Emy Halpert

Emy Halpert chose Society Hill because she wanted to live in the city so that she could walk places. She chose to live in Blackwell Court because she did not want to fix up an old house. The house she selected was not finished, so she was able to customize it to meet her needs and taste.

A product of the developers Van Arkel & Moss, Blackwell Place has eighteen houses between Pine and Stamper Streets and Second and Third Streets. Additional houses and underground parking were going to be added. When that proved too expensive, a parking garage was proposed instead at the corner of Second and Lombard. It appears that the Blackwell Place Association homeowners, not all of whom accepted the parking garage as a substitute for additional houses, joined the lawsuit brought against Van Arkel & Moss by the residents adjoining Newmarket. One outcome of that lawsuit was that the owners of Blackwell Court houses got deeded parking in the garage for 25 years.

Emy took her children to Three Bears Park every morning. There the children made friends, and so did the mothers. They formed a babysitting co-op, which Emy describes as “a life-saver.” They formed a co-op play group that met in the basement of Old St. Joseph’s Church twice a week.


DS:      This is an interview with Emy Halpert. The date is October 23, 2009, the location is 1 Blackwell Place, Philadelphia. The interviewer is Dorothy Stevens.

[Tape is turned off, then on again]

DS:      Emy, what is your full name.

EH:      Emy Martin Halpert.

DS:      It is Emy.

EH:      My real, real name? Emma. [inaudible]

DS:      When did you come to Society Hill?

EH:      1968. September, 1968.

DS:      Did you come to this house?

EH:      No, I lived at 329 Cypress Street, an apartment which was the back third of 330 Spruce Street, was the home of Nellie Lee Bok. … She was then [the] widow [of Curtis Bok], and we rented her apartment. In truth, my husband [Willard Rouse] then had a job in New Jersey. We were just coming here, looking for an apartment, and his cousin had the apartment, got into Harvard Law School instead of Penn, and so they gave us the apartment before they ever moved in.

DS:      If your husband had a job in New Jersey, why did you choose to live here?

EH:      Because I grew up in the city, and I wanted to be in the city.

DS:      You grew up in the city and you wanted to be in the city.

EH:      I grew up in Baltimore, in the city, and I wanted to be in the city. I had (2:00) lived two years in Dallas, Texas, and that was suburbs enough for me, because you had to drive everywhere. I wanted to be able to walk. I had a baby, a six-month old baby – I guess nine months old by then – and I wanted to be able to walk places. We lived just across the street from what is now called Three Bears Park, but was then called Delancey Street Park. She basically thought that was her backyard. [Laughs]

DS:      [Laughs] You then moved into this Blackwell Court?

EH:      Oh, I lived there for two years, probably, in the apartment. When Molly was about a year and a half old, my in-laws came to visit and walked around the neighborhood and said, “You really should buy a house.” The next day I went looking for a house. Very good daughter-in-law. I actually didn’t like the apartment. It was a trinity apartment; although she [Molly] could walk, she couldn’t walk up the stairs. I (3:00) I had to carry her through that little circular back staircase. I went looking for a house. I knew I didn’t want an old house to renovate. That was not my personality, although you could have bought one for $40,000 very easily. There were two new houses available. It was this courtyard. This house was not finished, but it was – the structure was here, but the inside wasn’t finished. There was one on Pine Street, about the 700 block.

DS:      Again, new.

EH:      Both were new. That was actually lived in, so we were the first owners of this house.

DS:      This court was not completed at that point? (4:00)

EH:      This was the last house [to be finished]. The first house was number eight. I don’t know why, but I guess they [the buyers] wanted that one, so it was finished. We went looking – we moved in in 1970. I think that it was the fall that I was looking. They [the realtors] called and said they had another buyer. I didn’t know that that was just a ruse to get you to be in a hurry. We pretty quickly decided to put the money down, and then the house had to be finished. My father was an architect, so he made some changes for us for the third floor, where we assumed we would have more children. We moved in here in May of 1970, and I know because Ann was born in February of 1971, approximately 10 months later, or (5:00) nine months later.

DS:      The name of your husband at that point was –

EH:      Bill Rouse.

DS:      What was on this property before?

EH:      I never saw it. It had other things, but we were told it was a factory, a fire-cracker factory, some kind of factory. When we moved here there were trees, little, baby-sized trees. I do have a picture, and I will try to find it. The trees were Pin Oaks, and they’re not a good city tree, and eventually they had so much disease they were taken out. What was I going to say?

DS:      There was a fire-cracker factory.

EH:      Oh, so eventually, we – this is a condominium sort of in name. It’s really an association. We pay dues for the common ground to be maintained, and they (6:00) decided to put in a sprinkler system. It turns out that when they did the courtyard, all they did was throw the chopped-up brick and other things into the ground, so there was a real problem, and the sprinkler system – and our house in the basement flooded a couple of times. The sprinkler is attached to my house. We had a lot of flooding in the basement before they solved that problem, because it’s basically not packed down dirt.

DS:      This Blackwell Court, or Place, is between Second and Third Streets on Stamper Street and Pine Street.

EH:      Between Pine and Lombard and Second and Third, on Stamper Street. It was (7:00) built by Van Arkel & Moss and they won the right to develop this property by – they won a redevelopment contest. There were actually supposed to be more houses where the parking [garage] is, the Lombard and Second parking [garage]. There was supposed to be a whole other group of townhouses with a garage underneath. That was part of what – in their drawings. But, the contest did not require that you do a cost analysis, only that you present a picture that everyone liked and was appropriate. After they finished these houses, there are actually 18 houses: there are ten on Pine Street and eight on the courtyard [Stamper Street] that are all part of Blackwell Place Condominium. They [Van Arkle & Moss] did the cost analysis and it (8:00) was going to cost a prohibitive amount of money to do an underground parking [garage]. So for many years, there was a blank lot there that we parked in, probably more than ten years.

DS:      The houses that had been there had been taken down?

EH:      Right. It was just a blank lot, and for a while I used to say in October it was a ragweed field, since I have allergies. But then they proposed a parking garage, and it took a while of negotiations for them to present a plan that was attractive and presentable and everyone agreed on. So that parking garage has been there at least 25 years. There were people who objected to it, and a lawsuit was filed, and as a result – we had (9:00) deeded parking. Deeded parking came with our house. And since they had changed their plan, they still had to provide deeded parking. We had 25 years of deeded parking, and that ran out maybe five or ten years ago. I pay what everybody else does, but it was a great deal while it lasted. [Laughs]

DS:      Redevelopment Authority owned the land at that point?

EH:      I guess so. I wasn’t really tuned in at that time.

DS:      Who did you buy it from?

EH:      We bought it from Van Arkel & Moss. For $56,000 in 1970.

DS:      New house.

EH:      Brand new house. I loved that. I’ve lived in old houses all my life, and they have many problems.

DS:      So other than the flooding in the basement until they got the irrigation system (10:00) fixed, has there been any other problems for you?

EH:      No.

DS:      Crime is not an issue?

EH:      No. From time to time when there was construction in other places, there would be rats or roaches coming around. But there’s very little [inaudible] construction that’s happening.

DS:      Your father suggested changes to this house, which the builder –

EH:      Since it was only studded out, so the third floor – we changed the bathroom so that I would have a bathroom between two rooms, which at the time seemed like the best solution, when you are going to have two bedrooms with children. That worked (11:00) fine, and our children were on the third floor and we were on the second floor. But 11 years ago, 12 years ago, Michael and I totally renovated this house; it doesn’t look like it did then.

DS:      But the changes that you made did occur with the original builder.

EH:      Right. There weren’t real changes, because it had never been finished. We had the opportunity to choose things like the tile for the kitchen and the tile for the bathroom, albeit I had no idea what I was doing and would rather not have the choice. I just had a little 2-year-old and was not exactly aware of what was going on.

DS:      Tell me about the reaction of your parents to your moving into this  (12:00) neighborhood.

EH:      They loved it. In Baltimore I lived in Bolton Hill, which is a downtown neighborhood and really at the time was pretty much the only area that people lived in in downtown Baltimore. I had to go to school in a different neighborhood. There was no elementary school; I had to be driven. They felt totally comfortable. I can just say – where I grew up, I was allowed to be in about a five-square block area, and if I stepped my foot an inch over, I knew that my mother could hear me at home. I moved here with that map. It was a long time before I realized it was perfectly safe to go past that mental framework. South Street seemed like the edge of where (13:00) I was allowed to go. [Laughs] Eventually, I realized, “Oh, this whole place is safe. You’re fine.” I also did not even see the boarded-up houses. I was just so used to blinders. There was a house at Third and Pine that the Schwartzes renovated, and it wasn’t until they were renovating that house that I realized that it had been boarded up for all that period of time. I just saw what I needed to see.

DS:      You had children; you were busy.

EH:      We moved in here in May of ’71, and the front yard was still pretty much of a dirt pile.

DS:      At that time, the corporation had already begun? (14:00 )

EH:      Yes, there was somebody who was president. The Montanaros [Donald and Margarita] have been here all that time also. You could talk to them. They’re both in the [Philadelphia] Orchestra. Well, he’s retired, but he played the clarinet for many years, and she is a harpist and is probably coming up to retirement. Both of them were with the Orchestra all these years.

DS:      There are some of the originals still here, and the association had started off back in the beginning.

EH:      I think so, because the association was written into our contract. We now know that we’re not really officially a condominium, according to the standards for insurance, because people aren’t really legally required – when we moved in, all pairs of (15:00) houses had the same paint colors and they sort of matched. It was written into this document that we were supposed to do that, but in fact, it’s really not a requirement. You might notice if you go down Pine Street that some of the people decided to paint their houses a different color, and they don’t match. I like it better when they match, and the courtyard, we’ve all agreed to keep them that way.

DS:      Tell me, how about your husband’s parents. Were they concerned about your raising your family?

EH:      Oh, I don’t think so. It was his idea. He was in real estate, and he thought it was a good buy and that the neighborhood would continue to increase in value. They knew where I lived. I grew up in Baltimore, and he was from Baltimore also. He (16:00) lived in the suburbs, but the suburbs are not so far away in Baltimore. It is just a ten-minute drive and a different kind of neighborhood. No, everybody was – and they actually had some Baltimore friends. Dr. and Mrs. Futcher [Palmer and Sis] lived on Third Street, in the Pei houses, and that was one of her old friends from Baltimore.

DS:      Did you ever get friendly with some of the people who were born and raised here? Did you interact with them?

EH:      I didn’t really know those people, no. I knew the people at church –

DS:      St. Peter’s Church.

EH:      Yes, but I didn’t really, no, I didn’t.

DS:      Any other stories about banks, lending money, contractor? (17:00)

EH:      Well, my in-laws gave us part of the down payment. I remember going to the closing, but I don’t remember which bank it was with originally.

DS:      You don’t think that you had any trouble with the bank?

EH:      Not any trouble, no. My husband then was also in real estate, albeit in New Jersey. He had a lawyer who was from Philadelphia, and so I think he used that lawyer. There were some issues at the closing that I guess were common; it took a while and I took my daughter with me, not knowing any better, so I left at some point.

DS:      It took longer than you anticipated?

EH:      Right. There were issues with the subcontractors, whatever they were (18:00) required to do. Actually, when we all had our roofs re-done, we discovered that the dormers had been put on upside down. That would account for some leaks and things that people had. I was just very lucky. I didn’t have – you know, from time to time I’ve had – one winter we had a bad leak from a really bad ice storm. I know when it was, because I was on my way to a class, and the teacher was leaving the country the next day. If you didn’t go that night and present your paper, you didn’t get to [present it later]. I opened the closet and water was pouring in, in 1982. I had a baby sitter. I said, “Call this number. Solve the problem. I’m going.” [Laughs] Pretty much, I didn’t have too many problems.

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

EM:     My daughter Molly was two when we moved here. We still went to Delancey Street Park every morning, and that’s how I met my closest friend, Nancy Hoyle, who lived on Third Street. I met her in the park when her baby, Eric, was four months old, and we became very good friends. I was godmother to her second child, and she was godmother to my second child, and still is. She lives in Berwyn now. I met most of my friends either at the park or through people that I met in the park. I’d say a good number of those people still live in the neighborhood. When my second daughter was born in February of 1971, there were also neighbors in Blackwell Court, (20:00) Blackwell Place, who had children. The Snyders had Alexandra Snyder, then Megan Snyder was born. They formed a babysitting co-op. They invited me to join it. I didn’t even know about that, but that was a life-saver, because you could leave your child in the daytime for a little while to go to the store or do something. There were about 20 families. It was the second-tier babysitting co-op. Anne Eiswerth was in it, and the Smith family, John and Susan Smith, and the Pattisons. That’s about all I can remember. Oh, the Ducketts were in there. I won’t tell any of those stories

DS:      It was on the point system, rather than money? (21:00)

EH:      Right. It was a point system. It was one point for every 15 minutes. It was a huge help. I mostly used it in the daytime, but sometimes I used it at night. We didn’t do – there was a nursery, sort of co-op that was started in the basement of St. Joseph’s Church, the year that Molly was 2 ½. Jeffrey Lewis was in the group and Doran – the oldest Doran boy was in the group. Those two adults still live in the neighborhood. I can’t remember who else was in the group. Honey Kay was the teacher. I can’t remember who else. Two mornings a week. A play group at St. Joseph’s, in their basement (22:00) there.

DS:      She loved it?

EH:      Then when Molly was going to be going to nursery school, my choices were St. Peter’s School that was at the end of the street, or Greentown School that was a car-ride away. For me, that was a no-brainer. I went and looked at St. Peter’s and it was great. I had planned to send her to McCall in first grade, but St. Peter’s was a perfect school for her, for art, and just the whole structure of the school, and then we sent Ann there.

DS:      This would have been in the ‘70s.

EH:      It would have been in ’71 in the fall, that Molly went. She went all the way through eighth grade, and Ann went through sixth grade. (23:00)

DS:      Was Miss Seamans there?

EH:      Miss Seamans was there.

DS:      She was the Headmistress.

EH:      Yes, and when I went for the interview, Ann was a baby on my shoulder. What made me realize that it would be a great school was that the little children came in and talked to the headmistress and brought her their pictures. They were allowed to come in. I was terrified of the headmistress of my school, and I figured that if the children felt that comfortable it would be a perfect school, and it was a perfect school for her.

[Tape is turned off, then on again]

DS:      Do you want to tell us the history of the garage, what is now the garage between Stamper and Lombard, Second and Third.

EH:      On Second. I already mentioned that there were supposed to be houses. Did I tell you that? (24:00)

DS:      No.

EH:      When we bought the house, there were supposed to be houses on the corner of Second and Lombard, but it was going to be too expensive for them to build them. There was supposed to be a parking garage underneath. They came up with a new plan to build a garage, and that would have been in the mid-70s. By that time Urban Moss and Tom Van Arkel who had built these houses, that partnership had gone bankrupt for the second time. Tom Van Arkel was the person who was working on the garage. (25:00) They came up with one design that we didn’t like, we being the condominium association. They came up with another one, and there were objections by the people who lived on Third Street, at the corner of Third and Lombard. They objected to some issues, a lawsuit was filed. I’m not sure whether it was to stop the garage or just to change the design, but the result was – I’ll say it was Ray Denworth [who] was one of the lawyers. I don’t remember who the other lawyers were – but the result was we received deeded parking, because we were supposed to. The people on Third Street also received special compensation and lower rates for their parking. Some (26:00) of those people still live there. John and Bridgett Knowles were part of that original group. That was 25 years of deeded parking, which would have ended either in 2000 or 2005, I just can’t quite remember. We were just put in with the lawsuit, but it had to do with Newmarket. The people on Lombard Street had objected to the original Newmarket, and somehow those two lawsuits were conjoined. That’s pretty much all I know.

DS:      You were saying that the group had a meeting.

EH:      Right. Well, Tom Van Arkel, who was the developer, met with the          (27:00) condominium association to show us a plan, which we objected to, because it had louvered – not windows but openings that would have come into the courtyard. We felt that would pretty much destroy the feeling of the courtyard, if not destroy the vegetation from carbon dioxide. We asked him to come up with a plan that had a solid wall, which they eventually did. It’s very nice. It seems to be under serious reconstruction at the moment. I think that the foundations and so forth have suffered and [it] probably wasn’t all that well built.

DS:      Then you talked about a tornado. (28:00)

EH:      Oh, yes. In 1989, June, probably June 9. It was Ann’s graduation from Shipley School, which is why I remember it. It rained and rained and rained all day. We went out to Bryn Mawr, saw graduation and came back, and my mother was sitting at the dining room window; the house was differently configured [then]. I remembered there might be a window open on the third floor, so I raced up to the third floor and I looked out the window. All the trees went sideways flat, and I yelled to my mother, “Wow, you should see these trees!” At that moment, the house shook, and I went running downstairs, and my mother said [the narrator adopts a southern accent], “I think I heard glass break.” [Laughs] I opened the front door. Everyone came out at the (29:00) same time, and the whole side of the garage was gone, and the alley was covered with bricks.

DS:      Which side?

EM:     The side on Stamper Street, which we could see. All the bricks went into the street, and they stopped just at the houses. No houses had damage, but the whole [garage] wall was gone, and we were looking in at the cars. It took a few minutes to realize what we were looking at, that a whole wall had just been ripped off. We had to take our cars out of this garage, and I parked in the St. Peter’s parking lot for the duration. It’s because of that, that I met my [second] husband. [Laughs] I swear. We have to stop. (30:00)

[End of interview]


© 2009 Project Philadelphia 19106™. All rights reserved.

About the Interview

Dorothy Stevens
Cynthia J. Eiseman
Interview Location
1 Blackwell Place
Interview Date
October 23, 2009
Halpert, Emy
Narrator Type
Redeveloper - New Construction
Oral History Sources