developers, and we were fortunate to win that competition, which became Cypress Square, which is there today.

              That’s where the Putneys [Paul and Joan] who were one of the partners. And there were five partners, because Alex Wolfington had no money. He was the developer. He needed to have [indecipherable]. I can still remember seeing $500,000 in cash to be able to now close the deal. Now that we had won the competition, we needed to close the deal. It was Russell Byers, Paul Putney and two or three of the other people who are still there. The Naidoffs [Michael and Stephanie] and a number of other people. There were five of then who helped put down money for taking their houses at cost at that time. Alex (37:00) had the money to be able to buy the [indecipherable]. Russell and Laurada [Byers] were going to be in the house that now was the Blums’ house [Bob and Leslie]. Actually, what happened was Russell came over one afternoon. He decided to get the partners together, and we sat in the living room on the floor, and he sketched with me the house that became Bob and Leslie’s house and how they wanted to have a house that was both private on one side and public on the other. He and Laurada were of course very energized by the idea of having that house on that corner.

DS:      And this was on the southwest corner of that development. Facing Delancey Park.

BE:      Facing Delancey Park. Then Russell decided to buy the – because there was a little hang-up in timing – the house on Fourth Street became available. He and Laurada took that, and then Bob Blum came in and took over Russell’s house. He still wanted the house the way it was set up. So he and Leslie didn’t change the plans at all.

DS:      So, tell me about Three Bears Park and your family. (38:00)

BE:      Three Bears Park. The kids never knew it as Three Bears Park early on. It was always ‘Lancey Park, because Jason had trouble saying “De.” So it was ‘Lancey Park. “Had to go over to ‘Lancey Park.” I remember once – he loved water, and that fountain was on one edge of the park, and Anne and I would often go off to take trips for a week or so. My parents would come down to take care of the kids. So Jason would take his grandmother to different fountains. She was in the park one day. She said, “Jason, let’s go home.” He said, “No. This is my fountain. I’m staying here.” He still remembers this. She had to smack him to get him away from the fountain, because he really felt he owned that fountain with the water gushing. And the other was the Judge Lewis (39:00) fountain in Independence Mall. He also felt he owned that.

DS:      He would get in it?

BE:      Oh, yes. Absolutely. They were in it all the time. Then it became Three Bears Park. It was really a focus for us when the kids were very young. Even when they couldn’t play there, we over there as a community room, an outside community room.

DS:      Met a lot of your neighbors and –

BE:      [Inaudible] We met Bertha von Moschzisker. I can remember, we were sitting on the edge of the fountain one Sunday and she came over and sat down and sort of like the same thing as Barbara. “Oh, you’re such a sweet young couple.” We had little Jason rocking back and forth. Yes, we met a lot of neighbors there. We also met there as well.

DS:      A gathering place. Tell me the story about Eric and –

BE:      Yes, Eric and the BB gun. Eric Weinberg and Jason were in the house, (40:00) and the Weinberg house, of course, being next to ours, our fifth floors, which are sort of loft floors that are up above the fourth and final floor with the dormer, that there’s another door with some attic. And Jason by this time had decided he was going to live on the fourth floor. He decided to take over my – he actually did a beautiful job of restoring the front of the fourth floor. But there was also an access to the attic, since the two [inaudible] attic [inaudible] the ladder that went up [inaudible] stairs went up. He and Eric would have communication through the party wall, because there was a big hole.

DS:      There was a hole?

BE:      Oh, yes. They would communicate back and forth via the party wall. And one time Eric decided he wanted to sell Jason and Jason decided he wanted to buy a BB gun. It came through the hole. The BB gun came through, the money went the other way. We didn’t know much about that. We sort of thought something had happened, (41:00) but we weren’t sure. One day there’s a knock at our door, and the woman from Spruce Street whose house extends facing, perpendicular to ours, comes and says that all her storm windows had been shot out by BBs.

DS:      What had been shot out?

BE:      Her storm windows. And Jason of course had been on the fourth floor, shooting his BB gun, [sound of a crack like a shot] using her house as target practice.

DS:      [Laughs] How’d you handle that?

BE:      He paid mightily for that. [Laughs] So that’s the story. You’ll hear a different one from Jason, I’m sure. But that’s the parental version.

[Tape is turned off, then on again.]

BE:      …. would be remembering early on the vacant lots and the grass growing up in the vacant lots, with the Redevelopment signs and how interesting that was that (42:00) they had the new construction, the old neighborhood down by the piers had been taken down, and then the lots being grown over. And how we used to park in the lot that was on Locust Street. We all had access to that lot, just to pull in and park on the grass. But it was very interesting for me looking at it from a planning standpoint, that we had all of this sophistication happening around all these open spaces that were just allowed to grow grass.

DS:      Did your boys ever do any excavations in those lots.

BE:      They probably did, but we didn’t know about it. [Laughs] I’m sure there are all sorts of things that we didn’t know about at the time. But I was always interested in just the contrast:            that you could walk just one block and have the river and then have these fields. And then it was the church, down by your corner – what was it, Mariners? (43:00)

DS:      Yes, Old Mariners Church.

BE:      Alex decided after we won this competition that he was going to re-do that. You may remember that story. Then I did a series of designs for him to restore the church.

DS:      Alex?

BE:      Wolfington.

DS:      OK.

BE:      We built Cypress Square and several other places. The one down at the corner of Walnut Street [inaudible]. We did a set of drawings for Redevelopment Authority to turn them into condos.

DS:      What year would that have been?

BE:      ’82. ’83. He built these in ’82, and that was the next thing coming up the line. Then he built the four houses at Walnut Street at the corner which I designed. At the same time, Paul Weinberg was – you probably know him from the story about the Bourse – Paul and Susan, Anne and I were good friends. They were not in the babysitting co-op – there was a friendship that developed because of our kids. Paul always loved architecture. And I remember sitting at dinner one night, and he said – we were at their (44:00) house and we used to have Sunday evening dinners back and forth – he said, “You know what? I think I’m going to buy the Bourse.” This was in ’79. I said, “Oh, that’s interesting.” This is a Sunday night. He says, “Why don’t I pick you up tomorrow morning, and we’ll go over and look at it.” I said, “Sure, Paul, that’s fine.”

              So we go over. It was a Monday morning. It was raining. Spring. He walks in. The owner of the Bourse was there. We took a tour. It had been closed for years, as you know. He pulls out his checkbook and writes a check for $225,000, in 1971, which was 10% of the price. So he bought a building, 400,000 square feet, that day. [Inaudible] [Laughs] (45:00) How does anybody do this kind of thing? We’re living on starvation wages, and this guy writes a check for almost a quarter of a million dollars.

              He gave me the job to restore it. Then he and Ken Kaiserman decided to joint venture on it, because both of them needed [indecipherable]. They have so much money they needed to have the tax benefits of doing it. It became the largest project in the tax reform bill of 1979, 1980, where whatever they invested was more than the purchase price of the building they could write off over five years. They invested $22 million at that time and were able to parcel that out to private investors to write off some of their taxes. So that’s another little aside, anecdotal story.

DS:      Your plans for the Mariners Church – whatever happened to them?      (46:00)

BE:      I think structurally something happened, if I recall, and it wasn’t feasible. They just demolished it.

DS:      It had a fire.

BE:      Had a fire.

DS:      And then the weather got into it and it just collapsed.

BE:      And structurally it started to come apart?

DS:      One Sunday morning it just collapsed.

BE:      Yes.

[End of interview.]


© 2009 Project Philadelphia 19106™. All rights reserved.

About the Interview

Dorothy Stevens
Cynthia J. Eiseman
Interview Location
270 S 3rd Street
Interview Date
June 20, 2009
Eiswerth, Barry
Narrator Type
Redeveloper - Restoration
Oral History Sources