Victoria Bilinsky Onitsky

Victoria Bilinsky Onitsky (b. 1921) came to the United States from Poland in 1923, when she was two years old. She lived in Society Hill for the rest of her life. She describes the neighborhood in detail, with its chicken houses, small factories, warehouses, boarding houses, public bathhouse, corner grocery stores, bars and restaurants, and many trinity houses with outhouses. She talks about the Dock Street market, the Head House market, and South Street – all places where she went shopping with her mother. She describes living in various apartments, rooms, and houses, sometimes with other families sharing the buildings. Some of these accommodations had running water and were heated by coal-burning furnaces or wood-burning fireplaces. Some had gas lights. Her mother worked in a nearby chicken house. Over the years, her father bought houses in the neighborhood and rented them out. Victoria denies vehemently that the neighborhood was a slum, saying that the residents kept the streets and sidewalks clean. She was outraged when the Redevelopment Authority came in during the 1950s and posted signs on houses saying that they were “Unfit for Habitation.” They forced the worst of the slumlords out of business and required other owners to convert their properties from rooming houses into apartments or single-family houses.


DS: This is the second interview with Victoria Bilinsky Onitsky. [Inaudible]. We’ll forget that it’s there. I want to read this back to you, and then ….

VO: Are you cold? I’ll turn the air conditioner off.

DS: It does seem chilly in here.

VO: [Inaudible] We’ll run it for a little while [inaudible] circulation.

DS: I think that’s a good idea. I’m going to read this to you, and I want you to stop and correct me any time.


DS: Now, I have down here that you were born in 1921.

VO: Right.

DS: Place of birth was Poland. You came to the United States in 1923 with your mother to join your father. And I figured that out because you said you’d been two years old when you came.

VO: Yes.

DS: So that would have been the date. Presently lives at 311 Pine Street. Church affiliation [St. Andrew’s] Ukrainian Catholic Church, Pine between Fourth and Fifth, church just closed.

VO: Yes, real tragedy. (1:00)

DS: Now must go to Cathedral in north Philadelphia. Under “Family Roots,” your mother and your father both Austrian.

VO: Yes, Austrian born.

DS: Yes. But after World War I their families moved to the Ukraine –

VO: Poland.

DS: Poland. Right. Ukrainian Poland? Ah, father’s – or should I just say Poland?

VO: Poland. Not Ukrainian Poland.

DS: Poland. Just Poland.

VO: Ukrainians under the Russian rule at the time. They were under the Russians, but later on – well, as of up-to-date from what I read – they were fighting for their independence, you know, away from Russia. So they really went to Poland. Then it was kind of a neutral country, because the outbreak of the war came, First World War in Austria, Germany they started dividing all these countries. But I mean I’m not too familiar with that history, but [inaudible] listening to my mother you know it’s that she said that. (2:00)

DS: [inaudible]

VO: [inaudible]

DS: Father’s parents wanted him to be priest; so he was educated. But he married and had four children before leaving for the United States. Since her father was a farmer in Poland, he rented a farm in Skippack, PA, and sent for his family to join him, when Victoria was about two years old. He could not make enough money on the farm, so moved the family to the city. He worked at a leather factory and renovated the homes he bought for boarding house rentals. The mother had a job of cleaning offices at night while raising the children during the day. There were a total of six children: five boys – I mean five girls and one boy. Father died in 1947 and mother died in 1970. Then under “Growing Up,” you’re growing up in the city: The first city (3:00) rented house was above a chicken house on Front Street, no electricity. Her mother could make some money by dressing the chickens and geese, keeping the down feathers for free and making pillows and quilts for use by the family and for sale. Second home was on Spruce and Second Street. It was on Spruce, right?

VO: No, that was the one – uh, no that was the one where the mission house that they had on Second Street, near Spruce.

DS: It was on –

VO: The Abercrombie House there? Remember I was telling you about that archway is still there? There was the mission house there.

DS: What’s a mission house?

VO: Well, at the time the seamen used to come off the ships, you know, [unintelligible] the ships there.

DS: Oh, and this would be a place they could stay?

VO: Well, no, not to stay, just to worship. And they would give out coffee and cake.

DS: Hmm, and that’s where you lived.

VO: We lived on the second floor. We rented three rooms. (4:00)

DS: Oh, that’s right. I have that in here; so it’s on Second near Spruce. Rented the second floor, three rooms, lived in two and rented the third. No electricity, but cold running water. The third house was rented on Fairbank [Place], off of American Street, and then in brackets: this section of American Street ran north to Spruce, ran north from Spruce to Locust and now is gone.

VO: Yes.

DS: Each row house, and then in brackets again “Father, Son and Holy Ghost design,” had a number with an outhouse with the same number. No electricity, but running cold water and coal stoves. Fourth house was rented at 407 South Third Street, approximately 1929. All houses at that time on that block between Stamper Street and Pine Street were rented by Ukrainian families. (5:00)

VO: Yes.

DS: Now, rented or owned?

VO: Rented, rented. Well, I really, let me see. I know we rented it. But I mean the other people –

Ds: You don’t know.

VO: I, I don’t know about them.

DS: Maybe I ought to just say, uh, were lived in.

VO: Just lived in. Leave the rentals out.

DS: Yes, lived in by the Ukrainian families. The fifth home was 206 Spruce, which they owned while –

VO: Purchased in 1929, 1930.

DS: 1930, while the children were growing up, but later sold. The father would buy other houses on Spruce Street and renovate them and renovate them into rooming houses for rent.

VO: Yes.

DS: The houses would be – would date from 1746 to 1830. Now I didn’t want to go into what he owned, because I don’t think it’s anybody’s business. (6:00)

VO: No.

DS: So I wanted to keep it really just the facts.

VO: Yes, right.

DS: And not anything personal. Then, your schools. In first to the sixth grades you went to Wharton Public School at Third and Lombard, now St. Peter’s parking lot. Seventh grade to ninth, you went to Bartlett Junior High, located at Eleventh and Catherine. Tenth to Twelfth you went to South Philadelphia High School?

VO: Girls’ school.

DS: And then was it just for girls?

VO: At the time, yes.

DS: Umm, then you went to night school, the Junto School at Eleventh and Walnut, which held classes in different buildings. She went to John Wanamaker’s building for tailoring and bookkeeping. Wanted interior design but could not afford the tuition. Your occupation – well, it should be really jobs – Board of City Trusts for the Girard Estates. (7:00)

VO: Well, first I worked for Travelers Insurance Company.

DS: And you were a bookkeeper for them?

VO: A policy writer.

DS: A policy writer! You certainly have done all kinds [inaudible]. [Laughs]

VO: A policy writer. A jack of all trades [Laughs].

DS: Right. Good. [Laughs]. That’s good. That has made you so successful. So you start off with policy writer for Travelers Insurance Company. Then Board of City Trusts for the Girard Estates.

VO: Bookkeeping.

DS: Bookkeeping. Schultz Wallpapering on Fourth near –

VO: Part-time job I got when my kids went to school to help to pay the tuition. [Laughs] (8:00)

DS: Right, I understand. Part-time job for children’s tuition.

VO: They all went to private school from the first grade.


VO: This is my biography here.

DS: Well, it is to a degree, but I’m trying to keep it away from… I just want to take people like you, and Mary and Dorothy and Elizabeth and show what your life was like here.

VO: Uh huh.

DS: In the neighborhood, because it’s so different from what it is now.

VO: Oh, my God, you have no idea. I mean, you have absolutely no idea what it was like….

DS: Uh huh.

VO: Really, it was really humbum, very businesslike, you know, restaurants, bars, and then Dock Street was the biggest, you know –

DS: I get into that here. Yes, well, so. Schultz Wallpapering was what you did, and you were a bookkeeper. That was part-time. Then Harry Dubrow Furniture.

VO: They moved, they moved. They wanted me to come with them, but I couldn’t go. They moved all the way out to West Philadelphia. (9:00)


VO: I couldn’t come that way. Then I went with furniture store on South Street, Harry Dubrow’s. It was a big furniture place there, and he stopped me and asked me, “I understand you’re moving.” And I said, “Yes, but I’m not going with them.” He says, “Well, you know we’re short of a bookkeeper, if you want to come work for me.” I says, “Oh, wonderful.” [Laughs]

DS: Right. That’s what you did.

VO: I did.

DS: And then I have down here, “Husband’s restaurant at Ninth and Arch.” You were a bookkeeper for that?

VO: A bar and restaurant, he had.

DS: A bar and restaurant.

VO: Well, I did everything there, really. You need a dishwasher, you did dishwashing. You need a floor sweeper. You need a chef. So, you know, someone said, “Prep your work,” you did that. When you’re an owner’s wife, you know, you don’t get paid for it. You just work. [Laughs] (10:00)

DS: I understand. I will correct that. And then real estate management is what you’re doing now, real estate management for your father’s.

VO: If that’s what you want to call it. [Laughs] I don’t know.

DS: Sure it is. You own the building. You rent it.

VO: Yes, right.

DS: Then under the title of transportation, I have that you walked or you took the bus.

VO: Yup.

DS: Then you married in 1951 to Joseph [Onitsky] from the neighborhood and bought 311 Pine Street, which was all divided into apartments, with a dentist’s office on the first floor front. Joseph was a mechanical engineer working for the Vibration Specialty Company at Eighth and Vine Streets, repairing ships and airplanes for the war effort. He later worked for the City Water Department. After her husband died, Victoria converted – I should put down 311 Pine – into a (11:00) single dwelling. In your childhood, neighborhood memories. This is really the meat of it.

VO: Yes.

DS: Yes. Memories are mostly of 206 [Spruce Street] – I should say, “Young memories” – are mostly of 206 Spruce, when she was around eight years old. They had coal heat in the house and needed wood to start coal stoves. So after school she would collect wooden shipping crates from the furniture shops in the neighborhood to take home. The father would also buy a wagon load of wood furniture scraps. On Spruce and Philip Street, she would play potsie – and then in quotes “hopscotch” – wallball, spitball, pitching pennies, selling lemonade. Anything more you want to add in that? [Laughs]

VO: [Laughs] No. (12:00)

DS: At St. Peter’s School, St. Peter’s School would have a Halloween party and invite the neighborhood children. Wharton Public School summer program had a Maypole, crafts, and playground equipment. Mr. O’Malley was the director. The center was closed for lunch and dinner; there was no opening into St. Peter’s Churchyard from the school area. Stanfield Playground at Front and Lombard was also a favorite place to play. They would close for two hours for lunch, reopen in the afternoon, close for dinner from 5:00 to 7:00 and reopen from 7:00 to 9:00. Had activities for the very young to the teenagers. It’s funny, how when you re-read this you find your mistakes. Remembers taking a boat from Lombard and South Street [indecipherable] to Soupy Island, New Jersey. I tried to look up Soupy Island. I can’t find it.

VO: Maybe, maybe it was a different name for it, but we only knew it as Soupy Island, because they were – they would give out cans of – cups of soup. (13:00)

DS: I’ve got that in here.

VO: Yes. And crackers.

DS: Right. Takes a boat from – was it Lombard or South?

VO: What’s that?

DS: Where this boat –.

VO: South Street.

DS: South. South Street to Soupy Island, New Jersey, for free swimming and a tin cup of free chicken soup. Thus it was called Soupy Island on the Delaware.

VO: Yes, it was Fairbanks, New Jersey, the boat, the ship would go to.

DS: Fairbanks.

VO: Yes, Fairbanks, New Jersey.

DS: That I can probably look up.

VO: Well, everybody in the neighborhood, maybe the kids gave it that name. Soupy Island. Because then they knew that you’d pack a lunch, mother would pack a lunch and go down there. But they would hand out the soup, as much as you want. Matter of fact, one day, just a little while ago, I was reading in the paper that – recipe section? (14:00)

DS: Uh huh.

VO: Somebody was asking for a recipe of the soup that Soupy Island used to have. [Laughs] It struck me so funny, but I know that somebody wrote in, into the paper, that anybody would, you know, share that recipe from Soupy Island. It was a wonderful soup [indecipherable]. In your mind so the person that’s writing this was quite young, and they still remember. So they want that memory back. But, I know we went down the shore, my girlfriend and I, to the casinos last week, and we took the Showboat. And they have this buffet. And I enjoyed a nice cup of soup. And they had this escarole soup, [indecipherable] Italian soup. It’s so – it was so delicious, (15:00) to me, you know. I enjoyed it so much. I don’t like a heavy, thick soup but a lighter soup. And this is what it was. And usually it’s an Italian soup. And I’m looking, too – I’ve got millions of cookbooks here – and I’m looking through every book thinking, “Let me see, they have ‘em, but not what was in that soup.” Everybody makes it differently.

DS: Yes.

VO: I can’t find it.

DS: I know the problem. And when you’re a child, I think you get so hungry, that certain things just taste so wonderful.

VO: Exactly.

DS: When our taste buds are alive and well.

VO: And I’m trying to think of what was in the soup, you know. But I know it had escarole and it had tomatoes in it. It was more like a light vegetable soup. And I don’t think it had meat in it. It’s just probably an oil base. And I’m trying to pick it up in my mind. Maybe I’m going to try it that way. It had no meat, but then how did they get the broth like that? But they must use canned chicken soup. Right. Canned chicken broth. (16:00)

DS: Canned chicken broth.

VO: Right.

DS: It wasn’t a beef broth.

VO: It wasn’t a beef broth. Very light. It was so good.

DS: Remembers going to Pennsylvania Hospital for tonsillectomy and paying 50 cents. You couldn’t remember what the 50 cents was for, but I thought it was [indecipherable].

VO: Registration, I guess, you know. Like today, you know, you have to hand in your Blue Cross and Blue Shield Cards. But, see, they didn’t have that then.

DS: So it was 50 cents.

VO: [Laughs]

DS: Remembers Wilson Line boat leaving Chestnut Street for moonlight dancing on the river. The family never took vacations. Never – (17:00)

VO: No car. [Laughs] You can’t.

DS: Right, no car.

VO: The only time I – well then later, this was much later, we would take the ferry here, at Market Street, I believe it was, and went over to Jersey, and then they had the train station where the aquarium is now?

DS: Yes?

VO: That used to be a train station there. And we would take the train there that would take us to Atlantic City.

DS: Give me a year on that. What can you – would have been the 30s?

VO: Probably was the 30s, 40s. Probably 40s, maybe, more or less, because we were, you know, a little older. It was older, a lot of times we would go ourselves, you know, but that was then. Now today you have to go to 30 th Street Station to get that train.

DS: Yes.

VO: But that train was right here, right over the river.

DS: Elizabeth talks about this. (18:00)

VO: [Indecipherable].

DS: So did Dorothy [Bunting]. They both did the same thing. So that was in the 40s, you think.

VO: In the ‘40s, Yes. Yes, I guess so.

DS: Never locked the houses, as there was no air conditioning. So everything would be open. No fear.

VO: No fear. Doors wide open. And the windows – we had the screens, just the screens, and you just leave them open, the front of the house, the front windows. And the door in the front. Sometimes we’d sit outside til maybe 1, 2, 3 in the morning talking – general, you know, your neighbors, just talking. And there was a very social, you know, nice social life. Now you’ve got (19:00) to lock yourself up. Every night I go, I says, “Did you lock the door?” This and this. Then I put a slide bolt on the bottom of the door here, in fear that somebody will come and jimmy your lock and just come right in. You’re just living in fear, really, you know. It’s just she and I in the house here, that’s all. So for the peace of your own mind, really, it does it for you.

DS: And then you can relax.

VO: Yes. You have to.

DS: Abbott’s Ice Cream factory on the corner of Lombard and Second would give out free ice cream to the children. All the houses had outhouses, and baths were in the kitchen in a tub. There was a bathhouse on Gaskill Street between Fourth and Fifth.

VO: And do you know what they called that place today?

DS: It’s a B and B, you told me.

VO: [Laughs].

DS: They would give you a towel and a shower.

VO: A bar of soap and – (20:00)


VO: And a towel.

DS: Tell me how that worked. That’s one of my questions, ‘cause that kind of intrigues me.

VO: Well, you went in –

DS: Was there women’s day and men’s day?

VO: Well, yes, right. A cashier, and you paid. I don’t remember what we paid. And you’d get a towel and a bar, a bar of soap. And then you’d have these shower stalls, you know. And there’s no special time to come in and out. You could stay as long as you want. As long as you got washed and cleaned up. You’d take your own clean clothes, you know.

DS: And it was warm water?

VO: Yes, very. It was very nice.

DS: And very clean?

VO: Yes, very clean. And you’d take your shower and you’d get dressed up to your clean clothes, and then you’d just hand back the towel, and you’d leave. (21:00)

DS: How often would you do something like this? Was it people – what was the –?

VO: Well, you could go anytime you want, but we used to go maybe once or twice a week.

DS: And the whole family would go.

VO: Yes, right. At different times, not the same time all of us together. We’d go at different times. Like my sisters or brothers [indecipherable].

DS: So they had certain days that were for men and certain days that were for women? Or did they have it partitioned off?

VO: They had it partitioned off, and you’d go in at any time with everybody. And once you closed the door, they were all individual showers. They were not one of these, like, a community thing. It’s all individual showers. Like you go to a public place today, you have your bathroom, (22:00) each stall. You close your door. You do what you have to do, and then you leave. And that was the same thing.

D: And that was on Gaskill Street between Fourth and Fifth. Was it on the north side or the south side?

VO: North side.

DS: North side. Sledding was on a hill from Market Street to Lombard Street on Front Street to –

VO: There was a big hill right here on Spruce Street. That’s what I say. A lot of the people say, “Society Hill.” It was because the society that people that settled it that they called it “Society.”

DS: The Free Traders.

VO: Right. This was like up on a hill, this area, because I know we used to come down Market Street and it was so steep –

DS: It was?

VO: Yes, going over to the – Yes.

DS: Going from Market coming south it was very steep?

VO: No, no. Going, no, going – Market Street going down towards the river. (23:00)

DS: Oh, was steep. And that hill continued.

VO: Continued right down to South. I don’t know how far it went, but I know it went like towards Lombard Street and all that whole area was a big hill and then like down to the markets they had down [indecipherable].

DS: Like what markets?

VO: The produce markets, you know, on Dock Street.

DS: Oh.

VO: And that all went kind of down also. You see, when they built the Towers –. Now, if you notice, when you’re on Dock Street, which was Dock Street, I don’t know what they call it now, where you turn around where Bookbinders is, you know, you turn up Walnut Street, but there’s a big turn that goes around and it comes up to Spruce Street. That was all going down. But now the (24:00) Towers are so much higher. You see, they built all that up, which was high then, but they built it up higher to build the Towers, see. But somehow they leveled the grounds over here. It’s not so deep any more. A little on a downgrade but not as much as it used to be.

DS: So that was a hill, pretty much the whole way down.

VO: And – the Abercrombie House, they have like a – I don’t know what you’d call it, a lookout thing to have these glass [indecipherable] magnifying. They could watch the ships coming in from the ocean area that the breakers from way down in South Philly.

DS: Don’t they call them a widow’s walk or something?

VO: I guess so. (25:00)

DS: The women used to go up there and look for their husbands.

VO: Right, that’s the lookout.

DS: To continue. The neighborhood was not a slum. It was kept clean and maintained when money was available. Everyone knew each other and were supportive and watched out for each other.

VO: Every Saturday, people around here would come out and clean their steps and the pavement and wash the, you know….

DS: Why Saturday?

VO: Well, because it was not a working day. A lot of people were home. And during the week it was so busy, you know. We got these trailer trucks come here, you know. You know, these houses like between Spruce and Delancey they have, what do you call it, the Mews or something? (26:00)

DS: Delancey Mews?

VO: Uh huh. Yes, right. There used to be a huge garage where those new homes are now. That garage went from Second Street to Philip Street. It was open. And these trailer trucks that came from all parts of the state with their produce. They would park there.

DS: Well, now, I remember you telling me – and I have it here later – that Second, on Philip, where I went and looked for the number of the house, oh, 315 Philip, you said was a parking lot. But you’re telling me that that parking lot extended from Philip –

VO: To Second.

DS: To Second. (27:00)

VO: Yes, I’m not –. Are you familiar with Philip Street? That new, modern home on the east side?

DS: That’s the 315.

VO: Is it? That house was not there.

DS: It was new. Then the block between Second and Front, Delancey and Spruce, what was there?

VO: Chicken houses and produce stores. And on Second and Delancey, going towards the river, that would be the east side, was a bar.

DS: All right, where again now? Second and Delancey?

VO: Second and Delancey, northeast corner. There was a bar. And they all – from that bar all the (28:00) way to Second Street, rather to Spruce Street, was all produce stores. And there was another alley there. People lived there. I don’t remember the name.

DS: Inside that block.

VO: Yes, right. And then on the north side of Second Street it was all restaurants.

DS: North side of Second? Second runs north and south.

VO: No, the north side of Second Street, like you’re right on Second Street here, the north side, the south side, this would be the north side, between Spruce and Delancey. We’re on the north side of the street here. This would be the south side – the east side, I’m sorry. (29:00)

DS: Yes, thank you.

VO: The east side of Second.

DS: And that was all restaurants.

VO: All restaurants, one right after the other.

DS: This was considered part of the produce center?

VO: Yes, well a lot of the people from there, from the produce, they used to come to eat there. And that was open all night. They’d open at midnight til about 8 o’clock in the morning.

DS: Now I said here, “The Dock Street food produce center was open from 9 p.m. to 7 a.m. Busy all night.”

VO: Yes, well, they probably got together, but most of them was open like at midnight. They (30:00) would start opening up, but then midnight is where all the busyness was, all through the night.

DS: Do you want me to put 12 in there? Or keep it 9 p.m.?

VO: Nine p.m. Because they were closed on Saturday and Sunday. That’s why all most of them people around here would come out doing their, you know.

DS: Cleaning up.

VO: Yes, outside.

DS: She remembers hot summers with noise, smells –

VO: Oh, boy.

DS: Trucks with motors running all night.

VO: Right.

DS: The trucks would line up on Second Street – on Spruce Street – and make their deliveries.

VO: Spruce Street and this parking lot, they used to be there.

DS: And 315 Philip Street was a parking lot for some of these produce trucks. And that went through to Second. (31:00)

VO: To Second [indecipherable].

DS: South Street –?

VO: Do you know Dugan Mickle?

DS: Yes, I call her Elizabeth.

VO: Oh, Yes. Eliza – Dugan.

DS: Her name is Elizabeth, but I know her nickname is Dugan. But, you known, when I got to know her I didn’t feel like I should call her by her nickname? Anyway, so I call her Elizabeth, and she seems to be pleased with that.

VO: Yes.

DS: Just like I see you as Victoria.

VO: Yes, right

DS: Victoria is a beautiful name.

VO: Yes, but I get Vicky. And a lot of – and my sister used to call me Tory.

DS: Why?

VO: Victoria.

DS: Oh, Tory! Kids love to make [indecipherable].

VO: They cut it down. Hillary’s name is Hillary. How short could it be? It’s two syllables. Hillary. They call her Hill. [Laughs] (32:00)

DS: I have here: South Street was open Sundays. There was nothing like it.

VO: Saturday, Sundays was a big, big, big thing on South Street. We were down…. South Street was like Market Street department stores. People from …. Because Market Street the stores were closed on Sundays. But these were private, individual, you know, businesses, and they were open on Sundays. And people from all over used to come down and do their shopping there. And they had millinery stores, corset shops, shoe stores. They had this Arabach. I don’t know if you’ve heard of that. That was a huge children’s store. (33:00)

DS: Dorothy [Bunting] did talk about that, but she didn’t have a name for it. It was called what?

VO: Arabach. A-r-a-b-a-c-h, I guess.

DS: Arabach’s? OK.

VO: It was a huge store, like two properties, you know. Then we had the Model Movies.

DS: Right, I have that.

VO: And then we had the Palace Movies, on the other side between Third and Fourth Street. (34:00) Then they used to have – what’s their name now? – a lot of antique stuff, some antique stores there, OK?

DS: How about hardware?

VO: Oh, yes, they had hardware, I think his name was Horn’s Hardware.

DS: Horn’s.

VO: I’m not sure.

DS: Harry Horn? That was electrical. He was still here when we moved in ’60. Harry Horn, he was electrical supply.

VO: No, maybe not the same. I’m mixed up. I don’t know. They had such a variety. And then on (35:00) – I’ll think of it when I pass it. There was a Spanish woman. She had one of these pushcarts, like a vendor, and she sold hot dogs. And you would buy a hot dog and you’d get a lemonade – a glass of lemonade – for nothing.

DS: [Laughs]

VO: [Laughs] Can you believe it? I figure it was so homey, you know. Very close. People were very close. And now where this parking lot is now, where they built these new homes there, there used to be –

DS: You mean on Second Street? (36:00)

VO: No, here on Third Street. On Third between South and Lombard.

DS: Oh, OK.

VO: There used to be …

.DS: Abbott’s Square.

VO: Yes, Abbotts, but there was a line of houses there that was – I’m trying to think of his name – Pickle Place there used to be. Dill pickles there. Pickle Place. Then there used to be – what the –

DS: Wait a minute. I’ve got some of this down here, because….

VO: The Abbotts Square went from Second Street to American Street, Second and Lombard to American Street, which there’s no American Street now. It’s closed from Second to Third. But at (37:00) that time it used to be – it goes up to like American Street. And that American Street where – there is still an American Street on South Street –

[For the next 2-3 minutes, Steve Osmolski (SO) joined the conversation. He was a handyman who did repair work on houses in the neighborhood.]

SO: I want a copy of all that information.

VO: You can have it.

DS: Actually, I do intend, as soon as I get this –

SO: Did you tell about the church [indecipherable]?

VO: Our church?

SO: Yes.

VO: Yes.

DS: Yes. I’ve got….

SO: She got a lot of history, right?

DS: This is the last, our last talk. I’ve made up these three pages out of some six that she did for me.

SO: Wow.

DS: And now we’re making our second corrections. So when I get it just right, I’m going to give her a copy.

SO: She should give you a copy – you should show her the copy where England – that house over there. Oh, man, I touched that. [Laughs] (38:00)

VO: Now, I have papers that the house was bought for English currency, one of the properties I have [indecipherable]. It was, what did I say, 17–?

SO: Forty-two.

VO: Seventeen forty-two? Forty-three?

DS: I think that’s what I put in here. I didn’t want to get too personal. Seventeen forty-six, you told me.

VO: Seventeen forty-six.

SO: It’s forty-two.

DS: It’s forty-two?

SO: Yes, it’s forty-two. It’s on the window over there. (39:00)

DS: Seventeen forty-two.

VO: And it was sold for an English currency, because they had the Declaration in 1776. So it was still before the Declaration of Independence.

DS: Right, so it was bought with –

VO: With English currency.


VO: Matter of fact, they have my father’s name on the bottom of the last purchaser of the property.

DS: It’s wonderful history. Let’s see, we’re back to South Street.

VO: Tell me, what are you going to do with the paper? (40:00)

DS: We moved in ’62. Friends of ours, the Bullers, Jo Ann and Carter Buller, moved in probably sometime in the late ‘60s and restored a house. We bought two properties and built a new house. What I’m trying to tell you is that there are a group of us who were here in the ‘60s who remember what the neighborhood was like then. Now that new people are coming in, and I’m sure you feel this in spades, they start talking about, you know, what the neighborhood was like. And they got it wrong! And we kept trying to correct them. [Laughs] So then I thought if (41:00) we’re going to write a book about what it was like when we moved in the ‘60s, we’d better talk to you guys, who were here before that.

SO: [indecipherable] the carriage people were saying.

DS: They’re crazy!

SO: They don’t know what they’re talking about. I listen to them when they’re going by……. Kosciuszko House, all screwed up. They say St. Peter’s, that’s George Washington’s Church, which he was only visiting.

DS: Right.

SO: I mean they got it…

VO: Another thing, like this Kosciuszko, he was only here for a couple of weeks or months so his…

SO: The last one I heard, listen to this, Ben Franklin’s buried under that house, that framed house over on… And it’s not true.

DS: What frame house?

SO: That framed-out house on Walnut Street that’s the Ben Franklin museum? He’s buried under there. He’s not buried in there. (42:00)

DS: No.

SO: [Laughs] And these people are like they come from all over and they believe that.

DS: Well, and I heard a carriage guy say Pine Street used to have pine trees.

VO: No, it never had trees.

DS: And I wanted to shout out, “Don’t believe him!”

VO: [Laughs]

SO: [Indecipherable] They just dream it up. Whatever comes in their mind.

DS: I think so.

SO: Like, I know they use this house for the busybody mirror, for the flag, and for the something else. I know they use St. Peter’s for the plaque. I think they have a plaque in the center, I’m not sure, a historical plaque. (43:00)

DS: On the building?

SO: Yes, somewhere. They use one of the – I heard them say, “Certified.”

VO: They have plaques right out here.

SO: Historic, Yes. So they use that. It’s different points that they use, but when they come through, you hear them, and everything’s a different story. Society Hill was a slum.

VO: Oh, they – when I hear that – where do they pick this up from?

DS: Did you know Charlie Peterson? He just recently died.

VO: No.

DS: He was a man who came into this neighborhood in the ‘50s and was instrumental in getting the Redevelopment Authority to come in. He was part of that group. And in his obituaries, he is (44:00) quoted as saying that this neighborhood was going down the drain and it was a slum. And I thought, “Whoa, wait until Victoria and Dorothy and Elizabeth hear this!” You know, because you’ve all said this to me. I didn’t ask you, but you’ve all volunteered to me that this was not a slum.

VO: Not the slums. Far from it. I mean.

SO: It was the production area, the produce.

VO: We, we, you know, if anything, we salvaged this area. If not, it would have been the slums.

SO: It would be a blue collar area, if anything. (45:00)

VO: Because all these ethnic people that came over, most of them, all of them, were European people here. And this was their homes, and every Saturday I remember we’d be outside scrubbing those steps. I myself did it. Scrubbing the steps and taking the hoses and hosing the pavement and the streets. And came Sunday you had a beautifully cleaned area. Right.

DS: Yes.

VO: And you would never know it was a produce place down here, because even the produce marketers they were – Friday night – they were out there cleaning up. They never left any garbage or anything out there in the – (46:00)

SO: [Indecipherable] I would say, which would be fair, would be a blue collar area at the time. You know, but not a slum.

VO: Yes. It was a business area.

SO: The bums were there by Front and Callowhill, where the bums were, around the cans and burning fire wood and it was like….

VO: You said Ninth Street. Now Ninth Street was like that. They had the crates outside.

SO: These bums hanging out.

VO: And then these tins that they would burn for the winter. You didn’t have – if you had that down there it was not there Saturday and Sunday, because that was closed down. You could have walked there and no problem. (47:00)

DS: What about rats, mice, that kind of thing?

VO: Well, maybe down that way they might have had it, but as far as myself, there – no, we never –

DS: Around the living area?

VO: No. I’ll tell you, I think they’re more around here now than they were then. Because sometimes I hear some scratching. It’s people. They build and they disturb things, you know, and I don’t know where they’re coming from. It’s been more so now than they did before. (48:00)

DS: Here I have this. The movie house on Market Street at Third.

VO: Yes, four, four, three.

DS: Three Threes, you told me.

VO: Yes, Three Threes.

DS: Three Threes gave out free gifts with admission, such as dishes and silverware. Smokehouses were called Roman Provisions.

VO: That was at 208.

DS: What? 208 Spruce?

VO: Yes.

DS: I remember you told me there was one on Third, no, Fourth.

VO: That was Foremost here, Fourth and Gaskill. That was a provision place that used to make – (49:00)

DS: Why did they call it? Roman Provisions?

VO: Well, that’s the man who owned it. He owned it, Romans. Yes.

DS: Romans was his family name?

VO: Right.

DS: And provision was just the name for sausages?

VO: Sausages, yes.


VO: They cased them with meat in the middle.

DS: Foremost was still here in the ‘60s when we came.

VO: Oh, yes, they were there, but this was maybe in the ‘30s already. When we moved into 206 [Spruce Street], 208 next door was the building, the Provisions, and they had three big smoke (50:00) houses. And my mother was very upset, because when they smoked the whole house would be full of smoke. But then he moved to Callowhill Street, and my father bought the property [indecipherable].

DS: [Laughs] Your mother was happy again.

VO: Nobody could, you know, start another provision. So he just closed the first floor down, because he couldn’t do nothing with it. It was a factory, like, you know. Concrete floors and all. (51:00) But he rented the upper floors, they were for roomers. This helped them, this roomer helped them from buying one house to the other. And my father’s only interest was first of all, he said, “I have four children, and each one should have a house, to get their life started with. And, but he put in roomers, and each – every time he would buy a property this is what – those roomers helped pay for the property. My father was a pretty shrewd businessman. [Laughs] (52:00)

DS: He was. A hard worker.

VO: Extremely, that’s why he died when he was 57. I still to this day think he killed himself, really, working so hard. You know, this 202 we’re talking about –

DS: I just wanted to see if I have when your father died, I’ll just write it in here. Here, he was 57 years. Well, he had a hard life –

VO: Very hard.

DS: But he clearly did it his way. (53:00)

VO: Yes, he was really a very aggressive person. He came to this country without nothing. I don’t know how my parents did it, because they had nothing, whatever was on their back, that’s what they had.

DS: And all the children – not all the children –

VO: And my sister – and my brother and my sister and myself, the three of us first. And then my younger sister was born right here on Third Street, in 1929 she was born. And she’s passed away (54:00) already. But when my father – when we lived here, at [indecipherable] 407.

DS: Fourth house was 407 South Third, you said, in approximately 1929. (55:00)

VO: Right, she was born there, and from there my parents bought that house on Spruce Street, 206.

DS: Right, 206, I have that.

VO: And then Roman, when he moved out, my father right away he bought it, so nobody else could. And basically what was not so pleasant here, a lot of the black people used to come down here. But that was to work down here.

DS: In the ‘30s.

VO: Right. And we had a Jewish man, Rugowitz.

DS: What? I’ve got it in here. Let me continue and see if I have this right. At the corner, at (56:00) the southwest corner of Third and Spruce, she remembers there was a cigar factory. The southwest corner of Third and Spruce.

VO: That’s right here. That was a cigar factory.

DS: Southwest corner. That was a cigar factory. Then a millinery factory?

VO: No, then after that I think it was the –

DS: The barracks? (57:00)

VO: No – [indecipherable].

DS: Then a barracks for the military?

VO: Yes.

DS: Then a millinery factory.

VO: Then a variety of stores, you know, floors had different –

DS: A variety of stores. And then the Metropolitan Hospital; now new, private homes.

VO: Right.

DS: American Street was called Asker Street. A-s-k-e-r?

VO: Right here, Asher or Asker, it’s one of them. Matter of fact, they still have that stone up there. [The stone says Ashland.]

DS: On the building? (58:00)

VO: On the building, Yes.

DS: I’ll go look.

VO: Yes, Asher, I think. I’m not sure now. They have a stone there with Asher on it.

DS: Mr. Rugowitz owned several homes on the 200 block of Delancey and rented rooms to many families. As was the case for this neighborhood, new people came for the jobs. They were new, poor, and lived in overcrowded boarding houses. (59:00)

VO: Right, yes, used to keep three, four families in one house.

DS: That’s what I heard, right. Judith Beck, who is the assistant rector at St. Peter’s, was a nurse, before she became a rector, and she was a public health nurse down here on Delancey Street.

VO: Oh, my.

DS: She says – I haven’t really sat down to talk to her yet, but I will. She said, in the ‘60s, she (60:00) remembers that she had to go see some families on Second and Delancey, and she was just appalled by what she saw. So this must have been those families.

VO: Probably was that Rugowitz had. And then neighbors. Matter of fact, my husband’s uncle, a lot of other Ukrainian people lived on Delancey Street, and they were very upset about this man, you know, until finally they got – what’s this – redevelopment came in and got them all out of there. Now where this – what’s her name, Judy? (61:00)

DS: Judy what? Beck?

VO: Is that her last name?

DS: Yes. Beck.

VO: That was a grocery store on the corner, where her garden is now.

DS: Oh, wait a minute. Oh, I know what Judy you’re talking about. [She is thinking of Judy Block, who lives at 219 Delancey Street.]

[Side two of the tape]

DS: It gets too confusing.

VO: Oh, Yes. [Indecipherable].

DS: I made this map, and I want to review it with you. But let me just finish this last paragraph I wrote here. Redevelopment Authority came to the neighborhood in the 1950s and put signs on houses saying that they were unfit for habitation.

VO: Yes.

DS: The rooming house owners had to convert their properties from rooming houses to apartments or private homes. The owners had to submit plans, drawings and fix up the exterior of their home to the Redevelopment Authority’s specifications. This took money for blueprints, contractors, fees, approvals. Once the owners found out about the federal housing loans, they (1:00) could get help. They were able to keep their ownership, but many did not know about the loans or did not want or were unable to cope with the changes. And they lost their properties with small reimbursement for them. That’s it?

VO: And that put – and my parents had those four properties. And on each one they posted those signs, Unfit for Habitation. And my mother – well, my father had passed away since, you know, and being that she was not an educated person from Europe, she was just [indecipherable], terrible. So it was up to us to, you know, try to salvage it. And this is what I’ve done, you know. I read about the federal government, and I went up there, and I – you know, had to go along with their specifications or else I would lose it. So, it’s the same like here. Same thing.

DS: Absolutely. I will correct that – this – and I will give you a copy. (2:00)

VO: And a lot of people walk around and say, “How on earth did she get all these properties?” They haven’t the faintest idea what we went through to keep – to hold them, you know?

DS: This is, this is part of why we feel this need to write this book, is that even we feel this way. You know, came in in the ‘60s. We feel that people just don’t know. I would have lived any other place. I raised three sons here. I was very happy to be here, but it was a different world.

VO: You know, I had no desire – when we bought this property in ’51, a lot of my friends said, “Why do you want to live around here? Why don’t you go out to the Northeast and go –?” I says, “No, I like this area.” You’re close in town. You want to walk, you walk. You take a bus, (3:00) take a cab, whatever way. Everything’s here, why do I want to go ….? I worked at the Board of City Trusts here under Steven Girard for a number of years and that – I would never look for a job someplace, God knows where. But I enjoyed it. I mean, it’s close to home, to your roots. I knew of no other place. I lived here all my life, since I’ve been two years old. So where am I going to go? And especially now, where? Where would you go now, today?

DS: You don’t need to go anywhere.

VO: No, that’s why I struggled to hold onto the properties. And I feel very bad about my mother’s house. We sold it. Very bad. And then the apartment building at 208 [Spruce] was – a tenant fell asleep and burned the place down. Now I looked in all different directions to see if I (4:00) could refurbish it, but at my age, you know, I don’t need to get into debt millions of dollars, you know. So I just let it go. That house was sold for $1,250,000, after they fixed it [in 2004]. But they converted it into a private home. Which is nice. And I have some of these papers about the property, and I’m always thinking of maybe knocking on the door and giving them these papers. Because they’ll be interested in it, they’re no good to me anymore. So maybe one of these days I’ll get nerve enough to go over there and give it to them.

DS: These are papers of sale?

VO: No, papers of some history, of how old the house is. And they have a little plaque that you could put in the window telling you how old the house is. So….

DS: You know how they get those little plaques? The Civic Association –

VO: Sent it to me. The same with the flag here, that they send me this flag. (5:00)

DS: Really? The Civic Association?

VO: Well, not the Civic, I think maybe the redevelopers or somebody, I don’t know. I have the papers and all. I don’t remember. But they told me if I wanted the original 13 colony flag, “Give me a call and we’ll send it to you.” I wanted it for all the houses, but they could only give me the one. So I have it outside here, the original 13 colony.

DS: I saw it.

VO: That’s how I got it. And then the busybody I found it and put it up there. Everybody that comes by they look at it. But this is what it used to be like here.

DS: You did have busybodies.

VO: Yes, right. So I have a busybody up there and the flag. I’m a real patriot. [Laughs] But to me I like that, I like that history. It’s interesting. But I don’t go into such depth as you do. (6:00)

DS: Well, we just, you know – because most of you are talking about the 1920s to the ‘60s, and so that kind of gives a lead-in to the rest of us who came in the ‘60s and ‘70s.

VO: Later.

DS: I guess it’s just like you. There’s a need to tell your story.

VO: Exactly. It’s very interesting, you know?

DS: I think so. If you like the neighborhood.

VO: Yes. And especially for myself, being here, prior to you, there’s been such changes. I mean when I – I’m sorry now that I never really took pictures. Now I have a picture when my brother went into the service, and he came home on visit. My younger sister and I and my brother were standing [indecipherable]. I don’t know. It was my father took the picture standing there, the three of us. And you get the look of what Spruce Street (7:00) looked like from 206 [Spruce Street] onto Third Street. And you see the factory still there, and you could see the fire escapes and all. Some of the buildings – was it 210? [Spruce] – had these iron fire escapes on the outside. And see, when Society Hill came in they made us take all that off. 202 [Spruce] had the same thing, and we had to take them all off.

DS: On our block, where we live on the 100 block of Delancey, on the south side, there were also – must have been boarding houses there, because they had the outside fire escapes, too, which had to come down.

VO: Right. Had to take them down.

DS: Do you have any memories of that block?

VO: Second Street – Delancey.

DS: On Delancey, in the one hundred block.

VO: From Front to Second Street. Yes, uh huh.

DS: Because when we came in – my husband tried to get the property in ’59.

VO: It’s strange. The Barons they lived in the – on this side, on the south side – (8:00)

DS: South side. And were they all private homes there, do you remember? It wasn’t chicken houses.

VO: No, mostly private and chicken houses. Front Street itself was chicken houses.


VO: And that’s hard to really visualize, these chicken houses there. And it was a mess. I know. I vaguely remember. I must have been really quite young. My mother sent us to the store for a bottle of milk, and, well, she sent my brother because he’s older than me. And I wanted to go with him, and I said, “Please, I want to go.” And he took me with him and we went for this bottle of milk. And coming home, he was running, and I said, “Don’t run, don’t run, don’t run.” And he’s got the milk, and he tripped and fell on the bottle and cut up his chest. And I remember that, (9:00) and I was standing over him, and I was crying and crying, and I ran to one – and we lived in one of those chicken houses on the second floor. And it smelled – oh, God. And got my mother, and she came out. Had to take him to the hospital. Had stitches. Now, here on American Street, the Fairbank [Place], these are some tragedies. My mother like you say there was no hot, running water. So she would have to – we had a coal stove. My mother had to heat the water with a galvanized tub, fill it up, it was a big one, put it on the stove. And that’s a coal stove. And that’s (10:00) how she would heat our water to wash clothes. It was just one room, a father, son, holy ghost house, and the rooms weren’t that big. My sister went to Dock Street and she got some chestnuts, [indecipherable] chestnuts.

DS: Don’t tell me that story. I don’t want it on here. You did tell me the story the last time. You know, I have the notes from that story and I thought, “I shouldn’t put that in.” That’s so personal.

VO: Yes, that’s a personal story. And it was a tragedy.

DS: A tragedy. I made this little map, and I’m going to read you. There’s 18 numbers that I put on the map. And I’m going to review it if you can visualize where this is. I have down here where Fairbank [Place] is. I don’t know if you can see this. This is Spruce. This is American, and this is where it stops now. But this is where it used to go. (11:00)

VO: Let me see, now, concentrate here.

DS: This is Spruce, and this is Philip and this is American. Now American stops here now at Spruce now, but it used to go all the way up to Lombard.

VO: Not to Lombard. You’re going north. Lombard would be south.

DS: Lombard goes east west.

VO: Fairbank [Place] was down this way, not Lombard Street.

DS: I know. Locust, Locust is what I’m talking about. It went through from Spruce to Locust. I’m sorry.

VO: And to Chancellor Street, [indecipherable] that little [indecipherable] Chancellor Street?

DS: There is a Chancellor Street.

VO: And it went down to there.

DS: It went down to where? (12:00)

VO: To Chancellor Street.

DS: Oh, it didn’t go to – Was Chancellor beyond Locust?

VO: Beyond. Right. Yes.

DS: So Chancellor would be up here somewhere.

VO: Yes. See, it went down to Chancellor Street. Locust Street, that’s where that [indecipherable] Then there’s a little string on Walnut Street.

DS: To Walnut.

VO: But this went to Chancellor Street. That’s where – if you go down to Chancellor Street now that’ll take you right into Society Hill, uh, the hotel.

DS: The Sheraton.

VO: Yes, the Sheraton. Right. That’ll take you right down there.

DS: Interesting. Oh, I know that little street. It’s right in here.

VO: Right, right. It’s still there. You see, American Street went right up to that.

DS: So this is Chancellor. Did it go to Walnut? (13:00)

VO: No, just to Chancellor.

DS: Then coming off to the right is Fairbank [Place].

VO: Right. Then that Fairbank [Place] was between Spruce and Locust. And there was a bookbinder’s bookshop. They used to make books there.

DS: I have that here. You told me that. Where is it? Bookbinders. Bookbinders is 11.

VO: Not the Bookbinders that is the restaurant.

DS: No, no, no. And I have the bookbinders as being right here. Is that correct?

VO: Let me see.

DS: Here’s Fairmount Alley.

VO: Fairbank and Second Street.

DS Yes.

VO: Spruce Street. (14:00)

DS: Spruce is here. Maybe if you just told me, where was the bookbinders.

VO: Let me find a piece of paper.

DS: Here’s your little map that you drew before.

VO: [mostly inaudible] Let me see, this would be Spruce Street here. This would be the [indecipherable]. This would be Spruce Street here.

DS: You just said that was Spruce. (15:00)

VO: This would be American Street here. Now this is where Benders candy store used to be.

DS: Yes, I got that.

VO: And Al the barber, that’s the barber shop right next door to that.

DS: And was he there when you were growing up?

VO: Yes, yes. [inaudible] Over here, Fairbank [Place] would come in to around here. (16:00)

DS: And where did it go in this direction?

VO: Well, there was a stop there. It didn’t…

DS: It was a blind alley?

VO: Blind, right, right. And there were all little houses here, like this. And this is where the….

DS: The bookbinders?

VO: Bookbinders.

DS: Was on the north side. So the bookbinders was over here. Because I have that there was a factory there. But that factory must have been.…

VO: The bookbinders.


VO: I wish I had a bigger piece of paper. Because I could go down. [Indecipherable]. Locust Street [inaudible] Delancey. There were houses here. Now this part would go straight – (17:00)

DS: Up to Chancellor.

VO: No, not to Chancellor. That’s to Locust.

DS: You said it went to Locust and then up to Chancellor. (18:00)

VO: That’s right. This is bookbinders here. [Inaudible]. This is the barber. And the candy store. And then over here was a garage. And you remember there was a garage here. My father used to garage his car here, in this area. Now this would be Fairbank [Place] over this way. This would be bookbinders, and this would be – (19:00)

DS: We talked about a grocery store down here somewhere.

VO: Oh that was way down further. This was Spruce Street here.

DS: Yes, so we’re talking at Second?

VO: This was now, down here was, let me see, Center Street.

DS: We’ll just put new lines there [indecipherable] Philip Street. So the grocery store would have been –

VO: This was American Street.

DS: Yes.

VO: Now this here was a couple of houses. This was 202, no, let’s see. Philip Street. This was (20:00) right here. 210. 208. 206 and 202. Now there was another house here. What could that be?

DS: Two hundred?

VO: Two hundred? No. There was another house here. They tore it down.

DS: On the corner.

VO: The Friedmans lived there.

DS: Right.

VO: See, after 202 there was another house here. Now what would be that address? Two hundred. But then 200 is over on the corner.

DS: Well, maybe the Friedmans are considered – (21:00)

VO: No. Oh, I see what happened here. I think the address was on Second Street, the corner house. That’s it. Now this would be 202 here.

DS: So it must have been 200.

VO: Two hundred. Right. But which is now, they tore that house down. The part that they tore down they gave that property to 200, to the Friedman’s house.

DS: Their back yard now.

VO: It’s their back yard now, right. But there was a house here.

DS: So where’s the grocery store?

VO: The grocery store was right across the street here, right here. I used to go there Friday night, (22:00) and she would give us a piece of candy to put out their lights. Because they were Kosher Jewish people, and they were not allowed to turn out their lights at a certain hour, in the evening, sundown, because their holiday starts at sundown, on Friday night. And their Sabbath is Saturday. And they were Orthodox religious Jews and not touch that [indecipherable]. They used to call the kids in to turn their lights out

DS: Well, you had a good thing there.

VO: Now there was the grocery store.

DS: Also, there’s some place you called Nicest Paint Factory.

VO: Oh, yes.

DS: And later a box burlap bag company.

VO: Oh, that was right down here.

DS: At the corner.

VO: That’s where the garage is now, the Towers garage. (23:00)

DS: That’s where it was?

VO: Right, and then the garden over here? That’s where it was. On the corner.

DS: So going if we’re here.

VO: Second Street.

DS: Second Street, north side. So would it have been on the corner? No.

VO: Yes, the Nicest Factory was – no, no, there was a bar here, I’m sorry. It was right here. The Nicest Factory, and this was a bar.

DS: So this was the Nicest Factory, paint. And then it became burlap and bags. And next to that was a bar.

VO: A bar, right on the corner. Tucker’s Bar, it’s called Tucker’s Bar.

DS: What was here? Between…. (24:00)

VO: That was part of Nicest Factory.

DS: Oh, this was all the same. Then I have, let’s see, No. 5 was Bender’s candy store. No. 3 was a factory. Now this is at Lombard. Go up past here –

VO: You called it Lombard, Lombard’s down –

DS: Locust, Locust, I’m sorry. Locust. If this is Locust, you talked about something being on this corner, bookbinders here.

VO: There was a furniture factory there.

DS: Furniture, that’s what it was.

VO: They made frames, wooden frames for furniture.


VO: And that’s where, sometimes you needed to get a load of wood – (25:00)

DS: For coal?

VO: For the furnace. So you got the furniture.

DS: Then if you go up here, this is Spruce and this is American. Say this is Third Street here.

VO: Yes, OK.

DS: You had, right here you had the – 15 – you said that there was the Mitchell Seed House.

VO: That was –

DS: This is Third.

VO: Yes, right.

DS: And where would the Mitchell Seed House be?

VO: Right on the northeast corner.

DS: Good, I have that.

VO: The northeast corner. (26:00)

DS: And on the other side of the street, northwest corner I have that.

VO: It was where that Metropolitan Hospital was.

DS: Metropolitan would be over here.

VO: Yes, right. Oh, oh, on that side, Third Street, they were just all private, little homes.

DS: Then I have that here was a grocery store, on that corner. Or was that down by Delancey?

VO: No, the grocery store came in in between American and Third, I mean – (27:00)

DS: Philip.

VO: Philip and Third, rather.

DS: Philip and Second. Philip and Delancey.

VO: No, Philip and Third.

DS: Philip runs the same direction as Third.

VO: Third Street is this way. And we’re talking about now –

DS: Third and Delancey?

VO: American, no. Delancey. No, this is American Street. Delancey Street would come down this way, here. We’re on Spruce Street here, right?

DS: Yes.

VO: Now, this is American and then the other side of American there was all little houses.

DS: OK. (28:00)

VO: But in between here was the grocery store.

DS: OK, in the middle there.

VO: Right. Between American and Third.

DS: But it wasn’t on a corner.

VO: No, on the corner over here was a bar.

DS: This was a bar.

VO: Where it’s – the Tompkins has it now?

DS: Yes.

VO: Yes, that’s where that little arbor is there or something?

DS: Yes, that was a bar?

VO: That was a bar there.

DS: That takes care of that corner. And we took care of Spruce Street. I had number 2 is a furniture store, but you told me the furniture store was here. So I –

VO: That was already American and Locust here.

DS: Right, then going south I have that at the corner of Delancey and Philip there was a grocery store.

VO: Oh, yes, but we’re going now north – I mean south.

DS: Yes.

VO: Yes, there used to be a grocery store. Because my girlfriend used to live in that little house that she has now. Kamitsky.

DS: Really? That’s a familiar name. Kamitsky.

VO: Yes. Anna Kamitsky.

DS: I wonder how I know. Anyway, then, we get to Delancey and Third. Now there were a bunch of stores, at least two stores. Third and Delancey.

VO: There used to be an Acme [pronounced in true Philadelphia style, with three syllables] at Third and Delancey. (30:00)

DS: Yes, on the southeast corner. Right?

VO: Yes.

DS: Southeast, right. There was an Acme Market. But it was just a small market? Or was it a regular Acme?

VO: The house is there. They converted it into a private home. That was the size of it.

DS: And on the northeast corner of Third and Delancey.

VO: Oh, there was an old, old store. I don’t remember – was it –

DS: Was it groceries?

VO: No, it was like a candy store. It was the old-time candy store that had these individual bins you’d look in for candy and groceries. Matter of fact they had – I think I mentioned it to you – they had a telephone there that used to – you had to crank up [Laughs]. (31:00)

DS: I’ve got all these little notes everywhere. That’s why it took me so long.

VO: It’s so good you put it together.

DS: Cranking phone. Winding? What did you call it?

VO: Cranking.

DS: You’d wind it fast and it would crank it up.

VO: Yes. I don’t know what you’d call it.

DS: And that was at the store at Third and Delancey. On the other corner of Third and Delancey, on the northwest corner, was there just houses there?

VO: There were houses there, yes.

DS: And southwest, were there houses there?

VO: Yes, mostly houses around here.

DS: Then number 8, you said there was a Mrs. Cohen’s and she had – (32:00)

VO: Oh, that was over here, at, near Nickles Drug Store, was drug store here on the corner.

DS: Where? That was on the corner of Pine and –

VO: Third and –.

DS: Third and Pine on the southeast corner. I don’t have that down. Nickles Drug Store. And Mrs. Cohen was on Third –

VO: Yes, Third Street, the next item up –

DS: From the Kosciuszko’s House?

DS: No, no. Going south.

VO: Not Kosciuszko, we’re on the other side of the street.

DS: So we’re between Stamper and Pine.

VO: Pine, right.

DS: So one of those houses that you said used to be – rented to – lived in by Ukrainians. (33:00)

VO: From Pine to Stamper Street was all Ukrainian people.

DS: But in there in that grouping was where Mrs. Cohen lived.

VO: Right, that first house after the drug store.

DS: Oh, the very next one.

VO: Right. They had a basement entrance, and she had her little office down in the basement. The basement is not there now. I mean, the basement’s there, but it’s not the same.

DS: Now, Nickles grocery store was there –

VO: Drug store. Not a grocery store.

DS: Nickles drug store. I have down here “pharmacy,” but it was really called a drug store.

VO: Yes, well, we called it a drug store.

DS: And there was another one, another –

VO: Another Nickles drug store? (34:00)

DS: Yes, was at the corner –

VO: That was on Lombard and Third. And that was at the southwest corner.

DS: Got that.

VO: It’s an apartment building now.

DS: Then Stanfield Playground was at Lombard and Front. It was on the northwest corner.

VO: Southwest corner.

DS: Southwest. The smokehouse on Fourth Street – Foremost.

VO: Foremost Provisions. (35:00)

DS: And haberdashery was where Jim’s Steaks is now on South Street [on the southwest corner].

VO: Yes.


VO: And where’s that – there was a – I’m trying to think of the name. It’s all going back so far. It’s a wonder I remember all this.

DS: It is. [Laughs]. That’s why I like talking to you, because when I talked to Dorothy [Bunting], she had memories of certain things that she had interacted with when she was that age, but you take her a (36:00) couple blocks away from her house and she can’t remember too much, because she didn’t play there.

VO: I’m just trying to think. There’s so many dress shops like on South Street. I can picture them. I don’t remember – I remember Milady’s. Where that steak house is on the corner there? At [indecipherable] Fifth Street, [indecipherable] Fifth Street.

DS: On Fifth Street, it’s called My Lady’s?

VO: Let me think a minute. No, I think it’s Fourth Street. It’s on Fourth Street. That would be the street. Let’s see. Northeast corner? (37:00)


VO: What is that, a steak shop now?

DS: It’s a restaurant.

VO: Yes, I don’t know – I’m trying to think –

DS: It’s wild paintings.

VO: Yes, right, it has an odd name.

DS: Yes.

VO: So cattycorner from Jim’s Steaks, that used to be Milady’s. They sold bras and stockings, and anything for my lady, you know. (38:00)

DS: I have a couple of questions. You told me about the bath house. So we did that. Use the map to chart the stores. We did pretty much the stores. You told me that on Delancey between Front and Second were – on Front and on the north side of Delancey were chicken houses. And (39:00) the parking went from Philip through to Second. Parking lot. And on the south side of Delancey in the 100 block were homes.

[Phone rings – tape is stopped, then resumed]

DS: So now, in the chicken house that you lived in with your parents when you were really young, on the second floor –

VO: That was between Spruce and Delancey. On Front. (40:00)

DS: Between Spruce and Delancey. That’s what I wanted to know. And at what point – each one of these houses had an outhouse. And none of them had electricity until you moved to – here.

VO: Even here on Third Street, I don’t want to skip from here to there. When I was going to the Wharton School – first grader – I remember we had gasoline.

DS: Gas.

VO: We had to go in the basement and put a coin in a box. (41:00)

DS: This was in the Third Street house….

VO: Right.

DS: You had to – yes.

VO: A coin in a box. When the gas thinned down, then you knew you had to go down and put a coin in there.

DS: For gas.

VO: For gas.

DS: For gas supply.

VO: And then you got your light. But then it was not enough of light. So we used to have a kerosene light on the table, the kitchen table, to give us more light. And I used to do my homework when I was in the First Grade. Isn’t that horrible? [Laughs] (42:00)

DS: But you made it beautifully.

VO: Oh, God.

DS: You were a bookkeeper. All those important jobs you held.

VO: And though, really, they, they…. You did it on your own, because your parents weren’t able to help you, you know. And you had no one else to help you.

DS: So there was no electric at that point until you came here.

VO: Until we came in Spruce Street.

DS: Yes. First on Spruce.

VO: And you know, another thing –

DS: And no plumbing until ….

VO: What do you mean?

DS: No indoor plumbing in a house? (43:00)

VO: Well, we just had – there was a coal, there was a coal furnace there. But then my father went and put in oil heaters in later. There was at 130 – on Spruce Street – there was electricity.

DS: And did you have toilets?

VO: Yes, there was one bathroom in the house.

DS: Good.

VO: It was the first time we had a bathroom in the house. [Laughs]

DS: [Laughs] You were doing well.

VO: Yes. I can laugh at it now. But you didn’t know any difference, because a lot of people lived that way. You accepted things more graciously then, and you’d think you were a (44:00) millionaire when you had a bathroom. Today, I did not go into that today. You see what my granddaughter just called.

DS: Yes, well –

VO: “My own car, my own bathroom, my own this.” You know, when I think of it I get so annoyed. But there’s no sense talking about it to them, because they would never understand. They wouldn’t even try to understand. They’d give you this whole violin kind of thing. Oh, she had a whole story all over again. Don’t even bother talking any more. (45:00)

DS: But you know what? I’ll turn this.

[Tape is turned off, then on again]

DS: Schools that you went to. I had some confusion as to where they were, and I just wanted to check that with you.

VO: Well, Third and Lombard was the Wharton School.

DS: I got that. And then the Bartlett School that was at –

VO: Bartlett Junior High at 11 th and Catherine, yes.

DS: And then South Philly?

VO: South Philadelphia High Schools for Girls was at Broad and Snyder. And I used to walk (46:00) from Broad and Snyder to Second and Spruce. And you know, the funny part of it, when I was graduating, at the graduating exercises, you know, and I pleaded with my parents to come. But my mother worked at night cleaning offices. And she didn’t want to lose her job. And she didn’t want to go. And I begged them. So finally they both went. And to our surprise, even the students, we had a guest of honor. Mrs. Roosevelt. President Roosevelt’s – (47:00)

DS: Mother.

VO: Mrs. Roose – President Roosevelt’s –

DS: Oh, the wife.

VO: Wife. Yes, First Lady.

DS: Was there at the graduation.

VO: Was there at the graduation. And my parents were so happy they went. They were so ecstatic, you know, that she had a special…. We were all shocked ourselves.

DS: Right. [Laughs]

VO: Such a tall, stately woman.


VO: So when my mother says, “You come here all this time to school, and I didn’t know where you were going?” I said, “Mom, four years, Mom. Four years I was coming. You didn’t know where I was going?” [Laughs] (48:00)

DS: [Laughs] She was busy woman. She had to be.

VO: My parents both worked very hard.

DS: Yes, now the Furness Public School. You didn’t go there.

VO: No. No.

  1. Was that at Fifth or at Sixth on Spruce?

VO: No, no.

DS: The Furness Public School.

VO: No, the Furness – no, wait a minute. That was the Binney School here on Spruce Street here. (49:00)

DS: That’s it.

VO: Yes, between Fifth and Sixth, I think. Yes, my sister went there, my older sister. The Binney – Horace Binney School.

DS: B-i-n-n-e-y?

VO: I guess so. Horace Binney School. Public school.

DS: Between Fifth and Sixth on Spruce. And that was a junior high school, sixth through ninth?

VO: I, I think so. Yes, the grade school and kindergarten was over here.

DS: Now there was a Himmel – (50:00)

VO: Himmelstein? Oh, that was a Jewish Kosher restaurant. At Fifth and Lombard.

DS: Yes, that’s what you said before.

VO: My mother-in-law cooked there.

DS: [Indecipherable].

VO: Well, there were quite a few of them here [indecipherable].

DS: Fifth and, Fifth and Lombard. So the Himmel Restaurant would have been on what corner?

VO: That would be on the southwest corner. (51:00)

DS: But you say there were a lot of stores there?

VO: Yes, there were a lot of other stores, but I don’t remember their names. But I remember that, because my mother-in-law worked there. She was a baker and a cook and a jack-of-all-trades in the store. And then there was a bakery across the street from there, too. I don’t remember their name. We had quite a few great Jewish bakeries here. There was one on Gaskill (52:00) Street, I know. Not Gaskill, Kater, Kater Street. Like South Street, and the next little street is Kater Street, and they were on the southeast corner of Fourth.

DS: Of what?

VO: Fourth and Kater. That comes in between South and Bainbridge now.

DS: That’s right. We have to go down. Turn the map over. And we’re going down to Bainbridge. (53:00)

VO: Yes, it was Bainbridge.

DS: And Kater was in here, and it was the southeast corner, you say, and that is a baker.

VO: A bakery, Yes.

DS: More questions. We did that. I think you did tell me the Kosses and the candy store. And there was a grocery store.

VO: Yes, that was a grocery, where I have on my little map. (54:00)

DS: A little map.

DS: A map, yes. The bigger one. Oh, yes. That was the one and here’s the other one. There was the barber shop and a candy store, then American Street, then across from American Street on that south side was there a grocery store there? [In the interview she said north, but in reviewing the transcript, she changed it to south.]

VO: Where’s that? [Indecipherable] on the other side of [indecipherable].

DS: Here are the Kosses. Here’s the candy store, American Street. What was here?

VO: Umm, let’s see, that was, it’s changed so much around now. That used to be the pickle place (55:00) there. Yes, they used to make dill pickles [indecipherable]. [Laughs]

DS: Wonderful.

VO: And then next door was a house, but they tore that down. Well first of all, after the pickle place, they had a bar there. And that’s where they tore it down and they made a garden out of (56:00) that whole area there. And the rest was other little houses. But then when they tore the Mitchell Seed house they built all these new houses there.

DS: Right. Mitchell.

VO: I have a picture of that, too. I was telling you about the picture of my brother, and we got the picture of that whole side.

DS: Can I see that? (57:00)

VO: I’ll have to look for it.

DS: Watts’ house –

VO: Was two houses.

DS: Was two houses. And they tore them down to build –

VO: They tore them down.

DS: Two houses. So it wasn’t a lot.

VO: Two houses

DS: Which they removed.

VO: My father could have bought those houses for five hundred apiece, at that time. But they were so dilapidated.

DS: Were they?

VO: Yes, and my mother was furious at him, because he had bought all those four, and he (58:00) wanted to buy those two. But it needed a tremendous amount of work. I remember they argued over it. She didn’t want him to do it.

DS: Too much.

VO: Yes, too much. You know what I started to tell you: in 202 [Spruce], in the basement, it was all dirt cellar. Do you remember if I told you that or not?

DS: I think you did. And your father dug it out? (59:00)

DO: And he cemented it all himself. It’s all dirt.

DS: I didn’t put it in these notes because…. It’s interesting, because a lot of these houses that our friends bought and fixed up did have dirt basements. And so they had to either do it themselves, which a lot of them did, or they hired somebody to dig ‘em out. But, yes, they were dirt. It was kind of classic [indecipherable].

VO: Now when we moved into 206 [Spruce] then 204 [Spruce] they had finished basements. The (60:00) basements were rented. But see these houses when 202 was built in the 1700s so they didn’t have that. Remember [indecipherable]? Remember today when you make apartments it’s this and it’s that and it’s …. It doesn’t pay to rent them anymore. No. Any day I say I’m (61:00) gonna sell them, I’m gonna sell them. But every day I hold on to them. [Laughs]. And the tax – I don’t know why. It’s silly. Because you know. You pass it on to your children, and I [indecipherable] my daughter passed away. And I was so upset. And I have just my son now. So now he’s gonna have to be responsible for everything.

DS: Did he ever marry? Does he have children?

VO: No.

DS: So the grandchildren are your daughter’s. (62:00)

VO: Yes. They’re my daughter’s. Two girls she had.

DS: And the one daughter lives with you. [End of interview.]

©2004 Project Philadelphia 19106™. All rights reserved.

About the Interview

Dorothy Stevens
Cynthia J. Eiseman
Interview Location
311 Pine Street
Interview Date
September 9, 2004
Onitsky, Victoria Bilinsky
Narrator Type
Lifelong Resident
Oral History Sources