Henry Magaziner

Henry Magaziner (1911-2011) was 98 years old when he was interviewed about his experiences in Society Hill during redevelopment. Earlier in his career, he had been Regional Historical Architect for the National Park Service.

He did a study of the neighborhood for the Redevelopment Authority of Philadelphia and reported that many of the buildings dated to the late 1700s and early 1800s. They had a great deal of historical interest, but had been allowed to deteriorate very badly. Henry describes Society Hill residents at that time as “low-income, mostly, first generation of foreign-born immigrants or foreign-born citizens.”

He describes some of the Society Hill buildings he worked on during redevelopment, including a house that had previously had a saloon on the first floor and “a whorehouse” above; the exterior of the Society Hill Synagogue; the McCall School on S. Seventh Street; the restoration of a former flop-house on Washington Square to the British Consulate; and the conversion of a cigar factory to the Metropolitan Hospital.

Henry’s life-long interest in historic architecture was kindled by a series of lectures he heard when he was a student at Central High. Asked what he thinks of Society Hill now, he replied, “It’s all fancied up.”


DS:      This is an interview with Henry Magaziner. The date is November 24, 2009. The address is The Watermark at Logan Square, here in Philadelphia, PA. The interviewer is Dorothy Stevens.

[Tape is turned off, then on again]

DS:      Now, Mr. Magaziner, what is your full name?

HM:    Henry Jonas Magaziner.

DS:      What was your date of birth?

HM:    September 13, 1911.

DS:      Where were you born?

HM:    1847 North Park Avenue. It’s now in the Temple University area.

DS:      Where did you go to school to become an architect?

HM:    The University of Pennsylvania.

DS:      Where did you live after that when you started to work?

HM:    Well, when I got out of Penn, it was in the midst of the Great Depression. (1:00) No young architect had a chance. No recent graduate [inaudible]. Men with 25 years of experience were running out of money. There was so much unemployment. I ended up – I got a job with somebody who sold porcelain-faced concrete blocks, which could be used in commercial buildings. We got a contract to furnish the blocks for the front of a theater going up in Oak Lane, so the side of the theater was (2:00) all porcelain and enamel units.

DS:      What made you interested in the Society Hill area?

HM:    Going back to high school, I had a wonderful series of lectures by an architectural historian, who taught at Central High, and he got me so interested in historical architecture that it became my career.

DS:      What was that area like, say, from the river to Eighth Street, Walnut to South Streets – what was the neighborhood like?

HM:    Mostly immigrant people, and low-income. (3:00)

DS:      The food produce center was there? At Dock and Second? Yes?

HM:    Right.

DS:      The properties that you restored – you told me over the phone yesterday that you did a restoration for Drs. Sidney and Adele Freedman at the southwest corner of Second and Spruce Streets. What was the building like before you got started on it?

HM:    The first floor was a saloon, and the upper part of the building was a whorehouse.

DS:      Oh, wonderful. [Laughs]

HM:    It was down near the water. The sailors would come in there, get a few drinks, then go upstairs and have a good time with one of the women, one of the ladies-in-waiting.

DS:      When the Freedmans bought it from the Redevelopment Authority, did you have to gut – you had to gut the whole house? You had to completely clean it out?

HM:    They had an agreement with the Redevelopment Authority that they would modernize the house and make it decent. The Redevelopment Authority didn’t care about the interior. They wanted the exterior to look right. They were interested in the streetscape.

DS:      Did the Redevelopment Authority tell you what it had to look like? Or did you design it and they approved it? (5:00)

HM:    The latter.

DS:      You designed it and they approved it. Did it look anything like the building that was there before on the outside?

HM:    Oh, yes. The first floor looked very different from the way it does now. The upper floors looked like they look today.

DS:      Then you said that you worked on the Society Hill Synagogue on Spruce Street. Was that an addition or a restoration?

HM:    I did a restoration of the exterior. They gave me a separate contract to do that. Then they were taking proposals from different architects for modernizing the interior, and I didn’t even apply because I found it was such a difficult group to work for. They had a building committee, and the committee would make decisions, and the (6:00) woman who was the wife of the president would come over and say, “I don’t want that to happen. I want to do this.” I was always in the middle, because I had the building committee on one hand telling me with instructions, and this woman who was the president’s promoter telling me she wanted something different.

DS:      Then you told me on the phone about McCall’s School, public school.

HM:    The McCall’s School was the public school. It had no gym and no auditorium. They got money from the Board to have [inaudible] an auditorium and gym as a (7:00) separate wing. I don’t remember how I got the job, but they gave me the contract to do it, and I did it. [Richardson] Dilworth, who had been Mayor, was now head of the Board of Education. He stopped me on the street one day and said, “Henry, that addition you put on McCall School is the best one in the whole Philadelphia school system.” Made me feel pretty good.

DS:      I guess so.

HM:    Particularly since Dilworth was known for being a man who didn’t hand out taffy. He called it as he saw it.

DS:      Then you talked about a property in the 400 block of Spruce. At the time you (8:00) couldn’t remember the name of the people.

HM:    It wasn’t the 400 block. It was the 700 block.

DS:      Seven hundred.

HM:    It was an ecclesiastical property.

DS:      The what properties?

HM:    Ecclesiastical properties.

DS:      All right.

HM:    The name was Sidney Curtis, and it came to me after I talked with you. He was a musician who had been with the Philadelphia Orchestra, but who had resigned. His wife was also a musician.

DS:      What was the property like when you first – had it been empty?

HM:    I believe it had been empty. The interior was in terrible shape.

DS:      Terrible shape, so all new mechanics and utilities? (9:00)

HM:    The rain had come in. The windows didn’t mesh properly, and rain got in there and accumulated on the interior of the floor.

DS:      What other properties can you remember that you worked on in that area? Did you work on 120 Delancey?

HM:    On what?

DS:      120 Delancey Street?

HM:    I worked on some property on Delancey Street, down around there. It could have been that. I don’t remember the number. The big job was the British Consulate at 700 South Washington Square. [I] restored that. The British wanted it to be a real representation of England. They were interested in promoting the sale of Scotch woolens to Philadelphia clothing manufacturers.

DS:      Scotch woolens. Had that building been empty before you got started (11:00) [on] it?

HM:    No, it was over-occupied. Every room had two or more men or women. It was a place where homeless people would sleep. The ones who were there permanently weren’t homeless, but they were the very bottom of the social ladder.

DS:      What was Washington Square like in this time? We talking about 1950? 1960 are we?

HM:    1940s, 1950s.

DS:      1940s, 1950s. Was Washington Square nice?

HM:    Sorry, I have a delightful habit of slobbering. (12:00)

DS:      Well, I’m glad that you’re able to remember this period of time, the 1940s and 50s. Was Washington Square a nice place to be? To live on? No. What was it like?

HM:    The whole area east of Broad Street was rather derelict. A lot of houses of prostitution, otherwise known as whorehouses.

DS:      Right. Were there publishing companies there at that time, like Lippincott and Curtis?

HM:    Lippincott was there. I think Curtis had already – I don’t remember whether – (13:00) I guess maybe they sold out the Ladies Home Journal and Saturday Evening Post if they were out of there.

DS:      Did you at some point go to work for Independence National [Historical] Park?

HM:    No, I was the Regional Historical Architect for the National Park Service. I had twenty-seven national parks in this region, in the mid-Atlantic states, and any problem that developed with one of the structures was my baby. Like, for instance, Fort McHenry in Baltimore, that’s where the “Star Spangled Banner” was born, you know, (14:00) [the British] set fire to the city, trying to take it, and the flag remained aloft all night long. That’s the “Star Spangled Banner” story. Fort McHenry was 100% covered with either buildings or paving – street paving. It had no grass plots, flower beds, or anything like that. One hundred percent covered. When rain came in, all those properties shed (15:00) their water. They didn’t absorb the water. They shed it.

               The original designer of the Fort had six feet of brickwork and he had twenty feet of earth and then on the inside another six feet of brickwork. The wall was very thick. Inside the Fort it was all paved or built up. So rainwater was not absorbed and would run towards the wall; the original designer had put weep-holes through the walls so that water, when it got to the wall, would get through and go on out to the river. Fort McHenry became a city park; it (16:00) eventually became a national park, but at the time I was working it was a city park, city of Baltimore. The rain would come down; it would go over toward the weep holes, because the interior had been slightly raised so that water would flow the way they wanted it to towards the weep-holes. The water would then go through the wall and go into what they called a dry moat on the outside, which was a canal of earth, and the original designer had a dry moat. The water would go through the wall to the dry moat and then out to the river.

               It became a city park and kids were always falling into the (17:00) dry moat, getting muddy. Some hare-brained chief of maintenance solved the problem. He filled in the dry moat. The water would get into the wall and couldn’t get out. It would, by capillary action, it would go up the wall. In a climate such as Baltimore has, like Philadelphia, all winter long they have below freezing at night and above freezing in the daytime. That would repeat itself. Every time the water got            (18:00) into the wall and froze, it expanded. Ice is lighter than water. That’s why ice floats when you get your iced tea and so forth. It was designed to get rid of the water.

DS:      [Coughs]

HM:    Would you like a Kleenex?

DS:      No, it just tickled my throat.

HM:    The water would get in the wall and couldn’t get out; by capillary action it went up, and with freeze-thaw, the walls were all falling apart. When I took over as Regional Historical Architect, I said, “You have to re-open the dry moat.” The superintendent didn’t want the dry moat opened. “A kid falls in there and gets (19:00) all muddy, he’ll sue Uncle Sam. We’ll have to figure out something else.”

               I put drainage tiles in where the dry moat had been. Those were tiles that allowed water to go through them. The top is perforated so rainwater couldn’t go in. The bottom is not perforated, it’s solid. The water, when it gets in, it goes floating down the tiles to the river. I told the superintendent he was going to have to re-open the dry moat. He said, “I can’t do it.” I ended up putting drainage tiles in and then covered that up. [It] solved the (20:00) problem to help the water to get out.

DS:      Tell me more stories about the Society Hill area and things that you did there.

HM:    Well, it was low-income, mostly, first generation of foreign-born immigrants or foreign-born citizens. The buildings were not in good shape. They were owned by individuals or trusts who were using it for revenue and didn’t care too much (21:00) about having them look beautiful; as long as the money kept coming in they were perfectly happy. When I did a study of that area, I put in my report that a lot of these buildings go back to the early 1800s, late 1700s and early 1800s. They have a lot of historical background, and they had been allowed to deteriorate very badly. …

DS:      Who did you do the study for? (22:00)

HM:    Who did I do it for? I think it was the Redevelopment Authority. We had – it was a combination. We had Mayor Dilworth, who was a wonderful Mayor; didn’t take money under the table. He was an exemplary – really a fine man. You had Ed Bacon, who was head of City Planning, who was as sweet as they come. I was going to work for the City Planning Commission and went down to his office one day to discuss some problems I had run into, and every two minutes somebody would come in with a question. He said, “Come on, let’s go downstairs on the street, where they have a coffee shop. We’ll have a cup of coffee and we won’t be interrupted.” We went (23:00) down, and the waiter presented a bill for 50 cents, something like that for the coffee. I tried to pay it. Ed Bacon would not even allow me to pay for a cup of coffee. He insisted that he pay for everything. He was as sweet as they come.

DS:      They asked you to do a study of the condition of the buildings in that area? Did you envision saving most of these buildings? You did.

HM:    I restored a number of them.

DS:      You restored a number of them.

HM:    I did it for clients, for individual property owners.

DS:      You said you worked for the City Planning Commission? Or you did work for them? (24:00)

HM:    I did a study – a Germantown study for the City Planning Commission.

DS:      In Germantown.

HM:    In Germantown. I lived in West Mount Airy. Chelten Avenue was deteriorating, and there was a lot of pressure from the merchants there to do something to upgrade the area. I did a study to try to help out. There had been a lot of resistance.

DS:      Did you know a Charles Peterson?

HM:    Did I know Charlie Peterson?

DS:      Yes, did you know Charles Peterson? Charlie Peterson?

HM:    Sure.

DS:      Did you work with him at all?

HM:    No.

DS:      No. He also was very interested in saving buildings. (25:00)

HM:    He was. He had certain things put through Congress. He was very effective.

DS:      Oh.

HM:    He didn’t like anybody else intruding on his territory, and he thought I was intruding.

DS:      I see. Ed Bacon was not always in favor of saving all the old buildings, was he?

HM:    Ed Bacon had a wonderful combination of practicality and historical correctness.

DS:      Right.

HM:    He wanted to put a walkway through that went from St. Joseph’s Church to the Episcopal Church –

DS:      St. Peter’s.

HM:    St. Peter’s. There were two historic houses on Delancey Street that (26:00) [had to] come down for that walk to go through. Ed Bacon wanted to take them down. Charlie Peterson, who was a one hundred percent purist, fought hard against that. He wanted to save those two houses, but they couldn’t put the walk through.

DS:      What do you think about Society Hill now? Have you been down to see what it’s like?

HM:    Oh, I have. It’s all fancied up.

DS:      All fancied up.

HM:    Mayor Dilworth saw a possibility, but in restoring that area – bringing back into Philadelphia some of the big executives of the local corporations, successful (27:00) surgeons and so forth, bringing them back into the city, bring[ing] them back from the Main Line, preserving that area and by making it pretty fancy, he thought he could bring these people back in. I think it worked.

DS:      The neighborhood had been pretty fancy, I guess, in its beginnings. What do you think started it to deteriorate?

HM:    I think the properties were not owner-occupied. They were just rentals. People, the speculators, had bought the properties when the Society Hill restoration became (28:00) public knowledge, speculators bought a lot of these properties. They figured they would go up in value. They didn’t do anything to restore them. They just held them and waited for the price to go up so they could sell them and make a big profit.

DS:      Did you like working in that area?

HM:    Oh, yes.

DS:      Do you have any other stories that you can tell me about that area?

HM:    That market square from Front Street to –

DS:      The Headhouse at Second and Pine.

HM:    Yes.

DS:      They restored that back in the ‘60s.

HM:    Dilworth built a house for himself, but he lived in the twenty-some-hundred (29:00) block of Delancey Street, between Pine and Lombard, one of those in between streets, and it was in the 2100 or 2200 of that area. The Society Hill thing was to help up; he had a house built next to the Athenaeum on Sixth Street for himself, so that by example he would bring people down. He used an architect who was a capable architect, who had worked on Williamsburg, Virginia. He knew Williamsburg and that stuff, and (30:00) that house was more like Williamsburg than Philadelphia. They tore down commercial buildings to put those houses up, and he was a good architect, but he was not doing Philadelphia architecture.

DS:      What other stories? When you saw the Headhouse, was it enclosed and still a market, or was it by that time just a building that they restored in the ‘60s? (31:00)

HM:    I think, I’m not sure, the latter was the case.

DS:      Did you get involved in the Crosstown Expressway at all?

HM:    No.

DS:      Or I-95 coming through down there?

HM:    No.

DS:      Was it hard to get contractors to come to the neighborhood.

HM:    When I did some programs, the city handled it, and I don’t know how much trouble they had getting rid of [inaudible]. (32:00)

DS:      Any other stories that you can think of from that period about that area?

HM:    The neighborhood changed so completely, because people [who] were buying houses and spend[ing] a lot of money to fix them up were usually well-to-do people who agreed that they ought to be restored. If people were living in those buildings, who were mostly immigrants, first generation in America, they were low income, so they got (33:00) pushed out.

DS:      Then the food produce center left in 1959. That left a big hole in the neighborhood.

HM:    Ed Bacon, who was a wonderful man and head of City Planning, and as I told you was straight as they come when, as I told you, he wouldn’t even let me pay for a cup of coffee, but he asked [Old Original] Bookbinder’s to restore their building exterior. Bookbinder’s was nationally known. Tourists would come to Philadelphia, and if they had any (34:00) money, they wanted to go down to Old Original Bookbinder’s, which had advertised in the Washington papers and the New York papers, and Seattle and St. Louis. It was the place to go and get a meal. The prices were high, but I know when I was Regional Historical Architect of the Park Service, many times a VIP visitor would come to Philadelphia. My instructions from the State Department were dependent on what the man was interested in, and then [had] a [separate] paragraph to be sure to get him a dinner at Old Original Bookbinder’s. (35:00)

[Tape is turned off, then on again]

HM:    The Redevelopment Authority was straight.

DS:      Was straight?

HM:    Not about money that would be passed under the table.

DS:      Was not.

HM:    No. The fellow was straight. I did their work on the Metropolitan Hospital, which used to be at Third and Spruce. Remember that?

DS:      I do, indeed.

HM:    An eight-story factory building had been vacant.

DS:      It was a cigar factory.

HM:    It had been vacant for some years, and the Metropolitan Hospital had about four houses in the 1800 – on Eighteenth Street around Vine, they had four great big (36:00) houses built after the Civil War, and they cut through the party walls and made these four houses work as a single building. The state was going to put the Vine Street Expressway through, and it gave notice to the Metropolitan Hospital that they had to get out, because their building was going to come down, because it was in the way of the Expressway. They had to move quickly and find some other building to restore. They had (37:00) restored these four houses, great big houses, but they had to have another building that they could restore and turn into a hospital. I went with them and we looked at many buildings, but we finally settled on the cigar factory building at Third and Spruce, and I got the job of transforming that vacant cigar factory into the Metropolitan Hospital.

DS:      Can you tell me would that have been in the ‘40s or ‘50s?

HM:    In the ‘50s, I guess.

DS:      It was an osteopathic hospital, right? Yes, I remember that hospital.

HM:    When I applied for zoning to get approval, they deviated from the allowable (38:00) type of structures allowed there. It did not include things like hospitals and clinics and orphanages and so forth, so there had to be a public hearing to allow a deviation from the code. That’s the only time in my whole career where they posted a notice for a deviation from the code where a lot of proponents appeared at the meeting instead of opponents. They were so eager to get that vacant building restored and put to use, (39:00) instead of being a deteriorating ruin in the neighborhood. When we had a public hearing, it was wonderful. People got up and made speeches about how important it was to approve this hospital. Ten years later, after we had restored it and it was now occupied, the hospital wanted to increase in size. There was a manufacturing building to the west of it, which they wanted to tear down and replace with a hospital building. The neighborhood had since become very sexy.

DS:      Very sexy? [Laughs]

HM:    The people who originally had appeared at the zoning hearing as (40:00) proponents, they didn’t appear this time. Now we had only opponents. They didn’t like the ambulance coming down the street with the gong going at three a.m. and people coming. It was an osteopathic hospital, and the doctors were working in poor neighborhoods. The result is that the visitors who would come down to see the patients came in Fords and Chevrolets several ways. They didn’t come in Ferraris or Cadillacs or Lincolns. They were their relatives and friends who lived in the neighborhood where the osteopaths had their offices. It was interesting.

DS:      Yes, very interesting. (41:00)

HM:    We got the hospital in there all right, and ten years later, when they wanted to take in the adjoining building, by this time the nearby properties had all been purchased by well-heeled people who were fixing up the houses and wanted to move down there. We had a public hearing on converting the nearby building to the west. The hospital was 300 Spruce Street, and these buildings were, I don’t know, 306, 308, 310, something like that. Now everything had changed. Now, instead of proponents we had opponents. (42:00)

DS:      Very interesting story. Do you have any more stories like that?

HM:    [One] regarding the exterior of the Society Hill Synagogue. The doors of the main sanctuary were on the second floor. The first floor were classrooms. There was a lot of pressure by the wife of the president. She wanted the doors the way they were, not historical. There were others, and I wanted them to be restored to what they (43:00) had been. We did some sanding on the paint – it had ten coats of paint – and got down to the original. We could see they had restored and engrained it to look like oak or whatever. There was a lot of argument about that. The woman had her own ideas, the president’s wife.

DS:      Who won?

HM:    Who won? The committee finally won.

DS:      When you would restore something like the Society Hill Synagogue, were there previous drawings or pictures that you could go from, or was all of your knowledge gotten by analysis?

HM:    All of it by analysis.

DS:      There weren’t pictures or guidelines from times in the past?

HM:    The basic features were on the Spruce Street front – the masonry was the (44:00) same as it had always been. There were some changes in the woodwork, but the masonry was original. It needed pointing, but the size of the opening and the width and height and so forth, that was as it had always been historically. [It needed] repointing with the proper mortar instead of the stuff they had been using.

DS:      Did you ever have any difficulty with the Redevelopment Authority? Any arguments about what it should be versus what they thought it should be? No? You made the point that you feel the Redevelopment Authority was an honest group.

HM:    I felt that, yes.             (45:00)

DS:      Was there a lot of cheating going on?

HM:    I’m sure, Philadelphia is known for corruption. A building up in Society Hill West, that came after the original Society Hill restoration, Society Hill West was west of Washington Square, up to Broad Street. [It was Washington Square West.] I was going to buy one of those houses.

DS:      For yourself?

HM:    For myself. I had to go to a public hearing, and I was told the only way I (46:00) was going to get it through was to contribute to Mr. Rizzo’s re-election.

DS:      What did you say?

HM:    I gave it up. I was doing a lot of work for the Department of Recreation, doing [a] playground, as an architect, a planner. I had one planned. I got along beautifully with the head of that department. He was a man from California whom Dilworth had (47:00) brought in here. He had been put in charge of recreational facilities for the state of California.

DS:      Dilworth brought him here?

HM:    Dilworth brought him here, and as I understand it, Dilworth agreed to pay the difference between what the city was going to pay him and what he had been making in California. Dilworth was a very successful lawyer, and he loved Philadelphia, and he wanted things to be right.

[End of first side of tape]

[Beginning of second side of tape]

DS:      … design work on some of these playgrounds for the Department of Recreation? Did you work on the park at Sixth and Pine? Sixth and Lombard, Starr Garden?

HM:    No. There was a little park on Third and Delancey Streets, north. I think there was a fire house there.

DS:      The Delancey Street – they call it Three Bears Park now, or the Delancey Street Park. Yes.

HM:    To have that thing open continuously, we had to take out two houses on Delancey Street, two houses that were closest to the playground. While I was a strong believer in restoring historic properties, I felt that the advantage of having those houses down (1:00) so that the playground could go through was far better than the two houses, which were mostly like the houses on the rest of the block, you know, which had been restored or were being restored.

DS:      These were houses on the south side of Delancey, right?

HM:    Yes.

DS:      And where the park is now was a fire house, you’re saying? Or a police department?

HM:    Yes.

DS:      You designed the park?

HM:    No. I did not. I made an area of design, but I didn’t do the specifics for any of the building. Ed Bacon endorsed what I had done, but present influence was going (2:00) in the other direction. Rizzo was in the Mayor’s house, and with Rizzo everything happened just under the table.

DS:      This is the time when you were hired by the regional historic –

HM:    What was –?

DS:      This would have been at the time when you left – you started working as a regional historic –

HM:    For the National Park Service.

DS:      For the National Park [Service].

HM:    They had 27 parks, and all the historic structures in the parks were my baby, like the house that Washington occupied at Valley Forge during the winter (3:00) encampment, you know?

DS:      Yes.

[Tape is turned off, then on again]

DS:      Several houses on Spruce Street, one in the 700 block.

HM:    I told you, the one on the corner, but I did a couple of more, further west. There was a building on Delancey Street, in the 200 block or 300 block; I forget.

DS:      You enjoyed the restoration part of it? Was your father in the business too? Was he in the design, architecture design?

HM:    My father was a better architect than I ever was.

DS:      Oh, so he was an architect? (4:00)

HM:    Yes. He was very capable, and I always would think back to what my father would say about this or that problem. He was a very capable architect. He didn’t get involved with any of the restoration. He died in ’56.

DS:      He was in new construction?

HM:    He did a lot of movies, motion picture houses.

DS:      Movie houses.

HM:    He did a variety here in Philadelphia. He did some in south Jersey and other parts of nearby Philadelphia, Philadelphia suburbs. (5:00)

DS:      You grew up in –

HM:    The amusing thing: my father did the Uptown Theater on North Broad Street, Broad and Susquehanna. Do you know the [inaudible] house there?

DS:      I do.

HM:    It was published in a magazine which was pitched to the motion picture house owners, the guys who owned the movie houses all over the country, and also in a lot of architectural magazines. It got a lot of publicity and a lot of photographs. All that was done in the 1920s. Then the Great Depression came in 1929, and in (6:00) 1935, ’36, something like that, I belonged to the National Trust for Historic Preservation. They used to put out a newspaper for the notable restoration jobs. Suddenly, in the middle of the 1930s, the first page of the newspaper had a picture of the interior of the Uptown Theater, which my father had done in the ‘20s. I read the text. It was not the Uptown Theater at all. It was a theater out in California, which had been (7:00) built in 1932 and Dad’s Uptown had had so much publicity that the California architects had repeated it, and –

DS:      That’s cheating!

HM:    The picture that was in the National Trust paper was not of the Uptown; it was of a California theater, which was going to be torn down, but the community had risen to save it and turn it into a playhouse. It was so funny. I thought, “What the hell…?” Because the Uptown had been closed and allowed to deteriorate, and suddenly there is the interior of the Uptown – I thought it was the Uptown. (8:00).

DS:      [Laughs]

[Tape is turned off, then on again]

DS:      Your father would take you and your mother and your siblings to the movies on Friday nights at the Uptown. How many siblings did you have?

HM:    A brother and a sister.

DS:      Did they go into architecture, too? No.

HM:    My sister had been teaching, but when she married she gave up teaching, and then she never had another job. She did a lot of community work, but all gratis, you know. My brother was an insurance salesman, not an architect.

[Tape is turned off, then on again]

HM:    – but I think it was the late’70s. My dad died in ’56. (9:00)

DS:      How old was he?

HM:    He was around 70 years old at that time, or very late ‘60s.

DS:      You have very good genes.

[Tape is turned off, then on again]

DS:      Tell me about the two books that you have written.

HM:    I wrote the book which is called The Golden Age of Ironwork, which is really about the iron in Philadelphia. There are very notable pieces of cast-iron work which were done by – oh, God – I can’t think of the name, Wood something, which did the iron work on all kinds of important buildings here, on the façades. (10:00)

DS:      In Philadelphia?

HM:    They had the only cast-iron façade in the United States down here on Third Street.

DS:      Where on Third?

HM:    Just north of Arch, on the west side of the street. Actually, I saved the building, because the back of the property is a big area with a big house that had a back yard. The back yard abuts onto the parking lot of the Friends Meetinghouse which is at Fourth and Arch, and they were going to tear down the house to get access to their parking lot. I was a member of the Historical Commission at the time, and the woman (11:00) who was head of the Historical Commission – I can’t think of her name; she lived here for a while before she died – the name will come to me. She was a very devoted and absolutely straight person here in Philadelphia.

DS:      Give me the title of that book again?

HM:    The Golden Age of Ironwork. I remember she called me and said, “They’re going to tear down that building for parking. Can you appear before the Friends Meetinghouse to convince them not to tear the building down?” I went over and studied (12:00) the building, the façade, the cast-iron façade, and I studied what they had in their files and what had been discussed in newspapers when it was being updated and so forth years before. I came all prepared to talk for half an hour before the Society of Friends, it’s called. I got to the meeting, and the chair said, “We have a very long agenda. Would you be kind enough to speak no more than six minutes?” Here I was prepared for 30 minutes, so I put my watch on the speaker’s lectern, and I talked for five (13:00) and three-quarters minutes. I think I’d done enough public speaking, but I could see that I was not registering with that audience. I said, “You know, that building is really an important American cultural artifact. Your tearing it down reminds me of Hitler’s book burning.” The building’s still standing.

DS:      [Laughs]

HM:    It’s now an apartment house….

DS:      Tell me about the children’ book.

HM:    Well, when I was with the Park Service, as the Regional Historical Architect, I often was over in the Merchants Exchange, that wonderful building at Third and Dock and Water Street, with the rounded end and beautiful Corinthian columns. I used to sometimes listen – my office was there – I’d walk right by the Liberty Bell pavilion – and I’d sometimes stand there on my way to or from my office – stand there and listen to questions from children about the Liberty Bell and hear the interpreter (15:00) of the National Park Service. [Inaudible] He was a [inaudible] employee, of not a very high grade historically. I decided to write and answer these kids’ questions. There was one very popular picture and story about somebody who rang the bell, they said in 1776, and the kid was yelling to his grandfather who was up in the bell tower, “Ring, Grandpa. Ring for liberty.” It never became the Liberty Bell until about 1835. (16:00) It had that inscription on it about “Proclaim Liberty Throughout the Land and All the Inhabitants Thereof.” It was built by the – not built, it was funded by the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania for a commemorative piece, and it would call people together to hear the news about some important event that was going on. Remember, there were no TV and no radios. They never called it the Liberty Bell until the 1830s, when it had become the symbol of the Civil Rights movement for the slaves, for freeing the slaves. It (17:00) was never used to ring, ring for liberty, because that was fifty years too early. The inscription on it, I don’t know if you’ve ever looked at the inscription, the world Liberty is written in all capitals. It’s larger than the other, the adjacent words, in the Biblical quote.

DS:      You wrote a book to answer the questions that the children were asking. What was the name of this book?

HM:    Our Liberty Bell. The last I heard from the publisher it was selling well all over the country.

DS:      When did you write this? Would it have been in the 1950s? ‘60s? ‘70s? (18:00)

HM:    I guess it was in the ‘70s.

DS:      Did you write anything else?

HM:    Over the years I had – I made snap shots of many interesting art works, whether it was a railing on the front or a tree trunk or the back of the garden [inaudible] garden, and fences around the property and other iron works. I made about five hundred snap shots. I didn’t care how much litter there was in the picture, how many weeds there were around the fence. I just took them for information. Then when I decided to turn it into a book on Philadelphia iron works, cast iron or wrought iron, I went through (19:00) them and picked [inaudible]. I got [inaudible] all the buildings of a certain type and put them all together, another type and put all those together, and I would take the best one of each group, and those are the ones that got into the book. Then we got an appropriation from the William Penn Foundation, I think it was, to have an architectural photographer go and take the actual pictures for the book. Mine were snapshots, and the lighting was sometimes very poor, but the information was there. Weeds around the fence I didn’t cut them all down. I remember, there was one (20:00) fence, in Germantown. I took the photographer there to take the picture for the book, and there was a beautiful lawn behind it. This was in a cemetery on Germantown Avenue. He said, “You know, the black iron is not going to show very well against that green of the lawn. Why don’t we come back and take it in the wintertime when the lawn will be covered with snow?” So, we waited six months, and took it. The lawn was all covered with snow and the iron fence stood out beautifully, and that’s the picture (21:00) in the book.

[End of interview]


©2010 Project Philadelphia 19106™. All rights reserved.

About the Interview

Dorothy Stevens
Cynthia J. Eiseman
Interview Location
The Watermark on Logan Square
Interview Date
November 24, 2009
Magaziner, Henry
Narrator Type
Oral History Sources