Douglas and Christina Pappajohn

Many narrators regard the friendships they formed with other residents of Society Hill as one of the most treasured aspects of living in the neighborhood. Still, it was on only a handful of blocks that narrators described having a singular cohesiveness; the 500 block of Delancey Street seems to be one of those blocks. Especially close friendships formed; there was a good deal of socializing; and children were close enough in age to attend school together, play together, and use the babysitting co-op together. It was only during the low-income housing controversy that those bonds were tested.

Douglas (Doug) (1928-2013) and Christina (Tina) Pappajohn rented 515 Delancey Street in 1965, having seen an article in the newspaper about how people were bringing old houses back to life in the neighborhood. They liked the sound of the pioneering spirit, Doug was working at Philadelphia General Hospital, and the idea of fixing up an old house appealed to them. When they moved in with their two sons and Tina’s grandmother, Tina’s suburbanite uncle was horrified. He said, “It’s a terrible neighborhood. It’s awful. It’s filled with crime. They’ll be killed.”

In fact, Tina and Doug found just the opposite. They became friendly with “new” neighbors as easily as with “old” ones—that is, those who moved in since redevelopment began, and those whose families had lived there for generations. People sat on their front stoops, and Tina learned early that you were expected to talk to them as you walked by. The 500 block of Delancey was diverse and counted among its residents “every kind – Irish Catholics, Jews, one black family, a Basque lady.” Even a bookmaker.

After renting for two years, they bought the house and, in a process they call “tortuous,” also bought the adjoining lot facing Cypress Street. Tina and Doug applied for and got a three percent loan from the Redevelopment Authority to put an addition on the house, but the money never came through. So the addition was not built until 2006.

Their children all started school at McCall’s, and then each pursued a different succession of schools: public, magnet, and private. The public school strikes were hard on the entire family because, by then, Doug was teaching at West Philadelphia High School.

They talk fondly of South Street, which they frequented; their favorite shops, merchants, and restaurants; and the friendships they formed there. And there is an allusion to an unexpected legacy that made some things possible.


DS:      This is an interview with Tina and Douglas Pappajohn. The date is            September 29, 2009. The interviewer is Dorothy Stevens, and the location is 116 Delancey Street in Philadelphia.

[Tape is turned off, then on again.]

DS:      Tell me, when did you come to Society Hill? What was the date? The year?

CP:      ’65 was it?

DP:      Yes, ’65.

DS:      1965. Why did you come here?

DP:      We located here because I got a job. I was in Philadelphia.

DS:      The job was in Philadelphia?

DP:      Yes, at old Philadelphia General Hospital doing research.

DS:      Why did you pick this neighborhood?

DP:      Well, it was nicely run down. [Laughs] It was my notion to fix the house up, and we’re still working on it. [Laughs] (1:00)

CP:      We had read an article in the Inquirer that there were people somewhere close to the river bringing old houses back to life. We read an article in New Jersey. Actually, we were living in South Boundbrook.

DS:      In what?

CP:      In South Boundbrook, New Jersey, working at Rutgers University, and there was an article about pioneers going down between Broad and the river and doing really interesting things, you know, making them into wonderfully interesting places. That’s what got us….

DS:      To look in this neighborhood.

CP:      Douglas saw this article. I didn’t. He thought there was a great pioneer spirit afoot.

DP:      You remember. I don’t.

DS:      How, then, did you proceed to find the house that you wanted? (2:00)

DP:      Well, I checked the classified ads in the newspaper, and noticed that this one was available.

CP:      For rent

DS:      For rent? Which is what you wanted to do?

DP:      Well, we wanted to test the water.

CP:      See how it would be. Yes. [We had] two little kids and a grandmother.

DS:      You had your kids?

CP:      Two of them, very little. My grandmother lived with us, so we needed to know that it would be something that would work. When we told my mother and my uncle from the Main Line where we were going to move, my uncle said to my mother, “Eileen, don’t you dare let them do that… living so close to the projects, and because he lived on the Main Line, he just perceived this as Danger, USA. Of course, he was wrong. (3:00)

DS:      Your mother and father?

CP:      My mother said, “Dear, I trust your judgment.” That was good.

DS:      Your father?

CP:      He was not my father, and he did not proffer any opinion.

DS:      Your parents, Doug?

DP:      Well, my mother lived in Vancouver until she died. My father died when I was 10 years old.

DS:      Did your mother have an opinion about what you were doing? Did she ever see the house?

DP:      Yes. She came to visit us several times. She was a city girl; she enjoyed Philadelphia.

DS:      She was not concerned that you were making a bad call here?

DP:      It never entered the discussion. (4:00)

CP:      My grandmother wrote to my mother that we were living in a slum, “And the poor dears, they don’t even seem to know it.” I read the letter. Actually, I had never known that she thought that, because she was grateful. At that point, she was fragile and happy enough to be with us wherever we were. She didn’t approve, definitely didn’t approve, because our house was pretty much a disaster – not a disaster, but a mess, really a mess – always being worked on. We rented for two years, and then we bought it.

DS:      Before we get on to the house, did these people – your mother, Doug, get to see the house. Did your [parents, Tina]?

CP:      Yes, my mother and her husband came, and my father.

DS:      The uncle who disapproved?

CP:      The uncle who disapproved. He actually, once he saw how wonderful it was – he loved antiques, and he loved old things – and our block is such a spectacular – (5:00) it was just as wonderful then. It was delicate then, even when it was of a slightly rougher cast, he could feel that. Then he – he still worried about us.

DS:      That’s nice. You rented 515 Delancey Street?

DP:      Yes.

DS:      For two years?

CP:      With two children and a grandmother. We were about the fifth family on the block, of, you know, gentrifiers, I guess you could say. But the – it became apparent that we could buy it, and our landlord had said, “If any time you are interested in buying it, I will sell it to you.” It was, unfortunately, just after the time that both houses on either side of us had sold for $800.

DS:      $800? (6:00)

CP:      Yes, the Noyeses’ house, which was 519 was $800. They bought their house from [the] Redevelopment [Authority] for $800. Ours was much more, much, much, much, much more. It was $20,000; so it was, you know, a lot more. Our landlord felt that he had done wonderful things to it. He hadn’t, but according to his ideas, he did.

DP:      Well, he did the entire exterior.

CP:      Oh, yes, he repointed –

DP:      He repointed the bricks.

DS:      To comply with [the] Redevelopment [Authority regulations]?

CP:      Yes, he had gotten one of the Redevelopment three percent loans to do it. That was a major issue. The inside was mostly undisturbed. All the original woodwork is still in the house, original floors – he didn’t do any stuff that would have probably been horrible had he done it, which was good.

DP:      Fortunately, he never did any real harm to the house.

CP:      He was a lovely guy, but he was – he had very different taste than ours. (7:00)

DS:      Had he lived in the house himself?

CP:      He lived right next door.

DP:      He bought two houses: 513 [Delancey], which he lived in, and then he also bought 515 Delancey] on speculation.

CP:      He had had a bad experience with renters, because the person just before us was an artist and really a very, very sloppy artist. I think he just used the house for a studio; it was just very dirty. A real bachelor artist – didn’t care about the house, just cared about his art. [The landlord] was, I think, happy to get us. We cared about everything, although we certainly didn’t have bundles of money to do marvelous things. He would do pretty much – if we asked him, please, to carpet the stairs, he carpeted the stairs. My fault (8:00) was to do one really stupid thing. I asked for new stairs from the first floor to the second, not really getting it. Douglas fought me all the way, but I prevailed, sad to say. The beautiful stairs are all gone, the gorgeous treads and everything. They were wonderful. Too late to be sad about that, although you can see I still am.

DS:      It had all the basics. It had electricity and plumbing and there weren’t animals living in the house?

DP:      Yes.

DS:      It had not been open to the elements?

CP:      No.

DS:      This is a good start.

CP:      Yes, it had been lived in by an Italian family for a long, long time, I think. The Ciccallillis. All the old neighbors talked about them, that they were a very, nice loving family, and it was nice to have another nice, loving family. That was nice. (9:00) We had so many wonderful old neighbors, the old guard.

DS:      Well, tell me about the old guard. You were there in ’65. There was deRoy Mark. There were Peggy and Paul Noyes.

DP:      Yes.

CP:      Yes, they were before us. There were the Heitners. They had bought an old store on Delancey Street and redone it. They were interesting people. They turned out to have a lot of trouble.

DS:      Where?

CP:      511 [Delancey].

DS:      Was it a grocery store?

CP:      It had been a grocery store before they bought it. They still have the pictures. Who else?

DS:      [inaudible]

CP:      The Buells lived at the corner. 506 [Delancey] for a while.

DP:      Coopers.

CP:      The Coopers for a while [inaudible], Don Cooper. They left long ago. (10:00) When I say the old neighbors, I mean the old neighbors. The new people were wonderful, and we made friends right away, and it was really great. But, the old neighbors were so fun.

DS:      People who were born and raised there?

CP:      Born on the street, in the house and still on the same street and had very rarely gone much farther than our neighborhood in their lives.

DP:      Ann McGlone went to Atlantic City once.

DS:      Ann who?

CP:      McGlone.

DP:      That’s the only place she went outside of Philadelphia.

CP:      Yes, born on the street, married on the street, lived on the street in her marriage.

DS:      Where?

CP:      504 [Delancey]. When we came, there were no buildings at Delancey and Fifth Street, (11:00) no buildings on the southeast corner. Nothing at all. It was called “Tiptoe through the Turds,” actually. It was a dog-walking lot. Across from that was where the liquor store and the deli and all that went in eventually. That was an open lot. There was no Super Fresh, either. It was such a different landscape.

DP:      A pioneer neighborhood.

DS:      What made your block special? You knew everybody on the block?

CP:      We knew everybody on the block

DP:      We knew everybody.

DS:      Did you have parties? Is that how you got to know them?

DP:      There were parties.

CP:      There were block parties, lots of parties.

DP:      Memorable block parties

CP:      People had parties, and there was a great magic sense of how special the block was, even then, and the people who lived there felt it, I think. One of our more famous – well, to us, famous – families, the Segal family, had been in butter and eggs. They were all really, really fabulous. Sippi said to us several days after moving in – (12:00)

DS:      Sippy?

CP:      Sippi. Sylvia. [A Jewish name for Sylvia, sometimes spelled Tsipi.] “Listen, I don’t want to live in your pocket. I definitely don’t want you to live in mine. I don’t want you crawling into my soup. You know, back and forth. But if you need anything, ever, knock on my door.” She meant it. It was really fantastic, and that’s how it was. It was so fun and so lively and so alive. You know, thousands of mothers to yell at any child who ended up in the street when a car was coming. It was just great.

DS:      There were a lot of children on the block?

CP:      Always have been, all through the years.

DS:      People sitting out front watching those children?

CP:      People sitting out front, a great sense of block camaraderie. Every (13:00) kind – Irish Catholics, Jews, one black family, a Basque lady; we always called her the Mayor of Delancey Street. Rooming houses across the street, literally, rooming houses, big – you know, our houses on Delancey Street are not that big, but some had three floors of tiny apartments with quite a few people living in them on every floor. They were great, absolutely great. The first day we moved in, Jimmy Bailey, a little six-year-old angelic child, black Irish, big blue eyes, was standing at the kitchen window holding a hose with his hand on the nozzle – in our kitchen! We were standing there talking, and I said, “What are you doing?” “I ain’t doing nothin’.”

DS:      “I ain’t doin’ nothin’.” [Laughs]

CP:      “I ain’t doin’ nothin’.” Then came the water. [Laughs] Anyway, that (14:00) was the Bailey family. He worked for UPS, and she had several of her children in Washington Square on her way to the hospital, because she delivered lots of children. Anyhow, that’s how it was. It was just fabulous. We thought we had totally died and gone to heaven, it was so wonderful. I grew up in L.A., so for me – there was not that sense of neighborhood in L.A. Nobody sat out and talked in that schmoozy, east coast wonderful, rich way. It was great. We took to it very naturally. Another wonderful thing that happened once: we didn’t realize that one should address the people sitting out, walking the gauntlet.

DS:      You had to talk to everybody?

CP:      I was so self-conscious. I was young; I was 23. One day, I did engage in eye contact with one of the older gentlemen sitting out, and he said, “She talks. (15:00) She can talk.” [Laughs] He just died laughing. Then, of course, we got to be friends with everybody. They, you know, gave you stuff from their holiday. It’s still wonderful, but very differently wonderful.

DS:      Sally Lou Buell, in her interview with us, talked about an older gentleman who had a heart attack, but had recovered and used to like to sit on a bench outside his house. He would watch the children, and if they did something wrong or went across the street, he was always there.

CP:      I don’t know who that would have been for a man. Maybe Abe Eisman, who lived with his sister and her family, the Uditskys. [Laughs] Then we had a bookmaker on the block, who hung out at Ann McGlone’s house, who was darling.

DS:      Ann who?

CP:      McGlone. She was fabulous – she used to dance at the block parties, with the umbrella, do – let’s say, [she was] a hearty, enthusiastic imbiber, but nothing awful – just full of joy and pleasure. Twaddy made his phone calls (17:00) from Ann’s house. When our [son] was encouraged, during a school strike, by some other kids I was taking care of, to jump off the 8-foot wall, and he went flying, it was Twaddy, the bookmaker, who came in and babysat fourteen children in my house. He was the dearest man…. He had a big, huge, enormous drinker’s nose and was a kind, nice man. He just happened to make book, too. Everybody knew it.

DP:      Ann was the bag man?

CP:      That’s right. [Laughs]

DS:      Ann was what?

CP:      Ann was the bag woman. Is that what they call it in bookmaking?

DP:      It’s generally a gentleman, so he was the bag man.

CP:      He carried the money? [inaudible]

DP:      He collected the money and kept track of the accounts. Then he passed (18:00) it over.

CP:      To the bettors.

DP:      Twaddy parked in the alleyway –

CP:      Reece Street

DP:      Reece Street, until the money came. I think he came from Ann McGlone’s before Twaddy took it on to the next step. Then he carried it right up to the big man, whoever he was.

CP:      We don’t know. We never followed the money, as it were.

DS:      Reed Street? You said Reed Street?

CP:      Reece Street is that little tiny alley right behind the liquor store and dry cleaner’s and the deli. It’s called Reece Street, now. It’s been called other things throughout the years, but now it’s called Reece Street.

DS:      Interesting.

CP:      Yes, there were those people. It just was – every house had somebody interesting in it, for whatever reason, and unbelievable fights on the street. (19:00)

DS:      Fights?

DP:      Fights.

DS:      Were there people not getting along with each other?

CP:      Definitely, and hurting each other.

DS:      I thought you just told me they were loving, wonderful people.

CP:      Well, they were loving, wonderful people, but they got mad once in a while. Spirited lovely, wonderful people.

DP:      Brothers and sisters still fight.

DS:      You had a total of three children, didn’t you?

CP:      Yes, we had three. One of them was born when we were in Philadelphia, at the Lying In, on the policeman and fireman’s floor, because there was no room, no private room –

DS:      At Pennsylvania Hospital?

CP:      I was the only nursing mother in a room with twelve beds. Everyone stopped what they were doing to watch. “What is she doing? Isn’t that – eewww.” (20:00)

DS:      Teaching the world?

CP:      Yes, that’s right.

DS:      Your oldest is –

CP:      Ian.

DS:      Then?

CP:      Matthew, then Shannon.

DS:      Shannon?

CP:      Shannon. Ian and Matthew are together. They have a big woodworking cabinetmaking business in Frankford.

DS:      Is that in Philadelphia? Did they stay here?

CP:      Yes, it’s in Frankford.

DS:      Shannon?

CP:      She lives in Voorhees [NJ]. She’s the only apostate. [Laughs]

DS:      Do you get a sense from them about how they felt growing about up on that block in the middle of the city? They liked it? They didn’t like it?

CP:      What do you say, love?

DP:      I’d say the kids enjoyed it, two out of three.

CP:      Yes, the boys, I think, it really worked well for. They both ended up going      (21:00) to Central [High School], and they mainstreamed pretty comfortably…. The boys have said how much they valued growing up on our block, having friends that were in their 70s, and having friends that were three. You know, that still happens. Just before we went away this summer, we had – it wasn’t an organized block party, but just sort of a “Why doesn’t everybody who wants to bring food and everybody bring your own something to drink?” The kids, from sixteen to three, played together. I mean, it’s unheard of. It is unheard of. And the little girls were still – there are two almost-twelve-year-olds on our block. (22:00) They’re still such little girls. They’re fabulous. Emma Luckman and Sofia Sena.

DS:      Did you block off the ends of the street?

CP:      No.

DP:      Yes.

CP:      Sometimes we’d take – somebody would find some cones and put them out, but we used to do it very formally. When deRoy and Faye Mark….they always got this done, and they always did it for Pennsylvania Hospital or something – fundraisers or parties – for house tours or block parties. They were very good organizers of – until Faye died. Good block stuff, although De had his terrible struggles with a lot of people on the block. He turned the hose on people. He didn’t care for undershirts and ball games on the steps, and he had a low threshold for many old neighbors’ habits

DP:      Drinking beer on the steps?

CP:      Yes.

DP:      On the bench.

DS:      Tell me about where the children did go to school. I mean, you’re half a (23:00) block from McCall’s. The boys?

CP:      Everybody went to McCall’s to start with. Then Ian went to Masterman, which he did not like, and he then went to Central. Matthew … went to McCall’s and then transferred to – what was the name of that school? Matthew had a more varied scholastic journey. There was a school at Sixteenth and –

DP:      Durham.

CP:      Durham. He went to Durham. Then he went to Saul, and then he went to Central and graduated from Central. Then he graduated from Penn [University of Pennsylvania]. Ian graduated from Central and went to the University of Delaware and learned how to party hard. [Laughs] He was in their AP program. He was a double E major, and a lot of (24:00) the people teaching the subjects he was taking were not native English speakers, for one thing, and absolutely unintelligible. Brilliant scholars in their field, but unable to be understood, which is really not the right thing. But, anyway, he ended up at Drexel and finished there. He didn’t quite finish there; five credits short of finishing.

DS:      Your daughter, who didn’t seem to prosper in public school, did she get the help she needed?

CP:      Not totally. In fact, at McCall, it was pretty terrible. I was told by a female counselor that she was such a lovely looking girl, she didn’t need to be smart, too. I remember this as if it were yesterday. I could have – me, non-violent me, – slaughtered the (25:00) woman in her chair. I was furious. She was smart and we knew it. She just needed more skillful help.

DS:      Philadelphia didn’t offer her anything to help her?

CP:      No, not even the child study center at Children’s Hospital or anything. We got her privately tested, and she ended up going to Hilltop [Hill Top Preparatory School]. That was wonderful. It changed her life. Now she has a Master’s, so everything turned out OK, but not without our sponsorship in every way and on every level and her determination to succeed. That’s no big deal now; it was a big deal when it was all happening.

DS:      The [school] strikes didn’t bother you?

CP:      Yes, because Douglas was a teacher.

DP:      Yes, indeed.

DS:      You were teaching?

DP:      Yes.

CP:      They bothered us a whole lot.

DS:      Where were you teaching?

DP:      I was teaching chemistry in high school.

DS:      Where?

DP:      In West Philadelphia. (26:00)

DS:      It affected the whole family, you and the children?

DP:      Yes.

DS:      But you hung in there?

DP:      Yes.

CP:      The teaching thing was ideal, because Douglas had summers off with the family. I really think that’s where the beginning of the boys’ interest in woodworking and all that began, because Douglas is a wonderful woodworker, too. They now outdistance their father, as far as fine cabinet-making. Douglas taught them lots of wonderful early stuff and a whole sense of appreciation for making things, which was great.

DS:      Absolutely.

CP:      Oh, yes, and wonderful for me. I loved having them around in summers. It was fantastic. What was I saying?

DS:      The strike and all.

CP:      Yes. By the time I started to work, our schedules were great, because we kind of overlapped each other as far as school time and when the kids got home. It (27:00) was not too much of a problem. That made it a very good kind of work. If I had to work late, Douglas was home from school by 3:30 or 4:00.

DS:      How did you travel? How did the children get to Masterman?

CP:      Subway and buses.

DS:      Did you use your car very much?

CP:      Not really very much. We didn’t even have a car for many years.

DP:      No, we didn’t have one.

CP:      We didn’t have a television, and we didn’t have a car for many years. One time too many of not coming down for dinner. “Oh, Mom, please wait till this program is over. Wait, wait, wait. Five more minutes.” I couldn’t stand it anymore. Out went the TV.

DS:      You didn’t feel you needed a car because you lived in the city and there was great transportation?

CP:      Yes.

DP:      Tina threw the TV out the window after checking that no one was coming.

DS:      You didn’t have to go through the Redevelopment Authority at all? Your (28:00) front had already been done.

CP:      Our front had already been done, but we tried to get a loan. We signed up for a loan, and it was approved but – it got cut off.

DP:      Who was that lady?

CP:      Maybelle Segal.

DS:      Had approved the loan?

CP:      Yes.

DP:      Maybelle Segal had approved us.

DS:      Had approved the loan?

CP:      Yes, and we had signed an agreement –

DP:      Our doing the work was contingent upon our getting the money. One day a letter appeared on the doorstep, in which Maybelle Segal said, “Why has this work not been done?” Well, it was quite obvious. There was no money given to us.

CP:      They didn’t give it. They were just cut off.

DP:      It was cut off at that time.

DS:      What was Maybelle’s official job? (29:00)

CP:      I don’t remember.

DS:      She worked for the Redevelopment Authority?

CP:      Yes.

DP:      I think she was the head of it for a while.

DS:      Oh.

CP:      Dan Cathers had designed a whole beautiful addition for us, and that’s what we were to have – because our house was really small for years – we only built our addition three years ago. We only got air conditioning three years ago. He designed a wonderful, light-filled, marvelous space for us to build on, but we couldn’t do it on a teacher’s salary without a three percent loan. You know, on a teacher’s salary we could not have done it. We just didn’t have the money to do it, and we didn’t have other money. We couldn’t do it. We said to Redevelopment, “Sorry, we would love to have done it and we know we signed those papers, but there’s no way, unless you could find us another three percent loan.” It was a commitment for us anyway.

DS:      Yes. That’s your only involvement with [the] Redevelopment [Authority] and your house? (30:00)

CP:      Yes. We bought our lot from them. We have a full building lot behind our house. We have a huge garden.

DS:      You go from Delancey to Cypress [Street]. The property didn’t originally go that far, did it?

CP:      No. It went just to where the middle line would have been. In fact, to do our addition, we had to go through so many tortuous moves. We had to combine the properties as one. We’ve had this big, beautiful garden all these years, and they said we didn’t have enough outdoor space to build…what we were going to build, given that the lots were different addresses before. Now, if they ever catch up with everything in City Hall, which is highly unlikely, it’s one lot.

DS:      What was on that lot? Who did you buy it from? (31:00)

CP:      [The Redevelopment [Authority].

DS:      You bought it from Redevelopment. Was there any building on it?

CP:      No. I have a picture.

[Tape is turned off, then on again]

DS:      All the houses on Delancey go the whole way through to Cypress?

CP:      Not all of them. Five in a row.

DP:      Only five.

CP:      Five in a row, 513, 15, 17, 19 and 21 all go back to Cypress.

DS:      They all put in gardens.

CP:      Gardens. The first people – oh, Skellys – I forgot to mention Skellys. Now they were very important landscape architects of our whole neighborhood. A lot of stuff that they did we’re still enjoying. A beautiful sense of how the area would change and grow. They lived at 521. They began their garden – everyone sort of began their garden at the same time. We were a little later than most people because – we just were. (32:00)

DS:      All the extra lots were strewn with –

CP:      Oh, rubble. Ours had been a stable. Our property behind us. Long gone before we came. When Douglas dug the ditch, we found wonderful old iron toys and shards and bones of animals. We made a nice, beautiful little mosaic for the wall from the things in the ditch.

DS:      But they were mostly just –

CP:      Rubble. Clay and rubble.

[Tape is turned off, then on again]

CP:      In the funniest kind of way, we are kind of known for our odd, eccentric bathroom. Douglas dragged home things from all over Philadelphia for several years (33:00) before we put our bathroom together. It used to be so narrow that when I was pregnant I could barely get through by the bathtub or the sink to the john. When we got a chance to make a real bathroom, we took a whole room for a bathroom on the second floor. Douglas had found Lawyer Schofield’s beautiful, ornate Egyptianate kind of trim, on the street – Girard [Street] or Spring Garden [Street]?

DP:      Girard.

CP:      Girard. He had lugged it home. He had found a beautiful coffin bathtub on the street.

DS:      He had caused it to be lugged home?

DP:      Put wheels on it and bicycled it home.

CP:      He had bought louvered doors from Atlantic City.

DP:      From Dirty Ernie’s.

CP:      Dirty Ernie’s. Dragged those home. These were all stored in our home. And two beautiful old marble sinks. Finally, when my grandmother went to live with my (34:00) mom, we took that room and made it into a bathroom, a really wonderful bathroom. You can take a bath, have a fire. Two people. We had one bathroom for six people for the longest time. To have – we have two toilets sort of next to each other with doors, two sinks and a bathtub and a shower and a washer and dryer. It’s fabulous.

[Tape is turned off, then on again]

DS:      Stories about South Street?

DP:      Yes. I had a “firewood friendship” with Isaiah Zagar [mural artist on South Street]. Every winter when it got cold enough, he would start a potbellied stove in his store [Latin American crafts, run by his wife], because he had no heat. Year after year after year I’d chop him wood and give it to him. Then one day, he got (35:00) a furnace downstairs, and that ruined our relationship. Just kidding.

CP:      No. [Laughs]

DS:      You enjoyed South Street?

CP:      The family did.

DP:      It was a very family type place.

DS:      Back in the ‘60s and ‘70s?

CP:      Oh, yes.

DP:      In fact, there were very innovative, European-type cafes. Who was the chef who [inaudible]?

CP:      Oh, Tony. Italian fellow.

DP:      Had a marvelous little place. We ordered the special of the day, and one of his marvelous desserts, which he himself had made. The prices were right, of course.

DS:      Where was he located?

DP:      He was located at –

CP:      Four hundred block. (36:00)

DP:      Four hundred block of South Street on the north side.

CP:      Yes, and they had old theater seats. It was great. Funky as can be. That’s where Black Banana started, on Fourth Street. That was really the first of the really high-end places.

DP:      Then there was Blue Moon: sold newspapers, magazines.

CP:      Oh, that’s right. Paper Moon.

DP:      Paper Moon.

CP:      That was run by what’s his name, who owns Copabanana.

DP:      Curry.

CP:      Bill Curry. It was so characterful and real. The Works was there, and sandal makers, the wonderful black couple who made sandals. Strickler and Patience. Of course, Eyes Gallery.

DP:      Strickler and Patience?

CP:      Something like that. It was like the Village in the early days. We loved that part. We went often to South Street. We have been sad about the new South Street for a long time. The best little thrift shop in the world, called the J and W. (37:00)

DP:      Which burned.

CP:      Yes.

[Tape is turned off, then on again]

DS:      Story about –

CP:      We paid $125 a month when we first rented it, but after we bought it, the mortgage including taxes and insurance was $118 a month. [Laughs]

[Tape is turned off, then on again]

CP:      The reason we’re still able to be in our wonderful, darling, glorious neighborhood – we do love it just to pieces – is that my stepfather unexpectedly left me a bit of money. That’s how we can stay. We – our taxes now are more than we ever dreamt of paying for anything, you know, in a regular person’s life. It just would not have been in our lexicon to be able to do it, if he hadn’t very wonderfully and very (38:00) surprisingly said in his will that he was leaving me that money.

Tape is turned off, then on again

DS:      Did you get involved in any of the neighborhood associations?

CP:      We always belong to the Civic Association. During the Benezet Court year, or however long it was – maybe it felt like forever – when neighbors who had been fond of one another and always respected one another’s opinions and positions started crossing the street because somebody held a contrary opinion – we just decided that we would sort of back off a little bit. It’s only actually lately that we’ve rejoined the Civic, because it seemed like a terribly dilettante position to take, “We’re not going to join because we don’t approve of this and that.” I don’t really think that that’s – the Civic Association does a lot of good stuff. It was very divisive at the time, horrible.            (39:00)

DS:      Even within your block?

CP:      Within our block, a bit. With people that we had – not close, close friendships, but people we had pleasure in the sight of one another on the street, and suddenly that was gone. It did not feel good. The awful things that were said, you know, what people really felt about a lot of things that you didn’t know before, and they felt the same horror about what we felt. It was a gagging time. I hated that time.

DS:      Did you get involved in the school, PTA, anything like that?

CP:      Oh, yes, we were very active in PTA.

DP:      You ran a poetry teaching.

CP:      Oh, yes, I taught night school. During school strikes, I was a scab. How awful. During some of the strikes we organized, you know. I always baked for the (40:00) bake sales and went to the meetings. McCall [school] did not serve us as well as it served many people, I think. Who knows why. It could have been our make-up, or I can remember being told by one teacher who shall remain unnamed, “Oh, Mrs. Pappajohn, in what way do you really feel that you might be able to help us?” when I went in to volunteer for her class. It was – ooh. It was tough to stay on board. A braver soul than me would have stayed on board, but I was too close to saying something not very nice.

DS:      Anything else in the neighborhood that you got involved in?

CP:      Let’s see, what else did we get involved in?

DP:      I was an officer in the Society Hill Civic Association.

CP:      You were?

DP:      Yes.

DS:      What year?

DP:      During the years of Paul Putney. (41:00)

DS:      Oh.

DP:      With [Joanne] Denworth.

DS:      That was during the Benezet controversy. [It] must have been very difficult to be on the board at that time.

DP:      Well, the board was nice to each other, so we never had any violence, obstructions.

[Tape is turned off, then on again]

CP:      Leon Wapner, who was really a patriarch of our block, and for whom the block made a plaque for the synagogue, B’nai Abraham, when he was in his 90s. We all          (42:00) got together and made him a plaque honoring his glorious contributions to our block, mostly of character and wit and warmth and generosity of spirit. He ran a taproom at Fifth and Cypress, which was gone by the time we came. He said the entire block would come home together, ripping and roaring from the taproom. Then, in the summer, everybody would bring a cot out and sleep on the street, and all the doors would be open, and it was absolutely fantastic. Nobody [had] air conditioning. You know, you lived a different way. You closed your blinds and, you know, you had fans, I guess. That’s how we did it all those years. Then we learned to go away in the summer once we were able to get out of Philadelphia in the summer. It was way too hot for us, coming from the west, especially. We died the first few summers.

DS:      When your children were little and you were stuck in Philadelphia, you did also benefit a lot from your block, got to know each other better because most (43:00) everyone was in the same air-conditionless boat.

CP:      Many, many people did not have AC. As the houses were bought and done, people always, of course, would put AC in. We didn’t do it until three years ago.

DP:      People would visit on our street until 11 o’clock—

CP:      Oh, yes, people would sit out at night and talk.

DP:      Marvelous.

CP:      It was great. That was one of the advantages of being in the 500 block of Delancey. It became entirely gentrified a bit later, I think, than many other places. People really loved their houses, and stayed and stayed. Many died right in the house, and that was when the house was finally sold. They didn’t go and think, “Oh, goody, I can get a lot of money for my house.” They loved it where they were. It was who they were. It did add to the quality of friendship on the block. It’s much less so that way anymore. It’s still good, (44:00) and there’s still a sense of community. Whoever wants anonymity may have it, and that was always the case. You just went in your house and closed the door, if you didn’t want that other thing.

DP:      The block was not necessarily your neighbor. When we moved here, I was standing at Pine and Sixth, being very happy with the world, and a guy came along and started to talk. I said, “Where do you live?” He said, “I live in the 600 block of Pine Street.” I said, “Oh, how interesting. We must be neighbors then. I’m living at 515 Delancey.” He said, “Neighbors? You’re a whole block away.” To me, coming from the west, I thought that was very, very funny, but I couldn’t laugh in his presence.

CP:      I think that was Ottaviano, too. You know, Sophie’s husband. I can’t think of his name.

DP:      Fred.

CP:      Fred Ottaviano

DP:      Fred the barber.

CP:      Fred the barber. He used to have his barber shop on at Fifth – on Third – on Fifth – on Sixth, right around the corner from us, didn’t he? Isn’t that where Fred used to cut hair? Oh, no. [Inaudible] There was another barber.

DP:      [Inaudible]

[Tape is turned off, then on again]

DS:      Story about the flags on your block. Tell us about that.

CP:      I always loved that.

DP:      Well, deRoy Mark always had an American flag out, no matter what the weather. He conceived it his patriotic duty to have it there. A few years into Society (46:00) Hillery, the Howells moved onto our street. Peter Howells was an ex-Navy man, very vociferous, and very patriotic. He hung up two American flags, which never came in during the rain, shine, snow, sleet, hail. These two gentlemen started the trend of putting a flag on the street on your own house. Peter Howells is the one who was given credit, though.

CP:      He loved flags. He had every flag –

DP:      He was a flagophile.

CP:      He had a flag for every occasion. Then everybody started to think that was so much fun. There were flags on the street before, but not everybody. The funny thing happened… when one of those dreadful horse and wagon things [horse and carriage rides for tourists] came (47:00) through the street, and we heard the question being asked of the absolutely ignorant driver, “Now, why are all these flags on Delancey Street,” the driver said, without skipping a beat, “This is the block of embassies.”

DP:      You can tell by the flags.

CP:      This tiny little street with embassies. Isn’t that great?

[End of interview]

Transcriber’s Note: Mrs. Pappajohn wrote the following note when she reviewed the transcript:

“Who could have guessed we’d stay here, still madly in love with our house, our neighborhood and each other for almost 45 years. We’ve formed precious friendships, some lasting almost as long as we’ve lived here, with Sally and Jessie Williams (Jessie now back on the street with her husband and three beautiful boys) and the Cundys, right next door, octogenarians; Nancy Coleman, now moved away; and Carol Howell – figures who peopled the stage of our early years. New friends now – the Brice Luckman family and the Luca Senas, the Tropps, the Hilpes, and from Pine Street the Oldenhoffs. The actors have changed, but the quality of the play remains. Somehow each family or individual all had an impact on the wholeness.”


© 2009 Project Philadelphia 19106™. All rights reserved.

About the Interview

Dorothy Stevens
Cynthia J. Eiseman
Interview Location
116 Delancey Street
Interview Date
September 29, 2009
Pappajohn, Douglas and Christina
Narrator Type
Redeveloper - Restoration
Oral History Sources