Philip Price, Jr.

Philip Price, Jr.’s account of his experience restoring 321 Spruce Street seems to include more lawsuits than do those of other narrators. A fire on the third floor had done a lot of damage to the house when Phil and his wife Sarah bought the place in 1965. The house was in “absolutely appalling” condition, but Phil and Sarah wanted to live in Center City and “enjoy the challenges of moving into a redevelopment area.” They also bought the property next door, 319 Spruce, where they would enjoy planting a garden. They did a complete rehab of the house: electrical, plumbing, roof, painting, nine fireplaces all restored to working order, and ultimately shutters required by the Redevelopment Authority. One lawsuit arose after Phil and his contractor discovered that the chimney shared by the unrestored, unoccupied house next door at 323 Spruce was about to fall off the houses and crash onto the sidewalk – so imminently that Phil had the chimney removed immediately and wrote a letter to the other owner describing what had happened. The other owner sued Phil, but Phil prevailed. Two other suits occurred after the Prices moved into the house in 1967, and Phil was elected President of the Society Hill Civic Association. During his year in office, he led the association through the controversy over allowing a supermarket on S. Fifth Street at Delancey. Most neighborhood residents favored the supermarket, but one man who opposed it accused Phil of accepting a bribe for favoring it. Having low-income housing in Society Hill would not become an issue for several years after Phil completed his term as President, but he describes the issue in some detail. The matter was so acrimonious that Phil received anonymous telephone calls threatening his wife and children. Phil does point to a number of positive and collaborative issues with which he was involved, including the creation of the Third Street parking lot and the restoration of the Headhouse and Market Shambles. The Prices sent their three children to the Montessori school at Twelfth and Christian Streets. It was the Prices’ wish to send their children to Germantown Friends School that prompted them to move out of Society Hill. Phil ends his interview with a fervent encomium to Charles Peterson, whom he came to know well when they lived across Spruce Street from one another.


DS: This is an interview with Philip Price, Jr. The date is November 10, 2009. The address is 116 Delancey Street, in Philadelphia, PA. The interviewer is Dorothy Stevens.

[Tape is turned off, then on again]

DS: Well, Phil, welcome. Tell me, let’s start with the question of when did you come to Society Hill?

PP: It was September 1965, and we moved into the South Tower [of Society Hill Towers] on the second floor, at a time when there were probably only – there was only one apartment rented per floor in that building, completed the year before. I was able to write a lease for us which included putting two apartments together, because we had one child at that point; in fact, writing a month to month lease, because they were so delighted to have anybody move in [Laughs]. We had the intention of fixing over a derelict property and moving into (1:00) that as our house, but it was very useful to rent that space briefly, in 1965.

DS: Why did you come to this neighborhood?

PP: We wanted to live in the city; we really wanted the vibrancy of – we knew about this community from a number of friends and associates, Peter Mather being one, who lived here when he was in law school, lived on the south side of the 300 block of Spruce Street, and others. It just seemed, so many of us felt at the time, to be a place where we wanted to live and bring up our children, at least in the early stages of their lives, and enjoy the challenges of moving into a redevelopment area.

DS: Did you work in the city?

PP: Yes, I was working in the city, so it was very convenient.

DS: You could walk to work.

PP: Yes, either walk to work or take the bus.

DS: You then did find that property that you wanted? (2:00)

PP: We did, thanks to Ted Newbold, who was working for the Redevelopment Authority at that time. We found a very, very derelict property in the 300 block of Spruce Street, 321 to be exact, which had been in its earlier days – well, of course, a single-family house. Just before it became vacant, it was carved up as a rooming house. I remember going in for the first time and seeing false partitions dividing rooms in the house, with numbers on the doors. It was probably a rooming house in which maybe fifteen people lived on three floors. At that time, the next-door property, 319 [Spruce Street], was a very famous tavern, called the Al-Mo Bar… The name for that came from the fact that one of the bartenders was (3:00) named Al, and he worked in the daytime, and Mo was the nighttime bartender. The Redevelopment Authority had plans to tear that building down, because it was pretty decrepit, and of course that wasn’t suitable for the redevelopment plans for the area. We were interested in the residential property and the fact that the next-door property would be available for a garden. That was our goal when we moved into the Towers in 1965.

DS: In the walkway there –

PP: St. Joseph[’s] Way?

DS: St. Joseph[’s] Way. Was the street there at that time?

PP: Yes, it was. Again, it was – by looking at the plans, we were informed that it would be closed as a street. Very narrow, like Philip Street and so forth. The plan would be to build a walkway, because the houses – there was a development proposed for (4:00) the houses in the interior of that block.

DS: Bingham Court?

PP: Yes.

DS: Were there businesses back on that street when you moved in – or when you bought the house?

PP: You mean on St. Joseph’s Way? No.

DS: There were no businesses at that time? It was just vacant land?

PP: Yes, vacant land, with the intention of building those houses.

DS: Bell’s Court was still there?

PP: Yes, indeed.

DS: Bell’s Court is now just one side on the north. I understand there used to be another similar, identical –

PP: There may have been. I don’t recall it when we were fixing our house. We had a very good friend in Raul Betancourt, who lived there, and was tragically killed in an automobile accident much later. He was a bachelor living in Bell’s Court. We knew him very well.

DS: What year did you then buy this shell? (5:00)

PP: We were able to buy it in – as I recall, we bought it in 1965. We signed the agreement in ’65, and [purchased] the lot in ’66, and started working on it shortly thereafter; in ’67. It must have been late in the year, in both instances, when we bought those two properties. We took about a year and a half to finish the house.

DS: How much did you pay for it?

PP: Well, the house, as I recall, was very low, $15,000, and the lot was $7,500, just half the house.

DS: What condition was the house in?

PP: Well, it was absolutely appalling, poor condition. In fact, there had been a fire on the third floor. The whole roof was gone. There really was not much savable except the interior; the lower floors, the woodwork was all savable, and the flooring below. (6:00) We had to replace the flooring on the third floor – the fourth floor. There was one room on the fourth floor, and the third floor was in reasonable shape. It required a total rehabilitation, for which an architect named Nelson Anderson drew the plans. He was involved in the Head House Development with another architect. They took it away from them, as I recall. Anyway, Nelson Anderson drew the plans that were satisfactory to the Redevelopment Authority. I remember going back and forth about what you could do to the outside and so forth. We had every intention of saving whatever was savable inside, which was not only the flooring and woodwork, but also magnificent fireplaces. We ended up by restoring nine fireplaces in that building.

DS: All working fireplaces?

PP: All working fireplaces. We put in flues so they would work. We didn’t use (7:00) them all.

DS: Of course, all the utilities had to be redone?

PP: Oh, yes.

DS: Plumbing and –

PP: I acted as – the first time I’d ever done this and it was the last – I was the general contractor for the job. Again, working in Center City I was able to commute down here during my lunch break; I’d take a sandwich with me. I remember one time – and I’ll tell you later about the contractor that was referred to us by Charlie Peterson who lived across the street. There was one tradesman who bid on the roofing job, Ben Spann. “Ben Spann, the Roofing Man,” we called him. He underbid dramatically, and he came to me and said, “Phil, I can’t do it for this.” I said, “Well, what can you do it for?” He told me, and it was about twice as much. I said, “Go ahead and do it.” I knew if (8:00) I held him to that contract, he would have skimped on the job and given me a two-ply roof instead of a four-ply roof. That was the kind of decision I had to make, literally on the spot. He was delighted, and I believe that everybody should make a profit on their work. I wasn’t about to hold him to a piece of paper when he would lose money and probably try to skimp on the job just to lose as little as possible.

To go back to the contractor: Charlie Peterson had hired for his own work on the south side [of Spruce] – he had two or three properties – an Italian family, Leo Gazzaro and his two sons. You hired Leo, you had to take his two sons with him. That was the package deal. One of them only drove the truck; he was not particularly skilled. The (9:00) other was a skilled carpenter. Leo really restored the house except for – he could have done every trade, literally. He was an electrician, a roofer, he could have done the plumbing, he certainly did all the carpentry. At this point, it was easier for him to concentrate on the carpentry work. I remember when I showed him Nelson Anderson’s plans for the first time, I laid them out on a makeshift table in the house, and he looked at them for about 30 seconds. Then he rolled them up and said, “I don’t need no plans. I don’t need no ‘archatet’ (as he called him) I’ll build your house for you.” He never looked at them again, and neither did I. [Laughs]

DS: [Laughs] Did that not scare you?

PP: No, because if Charlie Peterson recommended somebody, I felt very comfortable. He did a superb job. They were able to take off the paint, for example – there were (10:00) about six layers of paint on the woodwork. One of his sons, the skilled one, was able with a blowtorch, to just put enough heat on the surface to be able to scrape it off and not scar the woodwork. Very, very skilled. I was very pleased, and so was Sarah [my wife], with the ultimate product. I never told the architect [that] the contractor never looked at his architect’s drawings. They would have gotten more nervous than I would.

DS: Did the architect ever come in and inspect?

PP: Oh, I think maybe once in the first month, and then said, “Go ahead. I’ll certify it when it’s finished.” And, he did.

DS: How much would you say, approximately, did you spend on this?

PP: Oh, gosh, I think somewhere between $80,000 and $90,000. It was a lot (11:00) of money in those days, for which I had some money saved, and borrowed the rest from a family estate that my father and uncle ran. I must say they charged me the going rate of interest. No break for the family. It was a business proposition. When we ultimately sold the property, I had to certify that – because my father had died many, many years ago and my uncle also – I had to certify that I had been the executor of both of their estates, and that this “lien” had been satisfied when I repaid the amount I had borrowed. The title company gets very nervous about such things. They say, “Oh, my gosh, there’s a borrowing outside the normal lending process.” This was an estate, not a bank. They made me certify that that was the case. We had originally planned to put a one-story addition about two-thirds of the way back in the garden. If the property – (12:00) both properties – consisted of this table, for example, [gesturing] this being the house and this being the garden, we wanted to put a one-story addition about two-thirds of the way back in the garden and not quite to the wall of the extra lot, for a dining room. [It] was so expensive to build that new part in that location, that we gave up on it. The original plans called for it, but it never materialized.

DS: You were lucky, because I guess a lot of people were having trouble getting money in this neighborhood.

PP: Well, that’s right. I was fortunate that the family – actually, we were. It wasn’t really an estate. It was a cemetery company which I now have responsibility for, called (13:00) the Woodland Cemetery, and they were lending money with mortgages in order to make interest for the cemetery company. So that’s the way I got it, just by chance and good luck.

DS: Tell me, had the house been open before? Were there varmints or anything? Had it been open to the air since there had been a fire in there?

PP: Well, the roof – it wasn’t collapsed, but –

DS: It was open.

PP: You could tell it was –

DS: Water?

PP: Water damage, obviously. One story, as I mentioned, one room on the fourth floor. The third floor went back two rooms, and the second floor [went back] three. The first floor [was] three also. It was really a pyramid from the first floor up. The fourth floor had to be (14:00) totally rebuilt because of water damage.

DS: These were not apartments? They did not have kitchens?

PP: I didn’t see any evidence of that.

DS: Boarding house?

PP: It was a boarding house.

DS: Do you know the history of the house?

PP: No. I know it was built in 1812 and one subsequent owner, probably the owner before it became a boarding house or rooming house, came back one day and, it was Sunday, and just rang the doorbell. The family was [named] Cross, and they wanted to look at the house. We were delighted to show this family, a couple and an adult child, what it looked like, and they were pleased. There was a piece of marble with their name on it, which I left there. (15:00)

DS: Where was that? Inside the house?

PP: Inside the house. It had been, I’m sure, on the pavement, but when the pavements were turned into brick pavements, thanks to [Charlie] Peterson again, I’m sure it was taken up and put inside.

DS: Interesting.

PP: It took about a year and a half to restore it. We stayed there until 1975, and then rented it to John Lloyd for a very long period of time.

DS: You did indeed.

PP: Twenty-one years, as I recall. He brought up his family there. He has some nice memories there.

DS: Did you have problems with the Redevelopment Authority over the front?

PP: No, not really. They wanted shutters, so we got around to that eventually. [Laughs] It wasn’t a priority from the beginning, but we got around to it. No, it was the usual. I’d been used to dealing with the government a little bit by that time, so I didn’t (16:00) mind at all about the redevelopment requirements. Ted Newbold was delighted to take one more property off his inventory.

DS: You had two children in that house?

PP: Well, we had all three by the time we left. Our oldest was born not in the house, but rather when we lived outside the city. We lived in Radnor for a couple of years. She was born in 1964, the year before. Then our second child in 1966, the year after we moved into Center City. I ran for public office in that year, the State House seat, and lost. Then 1972, our son was born there. Fond memories of riding a bicycle all over this neighborhood with our son, Phil, sitting in the back seat.

DS: How old were the children when you left?

PP: When we left, Alexandra would have been eleven, Emilie nine, and Phil three. (17:00)

DS: They did have a reasonable amount of time to remember the neighborhood?

PP: Except for the three-year-old. The others, I’m sure, if you want to talk with them today, they have a nice impression of friends, some of whom they still connect with, and the neighborhood itself. Oh, sure.

DS: Did the children go to school here?

PP: They went – let’s see. They went to a nursery school, both our daughters, at Twentieth and Christian Streets, called – it was run by a woman named Mrs. Benford. A number of neighborhood children went there – the Roberts children and Joanne’s [Denworth] children.

DS: Frank Roberts?

PP: Frank Roberts, Joanne Denworth, and some others. I remember we were (18:00) all in a carpool to take them there. It was a Montessori school. Then we enrolled our oldest daughter, Alexandra, in Germantown Friends School. By that time – that would have been in the late ‘60s, I guess, 1970, maybe. At that time, I was working at Tasty Baking Company in a community development project. I left the practice of law to do that, and so I would take her out in the morning. There was no bus service in those days. Then we had to find somebody coming back to town in the afternoon. That became unworkable, and that’s why we eventually moved. We chose that school because we were very interested in it as a Quaker school. (19:00)

DS: You were very close to Three Bears Park, too?

PP: Yes, indeed. In fact, one of the memories I have of that was when we were living in the second of two rented facilities before moving into the house, because it took a little longer than expected. After leaving the Towers, we lived at 275 S. Third Street for, I guess, about a year. That’s when our daughter Alexandra was two-and-a-half. On a Saturday morning, she left the house and walked across Third Street and into that park. A neighbor discovered that this child was not accompanied by a parent or an adult or anybody else [Laughs] and that she was in her pajamas early in the morning. [The neighbor] brought her back. [Laughs] You can imagine the fright Sarah and I had over that one. Thank God, it was a Saturday, not a weekday. That was a very strong draw for the children, (20:00) Three Bears Park. We’re going over to England, to see our daughter Alexandra, who is now living there full time; she married an Englishman. We’re going next week, so I’ll remind her you asked me this question and that’s what came back to my memory. I don’t know if she remembers. I’d like to remind her.

DS: During this time – oh, one other question on this subject, what was the reaction of your family, your parents and your wife’s parents –

PP: Sarah’s parents, unhappily, were not living at that time. My parents had no objection. My father had grown up in the city, actually, born in 1898 and lived – born at 1428 Pine Street in a building that still exists, that is now used by the Pierce Business School. Later on, he lived at 1709 Walnut Street. He played in Rittenhouse Square as a (21:00) child. He was very used to in-town living, although he lived in Chestnut Hill when we moved out.

DS: It was no problem?

PP: No problem.

DS: Your mother had no problem?

PP: No, although she grew up in a very different environment, was very adaptable to such things, and was very adventurous and very interested in trying something new. She was very supportive.

DS: Wonderful. While you were living here in this neighborhood, raising your family and working in town, you were also president of the Civic Association?

PP: For one year.

DS: In 1967 was it?

PP: Yes, ’67, and the reason, I think, [Laughs] is they felt that anybody who (22:00) was foolish enough to run for public office and lose as badly as I did might be interested in serving the community in another way. So, yes, I was in that position for one year, and it was a really eventful one, as I remember. The “supermarket project” on Fifth Street came before the Civic Association. You look back on something like that today and you wonder why that would have been controversial at all. Where would you shop otherwise?

DS: We all use it.

PP: We all need a supermarket, but it was controversial at the time. I remember a packed house of the Society Hill Civic Association, and the meeting went on for two hours before the vote on it. Afterwards, a distinguished member of the community, (23:00) an older person, at that point – I was in my 30s – this gentleman was probably in his 60s, I won’t mention his name, a very distinguished member of the community – he wrote me a letter and accused me of accepting a bribe to have that shopping center approved. I thought about this for a while, and I thought: well, let’s see; do I answer this or not? I finally decided: no, I think I’ll not answer; I’ll ask somebody else who is pretty well known in the community to answer on my behalf. I did, and I don’t think Stanhope Browne would object if I mentioned the fact that he acted as my surrogate in answering this gentleman. That was the end of it. That’s how strong feelings were. Then there was another incident, of course, with the proposed Benezet Court, which I’ll talk about later.

DS: Just – what was the objection to this supermarket development? (24:00)

PP: The individual did not want a commercial establishment. I’ve forgotten where he lived, probably nearby and worried about traffic and congestion and lighting at night and that kind of thing. I just don’t recall the location of his house. I thought it was rather amusing. Also, I was sued once when I was restoring the house. I ought to mention that, too.

DS: Oh, yes? Sued? For what?

PP: Well, good question, Dorothy. Again, to the west of our property at 321 Spruce Street was an attached building, on the north side, and is 323 Spruce Street. It’s a row of houses in that block, and that was 323. The chimney for both houses straddled the property line; half the chimney was on the 323 side and half of the brick chimney was (25:00) on the 321 side. Before any interior construction began, I was in the street with the contractor; we were looking at the outside of the building. I looked up and saw this leaning chimney; it was probably about a ten- to fifteen-degree angle toward the street. You could see from that point that the mortar was beginning to disintegrate. We went into the building and up on the roof. I looked at it carefully and I said, “We have to take it down now. We are not going to wait five minutes. Let’s take it down and then I’ll inform the owner.” 323 was vacant, a vacant property next door. It had not been restored.

DS: It was their chimney?

PP: No, it was both of ours. It was the only time I’ve ever seen a chimney straddle a property line. It must have been because both houses were built at the same time, in 1812, and maybe owned by the same family – who knows? I took it down and wrote a letter to my neighbor, and he sued me for violating his property rights. This is really ridiculous; he hired the then Chancellor of the Philadelphia Bar Association to represent him. I asked Harvey Bartle to represent me, long before he was a Federal judge. He was with the Dechert firm. Because the claim was – I can’t even remember the dollar amount; it was modest, not hundreds of thousands of dollars, but the value of (27:00) a chimney – it went before three lawyers, an arbitration panel. That’s the way those small claims are handled. All the arbitrators had to hear was the comment from the contractor, this wonderful Italian contractor, say, “That chimney was going to come down on somebody’s head. Of course, I took it down.” Case dismissed. [Laughs] Literally, the owner of 323 Spruce Street never spoke to me again. I saw him at all kinds of events. I won’t mention his name. That’s not something significant. He was a lawyer and a professor. Never spoke to me again.

DS: You took the chimney down at your expense. You never asked him for any money?

PP: No, certainly not. He asked me for a lot of money. That’s what you do when you do a good deed. No good deed goes unpunished. Anyway, I literally – I was faced with this kind of thing subsequently in a very different forum. But, when you’re faced (28:00) with something that may need safety, you have to act, so I was willing to take the chance that lawyers understand these things quite well in these arbitration panels. He paid a lot of money to hire the Chancellor of the Bar Association to represent him. No wonder he didn’t speak to me again.

DS: Did he ever live in that house?

PP: No. He restored it, rented it and then sold it. We left – I can’t remember if it was restored or not. It took a long time. It was an investment property. You asked me a question that triggered my memory.

DS: Any other issues while you were president of the Civic Association?

PP: I don’t remember any other particular significant issues, but later on the (29:00) Benezet Court matter was one of the things that maybe Joanne Denworth dealt with. It was 1972 or ’73.

DS: It started during Carter Buller’s time as Civic Association president, but Joanne was the one who presided when the issue came before the community.

PP: Yes. That was a very significant matter, I thought. Sam Maitin was the one who brought that matter to a number of us. He and his wife lived in the 600 block of Pine Street [actually at 704 Pine Street]. He was very close to McCall School, and there were crossing guards that he got to know very well, Sam being a wonderful person who knew everybody who lived nearby. He was one of my favorite people in the world, Sam Maitin. Anyway, he got to know them and he heard that Octavia Hill Association was raising their rents because of the rising property values, due to redevelopment on the 700 block of Lombard Street. (30:00) These individuals, about six of them, were being forced out of their units. They had lived there for years and years and years. Sam came to several of us. Bill Leatherbee was one of them. He was the architect [for the proposed project]. We asked Wilson Goode, who was then running a housing improvement program, long before he became active in city politics – this was 1972, I believe – we asked him if he would help us with the technical aspects of building a 14-unit apartment building that would be a mixed income residence with rental apartments. We didn’t want to put the African-Americans in a ghetto by sealing them off in a building and saying, “Well, we got them out of the way.” We wanted this (31:00) to be a community project that would be acceptable to people who were going to live there. I think we would have built the complex right near Mother Bethel Church, so it would have been in the 600 or 700 block of Lombard Street. Well, that plan produced an incredible – as you remember – an incredible outpouring of opposition. Frank Rizzo was Mayor, as I recall. He ducked the issue by saying, “If the community does not agree with the proposed development, I’m not going to support it.” Kind of what he did with Whitman Park: “If there’s any controversy, I’m not going to take sides.” (32:00) The really sad part was that the ultimate solution was forced on the opponents by a Community Legal Services lawyer who went to court and said, “This is a redevelopment area, and you’ve got to supply replacement housing for people being displaced.” That was the federal law. By the time it was ultimately built, I think half the tenants had died. It was just a tragedy, an absolute tragedy.

I remember a neighbor named Lew Reade, who – I think he lived on South Sixth Street – had swastikas painted on his front door. Really very bitter. We had some very unpleasant phone calls that came in around that time, too. The caller would say, “I saw Mrs. Price leaving the house,” if we had a baby (33:00) sitter or something, “and if you leave the house with that child, that child will be in difficulty.” That’s how strident the opposition was. Through a friend, I went to a senior executive at the telephone company at the time and said, “How do I trace these calls?” He said, “Maybe you don’t want to know who is doing this. Just change to an unlisted number and forget about it. What would you do if you found out who was doing something like that, threatening, in effect, your family?” I would probably go berserk, go crazy. He gave the appropriate answer. That’s how difficult that issue was. I would like somebody to write it up some day, because it’s a case study in how (34:00) families, like all of us who were moving into the neighborhood, were very much in favor of this kind of development, but many other residents who had been there for all those years, living very close to African-Americans, were against it because they were worried about property values and that sort of thing. The crazy response was very emotional. I think of Sam Maitin often in connection with his kindness and humanity and his feeling for people, not just his artistic work, but his real concern about justice and fairness and so forth. He was the prime mover in that effort.

[Tape is turned off, then on again]

PP: My report on that was [that] the community would not pull together to give a (35:00) humane and appropriate response to people who had lived there their whole lives and wanted to remain in the neighborhood. We thought, when we started out, we produced a plan that everybody we talked to seemed to support. It became a great surprise when it produced this sort of negative reaction. The result was not what it should have been. Maybe we should have been smart enough to figure out [whether] this would have been the result if we brought something like this to the community and found appropriate rental units scattered throughout the area for each of the six families. But, we thought a mixed-use development would be appropriate so that the displaced residents would feel accepted and not isolated in the community. (36:00)

DS: This almost broke the Civic Association.

PP: That’s right. I remember that now. It almost split it right down the middle and almost caused a new one to be formed.

DS: I think Paul Putney was president then, after Joanne. He dealt with this ….

PP: Gosh. David [Stevens] and I were lucky we were presidents early on, before any of this got to the Civic Association. Oh, my gosh! I really hope someone will – I don’t know if anybody ever will – somebody write up this as a case study and do so dispassionately and look at why these pulls and tugs took place. It might be useful as an urban redevelopment paper; maybe a graduate student would do this.

DS: Do you have any other stories that you remember that you’d like to tell? (37:00)

PP: Well, running for public office was interesting. One more with respect to the [re]development. A group of us got together and purchased a property on Third Street to create a parking lot, and that was positive. That was thanks to Nicholson. What was his first name?

DS: Arnold.

PP: Arnold Nicholson.

DS: He lived on Delancey, the 200 block.

PP: He was the instigator of that one and got a number of us together to invest, to purchase the property and develop it as a parking lot. I thought that was a great response, because it was a way of making Center City living a little easier for people who were fixing up their houses, restoring them. And that’s lasted.

DS: That parking lot is on Third Street between Delancey and Spruce Streets. (38:00)

PP: On the east side; about twenty spaces.

DS: That was very good.

PP: As I say, running for public office in 1966 was a fascinating experience, as a Republican in a Democratic district which was racially mixed. Society Hill was largely Caucasian, but the wards to the north were African-American. I remember spending about six months knocking on as many doors as I possibly could. I campaigned several times with Ray Shaffer, who actually became governor. He won and I lost substantially, because the African-American community wasn’t about to “buy” a Republican for the state legislature. It was my introduction into political life which I was (39:00) involved with on and off, running for office and doing other things for other candidates, for about twenty years. I felt very lucky to have the chance to do it. I never met, in that experience, anybody who regretted or was nasty when I rang a doorbell to introduce myself. Never; and I was usually doing it after work in the early evening or on Saturdays.

DS: You must have been amazingly busy. You’re raising the family, holding down a full-time job, doing general contractor on your house.

PP: No, this was slightly before. This was ’66. The house we started in ’67; but it was a very busy time. That was a marvelous experience. I’m glad I did it. I ended up (40:00) by running for office four times and was elected once. That’s about a baseball player’s average in the major leagues: two hundred fifty. [Laughs] One other thing that I might mention, very positive and quite enjoyable, when I was president of the Society Hill Civic Association, the Headhouse was dedicated as a National Historic Landmark – no, [put] on the Registry of National Historic Places. That was in the summer of 1967, and we invited the then Mayor, the Hon. James. H. J. Tate, to participate, which he did. I remember there was a little reviewing stand, and I was sitting on it with him. I had a very interesting conversation with him. He was much maligned in many ways (41:00) as a public figure, but he was not a very outgoing person. If you talked with him privately, he was very interesting and very intelligent, much misunderstood. He very much appreciated all the redevelopment activity that was taking place in Society Hill. I remember that ceremony quite well, because of that. He ultimately went on to defeat Arlen Specter by 11,000 votes, in the 1967 general election, when the city had about 2 million people instead of 1.4 million today. Amazing. So those are my recollections that come to mind. I hope they are useful.

DS: Do you have pictures of before and after of your house?

PP: I re-read your guidelines for this interview. I have a wonderful one that (42:00) was sent to me by a real estate agent which I have at home and will send to you, showing the property with the tavern next to it. I can send you that. I’ll have to look around to see if we have any of the exterior of the property when we put a wall around the garden. I couldn’t locate those readily, but it would be about what it looks like today. Actually, better shape today, as the new owners have done great things to it. I will send you a photograph of the house before restoration.

DS: Any other stories about neighbors?

PP: Well, we liked everybody we met, including the two of you, very much. If it had been – if we’d worked out a way to feel a little more comfortable with staying (43:00) here, we would have. It wasn’t the nastiness of the Benezet Court or anything. It was just a question of picking a Quaker school that we wanted to send our children to, that caused us to move. I loved living here, and Sarah liked it a lot, although she always told me that she wanted to have a large garden. We were able to do that where we live now. The one we had there was a small one. I liked virtually every day of our experience here. I felt very privileged to have the chance to restore a house and get to know all of you and many others.

DS: Thank you very much, Phil.

PP: I hope it will be useful.

DS: I think it will be.

[The tape is turned off, then on again]

PP: Charles Peterson. The fact that he had a little ongoing dispute most of his (44:00) adult life with Edmund Bacon makes it more appealing. [Laughs] Charles Peterson, who lived across the street from the house we restored and eventually moved into, became a very good friend, and I admired his efforts to tame the Redevelopment Authority, which is the word that comes to mind, in areas that were extremely important not only to those of us who lived there then, but also those who live here today. For example, I think it can be said without hesitation that the Franklin lights and the brick sidewalks were really the result of Peterson’s efforts, who insisted that that work be done. He saved a (45:00) number of buildings. He was very supportive, for example, of what we were trying to do across the street, not just because it was across the street from his property, but because it was an old building, not eighteenth century but early nineteenth century, and he appreciated that you don’t tear down structures like that if you can save them. I have the greatest respect for him and kept up with him virtually his entire life and had all kinds of associations with him after leaving this neighborhood. He deserves a great deal of credit, and I hope each of us who had the chance to know him and appreciate his impact on this community will say so in this oral history project, because it should not be lost. He fought, for example, the plans as I recall – and Stanhope Browne would be the best person to talk about this – the expressway that was going to be elevated, I-95. He fought that very hard with others, so at least it was depressed for two blocks, in Society Hill. Imagine (46:00) how important that has been. I recall Bacon approved the idea of a twenty-foot high embankment with that highway going through [between] the edge of Society Hill and the waterfront. Not that he [Bacon] wasn’t a great man in many respects; he was indeed. It required, because of the strength of his personality, somebody equally capable to be able to say, “You’re wrong. There’s a better idea than that.” That’s what Charlie was able to do throughout the redevelopment process in Society Hill. Thank you.

[End of interview]

Mr. Price added another story by telephone:

Eddy Whelan, wheelchair bound and prone to small seizures, would sit in his house by the window, at the southwest corner of Third and Delancey Streets, and talk to everyone who passed on the sidewalk. He was very friendly and a delight to the neighborhood.

©2009 Project Philadelphia 19106™. All rights reserved.

About the Interview

Dorothy Stevens
Cynthia J. Eiseman
Interview Location
116 Delancey Street
Interview Date
November 10, 2009
Price, Philip Jr.
Narrator Type
Redeveloper - Restoration
Oral History Sources