Deborah Bishop first came to Society Hill in 1956 or ’57, when her parents bought property on S. Sixth Street opposite Washington Square. At the time, her father, Richardson Dilworth, was Mayor of Philadelphia. She lived there until 1959, when she married Ted Newbold. After a brief period on Elfreth’s Alley, Deborah and Ted bought 323 S. Third Street, where they lived until 1967, adding the two properties just to the north and putting in a garden. They moved themselves and their three children to the Rittenhouse Square area, but found that neighborhood not a good place for children. They returned to Society Hill, where they bought 256 S. Third Street.
Deborah talks about Society Hill on the cusp of redevelopment, when, she says, there was “nobody else living there.” She tells about finding a special school for her children, all of whom are dyslexic, and about St. Peter’s School which they also attended. She describes her experience serving on the board of the Powel House and her observations about the founding of the Landmarks Society. She shares her opinion of the Civic Association and tells a story about her son discovering a robbery of the First Pennsylvania Bank branch in the neighborhood.
She discusses her friendships with people listed in the Social Register and with a neighbor who was a plumber. She talks about her husband Ted Newbold’s work selling property in Society Hill for Old Philadelphia Development Corporation. Deborah Bishop is a woman of strongly held opinions about many subjects and does not hesitate to share them in this interview.
DS: This is an interview with Deborah Bishop. The date is April 1, 2008. This is Dorothy Stevens, and we are at 116 Delancey Street in Philadelphia.
[The tape is turned off, then on again]
DS: Deborah, tell me when did you come to Society Hill.
DB: Well, I was just trying to remember. I was 19, I was born in 1936, so it must have been 1955.
DS: Wonderful. [Laughs] That was in Philadelphia.
DB: Yes, I was born in Philadelphia. I was born in the little English village, on the first house on the north side of the village near 22nd Street, because my mother did not like hospitals. She had a friend who was an obstetrician, who was named Owen Toland, and he came in and delivered me. And that was how I came to be. (1:00)
DS: Then, when did you come down to this neighborhood?
DB: Well, the first time that I came must have been – oh, I can’t remember. It was with Harry Batten and my mother. We moved in in 1957. We must have come down around 1955. No, that would have been wrong. The whole thing’s wrong. I’ve got it all wrong here. I graduated from school in 1953.
In 1955 was when –it was 1956 or ’57 we moved into Society Hill. And my grandmother died, and my grandmother had a fair amount of money, in fact, a lot of money. And we then went from being poor children of an honest politician to whoopee! And she decided that she was going to (2:00) build a house, and she decided she was going to make a house in Society Hill. And Harry Batten took her around. And Harry Batten was the head of N.W. Ayer at the time, and he had bought the Morris House. The Morris House was right behind N.W. Ayer, and it belonged to I think his name was Robert Morris, who was the son of the Morris who financed the Revolution.
All right. We saw two houses on Washington Square. I was thinking about it coming down here. We were in a great, big prestigious Cadillac limousine [Laughs] and this thing exploded, because it was the summertime. It was very hot, and the poor thing couldn’t just sit around pumping. I do remember (3:00) that and I do remember that my mother fell in love with these two houses. The reason that she fell in love with these two houses, besides the fact that they were on Washington Square, was because they looked very much like New York townhouses.
My mother had come and married my father, and she had lived most of her adult life in New York. She lived in New York, Newport, and Palm Beach. She had very New Yorky tastes. These houses were very beautiful. They looked very much like – oh, I can’t remember. The man – the people who live on Third Street in those wonderful houses – Burnette. They looked like the Burnettes’ house, except they were bigger, with the white marble down below.
DS: Margo and Chuck Burnette? (4:00)
DB: Yes, Chuck Burnette. They had – except they were about 26 feet wide. They were very big houses. Because Washington Square was big. Anyway, it doesn’t make any difference. And they had beautiful wrought iron on the second floor going across and floor-to-ceiling windows. Then the downstairs as I remember it – this is a long time ago, remember – was marble, or something like that. And she was ecstatic.
DS: Where were these on Washington Square?
DB: They were between Lippincott’s, which is now a condominium, But Lippincott’s was on the corner of – the northeast corner of Sixth and Locust Street. And that’s the place that published To Kill a Mockingbird. And the old man was Joe Lippincott. He really was the stuffiest stuffed shirt. And his son was Bart, and I was great (5:00) friends with Bart. I adored Bart, and Bart was really very funny. Anyway, Bart worked there. It was between that and the Athenaeum. There were just two houses. You could see they really [were] very wide. And she bought them for, as I remember, about $60,000. And then she was terribly proud of them.
She started working on them, and she was going to tear down the back sections of the houses, because they were huge. I think she was going to keep part of one back section. Anyway, one day she receives this thing in the mail from the Department of Licenses and Inspection of Philadelphia, and it says to her that she is going to have to tear down these houses as they are unfit for human habitation. Needless to say, she was not pleased with my father [Richardson Dilworth].
He would come home at night, and before he would go out to a Polish or an Italian or German or whatever dinner, he would get in bed and have his own (6:00) dinner at the house and then go out – he and my mother. She attacked him while he was having his dinner. And they got along very well together. In this case, this was one of the few times I saw him cringe. He didn’t get under the sheets, but he was close to doing it. And she said to him, “This is just the most ridiculous thing.” Anyway, he got her an appointment with the head of Zoning – Licenses, I guess, Licenses and Inspections – and he was the mayor at the time – and she went up to see him and he told her –
DS: The mayor was head of Licenses and Inspections?
DB: No, it was Dad. Dad was the mayor at that particular time.
She went to see – I can’t remember when it was – the head of Licenses and Inspections He was a very nice man, and he explained to her that the house was really unsafe, and she could keep the house. But what it meant was that she was going to have to tear it down brick by brick, clean off all the bricks and rebuild it just the way (7:00) it had been. She said, “Well, I have inherited some money, but I also have to live on some. I can’t afford to do that.” [Laughs] She tore them down. And it killed her.
She went, thanks to Harry Batten, and hired Edwin Brumbaugh, and that’s how the house got built. The house was designed and built – it was designed by Edwin Brumbaugh. B-R-Uy good architects in the city. He was not a great architect. He restored the Powel House. He did all that kind of stuff. He did a very fine job on Mother’s house. As far as the woodwork went and all that kind of stuff, it couldn’t get better. But he had – he made two terrible mistakes. He put in what they called picture (8:00) windows in those days, in the living room and in the dining room. They were very awkward. They didn’t look right. He should have put in something else. She wanted big windows, because she wanted some light. She had all this space. She had a garden in the back. He just had no feel for that.
And he also – Mr. Cornell, who was the builder, told her that every piece of woodwork was a quarter of an inch off. Every piece of woodwork in the entire house had to be custom made. And he got 6% of that. She caught on, but not till the end [Laughs]. The house approved model was overbuilt. It had steel beams everywhere, and it had a slate roof, and it had an air conditioning machine that sounded like an air conditioning machine in a great big office building (9:00) that sort of hummed and the whole house sort of quietly shook. [Laughs]
She loved the house. Dad loved the house. It was a very nice house. And when they were about to move into it, when it was finished and they were about to move into it, they had – Dad had bought a kind of condominium – it was really like a mobile home at a place called the Racquet Club in Palm Springs that had been started by Ralph Bellamy and a guy called Charlie Farrell, who was very well known. Charlie Farrell was a very well known actor in the early talkies and the early silent pictures. Anyway, Dad loved it out there, because there were lots of sort of Hollywood types and things like that. They would go out there. It was much later on. I guess it wasn’t really that much later on. Of course, you think your parents are older when you’re younger. [Laughs]
Well, anyway, he had an appendix attack, and he had his appendix (10:00) out there; they couldn’t come home to move into the house. My sister, Marie Hill Townsend, came in with me, and Mother – Mother was an artist and she had drawn up the plans of the house – the floor plans of the house – and then she had put all her furniture and everything where she intended to put it. We figured it would not be too hard. But it was terrible, because houses have a lot more than just a dining room table and a couple of dining room chairs. And we put everything else in the basement. I can remember that. Mother came home, and she looked at the basement, and I thought she was going to cry. [Laughs] Then – that’s very long-winded how we got down to Society Hill. [Laughs]
DS: Did you live in that house?
DB: Oh, yes, I lived in that house. I lived in that house for three years.
DS: Then you subsequently bought a house – restored a house on (11:00) Third Street.
DB: Yes, then when I got married to my first husband, Theodore Newbold, he and some friends of his had a house on Elfreth’s Alley, that actually belonged to his – it had been built – it had been lived in by a guy called Daniel Trotter, who was a cabinetmaker in Philadelphia. Then Elfreth’s Alley sort of went into disrepair. And then the Elfreth’s Alley Association bought it, and he rented it from the Elfreth’s Alley Association, he and his friends, for $60 a month. They moved out and we moved in. And there was a hole in the floor in the living room. It was a Father, Son, and Holy Ghost with a shed out back, and a dirt cellar. There was a heater in the cellar that sent the heat up into the living room. And there were winding stairs that were enclosed. And the heat went up the winding stairs and heated the rest of the house and also the outdoors. And so that was (12:00) where we started.
Then I said that I really wanted to have a baby, and I couldn’t have a baby if I was in that house because the stairs were different heights and I kept falling down them, which was fine if I wasn’t having a baby. But if I was having a baby it really was a problem. The house had lots of mice, but they were field mice. In those days, they were lovely, sweet little things, that the cleaning lady was always killing. Anyway, so that was that.
Then I went around with Mother. This was in the first year of our marriage. We got married in 1959. I went around with Mother, and we looked at houses that were for sale. I don’t think they were for sale by the [unintelligible]; maybe they were for sale by the Redevelopment Authority by then. I really can’t remember. I guess they (13:00) were. I saw this house that I just adored. It was a very much smaller version of what Mother had bought on Washington Square. It was 323 South Third Street. It was between Delancey and Spruce on Third. So it – we couldn’t go in, because it was just packed with stuff, because next door was a very old Jewish family from I don’t know where, Russia, say.
DS: Going north?
DB: Going north. He put all his stuff in there. He must have owned it. But (14:00) I don’t think he did. I’m not sure about that. Maybe by that time the Redevelopment Authority had bought it from him. He couldn’t speak English. He had two really nice children who were teachers in the Philadelphia public school system. I remember that. I remember he used to go out back, and he used to get drunk in the little alleyway that was between the two houses. He had long hair, as I remember, and he wore a hat. He was an old-fashioned Russian. We bought the house for $6,000.
There was a man in town who was an architect by the name of George Roberts, who was a great friend of Ted Newbold’s family and my family. He was an architect, and he said that as a wedding present he would draw up the plans, which was really nice of him. He got into the house, and I said to him, “Mr. Roberts, we bought this house for $6,000. (15:00) Don’t you think it was a steal?” He was a very proper old Philadelphia gentleman, and he said to me, “Frankly, Deborah, no.” [Laughs] It was my first warning of what we had done. Oh, my God.
He announced that the bathroom – the bath place was one foot lower than it should have been; so somehow it had collapsed. And we went on from there. It was an absolute fiasco. We had a really nice contractor who came. Mr. Roberts knew him. He was going to fix up the house. Then the unions got involved. I had to use a union contractor, which was really about double. Not only that, they didn’t know how to do that kind of work. They were used to building office buildings and things like that. Dad gave me the extra money to do it, but it wasn’t enough. But I didn’t tell (16:00) him that by that time. It was a fiasco, because they didn’t understand how to do it, and they really weren’t very nice, and they really were very unpleasant. It was not good.
But anyway, we got the thing done, and we moved in. We did what a lot of people did. We were further along. Some people did more than we did. We just had to paint the house, but that was no easy thing, because all the paint had to be scraped, which I now realize I should never have been doing, since it probably had a lot of lead in it and stuff like that. But what did I know? And so we scraped the paint.
DS: You say it was filled with the Russian’s things?
DB: Newspapers. It was [unintelligible] brothers things. It was just filled with junk. Newspapers, magazines, old whatever. I think stuff he found on the street.
DS: He didn’t live there.
DB: No, he lived next door. Then there was another house that was next door to him, that was really a much nicer house, but I had fallen in love with the front of this (17:00) house, with its little wrought iron thing and the whole thing. You know, I was 23. What did I know? [Laughs] I looked at a perfectly beautiful house over on Pine Street that was huge. It had a spiral staircase in it. It was beautiful. It was absolutely gorgeous. It was too big. I never thought about children. Children need space and stuff like that. It didn’t occur to me. There we were.
And then we bought the two properties next to it from the Redevelopment Authority, which took forever. Then the day Joe Ottaviano, who was a builder down here, laid the foundations for the wall which was going to be the garden, it went down about 16 ft. or so, because it had to go on top of the other wall that was there, which was the most expensive part of this, I went to the doctor and found out that I was going to (18:00) have another baby, which was a mistake. I had not planned on this. The house was too small, and we were going to have to move. [Laughs]
DS: You bought 323 [South Third Street] and then you bought the house north of you.
DB: Two houses.
DS: Two houses, where the Russian lived.
DB: Yes, and the Redevelopment Authority by that time had bought those houses and torn them down. And I said I wanted to make a garden out of them. I wanted to buy them from the Redevelopment Authority and make a garden out of them. And they said, “All right.”
DS: And that’s where Joe and the wall came in.
DB: Yes, that’s where Joe and the wall came in. And that happened when Noël was born.
DS: She was your third?
DB: Last. Yes. That was in 1965. We weren’t there terribly long. Long (19:00) enough to cause trouble. [Laughs] Then we went up to 2223 Delancey Street, which was a great house. It was a great Victorian houses, and I just adored that. It was the best house I ever lived in. Gosh, it was good. It was made for families. It was made for easy living. It was just wonderful. But the people in that area at that particular time were not really very good for children. There were not a lot of children. There should have been, but there weren’t. It was very hard for children to go out to play. You could not send your children out to play. Period. End of report. We looked around for another house in Society Hill, and that’s how we ended up at 256 S. Third Street. It was something like that.
DS: When you were raising your children, you did have some sense of fear in this neighborhood?
DB: No, never. Because nobody, when I was down here, there wasn’t – (20:00) most of the houses that were lived in were lived in by gypsies. There weren’t a lot of houses that were lived in. They were lived in by gypsies, because there wasn’t anybody else to live in the houses because they didn’t have electricity or running water. There were some – a few Polish people or middle European people left, but very few. And they hated the new people coming in, of course…. (21:00)
DS: There weren’t a lot of people around.
DB: Oh, gosh, no. There was the Nicholsons. I can’t remember another. And then the rest of the houses weren’t lived in. Bob Trump was down here. I don’t know if he was living here or not. The Towers hadn’t been built. He went around and stole all the locks out of all the houses, and he stole a lot of – he and Harry Batten were at fisticuffs. He stole a lot of the woodwork also, a lot of the mantles, a lot of the woodwork that was against the walls and so forth.
DS: And these were the houses that were going to be torn down?
DB: No, he just – he just came down here. And they were all deserted houses, and he’d just go into them. He was an antique dealer. He would just go into them. He was a very fine antique dealer. They are what they are. But he lived down here in (22:00) one of those –
DS: The 200 block of Delancey.
DB: Yes, his wife is a cousin of mine. And he stole all these locks, all those brass locks. He took all that stuff out of the houses. How’d I get on that? I know he was here, and the Nicholsons were here. And that was about it. And then us. And nobody was here to steal. What thief in their right mind would come to a place like that?
DS: Your parents had no problem with your being here, raising your children here.
DB: No! Mr. Newbold did. I loved Mr. Newbold.
DS: Ted’s father.
DB: Yes. He’d say to me, “Well, Deborah, I just can’t understand why you’re down here. It’s just the most ridiculous thing.” And then we’d open our house on house tours all the time, because we were trying to get people to come down here.
There were (23:00) these wonderful little old ladies who were about my age now, who’d come up and take my hand and say, “Dear, are you safe here?” Or, “Do you have to live here?” And I’d say, “Well, [if] I don’t want to, I can assure you I wouldn’t.” [Laughs] It really was fun. You have to understand it was fun! Those early days were really – it was like a Vermont Village. If you had a cocktail party, you invited the barber.
Oh, I know who was down here. Henry Watts came down. I think he came down after us. And the Ingersolls. I think it was Henry F. Watts, us, the Ingersolls and the Nicholsons. It was an odd group. And then we had the barber in. I mean, and Mr. Eastwick was down here very early. Mr. Eastwick – I don’t know what he owned. Maybe it was mills. He was very rich. And he (24:00) was a Wister. He had a lot to do with Grumblethorpe. And he worked out things. If we wanted something in the Episcopal Church, he’d say, “Don’t you worry about it.” That was the way it was done in those days, you know. You’d have a community meeting, but the community meeting consisted of about eight people. [Laughs] It would be awfully nice if we could meet some other place. Mr. Eastwick would say, “I’ll work it out.” It just wasn’t a problem, and people were very nice. They’d have cocktail parties, and everybody came. It was a neighborhood party. The man that cut your hair – everybody came. It was nice. It was fun.
Three Bears Park hadn’t been built, so there was no place for children to play. That’s why I wanted a big garden.
DS: What was in Three Bears Park? Do you know what was there?
DB: No, I have no idea. I think they might have wanted it torn down, because (25:00) they wanted the walkway. The walkway was planned, wasn’t it? From church to church.
DS: From St. Peter’s.
DB: To Christ Church. Wasn’t that where it was supposed to go?
DS: St. Joe’s.
DB: No. It goes across; you’ve got the National Park. Then you’ve got the park in front of – I thought it was from St. Peter’s, but it might have been from St. Joe’s. I can’t remember. It’s too long ago.
DB: Tell me, how do your children, when they talk about growing up here, do they remember it? Did they have a good time here? What were their feelings about growing up in the city like that?
DB: You have to remember that all of my children were dyslexic, and they were severely dyslexic. This was 40 years ago. And it was difficult for them, because they (26:00) were all bright, and they were never at the right place at school. And then they got sent away at a very early age. Billy went away at the age of ten. Daisy went away at the age of ten or eleven.
DS: Boarding school?
DB: No, they went to schools that taught something called the Orton Gillian Method, which was really the only way that these children learned, and it’s the only way that children learn that are dyslexic, as far as I can figure out. Which is a thing of phonics and repetition, morning, noon and night. You give them the phonics and the repetition, literally morning, noon, and night. And eventually they can read. Daisy still cannot write. She’s a teacher now. [Laughs] Thank God they have computers. And she can’t write, but I don’t think she’s that kind of a dyslexic. That’s a whole other story. I don’t (27:00) think she’s backwards. I think she’s another kind. And Noël was I think the mildest dyslexic of all, and she can read and she can write, and she does read. But none of the others. Billy reads talking books only.
DS: But do they ever talk about the neighborhood? They don’t remember it, probably.
DB: Well, Noël had an unfortunate class at St. Peter’s, which St. Peter’s told me. The classes have different personalities. She was just very unhappy. She went off to Trident down in South Carolina, and she stayed there until she graduated. I think she was there for five or six years. And she lived with a very nice family. She loved it down there.
DS: They don’t really talk about it.
DB: They don’t talk about it. Billy was President of the school at one point. (28:00) But it was a very small school, and I don’t think that he was crazy about it. And Daisy –
DS: Which school?
DB: St. Peter’s.
DS: Did they all go to St. Peter’s School?
DB: But I thought it was a superb school. Yes, and because Bob said that Noël should go, too. Bob Blum. And I didn’t ask him. And so she went there. And Miss Seamans, I thought, had a wonderful attitude, which was that the world is made up of many people. You remember that. She was absolutely superb. In my opinion, the school was absolutely superb.
There was that wonderful woman, who lived across the street, who had the children – Silverman, Silverberg? Anyway, they may not live there any more. They lived in the Pei houses. Adam was his name. She said she’d go around to St. Peter’s, and she always felt sick before she went, which was pretty much how I felt, [Laughs], too. If you have children who have problems, you go around, because you know what (29:00) the problems are, because it’s very difficult. And so I remember the school very fondly, because it really was a superb school, in my opinion.
They taught Shakespeare, the children recited Shakespeare. And then I had a wonderful time at their little fair, because I always made something very good for the fairs, for the children, to have a raffle. I liked that. And the rest of it I pretty much stayed away from. Also I was told at that time they say that children that are dyslexic, the parents should stay as far away from teaching or the schools as possible. That was at that time. I don’t know what it’s like now. That was my experience [Laughs].
DS: Now, the third house that you lived in that’s also on Third Street, that was a new house. (30:00)
DB: Oh, my God, yes! That was a Feldman beauty. Mrs. Morris, who lived two down [north], I can’t remember what her name was – her name was Billie Morris. And she owned the TastyKake Baking Company. She really did own the company. And we became great friends. She said to me, “I have three leaks. I simply don’t know how I’d live without.” [Laughs]
DB: Yes, and she had all these Renoirs, wonderful Renoirs that she gave to the museum, and she had damask walls, and then, thank you, Mr. Feldman, he hadn’t put flashing in any of the windows, and none of us could figure out why it just poured; we did everything, but we never took out the windows. Because it never occurred to us that that was a problem. It was like, I don’t know, it was just sort of basic. (31:00)
DS: When were they built?
DB: I’m trying to think now, Noël has been born, and Noël was about two when we moved back down. So about 1967.
DS: And what was there before, do you know?
DB: Oh, yes, the Yellow Cab parking lot. There used to be Yellow Cabs in the city, and in fact it was the cab company. And they had a parking lot for their taxis there.
DS: It was already an empty space.
DB: It was already an empty space. And he built those houses not as houses. They were going to be apartments, and whoever it was, OPDC or whoever it was who did those things said, “You can’t make apartments back there.” That’s why the parking lots were so big. Because the parking lots were made for lots of apartments in those places. (32:00)
DS: They each have a parking space and a garden.
DB: No, they each had four parking spaces and a garden. [Laughs]
DS: Were you involved with the Civic Association or the Powel House or –?
DB: You have to understand something. It’s really hard to be involved with the Civic Association when your father is mayor of the city. I mean, just give it a break here. Let us think about these things. I mean, no. I was not involved with that, and I was not involved with sinking of 95 down. I couldn’t be, because it just was not going to happen.
And so what I did do was, because in those days, you see, before the Civic Association became the Cynic Association, sort of like a big thing, they would just come (33:00) down and say to the residents, because there were more of them then – were you here, then?
DS: We came in ’62.
DB: Well, they’d come and they’d say, “What do you think about….” Did you vote for the lamps, whether they were going to be modern lamps or old lamps?
DB: What do you think? What do you want? I mean, it wasn’t a big deal here. Remember that? Were you here for Three Bears Park when Mr. Crawford was from the Park system came down and said, “What do you want in the park?”
DS: The park was already there before we came.
DB: Well, he came down and he said, “Here’s what we’ve planned for the park. If you don’t like it, now’s the time. What do you want for the park?” And then they all got up and started rattling on. I mean, he was really one of the best Park Commissioners in the United States. I mean, everybody adored him. I finally said, “Look, this guy (34:00) has got to get a call for dinner. Ask him a few serious questions. Otherwise, let him go.” [Laughs] [unintelligible] I mean, here was this guy. And they’d always rattle on about I don’t know what. Drain pipes somewhere. And so – but generally speaking, no, not. I did get involved with the Powel House, but I did that when I was on Elfreth’s Alley. That was Mrs. Wintersteen. Bonnie Wintersteen. Do you know who Bonnie Wintersteen was? Do you know who Henry MacIlhenny was?
DS: Go ahead and tell me.
DB: Well, Henry MacIlhenny was the great art collector in Philadelphia, of Impressionistic art. He had a collection of art that nobody could – it was just amazing. And he bought it all when he was young with his mother in Paris.
Mrs. Wintersteen was his sister, and she had also a very nice art collection. It wasn’t up to Henry (35:00) McIlhenny’s art collection, but no one’s was…. But all those people in those days had that kind of art. Anyway, the people who sat on the Powel House [board] then were these old grandes dames of Philadelphia, and they all were. And they were all very rich, and they were all very imperious. And they all kow towed to this horrible old woman whose name was Mrs. Patterson, who lived on Delancey Street, in the 1800 block. Anyway, Mrs. Patterson wrote me a letter asking me if I would be on the Powel House [board]. Unfortunately, she was very old and I couldn’t read her handwriting. I got a lot of crank mail in those days, although I had – nobody was supposed to know who I was or where I was on Elfreth’s Alley [Laughs]. I kept getting this stuff. I just threw it out, (36:00) which is what I always did with crank letters. About three weeks later I get this call from Mrs. Wintersteen. I was courted by one of her sons; I knew her fairly well, and she said to me, “Deborah, you haven’t answered the letter!” And I thought, “Oh, God, what letter? Please, God.” [Laughs] Really, Mrs. Wintersteen. Anyway, it finally ended up it was Mrs. Patterson’s letter, and she told me who to write to, and she told me that I was to say yes. You didn’t – you never – you did what they told you to do. And that was pretty much it.
Mrs. Wintersteen ended up being the head of the Philadelphia Museum of Art. She took on Evan Turner and she lost. But that’s another story. She – I went, and at the first meeting I knew most of the people there, to my amazement, all of (37:00) whom I recognized were of a strata [sic] far above mine at Elfreth’s Alley. [Laughs]
Let me tell you. They were very nice to me. They were really so nice to me. They told me that – they had a garden party – and they thought I should run the garden party. I didn’t think I should run the garden party at all, but they gave me their list and they sent me after this little lady in a retirement home. They called it a home for the aged then. And she wrote out the invitations to the garden party. Then they had all their gardeners come in and bring in the flowers they had picked out of their gardens and they did this and they did that. And they had a garden party. [Laughs] And then one of them said, if she (38:00) didn’t like something, “Oh, this needs to be covered. I’ll go over to New York. I’ll get whoever. I’ll go to New York.” And that was the way that it worked. That was the Powel House in those days.
DS: And you didn’t stay on the board for very long?
DB: Oh, yes. I stayed on the board forever. And I loved it. And then, as it –
[Sound of a telephone ringing]
DB: – as the area changed and those old ladies died, and their children don’t live in Philadelphia, etc., etc., the Powel House changed. We did have – it still had a few people of means, real means, but it changed and the Landmark Society – I then got (39:00) on the board of the Landmarks Society, which I did not want to do, but that wonderful man who was down here, Fred Somebody, who was head of HUD – do you remember him? He was head of HUD for the area – oh, Robb. Ted Robb. Ted Robb. Ted Robb battered me into it. The reason I did not understand – and then I got the Elderhostel program for the Landmarks Society, because the Landmarks Society was about to go belly up. They had two houses down here, the Physick House and the Powel House, and they had two houses. They had Waynesborough in Wayne, which belonged to General Wayne, and they had Grumblethorpe in Germantown, which is the best of all their houses. It has the best furniture and is in the worst shape. That belonged to the Wisters. (40:00)
They were really about to go broke, and I got the Elderhostel program, and it’s still the only Elderhostel program in Philadelphia. I managed to get the history part of the Elderhostel program – the arts part. We went to the Barnes when nobody could go to the Barnes. And I got the music program. That’s why it’s in business. Then I got annoyed at them because they didn’t want to do the things I thought they should do, like fix up Grumblethorpe. It would have been nice, folks! Little things like that. It had holes in the walls that you could see the outside from. Charles whatever his name was, Charles Dorman said it had the best furniture of any house in the city of Philadelphia. [Later the narrator added, “He bought all the furniture for the National Park.”] Anyway, be that as it may, I got annoyed at them, and so I stayed on the Powel House. I’ve always been – I’ve been on the Powel House since I was 23. Fifty years, 49 years. (41:00) But I left the other place and didn’t go back.
DS: I need to hear what your friends thought of your moving down to this area, your contemporaries. Your friends, did they think this was great fun, what you were doing, or did they disapprove and think you should live in the suburbs? Or what?
DB: Well, when I was young, I went to school for third grade, fifth grade, sixth grade, seventh grade and eighth grade. That was all I did. Because when I was young, Dad went into (42:00) the Marines. And so we went – my grandmother had a place in Palm Beach. We went down to Palm Beach. She had a house and some houses that were around it. We went and lived in one of her houses while Dad was in the Pacific. And then we went to Sea Island, because he was teaching as a Communications. And we went to Sea Island while he taught at whatever the Marine base is outside of Sea Island. Communications. Then we came home, when I was in the third grade.
And he went back to the law, but he had a breakdown, because he was 44, and he was in the second wave of troops that went into Guadalcanal as a Marine. And this was not smart on his part. [Laughs] It left him a basket case for about a year. I had no idea of this. I, of course, was young. They shielded things from me. I’m really glad they did. And I was ecstatic, because I got to go back (43:00) down to Palm Beach, which I loved, and ride my bike and have a good time. Then I came home and went to school for that time. Then I went off to boarding school. Then I went and lived in New York. I have some friends from the fourth to the fifth grade, and Susie I had in the third grade. I had a few, but a lot of them had moved away. I had – I went to parties, and I knew people, had a beau and stuff like that. But the friends that I had, like, for instance, Marian Horwitz, she got married and moved to California; they never really –
DS: Nobody was around to really – (44:00)
DB: Nobody was close. I had my family, and I had male friends, and I had Susie. But Susie wouldn’t come in town. When we were at Irwin she said it was a dreadful place and she had no intentions of going. [Laughs] I spent my entire time going to Susie’s house, which was really the best thing in the whole wide world. I adored it. And I had Alice Lee Tasman, Alice Lee Mast was her name at the time. But she didn’t like Ted – I didn’t realize that – my first husband. I lost her – I mean, for one reason or another they kind of went the way of things. I can’t really explain it.
DS: Tell me, any other stories you had about the neighborhood.
DB: The neighborhood was – well, one of the things I remember was they (45:00) thought that a lot of the people like the Ingersolls and the Wattses would move down to the neighborhood because it would be very expensive to fix these houses up. You could buy them for a song, but fixing them up was a whole other ballgame, because they had very strict regulations, as I’m sure you’re aware, having built this house. It was very costly. And instead, to their amazement and horror, it was all young people who came down and said, “Well, we’ll buy these houses and fix them up like Peggy and Rody Davies.” The Davies did. The first time I saw the Davies’ house walking down their street – this was before we moved up to Delancey Street – and they were shoveling (46:00) stuff out the window. And I yelled out to watch it. [Laughs]
[End of first side of tape. Beginning to side two of tape]
DS: – Davies who was shoveling something –
DB: Oh, yes. They did that whole house from scratch. I don’t know that they didn’t do the electricity themselves. They couldn’t have done the plumbing, but I don’t know they didn’t do everything else. And I remember now that the reason that – it was Crawford – Mr. Crawford came down to talk to people about the park, which was not, of course, named Three Bears Park, it was the Delancey Street Park – was because they hadn’t planned a playground for down here, because it had never occurred to them that children would be here.
That is what happened to them. Then they decided they’d better plan a program in the park. That is what they did. There was a wonderful man who lived beside the park, a beautiful house on Delancey Street facing the park. He would have been the first house on the east side on Delancey Street, on the north side (1:00) of Delancey. And he was a railroad engineer. Do you remember him? And he fixed that house up from scratch, absolutely superbly. He spent all his weekends at the house. It was his therapy. He just loved it.
DS: Did he live there?
DB: I can’t remember. It took him so long he might have died before. [Laughs] I can’t remember. I can remember that when they put the fountain into the park, whoever was living in the house next to the fountain got really upset, because they put all the works for the fountain next to the house, and whenever the fountain went on, the whole house shook, which was really something of a problem.
DS: That was on Cypress?
DB: Yes, that was on Cypress. I remember when Eiswerth, Barry Eiswerth (2:00) designed the houses that went from Cypress to Spruce to Third –
DS: Where the old Metropolitan Hospital was?
DB: Yes, where the old Metropolitan Hospital was, that a guy called Russell Byers wanted to buy what had been Bob Blum’s house. And I knew his aunt, and his aunt was Betty Grace Blagdon Newbold. Mr. Newbold had married her after his wife died – her husband had died. His sister, who lived in New York, introduced them, and she was Russell’s aunt. And Russell had been married to Connie Mellon. And Betty Grace was W.R. Grace and Co.; they had a lot of money, but they went through the money. That particular end of the family spent it like drunken soldiers so that when her mother died – I think she had a million or two million dollars left, which would have supported her for about two months – and Betty didn’t have that much money, either. But she (3:00) had lived a happy life, let me tell you. Russell was her nephew, her sister’s child, and he married Connie Mellon, and then they got divorced. And I remember her saying to me, “He’ll never have that house. He can’t afford it.” And, by God, Russell [Laughs] left the house. And then he married a wonderful-looking woman and moved to Chestnut Hill. And then he got shot. Do you remember that? He was a – he ended up being a reporter for the Daily News. He got shot in Chestnut Hill.
DS: Not here.
DB: No, not here. [Laughs] I’m not going to tell you all the stories – do you know? Because there were very few. There was Bob Trump’s wife, who was raped. And that was as much as I knew. But Billy [Newbold, her son] got held up a couple (4:00) of times around here. Oh, there was the shooting in Starr Playground. Not in Starr Playground. That was terrific. A whole different attitude.
DS: What was terrific?
DB: Well, they had a shoot-out on South Street. This was when Billy was still going to St. Peter’s.
DS: Your son Billy.
DB: My son Billy. And he – and St. Peter’s School used to play soccer at Starr Playground. They were playing soccer, and suddenly they heard all these shots. The coach said, “Fall to the ground, folks.” Everybody fell to the ground. Then Billy came back and he said that there had been this shooting on South Street, and something like five shots had been fired – eight or something – and they had all fallen to the ground. And I didn’t really [Laughs] think anything of it. I was wondering, “What (5:00) were you going to do?” I said, “It must have been very exciting, dear.” He said, “Yes, it certainly was.” I mean, you had to teach him. Otherwise, if you taught him to be scared, “Oh, how terrible. You poor little thing.” They would have been quivering things. That happened.
Then he and Chris Coyne – do you remember Chris Coyne? They were great friends. They were working to fix up the warehouse I had bought. I had bought an old warehouse over on Church Street, and I was fixing it up. Two warehouses. His grandfather Newbold had given him a check for his birthday. And of course he hadn’t cashed it. And it was July. And he went to the bank. Do you remember the First Pennsylvania Company bank that was on the corner – they’ve restored it just the way it had been and was on the corner of Third and Walnut. It was my bank.
He said to Chris, “I think we’ll go in here and get this check cashed. It’s about time.” (6:00) They walk into the bank, and nobody was there. And they weren’t used to being in banks, so they called around. It was a very small bank. Nobody was there. They thought, “Oh, this is not so good. We’ll call the police and tell them we walked into this bank and nobody was here.” They called the police, and they said, “Oh, yes, well be around right away.” Well, of course, they sounded like they were 16, and the police didn’t come. They called them back. And then they didn’t dare leave the building and they were scared. They were in workmen’s clothes and they were dirty and they were 16. They were kids. They decided they’d better stay in the building, because if they walked out, they might get shot. Welcome to city living! [Laughs] They – the police came, and they ran into the building, and they ran all over the building, and then they took Billy and Chris – before they ran around – and threw them against the thing and frisked them. Then they turned around and looked at them and saw that they were kids. And they said, “What are you doing here?” Billy pulled the – he said, “I was (7:00) going to cash my grandfather’s check.” [Laughs] The police said, “This is very strange. You go hide under the table, and we’ll really check the place out.” They sent them home.
I didn’t hear from the bank for about two days, and I thought, “This is not right.” I go around to the bank and the woman who was there normally, who was the bank manager, Mrs. Martucci, wasn’t, and I told the assistant at the bank, who was a woman, what had happened to my son. She knew all about it. She said, “He broke into the bank.” I said, “Now, wait a minute, lady, here.”
I went home and sat down and wrote a letter to the president of the bank, and I said to him, you know, “It’s really (8:00) not a good way to say thank you to someone who didn’t know what they were doing anyway but knew enough to call the police and tell them the bank was ….” They said, “We’ll give him – as a show of thanks – we’ll give him a free dinner for two...” – this is a 16-year-old kid who didn’t take girls out – “for two somewhere, anywhere he wants.” I said to Billy, “Here’s the letter. You can have dinner anywhere you want. Where do you want to have dinner?” “MacDonald’s,” says Billy. “Done!” I said. And I wrote him back and I said I wanted dinner for two – I can’t remember where – some terribly expensive restaurant. We couldn’t possibly afford it. [Laughs] His father and I went off for dinner, and he was happy as a clam. [Laughs] (9:00)
DS: You didn’t ever really know what happened? Why the bank was empty and open?
DB: Because the assistant had been there, and she hadn’t locked up. That’s why she was so upset. And when Mrs. Martucci came back, she apologized to me. She was the most wonderful woman, because in those days at banks they had long lines. If you wanted to cash a check you had to wait in line, because nothing was on computer. It had to be done by hand. It was a real problem. I always went in with a carload full of children, because in my usual organized way, I suddenly realized I had no money. I’d say to her, “Will you loan me 20 bucks?” And she’d say, “Fine,” and pull it out of her wallet and give it to me. [Laughs] It was a wonderful bank. And then I didn’t realize how unique it was. The people were so nice, and they were nice to everybody. It was just wonderful. It (10:00) was really a wonderful area. And then as it got chic, it changed, and people who moved down didn’t understand that to make a wonderful area, you had to do it yourself. You couldn’t hire people to do it. A wonderful area is made up of people who care and who will work together and not argue with each other – they will occasionally, but generally speaking they will work together to make it a nice area. That’s it.
DS: Well said! Anything else you want to say?
DB: The last time I was here – I don’t know if you want to put this in – the last years that I was here, I loved this area. I really did and I really do. It’s a wonderful area. But I would walk – I dress as if I’m going to clean my house a lot of the time, and (11:00) then I get busy and I have to go out and do something. Often times I look like that. I look sort of like a rambling wreck. And I would walk through Delancey Park, and people would look at me, who were dressed extremely well, too well to take their children to the park. I might add, those that still did – most of them had nannies that took them to the park – and until they discovered who I was, and then all of a sudden they couldn’t have been nicer. And that was never that way in the beginning. If they didn’t like you, they didn’t like you. And if they did like you, they did like you. That was the way that it was. My favorite thing was with Joe Ottaviano, who was, I guess, I think he’s dead now, but Mrs. Ottaviano is still alive. He and I became great friends, and his son and I are great friends. His son I know is the best builder on the Main Line. Did you know that?
DB: He builds for [Laughs] multi- multi-millionaire houses. He is a superb (12:00) builder. I love Joe, Jr. But Joe, Sr. was a bully in those days, and he would work around – this was when Billy was – well, we’d been in the house for a few years before Billy was born—this was in 1961 – he had turned on the fire hydrant to clean the streets. He loved to clean the streets. There were a whole bunch of kids leaving from some school who were running in front of the fire hydrant. One of them was going to get killed, because they were running in the street, and the cars couldn’t see them, because they were little kids. They didn’t have a chaperone guarding them. I was going to call the police. I’d had it with Joe, because he just pushed people around so. I called the police, and I told them. The police come around. Of course, they know exactly who it is. It’s Joe, who is building this house on the 200 block of Delancey – it’s (13:00) Jane Eiman’s block.
DS: It’s the 200 block.
DB: The 200 block of Delancey. And they tell him to turn it off. He turns it off, and meanwhile they’ve come to my house and rung the doorbell and pounded on the door. I come out, and I don’t have any shoes on, and I’m out to here.
DB: That’s right, pregnant with Billy. And I go around. And Joe says – and we start fighting. We are having a real row. I said he couldn’t do that kind of thing. It was bad for children. He had to look out at what he was doing. He couldn’t push people around. It was an old – a tough, old policeman. They sent the right guy around. And he finally looked at me and said inaudible]. And I said to Joe, “Just ‘cause you pay off the police, don’t you think you can get away with it.” I mean, we were really fighting. (14:00) [Laughs] [inaudible] And the policeman says, “If you two don’t stop fighting, I’m gonna bring you both in, and don’t you think I won’t!” We both turned and looked at him and we both realized he really meant it. He said, “Shake hands.” We shook hands and went away. Then about two weeks later, Joe comes and he’s got two little boys. The old Russian Jewish couple had moved out by that time, and the house was empty. He had them, literally, by the scruff if their necks. And he said, “They were in this house smoking.” Can you imagine, in those days, smoking? God knows what they’d be doing today. But then, they were smoking. He said, “I told them, ‘Get out of there.’ And you should thank me, because they could have burned the house down.” And I thought, “He’s making peace.” And I said to him, “Thank you so much, Joe. I really appreciate (15:00) that. That is really nice of you.” And we were inseparable after that. [Laughs] He loved to be a plumber. Do you remember Joe? His whole thing in life was plumbing. He was a contractor, that’s how he made a living. He loved it. He said to me, “Any time that any plumbing in your house isn’t going, you call me.” You know, when you’re having a dinner party, that’s when the sink backs up? Our sink was in the basement and our dining room. And I called Joe, “Oh, Joe, do you have a minute here?” And he’d come around. He was just great. It was really fun in those days. End of story.
DS: All right. One more question. Ted, your husband at that time, worked for the Redevelopment Authority?
DB: No, he worked for the IPDC? No. It was a private – when they got these houses, the Redevelopment Authority bought the houses. PIDC. Philadelphia Industrial (16:00) Development Corporation. I think that was the thing. I’m not sure. It was something like that. They thought, “If we have these houses and they belong to the city, there is going to be the most humongous amount of graft that ever was.” I don’t know how many houses there were, but there were hundreds and hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of them. Because it was most of the houses down here. And they went up, they went up to Sixth Street. Maybe they went up further. No, it was Sixth, because that’s where it ended. They handed it over to a private corporation, whose board consisted of all the big businesses and banks in the city of Philadelphia. The presidents of them. This was not – the presidents of these banks ran it and places like TastyKake, because they (17:00) still had places like that. I don’t know if they still have TastyKake. But they had stuff like that.
There was a guy there called Bill Rafsky, and he hired Ted. Ted had been working for his father at Nathan Trotter. Nathan Trotter was the second oldest partnership in the United States. Their telephone number was MA7-0511. And 511 – there were 511 phone numbers in the city of Philadelphia. It was a wonderful number. He was alright there. He wasn’t making great money, but he was alright there. I don’t know if Dad (18:00) got him the job. I don’t know why he would, because there wouldn’t have been a reason to. It was never discussed. And I don’t know why Ted applied or if Ted applied. A lot of those people I really don’t know. You’ll have to ask him. I have no idea, because one thing that was funny – Dad said to me once, “I asked Bill Rafsky how Ted was doing, if he was any good or not.” And he said, “Yes, he was really terrific.” I really don’t know. That’s the truth. That never occurred to me. I can’t remember why he left, because he left a couple of times.
DS: Did that cause any trouble at home, with you and the neighbors?
DB: You have to understand, there weren’t any neighbors. [Laughs] You don’t get the picture here.
DS: There were older, original people. (19:00)
DB: Yes, but he had nothing to do with them.
DS: But they had houses that –
DB: There weren’t many of them. There were like four! Really, you don’t understand! Nobody was down here. There was Mrs. Nicholson. I don’t think Bob Trump lived here. I think he just came down here and stole everything. I think he had houses. He owned houses. Harry Batten’s secretary had a house. But I don’t –
DS: She was in the 200 block of Delancey?
DB: Yes, but I don’t – there were very few people down here. And so all the houses that were sold were sold by Ted, and he didn’t make any money selling the houses. He just had a salary. Now I do remember that at one point he came home, and he was really furious, because Mr. Rafsky had gotten a complaint, because – it ended up (20:00) that the people who were Jewish, who wanted to move down here, moved down between the 400 and 600 block of – I don’t know where – say, between – it would have been Walnut and [inaudible] it wasn’t there – Spruce and Pine. And it was mostly Jewish people who had bought those houses. And they said that there had to be whatever you’d call it in those days—that they were being shuffled off to a corner. And Ted said that they were being – what would you call it?
DB: They were being prejudiced. There was prejudice against them, and it had to be Ted, because he was the one who sold them the houses. He said to me, “Those are the houses that are in the best shape. Those are the houses that are the best buy. I show (21:00) them the houses down here. They don’t want the houses down here. They’re not in the best shape. They want the houses that are the best buy.” And he said, “That really is unfair!” And he said, “Dammit!” The problem was he had a sort of WASP accent, and he had a way about him. People might think that. Mr. Rafsky looked into the whole thing and talked to other people – other than that — and said it was all a bunch of hokum. That’s the only thing that I know of that ever happened. Other people were very happy –
DS: Why were the Jewish people feeling – it wasn’t true, they could have bought –
DB: Of course, they could buy anything. Anybody could – I’m not saying it (22:00) correctly. He showed everybody all the houses. He showed everybody all the blocks, because you had a real sales job here. You do remember. I mean, you did not buy down here because it’s like it is now. And so you had to explain to them what was going to happen. I mean, I don’t know if, at that point, the Towers were built. I never told you about the Towers. You didn’t know anything. All these things were plans. And so you – first of all, you had to sell it to people. And most people – unless you were very sure of yourself, you didn’t really buy down here. Just think about it for a minute. Would that not be true? I mean, if you were socially climbing in this world, this was not the place to start. [Laughs] People wanted people down here. They didn’t care if they (23:00) were black, white, yellow, Jewish, Muslin, Hindu – we didn’t care. We opened our houses and we said, “Please come on in and buy.” Because you couldn’t sell your house once you’d fixed it up. Nobody would buy it from you, because nobody in their right mind would buy one of these houses. That really never – it just didn’t hold water. It really just did not hold water, because nobody would buy down here just to begin with unless they’d been taken around and given the spiel. The houses that were on those blocks had been continuously lived in, whereas the houses on these blocks were lived in either by nobody or by gypsies. That guy – were you here when the guy who had been a Peace Corps worker – and he came and he bought a great big house on Third Street on the other side – across from the Metropolitan Hospital. It was one of those humongous houses that are there. Do you know the ones I mean? (24:00)
DS: I do.
DB: And he – it had no plumbing or electricity in it, and he lived in it, because he was going to fix it up. He was a Peace Corps worker, in God knows the jungles of Guatemala or something. This didn’t faze him, and the police arrested him one night, because they did not believe that he owned this house. We knew he owned it [Laughs], but the police – he had a cot and a little burner. [Laughs] Then –
DS: Was his name Zimmer, Hugh Zimmer?
DB: It might have been.
DS: He was an architect? Or became one.
DB: He might have been. I don’t know. I don’t remember. All I remember is he was a really neat guy, and I really liked him. And then there was the Anchorage Inn, which was where the Potamkins – I don’t know who’s in that house now – where their garden was. Mr. Roberts designed their house and garden.
DS: That’s at Third and Spruce.
DB: On the southeast corner. And that was a bar called the Anchorage Inn, (25:00) where all the seamen used to come, because it had bars down here. It also had luncheonettes –
DS: That serviced the food produce center workers.
DB: Yes, I guess it did. And then when they tore down the food center, they told us they were going to be – were you here then? When they tore down the food center? (26:00)
DS: No, that was in ’59.
DB: They told us that there would be rats. If we saw rats on the street not to get concerned. [Laughs] [Unintelligible] they were tearing the food center down. They had laced it with lots of poison, but they were worried that the rats would leave. But they didn’t. They must have done a very good job. Then they started to build the Towers. The Anchorage Inn was still there, the bar, on the corner, and I was walking up to Mother’s house. I’d walk up the street, walk up to the corner, and then at the Anchorage Inn I’d cross the street.
I wasn’t paying attention to Billy. We were stopped at the street. He sort of wiggled free or something. I really can’t remember. And the next thing I knew, this hand came out and grabbed him. And I realized that Billy had been about to run across the street, but what he didn’t realize, because I was blocking his view, was that the cars were just about to come down at 80 miles an hour and he was going to get killed. And he grabbed him, and this man said to me, “This is my lucky day.” He said, “I am working on the Towers. I am an iron worker,” which means he goes (27:00) around on all the steel beams and does stuff. And he said, “And I fell. I fell two stories, and my jacket caught a beam and it saved my life. So,” he said, “it shook me up a little bit and I came down here to get a beer before I went back up there. And I walk out of the tavern and I see that your son is about to get killed. I reach over and I grab him and I put him down on the street. That’s quite a day, wouldn’t you say?” And he walks on.
It took me about a minute to get my wits back again, because he was absolutely right. By that time, he was gone, and I was still stunned. And I never knew who it was. I could never thank the man. I could never do anything. But that was – there are lots of little things like that.
DS: That’s the Towers story.
DB: That’s the Towers story. Then, of course, the Towers wouldn’t rent, (28:00) and the houses wouldn’t sell forever.
DS: The I.M. Pei houses.
DB: The I.M. Pei houses. They didn’t sell, didn’t sell, didn’t sell. Rachel Kise moved in, Rachel Bok Kise moved in. Somebody else moved in. I can’t remember who. Rachel was the only one there. Oh, Sally Sells, because her husband was the head of it then, because it belonged to Alcoa or something.
DS: Alcoa, right.
DB: It was Rachel and Sally Sells, and it might have been somebody else. I don’t think so.
DB: OK? Good bye. Thank you.
[End of interview]
© 2008 Project Philadelphia 19106™. All rights reserved.