Sally Lou Buell

Sally and Duncan Buell’s interviews complement one another. Sally (also called Sal or Sally Lou) tells how the family, which included two young sons, decided to move from the suburbs into Society Hill and restore the house at 119 Lombard Street. Duncan liked the idea of fixing up an old house, although Sal was less sure about living in the city. They rented a former kosher meat market at Sixth and Delancey Streets, where they lived while they rehabbed 119 Lombard Street. Sal found the neighbors very welcoming. In the ten years that they lived at 119 Lombard Street, they witnessed the construction of Newmarket, a mixed-use development behind their house in the block between Front and Second and Pine and Lombard. That development turned out to be a very poor neighbor, and the neighborhood association brought a lawsuit against the developers, Van Arkel Moss. Newmarket was built nonetheless, and the Buells moved to Stamper Street, which was only a block away but much quieter. They received a good price for 119 Lombard Street, thanks to some solid legal advice. Sal talks about the house at 236 Stamper Street and some of the work Duncan did on it. She also tells about a family of four African-American children that she and some neighbors took under their wing to try to keep them out of trouble—an undertaking that met with partial success.


DS: I am Dorothy Stevens, and I am interviewing Sally Buell on June 18, 2007, at her home, 942 North Lawrence Street, in Philadelphia, PA. Sally, I want to start back at the beginning of when you came to the neighborhood and lived at 536 Delancey.

SB: We moved in to that house because we had been living out in Radnor, and we didn’t see Duncan [Buell, her husband]. Duncan was working for [Louis] Kahn at the time, and he would come home on that little P&W trolley, as they called it. And then he’d leave in the morning and we wouldn’t see him.

DS: And you had sons by this time.

SB: By this time we had two sons. You know, four and two. And they’d say, (1:00) “Where is Daddy? We never see Dad.” And Duncan said, “Well, if you would move into the city, I’ve heard of a nice place where they are redoing older houses, and architects are fixing them up. And I could come home for supper.” I said, “Well, I’ve never lived in the city in my life, and I’ll probably wither up and die. But we’ll do that.” And he said, “Well, you’ll have to find a place that you can rent for six months because I don’t – it will only take me six months to work on this house.” I found this defunct kosher meat market that we could rent, and it turned out – it was on Delancey Street and Sixth [Street]. It turned out it was the best thing that happened because there were all these old Jewish neighbors – (2:00) – and Catholic, a mix there. The man next to us had had a heart attack, and so he had to sit quietly on his stoop. And he would tell the children whether they could cross the street or not. And, boy, they knew they weren’t to cross the street unless Harry told them they could do it. So that was great. We moved in, and then it would only be six months.

But Duncan is sent to Pakistan. And so, here I am, these two little kids, on this street. The weather turned to be 95, and I thought, “Oh, my gosh.” But I felt as if I had made it socially, because they (3:00) asked me down the middle of the street to join them under the hydrants. Under the water hydrants. [Laughs]

SB: They would play Pinochle out under the light, the street light, at night in the hot weather, and I found it very comforting.

DS: And you were renting this.

SB: We were renting this place so we could restore 119 Lombard Street, and it was only going to take us six months.

DS: And this was 119 Lombard.

SB: Lombard. And I think it was two, two and a half years before we got in. [Laughs] However, then we moved to 119 Lombard. Then we were there for ten years. (5:00)

DS: Was the meat market still in this 536 Delancey?

SB: The room was there.

DS: The room was there, but it wasn’t a functioning –

SB: No. It was not a functioning market. And I don’t think they expected us really to use that. That wasn’t even part of the rent. But what we did when we found [thieves] had taken our paneling [from the second floor of the house at 119 Lombard], we took out the paneling in the dining room and took it up there and worked on it in the old meat market space. You know, probably burning off the paint, breathing all the lead – all of that, right there. [Laughs]

DS: So now you have restored 119 Lombard, and Duncan talked about that restoration. There’s a story about the stars?

SB: Oh, the metal stars. Well, he told that story, but he didn’t admit that they (6:00) were in the building to begin with in the wrong place. Then he moved them down to connect them to the joists.

DS: But didn’t the Redevelopment Authority want you to change the front wall?

SB: Oh, they wanted the whole thing torn down.

DS: The Redevelopment Authority wanted you to tear the whole thing down?

SB: They – I think it was the city. The city felt it should come down because it was bowed out about four inches. When Duncan changed the stars, up here they didn’t do anything. They just went through the wall.

DS: The stars didn’t support the –

SB: No. … But after they were connected to the joists, Duncan could, then, turn them. He’d go out there and turn the little ends every week or so. And that pulled in the front wall. (7:00)

DS: Pulled the wall in.

SB: Yes.

DS: And, again, how long were you in 119 [Lombard]?

SB: We were there until 1976.

DS: It was about 10 years?

SB: Ten years.

DS: And during that period you saw the construction in the back?

SB: The construction in the back. That took place.

DS: What did they call it? The Glass Palace?

SB: Well, it was – what did they call it? They – that was my name for it. It was Lou Sauer’s design. And Arnold Nicholson said, “Do you realize what’s going to be happening in your block? It’s going to become, I think, quite commercial.” (8:00) And we said, “Oh, that doesn’t sound too good.” But we didn’t realize what –. And then Tom Van Arkel, who was the head of it at the time, said – he had a wine and cheese party – and he introduced his project to us. I mean, he told what he was going to do. And Patsy Mason, who was part of that party, Patsy and Tom was it? And Tom and Bill Hollenback. And he wanted us all to sign a little paper saying that we had agreed that it would be fine with us. And I said, “I’m not going to sign that paper. I don’t think it’s going to be just fine.” And Patsy said, “Oh, come on,” she said. “Oh, we can have a little shop there. And I can – we can have a little hardware store.” And I said, “Well, I don’t know, Patsy.” [Laughs] But meanwhile Duncan said, “Don’t make waves, Sal. We’ll (9:00) just move away.”

But we didn’t make a big fuss. And I didn’t sign his paper. Paul Putney was the head of the Civic Association at that time, and he said, “You know, I’m going to be bringing this up. Do you want to have any discussion with neighbors?” There weren’t that many neighbors to object. He said, “As a neighbor, do you have any objections?” Well, I started giving Tom my word that I wouldn’t say anything. What a dummy! The meeting, the Civic Association meeting, came and went, and Paul asked three times – you know, the magical three, the historical three – three times, if there was anybody with any objection. And I sat there, and I didn’t say anything. And, so, OK. We let it go. Now, am I going beyond where (10:00) I should?

DS: No, I just wondered – that whole scenario – when that happened, the timing of it.

SB: Oh –

DS: Because you had quite a few years before that [indecipherable] –

SB: We had – yes, two or three years before that started.

DS: Two or three years before [indecipherable] –

SB: Yes. [Indecipherable]

DS: After you had moved in.

SB: Right.

DS: Otherwise the houses were empty.

SB: Empty.

DS: Is that Norma Van Dyke’s house?

SB: It’s Norma Van Dyke’s house. And Norma must have bought it pretty early on. But not right away. And it had some nice things in it. It had nice old keyhole locks (14:00) and things that someone, of course, came and took, which is too bad.

DS: Norma has made it into a B&B.

SB: Oh, has she?

DS: And she took us through it, and it’s quite nice inside. She has saved quite a bit.

SB: I bet.

DS: It’s very charming.

SB: It’s one of the few houses – I wonder if she still has the two stairways.

DS: Yes.

SB: The front and the back stairways.

DS: She does.

SB: In a little house like that, can you imagine?

DS: Yes.

SB: Good. A B&B. I wanted to do that in Maine. When I asked Duncan, he said “No, I don’t want to do that.” [Laughs]

DS: Now, you sold 119 Lombard because –

SB: Well, that was because the – by this time Newmarket was developed. (15:00) And we had the cocktail lounge at our bedroom window. And we had the loudspeaker for the Rusty Scupper announcing tables and so forth. [Laughs] But meanwhile, because of the lawsuit, one of the things that we won was a “put” on our house.

DS: Wait a minute. You’d better back up and start us out in the beginning with the lawsuit.

SB: Well, I just thought then you’d know why we moved. One of the thing[s] was that we had a “put” on the house. And we’d be allowed to sell it for $148. $148,000. (16:00)

DS: You had a what put on your house?

SB: I guess they call it a “put”? In other words, we said we wanted them to buy our house within three years if we wanted to leave it. And we could name a price. And we named $148,000, thinking that was just marvelous. And so, when I found all these things really were bothering me, we decided to call in that arrangement. And leave the house. And we sold it for $148, $149,000. And – but it was our neighborhood. It was our area. You know, where else would we go? And at that time, the Circolos were willing to sell the house on Stamper Street. So that’s when we bought (17:00) Stamper Street.

DS: 236 Stamper.

SB: 236 Stamper Street. And, you know, it wasn’t that far away. Everybody thought after all that fight with the lawsuit they thought that I’d move to California. But I said, “It’s different. That little street is a whole lot different than being out there on that commercial area.” That’s when we moved.

DS: Let’s back up at this point and talk about the lawsuit. This lawsuit was between –

SB: This was –

DS: Paul Putney had brought it up at the Civic –

SB: He brought it up. Nobody objected. You know, the Halperns [Bomie and Alan] might have said something. Alan probably got up and mumbled something. But it wasn’t all that much. And so, finally, I said to Duncan, “I’m not willing to just sit here and not make some sort of a yip. I’m going to go.” – when they went to have a hearing (18:00) at the liquor control about the licenses – “I’m going to at least go over there and let them know that there was a voice against this.”

Well, when we went there, the interesting thing was they had a whole model of the development. At the Civic Association meetings they only had very dim little drawings. And the little drawings would be of the different levels. And I don’t know if you remember, but it was clever. The lower level was here. Then the second level had things going like that, so that this plan – either one would not look overly developed. And then the third one had things like that. When you saw the thing built, then you realized how big it was. Up to that time you didn’t. (19:00)

So I got all excited. And I said, “We should never have let this thing go through.” I ran to Bert Latta [Laughs], and Bert said, “Well, Sal, we should bring a lawsuit against them.” Bert arranged to have Drinker Biddle & Reath bring the lawsuit against what we felt was Tom Van Arkel and Company. He and Ray Denworth donated their time. Stuart Dalzell was the third. He’s the only one we had to pay. We were going to have to gather up the money somehow to pay him. The Halperns were delighted to go in on this. The Millers – the Millers lived on the corner of – Front and Pine Streets (20:00) at that time. Not the very corner, but the next house in. And Dr. Miller was very much against this. So we started in. Ray Denworth at one of the meetings said, “Well, we made an impact. We’ve thrown our harpoon, and it’s hit. And now, hang on to your seats, because it’s going to be quite a ride.” [Laughs] I was a nervous wreck. We went on, and little by little, Stuart Dalzell’s fee was building up.

Bert, of course, (21:00) was gung ho from the beginning to just get them to tear the steel down. And then he found out that they had – Tom Van Arkel and Co.— had sold this whole thing to Kravco. Now, this was a no no. The agreement at that time with the Redevelopment Authority – you were not then to sell it without letting anybody know. Bert was sure we had a suit against these people. We really could go ahead and get them to tear it down. Ray wasn’t. Ray said, “You know.” He knew the judge who was – it was coming up to. And he said, “That man is a practical man. He’s never going to do it. I think we’d better get what we can and then let it go at that.” And then part of our whole settlement was that we would get enough money to pay Stuart’s fee. And Bert and Ray, too. (22:00) So that was good. It seemed sensible to do it, although Bert really didn’t want us to give up. [Laughs] And I hope to this day he can look down and see that empty lot. [Laughs] They did have to tear the steel down. They really did.

DS: Yes.

SB: So that was that. It took a goodly amount of time. A lot of, you know, energy.

[Tape is turned off, then on again]

DS: Back to the lawsuit. (23:00)

SB: Back to the lawsuit. To get anywhere, we had to get the Civic Association to withdraw its support and vote against it. Which meant that I had to go back to the Civic Association and say that I was foolish not to have said anything, that I have now seen the model, and that the Civic Association should call and insist upon seeing the model and then vote again on whether they wanted to support this or not. And I felt like an absolute dodo.

DS: But you did it.

SB: I did it. Someone later said, “Oh, remember that poor woman who got up and was talking about not having done the right thing?” [Laughs] But I did it, and the Civic Association reversed its position. So then, you see, we had a chance. And I think they asked to see the model.

DS: What did you get out of it? At the end of it. (24:00)

SB: At the end of it, we paid the lawyers. That was a big – I was really worried about that. We also got rid of several liquor licenses. There were going to be many more than there are. I think part of it, too, was the parking garage. People on Blackwell Court got into this somehow, and got parking spaces in the parking garage across Second Street.

DS: Blackwell Court.

SB: Blackwell Court. And the three of us, the Millers, the Halperns and the Buells, all were allowed to say – to ask for a certain price for their houses that they could (25:00) call in for three years if they wanted to move. The Millers did and they called in theirs. We did and we got it and sold our house to the Kravco Company or whatever. The Halperns did not. They stayed in their house. So that was the –

DS: That was the deal.

SB: That was the deal. We did not get the building torn down.

DS: Some of the houses on Pine Street, in the 100 block, also had parking in that garage.

SB: Well, it was their parking in the garage underneath. That was different. The parking for Blackwell Court was in the garage on the corner.

DS: The Second and Lombard.

SB: Second and Lombard. Well, it’s not quite on the corner, but almost. But the others, I think they wangled that, because of our complaining. I think they at least (26:00) got the parking underneath there. And Bill Hollenback, who was all for this, you know, he was a great buddy of Tommy Van Arkel –

DS: He lived in the 100 block [of Pine Street].

SB: He lived in the 100 block. I think he was 112, or something like that.

DS: As did Tom Van Arkel.

SB: Tom was a little further over.

DS: But still in the same block.

SB: Oh, and I said, “You’ll just probably do this and leave.” “Oh, no,” Tom said, “No, I’m here for my family. I’m going to stay forever.” Meanwhile, I had to laugh. I said to Bill Hollenback, “You know, we haven’t moved very far, Bill, but we are up on a nice little street, with quiet. … When you want to have a quiet time, come up and have a martini with us on Stamper Street.” [Laughs] And he had to (27:00) admit there were days when the noise from the mechanism for opening the garage door was right next to his house. And he was tempted to take an ax out and hack away at the wires going to that thing, because he was tired of hearing it.

DS: You sold the house on Lombard.

SB: We sell the house on Lombard. Buy the house on Stamper.

DS: Stamper, 236 Stamper.

SB: And Duncan did – he did have to do quite a bit to that house. And what he did was he opened a way to the cellar, and so that back opened all the way down, and we had a tile floor down there. We inadvertently had solar heating. The sun would pour in; (28:00) it was [facing] south. The sun would pour in and hit that tile flooring. And that would heat the place. And you would come home, and the house would be nice and warm. And so that was kind of –

DS: Solar heating.

SB: Solar heating. How about that?

DS: And this would have been –

SB: This was 1975-76.

DS: Seventy-six.

SB: And we were there – we didn’t sell that until 1980.

DS: 1980?

SB: Yes.

DS: But you had fixed up the inside. But kept a lot of the features of the old house.

SB: The old house.

DS: And it was a twin.

SB: Well, actually, it was a quadruple. There were four – Dorothy Bunting’s. Then next door. Who was next door?

DS: Joan Johnson. (29:00)

SB: Beyond next door – oh, Joan Johnson, Dorothy Bunting, Al Spaws, and then the Buells. There were four of those.

DS: But that was a very small house. It was only 13 feet wide.

SB: That’s right. [Indecipherable]

DS: What did your family think of you and Duncan and what you were doing?

SB: Well, my family had sort of whittled down to my mother – my older brother was living in Florida. My younger brother was in New York and then Florida. And they thought, you know, OK. Fine. Mother was delighted at the idea of coming (30:00) down and living at the [Society Hill] Towers.

DS: Oh, she did that?

SB: Yes, around 1964. They were delighted to have people come into the Towers, because they were having trouble filling them. She ended up with B, C, and D [units combined].

DS: She had a big apartment.

SB: She had a big apartment. All for, I think it was $339 a month. (31:00) [Laughs] Can you believe it? However, there was a problem to this. It was close enough – there’s the Towers. Here’s Lombard Street. That she could call me and say, “You’ve got to come up. Please come. I can’t get this zipper.” Or, “I can’t, you know, button up this dress.” Or, “I can’t get these shoes or something.” So I’d have to race up there. Meanwhile, I had two little kids. I’m supposed to be making dinner at this time. And she’d be wanting to get dressed up to go out.

The other thing, too, was that even though we had put the dog [in the house at night], there were things that went missing from the back during the day. I could look down from the Towers and see these kids fooling around back there. I came roaring down one day and said to them, “Look, instead of just being destructive, I’ll pay you to help clean the bricks. And you’ll pile up the bricks. I’ll pay you by the hour to do that.” They said, “We’re going to do that.” Then they were part of our group from then on. One of them – I think all of them have ended up in jail, which is too bad.

DS: The Rementers –

SB: Yes.

DS: They were adopted by the Rementers [who lived in the 100 block of Delancey Street].

SB: Yes. The Rementers. And, actually, I think they didn’t all end up in jail, because the two girls didn’t. But the Rementers were wonderful with those children and kept them quite a long time.

DS: Yes.

SB: The eldest one, Sanchez or Pancho, was slightly retarded. He was later accused of having raped a woman – (33:00)

DS: And killed her. And she – he ended up in jail.

SB: He ended up in jail. Then Barry was being caught for something, and he felt he was going to have – oh, I know. He was so unhappy. He had a fight with his girlfriend and he thought he’d killed his girlfriend. And he had run off and thrown himself into the Schuylkill. He hadn’t killed his girlfriend. I guess he’d choked her, but he hadn’t killed her. He killed himself. There were the two boys. And I think that the two girls were all right.

DS: You know, there was another boy. There was another one.

SB: Was there a younger one?

DS: There was the girl, Linda, and he was next. And then there was the (34:00) youngest girl.

SB: I don’t remember the other boy.

DS: He was a tall, good-looking guy. Went to college.

SB: Was he part of that same family?

DS: Yes, well, the family lived on South Street, the second floor, in a house right there at Second and South. And the mother –

SB: ‘Cause this other son or some of them lived on Monroe [Street].

DS: That could be. But they were a family of children that roamed the neighborhood, setting off fire alarms and stealing little things like sweaters and stuff out of people’s backyards.

SB: Yes.

DS: Many people in the neighborhood tried to adopt them and help them.

SB: Right, but the Rementers were the ones that really –

DS: The Rementers were the ones who really adopted them and took them in. (35:00) This brings us into the school issue, which was a problem for all of us early on in the ‘60s and ‘70s. How did you handle that?

SB: Well, I went ahead, and I allied myself with the school.

DS: Which school?

SB: With St. Peter’s. ‘Cause Gordon was there. Now, Ely had gone back to McCall’s. He was at St. Peter’s [School] for a year, and he did sing in the choir. But he went on back to McCall’s because there were only two other kids in his class. But with Gordon, he went right straight through, and that was terrific. (37:00)

DS: Yes. The school and the church – the school used to be run by the rector of –-

SB: St. Peter’s.

DS: St. Peter’s Church. And it was decided that would be changed, and they split. And the school and the church did split. And now they are separate entities. But during the split there were many bad feelings.

SB: Right. Rancor. So ridiculous.

  1. After you left Stamper [Street], you moved up here [to North Lawrence Street]?

SB: Yes.

DS: Hum. Didn’t you also work at St. Peter’s School?

SB: I did one year.

DS: A teacher or something?

SB: I taught art.

DS: I think we’re going to end this right here for a minute.


[End of interview]

[Supplement to interview via telephone: On June 20, 2007, Sally Buell telephoned Dorothy Stevens with information she thought should be included in her interview regarding the Crosstown Expressway. In 1961-62, before the Buells moved into 119 Lombard Street but had already committed to buying the house, Bob Sugarman, a lawyer at Community Legal Services, initiated the fight against the Crosstown Expressway. Almost everyone in the area got into the dispute. The highway would have crossed the city between Lombard and South Streets, running east to west. During the Buells’ open house party, Ed Bacon said, “I saved your house,” meaning that he had moved the highway’s route south of Lombard Street.

Sally Buell believes that winning the fight to stop the Crosstown Expressway made local people realize that they could fight for the depression of Interstate 95 and the location of the ramps on and off that highway, and thus they formed the Gateway Committee.

© 2007 Philadelphia 19106™. All rights reserved.

About the Interview

Dorothy Stevens
Cynthia J. Eiseman
Interview Location
942 N Lawrence Street
Interview Date
June 18, 2007
Buell, Sally Lou
Narrator Type
Redeveloper - Restoration
Oral History Sources