Jean Blumberg, her husband Barry, and their four children moved from Glenside to Society Hill in about 1969. Much as she liked their house and neighbors in Glenside, Jean felt very isolated there. After visiting a friend in Society Hill, they bought the house at 323 S. Lawrence Court (between Spruce and Pine, Fourth and Fifth Streets). The houses there were new construction. At the time of the interview, forty years later, fifty percent of the original owners were still living there. The house included deeded parking for one car. Residents socialized with their neighbors in Lawrence Court and met other neighbors through their children at school and the synagogue.
The minute they moved in, Jean loved it. All their children attended McCall School, and later their daughters attended Baldwin in Bryn Mawr; girls in the neighborhood took the train to and from school together, and later had a car pool. Their son attended Friends Select. When they were little, the children played in Three Bears Park. When they got older, they played in vacant lots—at Third and Spruce, and at Spruce between Front and Second. Early on, Jean advised her children that parents were all around and added, “You can’t get away with anything, because some mother is going to rat on you.”
The family joined the Society Hill Synagogue and became active in raising funds to renovate it when it was condemned.
Jean especially liked the convenience of living within walking distance of almost everything: the bank, the shoemaker, dry cleaner, pediatrician, hospital, grocery store, synagogue, library—but not an undertaker.
DS: This is an interview with Jean Blumberg. The location is 323 S. Lawrence Court, Philadelphia, PA. The date is October 16, 2009. The interviewer is Dorothy Stevens.
[Tape is turned off, then on again]
DS: Jean, tell me, when did you come to Society Hill?
JB: Well, 40 years ago, and I never can remember the exact year. We moved from Glenside, where we had lived five years, and we had really nice neighbors and a nice house, but I felt that I was really isolated out there. I thought they’d find my whitened bones in front of the refrigerator some day. And there’s a lot of driving. I was driving the children all different places, to school and things like that.
I had visited a friend (1:00) who lived down here and thought this was just wonderful. We put our house on the market and sold it instantly. We had put our name down for a house in Lawrence Court, a house came up; we took it. I mean, it happened instantly. People thought, “How can you bring four children into the city?” But my mother, who had been brought up in New York City, thought it was a great idea. She lived in New York, and eventually she moved down here into the [Society Hill] Towers.
DS: And your father?
JB: Oh, my father had died when I was very young.
JB: My mother was a school teacher.
DS: And your husband’s parents?
JB: His mother was alive at that time, but not his father. She lived out on Long Island (2:00), and nothing negative from them at all.
DS: You already had four children.
JB: Yes, the last one was born in Abington Hospital. He was two or three when we moved down here.
DS: Young children.
JB: Young children. And the others went to McCall School right away.
DS: And how old was the oldest at that point? Are we talking third grade? Fourth grade?
JB: My oldest is a daughter, Ann, and she had been two years to Glenside School.
DS: Did you like McCall’s? A good experience? (3:00)
JB: The minute I moved in here I loved it. I loved living here. Wonderful.
DS: And you liked the school?
JB: The school was great. We investigated. We liked the principal. The [children] came home for lunch at that time, early on. They didn’t have a cafeteria then or a place to eat; so the children came home. Then I had one child from Chinatown who came home every day with my children and ate in the kitchen. Funny thing is, her father was a chef, and she would bring a little package of noodles to school with her, and I would give the kids hot dogs or something like that. She wanted hot dogs. I ate her noodles and she ate my hot dog. [Laughs] I don’t remember her name.
DS: The children went right through the eighth grade there? (4:00)
JB: No, there was – when Noah was seven – my youngest was seven – we went to England for a year, a sabbatical year, and the kids by that time, my oldest was at Baldwin. A group of girls here went to Baldwin, Gerry Smith’s kids and I think the Wasserman daughter, oh, I can’t remember offhand the others. But there were about five from Society Hill who went out to Baldwin. They took the train out. The station was within walking distance. Sometimes they got a ride. Then when they got older, we took turns; the kids had driver’s licenses. They drove, each one one day a week, something like that. I don’t remember the details. (5:00)
DS: Back to this house. This house was new when you bought it?
JB: Yes, all the houses on Lawrence Court were all new, and 50% of those original people are still here in those houses.
DS: In these new houses.
JB: In the house like this. Built by – I don’t remember – Bronstein. He built Addison Court, another group of houses.
DS: Addison Court.
JB: Yes. He built Addison Court.
DS: Have you ever heard what was here before?
JB: Yes. I think warehouses were here, or garages. Across the street, I think there were homes. I remember when we first moved here, because we had an infestation of bugs that came from the old cellars. (6:00)
DS: What kind of bugs?
JB: They came up once a year. I can’t remember the name. They eventually died out, and we’d sweep them up. They really came from the earth that was – the old, rotted beams and things that were in the cellars in the old houses. There were, at one time, houses here, and then garages or warehouses later.
DS: There are two or three, I guess three, little houses just south of here that look original.
JB: Yes, they are original, and they were built by some man for his daughters. He (7:00) lived in one and built two for his daughters. And those – I don’t know whether those stand on – those houses are over 100 years old, but I think they probably were built over the basements of other houses. I’m not sure. Lawrence was a governor of Pennsylvania, named for him. But I don’t remember his dates.
DS: Was this a street, from Pine to Spruce? Did it go all the way through as a street?
JB: I think so. I saw pictures, and I think it was a street. I don’t know about Cypress.
DS: But Lawrence was a street.
JB: As far as I know, it was a street named for a governor of Pennsylvania. (8:00)
DS: But they consider your street address as Lawrence Court.
JB: That’s right. That was the real estate—the realtors who did that. It sounded fancier than Lawrence Street. [Laughs]
DS: [Laughs] And it became a walkway. From Cypress to Spruce.
JB: Yes, that was put in when we were here, and the street layout was the way it is now. We chose a tree. We moved in in July, I think it was, and the neighbors sort of – we were not the first persons to move in, but they were all new houses. Then by the fall all the houses had been occupied. They were all sold right away.
DS: And you say 50% of those who bought then are still here.
JB: Yes, I can tell you who they are, because we know everybody on the street. (9:00) Naturally, the kids all played together. It was a wonderful place. But then as the children got older, they branched out and they played mostly on the lots down on Third Street, where the hospital was, and then down on Second and Front Streets.
DS: Metropolitan Hospital? [Third and Spruce Streets]
JB: Yes. They tore that down, and the kids played there with the bricks and stuff. They had a great time. They played baseball on that lot, and they kept bringing home things for their dugout. And it would be the seats in automobiles and things like that. Someone would come around and insist that it be taken out and thrown away, and the next week they’d go down to Front Street and bring back more chair seats – I mean car seats. The kids really had a great time, and Bob Smith, who lived at Third and Cypress (10:00) with six children, organized a football team, and they went all over the city and played various neighborhoods, and I think the team was called the Bicentennials. [Laughs] They got all the equipment and stuff and then sprayed the helmets and things. I think they had a good time.
DS: Your children’s memories of growing up in this neighborhood are good?
JB: Oh, they tell us all the time that they’re so glad we moved into the city.
DS: At the time you were moving they probably were not happy.
JB: I never had any complaints about it, as far as I remember. It was fine. I (11:00) loved living here. It was the best move we ever made.
DS: Do any of the children still live here?
JB: No, they’re all scattered.
DS: The condition of the property was that it was new. You have been the only owner of this house.
DS: Who did you buy it from?
JB: A real estate agent lived on Pine between Fifth and Sixth. Sterns.
DS: They were handling the sales of all the houses. Do you remember how much you paid, approximately?
JB: I think we paid $35,000. We sold our house in Glenside for $35,000 and bought this for $35,000. We had the opportunity of changing the color of the floor, and (12:00) making some upgrade. And we didn’t do anything. We should have but we didn’t.
DS: But these houses in this court all have parking, too.
JB: Yes, oh, yes. That was really something we… We couldn’t have bought a house without parking. And we have deeded parking, one spot, per house. There are two houses that have more, but that’s another story.
DS: Also it was a good place for the children to play because it’s a dead-end court.
JB: Well, it’s not a dead-end court, because the cars come in from Cypress and exit through Pine.
DS: Interesting. Like a short-cut.
JB: Yes, we should swing around and come south on Fourth Street. Then turn (13:00) right into Cypress into the court and then through to our parking area.
DS: And crime? Has that been a problem for you?
JB: No. I mean there have been incidents. Dan Barol, who was our pediatrician, lived at the corner of Lawrence and Spruce. He was held up once at gunpoint, and they took his car, because he parked in here. He rented one of the spaces. Once when we were packing up to go on a holiday, and while we were in the house getting things for the car, someone took the radio from the car. We had our car stolen once. And other people have (14:00) had cars stolen.
DS: But nothing more than what occurred in the rest of the neighborhood. I mean, you didn’t have more crime here.
JB: Well, there were incidences I know about, when Bob Parsky, who lives around the corner on Fourth Street, had a dog that he was walking, and two guys held him up one night when he was walking the dogs. That was a long time ago.
My kids are street wary. They’ve all learned how to walk around – I mean, they didn’t go out at night. Maybe they ran from one house to another. That was one of the beauties of living here. We never had the worry of kids joyriding at night in cars like in the suburbs. I never worried (15:00) about that. Nobody drove around here until they got older and went to school. But that was an issue that we didn’t have to deal with. In the suburbs, the kids being in cars and that sort of stuff.
But once there was a big party going on in the house on Third Street, right next to the parking lot, and I had told our kids – it was Noah, I think the, youngest, to be in by 11 o’clock. And he wasn’t here; I just had to go around the corner and get him. I did, and the kids were hanging out all over the street. (16:00)
DS: They were teenagers at this point?
JB: Yes, they were teenagers. I said, “Is Noah Blumberg in that house?” And they said, “Yes.” And I said, “Would somebody go get him, please?” They went and got him, and I said, “Time to go home.” [Laughs] He didn’t care. It was so funny. He never complained when we made a rule or anything like that. He was really good.
DS: A good son. Then you had no dealings with Redevelopment Authority.
JB: Well, early on I was on the board of the Society Hill Civic Association, when Carter Buller was president, and I don’t remember the issues. But we had driveway (17:00) issues and things like that. I know there was a time when they were building down on Front Street, when they were building that complex down there.
DS: Penn’s Landing.
JB: Well, Penn’s Landing went up, and there was big field where that group of buildings is now. That was built after us. Kids used to play down there. But the parents were all around, and I used to tell the kids, “You can’t get away with anything, because some mother is going to rat on you,” [Laughs] which is true.
DS: Everybody did know everybody else.
JB: That was the nice part, particularly when the kids were in school. I mean, (18:00) all the children went to McCall at that time. And it was one time—when we went that year to England, and when we came back the girls went to Baldwin, and my son stayed a year in England; he had two years there. When he came back, he went to Friends Select for just, I think, two years, and then he went off to college. That was much later on.
DS: You were on the board of the Civic Association. Anything else in the neighborhood?
JB: Yes, I helped out at the school, too. That was really a nice school, and as I say everybody knew everybody else. We had a fundraiser – I don’t know if it was a fundraiser, but anyway, every parent bought a pot – dinner, supper, and (19:00) everybody came. We had a really nice neighborhood.
DS: Anything else in the neighborhood? Three Bears Park? Did you go there a lot?
JB: Oh yes, sure. All the little kids came. They just had benches then. The whole place has been fixed up. In those days, it was very simple, a place for swings and one climbing thing and that was it.
DS: Good for young children.
JB: Oh, yes, oh, yes. Sure.
DS: And you’d get to socialize with all the other women.
JB: Well, I remember Gerry Smith, who lived right near there, almost adjacent to the park, and she had—her children were friendly with our children and anyone else who had kids then. (20:00)
DS: How about – did you ever get to interact with the old, original people who were born and raised here?
JB: I remember when we moved in, people would sit on the stoops. They had camp chairs, and in the evening they would go out and sit on the stoop, and people don’t do that any more. We’ve had some court parties at night. We had one this year, this spring, and everyone brought cocktails or something, and we had a meeting in the walkway over here. And everyone turned out.
DS: Any other stories?
JB: I’m trying to think whether I did know these people. Of course, they all were newcomers in Lawrence Court. I know the Ottavianos, Fred and Joe. I don’t (21:00) know Joe so well. And the other one who is committeeman. We used to joke and laugh about politics.
DS: You did interact with –
JB: Oh, yes, there wasn’t any social climbing or whatever you want to call it here. If there was, I was unaware of it. I mean, some parents immediately sent their kids to private schools, but I don’t know of any, because that’s how you meet – when you have young children – that’s how you meet people, through their schools. That’s how my children have met their friends. (22:00)
DS: And religious affiliation?
JB: Well, we belong to the synagogue here.
DS: Society Hill?
JB: Society Hill, and that was new. They had taken over from another Orthodox Jewish group, and we had a rabbi and a cantor, and that was a focus of a lot of people around here, too. They used to have a fair every year. They still do.
DS: You had a lot of social events to raise money?
JB: We had one, early on. Then the synagogue was condemned, early on, and we had to – Bob Parsky who lives around here on Fourth Street, and he did the organization (23:00) for rebuilding, which we did. We built a new kitchen and then shored up the building, because it was going to fall down.
DS: Do you remember the architect who was involved in that?
JB: I think it was Bob, Bob Parsky.
DS: Oh, OK.
JB: He did it. But we were here – my husband isn’t here, he’s in California at the moment, but he keeps records of the dates and stuff. He knows exactly when all that happened. It was condemned when my son George was 13. He was 12 ½. [He is now 51, 52.] (24:00)
DS: Any other stories that you can remember from the early days when you were here?
JB: I’ve got a lot of stories. I’m always telling stories. I always thought it was a very friendly neighborhood. I count on my neighbors. We all do. Maybe some neighbors of course are more responsive than others, and some are retired now. We have one here on the block, John Harrison, who was a Tuskegee airman. He lives across the street, (25:00) and he was one of the original owners. At that time, his wife was alive, and I knew her very well, and they’re very good friends, and as far as I know have had no trouble at all.
[Tape is turned off, then on again]
DS: This is a story about June Matice.
JB: June lived around the corner on Pine Street, and she always walked around the neighborhood with a can opener, one of those beer can openers, in her hand, in case somebody approached her that she didn’t like. But she was so funny. She had it in for the minister at Old Pine Street Church, because she would watch what was going on. (26:00) I can’t tell you more about that, but she [Laughs] she always had something to say about that. Then there was Ned Boone, who lived on Pine Street, too. He was a sweetheart. They both died here. A long time ago.
DS: And the McCones?
JB: Oh, yes, the McCones. Their daughter now is living in their house. This is a very recent thing. They were lovely. And Joe was out there every day, sort of, always someone to talk to. Joe died, and so did she.
[Tape is turned off, then on again]
DS: The people were out in the wintertime what?
JB: People were out with skis. (27:00)
DS: Cross-country skis?
JB: Yes, they went up and down the street. That was before they plowed. We have a service to plow us out, because I think we were told they would not plow us out.
DS: The city?
JB: Yes, the city would not do that. And the city takes care of plantings. I know, Jean Bodine – I remember when that house was built, by the man who was an architect at Penn. They were a bit snooty, I think.
DS: Then Jean bought the house?
JB: Well, Jean knew them and bought their house. And I knew Nancy Grace; she had a parrot and a swimming pool. The kids would go over to look at the parrot or to play with the parrot. I don’t remember whether they went swimming in her pool. People (28:00) who now own that house – it’s been through several ownerships since Nancy. Is Nancy still alive?
DS: She died maybe two years ago.
JB: Oh, I didn’t know that, but I must have been told.
DS: I saw it in the paper.
JB: Well, we didn’t, because we’ve been gone a lot.
DS: Who is living there now?
[Tape is turned off, then on again]
DS: When you first moved here –
JB: You could see the boats on the river from upstairs. I mean, the tops of them. Now you can’t because the trees have grown up so voraciously. But our garden is a fill, and for a long time when we dug up the garden, it was just bits of stones and pieces (29:00) of pipes and things like that, because they literally took the fill from the river. This garden is one flight up – these gardens, these houses here.
DS: Are higher level than Fourth Street?
JB: That’s right. Yes. Anyway, we all went in together. It was Nancy’s wall, but we all chipped in to have the wall rebuilt.
DS: And this is the wall in back of her house?
JB: That’s the wall you can see.
DS: Oh, OK.
JB: Not [inaudible] It’s an alley with a brick wall –
(Tape is turned off, then on again)
JB: An old-timer was walking through the court, and she looked around and said, “This place looks like a cell block.” We all had black gates. [Laughs]
DS: She had known the block before it –
JB: She had lived here. I don’t know who it was, but it was funny. She told everybody. I remember hearing her say, “This place looks like a cell block.” Which it did. (30:00)
[Tape is turned off, then on again]
DS: This is a story about the sports club.
JB: That’s right, the sports club on Fifth Street.
DS: Tell us about that.
JB: Well, that was a very neighborly, neighborhood pool at first. Not many people belonged, and everyone knew everyone else. That was wonderful. We swam outside all winter long, snow coming down, and we were going back and forth. Oh, it was just wonderful.
[Tape is turned off, then on again]
JB: I could do everything on foot. The bank, the shoemaker, the dry cleaner, the pediatrician, our doctor, who was at Pennsylvania Hospital. (31:00)
DS: Grocery shopping. Synagogue.
JB: Everything was within walking distance. The library – it was such a relief from driving all the time.
DS: Did you use bicycles, the two of you?
JB: We have bicycles, and Peggy and Rody Davies, she rides a bicycle around. I did a little bit. We’d put them in the car and go down to the Schuylkill. But I was afraid of riding in the street. When we lived in England, I loved my bicycle. I’d go every place. But people [here] weren’t used to having bicycles on the street, and of course, now we have the bicycle path up Pine and Spruce, but still I don’t trust the drivers. (32:00)
DS: But you had a car, because your husband had to travel out of town.
JB: That’s right, because he went up to Fox Chase every day from here, and he had to go by car. So he had a car. And then for a while, we had two cars, and if you came home by 5 o’clock, you could find a place to park on the street. If I was out in the other car then I would park on the street. And then we decided two years ago, the heck with it. We’d manage with one car.
DS: Did you take the buses?
JB: Oh, yes. Sure. We had several episodes of being in Pennsylvania Hospital, which is – in emergencies and stuff like that, with kids and I had a hip replaced at Pennsylvania Hospital and – what else have I done there? (33:00)
DS: Well, that’s all very convenient. Just a couple of blocks away.
JB: Oh, yes, absolutely. It’s great having it. The only thing we need around here is an undertaker. We used to have one. We did have one.
DS: I know.
[End of interview]
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