Joanne Denworth

Joanne Denworth and her husband Ray bought the derelict house at 310 S. Second Street in 1967, at the urging of their friend Charles (Chuck) Burnette, whom they then hired to be the architect for the rehabilitation of the house. They chose to modernize much of the interior, while restoring the façade in compliance with Redevelopment Authority regulations. That same year, they moved into a two-bedroom apartment in Society Hill Towers, and their twins, Lydia and Michael, were born. The family lived there until 1972, while renovating the house. Their grandiose design ideas turned out to be beyond their budget, but they were gradually able to make the house livable in a style that suited them.

Joanne relished living in the neighborhood, finding it “exciting, … exhilarating.” There was a camaraderie in being “an urban pioneer” with other, like-minded neighbors. She was active in opposing the Crosstown Expressway, in depressing I-95 and other issues. In her law practice, she “did a lot of law that was related to redevelopment issues, housing, environment.” When, in 1972, she became President of the Society Hill Civic Association, she led the organization in one of the most bitter and contentious disputes the neighborhood has ever faced—whether to provide housing for low-income, primarily African-American residents who had lived their entire lives in the neighborhood and were now threatened with eviction from their homes with no plan for where they might live. She notes, “The redevelopment plan [for Society Hill] never had any provision whatsoever for moderate- or low-income housing, despite the fact that there were a lot of such people here as tenants.”

Despite the initial outcome of the low-income housing controversy, Joanne loved living in Society Hill, made many friends, pursued a productive legal career, and even invested in the start-up of a popular Greek restaurant, Konstantino’s.

Keywords: African Americans, architect Charles Burnette, Benezet Court, interiors, low-income housing, Newmarket, renovation, Society Hill Civic Association, Society Hill Towers, urban pioneers.


DS:       This is an interview with Joanne Denworth. The address is 310 S. Second Street. The date is May 23, 2008, and the interviewer is Dorothy Stevens.

JD:       When Ray [Denworth] and I were first married, we moved into a little house on Panama Street, after looking at an apartment and deciding that we didn’t want an apartment. We wanted to start with a house. So we were in that block right around the corner from Frankie’s Bar. You know, it’s a little street – it’s the 1200 block, between Camac and 13th Street. It was a great little house, and across the street a month after we moved in Chuck and Margo Burnette drove up. Chuck is the architect of my house here and also my house in Maryland. They were really quite glamorous. They arrived in the TC MG, and she had this great straw hat on, the top down. “Wow! Look at (1:00) them!” They moved in right across the street from us, in a really skinny little house, right at the corner of Iseminger and Camac. And of course, he was an architect. He’s the one who really got us so interested in Society Hill. They wanted to buy a shell and bought the house they have on Third Street [243 S Third St.]. Way back, I mean early. And he got us interested in the whole neighborhood, and then we met people down here too, a lot of architects. I don’t know. Somehow, I have a talent for making friends with architects.

DS:       Are you talking about the early ‘60s?

JD:       Yes, we moved to Society Hill Towers, the year our twins were born, 1967. Before that, we often came here to visit people. We knew the Robertses, because Lynne had gone to Vassar, as I did, and Jack McAllister, who was an architect with Lou (2:00) Kahn, Duncan and Sally [Buell] I think I met them in early times, too; Marshall and Anne Meyers. These are the architects I can think of. I’m sure there were other people I met before moving down here.

                But anyhow, Ray and I decided finally that it would be a great thing to do. We were looking for a house, [Laughs] thinking to get one sooner than we did. We first wanted a house on Fourth Street, and it turned out we couldn’t get that one. Teddy Newbold was then at OPDC, and he was helping us, and we got this house, which is one of the many houses Ted thought he wanted. We got it, but there was an argument about it because others claimed that they should have it. I forget the whole (3:00) story.

                At any rate, I was very pregnant with twins when we moved into the Towers, and we didn’t know they were twins until about a month after we got there. [Laughs] We had two bedrooms, one teeny little bath, but a beautiful apartment on the 25th floor. It was a great apartment; I still remember that apartment fondly, incredible views, west and south. I’ve never moved from the neighborhood – I’ve always lived within half a block, and never left. But anyhow, we got finally – we finally gave up on the Fourth Street house, and got this house, which was the last house on this street that hadn’t been done. (4:00)

DS:       Both you and Ray were working here in town? That’s why you came here?

JD:       Yes, well, I came to law school here right out of Vassar in 1960. I started at Penn Law in the fall of ’60. He graduated from the law school in ’61 and I in ’63. He was a lawyer at Drinker Biddle & Reath, an associate at that time, back when they paid starting lawyers $6,000 a year; it might have been 7. [Laughs] He was not making much money, and I was making no money. Then, when I graduated, I clerked for Ballard Spahr just to do a preceptorship, which I did for free, because in those days you had to apprentice yourself for six months, and Ray’s father called Fred Ballard and said, “Would you take my daughter-in-law as a preceptee?” And he said he would, in fact, he’d be delighted to do that.

                Anyhow, Ballard liked me a lot; so they hired me. I was working there when the twins were born, and I took time off, starting at about seven months into (5:00) the pregnancy, and went back to working there when they were four months old and stayed until they were 10 months. Then I decided, “No, no. I can’t do this.” I’d saddled myself with a totally crazy schedule. I had these twins. I had to spend from 6 to 10 with them, go to the office from 10 to 3, come home, take care of them at the worst time of the day (Michael was a cryer in the afternoon, a cranky baby). I finally said, “This is really crazy. Just go home. Stay home with your twins.” I did, for three years. They were born in ’67, the end of ’67.

DS:       And you moved in here…?

JD:       In 1972, same year I was President of the Civic Association. A busy year. (6:00) [Laughs]

DS:       So tell me about – you did get the house. Ted Newbold was the one who helped you find a place that you wanted.

JD:       Yes, well, of the houses that were left – because we wanted to do that, to do over a house – Chuck was our architect.

DS:       Do you remember the cost of the property?

JD:       Ten thousand, $10,000.

DS:       And what was the condition?

JD:       Oh, terrible. You signed a Redevelopment agreement to redevelop the house within two years, I think it was. This house, because it was the last one – well, there was another house like this one – like the Brownes’ [Stanhope and Libby, 306 S. Second St.] and 308 (I still think of this as the Kramers’ house), the middle house, and this house – and there was another one that had been taken down, because I guess it was in really bad repair. This house still had some mantles and trim. I’m a little sorry we took them out. But a lot of it was deteriorated, and anyhow we wanted to do a more modern thing. We kept a lot of the old, the fireplaces; there were nine fireplaces; we have six. We took out one stack where the kitchen is and made that huge open space way up to the third (7:00) floor. Our house is very different from how the other two were done. But they’re kind of interesting examples of different treatment of the same house.

DS:       Tell me what the condition of the house was. You said it was terrible.

JD:       Yes, pretty bad, pretty bad.

DS:       Had somebody been living in it?

JD:       It was a poultry store with housing above. It had a storefront, and this was a mud basement where we’re sitting now in the living room. There was a fireplace on the second floor. We decided to come down here for the living room because it’s a great space, partially because of these structural arches, which are so nice, and put a fireplace there. No, it was in bad shape. Everything crumbling. (8:00)

DS:       Nobody living here?

JD:       Nobody was living here. It was vacant for quite a while. So obviously we changed it pretty radically. [Laughs] Look at it.

DS:       So you had Chuck Burnette do the architectural work. And the scope of the construction, did you do it – any of it – yourself, or the restoration – you had it all done?

JD:       We had a contractor. We were struggling to do this, because Ray’s salary was $7,500, and I was finally making some money at Ballard, but it was peanuts. So, I think, I don’t know what we put into it, maybe $150,000. At that time, and then, of course, we had a lot more to do. For instance, our neighbors – there was a very cranky neighbor at the end of those houses backing up on us, that were the first development in Society Hill, the Delancey Street houses, Delancey Mews [NW corner of Second and Delancey]. (9:00) One of the neighbors there was appalled at the condition we left the yard in, because we had no money left to do the yard. It took us about three years to do it, but we did it. Now it’s pretty nice. But it wasn’t finished for a long time.

                Well, I remember, the design saga. Chuck and I had this fanciful idea – thank God we didn’t do it – of putting a three-story glass room in the waist of the house, the little side patio outside that goes all the way back to the back yard, because the wing is narrower than the front of the house. It’s a very narrow house, 17 ft. wide.

DS:       By…?

JD:       By – the lot is 100 ft. deep, and the house I think is 80, 75 or 80, something like that. It’s five stories high, because we used every floor as a room.

DS:       Which was here.

JD:       It was all here, although what’s now our fifth floor was an attic. We put (10:00) the attic space above that and made the attic into a room. But Chuck and I first had the idea that we would have this three-story glass room, like an aviary, a plant room and everything else, right off the kitchen, and the kitchen would be much bigger than it is, which would have been nice, because the kitchen is very small. But that room alone was $20,000 [Laughs]; when the bids came in we said, “Well, you know what? We won’t do that.” [Laughs] That was out of sight. We spent a year revising the plans, not a whole year, going out for bid again. And you know, the bids were really the same a year later or two years later. I thought, “Oh, just start. We’ll get the money somehow.”

DS:       What involvement did you have with Redevelopment Authority as to what you were doing? (11:00)

JD:       Really, none. They were always surprised that we never went for a three percent loan, and I honestly don’t know why we didn’t do that, because you could get that money then. I don’t know. Ray took care of the finances at that time. I paid no attention. But we didn’t do that. We signed the agreement – and did it. For these houses, which are historic and Federal period houses, but unlike the house that Henry Watts lived in, it wasn’t known exactly what they looked like inside. Well, they knew, of course, what they looked like in this century compared with the last century, but didn’t know the historic detail of the houses. They were development houses built by Stephen Girard.

DS:       These houses?

JD:       These houses.

Ds:       How many of them were there in that?

JD:       There were four. And he had built a lot of houses around the neighborhood. I think this block initially was a big mansion. Libby [Browne] knows all this. She’s up (12:00) on the history. I have a picture somewhere. Want to see it?

DS:       OK.

[Tape is turned off, then on again]

JD:       We had to start over, in 1969, I guess, when our kids were one. No, they were born in 1967 so they were going on two. It took us until they were six. We lived in the Towers all that time. It was like living on a boat, but of course we bought a boat before we bought a house. Having no money. [Laughs]

                Ray had his dream. You know, guys have dreams. Women do, too, but they’re not as kind of, “I’m going to pursue my dream regardless of any practicality.” [Laughs] And I said, “If you really want to get (13:00) a sailboat, we’ll get a sailboat.” So we looked at these sailboats. I’d never sailed. I’d done sports, but I didn’t do sailing. I came from western Pennsylvania where there’s not much to sail on. I swam and rode and played tennis and things like that. But I said yes. I’m an adventurer, basically. I like adventure. I’d find out if I liked going sailing.

                We had this house with two babies in the Towers. I used to wash the diapers out over the side of the sailboat. But finally we got title to the house, some time in there, and put it out for bid twice, and the second time we built it. I loved it, really. Still do.

DS:       So did you have any trouble getting a loan? Or you don’t know.

JD:       Ray was at Drinker, and they represented PSFS, and we got our loan through them. I don’t remember. As I say, in those days he did that. Nowadays, I have to pay attention to those things, but didn’t then. (14:00)

DS:       Did – during the construction, were there problems? Stories there that you want to tell us about?

JD:       Well, we had a builder, I can’t remember his name, who was recommended by Paul Shaffer. Do you remember Paul, who died of leukemia, young? He lived in the Pei houses – behind the Towers, I think. I don’t know how, but he recommended this guy so highly, and we interviewed him and in the end settled on him. He was difficult really, when I think about it, because now, of course, I know Chuck so well; I mean, we’re such good friends, and he’s done my other house in Maryland, and did a fabulous job.

                There was a lot of conflict between the builder who thought he knew everything and was always arguing with the architect, telling me that the architect was crazy and the (15:00) usual things. [Laughs] And I – what did I know? I knew nothing about building a house. In fact, I wish I had known more, because I feel that some decisions should have been made that if I’d been on top of knowing – like that alley wall is not insulated and I think, “How in the world did we do that?”

DS:       So there’s a lot of noise that goes back and forth?

JD:       Well, it’s cold! [Laughs] (16:00)

DS:       [Laughs] Very basic.

JD:       Very basic. One thing about this design is the house is a chimney. There is this huge open space and then this huge, three-story well from the kitchen that goes up to the third floor, and it’s beautiful and it connects the house in a way that the other houses, which are done in a more traditional – like the Browne house; it’s wonderful. They did real restoration. Well, not quite. But the great room on the second floor, which is a (17:00) bedroom in our house, the library that they have, which is very nice. But the rooms go back seriatim. And this is a very – I mean, you could be in the kitchen and talk to somebody on the third floor in a regular tone of voice, which is very nice. So it – even though it’s a long, skinny house and very tall, it’s connected. But the rooms in the back are nice, old – we kept the historic character of them mostly, I mean the floors and the fireplaces, although the one on the top is a little more modern, because we took the ceiling out and the storage above it gave it a nice high ceiling. A bedroom – it’s Michael’s room.

DS:       So you combined some of the old –

JD:       Old and new. The front part is pretty much new, but the older part is pretty well kept. And the older staircase. And I think one of the marvelous things about this (18:00) house is the roof deck, which Chuck and I designed. It’s one of the best views in the city, in my humble opinion – it’s not up on the 28th floor, where you have more stunning views. But it’s a great city view, because it looks at St. Peter’s and the neighborhood and the trees. And I actually have a view right through the trees to City Hall, which is rare. But unfortunately, somebody’s tree is now blocking my view [Laughs], and I’d like very much to prune that tree. [inaudible]

DS:       [inaudible] So the Redevelopment Authority didn’t really give you any trouble.

JD:       No, they didn’t give us any trouble at all. We kind of did what the agreement called for. We did do what we were supposed to do. I’m not sure that we completed – no, I’m sure we didn’t complete it at the date, the initial date, but they didn’t really bother us. It was done soon thereafter.

DS:       Neighbors. Did you interact with any of the old, original neighbors, (19:00) or was it pretty much just with your contemporaries who were restoring?

JD:       Oh, the old original neighbors. Well, there weren’t any on this street. I mean, it was more people like you and the Putneys and the Eimans and the Robertses and people who came down here early. They were the people we knew and got to know, people like the Davises and many others.

DS:       Most of the buildings along Second Street in this block were luncheonettes or bars or –

JD:       Yes, or a poultry store, in our case.

DS:       A poultry store. So that’s why people had long gone.

[Tape is turned off, then on again]

DS:       I’m just wondering, Joanne, do you remember what the real estate taxes were early on? Sometimes these figures are really ludicrous.

JD:       Oh, I’m sure that they were. I don’t remember myself because, as I say, Ray paid everything, and I didn’t pay a whole lot of attention to that. But I’ll bet it was $1,000, if that. (20:00)

DS:       If that. Then tell me the reaction of your family to what you were doing.

JD:       [Laughs] Well, my own parents died – my father died right before my twins were born. My mother died when I was 14. But Ray’s parents, who had this beautiful house in Swarthmore which they wanted us to take in the worst way – I mean, it was a gorgeous house, a sort of Tudor style house that they built in the 1930s. It’s still one of the nicest houses in Swarthmore. It was huge. It had, I don’t know, seven bedrooms, a stage downstairs, a beautiful dining room, a three-car garage. And it was on ¾ of an acre. Ray grew up in Swarthmore, loved it, went to Swarthmore High School, but he really wanted a different experience. It was a small town and he liked getting out of it. I was more tempted than he, though I wanted to be an urban pioneer, be in the city, help (21:00) change things, revitalize the city and all that. I was very attracted to Ray’s parents’ house. So I’ll never forget [Laughs] we brought Ray’s father in when we bought this shell. He could not – you could tell – he could not believe it. [Laughs] [inaudible] I mean, he was just shocked. He was very polite. I was amazed that he controlled himself. [Laughs] Basically, he thought we were completely crazy.

DS:       It didn’t stop you.

JD:       No, no, we didn’t use any of their money or anything. We didn’t ask them for money. I mean, [Laughs] – I think he came to see that it was nice. Ray’s mother died when the kids were just one. [inaudible] So I think they were three when he died, (22:00) something like that. He didn’t have a long time for seeing it and being with us in it.

                Ray’s father – Ray’s family was so unusual. His grandfather fought in the Civil War as a 16-year-old in the Battle of Chancellorsville and was elevated to be an officer on the battlefield. He had been a drummer boy who was made an officer because everybody died. Then his father was in World War I, and then Ray enlisted as a pilot right after the Korean War. So there were three generations where most people would have five. So Ray’s parents were much older. Ray, Sr., was 85 when he died, and I think he must have been almost 50 when Ray was born.

DS:       So he did get to see that it was –

JD:       But he did – no, he saw it finished, I think, because we moved in ’72. (23:00)

DS:       So, your friends, your contemporaries, did they –?

JD:       Ray’s friends, his partners – he wasn’t a partner yet, but the lawyers were all living out in the suburbs, of course. They were not urban dwellers. I’m sure a lot of people thought we were nuts. But I think a lot of people saw the potential of this area, and even though they would not have chosen it for themselves, they could appreciate why others might.

                But always the question was, “Where will your children go to school?” And that was a good question, because we ended up sending them to St. Peter’s [School]. Michael did start at McCall’s, for three years, but we moved him to St. Peter’s in 4th grade. He was getting decent grades, As and Bs, but he still didn’t really read. We thought he wasn’t getting enough. We moved him. Both kids went to St. Peter’s through 8th grade. (24:00)

DS:       And that worked out alright?

JD:       It was great. I think they both got a good education. Of course, Michael had a terrible accident, which changed his life, but still, he got a good education, before and after.

DS:       Describe the feeling among the neighbors, all of us, in those early days.

JD:       Well, I found it was very exciting, kind of exhilarating. People enjoyed being urban pioneers. There was a camaraderie about it that was really nice. Also, I got very – I’ve always been a cause-oriented person – so I got involved in the issues of the day – not doing a whole lot but of course supporting sinking and covering I-95. And I (25:00) think the experience of working with other neighborhoods to oppose the Crosstown led to a lot of later work I did. Working with Alice Lipscom and Hawthorne Square as a lawyer and on many other redevelopment projects, I learned about other neighborhoods and then I did a lot of law that was related to redevelopment issues, housing, environment. I have pursued a career in those aspects of the law.

DS:       Interesting. Now, tell me about your years here as Civic Association President. What were the problems that you had to deal with?

JD:       [Laughs] Oh, my. I had a year to remember! I’ll never forget that Peggy Duckett, who was the secretary – Paul Putney suggested her, and you know how energetic and vivacious she is. She became the secretary, as a new resident. I had been the secretary. I’d been on the board three years; and in my last year served as president. (26:00)

DS:       And that was 197—

JD:       1972, the same year we moved into the house. I was very conversant with all the issues that were before the board. But I think I maybe had the most fiery year of anybody who ever was President of the Civic Association. [Laughs] In fact, when Peggy had a party for me, it was a surprise party, after my term was up, and Paul was elected, I came into her house, which was then up here on Second Street [327 S. Second St.], one of the houses in this compound here – Attica East, as we used to call it – [Laughs]

DS:       [Laughs] Penn’s Landing?

JD:       Penn’s Landing. I come down the stairs, and she’s got this slide show going of Turner paintings, you know, the fires of London. [Laughs] Symbolic of my term, because it was wild. We had everything.

                First of all, some of my close friends like (27:00) Sal and Duncan [Buell] and the Halperns were fighting Newmarket. Ray represented them, working with Bert Latta and Stewart Dalzell in fighting the development of Headhouse Square. Many of the people on Stamper Street were also opposed. Eventually the legal team got the plaintiffs 50 years of free parking and “puts”, guaranteed prices for their Pine St. and Lombard St. houses if they chose to sell to the developer, as well as other agreements, but of course could not stop the development.

                The Board approved starting the development. So the irony was that I was President of the Civic Association, and we had to consider the development and act on it one way or another, and my own husband was suing the developer. We didn’t approve the whole thing, because we didn’t have the final plans. But Van Arkel and Moss convinced us to allow them to put in the underground parking, which we did. The board voted for that, except Alan Halpern voted against it. So then I was under attack from both sides. [Laughs] My own husband was suing everybody. In retrospect, it was pretty funny. (28:00)

DS:       He was doing what?

JD:       He was representing all these plaintiffs suing Van Arkel and Moss. And I don’t think – they didn’t file suit against the Civic Association, but they were complaining about our failure to oppose the development as well.

                We did a lot of good things that year, though. We started the chamber concerts outside the Towers. Remember those? We restarted the newsletter. Alan wrote it. And that was the other funny thing. Alan, who was the editor of Philadelphia Magazine, was a total free spirit. You couldn’t control a thing he said or did. He would write polemics against our board, of which he was a member [Laughs], because he was opposed to the Benezet project – and we’ll get to that – he was with the property owners who thought this was just an outrage. But then we also reviewed a lot of – (29:00) I mean, we did a lot of really good things in that year. We supported the project at Third and Spruce that Barry Eiswerth’s firm did, where the Putneys first lived – or lived second.

DS:       Right. Southwest corner.

JD:       Yes, southwest corner.

DS:       Where the Metropolitan Hospital was.

JD:       Right. And, you know, there were just many issues that came up in that year, or had been coming, that we weighed in on in one way or another. But, of course, the great explosion was over the building of housing, named for Stephen Benezet, for the tenants of the houses owned by the Quaker Octavia Hill Association and other long-time residents forced to move to make way for more upscale renovations. Octavia Hill was evicting these long-term tenants, most of them were black, from the houses in (30:00) order to rent the houses more profitably and raise money to do good elsewhere. It wasn’t a huge number of people. It was like ten people or something.

                A committee of the Civic Association, chaired by Phil Price, had been working for seven years on what sort of solution the community could offer, because the redevelopment plan never had any provision whatsoever for moderate- or low-income housing, despite the fact that there were a lot of such people here as tenants. And that’s unlike most of the other redevelopment plans, like Wash West, [which] had incorporated some requirement for housing for less fortunate people, let’s say, or not less fortunate, but lower-income people. And we were made aware, and I’m sure it was several years before my (31:00) year as president, that a part of the initiative to do something was that PILCOP was going to sue in federal court to require that Society Hill provide its fair share of low-income rental housing.

DS:       Who was?

JD:       Public Interest Law Center [of Philadelphia], who did ultimately sue. So, to me, the community completely shot itself in the foot [Laughs], because our proposal was so good for the neighborhood. I mean, we did everything to try to accommodate the neighborhood, and it was a truly angry, nasty confrontation with the older, largely Jewish community west of Fourth Street. They were constantly saying that us liberal, new people from east of Fourth Street – their geographic designation of enemy territory – so when we developed this proposal, we said, “OK, there will be a Board from west (32:00) of Fourth Street, of your neighborhood, your neighbors, the neighbors of these three sites, who will control both the selection of the tenants and the design. But, you know, do you remember Jack Albert? [inaudible] He used to send me swastikas through the door. Swastikas. But he marched around in Nazi boots. But there were some good guys, like George Axilbund. He was a more reasonable person who was the leader of the opposition. But all these older residents –

DS:       George Axilbund?

JD:       George Axilbund. He was a realtor. It was all about property values, and we were going to build what would have been three areas of very nice, compatible housing that the board would have had oversight of both the tenants and the design. And in the end, they didn’t do it because – well, this is another issue I had.

                Frankly, it turned me off (33:00) of the Civic Association forever. I’ve hardly gone back, because I felt even when I was on the board and was president, I felt it’s good to be vigilant about your neighborhood. But these people had moved to the city. They were against anything other than single-family houses. Well, what did you come here for? Why did you come to the city? This is a city! You want a bar down the street. I mean, not five bars. It should be reasonable, no question. And I was already kind of exasperated by this attitude that they seemed to be opposed to just about everything.

                Then this, this “social engineering.” I remember I was featured in the paper as a liberal, social engineer. [Laughs] And I thought, “Oh, yes, really. Thanks a lot.” Because that’s not really true. We were trying to do (34:00) something for people who did live here, who should have – and others who should have the opportunity to live here, which was going to be legally challenged. It had already begun but was put on hold, with all these negotiations with Wilson Goode, to work out a solution, which we tried to be a constructive part of.

                I think the proposal we put on the table was excellent. Paul and his supporters, and I shouldn’t say this, but I have to say it I guess right now. It was great to choose Paul to come after me, because we were able to rally the neighborhood, and we got – you know, we had the election for my successor run by the American Arbitration Society. It was that controversial. And Stew Dalzell, who had worked with Ray on the Newmarket case and is now a federal judge – but he lived in the Towers then. We bussed people from the Towers over to Pine Street to vote. [Laughs] I mean, it was really an organized effort. And 900 or – a whole lot of people voted. And we won by about 300 votes with Paul.

                But Paul, as part of his platform, had (35:00) promised a referendum on Benezet. And when we had the referendum, the housing was defeated. And then the federal court did impose the development – and then the three developments (on Sixth Street and the 600 block of Pine St.) which are out of keeping and over which we had no control were built. So they got absolutely what they deserved. But I felt like, “What a shame, you guys. Wake up!” It was really a mistake, for the neighborhood and for the residents who opposed it and who would have had control over design and tenant selection.

                But that’s how I feel about it. And I would say that what was built didn’t – would have a worse effect on their housing values than what we were proposing by far. Such a shame. But, it was so nasty. It was so completely nasty. And these old-time residents, and I respect them, and I understood some of their anger. But I remember the horrible meeting at Pennsylvania Hospital where they just tackled me. Six hundred or so joined the Association at the door that night so we went from a small organization to 1,400 in one night! And Paul was saying, “Don’t say anything. Don’t do anything.” There was an elderly Jewish woman in the front, “It’s the Gestapo!” (36:00) Now, why am I the Gestapo? Why isn’t she? I mean, what were these people thinking? It was just using any kind of hateful term to characterize this in a way that was really inappropriate.

                And I always tried to tell people the facts. I said, “Listen, this is going to be crammed down your throat if we don’t do something better. We’re proposing something better.” I think we didn’t make that case powerfully enough, because they were trying to protect me from being the victim of it all, when I should have been more aggressive about getting out there and just saying – disabusing people of their misunderstandings. I felt, they didn’t do that. Paul didn’t do that. They said, “We’ll put it to a vote. We’ll put it to a vote.” And it lost. That was a shame. I didn’t think (37:00) we should give in. I thought we should have stuck to it, because we would have done something much better for the community than what they did. What happened wasn’t good. They weren’t the best houses.

DS:       You don’t like the look of them?

JD:       No. They were very cheaply built. They’re not consistent really with the neighborhood. They’re Section 8 houses. We had no control over anything. We could have had a place where people from the neighborhood who didn’t have so much income like the Octavia Hill tenants could have lived. I mean, to me it was just completely prejudice, bigotry, and not understanding. And I do fault myself for not seeing to it that we explained it more. And it was a problem having Alan [Halpern] as the person who wrote everything up in the newsletter [Laughs], because Alan wasn’t for it either, (38:00) and he was sympathetic to the other guy. Well, he wasn’t – he was the editor; so he wasn’t taking sides, exactly, but he wrote it in such a way that it didn’t seem sympathetic to our decision, even though the board was unanimous, except for him, that we should do this.

DS:       Even if you had – it was such a passionate time – even if you had explained it more and been stronger about it, do you think they would have listened?

JD:       No, probably not to me. But I wish – well, they might have listened to me more. But I was still young to do that. Now, I would know better, or know how to approach it in a potentially better way, but I think that that is one thing we as a group did wrong. Those of us who cared about it could have explained it much more aggressively. “Now look, we’re going to have a choice between this or that. This is far better and something over which you will have control. Not only that –And Sam Maitin. He was on the board. (39:00) He was so great. And, of course, he was a passionate liberal. But he was really for this. He could make these arguments. But people wrote him off as being too liberal. I think enough wasn’t made – I don’t think these people ever really grasped that this was going to happen anyhow, or that it was very likely that because there was a fault in the redevelopment plan – what PILCOP was suing on was that they made no provision for people who were there. And other neighborhoods in the plan did, in the redevelopment plan. So the redevelopment plan was vulnerable on that ground, if this was created a rich place and not take care of anybody here, who would be displaced. The whole issue of displacement and gentrification was a very big issue in those days. We all moved into these empty shells. In that neighborhood –

DS:       West of Fourth. (40:00)

JD:       West of Fourth, there were people still living there, and still do.

DS:       The houses have been continually lived in.

JD:       They have been continually lived in, and they got three percent loans to fix them up. A lot of them didn’t. But the Redevelopment Authority handled that very well, I think. They didn’t kick them out if they didn’t fix up their houses. But they tried and tried to encourage them to take three percent. I mean, it would have been very ugly if they had been forced out. But I thought it was most unfortunate, but it’s just an example of the kind of city conflicts, and anger you see, everywhere in the world today. [Laughs] Look at Iraq. We’re doing the same thing. But a microcosm of the same kind of problem.

DS:       So you had that big issue. Any other issues that you had at the time?

JD:       Well, those are the main ones. I mean, a year isn’t much time. We had the (41:00) fight over Penn’s Landing or whatever that is, Headhouse. What’s that called, that development?

DS:       Stamper Square, now. [Between Front and Second and Pine and Lombard Sts.]

JD:       Yes, Stamper. I was very upset that they raised the height of it, because one of the great things about this neighborhood was having a rule, and we made the Sheraton live by that. And it does keep the neighborhood the right scale, like Paris or London, where you don’t build highrises in residential neighborhoods.

DS:       Yes, you’re talking about Stamper Square.

JD:       I see it’s a good design. I’m not –

[Tape is turned off, then on again]

JD:       You’re going up to 1975. Well, of course, we moved in in ’72. We really did enjoy the house but had a huge amount more to do here. I think those next years up to ’75 were taken up a lot with that, when we weren’t working. And I was by that time working again. I think, I guess I got appointed to a job in the state, in ’75. I was (42:00) working in Harrisburg. I was a judge in environmental law, so I could write the opinions here in my library and spend some time with the kids. And I had that same job when Michael had his accident. So I guess that time for me was much more family focused. A lot of friends. I enjoyed being here. I was never sorry to be here, despite what happened with Benezet. I had some disgust and have a residual disgust today, as you see, with the attitude and the anger and what I felt was really uncalled-for bigotry of that time that didn’t even look at the issue and what was going to happen. And that – as I say, it kind of soured me on the Civic Association – it’s important to be vigilant, and I do (43:00) think they’ve done by and large a good job. So I don’t protest loudly; but it’s really soured me on the NIMBYism and people who just care about their own personal interests and not about the larger picture. I think I felt that way very strongly at that time. I know much more about it, but I see it everywhere, all over the city and state I see it. It’s not just confined to here.

[Tape is turned off, then on again]

JD:       I was just recalling that I also got involved, after we succeeded in defeating the Crosstown Expressway, all the neighborhoods together – really Alice Lipscom’s more powerfully than ours, but we were certainly involved, Society Hill and Queen Village – I got involved with Peg Culler. Do you remember Peg Culler? She was the wife of the President of the University of the Arts, George Culler. She was a wonderful (44:00) woman, smoked cigars, and had this huge head of red hair. She was in her 50s, I think, wonderful, wild person. She and Martha Shobert and I – they picked me as this young woman lawyer because of the Civic Association involvement to be the third of their triumvirate.

                We started Konstantino’s, the Greek restaurant at Second and South, which is now Bridget Foy’s, in ’72 also, the year that I became President of the Civic Association. That was really something. Dino Konstantino was Martha and Peg’s hairdresser, and of the great family of Konstantino. The son was very handsome and took to wearing velvet suits, you know, [Laughs] and arriving in a limousine. Anyhow, we went into a partnership with his family. His father was a great Greek cook. And really, the first few years of that were wonderful. We were so excited. We’d go and dance and drink ouzo and carry on [Laughs]. And it – we were fortunate because a very (45:00) chic group of Philadelphians invested in our project. Bert Latta and I did this together. It’s one of the ways we became really good friends. He would help me with all this. And he was an investor. And Henry MacIlhenny and other prominent socialites. And they loved coming down from some fancy event at the Art Museum to Second and South Street, you know, where there was nothing but this place, and I think the Black Banana had started. So from that time it was very formative for me, because I got involved in the redevelopment, the causes, wrote articles on the redevelopment movements. I remember having to write letters to correct – to try to correct things that were said. It was an interesting time. And after that I also later on, with Sal [Buell] and other women, bought a building up in Kensington. There was this wonderful old brick building that we (46:00) finally sold after Ray died, just a couple of years ago, as artists’ studios. I really got involved as a lawyer and a small developer and did some of the same kind of work in Camden.

[End of interview]

Transcriber’s Note: When reviewing a draft of the transcript, the narrator made some additions and changes that do not occur in the taped interview.


© 2008 Project Philadelphia 19106™. All rights reserved.

About the Interview

Dorothy Stevens
Cynthia J. Eiseman
Interview Location
310 S 2nd Street
Interview Date
May 23, 2008
Denworth, Joanne
Narrator Type
Redeveloper - Restoration
Oral History Sources