Theodore T. Newbold

Bedbugs, kittens, anti-Semitism, and unionized workers are among the varied issues that Theodore (Ted) Newbold (d. 2018) discusses in his interview, which addresses his dual association with Society Hill—his private life and his working life—which were not always clearly separate. Ted Newbold and his wife, Deborah Dilworth Newbold, bought 323 S. Third Street and the two lots to the north of it in about 1960. They had strong motivations to buy in Society Hill: Deborah’s father, Richardson Dilworth, was Mayor of Philadelphia, and redevelopment of Society Hill was a vitally important initiative of his administration. Ted and Deborah restored the house, had three children, and in 1967 moved to the Rittenhouse Square area. A few years later, they returned to Society Hill, having found it a more congenial neighborhood for children. This time, they bought a newly built house, 256 S. Third Street. At the time, there were several neighborhood associations, each of which promoted the interests of one or more groups of residents: home-owners, renters, old residents, newcomers. Ted was elected president of one of the groups and describes a major issue that his group confronted: whether or not to allow several small neighborhood businesses to continue operating, including a convenience store, a dry cleaner, and a barber. Ted also mentions the controversy about building low-income housing in Society Hill. Despite the divisiveness of these controversies, he says there was a sense of community. Asked if he had any contact with the pre-redevelopment residents, he singles out an African-American woman who babysat for everyone in the neighborhood and whom everyone adored, a man who lived on S .Third Street who Ted is sure had Mafia connections, and two or three others. As for his working life, he speaks about the various city government agencies, private civic groups, and various individuals and their roles in planning and carrying out the redevelopment of Society Hill and other city neighborhoods. One of these was the Old Philadelphia Development Corporation, where Ted worked as a “go-fer” who “sold the houses and went to the civic meetings.” He talks about the assertion of some prospective buyers that Ted was “anti-Jewish.” This leads to a discussion about which houses in Society Hill were in better or worse condition, which were larger or smaller, and which parts of the neighborhood were more or less desirable and why. He describes the relative strengths of three mayors of the era: Clark, Dilworth, and Tate. He says that the problems of the people who were displaced by redevelopment were ignored. He talks about the salvage and re-use of architectural antiques and points out that some people received permission to take them from some buildings, while other people just helped themselves. Ted held a central position at the time the houses in Society Hill were being sold, and he also had an important position in Philadelphia society. Given the amount of time that has passed since those days, it is not surprising that he does not remember everything in detail. Thorough, careful examinations of what he says in this interview and published records would undoubtedly reveal some valuable information about how redevelopment really worked in Philadelphia.


DS:      This is an interview with Ted Newbold. The address is 112 Cuthbert Street, Philadelphia, PA. The date is May 12, 2009, and the interviewer is Dorothy Stevens.

            Ted, you are in a unique situation here and have a unique story to tell. You not only lived in two houses in the Society Hill area, but you were also employed by the Old Philadelphia Development Corporation. What I would like to do is start off –

TN:      There’s a fourth.

DS:      A fourth what?

TN:      A fourth uniqueness. I was married to the daughter of the mayor of Philadelphia at the time, [Richardson] Dilworth.

[Tape is turned off, then on again]

DS:      Ted, tell me about your first house that was at 323 S. Third Street. (1:00)

TN:      Yes, that house, we bought. As I remember, it was slated for condemnation because it was in such bad shape, and the people that owned it were not going to fix it up. There was a group of kittens living on the third floor that the SPCA had to get rid of. We fixed it up. Also, the house next door was pulled down. The house towards the north was torn down, and we had the opportunity, as I remember, through OPDC, to buy that lot – two lots, actually – for a garden. Later Bill Elkins added a wing to our house. (2:00) When they tore down the house next to us, my wife suddenly got bitten from the belt up from some unknown critter. We had the exterminators come in, and they said, “Oh, that’s bedbugs, because they always bite you from the belt up. Fleas down.” [Laughs]

DS:      The bedbugs came from the property at 323 S. Third?

TN:      It would be right next door.

DS:      Were there people living in there?

TN:      They moved out. I don’t remember ever seeing them, but it had been occupied fairly recently. That’s why there were still bedbugs in it. (3:00) We got a contractor. It was going to cost us about $35,000 to fix up. And then –

DS:      How much did you pay for it originally?

TN:      I don’t remember. It wasn’t very much.

DS:      It wasn’t very much?

TN:      What happened was, being related by marriage to the then mayor, the unions got involved and said, “Well, Mr. Mayor, you have to have union workers on the house,” even though it wasn’t his house or his money. The contractor [was] switched, and as I remember, it cost about $20,000 or $25,000 more to do the work. The contractor also went bust.

[Sounds of sirens growing louder and louder in the background.] (4:00)

[Tape is turned off, then on again]

DS:      You said the contractor also went bust?

TN:      Yes. He hadn’t worked with the union before, and the costs were much more than he had figured. That was an underlying problem now and then in the area. The compromise was [that] the union would do new construction and the historic houses being fixed up by individuals would be non-union. I’m not too sure single-family, like your house, was not union. I don’t remember that. You would.

DS:      I don’t remember.

TN:      Your husband would.

DS:      When would this have been? When did you come here?

TN:      I have no definite time. It was before the Towers were built. It was before the Metropolitan Hospital was going to be torn down. I did not work for Old (5:00) Philadelphia Development [Corporation] at the time.

DS:      At the time, you did not?

TN:      No. I bought the vacant land later, when I was working [there], as I remember.

DS:      Why did you come? Why did you buy that land? Why did you –

TN:      Well, I lived in Elfreth’s Alley as a bachelor. When I got married, we kicked my roommates out, and my wife moved in. I liked living in an urban area. This was an area that her family, through her father, was very involved in. He had built a house down here. It just seemed like an exciting place to start thinking about living in.

DS:      Clearly, her family was supportive of your living in the city. Was your (6:00) family?

TN:      I think they thought I was crazy.

DS:      Your family thought you were crazy? [Laughs]

TN:      I didn’t particularly like the suburbs.

DS:      You had grown up out there?

TN:      Yes, and I’d had a wonderful time when I was there. [When] I came back from the army, I just wanted a different environment and different kinds of people to see.

DS:      In this house, at 323 South Third Street, you had three children, right?

TN:      Yes.

DS:      At some point the house became too small, and that’s why you bought the property next door?

TN:      No, we bought the property to have a big garden, and it was very cheap because nobody was buying single-family houses [here]. As I remember, I bought it through OPDC, but I don’t really recollect. (7:00)

DS:      Did they put restrictions on you as to what you had to do to the house?

TN:      Oh, yes. You had to restore it in keeping with what it was originally.

DS:      They had documents.

TN:      Yes, pretty much. We hired an architect, [who] was a restoration architect.

DS:      Do you remember his name?

TN:      George Roberts.

DS:      George Roberts.

TN:      An older man whom I had known, and he did it as a favor to us. He didn’t make much out of it.

DS:      Inside, did you make it contemporary, or did you continue the period?

TN:      If it had a mantle, we kept it. [Inaudible] The staircase, we kept the design of that. We didn’t change it radically. It turned out, as we got into it, that it was (8:00) changed, probably in the 1830s or ‘40s, quite radically. The stairs were changed and a lot of things which we didn’t realize until we got in there. [The houses] sort of lay out automatically. The stairs were in the back and there were two runs in the front.

DS:      As I remember, the kitchen was in the basement?

TN:      Yes.

DS:      There was a front entry from the sidewalk down into –

TN:      That was added when we built the wing.

DS:      Oh.

TN:      Originally, the entrance was directly into the living room, which was the entire front of the house. When we [built] the wing [on] the additional land, we put the entrance where the staircase was in the back.

DS:      I remember your telling a story about you and your son sitting out on the (9:00) street when Metropolitan Hospital was being demolished. Do you want to tell me that story?

TN:      Yes. We were sitting just watching the demolition, and one of the columns, I think it was, fell very, very near us, like eight feet away. That would have ended my experience. We wouldn’t be having this [conversation] had that happened and it had hit us.

DS:      [Laughs] Do you get the sense that your children have happy memories of the city?

TN:      Yes.

DS:      They didn’t feel they were cheated in any way by growing up in the city.

TN:      No.

DS:      Have they remained in the city?

TN:      Two of them have; one is living in the suburbs.

DS:      You left the neighborhood and later you came back to Third Street, to 256 S. Third? (10:00)

TN:      It was a new building, built by Feldman, who built the first Pei houses, which were fairly well built. This house and the others, the three that were in the group, were terribly built, and we spent all our time trying to fix the roof, which I don’t think ever has been fixed. It was bigger and it fit our kids growing up. We had two – actually four – parking spaces, which were at a premium. We immediately planted a tree in one space.

DS:      Four parking spaces. Luxurious.

TN:      It was.

DS:      On that site, what was there before those buildings were built?

TN:      I don’t really remember. They were very careful not to tear [down] anything that (11:00) was historic – that was in good enough shape, which they could sell. Probably it was some sort of manufacturing – I don’t remember.

DS:      Do you have any stories or feeling about what the neighborhood was like then, in perhaps the earlier time, the first house.

TN:      Well, it was a neighborhood that was obviously in transition. The poor residents who had rented had moved out, because their houses were condemned or the (12:00) people that owned them wanted to sell them for more money. There was a lot of friction between the old residents and the new residents. I actually became head of what we called the Home Owners, which were the people that actually owned their own house. In reality, it was the new residents. One or two old residents might have been members, but I don’t remember. It was a fight between the new and the old. At times, it got rather feisty.

DS:      You’re talking about what they called the Home Owners and Residents Association, which included owners plus renters? Society Hill Towers had been [built] by that time? No?

TN:      They might have been.

DS:      There was another association older than that, called SHARA, which (13:00) stands for Society Hill Area Residents Association?

TN:      Yes.

DS:      That’s the one you’re talking about?

TN:      That’s the old residents versus the new residents.

DS:      You were president of that for a while?

TN:      No, I was president of the new one.

DS:      HORA. All right.

TN:      We just called ourselves Home Owners Association.

DS:      Yes.

TN:      You would remember. You were there.

DS:      I was deep in raising children.

TN:      Well, we all were.

DS:      This would have been prior to ’65, which was when Society Hill Civic Association was born?

TN:      Yes.

DS:      Do you remember any of the problems that you dealt with as president?

TN:      I think the biggest problem was that we – before I got down there, Unit One would have been approved in City Council. (14:00)

DS:      Unit One was Washington Square East? Renewal Plan East?

TN:      No. There were two – actually, there were three units. Unit One was from Sixth Street to, I guess, Front [and] from Walnut to Spruce. Unit Two, Spruce to Lombard up to Sixth [from] Front. Unit Three was the area from Sixth up to, I think, only Seventh, maybe Eighth, which was much later. The split in the community really was probably because of Unit Two going through City Council. Unit One had been approved (15:00) by City Council, but when it was approved, there really weren’t that many people interested in the area, whether they were new or old. When you started getting newer people, they were going into Unit One, or some into Unit Two, knowing that it was going to be approved eventually. The fight was between – do we want to keep in Unit Two certain of the old businesses that really would have not survived anyway? There was a grocery store that charged twice as much as a supermarket, but it was a convenience store for the poor. It had lousy food.

DS:      Where?

TN:      Third and – where would it be? Southeast corner of Third and Spruce (16:00) which was very nice for us, because it was five minutes away, when we ran out of milk. It just wouldn’t have lasted. I know that there was one dry cleaner that everybody agreed we should support. He was an older man. He had been in one of the concentration camps in Germany. I don’t think the business would have survived when he died, and it didn’t have a storefront. It was very modest. I think most people used him.

DS:      Where was this?

TN:      On Spruce Street between Third and Fourth. The Unit Two side of the street. There were other businesses that the old residents wanted to support because they were there. We felt as homeowners that these aren’t things that are serving the neighborhood. There were some in Unit One that were approved, like the barber, next to where the Wattses and Davieses lived. Koss. (17:00)

DS:      Al Koss?

TN:      Yes. I don’t know whether he’s still in business. He’s dead, I guess.

DS:      Yes, he died. His widow is still alive. She’s in her 90s. Their daughter lives with her and takes care of her.

TN:      There was a fight, and we testified for the bill. People said I was a shill for the mayor, which I wasn’t. I wouldn’t have moved there if I didn’t support what was going on, because I was living in Unit Two. That was the fight, but there was a much bitterer fight later on when Unit Three – some of the neighbors wanted to allow the (18:00) tenants that were living in mainly the 600 block of Spruce, [who] were people of color; one of them was the street guard for the local school. They were just people who had lived there all their life.

DS:      You’re talking about Sixth and Pine?

TN:      I thought it was more Spruce.

DS:      You’re talking about the crossing guard, Dorothy Miller?

TN:      Yes.

DS:      Yes, that was Sixth and Pine.

TN:      There were a number of tenants’ houses on Spruce. They were big houses, and they were split up. Actually, the new residents, [who] would have been the homeowners group, were very supportive (19:00) of keeping the people there that were there. A large number of people were against it; I think it was racial, frankly. I don’t know any other reason, because the houses looked fine and they wouldn’t have cost a lot to fix up. It was very bitter. Joanne Denworth was president, and I think people were putting Ku Klux Klan signs on her house.

DS:      Benezet Court?

TN:      Every citizen’s area always has their fights. I think what happened in the end was too bad, because some of what I would call the professional do-gooders – what (20:00) was his name? – Tom Gilhool – fought for building public housing, which I thought – what we wanted to do was keep the people that were there. They were all kicked out, and public housing was built. It seemed to me somewhat stupid at the time; maybe I would change my view today. Why are you building a house that you would never get fair return on the taxes on, in Society Hill, when you could get four times the taxes that you would be getting; today probably ten times. It just seemed rather short-sighted. Sort of what was happening, you let the people stay – it was scattered (21:00) housing. It happened to be on one or two blocks. That’s how it happened. There was that fight, too. I’m sure there are other fights now, but I don’t know about them.

DS:      What was it like with your neighbors? Was there a sense of community there yet?

TN:      Oh, yes, very much so.

DS:      Very much so?

TN:      Herb Lipson wanted me to write an article for the Philadelphia Magazine, [about] confinement in the suburbs, because in town, I’d say, “I’m going down to Headhouse for a pack of cigarettes.” Three hours later I’d be back, because I’d seen Dottie Stevens somewhere, and she’d say, “You’ve got to see the plant I’ve planted.” Someone else would say, “Oh, I’ve just done so and so. Come on in and take a look.” It was – you knew all your neighbors, because you were all going through the same problems. (22:00) If you were a new resident or an old resident, they were the same problems. We got along. Then I found that I met somebody this weekend, who lived in the court behind the Headhouse, where Rouse lived.

DS:      Blackwell Court?

TN:      Blackwell Court. I didn’t know them from Adam, and they were there when I was living there. The area got too big, so you didn’t know everybody that moved in. You were, what? Three blocks away? I knew you. You had different problems because you were building a new house. You had all the different approvals, but different ones.

DS:      Tell me, did you interact with the old original people who were there? (23:00)

TN:      Some.

DS:      Some. Can you tell me about any of them?

TN:      Well, Mrs. Holloway is a classic one.

DS:      Tell me about Mrs. Holloway.

TN:      She lived on Spruce Street, the 200 block. She also had her granddaughter living with her. She just was this wonderful old – she could have been – who was the woman in – Scarlett O’Hara. Gone with the Wind. This was a black woman who just took care of everybody. [The character’s name was Mammy, played by Hattie McDaniel, who won an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress.] She knew all of us. We just loved her.

DS:      She babysat for –

TN:      She babysat for everybody. I would have done anything for her. She just (24:00) was an old resident who wanted to stay. I was shocked when I went to the funeral. I walked in the house, and there she was, laid out in front of us. It was a very small room. I wasn’t used to that.

[Tape is turned off, then on again]

TN:      Then there was a guy on Third Street. I’m sure he had Mafia connections. I don’t know. We always sort of grunted at each other to start with. Then we started talking to each other. Then we got to know each other.

DS:      What was his name?

TN:      I never knew his name. I don’t think he knew my name. He lived in one of those big houses going toward Spruce Street. [266 S. Third Street].

DS:      Close to where the Eiswerths live [270 S. Third Street]?

TN:      Yes. He would sit out in an aluminum chair. Do you remember him?

DS:      He’s still there.

TN:      Is he really there?

DS:      He’s still there. We heard that he’s trying to sell the house, and somebody (25:00) else said they think that he has sold it. He’s living there all by himself now.

TN:      He had his mother living there.

DS:      Yes, well, she died, and then the sister was there with the sister’s child. Then the sister died –

TN:      You don’t know his name either, do you?

DS:      Frank – [He was known as Frank the Bookie.]

TN:      No. I’m terrible at names.

DS:      I can look it up.

TN:      There was the roofer and his son, who lived on Fourth Street [228 S. Fourth Street], who was a very good friend of Eve Taylor’s. He took care of the garden at the northwest corner of Fourth and Locust Streets.

DS:      Frank Seymour.

TN:      No. He was a painter, a house painter.

DS:      Not Joe Ottaviano?

TN:      No. I don’t remember.

DS:      Right.

TN:      Well, of course, Joe and I fought all the time, but we really liked each other. He did work for me. He’d always say – he’d drive down Delancey Street the wrong (26:00) way, and I’d always yell at him, “It’s a one-way street.” He’d say, “I know. I’m going one way.” He was an old resident that owned property there, and he just thought he owned the area.

DS:      He lived in the 300 block of Delancey, but had houses on Pine, in the 300 block.

TN:      Actually, he lived on Pine, and the rear entrance was on Delancey.

DS:      The family owned many houses.

TN:      Yes. One of his sons is now making a fortune building houses in the suburbs.

DS:      Joe, Jr.

TN:      Yes, who I like very much.

[Sound of telephone ringing.]

[Tape is turned off, then on again] (27:00)

DS:      Tell me about the painter? Where did he live?

TN:      He lived between the two insurance companies, the Greentree and the Contributionship, in one of those big houses.

DS:      Anybody else that you remember?

TN:      No. I will, but I’ve forgotten now.

DS:      I would like to review your job that you had with Old Philadelphia Development Corporation…. I need to just go back for history’s sake a bit and make this simple. In 1957, business and bank leaders of Philadelphia decided they were going to restore Center City Philadelphia. This then started an action in the City Planning Commission that established the Washington Square East urban renewal plan, which then was (28:00) adopted by City Council and implemented by the Redevelopment Authority.

TN:      Yes, but there were different units. Unit One was adopted and then Unit Two was adopted. To go back a little further: what [Edmund] Bacon was given credit for, when he was first here, he was under the Republicans, and he was quietly doing a plan for the city of Philadelphia. It wasn’t that suddenly [Joseph] Clark came in and you had a plan for Washington Square. He had a plan for the city. (29:00)

DS:      He, Bacon?

TN:      Bacon. Elements of it were started right away: the Food Distribution Center and Society Hill.

DS:      Then the Philadelphia Historic[al] Commission [PHC] was hired to research and study and decide which houses were historic [and] to certify historic houses.

TN:      They were founded about this time. You should find out the date they were founded. [1955]

DS:      The Philadelphia Historic[al] Commission?

TN:      Yes. It was not in existence when the Dilworth house was built…. They tore down – those gates are from the original house, the railing. They have a wonderful railing, like the buildings on Third Street that have the griffin balconies. This was a similar –

DS:      On the second floor. We’re now talking about Sixth Street facing Washington Square, where Mayor Dilworth built a house?

TN:      Yes. (30:00)

DS:      Before there were two houses –

TN:      Two wonderful houses.

DS:      Two wonderful houses. Why did they get torn down?

TN:      Because the architect that Mrs. Dilworth hired told her they were structurally unsound and had to be torn down. There was nobody in the city to say, “These are historic houses.”

DS:      You can’t take them?

TN:      Yes. It [PHC] wasn’t started for that, but it’s one of the things that…. It wasn’t the Historical Commission that ruled on houses. I think the planning committee of the Redevelopment Authority was the one – [PHC was the City’s regulatory agency responsible for preservation and was established to designate property as historic and list it on the Philadelphia Register of Historic Places.] (31:00)

DS:      What was the date that made a house historic? At what point did they consider it historic?

TN:      At first, there was no date. It was an attitude, like Ed Bacon or Harry Batten – he had a lot of influence; he was head of N.W. Ayer and a mover and shaker – he just thought Colonial was important, or Federal. Actually, the National Park [Service] tore down a wonderful Gothic Revival building which, I think, was the first skyscraper – first elevator building – in the country, which is now where the old Visitors Center is. A wonderful building. I could remember it –

DS:      This is Third and Chestnut Streets? (32:00)

TN:      Yes. There wasn’t any interest at Third and Spruce, at the corner, which now has a single new house – there was a building with a wonderful little Palladian window, which might have been 1850, I guess, which today we’d keep. Now we’re talking about factories of the ‘30s that are historic. But in those days –

DS:      It wasn’t a date?

TN:      No.

DS:      It was a style?

TN:      I would suggest that somebody in your group go to the annual reports of the Old Philadelphia Development Corporation, because they have a section in there that is Society Hill, each year. It pretty well describes what’s been going on, not in (33:00) individual terms, but academic. It gives you dates. It gives you facts on the number of houses that had to be restored

DS:      How many houses were there that were certified historical?

TN:      I haven’t the faintest idea.

DS:      Where would these reports be?

TN:      Stanhope [Browne] has my copies, which I gave him to give to the Athenaeum when he’s through. The Center City District has a set. You know, it’s two pages, so it’s not a massive amount of work. I think that, more than any other document, would give you a good history. Maybe the Redevelopment Authority, but I think OPDC (34:00) would be more factual, in not trying to show they’re great. It’s not them doing it; it’s the city. They’re reporting on somebody else.

DS:      OPCD was a nonprofit. Redevelopment Authority was federal government?

TN:      No. There were three groups – four groups. I have to digress, because after the war you had not just in Philadelphia but in a whole series of cities, Boston, New York, Hartford, New Haven, men came back from the war and were not satisfied with the status quo. They went into politics. We were lucky. We had two good ones, in the (35:00) order that they should have been, because Clark was an intellectual from Harvard. He hired good people. It can’t work unless you have good people. Dilworth took the good people and put them to use. Tate kept them because they had enough longevity that they wouldn’t leave. I think the best, most astute thing Bacon ever said was, “If you took those three men in any other order, you’d have chaos.”

DS:      If he did what?

TN:      If you took those men in any other order – if you started with Dilworth, he’d have started working with no staff. Clark would have never run. Tate would have been back to the old Republican way. It was true, I think. But what happened: there (36:00) were a whole series of the Greater Philadelphia Movement, the Food Distribution Center, OPDC. I don’t know. I think the Historical Commission probably wouldn’t have started if you hadn’t had these civic groups pushing for things, and the civic groups kept things honest. Jack Robin was head of OPDC to begin with. Bill Rafsky was head of what was called the [Office of the] Development Coordinator. It was a city job [reporting directly to the Mayor], and he coordinated the Streets Department, the School District, the Redevelopment Authority, to get something done. He was superb at this. You had the Planning Commission doing the planning. Jack Robin [first executive staff member] left and Rafsky took over Old Philadelphia (37:00) Development Corporation, and then he hired somebody to be his go-fer. That was me. I sold the houses and went to the civic meetings.

DS:      I thought you worked for Rafsky.

TN:      Yes. Did I say Bacon? Well, I did work for Rafsky.

DS:      Before we get into your job, tell me, what was the Historic Houses Committee, then? How did that fit in?

TN:      That was a subdivision – there was Historic Houses, there was Market East, there was Independence Mall. They were all subcommittees of Old Philadelphia Development Corporation. Mrs. Ingersoll ran the Historic Committee. Between her and Harry Batten [inaudible] there were people that said what to do.

DS:      Said what? (38:00)

TN:      Said what to do, and I didn’t always agree with them.

DS:      Tell me about your job.

TN:      My job basically was to sell the houses.

DS:      To sell the houses?

TN:      Yes. I did a lot of other things. I went to the Market Street East Committee. I went to a lot of meetings in the city to just alert Rafsky if there seemed to be a problem with something. My main job was getting the God-damned houses built – sold.

DS:      Sold. You would find somebody that wanted to buy a house, and you would take them around to show them what was available?

TN:      Yes.

DS:      Then once they said, “Yes, I want this house,” what did you do next?

TN:      You start the paperwork, which would take forever.

DS:      The paperwork. Did they have to put down any kind of money early on?

TN:      Oh, yes. People that wanted to buy. [loud sound of traffic in the background] (39:00) I would bring a list of this person wants to buy this house, and then the Historic House Committee would approve that. It kept the [sale of the] houses from being political.

DS:      And not sold to developers?

TN:      More, to be sold to somebody who does have the money to fix it up and will do a good job, and [will be] acceptable to the committee. There were cases – the Keith Physick House – they’re all dead now so it doesn’t matter. The Keith Physick House I had a buyer for it. He was new money. I didn’t know where, (40:00) but he obviously wasn’t –

DS:      Didn’t grow up with money?

TN:      Yes. This was a very important house, like the Powel House, and should be in good hands. I felt the person would do a perfectly good job with the house, and it would be occupied. There would be lights on in the night and he’d have parties. I was over-ruled. They got Mr. Annenberg to put up the money and gave it to the Historical – the Landmarks Society.

DS:      The Landmarks Society [the Society for the Preservation of Landmarks], because it was –

TN:      A good use for it.

DS:      A better use for it than –

TN:      I had no say. I thought it would be a better use to have somebody living in it, like a real house.

[Tape is turned off, then on again]

TN:      To talk a little about the whole urban renewal: the first half – the (41:00) Planning Commission developed a whole series of plans for areas in the city. It wasn’t just Society Hill. I think the unique thing about Philadelphia, from what I’ve heard, is that Philadelphia urban renewal, they got, as I remember, two-thirds from federal, and one-third from city and state. The state would be the smallest amount. Then part of the city’s contribution could be renovation of the school in that district. This could have been something they were going to do anyway. There wasn’t that much cash, if the Planning Commission figured it out well, so they didn’t do an improvement          (42:00 ) in Society Hill, when it wasn’t getting federal money. The Headhouse was a contribution, and they did it early to sort of make a statement, “We’re fixing this area up.”

            One thing that this city did that I think other cities didn’t, they had a balanced program. As I gather, they knew what percentage they were going to get from the federal government. Say Philadelphia was going to get $100 million. Well, 15 percent would be for projects for institutions, Penn, Drexel, hospitals. X percent would be for Center City, Society Hill, Independence Hall. The biggest percentage would be for inner city projects. It was a balanced program. They weren’t plowing money into one or two (43:00) areas, but they were trying to do things in all the areas. Early on, they made the decision – and I think this was through business community support – that we’ve got to do something in our Center City to attract people to live in Center City, because we really only have a small area of town around Rittenhouse Square. The whole idea was to have Society Hill, and then you have Washington Square West after that, and hopefully – then a lot of the money for redevelopment dried up.

[Sound of bell ringing]

DS:      What’s that?

[Tape is turned off, then on again]

TN:      As I was saying, I think the bloom is off – for what reason I don’t know (44:00) – urban renewal. By doing Washington Square West and by doing Society Hill – or by doing Washington Square East, as it was called – you got Queen Village going, and now people are fixing up in Kensington and seeing paddle wheel revival in the city. Where Philadelphia, I think, has it over other cities for the long term [is] that you can walk to work. How many people can walk to work? Or Boston? Or most cities? So urban renewal in the sense of Society Hill was very, very successful. I tried to keep (45:00) a record of taxes in Society Hill before and after. Then they changed the boundaries or something, and nobody ever continued. I’m sure they were more than paid back, even factoring in inflation.

DS:      Can you remember what you paid in taxes back early?

TN:      No. I did this for the whole area.

DS:      You think it was a combination of people that were involved that made it work here and not, say, in Detroit?

TN:      Yes. I don’t know what Detroit did. I was out at a convention during the height of redevelopment in St. Louis, and they were proudly looking up over the hill outside [their] Center City and saying, “We’re going to tear all that down and we’re going (46:00) to put in XYZ.” Well, it was all nice, wonderful 1850 houses. They didn’t see that as an opportunity to have people living there. They had a tremendous exodus, and we’re getting the influx now.

DS:      Walter D’Alessio. Do you remember him?

TN:      Yes, I know him well.

DS:      What was his position?

TN:      He was – the Redevelopment Authority had Frank Lemmer as head, and then different divisions. He was in charge of – in the second level of administration. (47:00)

DS:      Of the Redevelopment Authority?

TN:      Yes, and he was more involved in this area than anyone else. Certainly you should interview him.

DS:      Mabs Segal? Do you remember her?

TN:      Yes, she was head of, I think, Independence Hall.

DS:      That was her district?

TN:      Yes. Maybe Washington Square West, I don’t know.

DS:      And again, for the Redevelopment Authority?

TN:      Yes. (48:00)

[End of first side of tape]

[Second side of tape]

DS:      Tell me about people who were displaced. Was that a problem?                      

TN:      If it was, it was ignored.

DS:      If it was, it was ignored?

TN:      Yes. In those days, I think there was less interest in the little person. There was relocation money, but most of the people that were displaced were tenants, and that sort of – I don’t think they thought that was their problem.

DS:      They weren’t people that owned the houses.

TN:      Very few.

DS:      How about the people whose houses were condemned, but they were still living there?

TN:      I don’t know. That’s more a question for someone like Walt D’Alessio, because I was involved when the house was available to be sold. (1:00)

DS:      After the person had sold it to the Redevelopment Authority? Then it became something for you to –

TN:      I think the attitude in this country was more – it wasn’t looking at the little guy. Maybe we look too much now. I don’t know. [Laughs] Well, we don’t. We do band-aids.

DS:      I read in the fact sheet of the Old Philadelphia Development Corporation, and the date is February 1964, and in the back it talks about architectural antiques that have been salvaged for re-use. I want you to read this and then comment on it.

[Tape is turned off, then on again] (2:00)

TN:      The warehouse in question was the old Riley Lumberyard facility, maybe the 500 or 600 block of Pine. Now they’re on Girard Avenue. Actually, the one very successful thing that was removed was the staircase at the Smith’s house on Third Street, across from where we lived. [314 S. Third Street.]

DS:      Which is now the Duckett house?

TN:      Yes. Well, that was one slab –

DS:      The outside staircase?

TN:      Yes, and then two staircases. They cut it in half, because it’s two doors. It works perfectly. Nobody could have afforded to do that again. Now it looks like it belongs there.

DS:      Who did that? Did the Smiths do that?

TN:      Yes. (3:00)

DS:      They went to the lumberyard and bought one of those –

TN:      There was a lot of publicity about it at the time.

DS:      Now there was another –

[Tape is turned off, then on again]

TN:      The gates at what was the Elkins’ house [319-321 S. Third Street]. They were put in, when my wife and I owned that property, as part of the architectural elements in the garden. I had gotten – which other people could have gotten – a letter from the Redevelopment Authority allowing them to go into certain properties in North Philadelphia.

DS:      You were permitted to go to these properties and take things from them?

TN:      Yes, yes. I don’t remember how they were removed. Maybe I got a (4:00) contractor that was approved by the Redevelopment Authority. Probably, because I couldn’t …. The one story that I always will remember is that they let me go through the Elkins house, which was right across the street – I think it’s on Girard Avenue, as I remember – from the Widener house. Elkins, as you know, had the painting collection that is now at the Art Museum. Way up in, I guess it was his ballroom, there was this long painting that must have been three feet high and twenty feet long. It was obviously painted for that area. I had no idea who did it, but I certainly was going to come with a large ladder and cut it out. That was the building that (5:00) Redevelopment Authority heard was going to be the staging area for a riot. I went up the next weekend, and it wasn’t there.

DS:      Was the staging area for what?

TN:      A riot. They were going to store things there. Riots were going on.

DS:      These buildings were all empty, vacant.

TN:      Oh, yes. All vacant.

DS:      Tell me about that. Early on in the neighborhood, people going around and taking things from vacant buildings, particularly in our Society Hill neighborhood.

TN:      Oh, yes, there was one person that was famous, who will remain nameless. He was an antique dealer.

DS:      An antique dealer, yes. [Laughs]

TN:      Bob Trump. Bob, in fairness to him, was taking things out when the buildings probably were going to be torn down. It was so much earlier. He was a teenager (6:00) when he was collecting those things.

DS:      He lived in the area?

TN:      No, he lived out with his mother in, well, past Flourtown. He had – I was in his warehouse – he had eight feet of left-handed bronze locks, and four feet of right-handed. All this stuff. People were just ripping it out at the time.

DS:      The city was not stopping them?

TN:      Nobody cared.

DS:      Nobody cared?

TN:      This was before the war and during the war and recently after the war. I remember Winterthur wanted to do an addition to their museum and have something that (7:00) people could walk through and not be a house that was done for kids to walk through. They just called up. I knew one of the curators. He called up and said, “Is there anything in your old houses at Nathan Trotter & Company?” They came and took the mantle and the floor and the bricks from the fireplace, because we had no concept of what would happen to these houses; nobody wanted them. That was going on in Society Hill. It wasn’t as if they were pirated. They were really saving things. Then vultures came afterwards. I remember I – stupidly – it’s one of the few things I remember (8:00) in the Keith Physick House, on the second floor, there was a beautiful mantle, and the centerpiece, which was beautifully carved, had fallen off. I said, “I’d better take this and save it, because somebody’s going to restore this house, and then they won’t have the original.” Then I said, “If I get caught taking it out, somebody will say I’m stealing it.” That’s my insecurity. When I showed the house again, it wasn’t there. Somebody had stolen it.

DS:      Some of the people I’ve interviewed who live up in the 600, 700 block (9:00) of Spruce, allude to the fact that they didn’t have as much power or influence, or they felt second rate.

TN:      Well, it was a very, very small project, and I wasn’t involved in it.

DS:      What? What was a small project?

TN:      Oh, the 600 block. You know, you’re right. They always felt that, and it wasn’t as important.

DS:      It wasn’t as important?

TN:      Well, important is the wrong word. I always said the center of Society Hill was Third and Spruce.

DS:      Third and Spruce?

TN:      Not geographically, but that’s where the action was. I thought you were (10:00) talking about Unit Three, which was much later. Houses were big. They were outside the center of the project. They were the best buys. The Maitins [Sam and Lilyan] – he was a painter – bought a house and moved into it, in the 600 block [of Pine Street], for $12,000. [The Maitins’ house is 702 Pine Street.]

DS:      You think they were the best buys because they’d always been lived in?

TN:      They had always been lived in. Some of them were single family. Some had their heat and electricity that worked. They’re right. Rafsky called me in one day (11:00) and said, “Ted, I want to tell you just so you’ll know. You have been accused of being anti-Jewish because you tend to – the perception of some people that have come to me is that you’re always showing the Jewish people the houses up there.” Well, I was showing them to everybody, but they felt it was out of the area, so I didn’t want them in the other part of the area.

DS:      But you would have shown them houses –

TN:      Oh, I’d show anything. I guess they thought I wasn’t showing them the best houses. The best were taken first, and they were in worse shape, because it was the Food Distribution Center.

DS:      You needed more money to buy the shells?

TN:      I guess that would be part of it. I don’t know why. There was much more (12:00) prejudice then. People at Metropolitan Hospital told Rafsky I was anti-Jewish.

DS:      What?

TN:      Metropolitan Hospital, which was all-Jewish run, was osteopathic. I guess they couldn’t get into regular [medical] schools, and they went to osteopathic in those days. They told Bill Rafsky that I was anti-Jewish. How they got that idea I don’t know. Old Philadelphia Development Corporation wanted them moved out, because they were an eyesore. Thank God, Bill was Jewish. [Laughs] I’ve got to tell a story which I might have (13:00) told you before, to show you the power of the people in those days that were running Old Philadelphia Development Corporation. Bill Rafsky, the only time he had ever been depressed, was in a meeting of Old Philadelphia Development Corporation. Albert Greenfield came, and there was a discussion about Metropolitan Hospital. You don’t remember the building –

DS:      Oh, yes.

TN:      The old building at Third and Spruce?

DS:      Oh, yes.

TN:      Well, everybody wanted it out, because it was an eyesore, but they had to get money to move. Albert Greenfield said, “Get me Scott and Clark on the phone.” The two senators. Within 15 minutes – I’m guessing, but it was (14:00) very short, – he had gotten both of them on the phone, and they both had pledged x millions of dollars to move them.

DS:      To move Metropolitan Hospital?

TN:      That’s power. Two different parties.

DS:      Scott and Clark?

TN:      Joe Clark and – what was his first name? I forget his first name. [Hugh Scott.]

DS:      Then, Three Bears Park. Was that done when you first moved in?

TN:      Oh, yes, there’s a classic picture of my son bicycling on a three-wheeler around the fountain.

[Tape is turned off, then on again] (15:00)

DS:      Ted, you said when we met back in 2004 that you thought the Redevelopment [Authority] had created a strong presence of middle class working people for the city. Would you elaborate on that? Or do you still feel that way?

TN:      Oh, yes. It allowed – I mean with Society Hill, Washington Square West and the Rittenhouse Square area, it’s not uncommon for the middle class to live in the city – or the upper middle class, really. You can’t buy anything in those areas for less than six hundred thousand dollars.

DS:      You also said that you couldn’t credit the success of Society Hill to (16:00) any one person. It was a combination of people.

TN:      Oh, yes.

DS:      You also discussed corner properties as being important, that they be restored. The buildings that were on corners were mostly bars or stores.

TN:      Yes, they were the problem. If you tore it down, then it was also the most expensive to rebuild, because you have that end wall to build.

DS:      You have two street walls. Is that what you’re saying?

TN:      Yes, and one long street wall.

DS:      The people who bought the property at the corner of Third and Spruce Streets, that southeast corner, the architect got around the problem by putting in the little (17:00) cupola?

TN:      No, what I felt was that the corners are important because they are anchors. I think there would be a lot of pressure to keep it as a garden for the adjacent house, because it’s a hard property to sell. That person – and I forget who it was, but it was a person of substance – quite a nice man. The architect figured, “Well, let me put a little building there, and that will solve it.” I think it’s sort of (18:00) cute, but if you had those on every corner, I don’t think it would be cute.

DS:      That was the way they got around it?

TN:      Yes.

DS:      And put a garden in there? Also, the photographs that were – you told a story that you had found a box of photographs from the time when the architect did the study?

TN:      Yes, I guess Andrade did it. It was Unit One, and they were wonderful things. They were little boards, and they had a picture of the house and then a map showing an arrow where that house was. The Redevelopment Authority had an office where the doctor was – the children’s doctor.

DS:      Barol? (19:00)

TN:      Barol. That was their field office. They threw them all away one day. I said, “Can I have them?” So, I took them. The Library Company has them now. I thought it’s nice history. I guess there was the same kind of thing done for Unit Two.

DS:      So that was Unit One?

[Tape is turned off, then on again]

DS:      The prices on the houses, say, from Third Street to the river were comparable to the prices on the houses from Third Street to, say, Sixth Street or Seventh?

TN:      I would say Fourth Street. It wasn’t the prices as much. The further you got (20:00) down, the worse shape they were.

DS:      The closer you got to the river?

TN:      Yes. [As] you got nearer Pennsylvania Hospital, they were in better shape.

DS:      Do you think it was because of the Food Produce Center?

TN:      Yes.

DS:      The houses had been used as boarding houses?

TN:      Yes. The one Mrs. Ingersoll bought when she bought it, in the front room, there were fifty to a hundred pocketbooks, because the person was a pocketbook snatcher and lived there. Probably ten people lived in that house. I don’t know. It was just more (21:00) run-down. I think the closer you got to Center City, the more activity. You had Jefferson [Hospital]. You had Pennsylvania [Hospital], and they were a block away or two blocks away. You had better quality of demand. The prices probably were less down here.

DS:      Closer to the river?

TN:      Yes. I’m sure I told you the story of the Masons.

DS:      Tell me again.

TN:      They bought two houses on Pine Street. They were probably behind you.

DS:      In the 100 block?

TN:      Yes. I remember him. He went through the house and he came back and said, “I’d like to go through again.” He had to buy boards to be able to get from the second floor to the third floor, because all the floor was rotted out. He bought boards so he (22:00) could go up and look. He bought both houses, and I think one was six [thousand dollars] and one was four [thousand dollars]. I mean, they were practically giving them away. The original appraisals – I think it was in Unit Two – came in with minus value, because they’d go to the appraiser and say, “These are the things that have to be done to these houses,” the historic things and things to get them up and go. By subtracting the cost – or adding the cost of all these things, it ended up that really you should pay the person to get the house from you, because it’s going to cost more than what the house is worth. They were told to go back and re-appraise it again. We can’t pay people to buy these houses.        (23:00)

[End of interview]


©2009 Project Philadelphia 19106™. All rights reserved.

About the Interview

Dorothy Stevens
Cynthia J. Eiseman
Interview Location
112 Cuthbert Street
Interview Date
May 12, 2009
Newbold, Theodore T.
Narrator Type
Redeveloper - New Construction
Redeveloper - Restoration
Oral History Sources