Deen Kogan

Society Hill Playhouse is the reason that Deen (1930-2018) and Jay Kogan bought 242 Delancey Street in 1965. The Kogans had owned and run the Playhouse at 507 S. Eighth Street since 1959. They needed a larger residence, one within walking distance of the theater. They came, in part, at the urging of Ben Schoenfeld, whom they knew from their student days at Temple University and who owned a couple of houses in Society Hill.

Deen describes the original configuration of the property at 242 Delancey Street and how it was divided by the estate of the original owner, a sea captain. The Kogans bought it from a Mr. Golganski, who had rehabbed the façade to comply with Redevelopment Authority requirements. The Kogans put in a new kitchen and a couple of new bathrooms, and Deen describes some other changes they made to the property.

Deen talks about the Society Hill Playhouse and where it fit within the history of American theater. In discussing the neighborhood, she says she never felt threatened – despite an attempted burglary of their house, which was foiled by their two Dobermans.

She enjoyed encounters with other neighbors, including Richardson Dilworth, who walked their dogs in the vacant block between Front and Second Streets. She thinks Society Hill is a great place to raise children and has seen two generations of children grow up there. She also remembers the block parties that the residents of the 200 block of Delancey Street held periodically for themselves, with everyone contributing to the menu. For her, Joan Putney’s cinnamon buns were particularly memorable.


DS:      This is an interview with Deen Kogan. The address is 242 Delancey Street in Philadelphia. The date is July 21, 2009, and the interviewer is Dorothy Stevens.

DS:      Deen, I would like you to tell me when did you come to Society Hill?

DK:     We bought the house on November 5, 1965, and we had originally – we were looking to move – we were on – maybe you should interview Tonka [her dog].

[Tape is turned off, then on again]    

            We lived on Panama Street for years. As you might know, I have the Society Hill Playhouse. That’s at Eighth Street, Eighth and Lombard. My husband was also with the city so it helped determine where we lived. (1:00)

DS:      He had a job with the city.

DK:     Yes, he was originally the drama specialist. Eventually he was a commissioner for the city. One of the requirements, of course, was that you live in the city. However, topping that was the fact that we had the theater. The hours were such that looking to the suburbs was really not an option. We first lived on Panama Street, and it was a wonderful neighborhood. [We] made a lot of friends there. [It was] right around the corner from Dirty Frank’s, but we outgrew the house. [We] started looking; came down here, oh, two years before we bought it, and I said to my husband – his name was Jay – “I could never live down here.”

DS:      What date was that again?

DK:     Well, that would have been about ’63. It was an interesting neighborhood,  (2:00) in transition of course. There were people sitting in the middle of the street – I’ll never forget it – in undershirts. I said, “No, no, I don’t want to live here.” Then, and I can tell you exactly when it was, it was my birthday, June 8 [1965]. We were at a party, and we were kind of talking about moving, and this lady came up. Her name was Bea [Dee?] and we got to talking and she said, “I have a house for you.” I said, “Oh?” Well, we came down to look at it that same day, actually the next day, June 9, and saw the house and made an agreement of sale and signed it on the 16 th of June. We’ve lived here ever since.

DS:      That was in ’63? ’64?

DK:     Well, we bought the house in ’65. We originally saw it in ’65.

DS:      It’s this house, at 242 Delancey. (3:00)

DK:     That’s right. The preliminary rehab had been done. The gentleman who owned the house was a lovely man. His name was Mr. Golganski. His children wanted to move to the Northeast. He was up in years, and I always think of it, still, as Mr. Golganski’s house. One of his grandchildren came by last summer, just looking. He’d never been in the house; he didn’t stay. That’s how we came here. Of course, it’s within walking distance of the theater, Society Hill Playhouse, so when we finished at 11 or 12, it wasn’t a big deal to come home.

DS:      You bought it from Mr. Golganski, not from the Redevelopment (4:00 ) Authority.

DK:     No, no, no. He had already completed the redevelopment on the front of the building, you know, the façade. That was it. There were other homes in the area. Actually, there was a professor from Temple named Ben Schoenfeld, who was one of the early pioneers in this neighborhood, and Ben had a house up on American or Philip. He also had a place on Spruce Street. He called us; he was one of the teachers that we had [when we had] gone to grad school and come back to Philadelphia. Early on he said, “You’d better buy down here.” I said, “Well, I don’t think we can.” He said, “I’m telling you, you should buy down here.” We looked at a house, I think it was $8,000, on Spruce Street, ten fireplaces, no bathrooms. One of the houses really in need of rehabilitation. Anyway, that’s how we came here. (5:00)

DS:      Tell me the condition of the house. Could you move right in and live in it?

DK:     Well, everybody, no matter how nice a home is, anybody wants to change it. You know that, but there were major things that had to be done for us. We had to put a kitchen in. I mean, it was livable.

DS:      Was that an addition, the kitchen? I mean did you have to build –?

DK:     If you look, you’ll see that there’s a step going up into the kitchen. The reason that’s there is it was so out of level that we couldn’t put appliances and a new kitchen in without pouring the cement. That was done. Well, new bathroom. The larger room on the second floor, which is our bedroom, had been subdivided into three rooms. (6:00) I think at one time he had – you know, rooming people lived here. [Sounds of a squeaky toy can be heard intermittently.] The third floor is pretty much the way it was when we – we’ve not done much with that. Jay used it for a library. That’s where we have a very large collection of books. My understanding was at one time there was a third-floor chapel – I think we’d better identify the squeak. It’s not you, and it’s not me. This is a 14-month-old black Doberman named Tonka, who has taken over. In addition, the original house where we’re sitting in the living room stopped here.

DS:      At that doorway? (7:00)

DK:     At that doorway, yes. It was one room deep and four stories. The kitchen was in the basement.

[Tape is turned off, then on again]

DK:     As I said, originally the house was one room deep. Some students at Penn in architecture did a study of the house, and it was very helpful, feeling about what was here, learning that if you look, the fireplace is off center, and that’s because –

DS:      I just got a kiss! [Laughs]

DK:     The stairwell was originally over on that wall, so if you go upstairs, you’ll see that, you know, where the original staircase was.

DS:      In the process of renovating for you, they found all kinds of evidence of what was here before? (8:00)

DK:     Not really. No, you could tell, if you knew anything about architecture. The house was originally owned by a sea captain, and his property went all the way through Pine Street. When there was the distribution of his assets, things got divided up. One of the sons got that parcel. One kept the house. I don’t remember his name. Anyway, the other addition, in the 1800s, that’s when the second part of the house came. It went all the way back. At one time – you can’t see it from here – what we call a Father, Son and Holy Ghost house [was] attached. Mr. Golganski had partitioned the house and made a small house for one of his children that was totally rehabbed, totally. I have always had (9:00) somebody nice living there. It’s very good, particularly now since Jay isn’t with us any more, there’s another human being and there’s life in the neighborhood.

DS:      Jay being your husband?

DK:     Yes, my husband.

DS:      You rent out the back space, but you don’t go all the way to Pine?

DK:     No, we go – if you look out that window, which at one time was a door, there’s a wall that goes across from my neighbor’s house. It butts up to mine, and that’s really the end. There is no back yard. We overlook Pine Street. The renovations to the house are simple. I have not put this house on house tour, and one of the lovely ladies in the neighborhood has asked me many times, but as I said to her, “Martha, my    (10:00) house isn’t decorated.” Anything in the house reflects either a place we’ve been or something we particularly like. I don’t like a lot of clutter.

DS:      You added – or redid – the kitchen?

DK:     Oh, no, put [in] a brand new.

DS:      Brand new kitchen and brand new bathrooms?

DK:     Took out partitions that were on the second and third floor, and basically kept the house as it suits us.

DS:      For the basic house, when you first bought it, do you remember how much you paid for it?

DK:     Sure, I think we paid maybe $24,000.

DS:      How much in renovations – would you have a figure there?

DK:     Oh, I don’t have a figure for that. That’s difficult. You have a new roof. You have a new kitchen. Over the years, there’s been additional – (11:00)

DS:      You did have to put on a new roof. You told me about the basement, and I –

DK:     Originally, the kitchen was in the basement, back in the 1700s. Now it’s a laundry room.

DS:      It wasn’t a dirt floor.

DK:     No, no, no, no, no. It was cement. The fourth floor at one time had a door that went out to the roof. You could have put a roof deck, but I am not one for roof decks in the city, or fireplaces. In fact, I had the fireplace closed up.

DS:      The fire place was over here, but not centered, because of the staircase.

DK:     Yes, it’s off center because of the staircase. There’s another lovely fireplace (12:00) in the master bedroom.

DS:      Tell me about Society Hill Playhouse. How did you get into that? Where is that?

DK:     Eighth Street between Lombard and South. It’s a historic building, and my husband and I had both gone to Temple, in what they called RTT at the time, not Communications, but Radio, Theater and Television. Both of us had transferred. I had been going to Northwestern, and Jay was at Syracuse. Jay was a veteran of the Second World War, and he had been a prisoner of war. It had caused a lot of physical damage, which is one of the reasons that he transferred. I met him the very first day I came to Philadelphia. Our interest was theater, and that’s how we got to the Playhouse. (13:00) We kind of bummed around a bit after grad school. We spent a year in Europe and we were in New York for a bit, but we really loved Philadelphia. I said in my next life I’m going to be the mayor so I hope you vote for me.

DS:      Oh, I certainly will.

DK:     The Playhouse was a goal, and at that time – remember, this was a long time ago. After the Second World War there was really a burgeoning of regional theater. Before that you had your professional companies. You had touring, you had your community theaters. After the First World War there was a renaissance of community theater. After the Second World War, theater was a more pleasant place for women. Before that there was one female director in this country, very few female costumers. It was really (14:00) a male profession. After the Second World War, it changed. We wanted a theater, looked at a lot of places in the area, including a theater that no longer exists, a place on Eighth and Race Street, coming over the bridge. I don’t remember the name – I didn’t know it – but the real estate agent took us there. It was huge, and you could see the pigeons coming through the roof, which almost wasn’t existent. He kept saying, “It only needs a little paint.” As he said that, I was standing on the stage, which gave way. [Laughs] Anyway, this building [the Society Hill Playhouse] had been a theater during WPA times, Works Progress Administration, for those who don’t know what it was. It provided employment for actors and that kind of thing in the ‘30s, so it had a history. We were able to purchase the building. We will have a fiftieth (15:00) anniversary on October 27 [2009] for the Society Hill Playhouse.

DS:      It was built to be a theater?

DK:     No, it was built to be what they called a beneficial hall. Actually, it was built on foundations that at one time we think were houses in the back. I mean, the whole configuration of that area has changed. They had weddings and parties and bar mitzvahs. I’ve gotten all kinds of history. It was a mattress factory once. It was a union hall. Somebody told me they threw somebody out the second story window. All kinds of stories. When we came in, it was what they called a bingo church. [The gentleman            ] (16:00) who ran the bingo was called Father Francis, but he had been defrocked by the Catholic Church, and he had bingo games. That’s what it was. When we came into that building, there wasn’t a piece of pipe left in it. All the copper had been taken out, so we were kind of starting from scratch. The theater itself, the main stage, is on the second floor, and it was the ballroom. It had huge mirrors all around it. It was very nice. We now have mirrors downstairs in a little area of the lobby. They were originally upstairs. It had a nice history, and we had a good time with it over the years.

DS:      Yes, it’s been a long time.

DK:     Fifty years. We’ve done a lot of plays.

DS:      What is the address there?

DK:     507 S. Eighth. Of course, it’s walkable from here, which was another (17:00) plus. The location’s lovely. We’ve seen a lot of changes in the neighborhood, as you have.

DS:      Any stories about the neighborhood here particularly?

DK:     Yes, I can think of one. One time we had been away and came back and heard that there were some problems in the neighborhood, people thinking somebody was trying to get into their house. Anyway, one night, we had two dogs at that time, and they started to make this awful fuss, and I shouted down, “Go to sleep!” We came down the (18:00) next morning and that window over there was up. Of course, the first thing I said was, “Jay, why didn’t you close the window?” He said, “I didn’t open it.” The screen had been taken out. We heard that other houses on the block that same night had been burglarized.

DS:      They hadn’t gotten in?

DK:     No, they opened the window and they met two Dobermans.

DS:      [I’m] going to need a band-aid.

DK:     Oh, gosh, what’s he doing?

DS:      I don’t know, but I’m bleeding. Or a paper towel would be fine. [A fairly long silence ensues.]

[Tape is turned off, then on again] (19:00)

DS:      Tell me, did you feel threatened in this neighborhood?

DK:     No, never.

DS:      You didn’t. [The sound of dog whining and barking in the background continues through the end of the interview.]

DK:     Never have.

[Tape is turned off, then on again]

DK:     It’s been a lovely neighborhood. At one time before the development at Front and Second Streets –

DS:      Penn’s Landing.

DK:     Yes. Before that development, that used to be a big lot. Do you remember that?

DS:      Of course.

DK:     We all used to take our dogs down there. One of the most mortifying experiences of my life occurred there. I had another black Dobe, and he used to play with a white Whippet. They were beautiful running back and forth. [Mayor] Richardson Dilworth, who was so important in this neighborhood, used to bring his Poodle down there. (20:00) Well, we were standing there one day, chatting, and my dog, whose name was Cajun, came up, looked at us, and he lifted his leg on the mayor. I thought I would die. [Laughs] He had this beautiful navy blue suit on.

DS:      What did he say?

DK:     What did he say? He said, “My dear, it’s only a dog.”

DS:      Oh, so he wasn’t mad.

DK:     No, not at all. [Laughs]

DS:      [Laughs]

DK:     But, I’ll never forget it. We used to have a lot of lovely block parties on this block also.

DS:      Block parties. Do you still do that?

DK:     Do we? The block party has moved up to Three Bears Park. It was resurrected. It’s not quite the same, though.

DS:      In the early days, it was an easy way for you to know everybody on the block, right?

DK:     No, no. I don’t think so, Dottie. Remember, it’s a long block, and even today, again depending on the hours one keeps, I don’t know everybody on the block, and I didn’t [then]. Gosh, I can’t think of her name right now. I just saw her the other day. She made the most marvelous cinnamon buns in the world.

DS:      Joan Putney.

DK:     Yes, Joan Putney. Great cinnamon buns. A tradition for the block party. You know, I know the immediate neighbors. We’ve been very fortunate. I have marvelous neighbors next door. They are here now about – I would say, fifteen years. Prior to them, there were changes. These houses at one time were twins. They’re not now. They don’t look anything alike. (22:00)

DS:      This house and the house to your west.

DK:     244. They don’t look anything alike now. It you go in and see the configuration of the space. Before Dr. [John] Melvin and Dr. Carol Pate, there was another couple. They weren’t here long. They were from IBM, and she didn’t like Philadelphia. She liked New York. Prior to that, for a long time – you sound gorgeous, Tonka. I’m not going to let him out now. You OK now?

DS:      Yes, it’s stopping.

DK:     Peggy Adams lived next door. Have you gotten in touch with her?

DS:      No.

DK:     She’s often [inaudible] (23:00)

DS:      One other question I wanted to ask you. Let’s just try to ignore him, talk over him. What was the reaction of your family and your friends to your moving down here? Was there any negative –?

DK:     Oh, no. The first reaction to moving into the city was from my grandfather, when we moved to Panama Street.

DS:      From your grandfather?

DK:     My grandfather. Yes, I come from Maryland, a little town called Hagerstown. My grandfather was a builder, built half of Hagerstown. Of course, we bought this house on Panama Street, and his reaction was, “Why did you buy a house on an alley?” This was a considerable improvement; at least there was a normal street.

DS:      A normal street.

DK:     Yes, although he objected to the cobblestones at that time. No, we had great times in this house. (24:00)

[Tape is turned off, then on again]

DK:     One of the things that sometimes people say, “I’m moving to the suburbs because of the children.” It’s [Society Hill] a marvelous area to bring up children, great freedom, good schools, private and public. McCall is a great school, always has been. City kids have an advantage, I think, later in life. I’ve seen two generations of children, which is kind of fun. It’s a nice neighborhood, very nice. I think anybody who lives here and contributes to the neighborhood will enjoy it. I’m very concerned right now about what they’re doing, this administration – the business about the bike lanes on Pine Street (25:00) and Spruce Street.

[End of interview]


© 2009 Project Philadelphia 19106™. All rights reserved.

About the Interview

Dorothy Stevens
Cynthia J. Eiseman
Interview Location
242 Delancey Street
Interview Date
July 21, 2009
Kogan, Deen
Narrator Type
Redeveloper - Restoration
Oral History Sources