Harry Schwartz

Harry Schwartz (d. 2019) was born in Philadelphia and grew up in Logan. By 1968, he and his wife Marinda (called Rinda) were living in Washington, D.C., and Harry was working for Senator Joe Clark. When Clark lost his re-election bid to Richard Schweiker, Harry and Rinda (a pediatrician) decided to move back to Philadelphia. They bought 322 S. Lawrence Court. They chose Society Hill for its Center City location, because there were other families with young children, and because they already knew some of the residents. They lived in Lawrence Court for about four years; when their second child was born, they needed a larger house.

They found 401 S. Third Street, a shell that had been a drug store and years before had had a connection to Harry’s family. In 1972, it was owned by Joe Ottaviano, who lived in the neighborhood and was offering to sell the house in what Harry calls a “turnkey” arrangement. The restoration of the exterior had already been designed and approved by the Redevelopment Authority, but many decisions and a great deal of work remained on the interior. Ottaviano served as general contractor and chose Robert Parsky, also a neighborhood resident, as the architect. Harry describes the condition of the house’s interior and some of the decisions to be made. He says, “I didn’t know anything about historic preservation at that time. We were learning about architecture and the evolution of domestic architecture in Philadelphia, so we were pretty naïve.” Harry did some work himself: scraping paint, stripping and finishing balustrades. He relates how he found, around 20th and Race Streets, old bricks to use to replace the glass storefront of the pharmacy. They bought the house in 1972 or ’73, did the renovations, and moved in a year later.

Harry and Rinda liked city living. They had lived in downtown Baltimore and on Capitol Hill, so Society Hill suited them. They did not own a car. Many children, including the Schwartzes’, attended St. Peter’s School. The neighbors were very social, and there was a lot of partying. Because of his interest in civic affairs, Harry became active in the Society Hill Civic Association, Americans for Democratic Action, and Central Philadelphia Reform Democrats. He played a part in opposing the Crosstown Expressway, supporting the effort to build affordable housing in Society Hill, depressing and covering Interstate 95 where it passed Center City, and ensuring the preservation of the façades of 700-714 Spruce Street.

The family returned to Washington, D.C., in 1978. They moved because of Harry’s work, and he says everybody in his family was mad at him. They all loved the house and the neighborhood.

Much of the remainder of the interview is devoted to Harry’s description of what he did when working for the National Trust for Historic Preservation. Harry and Rinda chose to return to Society Hill in 2007, and he shares his views on the changes he saw in the neighborhood that occurred during their 30-year absence.


CE:      This is an interview with Harry Schwartz. The date is July 21, 2008; the location is 789 S. Second Street, Philadelphia, and I am Cynthia Eiseman.

[Tape is turned off, then on again]

CE:      Here we go. Harry Schwartz. Can you give me your name?

HS:      Harry K. Schwartz.

CE:      What is your current address, Harry?

HS:      220 Locust St., Apt. 16G, Philadelphia, PA 19106.

CE:      Thank you. When did you first come to Society Hill? (1:00)

HS:      The end of 1968.

CD:     Why did you come to Society Hill?

HS:      Well, Rinda [his wife, Marinda, called Rinda] and I were living in Washington. I had been working for Senator [Joseph] Clark as his Legislative and then his Administrative Assistant, and he lost in the election against Dick Schweiker. I had never practiced law, although I was a lawyer. The Senator’s strong advice was that if I was going to do it, I’d better start doing it now. He suggested his old law firm, which was Dechert Price and Rhoads. I came down and did an interview with [them] and they agreed to hire me, although I was a little bit old for a starting associate. (2:00) So we moved back to Philadelphia.

CE:      Where did you move to?

HS:      Well, a new development was being built in the block between Fourth and Fifth Streets and Spruce and Pine, called Lawrence Court. It was still under construction, so we couldn’t move into one of the houses, but we put a deposit down. Then we needed a place to live. At that time, Edith Stern was still in business as a realtor; Oscar Stern, her husband, had been head of the business. They had an office on [Pine] Street near Fifth, and Edith found us a place to live for about six months, which was the (3:00) period we needed to get the house finished so we could move into it. We lived for six months—and this was the first place we lived when we came to Society Hill—in the back of a house owned by a gentleman named Ned Boone. A wonderful man. The house was on the north side of Pine Street, across from Old Pine Presbyterian.

               Ned had created an apartment in the back. It was one of those row houses that has a back section with a curved wall, and he had put three rooms in there, one on top of the other, with a kitchen and a dining room on the first floor, a living room (4:00) on the second floor, and the bedroom on the third floor. We arrived with a very new baby, Tony, our son. We moved into this lovely apartment in the back of Ned Boone’s house, which opened onto the walkway that runs east-west and intersects Lawrence Street. We lived there for six months and then our house was done, and we moved into 322 Lawrence Court. The mortar was still wet at the time we moved in.

               Across the street, Dick and Mary Doran had bought a house and we became very close to them. I had known him before from Democratic politics. The Blumbergs moved in two houses down, so we got to know them quite well. The Skwerskys moved in; they’re (5:00) still there.

CE:      What made you chose Society Hill when you came in ’68?

HS:      We looked around a little bit, but we really fell in love with it. It was close to downtown, so I could walk to work. It was a place where young families were moving, so we knew we would find friends there. Actually, we knew Stan and Libby Browne, sort of, and they lived nearby. I don’t remember who told us about it, but we found out and we walked around, and we loved it. It was obviously pretty raw in those days, but we bought a new house. We thought Lawrence Court was a very nice place (6:00) to raise a young family, because the Court really has no motor traffic through it, so it’s great for young children.

CE:      How long did you live there?

HS:      We lived there for about four years, three or four years.

CE:      Then what?

HS:      Well, we decided that we wanted a bigger house. Amanda was born about that time, so we had two children. For a while, I looked at the parcel across from the Pattison’s house [Susie and Jay Pattison], which was unbuilt, at the corner of Lawrence and Pine, across from Old Pine Presbyterian, thinking we would build on that. Somebody must have told Joe Ottaviano that we were looking for a house, because he contacted us, as I recall, and said that he owned the house at the corner of Third and Pine, (7:00) the southeast corner, cattycorner across from the Kosciuszko House, which was a shell, and which had been converted into a shop front. We looked at it, and then we looked at the drawings of the exterior, the elevation, which had been prepared in accordance with the requirements of the Philadelphia Redevelopment Authority – I guess that was the agency – and OPDC [Old Philadelphia Development Corporation] and were just blown away by what the house would look like when it was done.

               We cut a deal with Joe; it was a turnkey deal. He owned it. He was going to be the general contractor, and he was going to nominate the architect. Of course, the exterior architecture was already set, because it had been approved by OPDC, but the interior raised some issues. (8:00) He did us a wonderful favor by telling us that our architect was going to be Bob Parsky, who lived just around the corner. Bob had just come from working on a huge project, the Meadowlands project in New Jersey, and he apparently agreed to do it, because he needed to get his sense of scale back. Bob was our architect.

CE:      Everything was sort of set for you, in a sense.

HS:      The outside was set. The inside was certainly not set.

CE:      You had your contractor and you had your architect, so there were not a lot of decisions in that regard?

HS:      No, no.

CD:     Tell me about the condition of the interior when you bought the house. (9:00)

HS:      Well, it was a shell. There was no plumbing in the house itself. All the plumbing had been in a wooden addition – a two-story, wooden addition on the back of the house. It had been abandoned for some time.

CE:      It hadn’t been lived in?

HS:      No, it had not been lived in for a while. I don’t know how long…. It had been, in its last incarnation, the site of [Nicholson’s] Drug Store…which was on the first floor. I subsequently learned that [Nicholson’s] Drug Store was famous in my family, because my aunts (my father had three sisters) lived in South Philadelphia, I think around Fitzwater Street, and they spent a lot of time at [Nicholson’s] Drug Store. It wasn’t because of the soda pop. It was because of the (10:00) fact that the [Nicholsons] had several very attractive sons, and they were always around the store. The girls would spend a lot of time in the store visiting with the boys. I didn’t know that at the time we bought it.

CE:      Did anything come of it?

HS:      No, they did not marry.

CE:      [Laughs] You grew up in Philadelphia?

HS:      I grew up in Logan. I was born in Logan. The first house I lived in was at 1213 Wingohocking Street, across from Hunting Park. It was at that time quite a nice neighborhood. We lived at that time in a park-fronting house, which was nice. They’re simple row houses now, but in those days some wealthy people lived in them. A bizarre story; I don’t know whether you want me to divert to this or not. That house (11:00) had a history. It was built in the ‘20s. We moved in in 1934, which was the year I was born. We were not the first occupants. It was my father, my mother, my sister who was older than I, and myself. A couple of years ago at a birthday party in Bucks County, I found myself sitting next to a woman who lives in New York, but who had lived in Philadelphia when she was born and growing up. I asked her what neighborhood she lived in, and she said, “Logan.” I said, “That’s odd. I lived in Logan, too. Where did you live in Logan?” She said, “1213 Wingohocking Street.” I said, “No, that’s not possible.” She said, “Why?” I said, “Because I lived at 1213 Wingohocking Street.”

CE:      [Laughs] “And I’ve never lived with you.” (12:00)

HS:      “And I don’t know you.” It turns out her name was Daroff, and her father was Daroff of the clothing company.

CE:      Men’s clothing.

HS:      It turns out they were the first occupants of the house, and they apparently are the people who sold it to my parents… She must have been five years old. They moved to Rittenhouse Square and we moved into the house. I said I remembered the Seidmans, who I think were also in the clothing business, because they had a big, black car, with a chauffeur that was always parked on Wingohocking Street. She said, “So did we.” At that point, I said, “Gee, it didn’t seem like that kind of a neighborhood.” She said, “Well, it was at that time.”

CE:      Very good. Well, let’s get back to the house at Third and Pine. What was the address?

HS:      It was 401 S. Third Street.

CE:      401 S. Third. You bought it; the interior was a shell; it had not been occupied for some time; it had been [Nicholson’s] Drug Store; and it had no (13:00) plumbing except what was in the back. What about the other interior features?

HS:      Well, there were a number of significant character-defining features that were still in the house. For example, the hand rails from the second floor up were original. They were mahogany. The flooring from the second floor up was original; it was heart pine. There were a number of fireplaces which were Pennsylvania Bluestone. The second-floor front was the principal room of the house, the piano nobile, and it looked (14:00) out on the churchyard of St. Peter’s Church, which was a wonderful view. The ceilings were high. The house is three-and-a-half stories with a peaked roof. There was a lot to work with once you got past the first floor.

               The first floor presented us with an interesting challenge, because when the house had been converted into a storefront, the floor and the area which was the store had been lowered so that it was at street level. For the reason that someone putting a store into a house doesn’t want the customer to climb up steps. The floor was dropped about two-and-a-half to three feet. When we first saw it with Bob Parsky, the architect, he said, “You have a choice. We can keep the room this (15:00) size, or we can lift the floor up and put it back to wherever it was when the house was built.”

               We never established a firm date for when it was built. It was spec-built. The houses south from Pine and Third, across the street from St. Peter’s Church, were all built at the same time by the same builder, as a spec-building operation. We thought it would be late Federal, probably – maybe as late as 1830. In any event, he said, “You have a choice. You can have the room this size, or we can lift the floor up.” Rinda and I looked up, and it was an astonishing room. It was, you know, maybe fourteen to fifteen feet high, as the store had been. We said, “No, we want this space. This is unbelievable.” We had seen Joanne and Ray Denworth’s house (16:00) on Second Street, and I think – I forget who the architect was. I keep thinking Chuck Burnette, but maybe not.

CE:      I think it was Chuck. [Charles H. Burnette & Associates, Architects]

HS:      What he had done [for the Denworths] was preserve the historic façade, and when you opened the door and walked in, you were on a catwalk, in effect, looking down into the living room, which was two stories high. You had the sense of moving from the eighteenth century right into the twentieth century. It was, I thought, a very powerful architectural statement, and it just knocked us out. When we had a chance to do something like that ourselves, we just grasped it and said, “No, we want this to be a very modern room. Everything (17:00) [starting with] the second floor we want restored, but the first floor we want to have a modern statement.”

               Bob did that, and it was a brilliant job. He had to create a staircase, which hung from a rod suspended from a beam, in the floor, to the second floor. The staircase turned the corner and went up and was basically a free-standing, hanging stair. So that was very exciting. We put a modern fireplace in [the living room]. It was a big space. There was a dining room. We preserved the dimensions of the dining room. The wooden addition in the back was quite important, and we were able to obtain permission to re-create it in (18:00) brick. Couldn’t build in wood, but it had been there, so we were able to do that.

CE:      The back being the east side of the house?

HS:      Right, the side toward the river. Then we had space for a garden in the back.

CE:      You chose not to create a parking garage or space?

HS:      We didn’t need a parking space, because we had already sold our car. We had one car when we arrived. There was a parking space that came with the house in Lawrence Court, and we kept the car for about a year, and then we saw that we weren’t using it. We lived without a car for virtually the entire period that we lived here, from (19:00) ’68 to ’77.

CE:      You bought the house on Third Street in what year?

HS:      It was about, I would say, ’72, ’73, something like that.

CE:      You restored it and stayed in it until – ?

HS:      Seventy-seven.

CE:      Seventy-seven. You were really here only a short time.

HS:      We were here only for eight years. We were in that house for about four years, which was quite sad. The reason we moved was because of me. Everybody in the family was mad at me.

CE:      When you came and bought the house on Third Street, by then the redevelopment of Society Hill was pretty well under way?

HS:      Oh, yes. This was one of the few remaining shells. There weren’t (20:00) many left.

CE:      What did your family think when you did this, when you bought this derelict property?

HS:      Well, we did the numbers and decided we could afford it. The nice thing about buying a “turnkey” is you buy it at a fixed price, with the exception of change orders. We were pretty good about change orders, with the exception of the kitchen. You know, that tends to happen. No, it came in very close to where it was priced, so we knew what we were going to have to pay. In those years, if you were a young family, everybody always counseled you to buy a house that was slightly more expensive than you could afford, because you would grow into it and be able to pay for it, which turned out to be the case.

CE:      About the neighborhood, did your family have any concerns about this?

HS:      You mean Rinda and the kids? (21:00)

CE:      No, I mean your parents, and Rinda’s parents.

HS:      Well, my parents were living – at that time, my parents had moved from Logan, which was no longer a comfortable place to live, to the co-op at 1900 Kennedy Boulevard, so they were already downtown.

CE:      They were in Center City.

HS:      Yes.

CE:      They saw what was happening in Society Hill?

HS:      They knew about Society Hill. They thought it was a fine place for us to live, but we were at a point where it really didn’t matter a great deal. [Laughs] I will say that there was a period when, since I thought I might get interested in politics, I ought to move into a part of Philadelphia where there were a lot of Jewish people so I could have (22:00) a political future. I just decided we were not going to live in Oxford Circle. It just didn’t make any sense. I said, “We’ll just live here instead,” although I knew what the situation was here.

CE:      You didn’t think there were as many Jewish people in Society Hill as there were –?

HS:      Well, I knew what the demography of the districts were. We did look at a house way out in Roxborough, which was a Colonial house. It was really old. It was an eighteenth- century house, but there wasn’t anything near it. It was way, way away from everything. We were charmed by it. It was one room wide and quite long. But we didn’t buy it, because it was in the wrong place.

CE:      Did you have any trouble with the Redevelopment Authority or any challenges?

HS:      No, everything was handled by Ottaviano.

CE:      He did all that?

HS:      Yes, the only problem was very short-lived. I made it go away. During (23:00 ) the course of building – during the course of doing the house, Joe came to me and said, “This front door that is drawn here bothers me – requiring us to put it in is very expensive. I could do it a lot less expensively if you let me put a double door in. You know, open from the middle out.” I said, “Well, yes, I guess I don’t have any trouble with that.” Then Bob found out about it and came storming up to me and said, “You put in that door and I’m taking my name off the plans!” I said, “What’s the matter with it?” He said, “It’s inappropriate for the period. That’s a late nineteenth-century door. This is an early nineteenth-century house.” I said, “OK, you win. You’re right. I’ll go tell Joe to put back the original door.” Of course, he did.            (24:00)

CE:      Would the Redevelopment Authority have let you put in the double door?

HS:      Oh, you never know what they would have done. It wasn’t me. It was Joe that wanted to do it. I didn’t want to do it.

CE:      Right, right.

HS:      Bob was the one who was in high dudgeon. He was actually right. I didn’t know anything about historic preservation at that time. We were learning about architecture and the evolution of domestic architecture in Philadelphia, so we were pretty naïve. I just got conned, and I very quickly un-conned myself.

CE:      Do you remember what you paid for the house?

HS:      Yes, it was about $120,000, something like that, $118,000.

CE:      With all the renovations?

HS:      Everything done.

CE:      Everything done?

HS:      Turnkey.

CE:      Right. Do you remember what you paid in real estate taxes when you first bought the house?            (25:00)

HS:      No idea.

CE:      No idea. How long did the work take?

HS:      Something on the order of the year, maybe a little less.

CE:      You stayed at Lawrence Court?

HS:      Oh, yes.

CE:      You were running back and forth?

HS:      Every day. There were certain parts of the work that looked labor-intensive that I said I would do myself. I stripped the paint off the window frames, which I probably shouldn’t have done, because it was lead paint.

CE:      Well, you seem okay now.

HS:      Well, it depends on – [Laughs] – I’m not going to say.

CE:      [Laughs] It depends on who you ask?

HS:      I’m not going to say anything incriminating on tape. I finished the balustrades. We had cherry balustrades, modern cherry balustrades, put on the new stair. (26:00) Then there were the old mahogany balustrades, hand rails, and I stripped them and finished them. I spent a lot of time working there in the house. That would have been very expensive work to do. Of course, Joe was only too happy to have me do it.

CE:      You lived in the neighborhood from about 1968 until 1977.

HS:      Late 1968. After the election, we came up here. Then we left – I left earlier because I was in the Jimmy Carter campaign. I took a leave of absence from Dechert Price and Rhoads in mid-’68 – I’m sorry, in mid-’76 and went down to Washington to (27:00) work on the campaign. Then the family moved down in early ’77 [because] I’d found a house in Bethesda.

CE:      When you bought the house on Pine Street, did you have any difficulty getting a mortgage from a bank?

HS:      No, none. I think we put down a nice chunk of equity, because we sold the Lawrence Court house and made a little money on that.

CE:      Did you have any trouble getting a mortgage on the Lawrence Court house?

HS:      No, I think Edith Stern helped us with that, or my father might have done it. He was practicing law in downtown Philadelphia at the time, and I can’t even remember who held the mortgage.

CE:      Did you hear any stories from any of your neighbors or your friends in (28:00) Society Hill about any difficulties that they had getting mortgages or building loans?

HS:      Not during that time frame. No.

CE:      Tell me about what it was like living in Society Hill while you were here in that time, from ’68 until the time you left to go back to Washington.

HS:      It was wonderful. We had lived in the city before – we had lived in Capitol Hill in Washington, so we were very accustomed to living in a city. Before that, we had lived in downtown Baltimore near Johns Hopkins Hospital, where Rinda was finishing her medical education. We were used to living in cities. We were used to knowing our neighbors. But, we were not prepared for how warm a place this was, because (29:00) everybody was like us. I mean, everybody had young kids. They had – I mean, there was a cultural affinity in the families that were here. We all knew one another, and we all bonded. I mean, all the parties you went to, you’d basically see the same people, except, you know, there’d be a few different ones at different parties. It was an era of entertainment. People had a lot of parties in those days. One of the reasons we wanted the bigger house was it was a great house for parties. It had that great, huge living room. We went to other people’s parties. There were dinner parties. The kids knew each other. The kids tended to go to St. Peter’s School, and Rinda (36:00) went on the board of St. Peter’s School at one point.

CE:      Did your kids go to St. Peter’s?

HS:      Yes.

CE:      There was a lot of socializing?

HS:      Yes, it was a family. When something bad happened, everybody came together, everybody came together. When Michael Denworth had that terrible fall, we all just came together to support the family. I mean, you’d walk down the street and you knew just about everybody you ran into. It’s still that way to some extent, but less so. That’s why we came back.

CE:      Do you have any stories, any recollections of any particularly interesting or funny or sad or poignant stories or events that happened?            (31:00)

HS:      Well, it was an exciting time to be here. There were things happening, and not all of them were good. Stanhope [Browne] gives me credit for being involved in the effort to cover the expressway [Interstate 95]. My recollection of my participation in that was marginal and probably happened when I was in Washington and before I got here.

               The big issue when I got here was the Crosstown Expressway at South Street. I’ve been in politics, and so I sort of naturally fell into that effort to stop the expressway. I became active with the Civic Association and Central Philadelphia Reform Democrats and the Southeastern Pennsylvania chapter of Americans for Democratic (32:00) Action. I already knew Leon Schull, who was the head of [ADA] and I got to know David Cohen, who was his assistant, and through Joe Clark I had met Henry Sawyer. I found that I got very involved in civic affairs and became active with the [Society Hill] Civic Association. My keenest recollection was when Joanne Denworth was President, and we had the battle over the Benezet Houses. That was very ugly.

CE:      Tell me about it. Tell me about your recollection of that.

HS:      Well, the neighborhood was bitterly divided. There were the newcomers, the young people, who were of a liberal political disposition and generally in favor of (33:00) integration of the black community into the larger community. This was a very modest proposal to create some affordable housing for black families under the auspices of Mother Bethel Church. Joanne was the champion of it, and the rest of us were just foot soldiers. It got really nasty. An effort was made – a successful effort was made to organize the older residents, and there was an older, principally Jewish community of people who felt threatened by the presence of black people in the community. A scare campaign was ginned up, with really nasty overtones to oppose the effort to (34:00) create these low-income housing units. Joanne stood firm, and we stood firm with her. The battle got very ugly. There was the throwing of paint on a house – I can’t remember the name of the guy, but he worked in the U.S. Attorney’s office as an Assistant U.S. Attorney. Joanne would know that better than I. It was a nasty time. There was leafleting, very ugly leafleting. I think in the end they beat us, and we were not allowed to get those houses built, but it was a good fight.

CE:      There is some low-income housing that was built at Sixth and Pine. (35:00)

HS:      Well, it may well be that we did finally win. I don’t recall how it came out, because it took so long. I do recall being very much involved and to some extent at the forefront of the effort to stop the South Street [Crosstown] Expressway. We viewed that as a Chinese Wall that would divide us from Queen Village and South Philadelphia. We did not want that. We also saw South Street as having the potential to be a very exciting place. We wanted to preserve that option. We thought it was good. We felt that it was a wonderful thing to be able to walk from your house down into the fabric district. If they built the wall, we would become a ghetto of affluent people, and we did not want that. We (36:00) succeeded. It was the beginning of a turn, and it happened all across the country, against building highways in the city. Up until that time the Federal Highway Administration and the states had ruthlessly ploughed major interstates right through the middle of cities. I-95 was a legacy of that very ill-advised policy. We were part of a group that said, “You have to stop this. You’re destroying the city.” We succeeded, and it was a great victory. If that had not happened, not only would South Street not have been preserved, we would have lost – I don’t know, we would have lost more than just South Street, because it would have been a lot wider. We would have lost the sense of community. I mean, Queen [Village] would not have existed, unless it had been able to attach (37:00) itself to Society Hill.

CE:      Can you describe a little bit how you organized the effort against the Crosstown Expressway?

HS:      I think it started with the Civic Association, but it grew more broadly. We just signed petitions. There was a lot of political lobbying that went on. I don’t remember the campaign, but it’s the way most grass-roots campaigns work. People get petitions. They bombard public officials with – there wasn’t email in those days – but letters and postcards and telephone calls. We just raised hell. I do not recall what support we got from the newspapers, probably not much, because [William] McLean still owned the Bulletin and I think [Walter] Annenberg still owned the Inquirer. I’m not sure, but they would not have been on our side. (38:00)

CE:      No. You worked directly in Harrisburg and –

HS:      I think we lobbied everybody in sight. We went to Washington. We were going to lie down in front of the bulldozers. It was a matter of deep passion. People felt very strongly about it. And we won! And the city is much the better for it.

CE:      I was not myself involved in the effort, but I remember how – what a wasteland South Street became for a while, as the highway – the threat of the highway existed. Shops closed, people moved out. It really was – parts of South Street were really very, very barren.

HS:      Yes. It was a hard time. Frankly, we didn’t have a clear vision of what was going to happen. We never thought that it would turn into a place for kids with a lot (39:00) of metal in their bodies. For one, I don’t mind that. I think that’s part of what living in a city is all about. Different kinds of people– if you want homogeneity, you really need to move to Gladwyne. If you want to live in a city, you have to accept what the implications are.

CE:      Society Hill and Queen Village were successful in preventing the Crosstown Expressway from being located in their neighborhood?

HS:      I don’t think there was much going on in Queen Village at the time. Queen Village was just barely becoming a neighborhood. Queen Village was behind.

CE:      You think it was principally the effort of people in Society Hill?

HS:      Yes, and the people who were politically connected lived here, too.

CE:      The Crosstown Expressway, which we now call the Vine Street Expressway, got located in Chinatown? (40:00)

HS:      Yes.

CE:      It actually constitutes kind of a Chinese Wall there.

HS:      It does.

CE:      It does divide the community.

HS:      It’s covered in some places, but by and large it’s a problem. Yes, if you’re going to move cars, if one of your principal objectives is to move cars in a city – through a city – then that’s the problem you have. I think we could have done without either one of those [Crossstown or Vine Street Expressway], but the highway builders had to have their way.

CE:      You worked on the Crosstown Expressway; you worked on the covering of I-95?

HS:      Yes, to some extent. (41:00)

CE:      You were active with Society Hill Civic Association. Were you an officer? Were you President?

HS:      Yes, well, I was a Vice President. I don’t remember if I was President. I do remember sitting on the – we had a Design Approval Committee – a Design Review Committee. We had authority, or we thought we had authority, and apparently the developers did, too, to approve designs for new construction on vacant lots, and there were a lot of vacant lots in Society Hill. The building of the infill followed the rehabilitation of the older houses. The first priority of OPDC was to get the old houses fixed up and filled. The second priority was the infill. We were into (42:00) the infill stage, and there was a committee of the Civic Association to which an architect and a developer and perhaps an owner would come with designs for the house that they proposed to build on a particular plot, or perhaps a group of houses, four, five, six houses. The best one we ever approved was the one that Barry Eiswerth did, at the corner of Spruce and Third, I’m thinking.

CE:      Where Metropolitan Hospital had been?

HS:      Yes, but it was leveled. We saw a lot of designs, and most of the time we sent them back and said, “No, you haven’t got it right.” I like to think that some of the worst ones were not done on our watch, but I can’t be sure of that. (43:00)

CE:      You approved developments like the one at Third and Spruce? Groups of houses –

HS:      Yes, they had to come to us to get approval.

CE:      As well as individual, single houses?

HS:      Yes. That’s right. New construction. We did not know anything about the standards of the Secretary of the Interior for the rehabilitation of historic buildings and new construction implications. They were probably just in the process of being adopted. We really didn’t know what the hell we were doing, but we knew what seemed like it fit in and what didn’t, and we also knew that you don’t build replicas. We very strongly discouraged the building of replica houses. One of the ways that I learned that was from Bob Parsky. When it came time to build the brick addition to the back of (44:00) 401 S. Third Street, Bob said, “We have to distinguish the new part from the old part, so that someone looking at it will not be confused into thinking that it was all part of the original house.” I said, “Well, how are we going to do that? I mean, the brick is going to be very similar, although not the same, because it will be new.” He put a reveal in the wall, maybe a three-inch reveal, just a little indentation in the wall to create a visual line to create a division between the back of the old house and the beginning of the addition. I guess there’s another interesting piece about the house, and that is, when the storefront was torn out, we needed bricks where the storefront had been. (45:00 )

CE:      The storefront was glass?

HS:      The storefront was a typical storefront. I think the entrance was on Third Street, but I wouldn’t swear to that. It might have been at the corner. Some of those drugstores had entrances at the corner. I have seen no photographs that would establish what it looked like, but Joe was going to have to get bricks, and I did not want him to get new bricks. I must have been perambulating around Twentieth and Race Streets, or something like that. Somebody was demolishing houses, and I looked at those houses, and they looked just like the house at 401 S. Third. They looked like they’d been built at the same time and perhaps by the same developer, and there was a pile of bricks (46:00) that had been pulled out of the house. I picked one of them up, and I looked at it, and it looked like a hand-made brick. It had those striations in it from pressing down clay by hand. It was a good, hard brick. I picked one up and took it back to 401 S. Third and put it up against the wall. It was the same damn brick. I got hold of Ottaviano, and I said, “Get your truck and get some laborers and get over there and get those bricks.” I don’t know whether we paid for them or what. I think we probably did pay for them. He was able to harvest enough bricks to re-create the first floor front of the house at 401 S. Third using the same bricks that the house had been built (47:00) out of.

CE:      If you go and you stand in front of the house and look at it, you can’t tell which bricks are original to the building and which are –

HS:      No. It’s the same brick.

CE:      That’s fabulous.

HS:      It was just happenstance. There’s another – a third story about the house – if I’m running too long ….

CE:      No, no, you’re doing fine.

HS:      When Joe [Ottaviano] came in to do demolition after the interior design had been finished by Bob [Parsky] providing for this very tall living room, occupying essentially the place where the drug store had been. He had to –

[End of side one; beginning of side two of tape]

HS:      …he had to tear off the plaster on the Third Street side, and in the course of doing so, he revealed a cast-iron beam in a semi-elliptic shape that was holding up the second and third floors, because underneath that beam there were glass showcase windows. Obviously, they would not support the Third Street façade, so a beam was put into the wall. Joe scraped away the plaster, and Bob went up on a ladder. (1:00) In those days, foundries dated – they put their name on a beam and they dated it.

CE:      They put a date on them?

HS:      Yes, they put a date on them, so you could tell when they were done. This [one] was dated 1864, 1865, something like that, in the 1860s. We knew when the house ceased to be a residence and became a store, because the beam was there. Bob said, “Well, now you have another choice to make. Do you want us to keep the beam, revealed, exposed and painted, or do you want us to plaster it up again?” Rinda and I looked at each other and said, “No, it would be too much. Cover it back up.” It’s there. (2:00) It’s in the wall now, but you can’t see it.

CE:      It’s there, and it says 1868?

HS:      It says eighteen sixty-something.

CE:      Somebody will discover it in the future.

HS:      It’s there. All you have to do is look for it.

CE:      I know that when Bob Parsky did his house on Fourth Street, which had been an iron foundry, he discovered when he went in and started working on it that there were steel beams in the basement that he –

HS:      Iron, I think.

CE:      Yes, I guess that’s right, and he used them in the reconstruction of his house. What a great discovery for him.

HS:      Yes. The other thing we did, which I think is still there – what we did (3:00) was, on the first floor we had the living room in the front, this great, big living room, and then you had to step up, and the dining room was at its original level and then the kitchen was behind it. The kitchen was in the new addition. Then there was a modern staircase carrying you up to the second floor. The second floor was the old house. It had the pine flooring and hand rail. It’s one of those houses where, if you stand at the first floor and you look all the way up, you can see all the way to the top of the house in the space that the stair makes circles around.

CE:      Right. (4:00)

HS:      We saved all that, saved the treads. On the second floor, we have a sitting room in the front, a study, a library, which is the room we used the most, and the master bedroom in the back part and behind that a bathroom and a sewing room, which we used as a nursery for a little while. On the third floor, we had two children’s rooms. The one in the front we had two options, because we saw the house in its bones, with everything stripped out. We had the option of exposing the beams, and we made the decision to expose the beams partway in the room in the front, which became my son’s bedroom. It was a lovely room. It looked out over St. Peter’s on one side and Pine Street on the other, and it was tall. It had exposed beams; you looked through the beams to the (5:00) pitch of the roof, and then there was a balcony which was his sleeping balcony, and we put in a ladder, so he could get up into the loft.

CE:      What fun for a kid.

HS:      Yes, but the best thing we did, we put a swing on the beams so that on rainy days the kids could swing. I put eye-bolts into the beams and then chains and then we hung a swing and kind of a trapeze bar. I mean, none of the things we did were child-safe. It was dangerous stuff. Nobody would do it today, but we had the swing in there and we had rings and a trapeze bar, and the kids played on them.

CE:      Your house must have been a popular place on rainy days. (6:00)

HS:      Yes, well, other kids had houses, too.

CE:      But did anybody else have a swing indoors?

HS:      No. Not that I’m aware of, no.

CE:      What do your children say to you today about their recollection of the period when they lived in Philadelphia, in the city, or were they so young when you left?

HS:      Well, Amanda was four when we left, so her recollections were dim. Mainly, she remembers her babysitter, upon whose lap she sat for hours and hours. I think she has little recollection of the house, except for photographs, which kind of stimulate recollection. Tony remembers more but doesn’t talk about it much because he was so pissed off at having to leave. His – another interesting feature: My father, (7:00) who practiced law, was an amateur artist, and the children were reading the Babar books. As a treat for the children he painted murals in Tony’s room of the Babar characters, floor to ceiling murals. They were really quite good. They were terrific.

CE:      Do you have any idea if they’re still there?

HS:      Oh, they’re not. Yes, they’re there. There under some paint. We have the cartoons he prepared, and we framed them, and they hung in the house in Bethesda where we lived for thirty years. There are photographs of what they looked like.

CE:      Tony liked living here enough that when you made him move to Washington, he was cross with you?

HS:      Well, he was. Children do not like change, so it wasn’t unusual. (8:00) His friends were here. He was very close to Garrett Cathers. We have wonderful photographs of the two of them sitting on the top of our garden wall on Pine Street looking out at the people going by, just spending time perched up on top of this wall.

CE:      Hanging out?

HS:      Hanging out with their feet dangling over the edge.

CE:      How old was he when you moved?

HS:      Eight.

CE:      That’s tough.

HS:      Very tough. He was in St. Peter’s School. All his friends were there.

CE:      You went to Washington and lived there for –

HS:      Thirty years.

CE:      Thirty years, and during that time you became interested in historic preservation?

HS:      Well, purely by accident. I’d been in the government, practiced law, and I was practicing law in a New York law firm, the Washington branch of a New (9:00) York law firm. I didn’t much like it…. So, I stopped. There was a period of floundering around trying to figure out what to do next. I needed to have a second career. Rinda said, “Why don’t you look in the newspaper, in the classifieds, to see if there are any jobs that interest you?” I said, “Oh, that’s silly. No job that I would be interested in would be advertised in the paper. But, to please you I will do it.”

               I got a copy of the Legal Times, I think it’s called in Washington. (10:00) It’s the lawyers’ paper. I looked at the classified ads, and what I had failed to take into consideration was, because of the Equal Employment Opportunity Act, you have to advertise a job to prove that you were making the job available to all comers. I saw an ad posted by the National Trust for Historic Preservation, about which I knew very little, saying, “Wanted: Director of Public Policy.” I was kind of fascinated by that, because I had worked at HUD for a couple of years as an Assistant Secretary under Jimmy Carter. I knew a little bit about cities, because it was called (11:00) Housing and Urban Development, and I kind of liked to kick bricks. We had lived in Society Hill. I mean, what could be a better immersion course in historic preservation than living in Society Hill? So I said, “I know a little bit about this.”

               I called up some friends on the Board of the National Trust and said, “I saw this ad in the paper and I just wondered, is this pro forma? Have they already hired somebody, or are they in fact still looking?” I was (12:00) told by two people, “No, they haven’t hired anybody. They’re still looking.” I said, “Do you think it would really be crazy if somebody like me were to apply.” They said, “No. Why not just call up the Acting President and see if he’d be interested in talking to you?” So, I did; this wonderful guy named David Doheney. He was the general counsel –

CE:      David?

HS:      D-O-H-E-N-E-Y. Wonderful man…. I said, “I don’t want to waste your time, and I certainly don’t want to waste my time. Is there any (13:00) point in us talking?” He said, “Come on over.” … We did talk [and] we hit it off. He said, “You’re hired.” I went to work at the National (14:00) Trust…. I had a terrific time. I had more fun. I did that for about a year. Then they hired Dick Moe, and I worked with Dick for a while.

CE:      How do you spell Moe?

HS:      M-O-E. He is a wonderful guy…. After a while working with Dick Moe, I said, “You need to hire your own person in this job…. But, I want to continue to work with you, because there are some things that I’m working on now that are important.” What I was doing at the time was beginning to develop legislation to create a federal tax credit for historic rehabilitation that would be applicable to homeowners. There already was on the books a 20% tax credit for people who were restoring historic properties for use as commercial property or rental residential property, but there was nothing on the books for homeowners. So I said, “I’ve gotten started on this. People are excited about it. I would like to continue to work on it.” So what we did was, we went over to talk to Roger Fisher, who was the deputy director of the National Park Service for cultural affairs, which included (17:00) historic preservation outside the parks as well as inside the parks. I said, “I don’t want you to pay me, but what I want you to do is to give me an office, a small staff of a clerical nature, access to your research staff, and a travel budget for a year. I will undertake in that time to draft a bill to create a historic tax credit for homeowners a nd,” this was the hard part, “to do the analytical work to determine what such a tax credit would cost the federal treasury, and what the economic benefits would be.” I did that; I took about a year. The Park Service was terrific…. We came up with a bill. We called it the Historic Homeowners Assistance Act and worked for the next six years and could not get it passed…. I felt badly about that but felt good about the work.

CE:      For the effort?

HS:      Yes, and I learned a lot, and I met terrific people….

CE:      When you came back to Philadelphia, after having been away for 30 years, you chose to live in Society Hill again?

HS:      Yes.

CE:      I’d be interested to know what you think of what has happened in Society Hill in the intervening 30 years.

HS:      Well, fortunately, not a lot, in the sense that I think that the feeling of community is still here, to a degree. What we had when we left was a demographic, how shall (22:00) I say it, phenomenon, which could not be repeated. Everybody was young. Everybody had young children, pretty much. Everybody went to the same colleges. A lot of the people were architects, and the ones who weren’t architects were lawyers, and the ones who weren’t lawyers were doctors. We just fit together. We were a very homogeneous group, and the sense that everybody you know lives just about within a 10-minute walk of your house was very much a part of your life at that time. Since then, I think the demographic has altered. Now, there were the older residents, and we knew some of them, but not that many.

CE:      When you say the older residents, you mean the people who lived here before redevelopment came along, the people that we in this project call lifelong (23:00) residents?

HS:      Right. Edith Stern had been here forever.

CE:      You say you did get to know some of them?

HS:      We did. Well, we knew Ned Boone, because he was our landlord. He’d been here for a long time.

CE:      Anyway, you say the demographic now is different.

HS:      Yes, I think it’s more diverse. I think there are more people who have moved in from the suburbs subsequently. There are young families, and the thing you worry about is what happens when the kids need to go to school. That was a concern in those days. It’s still a concern. The public school is here, and I have no way of knowing how good it is these days, but I know the community has typically lavished money on it. St. Peter’s School is still St. Peter’s School and carries you up to 8 th grade, I think. (24:00)

CE:      Yes.

HS:      Then kids would go to Episcopal and places like that. Friends Schools. We moved away before we got to that point.

CE:      What about the physical development of Society Hill, now as compared with when you left 30 years ago. What do you see?

HS:      Some of the bad things had already been done. Attica East had already been built, and that did not happen on our watch. I don’t think there were a lot of spaces to be built on at that time. By the time we got to ’77, there weren’t too many empty spaces. I remember another fight that we had that I was involved in, and Joanne [Denworth] was very much involved in, too. That was the Spruce Street houses that Pennsylvania Hospital wanted to tear down.

CE:      Oh, yes, in the 700 block. (25:00)

HS:      We fought them to a draw. We really did not want to raze those houses. We saw what they had done with the nurses’ home on the corner of, I guess, Eighth Street, and it’s an awful wreck of a building. We didn’t want to let them touch those houses. In the end, they said they would preserve the façades but nothing else, and that’s what they did. We felt that the Spruce Street streetscape was very important, and it had to be preserved, and if it meant giving away the interiors of those houses, it was a deal we were reluctantly prepared to accept. We would never have accepted the demolition of those façades.

CE:      Do you think that that block with the façades preserved the way it has (26:00) been done is lifeless?

HS:      Well, the north side of Spruce is okay. The south side is a museum piece. It’s, you know, those houses should be lived in. We did the best we could.

CE:      Back to my original question.

HS:      Do you think it’s lifeless? It’s a place you walk past.

CE:      I find it lifeless.

HS:      It’s a place you walk past.

CE:      I think it’s unfortunate that you cannot walk up those stairs and open the door and go into the building.

HS:      Well, if somebody lived there, you probably couldn’t go in anyhow.

CE:      There would be coming and going.

HS:      Yes, there would be more activity on the block.

CE:      It is what the Inquirer calls a façade-ectomy.

HS:      Yes, that’s what we used to call it. Actually, we used to call it façade-omy.

CE:      [Laughs] I guess they probably can’t say that in the newspaper. (27:00)

HS:      I don’t know. It’s a family newspaper.

CD:     My earlier question [was] about what you see has happened in Society Hill in the intervening period of years as far as the physical development.

HS:      Well, as I say, I think we’ve been lucky. There have been no tall buildings built yet, although we know the threat of a 17-story building [at Newmarket] hangs over us. But, the scale of the buildings that have been built respect the neighborhood, and the infill has been some good, some mediocre, some actively bad. On the whole, I do think that        (28:00) a spirited Civic Association has been responsible, along with help from Senator [Vince] Fumo, heaven knows, in keeping the streetscapes looking good. I don’t know whether the central Philadelphia development district comes down this far and does any cleaning, but the streets seem to be clean.

CE:      I think the South Street special services district is working with the Center City District and the Civic Association to maintain the cleanliness of the streets, particularly on trash day.

HS:      Yes. I think that Washington Square is much improved. A lot of money was spent on it and it was well spent. Independence Mall I just give up, throw up my hands. I don’t know what they were thinking when they did that. That’s not Society Hill. (29:00) The national park is a real asset, because it literally runs right across the top of Society Hill, and it’s contiguous to it. The Magnolia Garden is in Society Hill. There are a number of National Park houses that are in Society Hill. The National Park has been a very good partner, I think to the neighborhood.

CE:      The development of the shopping areas on Fifth Street and Second Street – I mean, we have seen the arrival of the CVS and the Eckert – it’s not Eckert any more. That whole strip – a lot has happened in that strip since you left.

HS:      Yes, I think that’s true. There’s a Wawa down there. There was no Wawa.

CE:      There’s a bank.

HS:      Two banks. Actually, three banks.

CE:      Yes, that’s right, now that the Bank of America is there. We lost (30:00) Tancredi’s. Tancredi’s went out of business in the face of competition with two big chains.

HS:      I wasn’t here when that happened. I probably would have been very much upset if I had been, but the fact of the matter, one accommodates to CVS and on the whole thinks that it’s not a bad idea that it’s there. As far as the rest of it goes, it’s a hodge-podge of restaurants and this and that. Abbott’s is probably the most significant thing that happened after we left, and it’s just out of scale to the neighborhood. But, it’s really a South Street artifact, rather than a Society Hill artifact. I think within the neighborhood, it’s been kept pretty much the way it was, except for the infill. By and large, (31:00) people have maintained their houses well. The Towers’ campus is beautifully maintained.

CE:      Yes, it is.

HS:      The buildings are marvelous buildings by I.M. Pei [architect], when he was doing really good work.

CE:      Well, any other stories about your earlier experiences? You didn’t have a car?

HS:      We took the kids everywhere on bicycles, both of the bicycles had seats on the back. This was before they had invented bicycle helmets, so we were riding around on cobblestones with kids bouncing around on seats, and with trolley tracks. It was dangerous, but we never thought about it. (32:00)

CE:      You walked to work?

HS:      I walked to work. I bicycled to work for a little while. Somebody stole my bicycle, so I started walking again.

CE:      Rinda took the bus?

HS:      No. I don’t know how she got to work. Originally, she worked for a clinic [called Rebound] that was operated under the auspices of Children’s Hospital in a kind of a rough neighborhood, a black neighborhood. She enjoyed that. Then, she switched to a kind of a mini-HMO, a pediatric practice that was right across the street from Pennsylvania Hospital, and she worked there for a year or two. She practiced medicine pretty much the whole time we were here, except the first six months or so, when she was (33:00) taking care of Tony, baby Tony.

CE:      When she was practicing, she traveled by public transportation or was able to walk?

HS:      She didn’t drive in the city. She was terrified of driving in the city. We were very happy selling the car.

CE:      Today you don’t have a car?

HS:      We still have it, because we wanted to keep it until we had made our last visit to whatever hardware store we needed to visit in order to get the last things done. We’re going to get rid of it this fall. That will be a milestone, and we’ll be back to (34:00) where we were, which is living in Society Hill without a car, but having, this time, the advantage of Philly Car Share or Zip Car or whatever.

[Tape is turned off, then on again]

CE:      You remember coming as a child to this neighborhood?

HS:      Yes, I remember being brought to this neighborhood long before it was (35:00) Society Hill, as a child. It’s a dim recollection, but I do remember coming down here and on one particular occasion being brought here by my mother to have a suit made because there were – there was at least one Jewish tailor in the neighborhood who was making suits by hand – and I needed a suit, and I was brought here to do that. I also remember being taken as a child – not to this neighborhood but through it – to the Settlement Music School for music lessons. The only way my mother could get me to agree to that was to take me to the Famous Delicatessen on Bainbridge [afterward]… (36:00)

CE:      Do you remember how old you were when you were brought down for the suit-making undertaking?

HS:      Yes, I couldn’t have been more than nine, eight or nine. It would have been probably during the war, because I was born in 1934.

CE:      Did you go to Fourth Street?

HS:      I don’t remember. It was a tailor shop, that’s all I remember.

CE:      You think it was in Society Hill?

HS:      Oh, I know it was.

CE:      You don’t remember where, but you know it was in Society Hill?

HS:      Oh, yes.

CE:      Do you remember anything about what the neighborhood looked like?

HS:      Crummy!

CE:      Crummy? Crummy how?

HS:      It wasn’t neat, it wasn’t clean, the buildings were dirty. There were warehouses. A lot of the private houses were being used as commercial establishments. It wasn’t a residential neighborhood. It was a commercial neighborhood. (37:00)

CE:      When you went to Settlement Music School, how old were you?

HS:      About the same age, I would say.

CE:      That’s in Queen Village.

HS:      Well, it’s a little bit below Queen Village. It’s still there. It’s thriving.

CE:      Oh, yes. What did that part of the city look like? Do you remember? Equally crummy?

HS:      No, it looked like South Philadelphia. That was a residential neighborhood. South Philadelphia had been – well, my family had lived in South Philadelphia in the teens and twenties. It was a Jewish neighborhood, parts of it. It was also Italian. (38:00) There were a bunch of synagogues. There are still a bunch of synagogues on Bainbridge Street, an extraordinary number still in the neighborhood. Yes, that was a Jewish community.

CE:      When you lived in Society Hill, did you go to a synagogue?

HS:      I once went to Society Hill Synagogue, because it was right outside my door, but I don’t think I went back more than once.

CE:      You weren’t active?

HS:      No, I’ve never been practicing. I mean, I haven’t been practicing since I was a boy.

[End of Interview]


©2008 Project Philadelphia 19106™. All rights reserved.

About the Interview

Cynthia J. Eiseman
Cynthia J. Eiseman
Interview Location
789 S Second Street
Interview Date
July 21, 2008
Schwartz, Harry
Narrator Type
Redeveloper - Restoration
Oral History Sources