Katrina Browne

Katrina Browne is the only narrator in this project who identified stilt-walking as a favored childhood activity. Operating a sidewalk lemonade stand in front of her house at 306 S. Second Street for tourists was another favorite pastime, which she pursued with her younger brother, Whitney, and other neighborhood children. Just playing at friends’ houses was easy because her friends lived close by. Whitney played touch football on the lawn at Society Hill Towers and soccer on the lawn behind the Second Bank at Independence Park. Her parents imposed few limits, but one place that was off-limits was South Street; that gave it a particular appeal. When she started attending Springside School in Chestnut Hill, she wanted to fit in; but she did not because she was a “city girl.” Her suburban classmates’ parents would not let their daughters visit Katrina because they believe she lived in a dangerous neighborhood. As the girls got older, the parents relented. Growing up in Society Hill, attending St. Peter’s School and St. Peter’s Church, becoming familiar with all the historic sites in and around Society Hill, and witnessing her parents’ extensive involvements in civic activities all influenced her profoundly and gave her a deep regard for “the founding ideals of this country.” She singles out the TLA and the Ritz Theater as formative influences. The former was a “calendar house” that played old movies, and the latter was a theater that showed independent and foreign films. Growing up, she saw movies at these theaters with her friends or her parents. After college, she realized how fortunate she had been to have these theaters in her backyard and the part they played in her becoming a film-maker.


DS: This is an interview with Katrina Browne. The date is October 25, 2009. The interviewer is Dorothy Stevens. The location is 116 Delancey Street, Philadelphia.

[Tape is turned off, then on again]

DS: Katrina, tell me, when were you born?

KB: September 6, 1967.

DS: And what is your full name?

KB: Katrina Colston Browne, Browne with an E, I should say.

DS: Yes. And where were your parents living when you were born?

KB: In the Society Hill Towers.

DS: Do you have siblings?

KB: I have a brother Whitney, Whitney Reynolds Browne, who was born about a year and a half, almost exactly a year and a half after me.

DS: You’re the oldest.

KB: Yes.

DS: Where did you attend school?

KB: I went to – I don’t know if it would have been day care or nursery school – I guess nursery school at St. Charles, uptown. I don’t know if Whitney went there, (1:00) actually. He may have been too young. When I was four, we moved to Brussels, Belgium. I went to school there. That was 1972 to 1976. When we came back from Belgium, I went into fourth grade at St. Peter’s School and stayed there through eighth grade, graduated in eighth grade. Then I went to Springside in Chestnut Hill in the suburbs for high school. Whitney went to St. Peter’s until eighth grade, and then he went to boarding school, to Groton.

DS: Clearly, you could walk to St. Peter’s. How did you get out to Springside?

KB: For Springside, I think the first year there was actually a van that came and picked up a small number of us that lived downtown. Then I commuted [by car] with a guy who went to CHA [Chestnut Hill Academy]. We took turns. There was also a train period. Once we had our driver’s licenses I think we took turns driving. But I took (2:00) the train for a while.

DS: Did your family have religious connections here?

KB: My parents were members of St. Peter’s Church; I began by being at St. Peter’s School and St. Peter’s Church, and they’re still members up to the present day.

DS: Let’s get into your childhood a bit. Where did you play?

KB: Well, first and foremost was our sidewalk. A lot of memories are connected with photographs that are therefore imprinted on the brain. There’s a photograph of me on stilts wearing a Betsy Ross bonnet outside of our house. I used to love walking on stilts, and I used to love interacting with tourists. Because we’re on Second Street, (3:00) there’s a lot of foot traffic of tourists heading over to Headhouse Square and to South Street. Just being out there. The other thing that got me out there was that Lydia Denworth and Michael Denworth lived two doors down, and Lydia and I and also Molly Lloyd, who lived a block away, would have a lemonade stand, and we would sell lemonade and cookies. There was something about, you know, I guess a lot of kids learn that entrepreneurial spirit having a lemonade stand, but there was something particular about the tourists that felt like, “We’re really making a living off these tourists,” at the tender age of ten, eleven, twelve. We used to enjoy that.

That was one type of play. I don’t remember – my parents (I was talking to them) and I don’t remember life before Penn’s Landing Square was built, but apparently (4:00) before that, when it was just an open field, my dad used to take us out kite flying and running around. But, that was before we went to Brussels; I don’t remember it.

DS: Penn’s Landing Square being between Front and Second and Delancey and Spruce.

KB: Yes. Once that set of modern houses was built, I have memories of playing – what is it called when you hit a tennis ball by yourself, against a backboard? I would treat the wall like a backboard, until someone would come out and yell at me that I was making too much noise on the side of their house. Then I would go up to the Towers and hit the tennis ball up there, on the side of the Towers. Whitney and his friends used to play touch football up at the Towers a lot. I never got into sports as much as my brother did; I was kind of on the sidelines of that. But he used to play touch football up there and (5:00) also over by the First Bank and Carpenters Hall they would play soccer organized by the Eiswerths.

I used to roller skate down at Penn’s Landing and around the neighborhood.

DS: You never had any fear or problems, even on your own in the neighborhood and just doing your thing?

KB: No, not that I remember. We also went to Three Bears Park when I was little, of course, but I don’t remember that as much. But in terms of being a kid, playing, you know, a lot of the playing was at friends’ houses; the fact that I had friends who lived so close, when I think of that compared to growing up in the suburbs, I’m aware of what a lucky thing that was. I don’t actually know what my parents’ rules were about walking. I know what my dad’s rules are now, which are very strict. But as a child, I don’t actually remember. I’ll have to ask him. Since I had friends so close, I suspect I went (6:00) to their houses. No problem. Third Street. To Allegra Burnette’s house and Amy Saler’s house.

DS: As a child, you have no memory that there were rules about as far as you could go.

KB: No. Which doesn’t mean there weren’t, but I don’t remember them. [Laughs] They couldn’t have been too strict.

DS: Did you ever go to South Street?

KB: There were rules about South Street. [Laughs] I was not allowed to go to South Street until a certain age. I suspect I wasn’t allowed to go there until at least ninth grade, if not later. Certainly not until I was a teenager, and it was definitely the place to – like that was the forbidden zone, no question. It had some appeal, as a result of being the forbidden zone. The funny dynamic that happened with my going to Springside in the suburbs was that, when I first started there in ninth grade, I very much wanted to fit in, and I didn’t quite fit in. Being a city girl was enough to make you different at a private girls’ school in the suburbs. I was different. I wanted to fit in. By tenth grade, I decided I didn’t want to fit in anymore, because these girls – and boys at Chestnut Hill Academy – all seemed so sheltered and boring. Suddenly I was appreciating where I came from. It was interesting, because my friends’ moms – some of them wouldn’t even let their daughters spend the night at the house, because there was a stereotype (8:00) about the city and it not being safe, so they weren’t allowed to come stay with me. And then it gradually changed; where, as they got older, they were allowed to come in, and then I kind of shifted groups of friends as I got more judgmental of my peers there. I became friends with more of the girls who were rebels in the class, and they thought nothing could possibly be more exciting than coming downtown and going to South Street. Suddenly, my parents were laughing that there was this influx of classmates who wanted to come downtown and go to South Street. There was a little bit of sneaking into clubs at too young of an age going on, and going to stores that, my parents were telling me, I apparently said I used to feel bad that I was going into stores like Zipperhead and not spending any money, because I was constantly bringing my friends there and not being a shopper. (9:00)

DS: That’s good. They eventually did come in. Tell me what you would do as a child on a snow day or in the summers.

KB: I guess my only thought for snow days is just – well, not just – this is giving me a flashback – to go sledding at the Towers [Laughs]; there’s a double hill there. It was all about sledding at the Towers, and everyone was there. I think it was the place we all went. It’s kind of funny to think of it, because it’s a short, steep ride. It was just fun, particularly in the city, to feel that the streets were shut down and no cars.

DS: No cars. Quite different. (10:00)

KB: Yes. In the summer – what was the name of the club? Society Hill –

DS: The swim club on Fifth Street? [Society Hill Swim Club]

KB: Yes. We were members of the swim club, not during my entire childhood, but for a portion of it, so I’d go swimming there. We would go away for a month in the summer to Maine. I associate my feelings of connection to nature with going away to Maine in the summer; I didn’t have too much of that here, obviously, but there was the swim club. I don’t know if this was just the summer. I had jobs. I worked at Tancredi’s [pharmacy].

DS: Oh, you did?

KB: At a certain point. I’m not remembering if it was during the school years, like working on weekends, or if it was just during the summer. But I worked at (11:00) Tancredi’s for a little while, and that was a great education, you know, serious responsibility.

DS: It was on Second Street.

KB: It was on Second Street and Pat Tancredi was the owner. It was a drugstore, and it was a good, old-fashioned drug store, not corporate chain but owned and run by Pat Tancredi. My parents were telling me he was sort of an anchor of business that helped bring traffic to Headhouse Square. In the summer, I definitely had a summer job working at the lemonade and ice cream stand in Independence Park, the one that was next to – not the First Bank –

DS: The Second Bank on the east side.

KB: Yes.

DS: Between Chestnut and Walnut.

KB: Yes. That little hut. (12:00 )

DS: At Fourth [Street].

KB: Yes, I sold ice cream and, I think it was called orange squash or something, a mix of orange juice and lemonade. It was the tourists again. [Laughs] I was like moving up in the world. Real money and a real cash register. That was fun, because the folks who did the historical re-enactment, like the guy who played Ben Franklin and whatnot, were always around. It was really fun.

DS: You got to see it on a larger scale. What did you like about growing up in Society Hill, and did you ever feel cheated that you weren’t in the suburbs like so many of your schoolmates were?

KB: No, well, it really was just that first year of being at Springside that I was (13:00) jealous. I think it was the classic teen-age feeling of being an outsider rather than an insider, but I got over that pretty quickly. One example, the presidential election, we were trying to remember last night, we think it was Reagan-Mondale in ’84, would have been Reagan; not sure if it was Mondale [Laughs]

DS: That goes back a way.

KB: Fact check! Some boy from CHA – I had a Mondale sticker on the bumper of my car, so it must have been my junior or senior year of high school – some boy put a Reagan sticker on top of it. I was taunted. One of the things I was called – this (14:00) came in particular from CHA boys – was “liberal, career-oriented woman.” That was an insult. [Laughs] The idea, believe it or not, that a liberal, career-oriented woman was still an insult in 1984-85, tells you something about the culture in the suburbs at the time.

Also because I grew up in Brussels I think, by virtue of growing up abroad where I was – I kept feeling like an outsider. Actually, as I have thought about my life previously, it was formative ultimately in a very good way, which was I was here and then [after] kindergarten I was basically thrust into a totally new environment, a French-speaking school in Belgium where I was a total outsider. No sooner had I acclimated to that than we came back here, and I didn’t fit in at St. Peter’s because I didn’t know all the latest TV (15:00) shows and music groups and all that; I had to try to fit in. Then in the ninth grade, I went to a suburban school and tried to fit in. I think it gave me an appreciation for being an outsider that I might not have had. I certainly wouldn’t have had. You know, a lot of the girls at Springside were there K through 12, the whole time and didn’t go anywhere else. So there was that, that was formative, if a little traumatic at times.

I am a huge, huge believer of the positive influence of growing up in this neighborhood, as opposed to another urban neighborhood elsewhere in the U.S., which is by virtue of the fact that this is the historic area in Philadelphia. Well, I live in Boston now, and when I’m in Boston I hear people say, “Boston, the birthplace of democracy.” But being a Philadelphia girl, I go, “What are you talking about? Philadelphia is the (16:00) birthplace of democracy.” So, seeing as it’s the birthplace of democracy here and since my mom was so involved in historic preservation and writing historic tours, and since St. Peter’s took advantage of the neighborhood it was in and had us visiting all the first churches, you know, Mother Bethel A.M.E., and the Swedish Church [Gloria Dei], and Christ Church, and St. Peter’s, obviously, so all the first churches, and of course Independence Hall and the Liberty Bell and everything that happened in this neighborhood, since we were living in our classroom, in a sense, I think I just grew up very idealistic and taking very, very seriously the founding ideals of this country.

When I got to college and heard people make snide comments about civics classes or about democracy and all that, it made me realize how formative it had been to grow up somewhere where I (17:00) just wasn’t brought up with cynicism about all that. I was brought up with the belief in it, and then, consequently, from whatever in my teenage years, as I began to notice injustice, racial injustice, economic gaps, anything where it seemed to me that we weren’t living up to the ideals I took really seriously, that contradiction was really glaring since I was steeped in the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution and all that, in a way that I don’t think a lot of kids are. So that was incredibly important in my becoming who I am. And the Quaker history, not just the national history here, but William Penn and that whole part of it, too.

DS: Did your brother have any words or stories or anything that he wanted to add to this tape? (18:00)

KB: I failed in my task of calling him before hand, so when you send me a transcript, maybe I’ll sneak some things in. He gave me his blessing for doing this and didn’t offer anything by email, which gave me the impression he wasn’t too worried. But I reminisced with my parents about his childhood. He had a different experience than me, in the sense that he went away to boarding school. He was here through eighth grade at St. Peter’s, and then he went away to boarding school. I’ll attribute this to my parents not to him. My parents said, “You know, he was much older than you were by eighth grade.” I said, “Why did he go to boarding school?” They said, “You wouldn’t have been ready for boarding school. He was.” He was much more into music and the latest bands. He was cooler than I was, shall we say, at a younger age, and therefore more (19:00) grown up. He chose to go to boarding school but stayed really close to Jason Eiswerth, who was one of his best friends growing up, and close to the Eiswerth family. They would actually go – the Eiswerths would take Whitney and Jason and Brendan and all camping. I didn’t go camping much when I was a kid, but they would take the boys camping.

DS: He maintains his friendships here in the neighborhood?

KB: With Jason, yes.

DS: But then he was into a whole new world, at school, college.

KB: Yes. He was away. But I just picture him outside playing football, being (20:00) more of a boy, and me being more of a girl.

DS: I understand that when they played football up at the Towers, they used to get chased by the guards.

KB: Oh, did they? I don’t remember that.

DS: Off the grass lawn.

KB: They weren’t allowed to play soccer there, which is why they went over to the First Bank.

DS: What do you think of the neighborhood now, as an adult?

KB: Oh, in terms of what it’s like now?

DS: What has happened to it.

KB: Well, my parents just told me that the TLA is closing. Is it the TLA or the TLA Video that’s closing?

DS: Video.

KB: TLA Video is closing. That was the other thing about – I’ll answer your question and then circle back to that. That was sad and I’m sure has as much to do with Netflicks as anything else. Every time I go to South Street it seems like it’s a little more (21:00) stores and a little less – like the Eyes Gallery is so special and some of these – the artistry of the mosaic work and murals and whatnot that’s part of South Street – some of the stores that are there now seem less creative and more run-of-the-mill, kind of standard, American stores. Anything that’s getting more standard makes me sad, rather than the creative, one-of-a-kind type stores.

What else? When we drove here the other night, going down Market [Street], seeing all the upscale restaurants and clubs and everything, it’s still weird to me. It seems very New York. There’s a sort of New York quality that’s never been here before, that takes me aback.

What else? I love what’s happening on Independence Mall, in terms of the Constitution Museum and the work that’s (22:00) done around the discovery of the slave quarters connected to George Washington’s home. The fact that created some controversy about how to preserve that and interpret that for the public I think is great. I gather it’s affecting even how the whole Independence National Historical Park is doing their interpretation for the public, I gather. I hope I heard correctly that they’re making the story of slavery more a part of their interpretation for the public.

DS: I think they were almost forced to.

KB: They were forced. I used to go – the Living History Museum that was here – I just remember that having such an impact on the idealistic thing I was talking about before, like the movie they had there. To this day, again as proof of my (23:00) lack of cynicism, I’m so quick to cry at anything kind of patriotic and about our founding ideals and all that. Seeing some of those movies at the Living History Museum, when I’ve gone to stuff now at the Constitution Center, I get teary. I guess that shows how deep that impact was.

The other really formative thing in this neighborhood was actually the TLA and the Ritz Theater. The fact that we had a calendar house movie theater that played old movies, which was the TLA, and the Ritz showing independent films and foreign films, it wasn’t until after college that I fully appreciated the significance of that. When you’re a kid you assume everyone has access to the same stuff you do. To learn more about movie theaters as I grew older and to realize that does not exist near everybody at all, (24:00) having access to foreign films, independent films and old films that my parents took us to all the time. I actually – as you know, I’m a film-maker now, and I actually think that some of the movies I saw as a teenager were deeply impactful and really formative in terms of social conscience, like “Sophie’s Choice” and “The Mission”. I forget the name of the guy who founded the Ritz, [Ramon Posel] but there was an article about him that made me realize how indebted I was to him.

DS: Yes, I agree. It’s not something that I think a lot of children realize. But you (25:00) went to a lot of them so __________. Any other stories? You clearly feel that it was a good thing that you grew up in the city and were a city person. Are you still a city person?

KB: Yes and no. I absolutely think it was great to grow up in the city, and I currently live in between city and suburbs. I live within Boston city limits but in a neighborhood where it’s not row houses but houses with a little space in between them. It’s quasi-urban but not a leafy suburb or anything like that. I absolutely love nature. When I think about where I want to live for the rest of my life, I’m really torn between urban and country. I’m very drawn to the quiet of potential country. I’m a huge believer in the (26:00) importance of a multi-cultural environment. The idea of being in any area that’s all white is not my favorite. It doesn’t seem as right, but the noise pollution of city life gets to me. My office is in Cambridge so I have a pretty urban work life. Growing up, in terms of the multi-cultural thing, at St. Peter’s we had very small class sizes, as you know. There were 13 students in my class.

DS: Miss Seamans was head mistress?

KB: Yes, Miss Seamans was head mistress. Miss Barlow was eighth grade teacher and ran the school, ran the upper school, I guess. I consider myself completely indebted to them, in terms of the values that they had and the – you don’t have a lens (27:00) to understand these things as a kid, but looking back as an adult, they had all these old English traditions there.

My work is entirely focused on race relations and racial justice. Part of that work is noticing the importance of white people understanding their cultural heritage and roots and that they can actually potentially get more from that than maybe the sort of generic, white bread culture that a lot of people grew up with, which doesn’t have a sense of roots to it. Often white folks will go looking for a kind of culture and soul in communities of color, like in black culture, sort of go away to look for it.

It’s interesting to have noticed at a certain point in my 20s or 30s, “Oh, I got raised with” – I have a long lineage of English and northern European roots. And to think I actually got raised with some of those traditions is pretty unique. I don’t know (28:00) how many people can say that. But the May Pole and some of the pre-Christian traditions, dancing around the May Pole and dancing with clay pipes. At Thanksgiving they had a walk around the neighborhood singing songs and handing out apples and oranges, in what was called the Thanksgiving Walk. Try to find – I can’t imagine there’s something that, you know, almost put me in a tiny, tiny percentage of American children’s experience, to walk around singing hymns and handing out apples and oranges to strangers. And a Harvest Festival and Christmas Pageant and learning calligraphy and declaiming poems and just a lot of things that were just good, good for me.

I still wonder how it was for kids who – I didn’t think at that time of (29:00) myself as being of English heritage. I don’t know how much that was in my consciousness. I don’t think at the time I was thinking, “Oh, these are my roots.” I don’t think I was thinking that, but I do wonder how it was, for example, for black students at school. There would have been a little more of a remove for them between some of what we were doing and what they probably experienced their culture to be. Whereas there probably wasn’t as much of a disconnect for me, between my family and my school life. But I haven’t had a chance to talk with some of my peers from St. Peter’s who were of different backgrounds, which also included Italian-American kids, (30:00) and there was a certain degree of diversity there, even for a small school.

DS: Do you go back to your reunions?

KB: I haven’t been. No, I think because I’ve not lived in town. If I lived in town I would have.

DS: Pretty far away.

KB: Yes. I was in California for a lot of years. I didn’t tend to go that often to the houses of kids [at St. Peter’s School] who didn’t live in this neighborhood, which I regret. There was a little bit of a – I think more of a class divide than anything else. Kids who I think, not exclusively, but there’s a little bit of a correlation between kids who lived in this neighborhood, I think were the more affluent kids, versus kids who came to the school from other neighborhoods were maybe lower income. I don’t think that was across the board, but to some degree. I don’t know if it was the geographic distance, or a bit of a cultural distance, that I didn’t tend to play with classmates with homes outside the neighborhood. I was more friends with kids in the neighborhood. (31:00)

DS: Did you ever go down to the river?

KB: Roller skating and – yes for different – what were the –

DS: [Inaudible]

KB: Yes, big events, fireworks, New Year’s Eve, and to the museum that was down there.

DS: The maritime museum

KB: Yes.

DS: Any other stories you’d like to include?

KB: Oh, yes. The other thing in terms of what I got from growing up here, (32:00) relative I think to my suburban peers was – a prime example of how that showed up was at Springside my main extra-curricular activity was working with the Assembly Board and then becoming head of the Assembly Board. That was students were allowed to plan the assemblies. My parents were saying, “You probably wouldn’t have been head of Assembly Board if you hadn’t grown up in the city.” I said, “What do you mean? I just believed in dialogue and debate.” They said, “Yes, you probably believed in dialogue and debate because you lived down here and you knew people, actually, to invite to do assemblies.”

Once they said that, I was like, “That’s so true,” (33:00 ) because there was something about how involved my parents were in civic life here; the fact that they were on so many boards and they cared about so many issues, neighborhood issues or city issues and, as a result, through their dinner parties and cocktail parties and ones that I would go to with them to other homes in the neighborhood just meant I was exposed as a kid to grown-ups who were doing really important, great things. [Laughs] Now I’m showing a total bias against the suburbs: “People who live in the suburbs don’t do wonderful, great things.” That’s just pure prejudice. [Laughs] You can see, I ‘m such a city kid I walk around with these prejudices. So maybe there’s prejudice on all our parts. Anyway, as a result of their circles, I was exposed to –

DS: To a lot.

KB: To a lot. When, therefore, one of the assemblies I organized was a presidential debate, not with presidential candidates but with their representatives, a (34:00 ) representative for Reagan and a representative for Mondale, that’s who it was. I had Dianne Semingson come out, who worked for Mayor Wilson Goode. I knew I was able to feel that I could do that and feel empowered to do that. I don’t know if that would have been the case in the suburbs.

DS: Anything you didn’t like [inaudible]

KB: That is one story I have down here [in my notes.]. I witnessed police brutality down here, and that was a searing moment that stuck with me.

DS: When you were a child?

KB: I don’t know how old exactly, but it would have been like late elementary school or early high school, so I think probably like seventh or eighth grade, something like that. It was white cops and a white man – again I’ve been doing all my homework (35:00) with my parents. I said, “Exactly what happened with that?” I know exactly what happened. It was Third and Spruce, and I can picture exactly where on the corner it was, and I can feel how traumatic it was to see that. But I didn’t remember the story. My dad said it was a white man who had been pulled over for some traffic thing, and the cops gave him a ticket and let him go, and then after they let him go, he started cursing at them excessively, and they came over and started beating him up. Very intense. Unjustified. I remember that.

I remember noticing homeless people; definitely at some point in high school, I remember noticing homeless people, and it being really distressing, and it was one of those, when you’re that young and you can’t even believe that (36:00) that exists and happens to people and you don’t take it for granted at all. It’s “How can we have a house and this person doesn’t have a house? There’s room in our house. Why can’t they stay here?” That was probably something that – it’s hard to see – but it educated me early some of those differences.

DS: You think you saw that sooner than other children?

KB: Probably. Yes. There’s a way in which, when I think of growing up in the city, sort of the way I think about my classmates, my class was racially diverse, but it didn’t feel like the neighborhood was my experience of the neighborhood. In terms of the city as a whole, obviously Philadelphia is very diverse, but I think there’s still enough (37:00) residential segregation, and I don’t know the statistics on, like, when I was growing up in the ‘70s versus now, and which neighborhoods have become more integrated and which aren’t. Would it have made a difference if I went to the public school versus the private school, St. Peter’s? Again, there was more diversity in my class than in my experience of the neighborhood

DS: Your class at St. Peter’s.

KB: At St. Peter’s. Yes. I did a lot of baby sitting, lots of little entrepreneurial things like other kids.

DS: Babysitting for money again?

KB: Yes. Yes, lots of babysitting. [The] only last note I have which is a grown-up (38:00) perspective, going back to that lemonade stand: is it Jane Jacobs, an urban studies – what do you call it? – urban planning scholar, actually I don’t know what she is, but Jane Jacobs has written a seminal book on cities. I had a friend from high school who went on to architecture and urban planning. My friend, Heather, told me about Jane Jacobs and her theories about growing up in the city: you have more reason to interact more with adults, other than your own parents, by having a life on the street. There’s a way in which other parents look out for kids, neighbor parents look out for neighbor kids on the street and, here particularly, the part I was saying about tourists.

So I think (39:00) between my parents’ level of civic engagement, the fact that there was a community of having cocktail parties and dinner parties and social events in the neighborhood, and then the part with the tourists, it meant that I was interacting with adults at a younger age than a lot of kids in the suburbs, where people are that much more isolated, because they’re not out on the street. Interacting with strangers, not just adults you know, but adult strangers just helps develop social skills in kids that you miss if you don’t have that experience. I remember in college actually noticing more so than in high school – noticing how many of my friends were just incredibly shy about talking to adults, including professors. It really took me aback. I was like, “What’s to be intimidated about?” [Laughs]

DS: “I do it all the time.” (40:00 )

KB: “I do it all the time.” [W]hat really struck me in college was seeing how many of my peers – it’s as if they had had a teenage world just with teenagers and their parents. And that was it. Parents were “the other.” Adults were “the other.” I’m so grateful for not having had that.

DS: That’s very interesting. I agree. Thank you, Katrina.

KB: You’re welcome. Thanks for having this whole project.

[Tape is turned off, then on again]

KB: My brother lives in a neighborhood very much like Society Hill now. He lives in – so my brother has not strayed at all from being a city kid. He lives in Brooklyn Heights in Brooklyn, New York. It’s a historic neighborhood with old row houses, more 19 th century than 18 th century, but he and his wife love it there and they’re raising their two girls there and prior to that he lived in Manhattan. (41:00)

DS: Did you ever hear him say one way or another about how he felt growing up here, I mean, when he was here?

KB: I don’t remember any complaints. I think we loved – you know, complaints were about typical kid things, not about – “Do I have to go to church?” [Laughs]

[Tape is turned off, then on again]

KB: There’s something about when you’re a kid, the larger social forces of race and class and gentrification and redevelopment – I was innocently oblivious to all that, but I have wondered as an adult and as I have encountered gentrification in other neighborhoods, I have wondered, “Were we part of that? Did people have to move out because of us, because they couldn’t afford the neighborhood any more?” It’s funny how (42:00) I’ve become more conscious of it elsewhere without actually knowing how it all worked here. It was such a privilege to grow up here, and I didn’t feel like my experience of class was that different from my peers in the suburbs. I felt like I could tell I was the same socio-economic class as they were. I’m generalizing because it wasn’t – just in terms of the dominant culture at my high school – so I could tell there was that in common, which makes me certainly very conscious as an adult, that I lived in a well-to-do urban neighborhood, as opposed to an impoverished one or a lower middle-class one. I have wondered what those stories of those predecessors in our neighborhood.

DS: There were still vacant houses in the neighborhood when you were growing up, weren’t there?

KB: I don’t remember any. [Laughs] If there were I don’t remember them.

DS: The joy of childhood.

KB: Yes.

[End of interview]

© 2009 Project Philadelphia 19106™. All rights reserved.

About the Interview

Dorothy Stevens
Cynthia J. Eiseman
Interview Location
116 Delancey Street
Interview Date
October 25, 2009
Browne, Katrina
Narrator Type
Third Generation
Oral History Sources