Leonard B. Segal

A relatively small proportion of the life of Leonard (Len) Segal (b. 1931) has been spent in Society Hill, and much of the rest has been lived on its fringes. Len’s memory and command of details enable him to paint a Dickensian picture of the predominantly Jewish neighborhood just to the south of Society Hill in the 1930s and ‘40s. From him we learn how a small family with meager financial resources made a living, educated the children, and provided goods and services that residents of a particular neighborhood needed. As a child, Len lived with his parents and a younger brother over (or behind) a succession of small stores – today we would call them convenience stores – on S. Fifth Street between Lombard and Bainbridge Streets. His parents operated these stores. He “very early got over wanting to be a fireman or a cowboy” and instead set his sights on becoming a doctor. He attended local public school and graduated from Temple University. He worked his way through medical school in Kansas City, Missouri, selling men’s clothing and repairing cars. He became an osteopathic physician. Returning to Philadelphia in 1957, he got an internship at Metropolitan Hospital, an osteopathic hospital then located at Third and Spruce Streets. There he met his future wife, Eileen. In 1961, they bought 530 Pine Street, a house with several apartments and an office on the ground floor. It needed a lot of work, much of which Len’s father supplied. The house required too much work and expense for them to convert it into a single-family residence. So, in 1967, they bought 124 Delancey Street, which had been restored by the previous owners. Len, Eileen and their two daughters lived there for five years and then moved to New Jersey. But for about thirty years, 530 Pine Street continued to provide income for them.


DS: This is an interview with Len Segal. The date is September 22, 2009. The address of the location is 116 Delancey Street, and the interviewer is Dorothy Stevens.

DS: Len, would you please start by giving me your full name?

LS: Leonard B. Segal.

DS: And where do you live at the present time.

LS: Currently we live in Cherry Hill, New Jersey. The address is 417 Kennebec Road.

DS: Tell me, when were you born?

LS: June 1, 1931.

DS: Now, would you tell me where you were born?

LS: I was born in Philadelphia at a hospital in center city. (1:00)

DS: And where did you live with your parents?

LS: When I was four years old, my parents moved from an area in Northeast Philadelphia to a small store that was located on Fifth Street between Lombard and South. My father had worked on the outside. He drove a truck for a dry-cleaning agency used to pick up laundry and dry cleaning. Later on, he collected for door-to-door insurance that was sold; at that time, people used to make deposits of fifty cents or a dollar at a time to pay for whole life insurance policies. Because he spent a great deal of time outdoors, at one time he became very ill with what my mother described as a severe case of the flu. I’m (2:00) not sure if it was “the flu.” However, when a doctor saw him and saw how very ill he was – in fact, they thought it was life-threatening – he suggested that my father would no longer be able to work outside.

At that time, they had essentially no money, so my parents borrowed a few hundred dollars from my father’s mother and an aunt. It was enough money to rent a store, a small store, as I said, on Fifth Street between Lombard and South. At that time, they did not get a lease. Within six months of the time they were there, Woolworth, which had a store on South Street between Fourth and Fifth, wanted to expand the store in an L-shaped fashion and bring the store out on Fifth Street. As a consequence, (3:00) my parents were evicted. At the time, my mother was at least six months pregnant with my brother. My parents had very few options, and they made a decision to move three or four buildings further north on Fifth Street. It was toward the corner of Fifth and Gaskill. It would be the southeast corner. There was a store that had become vacant that was used to supply ice cream to carts that were wheeled around various neighborhoods.

Because there were no living quarters, my father built a wall and divided the store into two. The store was in the front; we lived in the back. Because it was a (4:00) commercial property, there was neither a shower nor a bathtub. A couple of times a week, we went down the street on Gaskill Street, between Fourth and Fifth, probably a little closer to Fourth Street, to what you would call a bath house. I don’t know whether it cost 25 cents or 50 cents, to shower.

DS: Would you take a towel and soap or did they supply that?

LS: Oh, no, we took our own towel and soap. There were other bath houses that were more elaborate in the neighborhood. There were multiple ones that provided other services, like massages and steam baths. There was one, in fact, situated on (5:00) Lombard Street between Fourth and Fifth on the south side of the street. They weren’t uncommon. There were other ones in the neighborhood, some of which you may know about. In any event, we lived at Fifth and Gaskill for several years.

One interesting sidelight, perhaps: a lot of people in the neighborhood remember a business called Lenny’s Hot Dogs. Immediately attached to and behind the store that my parents were renting was a garage, and a little old woman who wore a bandana around her head parked a small pushcart there that she used to take out daily and park at the corner of Fourth and South. She sold hot dogs and her son’s name was Lenny. Out of that began something which at one time was a very popular local eatery. For (6:00) a while it was on the corner of Passyunk and South. It took the place of a bar that used to be there. Talking about bars, there were more than a few bars in the neighborhood. They weren’t rowdy places. They were certainly available in multiple locations.

In any event, as far as our own history is concerned –

DS: Tell me, just before we get off of this, what did your father sell? You lived in the back of a store.

LS: It was a candy store.

DS: A candy store.

LS: What really you would call a penny candy store. Candies at that time came packaged 80 to 120 count in the box and they sold for a penny each. In addition to penny (7:00) candies, they sold pretzels, not the soft Philadelphia pretzels, but pretzel sticks. We had some jars with things like what we called poly seeds and pistachio nuts. We would sell things like that. We also had an ice cream counter. We sold ice cream cones and milkshakes and sundaes.

Thinking about that reminds me, and this is very hard to believe, we had two sizes of scoops for ice cream, three cents and a nickel. At the soda fountain, there were three spigots. When customers would come in, some wanted a glass of water. Either one of the side spigots was water, but the center one had carbonated water. We used to sell a glass of carbonated water for two cents. Two cents.

That’s what they did. It was a hard way to make a living. Actually, the (8:00) store was open from around 6:30 or 7:00 in the morning until 10:30 at night. In addition to the food items I talked about, my parents sold newspapers and magazines and, in addition to local, English-speaking papers, they sold multiple other ethnic newspapers. There was a Polish newspaper. There was another paper that I guess today would have been labeled as English-speaking, but I believe it was directed primarily at people with a Socialist and Communist perspective. We also sold two or three Jewish newspapers, because there was a relatively high Jewish population in the immediate area.

I mentioned already that my mother had been pregnant with my brother. Almost immediately after he was born and she returned from the hospital, one of her jobs (early in the morning was 6:30 or 7:00 in the morning) was to walk two or three (9:00) blocks north on Fifth Street where there were offices for the Jewish newspapers, and she would bring back the Jewish newspapers. The Inquirer and the Bulletin and the Daily News were delivered to us.

As far as magazines were concerned, on Washington Square, the site where you have the current Hopkinson House was a building that housed a business called Central News. On the ground floor was a place where we used to buy the magazines or return magazines that were outdated from the prior month. On the second floor was a huge area that looked like a kind of Kiddie City, where they sold toys. There were a lot of interesting places. (10:00) There were very few companies that were known to sell boxes of packaged chocolates. Everybody knows about Whitman’s chocolates. We used to sell Whitman’s chocolates and the way we got Whitman’s chocolates: we walked over to the corner of Fourth and Race; it was the northeast corner, which now houses condos or apartments. I’m not sure if the factory was there, or it was just a distribution point for Whitman’s chocolates.

[Tape is turned off, then on again]

DS: I have a question, Len. Tell me, how did your mother cook in this back space?

LS: My mother was truly an amazing woman in many ways. Neither my father (11:00) nor my mother finished high school. My mother probably finished ninth grade. But there were stories, that I won’t go into at the moment, that reflect her great intelligence and capacity to multi-task and to be appropriate in so many ways.

Before I address her cooking, I have to back up a second. I told you the store was open from early in the morning ‘til late at night. Even at that, my parents had some difficulty in meeting the rent, which they told me was raised every month or two because they again did not have a lease. The rent would be raised $5 or $10 a month, which was a tremendous amount. As a consequence, my father used to take a nap every afternoon for a couple of hours, so he could stay awake in the evening. When the store closed (12:00) at 10:00 or 10:30 at night, he held a card game out of which he got a nickel a pot. That extra money helped them to pay the rent.

But getting back to my mother, she stayed awake the entire day, from early morning until evening. We always ate well. We had a diversified diet. She always offered my brother and me choices. The way she cooked –

DS: She had a stove?

LS: Yes. If she was cooking a pot of soup, she would have the water on, and she would put in a carrot and a potato. Then a customer would walk in, and she would go out in the store and wait on the customer. She’d have the water on low. When she came back in, she’d put something else in the pot, and if she could continue, fine. If she couldn’t, she’d go back and wait on the customer and then she’d come back and continue.

DS: You had gas heat? (13:00)

LS: Oh, yes.

Ds: Or gas for cooking?

LS: We had gas for cooking. When my brother and I were old enough we helped out in the store when we were there, when we weren’t in school. The family almost never ate a meal together, because somebody had to be taking care of the customers. Two of us might sit and eat together, and then we would get up and someone else would come and sit down and that other person would go out and take care of the customers. My mother always cooked. We never went to a restaurant. I cannot ever remember going to a restaurant. She cooked three meals a day.

Talking about restaurants, because I said the neighborhood had a lot of Jewish people, there were several Jewish restaurants in the block where we lived. There were two across the street from the store, and there was one on the same side as the (14:00) store going further towards Lombard Street. It was a large restaurant, where catered affairs were held, like bar mitzvahs and weddings.

DS: What was that called? Do you remember?

LS: It was Uhr’s Restaurant.

Something else kept us kind of immobile for a while. As a result of a fall, I had what they called a pathologic fracture just below my hip. Without getting into the details of my illness, it resulted in the fact that I was really unable to walk for almost a year. For months, I was in a body cast that went from my hips to the tip of my toes on both legs in order to keep the pelvis still. My parents put an army cot out (15:00) in front of the store, and I used to lay out in front of the store, for months in nice weather, until I became ambulatory. My mother dealt with that, too.

DS: It was felt that this was helpful for you to be out in the open air?

LS: The social environment in the neighborhood was great. The people who frequented the store were neighbors/friends, and so it was a very social experience. Of course, it’s evident that this couldn’t be an indefinite location for us. My parents found a store on the west side of Fifth Street just before Bainbridge Street. A lot of people are (16:00) aware of a paper goods store on the corner of Fifth and Bainbridge, John C. Paul & Son. Our store was directly next door to the paper store. When my parents moved there, they expanded things a little bit –

DS: And they rented this building?

LS: They rented this building. Actually, the way they did it – because their financial condition still wasn’t great – they borrowed the down payment from my father’s sister, whose husband was in the furniture business. They were willing to loan my parents the money for the down payment for the building. When we moved into the building, my parents went from a candy store to a candy store/luncheonette. They put a (17:00 ) griddle in. In fact, they modified the front window of the building so the window could open and people could come along the front on the street and purchase things right out of the store through the front window. Again, they had a counter, sold ice cream, but also sold some foods; it became a sort of luncheonette. They also put a few shelves in and had a few grocery items, nothing much to speak of, but that made things a little better.

Their finances were still not great. When they purchased the building, the electricity on the first floor was connected to the electricity on the third floor. (18:00) On the second floor there was an apartment, and if you could picture it, when you went up the steps to the second floor, there was a landing, with bedrooms in the front and living quarters and bedrooms in the back. We had to go through their apartment, to get to our own third-floor apartment, because the landing divided the two parts of their apartment. My parents could not afford to hire an electrician to change the electricity; we had the store on the first floor, and we lived on the third floor.

DS: You rented out the second floor?

LS: We rented out the second floor. We were there for a number of years, and at a later time, we moved around the corner onto Bainbridge Street. The new address (19:00) was 512 Bainbridge Street. Bainbridge Street contained a variety, an unusual mixture of stores. A tailor trimmings store and next door to that was a store where a man had a big circular saw and a few other pieces of equipment and made cabinets and display cases. It later expanded and became quite a business, but it all started out as a one-room shop. The store we moved into had originally been a bakery. As you went up the street, next door to where our store was, were people who repaired air conditioning and refrigeration (20:00) units. As you went up further, there were a couple of unusual kinds of stores that you would never find today. These were places that had second-hand items, but not antiques, not the kind of thing you think about. These are people who sold little stoves that people heated two-room residences or one-room residences and various mechanical items, tools, parts for heaters. There were a couple of those stores. Then you went further up the street and there was a furniture store, Schaffer’s Furniture Store. That occupied several buildings. On the opposite side of the street from my parents’ store was a place (21:00) where they did metal fabricating, and they made things out of galvanized metal, all sorts of things. Next door to them was a double-sized property that did all kinds of minor and very major wrought-iron fabricating, major building projects, and next to that was a large building that housed an upholsterer. There was quite a mixture on that block.

Around the corner on Fifth Street, I already said something about John Paul’s paper house on the corner; in that block there were an assortment of places. I won’t bother to describe them.

DS: Tell me, did most of the people who owned these shops live upstairs? (22:00)

LS: The people who owned the places on Fifth Street lived there, and I just have to think for a minute, and about half or more of the people who owned the other shops lived there. The upholsterers did not live there. The metal fabricator did not live there. The refrigeration man did not live there. But the people who had the stores where they sold tools and stove parts and those things, those people lived there. Owners of a tailor trimming store did live there. The people who built the cabinets and fixtures did live there. It was a mixture. They were all good neighbors. Anybody and everybody would do anything for their neighbor, and if they couldn’t do it, they would find somebody to do it.

DS: You had children to play with from these other families? (23:00)

LS: Actually there weren’t many children in the block where I lived. Most of my friends were friends that I got through school. I went to Meredith [School] at Fifth and Monroe, which everybody is familiar with in the neighborhood. And I think at a later time, for a short while, I went to McCall School. But I can’t put that together.

DS: Before we get onto your education and how life developed for you, tell me your father’s education. Was he born in this country?

LS: My father and mother were both born in this country. My father left school very early. He has an interesting – I’ll make it very brief – history. His father was a tailor, but more than a tailor. He was a clothing manufacturer. In the early (24:00) 1900s – probably in the teens of the 1900s, according to sources in the family – he had a line of credit somewhere between $50,000 and $100,000, which was phenomenal. He had a tremendous business. He occupied most if not all of the building at Fourth and Market Streets, and he had two brothers that he brought with him from Europe that he made partners. My grandfather died prematurely. My father was about 11 years old, when he died, and the two brothers absconded with the business and left my grandmother essentially penniless.

My dad, as opposed to his three brothers, was very dedicated to doing what he could to help my grandmother exist, so he quit school and went to work. He had a very shallow education. I would guess he went to about eighth grade.

My mother, as I said before, who was quite bright, had to go to work (25:00) because her family didn’t have good financial circumstances, and she went to work after she finished ninth grade. But despite the fact of the limited education, she had a highly developed intellect and all this was substantiated through third parties. She took a course and learned shorthand, and she typed. And from what everyone has told me, she was the fastest typist, the quickest with shorthand, and she climbed up the ladder, and she was – whoever it was – the boss’s favorite. Many, many years later, after our businesses were closed and she went to work part-time, she went to work for the A&P Company, and the same thing happened. She was promoted way ahead of all of the women on the staff, because she typed faster and she got more done. She was very organized. In any event, she was most unusual. I didn’t find out until a year or two before she (26:00) died that, back in the 1930s, she suggested to my father that they move to Arizona, because lots of things were happening in the Southwest. If you can imagine that happening in the late ‘30s. She was always adventurous. She danced well, she swam well. My dad couldn’t dance. My dad couldn’t swim. But she was everything and anything.

DS: Tell me about your education.

LS: Well, my parents were both very dedicated to the fact that I would have an education and a better life than they. From a very early age, I said I wanted to be a doctor. I very early got over wanting to be a fireman or a cowboy. I think a lot of that probably relates to the fact that I had this illness and couldn’t walk for a year and was in hospitals. (27:00) Even though I wasn’t chronically ill, I had this experience, so I wanted to go to medical school. I always found school very easy. In fact, I think one of the problems was that I found it too easy. I went to school locally. I went to Meredith, and then I went to junior high at Bartlett Junior High School at Eleventh and Catherine. At that time, among other things, there was – not rampant – but there was obvious anti-Semitism. One of the experiences I had a number of times coming home from Bartlett, I and my friends would be jumped by a group who would holler, “Hey, kid, are you a Jew?” I came home with a bloody nose. I wasn’t really enthusiastic about continuing there and (28:00) the only high school in Philadelphia that started in the ninth grade was Central High School. All the others started at tenth.

I enrolled in Central High School. I went for a year. I did very well. I loved it, but three or four or five friends who also went dropped out for a variety of reasons; some were academic, some were other personal reasons. I was going by myself the full length of the Broad Street subway line. I decided I didn’t want to do that. Besides, I was the age that it would be better if I went to a co-ed school, so I went to West Philadelphia High and graduated from West Philadelphia High School in January of 1949. At that time, classes finished twice a year, January and June, as opposed to the full year in June.

I then went to Temple University. At that time, to get into medical school, one of the prerequisites was almost to have a straight A – at least to have a very high (29:00) – average. I did very well in school, but I never worked hard because school was easy for me. I ended up with a B, B plus average. It wasn’t really enough to get into medical school. The other reason, partial reason, that I didn’t work very hard in school, aside from the fact that academically it was easy, was that my parents had these very long hours in the store. When I finished classes, I used to come home and help out. My mother always didn’t want me to do it. She said schooling is more important, but I had enough guilt that I came home to help in the store. Even if I didn’t do anything when I came home, my heart was in the right place.

I ended up going to medical school – I’m an osteopathic physician – I ended up going to medical school in Kansas City, Missouri. That’s another also a partial financial story, because there’s no way, really, that I could afford to go to medical school. But (30:00) I went – and my parents used to send me a check for $25 a month, theoretically to cover some of my expenses.

DS: Did you have a scholarship?

LS: No. No scholarship. When I was in medical school, I was forced to work. I don’t know if anyone who reads this will remember, but for a number of years there was a national clothing chain called Robert Hall stores, Robert Hall clothing stores. They were across the country. Soon after I went to Kansas City, I was fortunate enough to get a job with Robert Hall clothing stores, so I went to medical school and, five days a week, after I finished my classes, I worked from around 5:30 to 9 o’clock at night (31:00) in the clothing store, and I worked twelve hours on Saturday, from 9:00 to 9:00. I wasn’t sure I was going to make it. I really wasn’t. In addition, I did a couple of other miscellaneous jobs. I learned years before that how to fix automobiles. I used to help out in an automobile shop, and I did that when I could get a job. I knew somebody who ran a seven-day-a-week shop, so on Sunday sometimes I would do that. Everybody asks, “How do you do that when you go to medical school?” The answer is I really don’t know. Anyhow, I finished medical school.

DS: Did you come home?

LS: I came home to Philadelphia, and that ties back into the neighborhood. As an osteopathic physician, there were a limited number of hospitals and internship opportunities. One of the larger osteopathic hospitals – because they were all (32:00) relatively small – was situated at Third and Spruce; that was Metropolitan Hospital. I got an internship at Metropolitan Hospital. Internships didn’t pay a lot of money at the time. However, at that time and to a lesser degree today, the quality of your education has an inverse relation to what you get paid. The better the internship, or the better the program, the less they feel obligated to pay you. When I came back, around 1957 – I was at Metropolitan Hospital from 1957 to 1958 – I guess the average salary for somebody who was out working might have been $300 a week, maybe $350 a week. They paid me $25 a month, less taxes. Which of course you can’t live on, but since I was in the hospital seven days a week and ate at the hospital, I managed. (33:00)

DS: And you lived at home?

LS: No, I didn’t live at home. I spent most of my time at the hospital. I used to go home, but I would say I was home about 70% of the time and 30% of the time I would be sleeping over at the hospital.

During the year of my internship, one of the responsibilities was, when a patient was admitted to the hospital on your floor, you had to complete a history and physical examination and dictate it within 24 hours of the time. There were certain other rules with regard to record-keeping that were relatively stringent. A very nice young (34:00) woman who worked in the record room came by to explain the rules and, to make a long story short, she’s been my wife for 50 years.

My wife, Eileen, also worked when she went to college. She had a variety of jobs. One was in a department store. Through some friends, she had gotten a job at Metropolitan Hospital working in the record room. At that time there were no computers, but there was a big machine that printed out the paychecks. She learned how to do that. She used to run the salaries for the people at the hospital. She worked at the hospital in a couple of capacities. Right after I started my internship, she made rounds to talk to each of the interns with regard to their paper work. I offered to drive her home (35:00) because I was going to finish at what you might call a somewhat reasonable hour that night. She declined, but eventually she consented. She spent the next several months trying to get rid of me. Obviously, it didn’t work. That’s Metropolitan Hospital.

DS: Metropolitan closed when? Do you remember the date?

LS: Metropolitan Hospital, for anybody who doesn’t know it, had been a cigar factory and was gutted in order to be made into a hospital. I don’t remember the year that it closed. If I spent a while, I could probably figure it out. My guess is that it was some time around 1970, some time in proximity to that date. (36:00)

After that, I took a surgical residency training program. I took part of it outside of Philadelphia. I came back and spent the final year of my residency program at Metropolitan Hospital, as a consequence of which I ended up practicing locally.

That brings me back to something else about the neighborhood. I finished my surgical training, and again that sentence seems to keep coming up, we didn’t have any money. My parents, who had lived in the neighborhood for years and basically knew everybody, identified a property at 530 Pine Street and said, “That would be a great place for you to have an office.”

DS: Can you tell me the approximate year we’re talking about here? (37:00)

LS: This would be 1961. The office was occupied by a dentist – had been occupied by a dentist, who was selling the property. His name was Dr. Samuelli. I learned (38:00) that when I was very small – I’m going to say six or seven years of age – Dr. Samuelli extracted some of my teeth, so I had an indirect relationship with Dr. Samuelli. As I said, we didn’t have money to buy the property. To make a long story short –

DS: You and Eileen.

LS: Eileen and I. Again, somebody comes to the rescue. Eileen had a bachelor uncle who offered to provide us the money for the down payment. The property had an office on the first floor; it was no way in utilizable condition. It had two apartments above (39:00) that. There was also one apartment on the first floor in the back, which I won’t describe at the moment. The property was built, I believe, it was 1806. As far as the office was concerned, it couldn’t be used. It was decrepit. But my father, who was quite handy, could do plumbing, carpentry, everything else, came in with a sledge hammer and knocked the walls out on the first floor, reducing it to one big pile of rubble. Because we then had to create an office – we had borrowed money for the down payment – we didn’t have any money to do any building. We couldn’t afford to hire anybody. (40:00) There was a real estate agent in the 500 block of Pine Street. Stern’s was the name. We knew Edith Stern and her husband, Oscar, for any number of years from the neighborhood. They loaned Eileen and me the money that they were to get for their commission in order for us to buy material. I used to go to the hospital and work and, when I got finished, I came home to do some construction. I made the plans and helped build the office. We did get some supplemental help. We paid for some carpentry help and some electricians. Essentially, they and I built the office.

The apartment on the first floor in the back was a later addition to the 1806 structure. Since it was built as an addition, the builders had never put a stairway (41:00) in this addition, so Eileen and I had a living room and a kitchen on the first floor. We had to come out into a hallway, walk halfway down the hallway to the existing old stairs to walk upstairs to our bedroom. In addition, the living room on the first floor was about 12 feet from the wall of the next building, so there was no light in the apartment. We had very little light and we had no stairs to go from one part of our building to the other. We lived there about five years. One other corollary was that there were two other apartments and, as we got a few dollars together, we fixed the other apartments up. Renting them permitted us to pay the loaned money back. In fact, since I couldn’t pay the money back to the Sterns in time, I borrowed $2,000 from a doctor friend I knew to pay the Sterns back.

DS: Meanwhile, your parents are still in the store. (42:00 )

LS: My parents were in the store. Anyhow, the building. To have renovated it into a single-family dwelling would have been optimum but would have been too costly. I continued to use the office off and on through the years, and we didn’t convert it to a single-family dwelling.

I already described the first floor and no light and no stairs to get from one part to the other. When a property came available at – let’s see, I did know.

DS: At 124?

LS: Yes. When a property became available at 124 Delancey Street after five years at Pine Street, we moved to Delancey Street.

DS: Did you buy it from the Fishers?

LS: No, we didn’t buy it from the Fishers. The Fishers were our next-door (43:00) neighbors. I don’t know the name of the people from whom we purchased it. Eileen may recall. The circumstance that was explained to us was that the family had purchased the property, had initiated renovation, and had done a lot of nice things. They put in some unusual fixtures, they did a lot of carpentry, a lot of restoration, built in a dining area, cabinets, and they put up a lovely Roman shade in the kitchen and did a little bit in the garden. It was absolutely delightful. Of course, the other thing about it was that when we looked out the window, we could see the Benjamin Franklin Bridge. There was (44:00) a large block across the street from us, and we could see everything from here to Spruce Street and that was wonderful. As everyone knows by now, after we had been there for several years, there was a lot of new construction on the lot across from us that obscured that wonderful view but that wasn’t the reason we moved. The reason we moved had to do with the daughter. We have two daughters, the younger of whom had a very rare set of disabilities. She was mentally totally competent and a wonderful personality, but she had a combination of a lot of severe disabilities. For a variety of reasons, it was really more beneficial for us to be in an environment where there was less of what I (45:00) would call the complications of living in a congested, redeveloped, development area. That’s why we went to Cherry Hill.

DS: When did you move to 124 Delancey?

LS: I’m not sure I can do it to the year. The best I can do is, I said we moved into Pine Street somewhere around 1961 or ’62. We’ll say ’62. We lived there for five years, which would bring us to 1967. The likelihood is we moved to Delancey Street about 1967. We lived there for about five years, which would bring us close to 1972. When we purchased the house, and of course if you look back at what I said about our financial situation, you’ll realize that we had just about enough to make a down (46:00) payment for our Delancey Street house. Five years later, when we sold it, we had whatever that amount we had put down as equity. We sold the house – I believe we bought it for sixty-some thousand dollars. I’m going to say somewhere between sixty and sixty-five thousand dollars. When we sold it, we sold it for $82,000. In retrospect, wasn’t it nice that we made a profit? However, four years after we bought it – and I remember that because we had a couple of subsequent conversations about it – there was something about the sale in the newspaper, and the house we had sold four years before (47:00) for $82,000 was up for sale for $234,000.

DS: You’re talking about the house on Pine?

LS: No, I’m talking about the house on Delancey. We made a few thousand dollars between our equity and the $82,000, but if we had stayed for four more years, it would have tripled in value.

[End of first side of the tape ]

[Second side of the tape]

LS: We moved to Cherry Hill, so I don’t know whether the questions you have –

DS: What involvement did you have with Redevelopment [Authority] with either of these two properties on Pine or on Delancey? Any involvement?

LS: Yes, but it was limited. Of course, we all know there were standards set up for conformity with the redevelopment plan. One of them was, for example, on Pine – we didn’t have a problem on Delancey, because that had already been taken care of by the time we moved there. On Pine Street the front of the building, when we purchased it –

DS: How much did you pay for it? I’m sorry to interrupt you.

LS: We paid somewhere in excess of a base price of $25,000, but we paid something like $8,000 for whatever might be categorized as extras. I guess a total would have (1:00) been we paid about $33,000. Incidentally, talking about Pine Street and the financial end, over the years that we owned the property, and we really didn’t sell it until ten years ago, somewhere around the late 1990s, I guess, one would have expected that the property would have escalated tremendously in value. It really didn’t happen. There was minimal – there was some escalation in its value, but not much. And if one wonders why, the reason – I think the legitimate reason was – there are two types of properties that were marketable and whose price escalated on a significantly progressive rate. One is, the highest, would be to have a single-family dwelling. I already said that was not (2:00) feasible – it was financially not feasible, because of the size and the mechanics of the interior of the building. The second type of property whose value went up were properties that might be classified as income-producing properties. There are income-producing properties and those are properties which are significantly income producing. This property which had a couple of apartments, provided enough to pay the expenses of the building, and to provide maybe $5,000 or $6,000 a year over and above the expenses. No one wanted to buy a property like that. If you had a property that had half a dozen apartments, the multiple would be very different. This property fit neither of the two bills, and when we sold it, although we made what you would call a substantial (3:00) profit, the percentage gain over our initial purchase price was nowhere like it was with the other two types of properties that I mentioned. So that was for that property. What was the question?

DS: You were talking about the Redevelopment Authority.

LS: The Redevelopment Authority. When we purchased the property at Pine Street, the front of the brick building had been painted over. That had to go. We had the paint taken off, and that had to be sandblasted. Once it was sandblasted, the brick becomes porous, and has to be siliconized. We had to do those things. The other big thing was that the cornice had to be in keeping with the cornices of the period. We had to restore the cornice, and then the other thing that we had to do was to replace all the (4:00 ) windows in the front with six over six windows. Once we did all those things, we really didn’t have any problem with it. There was nothing any more we had to do.

[Tape is turned off, then on again]

LS: On the 500 block of Pine Street, there were a few things that are very different than the way they were. For example, I mentioned already that the property we bought was from Dr. Samuelli, who was a dentist. There were two other dentists who were on that block. They were on the opposite side of the street. At the beginning of the block, two doors from the corner of Fifth Street, I mentioned that there was a real estate agency, Stern Real Estate Agency. Next door, or two doors past them, was another dentist, whose name was Dr. Gansky. If you went almost all the way up, almost to (5:00) Sixth Street, about four or five doors before you got to Sixth Street, was another dentist, whose name was Dr. Brenner. We had three dentists in that block, in addition to which I think there is still that small synagogue on the north side of the street. That always had a very small congregation, and there were and there still persist several synagogues in the area. I mentioned that I lived at Fifth and Gaskill at one time. On the corner of Fifth and Gaskill was my parents’ store. On the other side was a synagogue that was built in Russian Orthodox style, although it wasn’t Russian Orthodox. It was a synagogue. Of course, there were a number of other synagogues. There’s the one that is on Lombard Street just below Sixth, and there is another one on Lombard Street, just above (6:00) Fourth Street. There were quite a number.

DS: Did your family go to a synagogue?

LS: My dad professed to be – he didn’t use the word religious, but in context he professed to be religious. Despite that and despite the fact that he adhered to the kosher laws, and my mother accommodated him, although she had no real emotional need to comply, she did that for him. We had a synagogue directly across the street on Gaskill Street. He was almost never there. He went on what we call the High Holidays and made his appearance, and it satisfied his emotional need, but they weren’t religious in a participatory sense.

[Tape is turned off, then on again]

DS: Another story. (7:00)

LS: Well, my wife’s father was raised in downtown – deep in South Philadelphia. When he was very young, basketball had not become a national pastime, but a game that was drawing a lot of attention. One of the teams that was in at the very beginning of basketball becoming a major thing was a group called the SPHAs. Stands for South Philadelphia Hebrew Association. Although they all spoke English and were all very “Americanized” [quotes are the narrator’s], they recognized their heritage when they made up the name of their team. My father-in-law was asked to referee a game very early on. The team was very enthused with his refereeing and, to make a long story (8:00) short, he did that for the rest of his life. Actually, that wasn’t his job. He was superintendent of incoming mails for Philadelphia in the 30 th Street post office, but his main life was after that when he refereed the basketball games. For 35 years, he refereed public school and Catholic School ball games and was known throughout the city of Philadelphia. He was in the newspaper many times. Got a lot of accolades and rewards.

In any event, basketball was played all over. One of the local places was at the Neighborhood Center at Fifth and Bainbridge. The Neighborhood Center was located on Bainbridge, just below Fifth Street. On the corner of Fifth and Bainbridge, which is intersected by Passyunk Avenue, was the First Philadelphia Bank. Right next (9:00) door was a large building called the Neighborhood Center, where there were all kinds of activities for young people. It had a library. It had clubs. It had arts and crafts. The building was built around an atrium and in the atrium they had a very small baseball diamond and some basketball hoops. There was sports played in the atrium. They also had a theater group. There was all kinds of things, and it attracted young people from all over the area.

But it’s not only interesting that the Neighborhood Center was there, but if you could believe it, across from the First Pennsylvania Company there are a couple of trucks parked. Bainbridge is a little wider from Fifth Street going east than it is from Fifth Street going west. Where the street widens at Fifth Street, there used to be one (10:00) or two large trucks parked. These were “movers” [the quotation marks are the narrator’s.]. There was no North American Van Line or Mayflower. There were these big, husky men hanging around, and people knew that if one wanted to move from one place to another, one could hire a moving truck.

As you went down Bainbridge Street, halfway down the block was an archway leading into a stable from which people brought horses and wagons, because at a time immediate preceding and extending a little bit into the time when I lived there, people could rent a horse and wagon. Most people were using automobiles most of the time, but there were still people who would market items off of a horse and wagon. It wasn’t the only stable in the area. There was one a block down, or two blocks down, somewhere around Third and Bainbridge, and there was another one on Fifth Street (11:00) just below Monroe Street, I believe.

A couple of buildings on Fifth Street, going north, starting from Lombard Street, marketed and maybe did publishing of Jewish newspapers; there was also just above Lombard Street on Fifth Street, a dairy restaurant. Under the kosher laws you are supposed to keep the meat and dairy products separate. There was a store that only had dairy meals, just above Lombard on Fifth Street.

At Sixth and Lombard, you know that there is Starr Garden Park. Starr (12:00) Garden at Sixth and Lombard hosted a Boy Scout troop, Troop No. 34. Another thing which has to seem bizarre today, is that on Lombard Street on the north side of the street, just a few houses before you get to Seventh Street, was a place that was called the Starr Garden Library. It was actually a part of the Philadelphia library system, and it was an old, multi-story house that had in what we would call the basement, the downstairs, one section of the library and on the first floor the second section. I don’t remember what they had on the second floor. But there was literally a library in a building that (13:00) was part of the Philadelphia library system. I thought that was pretty interesting.

The area of South Street, which you may already know, was a tremendous attraction and brought people any time, but most particularly on the weekends, to do shopping. The impetus to do that – one of the things – was that there were alleged bargains. I’m not sure what bargains means, because a number of the stores provided what some call bargains, because they were ready to negotiate price. And there wasn’t always or at all places bargaining, but there was a certain amount of that, and it was an attraction to many people. The variety of stores was really very great. (14:00)

As you went down South Street from Fifth, on the second floor of one of the buildings was a place called Longo’s Pool Room, Pool Hall. Many of the young people for recreation would play pool there. Further down the street was a small movie theater called the Model Movies. The thing I remember most about that was that they had an elderly man as an usher who would take the tickets as you entered the theater. His name was Charlie. He must have had very bad feet, because the front parts of his leather shoes were cut out, and you could see his white socks, whenever you came in. I was surprised he stood as long as he did. We don’t have to talk about what the cost was to go to a movie at that time.

There were any number of other businesses. When we get to the (15:00) corner of Fourth and South, I already mentioned there was a woman with a pushcart who sold hot dogs. I vaguely remember, because I was too young when it changed, the time when people came from suburban areas and parked trucks, and they would huckster or sell goods or vegetables off the back of the truck. As opposed to today, and the story is, (and I know that it’s true from people I’ve known quite well to be reliable,) that they would stay overnight and sleep on the trucks with all the money they had made. There was no problem as far as security or police, and they could do that.

Most people are familiar with the Italian market on Ninth Street. (16:00) What a lot of people don’t know is that there was a similar Jewish market with pushcarts, that started at Fourth and South and went down to about Monroe Street. They were on both sides of the street, more particularly on the west side, but on both sides of the street, and they had chicken crates out on the sidewalk. You could select a chicken. There was a dairy store where you could buy tub butter. There were soft-goods stores where you could buy socks, stockings. Everybody seems to know about Famous Delicatessen at Fourth and Bainbridge. What a lot of people don’t know is that there were any number of delicatessens, because of the population description here. There was a delicatessen on South Street between Fourth and Fifth called Kellem’s. There was another delicatessen (Famous is on the southwest corner) – on the northwest corner was another (17:00) delicatessen, not quite as large but good sized, that sold all the things that Famous did, and that was one. If you walked half a block down to Fourth and Monroe, on the southeast corner was another delicatessen called Lepoff’s. This is a little bit of what the neighborhood was like. There were many bakeries, where you could get abundant fresh baked goods. There was a bakery on Fourth Street just below Lombard, called Moskowitz’s. There was a bakery between South and Bainbridge on the east side of the street, Levits’ Bakery. There was one on Fifth Street a few doors from where we lived on Gaskill. That was between Gaskill and Lombard on Fifth Street; the name of that bakery was Bogoslovsky’s. Incidentally, I was asked earlier about the name of the Jewish restaurant that did the catering, the weddings and the bar mitzvahs. And that family who ran that – ran it for several generations and were extremely well known – their name was Uhr. It was Uhr’s.

DS: On Fifth.

LS: On Fifth. It had a restaurant downstairs and a big hall upstairs where they catered functions.

[Tape is turned off, then on again]

LS: I was asked a question, something about the ethnicity in the area. When my parents had the luncheonette-grocery, and we moved to Bainbridge Street, it became a (19:00) little bit more grocery, a few more grocery shelves. The people living up what we called the back streets, the small streets, were almost entirely black. They lived in little houses that had almost no central heating. They used to heat their house with what was called a bucket a day stove. It was called a bucket a day stove because they used to put coal in it, and whatever heat emanated from this little stove was what they heated their house with. In fact, one of the items my parents sold in their store were bags of coke, a kind of coal, regular coal and a few bags of charcoal. And these people would come in and buy these bags – I don’t remember how much they weighed, let’s suppose they were 25 (20:00) pound bags. You could buy a 25-lb. bag and they would use that. They really were very poor, and in fact in many, many instances, they really couldn’t afford what they bought. They would run up a bill in our store, and when they got paid, they would pay off last week’s bill, and they would start a new bill. It wasn’t that they drank a lot, but it was the only form of recreation they had – they would get paid on the weekend, pay off the bills that they owed, buy some coke, buy some groceries, and buy themselves a pint of alcohol, and that was about it. This is what we had. They were always warm, friendly people, who if you needed somebody to help you with something, they would be there in a minute. We always had a very good relationship with them. I can’t recall that we had any Hispanics in the area, although there were a large number of Jews, (21:00) a modest number of Italians, and there were some people of other ethnicities. There was really, to my recollection, no antagonism or problems caused by the varied ethnicity.

DS: Well, thank you, Len, thank you very much.

[End of interview]

Transcriber’s note: The narrator made many changes to the transcript when he reviewed it. There are, consequently, inconsistencies between the transcript and the taped interview and differences in the timing.

© 2009 Project Philadelphia 19106™. All rights reserved.

About the Interview

Dorothy Stevens
Cynthia J. Eiseman
Interview Location
116 Delancey Street
Interview Date
September 22, 2009
Segal, Leonard B.
Narrator Type
Redeveloper - Restoration
Oral History Sources