Jean Pomeroy

In 1960, Jean Pomeroy and her husband Dan bought 318 S. American Street. Dan’s barber, Fred Ottaviano, had encouraged him to consider buying in Society Hill. Much of what Jean describes is characteristic of the experiences of other redevelopers who were interviewed for this project, although details differ.

The Pomeroys bought the house from the owner, an immigrant woman who had lived there for 37 years and spoke little English. She was very distraught at having to leave the house. The Pomeroys paid $10,000 for the house, putting down $3,400. They had a great deal of difficulty getting a mortgage for the balance, as 1960 was early days in redevelopment, and most banks would not lend money for houses in Society Hill.

They chose 318 S. American in part because it was in livable condition. It was one of ten identical houses that had been built at the same time, ca. 1846. They moved into it a few months after buying it and began renovations two years later. She details a number of the issues they encountered during the renovation process. The work on the exterior had to comply with the Redevelopment Authority’s specifications, including replicating the original front door, windows, and shutters, which could be very expensive to do. Early on, however, Dan found the house’s original shutters in the attic. When word got around about this discovery, Penny Batcheler measured the shutters, and owners of the nine other identical houses were able to copy them.

Jean says that their neighbors on American Street, lifelong residents and redevelopers like themselves, “became a neighborhood.” They compiled a list of everyone’s telephone numbers so they could get in touch if they needed help or saw a problem on the street. They had a block party in the street on July 4th and a pre-Christmas party in someone’s house. They watched the Davies boys grow up.


DS:      This is an interview with Jean Pomeroy. The date is January 15, 2010. The address is 302 James Buchanan Drive, Elizabethtown PA 17022-3167. The location that we’re going to be talking about is 318 South American Street in Philadelphia, PA. The interviewer is Dorothy Stevens.

               So, Jean, tell me, when did you and your husband go to Society Hill?

JP:        We bought the house in November of 1960. We were married in 1956. We had rented an apartment in Germantown, and we decided we wanted a house. Dan [her husband] had formerly worked at General Accident Insurance Company at Fourth and Walnut Streets, and he still went to a barber in the neighborhood, Freddy Ottaviano. Freddy said to Dan, “This area is going to be redeveloped. You ought to take a look down here.”

               Dan and I started looking. We looked at several houses and they were either not livable – we didn’t have a lot of money at that time – we needed a house that we could move into and live in while we saved up money to do something to it. We looked and we looked and we looked. We didn’t find anything, and we got kind of discouraged. Finally, our realtor, I believe, was Thomas Graham, and he took us into a house that was across the street from the house [we ultimately purchased] … on South American Street, which was a little old Belgian-block street that ran half a block from Delancey Street to Spruce Street. There were ten houses on that street, five on each side, which were built by Francis and William Carpenter, brothers, I believe.

               Thomas Graham took us into a house … [that] had no furnace, so it was not livable. When I came out, I looked across the street [to another] house. I can still remember it. I said to Dan, “Those are scrubbed marble steps, Dan. This house must be livable. Somebody’s living in there.” It was not handled by our realtor, but at that point things were not moving in Society Hill. It was just starting, so our realtor said he would cooperate with that. I think the other realtor was Don and Dodd, but I’m not sure. He said, “Well, we can arrange that you can go in and see the house.”

               About a week later, we went in and saw the house, and it was owned by – I don’t remember their name, but they were an elderly couple. Society Hill, as you probably know, had several waves of immigrants. There was an Irish wave. There was an eastern European wave. The people who owned the house were part of the Eastern European wave, and the only reason they were moving was because the mother had had a stroke. One of the sons was going to build an addition onto his house, and she was going to move there. She had lived there [on American Street] some thirty-some years, thirty-seven years I think it was, and she was very distraught at leaving. We felt so badly; she was crying. She could hardly speak English.

               We stayed in the house about ten minutes, and I can remember we really liked it. We came out, and the two realtors were talking to one another, and they hadn’t said anything to us, and we hadn’t said anything to them. Dan turned to me and he said, “What do you think, Jean?” I said, “I think we ought to take it.” So, we did. [Laughs]

DS:      As quick as that?

JP:        As quick as that. Yes. Afterwards people said to us, “Did you check for termites? Do you know this? Do you know that?” We hadn’t done any of that. We were strictly babes in the woods. We just fell in love with the house; it was just what we wanted. We didn’t have any idea at that time, of course, as to what we’d be getting into as far as fixing it up. We just saw the house and liked it, so that was it.

DS:      Clearly it was livable?

JP:        It was livable. It had a coal furnace, but Dan had never run a coal furnace before. He swore we had bad coal for the first couple of winters, because he’d go to work in the morning, and he thought he had banked it back, but it would be out completely [when he came home]. We’d go upstate to take care of our parents, and it would be freezing cold when we came [back]. We had to be very careful, because the bathroom was on the half base of the stairway; it was about twelve steps up, and then there was a landing and a bathroom. It was a tar-paper shed. It was freezing cold. There was no heat in it. It did have electricity. That was it. Then you’d walk up about seven steps to the second floor. [Laughs] It was a little bit primitive in that regard, but we loved it. We were young; a lot younger. It made a difference.

DS:      Can you tell me what you paid for the house?

JP:        We paid $10,000, which to us was a huge sum of money. We had to get a mortgage. We had never owed anybody anything before, and that was very scary, of course. We got a mortgage. We put $3,400 down. That’s what we had, and we got a mortgage for $6,600.

DS:      Did you have any trouble getting one?

JP:        Did we ever. This was not the heyday of Society Hill. This was the beginning. No banks would touch it at all. We went to almost every bank in the neighborhood. We finally got a mortgage through Bell Savings & Loan. They were the only people who would touch it.

DS:      Interesting. You didn’t have to interact with the Redevelopment Authority at all?

JP:        Yes, we did. We did, because the whole area had been designated as a – I know who we dealt with. HUD. Housing and Urban Development. We had to submit forms to them. I can remember one of them was an 18-page financial form we had to submit to them, before they would let us do anything. For $10,000.

DS:      Wow, 18 pages. Now what is the history on restoring the house?

JP:        We started restoring it in 1963. We made settlement on November 13, 1960. It was a Friday the thirteenth. We actually moved into the house January 25, 1961, in a blizzard. We were snowed in. The first thing we did – we had to have a new front door. This was not a “name” house. Nobody famous had lived in it at all. The outside had to be done according to the specs for the neighborhood. The inside you could do anything you wanted to. We had to have a new door made, and we were trying to copy – make it as authentic as possible on the outside. We got a door made, and they made it wrong. We had to have a second door made. They had gotten the widths of the paneling [wrong]; it had recessed paneling.

               [Then] Dan found [something] up in the attic, and said, “Hey, there’s some old board or something up here.” They were the original shutters for the house. Nobody else had old, original shutters. I remember, Penny Hartshorne Batcheler was so excited. She said, “Oh, you’ve got original shutters! Can I measure them?” You know how she was. She measured them, and everybody else copied our shutters, because we had the originals. They were still on the house when we left in 1993. We had to have little copper strips put on the top, because the wood was kind of rotted there. When it was painted nobody knew.

DS:      Penny and her husband owned one of these six –

JP:        Ten.

DS:      – ten houses that were built –

JP:        Not at that point. They weren’t married yet. She was living on Delancey Street. You know, where the Robertses’ house is?

DS:      Drinker’s Court.

JP:        Yes, she was still there. When she and George married, they bought a house on American Street, but on the other side from us. They were at 315 [South American Street]. When Penny’s mother moved down, they fixed up a house, 314 [South American Street].

DS:      When her mother died, they moved into that house?

JP:        They moved into that house.

DS:      Continue with the restoration.

JP:        In the beginning, we had to have a new door made. We had to have the windows done.

DS:      What do you mean done?

JP:        We had to have completely new windows, and we put up the shutters. We found out later – the area was just beginning to be redeveloped – we found out we shouldn’t have put up the shutters. The story was that if you put your shutters up, then your taxes increased. A lot of people fixed up their houses, but they didn’t put up the shutters until the last minute.

DS:      Was that true?

JP:        I don’t know whether it was or not, but it makes a good story. [Laughs] So anyway, we fixed up the front of the house. We hired an architect; this was interesting. We hired Adolph deRoy Mark for an architect. He had a house over on Philip Street. It was very interesting, because he was kind of a prima donna. People said to us, “Oh, you’ve got deRoy Mark.” He didn’t go by Adolph. He went by deRoy. “You’ve got deRoy Mark. You have to watch him. He’s very – he’s off the wall. You won’t have storage space. You won’t have this. You won’t have that.”

               I had worked for a builder for a few years, and I could read blueprints. I made him [deRoy] give me all the blueprints, and I looked at them. What I could figure out, they looked [all right]. I made him give me the blueprints specifically for the kitchen, and I designed the kitchen cabinets, so that I would have storage space, you know. We hired deRoy, and we felt at the time, I guess, this was the biggest investment of our lives. This was our kids, so we spent a great deal of time planning. We didn’t do anything to the house for, I guess, at least a year, might have been a year and a half. We had meetings with deRoy. We discussed this, we discussed that, we discussed the next thing. Finally, we decided we were ready to go.

DS:      You’re talking about the interior?

JP:        Yes. Then, we had to find a builder. [Laughs] We found a builder. Carl Peterson did the main work in the house. As I said, deRoy was a kind of a prima donna and Carl Peterson was a very good builder, but he couldn’t stand architects. At one point, Carl walked off the job for six weeks, because he was so disgusted. Finally, diplomat Dan got him back on the job. The thing of it was, Carl was very practical, and he said, “You couldn’t do this. You couldn’t do that.” We had wanted to restore – I know, I’m jumping around a little bit as I think of things – we had wanted to restore a fireplace in the living room. It turned out there was a beam there that couldn’t be moved. We had to work around that. Various and sundry things like that. Somehow or other, we got everything worked out, but Carl got disgusted, and he would go off the job. [Laughs]

               Carl had a wonderful supervisor from Cornwall, England, and he loved wood, and I loved [it], and we would rhapsodize as we’d be planning these things. We wanted cherry for the kitchen – I remember we wanted cherry, so we had solid cherry cabinets. We had a solid cherry back door. DeRoy was, as I say, very inventive. He said, “Oh, there’s a place over in Sicily that makes these wonderful doors. [Laughs] So our back doors came from Sicily. We copied the shutters with the recessed paneling. We copied that for any cabinets that we built in the house, and also on all of the doors. We had these wonderful doors. The windows were maybe about three feet high and two feet wide or something like that, and we had also cherry blinds that were built in. I think that year I took almost every Friday off. I had trouble getting off; I worked for a small firm. Dan worked for the government; he had plenty of time off. On Fridays, we would start searching for things. We found somebody who would do these things gradually, one by one by one, but we spent a great deal of time.

               Oh, I should backtrack a little. The house was one of ten which were built by Frances and William Carpenter. It was originally three stories high and two rooms deep. The Redevelopment Authority had gotten involved, at that point, in the area and they had said that we could arrange to purchase eighteen feet of additional land in the back of the property. There was a large, vacant lot in back of us. It was used as a parking lot for employees of Metropolitan Hospital, which was [then] located in an old cigar factory at Third and Spruce Streets. We made arrangements to purchase it because we wanted to build an addition.

               The addition that we built on was – it went off the dining room, which was the rear room of the house. The first floor consisted of a vestibule and the hall and then the stairs going upstairs. Then, over to the right was a living room and a dining room. We built a kitchen and a breakfast nook, which was kind of L-shaped, so we had a small inner space which we referred to as the atrium. We had a small back yard and in back of that was [a] large lot which was used as employee parking for Metropolitan Hospital employees.

               When we sold the house, [the parking space] was a valuable asset. As many of those old sections of Philadelphia are, there was no parking on the street; our street was one car-lane wide, for instance. The [buyer’s] wife said, “Oh, I can park right in back of the house.” … [The buyer] was Judge [Harvey] Bartle, who is a federal judge, and he said, “It’s 12 ½ minutes for me to walk to work, to the courthouse.” Those two things sold the house.

               To get back to the restoration, we restored the outside, and it looked fine. Then we started work on the inside. We had to have all new electricity. We had to have complete heating and air conditioning. They had to put ducts in various places which, of course, loused up the moldings … We had to have moldings made. We had to have a special plaster, this and that and the other thing.

               We decided early on [that] this was a small house, and we and the contractor could not co-exist in [it]. They said, “If you want to move out, maybe it will only be a few months.” It turned out to be eighteen months, of course, but we found a place around the corner [and we moved out].

               [Stopping by after work] I came in one night and found there were some work lights that had been left on, so I could see what I was doing, a little bit. I stepped into what had been the kitchen, and I’ll never forget that feeling. It was like I was walking on some sort of – I couldn’t figure out what it was. Originally the kitchen was a cooking kitchen in the basement, but [it was later moved to] the first floor. Masonite [had been put down] before they put down the linoleum, [with] nails every two or three inches, and I was stepping on the nails. [That] meant [the nails] were going into the lovely pine floors that we had wanted to use. That was a little disconcerting. We talked to the architect and said, “The floors are ruined. We can’t really use them. What will we do?” He found some houses north of us [that were] being torn down for the construction of the Delaware Expressway [I-95]. He said, “I can go into those houses and get some of those boards.” He did and we ended up having lovely wood floors.

               Those houses were older than our house and the boards were not trimmed so that they were uniformly eight inches on each side. They were wider here and narrower there, so they laid them alternately and it worked out all right. We had to put down a new floor in the hall, the living room, and the dining room. When we took the rubber treads off the stairway going all the way up, [we found] that all of the [noses of the treads had] worn all the way back to the riser, so we had to have new pieces made for all of the risers, too. We had enough wood [to do] that, and the floors turned out very well, but it was kind of a struggle in the beginning.

DS:      Who was it who went and got the boards? Was that deRoy or was it –

JP:        It was deRoy. Yes, yes. We decided we wanted to fix up the living room and have a fireplace there, so we went out looking and we found a place out in the country – I don’t remember where it was. This guy had collected old mantles for years and we found a mantle that we loved. We brought it back, and that turned out to be a story too. We bought it, and Carl, the builder, said, “Did you measure it?” I said, “No, but I think it will fit.” Of course, it didn’t. We had to have it sawed down on the bottom a little bit. It was fluted on the sides, and it had medallions which were empty, which we eventually filled in, one in the center and then two on the sides. We finally got it so that it fit, but we had to fur out the sides of the fireplace. We had to put some lath there and fill it out, and that didn’t make Carl very happy either. There was a flue going up the chimney in the middle of this thing, so we went to all that work and expense to have a non-working fireplace in the living room. It looked lovely, and we bought some lovely birch logs and just left them there. They never burned in all the years we lived there, but they looked nice.

               When we started working in the dining room, there were what I would call niches in the living room and the dining room. They were probably about, maybe eighteen inches to two feet wide, and they were like a recess, maybe about three feet high. They originally had a nice piece of marble on the bottom. Well, when [the previous owners] modernized the house, they had cut this marble off, so it no longer projected. This was when we started scavenging. In the beginning, scavenging was a very popular thing to do in Society Hill. We actually found a piece of marble that fit in the niches.

DS:      Explain scavenging.

JP:        You go out on trash day and see what people were throwing out.

DS:      You weren’t going into abandoned houses?

JP:        No, no. We thought about that, but we didn’t. On trash day, you’d hurry home from work to see if you could find anything. We needed seven spindles for our staircase, which went from the first floor to the third floor. We found them gradually.

               The best story of all was we needed four doors, interior doors, that would have the same recessed paneling that we were copying all over the place. We only had three. Dan said, “Well, I guess we’ll have to have one made.” Dan was parking one day, and there was a guy who was gathering trash, whatever he could find. He had an old truck, and he was using doors for the side [of the truck] so he could pile stuff in. Dan looked and said, “Hey, that’s the paneling of my door. Can I have that?” The guy says, “Oh, no, I’ve got to have that for my truck.” Dan says, “I’ll give you $5.” The guy said, “Where do you want it?” That’s how we got our door.

               We had to re-plaster the whole [house]. We used Williamsburg colors [for the paint].

DS:      Did you find the marble for–

JP:        Yes, we found that over on Delancey Street. We toted that home. The funny thing was, we were dealing with two prima donnas, the architect and the builder, and if it hadn’t been for diplomatic Dan, I’m not sure the house would ever have been finished.

DS:      Was the contractor a good contractor? Did he know what he was doing?

JP:        Yes, he did know what he was doing, particularly Jack, the supervisor; he was from Cornwall [England]. We finally decided we would fix up the basement. We actually ended up pretty much living in the basement. It was … a family room down there. Jack said, “Well, we could do this and we could do that.” We used ash wood for the basement, because it was light, and we had to re-do the stairs down to the basement, because they were pretty well shot. We finally moved back in when the house was not yet completed. As I said to Dan, “They’re never going to finish if we don’t move back in.” At that point my sink had not come, so we washed dishes in the basement. The sink was special-ordered because I wanted a single sink and a drain board that would go over where the dishwasher was; it was to be yellow, because I had all yellow appliances. That was hard to come by.

               We hunted for things. We decided we wanted tile in the breakfast nook and the kitchen. We finally found a place over in Cherry Hill that specialized in hand-made Mexican tile. We had hexagonal floor tiles. They looked like terra cotta. They were terra cotta colored. We had them in the breakfast nook and in the kitchen. We had small – I think they were about four by four – hand-made Mexican tiles for the counters in the kitchen, except on one side we had all Formica, because that would be where I would be doing my work. You couldn’t work on the tiles. They were too fragile.

DS:      What [do] you think you paid approximately for all this restoration?

JG:      I had not added it up until we left the house. As I say, we moved in in 1961 and we left in 1993. That year, when it came time to do the income tax, I had always done it, but I said to Dan, “I’m not sure what I can claim as to what we did for the house.” Some things we had to do twice. Some things we had done only once. When we added everything up, we’d spent about $208,000 on the house. We bought it for $10,000 and sold it for $300,000 and lived in it for thirty-some years. When you look at it that way, it was cheap housing.

DS:      Do you remember your real estate taxes, way back?

JP:        Oh, gosh, no, I don’t. I may have some papers, Dorothy. I thought about it, but I wasn’t feeling that well. If I can find some I can let you know, if I have anything interesting.

DS:      Wonderful. Tell me about your street and your neighbors.

JP:        Our street was lovely. We fell in love with the street, actually. I said to Dan, “I’d love to have a house on this street.” American Street ran for only half a block. It was a street that ran pretty much [across] Philadelphia, but [in our area] it was only half a block long and one car-lane wide. When we first moved [there], it was macadam, but as Society Hill began to develop, they dug all the tar and macadam out, and it turned out to be a lovely old Belgian block street. The street – I don’t know, it was like a little neighborhood.

DS:      Did it go from Delancey to Spruce?

JP:        Yes, it did. We were near the Delancey Street end; we were the second house. The houses at the end of the street fronted on Delancey Street and sided on South American Street. I really got very interested in the neighbors and the neighborhood, and I guess it was probably back in the late ‘60s or early ‘70s that I said, “We ought to have a street list.” Society Hill had started to develop, and it had gotten a name for itself. Unfortunately, as soon as [it] got into the papers and there was supposedly money, although some of us were still poor, that’s when the robberies started. I said to Dan, “We ought to have some sort of a listing.” June McCloskey was always around, and there were one or two other people.

               When we bought, there were not many houses fixed up on the street. The house next to us, which would be 320 S. American, had been renovated by Dick Jacobs. The house right across the street from us was being renovated. It was owned by Alice Rhoad, who was head of housekeeping at the Union League, co-owned by her nephew, Bill Murtagh, who was very active in the [National Trust for Historic Preservation]. Right next to us, at 316 [S. American] there was a son and a mother who lived there. The mother was old European; she could barely speak English, but I’d see her in the morning, and she‘d say, “Hello, missus.” That was it, just “Hello, missus.” John, one of her sons, lived there. The other son lived over in Jersey, although he was our Committeeman [City political party committee]. Philadelphia was like that. John was an alcoholic, and it was a little difficult at times, because he set the house on fire a couple of times. Fortunately, it didn’t do us any damage other than a little smoke. I can still remember John. Other people said, “He was this. He was that.” If you treated him decently…. I remember one time, [coming home from] the butcher shop at Second and South, John was staggering along, trying to get back home. He saw me coming, and I never forgot this, and he backed up against the wall of what was Hersh and Helaine Blum’s house so he could stand straight [and] could look decent when I went by. I never forgot that. It was really something.

               As I say, we became a neighborhood, and I went to everybody and said, “How about we have a phone list so that if somebody sees something that they think is not right, they can call.” Everybody thought that was a good idea, so we did that. Back in the early ‘70s, I said, “Let’s have a block party,” so we had a block party for the Fourth of July. We had so much fun that we had pre-Christmas parties; they were usually in our house, because our house had expanded and there was room for entertaining people. It was a very pleasant place to live.

               Dan worked in South Philadelphia and drove to work. I worked at Seventeenth and Spring Garden Streets for a builder, so I would take the subway and the bus to work. Again, it was nice to come back to this nice little street.

               I remember Dick Jacobs had planted a gingko tree. We had brick sidewalks, but the marble steps jutted out into the sidewalk. To plant a tree, you’d make a box maybe about two feet square or something like that. When Dick Jacobs planted this gingko tree, it went almost to the top of the shutters on the first floor, and the trunk was maybe about five or six inches across. When we left, they could no longer have the box anymore because the tree trunk filled up the box, and when you stood on Third Street and looked back at the back of our houses, you could see the top of the gingko tree above the house. Gingko trees, their leaves are lovely, they’re sort of leathery. One Fall I came home, and we had had a wind and rain storm that day, and I’d gotten off the bus at Third and Spruce; I turned into American Street, and I kind of just stopped, because almost all the leaves had come down and the sidewalk and the street at the end of the block was all gold from the leaves. I never forgot that.

DS:      When the older residents who were not restoring their houses, but living there, were they also amenable to giving you their – I mean, they welcomed a community kind of sharing phone numbers and going to parties?

JP:        As far as our street was, yes, everybody came. We had wonderful times.

DS:      Tell me about the Davieses, when Rody and Peggy Davies were restoring their house.

JP:        I still, to the day we left, refer to them as “that young couple down the street.” That was my name for them. I said, “Peggy, I’m sorry. You’re never going to grow up, because you’re still the young couple down the street.” That was lovely, because we had the boys there and the first cat that we had on American Street. Kert, their oldest son, had found [it] in the parking lot out back. I can remember, it was a Friday. Peggy and Rody were going down, I think, to Rody’s place, outside of Annapolis, for the weekend. Peggy said to me, “Jean, there’s this kitten here, and I’ve been feeding it. Could you feed it for the weekend?” It was going to rain, so I took the cat in. Of course, that was the end of that.

DS:      What do you mean?

JP:        Well, we had a cat.

DS:      You adopted the cat?

JP:        Or the cat adopted us. The cat was about six months old. The cat moved out here with us. The cat lived to be almost 21 years old.

DS:      You took good care of it.

JP:        Well, it loved us, and I loved it. I can remember the Davieses, because it was fun watching the boys grow up. Peggy and Rody did a wonderful job with their house. It was not to my taste, but it was a wonderful job that they did. I remember them, and I remember June McCloskey and her girls.

DS:      Tell me about June.

JP:        June used to work at Abbotts. When Abbotts became townhouses, I guess that’s when she retired. I can remember when Sue got married – she married Tom McFeeley, I think his name was. Some of the names have escaped me over the years I have been up here, but I still remember some of them. I always liked June and Sue. I don’t remember too much more than that. Just being aware that they were good people. As I say, for the block parties, everybody came. At one point in the early ‘80s, I decided to go back to school. I had dropped out of college in the middle of my junior year. I was going to school in Massachusetts, and my father became ill and I decided I didn’t want to spend any more money, so I dropped out. I’d been out of school for twenty-eight years, and Dan decided it would be nice if I went back and finished my degree, so I did. We had a graduation party in this small house. We had ninety people. Unfortunately—

DS:      Ninety?

JP:        Ninety. [Laughs] It was not supposed to rain that night, but it did. Everything was inside except the keg of beer. We had that out in the little atrium. We had people sitting on the fireplace, on the stairs, everything. I invited everyone on the street, all the neighbors that I knew, and Dan invited people from work, and I invited people from work, and I invited people from school, three of my professors came. We had a ball, but it was just a tad crowded.

DS:      Now in the middle of all this, you had a daughter.

JP:        Well, no, not really. She is a – how shall I say – semi-adopted daughter. She has a mother, and she had a father until he died a few years ago. This came about because we were always taking in strays, Dorothy. First, we took in cats; then it turned out to be people. One of Dan’s cousins [Jenny] was having trouble. She’d gotten herself on drugs, and her parents were not treating it right. ... We took her in, and she lived with us, I guess, for almost two years. During the course of that we got her in therapy; she was on cocaine. We got her straightened out. In the process, in group therapy in the suburbs with a psychologist, she met a young woman who came to visit frequently. Finally, this young woman said, “I’d like to be part of your family. Can I be a daughter?” We said, “Yes, that will work.” … Sandy’s closest to us of anybody, I would say, and we do look upon her as a daughter. She has a mother, and even her mother says, “Well, Jean and Dan were her real parents.” That’s the way it was. We never had any biological kids of our own; we were just winging it, taking in strays. Something worked, anyway.

DS:      Nice story.

JP:        Yes. She comes out about once a month to visit us and do things for me. Like a daughter. It was a little late, but we finally did it. We adopted her when she was about thirty-five.

DS:      Officially.

JP:        No, not officially. She was never officially adopted, because she has a parent. We couldn’t do that.

DS:      Tell me about the parking lot. What was the history there?

JP:        I mentioned, Metropolitan Hospital was in an old cigar factory at Third and Spruce. There was a large lot in back of us [that] was used as an employee parking lot for Metropolitan Hospital. When the neighborhood started to get developed, Bill Eiman, Bill Glockner, Rody Davies, and I can’t remember who else –

DS:      Phil Price?

JP:        I’m not sure whether he was involved or not. Stanhope Browne was involved. They started to get together, and they said, “You know, if a high-rise … [is built here], it’s not going to look decent at all.” We were really upset about that. Dan and these other guys canvassed the neighborhood and asked, “Would you like a parking spot?” Parking was tight down there, as you know, because of all the small streets. We finally formed a parking lot association. It was Third Street Parking Lot Association, or something like that. Rody designed it so that there would be, I think, thirty spaces. You could buy a share which entitled you to one parking space. It was a Godsend, because you [had a] place to park when you came home.

               [Before we had the lot,] one Saturday night Dan said, “You know, we ought to go down to South Philly and get some water ice.” I said, “You know, we’ll have to find another parking place [when we come back].” It was a problem. We’d had the car stolen twice; we got it back all right, but it had been stolen twice. One night we went where the car was [parked], and the car wasn’t there. We were walking back to the house thinking, “Oh, God, now I’ve got to call the police again,” when Dan said, “Wait a minute. Maybe that’s not where I parked Friday night.” He figured out then where he’d parked, and the car was there and [everything] was all right. That’s the sort of thing we went through, which was a little disconcerting. The parking lot became very popular.

DS:      Who did you buy it from?

JP:        The Redevelopment Authority.

DS:      They allowed it, clearly.

JP:        Eventually, yes. We had some hassles with it. It was good, because our house backed up on it. I remember one night I got up to go to the bathroom, about 2 o’clock in the morning, and –

[End of side one of the tape, beginning of side two]

JP:        I looked out, and there was something going on in the parking lot. I realized it was Carter and Jo Ann Buller’s car. I called them right away and I said, “There’s something going on by your car. There are a couple of guys out there.” They called the police right away and the police came and they caught the guys, so that was valuable.

DS:      Wow. Right. Many houses looked onto that parking lot?

JP:        As I say, four houses: the back of our house and the three next to it, and the houses on Delancey Street backed up to [it, I think]. I’m not sure if Carter and Jo Ann’s did. Eimans backed up onto it. There was a house Jim Kise had built that, when we moved there, was the [American] Legion hall. That was another story. We never had any trouble; we never minded them being there. They used the large back yard for parties and things. There was a fellow who lived over on Delancey Street, in one of the Drinker’s Court houses, I think it was. It was a small house. His name was Benny Heskowitz and [he] would sit out there and play the banjo. We’d always open up the windows in the rear of our house, because we enjoyed hearing [him] play the banjo.

DS:      Did you get involved in the Civic Association in any way?

JP:        Not too much. I was working at the time.

DS:      Any religious affiliation?

JP:        No.

DS:      Any other groups that you joined in the neighborhood?

JP:        No, just the Society Hill Civic Association.

DS:      You would go to the meetings?

JP:        Yes.

DS:      [Did you] get involved in the issues?

JP:        Some, not a lot. I was busy at that point. My parents – well my father had died and my mother was 250 miles away, and she was not well. Between working and going away every weekend to take care of her, I did not have a lot of time. Dan’s mother died also in the early ‘60s, so we were not there a lot on weekends.

[Tape is turned off, then on again.]

DS:      What was the reaction of your parents and Dan’s parents when you bought the house in Society Hill?

JP:        Well, there was not much reaction from my parents, because they were not familiar with the Philadelphia area. However, Dan’s mother was a Philadelphian, and his father had worked for Atlantic Refining for some time. They had lived in Philadelphia for a while, and then they moved out to Jenkintown. I think Dan was born in Abington Hospital. We still went upstate [since] Dan and I were both from the small town of Troy, Pennsylvania. We went home for holidays and we alternated: one time we’d stay with my parents; the next time we’d stay with his. Next door to Mom and Dad there was a big old stone mansion that was owned by a couple. He had been a banker in Philadelphia. He came over as soon as he found out that we were there [the Thanksgiving after we had bought the house], and he took Dan aside, and he said, “Dan, I hate to tell you this, but I think you’ve made a terrible mistake, and no matter what it costs you, I think you should cut and run.” We listened to him very politely, and that was that.

               The trouble was, the area was not developed yet. It was referred to by various names as The Bloody Fifth, you know, because it was the Fifth Ward, and things like that, which didn’t make for much good feelings with parents. His side of the family was not happy with it. My side was, well, we don’t know. That was pretty much it. Our friends thought we were absolutely insane. It was crazy, absolutely crazy. “We can’t imagine what you want to do down there. It must be terrible. It must be this. It must be that.” We never had any trouble. I say that blithely. However, when Society Hill started to develop, that’s when things started to happen. We had cars stolen three different times, and got them back. The house was broken into twice. I was mugged once. We did kind of pay our dues

               The first time we were robbed, I came home from work and found the back door hanging open. The back door was the old original [wooden] door with a window in it, and it had side lights. We had been concerned and we put a nice lock on the door. The lock held but the door didn’t.

               The second time we were robbed, I was really annoyed. Mad, actually. Furious. I couldn’t imagine what was happening. Dan’s cousin was living with us, the one I mentioned who had been on drugs. I came home and there was stuff piled on the breakfast nook table. You could see it at the end of the hall. I thought, “What’s all this stuff piled on the table?” Then I found out there was – we had had a small bay window put in in the breakfast nook area – a pane of that window broken out. We had put Plexiglas storm windows on, but we didn’t put them on inside. We put them on the outside, and they just unscrewed one. They were using kids at that point to break into places.

DS:      Because they were smaller?

JP:        They could get through a window pane, for instance. They had taken some stuff, [piled it on the table,] and they were coming back for more.

DS:      What kind of things were taken?

JP:        We had some nice china; they didn’t touch that. Silver. Jewelry. Stuff like that. The first time [I was robbed] I felt violated. [When I went upstairs to the] second-floor bedroom, every drawer had been emptied out. There was stuff all over the place. It took me a long time to get over the feeling; the only way I could describe it [was that] I had been violated. I was not terribly streetwise or city tough when I moved to Philadelphia. I had lived in a small town. I had been a very sickly child. I was not out very much. This was just something I could not comprehend or accept. When it happened the second time, I came home from working at the polls, and I thought, “Damn, here I am doing my civic duty, and some idiot is over here robbing us.” I was mad. I’d gotten a tougher shell, so to speak.

DS:      The third time?

JP:        We were only robbed twice.

DS:      The time you were mugged?

JP:        That happened half a block from the house. I was working for – what was it called, they ran the Powel House.

DS:      The Landmark Society. [The Philadelphia Society for the Preservation of Landmarks.]

JP:        Right. I was working for them at the Hill Physick Keith House. I used to cut through the little alleyway where the little park was, Three Bears Park. It was a January morning, and I was hustling along. Somebody said, “I don’t understand it. Did they get your purse?” I said, “Well, no. I had my purse here, and I had my bag here with my thermos and my shoes here.” That’s when people said, “You’re a Virgo [analytic, kind, hardworking, and practical]?” This very nice looking, very nicely dressed young Negro fellow came along and asked me if I had change for the bus, and I being very naïve or not thinking said, “Just a minute.” I got my change out, and he knocked me to the ground. I still have one little scar here, but that’s it. That was at nine o’clock in the morning. I never went that way again. Scared the daylights out of me, I’ll tell you.

DS:      This would have been early on?

JP:        No, probably not, because I was working with the Landmarks Society, so this would have been in the ‘70s.

DS:      Tell me about the election polls.

JP:        I loved it in the beginning; in the beginning, we voted in a house. It was a candy store. It was over on the Spruce Street end of American Street. Henry and Anna Watts’s house was here, and there was another house, and then there was a house which had not been fixed up yet; [the owner’s] name was Jack [and] he ran a candy store there. A couple of voting machines [were moved] into the candy store. It was kind of fun, because there were winos and various and sundry assorted people hanging around. The winos would say [slurring], “How do you want me to vote?” They’d give him 50 cents to go in and vote with him. It was all cut and dried. Peggy [Davies] and I used to tease about this, because I said, “Peggy, it’s so genteel now.” Peggy ran a tight ship when she was judge of elections. I said, “It’s kind of boring now. It was more interesting in the beginning.”

DS:      How did you get asked to be one of the election officials?

JP:        I think Peggy [Davies] spoke to me. I’m not sure.

DS:      She worked there too before she became judge?

JP:        I’m not sure. I remember that I worked in later years, because I was kind of in between jobs. I had one job that lasted fifteen years, that was at McShane’s, and then I worked at the Landmark Society. The last few years I didn’t work because I was so busy running upstate taking care of parents.

DS:      Why did you leave the neighborhood?

JP:        We left the neighborhood, because we felt that [with my being sixty-four and Dan, sixty-seven], we had better look at a retirement community. People told us that any that were decent had five- to ten-year waiting lists. Dan said, “Well you know I want to work until I’m 70, but we’d better start looking.” Dan’s father was a Mason, and he was very active in the Masons. When he [Dan] came out of the service in 1946 or ’48, [his father got him into the Masons] but Dan wasn’t active at all. I used to natter at him. “Dan, I’m paying your dues and you’re not going to Lodge. Why am I doing this?” When we moved out here [to Elizabethtown], Dan said, “This is why I’m doing this.”

               Anyway, we started looking at places around the Philadelphia area. There were some very nice places, but anything we looked at was half again as expensive as out here. Dan said, “You know, I’ve always had in the back of my mind that if something happened and I had to go someplace, I would go to the Masonic Hall.” That’s what it was called at that point. Now it’s called [Masonic] Village. He said, “That was always in the back of my mind.” So, we came out here. They have a day in autumn that’s called Autumn Day, and they have tours of the grounds. They have their famous Masonic Hall bean soup, and Masons from all around the state, and other people come too. We came out [to look around] on Autumn Day. The Village was established in 1910, with all those beautiful old brick buildings on the first part of the campus as you come in. They are mostly rooms, and people get three meals a day. [They told us] they were thinking about doing something for independent retirement living, like we are.

[Tape is turned off, then on again]

JP:        We came out here, here being the Masonic Village where we live now, and we fell in love with the place. We put our name on the list, and they said, “It will probably be about three years.” Dan said, “That’s fine. Then I’ll be 70. That will be perfect.” On June 4, 1993, when I got home from work, there was a phone call on my messages from Holly from [Masonic Village] Marketing. She said, “Mr. and Mrs. Pomeroy, we have a two-bedroom terrace apartment available, if you’d like to look at it.” Well, I got all twitchy, and I said to Dan, “Take me out to dinner. I have to think about this.” He took me out to dinner, and I said, “You know, maybe we ought to revise our plans.” Dan said, “Oh, I don’t know.” I stayed up until two in the morning doing a five-year financial projection of what I thought expenses would be and income would be and stuff like that. I made the mistake of waking him up at 2 o’clock in the morning to tell him this. Dan was a sound sleeper. He was not very happy. I said, “Dan, I think we should go.” He said, “Mwf fwmmfw.”

               That Saturday, we discussed it, and Dan said, “Well, maybe you’re right. Maybe we ought to just go now.” We’re so glad that we did because we were both healthier then. We were able to take trips, and we didn’t have to worry about the house. We were concerned about selling the house, because real estate in Society Hill was not moving [then]. When we finally decided to sell the house, I said to the realtor, “Price it just a little bit under what other stuff is selling for, and it sold in eight days.”

DS:      What realtor did you use?

JP:        I’m just trying to think. That I will have to look up.

[Tape is turned off, then on again.]

JP:        Even though I’m out here now, I [still] watch TV on the Fourth of July. I look at where we used to be, because they have the fireworks over the Delaware. I always watch them, and I think, “Oh, this is wonderful,” because we would walk down there. Sometimes we’d carry our chairs; sometimes we’d just walk down. Then we’d hear all these horns, all this crowd of people coming back, but we were home. We loved it. As far as restaurants, there were not a lot in the beginning, because the area was not developed. There was a dry-cleaning store at Fourth and Spruce [next to the Synagogue]. That was developed into a house. At Second and Spruce, I don’t know whether Jon’s is still there or not, Jon’s Café. Second and South, I mean. It had a side yard and it had tables out there. There was a grocery store and a butcher shop. We were introduced to that early on, and it was lovely when you’d go there. We’d go there on Saturday, and it would be crowded. The butcher shop was run solely by women, and the main person was Rose [see Lois Beck]. She was quite cultured. It was fun, because you’d go in there, and they’d be bringing a chicken out, for instance, for someone, and they’d hold it in their hands like, “Isn’t this a beautiful chicken?” like you could fall in love with the thing. They’d be slicing meat for someone, and they’d hand you a couple of slices. I [remember saying] to Dan, “We should bring bread.” We’d go down there and get our supplies for the week. When the Marketplace was developed, I think that was the name of that, you know, the big glass houses down there by the river where all the –

DS:      Headhouse [Newmarket].

JP:        When that developed, we watched that, and then that started to go downhill. There were some nice restaurants there. The Dickens Inn developed. We’d go there for Sunday brunch and sit outside at one of the tables under the umbrellas. As far as other restaurants, there was the Rusty Scupper, and there was Lilly’s.

DS:      Where was Lilly’s?

JP:        Oh, it’s long gone. It was in one of the glass cubicles, part of the Newmarket. We didn’t eat out an awful lot in those days, because we were putting all the money into the house…. We could put it into the house, or eat it.

DS:      Jean, thank you so very much.

JP:        If I think of anything else, I’ll write you a note or whatever.

[End of interview]


©2010 Project Philadelphia 19106™. All rights reserved.

About the Interview

Dorothy Stevens
Cynthia J. Eiseman
Interview Location
302 James Buchanan Drive, Elizabethtown, PA
Interview Date
January 15, 2010
Pomeroy, Jean
Narrator Type
Redeveloper - Restoration
Oral History Sources