Eli P. and Janet Zebooker

Eli Zebooker (1912-2018, and known as Al) and his wife Janet (d. 2018) bought a double property at 110-112 Delancey Street in 1965 and had a house of contemporary design built on it. They moved in with their two teenage children, Nina and Van, in 1970. It took that long because the Zebookers refused to be threatened into paying off city officials with authority to issue permits or approve work done.

Al and Janet were motivated to move to Society Hill by Al’s wish to have his dental office in his house; they also liked what they were hearing about Society Hill and thought it would be a success. Their children were very much in favor of the move. Al enjoyed walking around the neighborhood and became familiar with every new house that being built or old house being restored. He feels now that the continuous inclination to build high-rises is a mistake. He says, “It’s a magnificent place for people to walk around and enjoy. Saturday, Sunday afternoons it’s a wonderful place. If it becomes commercial, they’re going to rob the area of a nice place to walk around and enjoy the area. It’s unfortunate that this is occurring all over the area.”

When Janet was a child, she would visit her father at his office at Sixth and Lombard, and they would go to lunch in the neighborhood. When Al proposed the idea of moving there, Janet was skeptical; but she understood that Al was fascinated with the area and she consented. Al said that the Redevelopment Authority imposed few restrictions on the house they were building, but Janet recalls it differently: she cites building height, building material, window details, and off-street parking. Once the house was finished and they moved in, the neighborhood got more and more interesting, with all the building and renovating going on, people walking their dogs, and helicopters landing on the lot across the street. Janet is one of the few narrators who spoke positively about Newmarket and some of the shops in it that she patronized.


DS:      The date is June 16, 2006. I am talking to Al Zebooker. Your full name, Al?         

EZ:      Eli.

DS:      Eli.

EZ:      Eli Philip.

DS:      Eli Philip Zebooker. You presently live at 220 Locust Street, Philadelphia, but the property that we will be talking about, which you owned, was 110-112 Delancey Street. Al, now I want to know from you what year did you come to Society Hill? Did you buy that land?

EZ:      We purchased the land, I believe, it was in ’65. [In the interview he said ’63. He changed it to ’65 when he reviewed the transcript.]

DS:      Why did you come to Society Hill? (1:00)

EZ:      I had my office at 1921 Spruce Street and I lived on the 2200 block on Spruce.

DS:      You’re a dentist?

EZ:      Yes. It got to be – I was living and working between two places. I thought it would be nice if I consolidated. It was an unusual thing for professional people to do in those days, if possible, to have their home and office together. This space and the area in Society Hill looked like an ideal place to establish a practice and build a home – build a type of a home which you really looked forward to it. That is why we made that change.

DS:      Why Society Hill?

EZ:      We anticipated it to be the great place it is. We anticipated it and it turned out that way. (2:00)

DS:      What was the condition of the property when you bought it?

EZ:      Bare land.

DS:      Two properties. Bare land.

EZ:      Bare land, rough bare land. The houses had collapsed.

DS:      Did you know anything about the previous owner?

EZ:      Not a thing.

DS:      [My] recollection is it was in ’65, and we had just moved into our house at 116 Delancey Street. [My husband] David went outside. The person we thought owned those pieces of land was standing and looking at his pieces of property and he said to David, “They’re going to fall. The houses are going to fall.” Sure enough, within ten minutes the houses did collapse on each other. He had taken a (3:00) bulldozer and undermined the center support between the two row houses. He was going to restore them, and he was going to do it himself.

EZ:      Who was this?

DS:      This was the man who owned the land before you. That’s just our story [about] your property. When you bought the property, did you buy it from the Redevelopment Authority?

EZ:      Redevelopment owned it. We purchased it from them.

DS:      Did they give you any trouble at all?

EZ:      None whatever. They were very cooperative and anxious to have somebody come in there and develop it. The plan we had in mind was very beneficial to the area, so it was easy to obtain the land.

DS:      Did they put any restrictions on you as to what you could build or not build?

EZ:      The only restrictions were, of course, you could not break the curb for (4:00) car parking, the height of the building had to be relative to those next door, and the brick color had to resemble something of the period. Outside of that, no restrictions.

DS:      They did not necessarily want you to imitate the older restored buildings in the neighborhood?

EZ:      No, you did not have to restore anything. [It could be] built new as long as what was built looked like a nice brick front which they have at present or which looked reasonably good compared to those on either side.

DS:      Do you remember how much you paid for the two lots?

EZ:      I recall it was about $14,000. (5:00)

DS:      Total?

EZ:      Yes.

[Tape is turned off, then on again]

DS:      Tell me, do you have any stories or experiences when you were building the house that are of significance?

EZ:      Yes, it took us quite a few number of years to build it, because our builder, Tony Manes, did not want to encourage any problems by giving under-the-table gifts to inspectors. He refused to give anything to any inspector, so it took us several years to build the house. We were in no tremendous hurry. He was in no great hurry. We thought, “Well, let’s both take our time and see what happens.” It took a long time, but it worked out.

DS:      You’re talking, what? Two years?

EZ:      Three years.

DS:      Did he employ union people? (6:00)

EZ:      He, his brother, another worker, and another couple of laborers. They were a little firm. Just personal builders. Individual builder.

DS:      They were not union?

EZ:      No, union was not involved

DS:      I want to back up just a minute. You knew the Halperns [Alan and Bomie] at the time. Was there any connection with the fact that the Halperns were moving, that you wanted to move, too, or that you wanted to be together?

EZ:      No. The Halperns lived up on Spruce Street in the 23, 2400 block. We knew them there, and we socialized with them and with other couples. One Sunday, I think, we were going out for a ride with them, and Janet said, “Let’s go down and take a look at Society Hill.” Alan said, “Yes, let’s drive down to Pine Street.” We drove down, and Alan said, “Park here.” We parked there, and he said, “This ground here,” and he pointed, “we bought that. We’re going to build a house.” (7:00) Janet and I were aghast! Our property was directly behind it. He seemed to indicate [that] he had bought the whole thing. We had not as yet settled with our property. He finally said it was just the part in the front on Pine Street. Then we told him we were buying identical frontage, but on Delancey Street.

DS:      That’s a good story. You had no trouble with Redevelopment. The contractors took their time. Suppliers – was there any problems there with people stealing things from the property?

EZ:      Toward the end we had a few problems because we had a pool around back, (8:00) and water would accumulate in there. Kids would jump in and go swimming in the pool at night, which was dangerous. We finally had to get a guard at night for maybe six months to guard the property from being devastated by outsiders, and to keep the kids out.

DS:      Liability?

EZ:      About six months, but that was no problem.

DS:      Did you know any of the neighbors that were there that would have been originals?

EZ:      We did not know any of the neighbors until we got to know you and the Mearses, who lived next door to us, Bill and –

DS:      Georganne.

EZ:      Georganne Mears. [We] got to know both couples quite well during the process of (9:00) building. Of course, after building, we were close to both couples for quite some time and still are – to [you]. I hear Bill Mears died.

DS:      I didn’t know that.

EZ:      Yes. I spoke with Georganne.

[Tape is turned off, then on again]

DS:      Did you belong – was there a civic association? Did you belong to it? Did you get active in the neighborhood?

EZ:      I belonged to the civic association. I was not very active in it. Bill Mears and David Stevens were extremely active in it. We gave it as much comfort and time as we could, but we were not active in it.

DS:      Tell me about your dentist’s office in your house.

EZ:      What do you want to know about it?

DS:      Well, you had a dental office – (10:00)

EZ:      I had a dental office which went down eight steps down from street level, and the house went eight steps up from street level, from the landing and from Delancey. They were separate entities; no relationship between them except the door in front, separating the two parts. There was an exit from the basement which was adjacent to the office, that went up, oh, maybe twelve steps to the garden.

DS:      Was there any problem with zoning, with having the office there?

EZ:      No problems. Zoning permitted a professional office occupied by the individual who was building [it]. You could have one employee, which meant I could have only one assistant. That was their rule. Whether or not it was enforced, I don’t know, but I did not need more than that. (11:00)

DS:      When you announced to your children and to the rest of your family that you were going to build down here, what was their reaction?

EZ:      Extremely happy, the kids were. They were looking forward to it for all those years, and when we finally did move in, they were ecstatic about the whole house.

DS:      How old were they at that time?

EZ:      The kids were eleven, twelve. Let’s see, ’65. About that. Our family, as we told them what we were going to do, were a little skeptical about our plan to leave an area which was highly developed to an area which was undeveloped. They wondered if we were doing the proper thing. I said, “I think we are.” I had no question it was going to be successful.

DS:      Can you give me a general feeling of what the neighborhood was like to live in? (12:00) I mean in your leisure time. Would you go down to the river?

EZ:      I walked every street in the area, and I still do walk every street in the area. I know every street [and] practically every brick within ten blocks. I enjoyed myself. I still enjoy walking. I still find new things as I walk along, because there’s such tremendous new construction going on. Every piece of land which can have a house on it is being built. There’s very little left open, which unfortunately there should be more of it left open, especially on Delancey Place. I was a little bit disturbed by the closing up the – what was it – the (13:00)

[Tape is turned off, then on again]

EZ:      There was a garden at the Otto Haas house [at 217 Delancey Street] – a beautiful stone garden. As I recall, one of our presidents stayed in the house during one of the presidential campaigns. It was a great house. Unfortunately, commercialism took over. I was unhappy about that. All space now on the riverfront is being enclosed with high rises. Since we’ve been here [220 Locust Street], we’ve [seen] several large buildings [built] on the river, which obstruct our view a little bit, which is not a tremendous factor. I don’t want to object too much. I guess more will be coming. The people who own the (14:00) Penn’s Landing project, they really want to maximize the return on the investment, which is, what, thirty-two acres or something like that. I don’t see the need, why they have to maximize. That should be left open for the people. It’s a magnificent place for people to walk around and enjoy. Saturday, Sunday afternoons it’s a wonderful place. If it becomes commercial, they’re going to rob the area of a nice place to walk around and enjoy the area. It’s unfortunate that this is occurring all over the area.

DS:      Did you have any fear of crime early on, particularly with children who were ten and twelve or with yourself or your wife?

EZ:      No, we never had; never even thought of it. I don’t think we ever had – I don’t recall any incidents that happened in the area at all. (15:00) In all those years of living there [at 108-110 Delancey Street], I don’t remember any incident. There may have been, but I don’t recall. There was no fear. My door was always unlocked, except at night time.

DS:      You kept it unlocked because of the office?

EZ:      Because of the office, we saw no need to keep it locked. In fact, the property across the street was land, and the property in front of that. In fact, we could look from our living room over to Bookbinder’s [on Walnut Street], straight across. If on any occasion we were over at Bookbinder’s, with guests having dinner, our kids could see Bookbinder’s by looking out the window. Today we have all these apartments there and the [Sheraton] Hotel. There will be a lot more stuff being built east and west of both of those. I remember the land where the Sheraton (16:00) is located was offered to John Taxin [the owner of Bookbinder’s] I believe it was offered by the Redevelopment Authority for $50,000 or something like that for a parking lot. He refused to buy because he thought it was too much money for it. Yet, he owned a couple of historic buildings behind him on the east side, and even though he was a member of the Redevelopment Authority and the Zoning Commission, he found some way to tear down quite a few of them for parking. Now it’s going to be big high-rise complexes there.

DS:      Where did the children go to school?

EZ:      Friends Select in the beginning, and then Nina went to Central High – Girls High [In reviewing the transcript, he inserted “then Miquon”] – and Van finished at Friends Select all the way.

DS:      Anything else about early on experiences, social life or problems or joys that (17:00) you would want to be recorded?

EZ:      I remember we used to have block parties in those days, when you could easily put a wood horse across the street. Everybody came out to have fun. I don’t think you can do that today.

DS:      You have to get permission.

EZ:      Besides, we knew every – every neighbor on the street personally. We were friendly with everybody, and it was a get-together. I don’t know if the owners of our old house know the next-door neighbors even. I have no idea. I imagine there are relationships, personal, social relationships between people now as it was in those days.

DS:      Thank you, Al, very much!

EZ:      You’re quite welcome. (18:00)

[Tape is turned off, then on again]


DS:      Janet, give me your full name, including your maiden name.

JZ:       Janet Reibstein Zebooker.

DS:      Spell your maiden name.

JZ:       R-E-I-B-S-T-E-I-N. My father was in the monument business, if you will, and he was located – his father had started for many, many years at Sixth and Lombard. I had visited. I would come to visit him at his office. We liked going to lunch at the old Colonial restaurant or [inaudible] restaurant –

DS:      Where were they?

JZ:       On Fourth Street.

DS:      Fourth Street. Where on Fourth Street?

JZ:       Between, I guess, Lombard and South, perhaps; maybe a block more than that. Also, we’d go to Levis’ sometimes.

DS:      That was on Sixth?

JZ:       Yes, I saw the neighborhood at that stage. (19:00)

DS:      How old were you then?

JZ:       I would have been, let’s say, ten to fifteen years old. I’m going back to the ‘30s when I say that. Anyhow, it was of interest to me when Al developed his interest in the area. Did he tell you how we got there?

DS:      Tell me.

JZ:       As you know, he’s been interested in collecting things about, primarily, the Philadelphia area – the architecture and lots of maps and books. He used to wander down here a lot when Dock Street was the Food Distribution Center. He’s fascinated by the (20:00) lintels on the buildings and things like that. In wandering down Delancey, he saw this one house. It was already down, I think, and there was another one that was still standing. He was really taken with that. At that time, I was very skeptical, because sadly I had not moved very much.

DS:      He said your children were sort of like ten and twelve at that point?

JZ:       They were even a little bit younger, because they were about fourteen and fifteen when we moved. At any rate, he wanted to have a house here. As I say, I was very skeptical. Then I said, “OK, I’ll do it if we can have two things. One is a little pool, and the other is a big tree.” We got it. [Laughs]

DS:      [Laughs] You’re easy.

JZ:       Right. Of course, from that moment on the neighborhood was developing quickly. We had all of these restrictions to apply to the architecture. That didn’t bother (21:00) me at all. That’s logical. I do feel that in the beginning we stood out like a sore thumb.

DS:      What restrictions? Do you remember any of them?

JZ:       Building height. Building – front building material. Window detail. Things like that.

DS:      Redevelopment Authority was giving their approval to your plans.

JZ:       Absolutely. All through. I don’t recall our having need to make any changes, but perhaps that happened and I don’t recall. With us it took about five years, because we acquired the property. Then we had to select the architect. Then we had to get the contractor. When we began building, we were visited by a lot of – what should I say? – (22:00) people from City Hall. Let’s put it that way. Our contractor told us, “Don’t give in, because once you start, you’re finished.” We didn’t, so things took a long time to finally get approved and finished. We didn’t move in until ’69, having started in ’65 to get the property. The Halperns, in back of us, got their property about the same time, and they were in by ’67. Her father was the contractor, and – you know; that’s how long it took us. Even as we were doing it, you could begin to see that something was really going to be happening.

DS:      In this neighborhood?

JZ:       Yes. Oh, yes. (23:00)

DS:      Were you fearful ever in this neighborhood? Were you happy to be here?

JZ:       Yes, it got to be more and more interesting and exciting to be here, to watch everything happen. When we started, of course, there was nothing between us and Walnut Street. When we were in the house, we could look out the kitchen window and see the lobsters being taken care of in Booky’s [Bookbinder’s] window. It was wonderful. Also, I really enjoyed watching everybody take walks, walk their dogs in the lot across the street. That was fun. When they started to build that, they would start at seven o’clock in the morning. That was a little disturbing; but, you know, they had to.

DS:      That was 1970?

JZ:       Right. It blocked the view, but again, you have to understand, these things must happen. It couldn’t just lie there. (24:00)

DS:      You knew it was going to happen?

JZ:       Right. The lot where the Sheraton Hotel is now was used by helicopters for banking companies. That was before the days of the Internet. Apparently, the bank branches that were pretty far out would send their daily things in by helicopter into that lot, where they would be picked up locally. So, you know, that was interesting. Different. [Laughs]

DS:      Yes. I remember, too, whenever there was a fire on a pier or some problem with the river, they would land in that lot across the street from us.

JZ:       Oh, really? I must have missed that.

DS:      What was the reaction from your children when you told them that this was going to happen and you were going to move?

JZ:       They were pretty good. They were excited. I know that when we finally did (25:00) move in, I can remember Nina running up to her room on the third floor, where there was this huge view, “I love it. It’s the best room.” You know, she was just thrilled to be there. It wasn’t next to transportation at that time, that they could use. I do remember driving her to Suburban Station to get the train to school, a lot of mornings.

DS:      What school did she go to?

JZ:       She went to the Miquon School, which was then located off of Wayne Avenue in Germantown.

DS:      Al said they started out at Friends.

JZ:       Van went all the way through twelfth grade at Friends.

DS:      Select?

JZ:       Yes. It was during their reconstruction, school classes were held at the Y at Broad and Arch. Anyhow, I thought that was a wonderful thing that the Friends school (26:00) did. It was great.

DS:      The children grew up being pretty city-wise?

JZ:       Oh, yes, we lived at Twenty-second and Spruce Streets [before moving to Society Hill].

DS:      They knew their way around?

JZ:       Oh, yes.

DS:      You had no fear of raising them in the city?

JZ:       No, no, we didn’t. I’ll tell you, Dottie, we felt good about the neighborhood. Al would take walks after dinner. He wouldn’t do that now; not in the winter time. It’s just – you know – things have changed. He was all over the place, all the time. We got to know the parking; the parking got increasingly difficult. Ultimately, we felt that we were so lucky to get a space in the garage at Second and Lombard Streets, which is two and a half blocks away. Now you can park any place. There’s always space around. (27:00)

DS:      Sticker parking, you think, did that?

JZ:       No, I think just density. All the curiosity that occurred around the Bicentennial, things like that, was bringing lots of people, and that subsided.

DS:      What did the rest of your family think of you building and moving down here? Was your father still around?

JZ:       No, he wasn’t around. As a matter of fact, my mother was terribly ill at the time, and she was at the [Metropolitan] Osteopathic Hospital at Third and Spruce Streets. [Laughs] I used to look out of the window from her room there, and look down at where they were building the parking area on Third Street. The houses on Third Street, watching the people start their outdoor gardens, their little gardens. I remember driving her past the house, when it was (28:00) already up but far from finished. She just never made it to the house; she never [went] in it.

DS:      Her feeling [was] that [it] was good?

JZ:       Well, she had – I will say, she had such great faith in Al and what he was doing that, you know, if questioned, she would say, “Go for it. Do it.”

DS:      She was encouraging?

JZ:       Yes.

DS:      You grew up in the city?

JZ:       I grew up in the neighborhood of Logan, which is now notorious for crime and sinking and all kinds of dreadful stuff, but that’s where I grew up. Again, I remember (29:00) walking to the movies a mile away, and there was just no problem. Many, many years ago. Really.

DS:      How old are you now, Janet?

JZ:       I’m eighty-three.

DS:      Al is –?

JZ:       Ninety-three.

DS:      Ninety-three. Did Al grow up in the city?

JZ:       No, he was born in the city. His family acquired a bakery in Pennsgrove, South Jersey, and he was there from the time he was a little toddler, I guess, until he went off to college. They moved back to the city I think in the mid ‘30s. His mother had an awful fall, and her arms were damaged badly – both of them – at the wrists. She just couldn’t function the way she had to, so they sold the bakery and they moved up to (30:00) Oak Lane some place, where both of her daughters were married and living. That’s where he spent his – by the time he got to dental school, that’s where he was living, and then he was in the army for five years.

DS:      Tell me about where you would do your shopping. Grocery shopping, clothes shopping, any kind of ….

JZ:       Super Fresh on Fifth Street, I think, was there. I don’t know when it started.

DS:      Was it?

JZ:       As an A&P.

DS:      That was ’65?

JZ:       Well, it was first an A&P.

DS:      That’s right.

JZ:       Before that –

DS:      Would you go to South Street or South Philadelphia?

JZ:       Where did I go? I’m spoiled in that I usually take the car when I go shopping, so wherever I went would have – for little things like a loaf of bread or a bottle of milk, I do not recall. (31:00)

DS:      Where would you go socially for an evening out – dinner, restaurants?

JZ:       Wow, that’s tough. Well, sure, it could all come back to me if I worked on it. Off the top of my head, I can’t recall. Again, having a car was one thing. Most all of our friends were out in the suburbs. So, you know, that’s what probably we’d do. I don’t recall using public transportation too much, and then we had friends in the neighborhood. [Laughs]

[Tape is turned off, then on again]

JZ:       When Head House [she means Newmarket] was done, there was a wonderful market on the corner of (32:00) Second and Lombard Streets. It would have been the southwest corner. It was underground. Do you remember it, Dottie?

DS:      Yes, it was Second and Lombard.

JZ:       Lombard. Yes. Underneath where the CVS is now.

DS:      Yes.

JZ:       It was a terrific market. We loved it. There were a couple of places in the complex that were always fun to go to. People visiting us would love to go there. If you recall, the Rusty Scupper always had a waiting list, and a loud speaker announcing it to the whole complex, “Mr. and Mrs. So-and-So, your table is ready.”

DS:      Rusty Scupper was in Newmarket on Front Street.

JZ:       Front Street, yes, between Lombard and Pine. There were some nifty shops; some fun shops. It was sad to see that go. It really was. I went to a hairdresser there. (33:00) I remember him telling me that he would be moving, because the rents were going up and they were required to pay a certain percentage of profit. It was just too much for him. I don’t know the details of it, but I remember him saying that. In those days, there were the two women who ran – what did they call it? – the grocery shop. I know Van [her son], at the age of seventeen or eighteen, worked for them. He used to – I guess he had to be eighteen – drive down to the new Food Distribution Center and buy stuff, you know, like five o’clock in the morning. (34:00) The Fruit Lady, that was the name of the store. Fruit Lady. There were one or two cheese shops that were great. Fast forward up to 1982, when Nina was getting married, and her French family was visiting, you know, before and during the ceremony and afterwards. I remember going down to the cheese shop, where they always had fresh croissants, that would be nice for them to have. That part of it was so delightful. It really was. It was great, convenient. Of course, I’m sure people have documented that famous day when the Seamen’s Church fell down, that Sunday morning and everybody ran out with their coffee cups. [Laughs]

DS:      Tell me your story.

JZ:       Well, that was exactly it. There was this huge, rumbling noise, and we all ran outside and cheered. As I say, with coffee cups in hand. It was a Sunday morning. It was, (35:00) you know – my theory was that the building was so crumbling that somebody pulled out a bottom brick somewhere and it imploded after that. I don’t know why it happened or how it happened, but it happened. Then there were all the plans for what would replace it. Restaurants. The neighborhood did not like that, because it meant a lot of parking, which they didn’t provide, and also perhaps patrons at two o’clock in the morning noisily leaving. You know, that kind of stuff, so that didn’t work.

DS:      Do you remember the warehouse coming down?

JZ:       Yes, I remember that, because I was familiar with the Quaker warehouse, and they had some fine art stored there, as well as whatever else they stored. I don’t know.

DS:      This was the cold storage. Quaker, at Delaware Avenue. (36:00)

JZ:       Yes. Water Street or something.

DS:      Yes.

JZ:       Yes, I remember when that came down. Then, across Delaware Avenue, on the river, a little farther down, was Pier 30, where they created a tennis facility. Way back, when we were playing tennis, that was wonderful, because you could walk down that hill, which was still just that hill, and go to the tennis court.

DS:      The hill was between Front Street and Delaware Avenue?

JZ:       Right. Exactly. It was rather steep, as I recall.

DS:      It just had rubble on it from buildings that had been taken down?

JZ:       Absolutely.

DS:      Did you ever go to that little restaurant on Water Street?

JZ:       When we started on the house, looking for it, there was a little place – I thought it was at Front – no, Delaware and Pine. I remember they had great hamburgers. (37:00) Yes, I do remember going there. At that time, when they moved, I thought it was the same – the same people that moved up to where the Artful Dodger is now. I don’t know. They still have good hamburgers. [Laughs] Of course, what most everybody thinks of now is this restaurant renaissance, which is happening. I did remember that place, yes.

DS:      Anything else? Experiences that your children had?

JZ:       Well, I remember when I was forced into keeping a little puppy. You know, Al’s office was in the basement. The puppy didn’t have any regard for his patients and his patience. I used to take it for a walk in the big space (38:00) across the street. Dottie, I don’t know if you should tape this, but I will tell you, that I could not believe my own ears, when the dog would do his business, “Good dog. Good dog.” What am I doing? [Laughs] That was before people had to be responsible for removing all that stuff.

DS:      A lot of people had dogs.

JZ:       Oh, yes, and that was the place. It was really like a dog run. It was great.

[Sound of a telephone ringing. Tape is turned off, then on again]

JZ:       One of the early celebrations of New Year’s on the river with the fireworks, I remember the mobs of cars, and on our street, which is three lanes, they were parked three (39:00) lanes deep. An emergency vehicle could never get ahead. I remember walking down to Front and Spruce, feeling the impact of those fireworks. Then when we moved to the [Society Hill} Towers, here we are facing that. At this level, if we have our hands on the windows, we could feel them shaking from the fireworks. I can’t imagine what it’s like – you know, we’re fifth level – I can’t imagine what it’s like at the thirtieth level. Anyway, to me it was a little frightening; gorgeous and frightening. To me it sounds like war, frankly. Most people just love it, but that was then. It’s always terrible – I – actually, we were away one evening, one New Year’s evening and trying to get back into the city. We parked (40:00) our car at Sixth and Race Streets and walked back. It was that impossible to move. We went to get it the next morning, [Laughs] but we loved it. The kids were happy there. They did not have a lot of friends, you know, around the corner, but they weren’t there all that long.

DS:      Before they went to college?

JZ:       That’s right. They loved the pool, as we did. We used to keep it quite warm. We were using it up until the end of October, and racing quickly into the house, but we loved that.

DS:      They were here for summer jobs? Or, at least Van was? (41:00)

JZ:       Yes, he worked for the Fruit Ladies. Nina worked – she was a waitress at – came home from school her first year at college – at the place that is now Nola. What was it called?

DS:      On South Street?

JZ:       No, on Second Street. Across from the Shambles. It’s where the restaurant is now, Nola, and it had – oh, boy, I wish I could – I’ll retrieve the name after you’re gone.

DS:      It was there on Second Street, across from Head House?

JZ:       Yeah, it had ice cream comes –

DS:      Oh, yes, I remember that. The Back Porch.

JZ:       Something like that.

DS:      She was a waitress there?

JZ:       That’s right. That was fun for her, and we enjoyed her doing that. Van had another job, I remember. He might have been in college by then. We had the seaplane on the river. It went into lower Manhattan. (42:00)

DS:      Was it a plane or a helicopter?

JZ:       It was a plane, a seaplane. His job was as a chauffeur, when people would land down at the river, if they had to go into town, they had a car. He was their chauffeur, so that was fun for him.

DS:      That was a good job.

JZ:       Yes, it was a nice job. As a matter of fact, he met the people who then employed him after he got out of law school. He befriended them, having chauffeured them. [Laughs]

DS:      It helped. [Laughs]

JZ:       Right.

DS:      Nina used to babysit for us.

JZ:       That’s right.

DS:      She was my boys’ favorite babysitter. (43:00)

JZ:       Oh, that’s wonderful. I’ve told you, I couldn’t imagine, at the age of sixteen, what she was doing with your little newborn. What was he, four weeks old? Her response was, “Well, he’s like a puppy.” [Laughs] They also babysat for the Robertses. I know on one instance, somehow or other somebody got locked out, and Van went over. Nina called Van, and he went over, and he must have scrambled in the back or something; entered the house, I’m sure illegally to free them all. I don’t know what was going on.

DS:      Al said that you used to leave the front door unlocked during the day.

JZ:       Oh, yes. Well, first of all it was Al’s office and there was no need not to.

DS:      Nobody walked in that shouldn’t walk in?

JZ:       Did you ever have any problems? Did you ever feel that way?

DS:      No. When I would come over for my dental visits, I never –

JZ:       No, you just walked in.

DS:      Right.

JZ:       I do remember one of the restrictions in building the house. My question had been, if we elevate the level of the basement, can we come off of the street and make that a parking area, you know, a little garage, under the house. It was not permitted. You could not break the sidewalk, the curb. I never could understand that, because a lot of people did that. Also, they did not permit us to have a parking sign in front for patients, to save a space. We were miffed about that, but, you know, it had to be.

DS:      It’s interesting, because when we built in ’64, ’65, there was a big discussion (45:00) about one department of the city wanted us to provide off-street parking –

JZ:       Right.

DS:      – because we were a new building, and the other part was saying we couldn’t break the curb.

JZ:       Exactly. Exact same thing.

[Tape is turned off, then on again]

DS:      This is the story of when in the middle of the night, 114 Delancey Street, the house, fell forward and to the west on top of our house [at 116-118 Delancey Street] and all into our front yard and all onto the cars that were parked in front of that house. I was nine months pregnant with our second son, Gregory. I was supposed to get out to the obstetrician’s appointment that morning, and I couldn’t leave the house, because I couldn’t (46:00) crawl over all the rubble to get to the bus. Pretty soon the doorbell rings; that was still working. There was Al Zebooker, crawling all over top of all this rubble to get to the front door to come to see if I was all right, if I needed anything, and what was going on. It was such a nice thing, Al, but I didn’t know you. You introduced yourself and you were extremely concerned that I was OK inside that house.

JZ:       He must have seen that you were pregnant.

DS:      I don’t know if we had met before. If we had, I have no recollection. I was very pregnant at that point, because I then did deliver three weeks later. The rubble was gone.

JZ:       My calculations tell me that would have been about 1972. Is that correct? [In reviewing the transcript she noted that she was thinking of Jason Stevens, born in 1970.]

DS:      Sixty-six.

JZ:       Sixty-six?

DS:      Gregory was born in April of ’66. [End of interview.]  


©2006 Project Philadelphia 19106™. All rights reserved.

About the Interview

Dorothy Stevens
Cynthia J. Eiseman
Interview Location
220 Locust Street
Interview Date
June 16, 2006
Zebooker, Eli P. and Janet
Narrator Type
Redeveloper - New Construction
Oral History Sources