William J. Murtagh

William J. (Bill) Murtagh (1923-2018) is a storyteller. He responds to every question with a tale, often funny, always based on a lifetime of establishing and advancing the principles of historic preservation. There is much in the interview about the redevelopment of Society Hill, the people (long-time residents, newcomers, and several officials in city and federal agencies), the buildings (both old and new, those that were restored, and those that were demolished), and Bill’s opinions about everything. There is a good deal about Bill himself. While some of his stories seem to have little relevance to Society Hill’s redevelopment, the careful reader will find useful facts where they least expect. Bill and his aunt, Alice Rhoad, together purchased 319 S. American Street in the late 1950s. Bill had become interested in Society Hill about a decade earlier, when he had a summer job on a survey team working for the Historic American Buildings Survey in the area that became Independence National Historical Park. Because Bill was living and working in Washington, D.C., his Aunt Alice oversaw the renovations on the house, which he says was in deplorable condition when they bought it. He describes some of the house’s architectural features that were revealed during the renovations. He describes, with considerable empathy, some of his neighbors who were very worried about their fate with the arrival of people like Bill. He provides vivid descriptions of several very old houses in the 200 block of Delancey Street, some of which were restored and some torn down. His overall opinion about Society Hill’s redevelopment is positive. He discusses the challenge of designing a contemporary house in a historic neighborhood and lists requirements for a successful preservation field. Bill Murtagh’s observations and opinions are a credit to this project because he was the first Keeper of the National Register of Historic Places and has been Vice President of the National Trust for Historic Preservation.


CE: This is an interview of William J. Murtagh by Cynthia Eiseman and Karen Stevens on July 24, 2007. The interview is being conducted by telephone, with Mr. Murtagh at his summer home in Maine, and Ms. Eiseman and Ms. Stevens at Ms. Stevens’s office in Philadelphia.

[Tape is turned off, then on again]

CE: Mr. Murtagh, we are tape recording this conversation. Do we have your permission to do that?

WM: Yes, of course.


CE: Great. Now, let’s begin. As you know, this project is about the redevelopment of Society Hill, and we wanted to talk with you about whether you yourself had restored or renovated a house in Society Hill.

WM: Yes.

CE: Or worked with anyone in Society Hill who did that.

WM: I did over a house with my late aunt, Alice Rhoad, whom you may or may not know.

CE: Would you spell Rhoad for us, please? (3:00)

WM: R-H-O-A-D.

CE: Thank you.

WM: She was very active in the church at –what was it – Third and Pine Streets?

CE: St. Peter’s?

WM: Old St. Peter’s, where she is buried.

CE: Where was her house?

WM: The house was at 319 S. American Street, next door but one from George and Penny [Batcheler].

CE: When did she renovate it?

WM: Well, we did it jointly. I was living in Washington. She had kept house for my grandfather in Chestnut Hill, and after he died she moved into town. Frank Graham had bought his house at the corner of Philip and Spruce, in 1956, I think.

CE: Could you spell Graham for us?

WM: G-R-A-H-A-M.

CE: Thank you. (4:00)

WM: He was trained as a planner and worked for the city and became Director of Education of the Art Museum on the Parkway.

CE: Your aunt bought her house when?

WM: My aunt didn’t buy it. We both bought it. I want to make sure you have that.

CE: Ah, OK.

WM: Each of us paid fifty percent of the purchase price and of the cost of the restoration or renovation.

CE: When was that?

WM: Well, that would have been about a year after Frank had done his house. I’d gotten to know him right after I was married and was living on – now, what was the name of that street? Jessup Street, between Spruce and Pine at about Eleventh and Twelfth, (5:00) or Twelfth and Thirteenth. There’s a little street that doesn’t cut through there, and there were some bandbox houses there. We moved into one of those, and I had just come back from Europe.

KS: Iseminger?

WM: No.

KS: Panama?

WM: No. It’s next to – close to Panama.

KS: Camac?

WM: No. It runs off Locust Street, I guess. No.

CE: Sartain?

WM: No, it’s near – you’re west of Broad, aren’t you?

KS: No.

WM: Well, it’s east of Broad, and there’s another little street that did cut through from – would it be – I’ve forgotten how the streets run. Spruce to Pine? Is Pine further south than Spruce? [It might have been Fawn or Quince Street.]

CE: Yes.

WM: Right, it is. Then there was a street perpendicular to that for one block (6:00) that then ran into the little block where I rented this house on the corner for $35 per month. The landlord said he loved children and that he would take $5.00 off the rent for every child we had. I told my wife ( nee Mary Louise Morton) that we could eventually live there free, which she didn’t appreciate. That street didn’t cut all the way through, and the only person I can remember who lived there was Bob Ennis. He lives in the Towers. I think he still lives there. He’s from San Antonio. He was doing a Ph.D. thesis on one of the nineteenth-century architects. I don’t think he actually finished at the University of Pennsylvania.

CE: Can we get back to the house that you and your aunt owned on S. American Street? It was some time you think in the mid- to late-’50s that you –

WM: Well, it would have been the late ’50s, because it would have been about a year after Frank bought his house, at the corner of Philip and Spruce. (7:00)

CE: All right. The house that you and your aunt bought – do you remember what you paid for it?

WM: $9,250.

CE: [Laughs] You do remember.

WM: Well, we both had to borrow money. That’s the reason I remember.

CE: Why did you and your aunt come to Society Hill and buy that house?

WM: Well, as I said, my aunt had been keeping house for my grandfather – she was single – with another single sister. My mother was their oldest sister. Their mother, my grandmother, had died during the flu epidemic, so my mother dropped out of school – really still a child, basically – and raised all her brothers and sisters. At one hundred and three years old, when she died, she’d buried them all. Alice was the youngest, and she was the one I was closest to, with perhaps her next youngest brother, who was the geneticist at the King Ranch in Texas. She was what I call a “No Flies on Me, Buster” type. Like, did either one of you know Mae O’Neill, who did over a house on nearby Delancey Street? (8:00)

CE: Well, we know the name, and we’ll get to her in a minute.

WM: Well, anyway, she (Alice) came back from the funeral and said to her other single sister, who was also keeping the house for my grandfather, “I’m out of here,” and she moved into an apartment near Rittenhouse Square, which I didn’t think was very nice. I went and visited her, and that’s when I said, “Would you be interested in doing over a house in Society Hill? I’ll pay fifty percent of the cost of acquisition and development and you can live in it. Then you can leave it to me if you want to.” Well, as it turned out, she didn’t live in it very long. She died an early death. I think she only collected one Social Security check. She’s buried in Old St. Peter’s graveyard, near to the entrance. MAR – Mary Alice Rhoad is on her cremation stone.

CD: What made you chose Society Hill at that time? (9:00)

WM: Well, I have an architecture degree from Penn. I’m a native of Philadelphia, born and raised in Overbrook. And I think it was after – it must have been after – I’m trying to get the different dates straight, singled out. I think it was after my first trip to Europe, which would have been in – I know it was. It would have been in ’51, I believe. I wasn’t married yet. And I was still living at home. And I decided to go to graduate school and study art history, on the premise that a Master’s degree in architecture is nothing more than a sixth year of fifth-year design thesis, which I think it still is. And to broaden my scope. Somebody told me about the HABS program. That’s how (10:00) I met Charlie Peterson. I was a member of a summer survey team down in the area which became Independence National Historic Park. I guess that would have been in the late ‘40s. I have in my slide collection a slide of the summer team measuring up – which, I remember, and I may be – the oldest documented iron façade building in Philadelphia, at the corner of Dock and Second, across from the Second Bank of the United States, which of course the Park Service tore down. I also have in my slide collection a picture of the Jayne Building, which Pete (11:00) [Charles Peterson] desperately tried to save, a proto sky scraper, on –

KS: Chestnut.

WM: Chestnut Street. That’s right, between Second and Third, right?

KS: Correct.

WM: Anyway, then I went back to school. Then, if I have this correct, I came back for another summer team, then stayed on and worked with Pete for about a year. The second time, [I met] a guy named Sam Edgerton, who ultimately became a medievalist in academia.

CE: Is that E-D-G-E-R-T-O-N?

WM: Correct. He and I worked on establishing the correct placement of the Choregic Monument of Lysicrates tower that Strickland had designed on the roof of the (12:00) old Stock Exchange. The one that was there at the time was the wrong size; it was on the wrong section of the building. It had been put there after a fire, I think around 1905. Sam found a piece of curved wood from the original that had fallen down between two walls that hadn’t burned up in the fire. We took that up on the – the office then was in the Second Bank of the United States on the second floor. We took it up to the attic of the Second Bank and put it on the floor, and with chalk we traced the curved piece of wood. We did that until we got a rather accurate approximation of the circumference of the original tower. (13:00) With the help of documentary photographs, we were able to locate it on the roof where it is now, I think with fair accuracy. That was the major project we worked on. I also worked on reestablishing the chimneys of the Bishop White House, on – what was that – Walnut?

KS: Yes.

WM: Exactly. I did that by determining the size of eighteenth-century bricks, and then, again, with a blow-up of a historical photograph, counting the bricks, and approximating the mortaring between the bricks, I established the height (14:00) of the chimneys.

CE: A good job of archaeology. Could we get back to the house on American Street?

WM: Right. I was familiar with the area by then. I’d already heard of it. I was born and raised on the edge of the city (Overbrook), as I have said. I seldom went into the city for anything that I can remember, but as an architectural student, I had heard about all the buildings down in this then-slum neighborhood bordering the Delaware River. On my own volition, I began going down there and walking the streets, and, indeed, finding a lot of fascinating houses, most of them then in rather decrepit condition.

CE: What was the condition of the house you bought on American Street?

WM: The type of house I wouldn’t be caught dead buying at this stage of my life. I ultimately spent a lot more money restabilizing the house, because the front had to be taken off after Alice died and reconstructed from the sidewalk up. It was (15:00) hard-surface brick, and the wall was all stretchers. It had been tied in to a wall behind it, the other side of which was the lath and plastering. The wall behind the sidewalk exterior wall was made of salmon brick. The houses were built in the 1840s. Between that time and the 1950s, the salmon brick had disintegrated and was a pile of red dust of four feet at the bottom of the wall. A crack eventually appeared at the corner, at the end of the row, which it was, and I could put my hand in there and move it around and not touch anything. You could actually move the front wall slightly, if you tried. I had nightmares in Washington, seeing this thing collapse on the houses across the street. I got somebody to take it down all the way to the sidewalk. Sure enough, there was the pile of (16:00) red dust.

The amazing thing about it was – I thought, “I’m going to have a lot of expenditures doing plaster in all the rooms on all three floors of the house.” – [I] didn’t have to do a thing. The lath was so stable, etc., – and this is my one regret of the whole process – I never took a picture of the thing with the wall down. You saw the back of the plaster on three floors, so I didn’t have to replace the original plaster.

I think the reason I bought the house was for the original hardware on the front door and the slatted doors in the hallway, [in] the vestibule inside. Then, there was the big discovery on each floor, however. I found that there was a circular-headed niche in each room on the first and second floors. Two rooms deep, front and back. Each one – the first and second floors had a niche, but not the third floor – an arch-headed niche into which (17:00) presumably a pipe went, since there were no fireplaces, with an iron stove that sat on the floor. [It was] similar to the type of thing you see in the entrance to the American Institute of Architects’ headquarters in Washington, D.C., the building near the White House. That’s on a larger scale, of course, but I know I discussed it with Pete many times, and he didn’t know, you know, and he felt that was the best guesstimate, also.

CE: Did you buy the house from the Redevelopment Authority or from someone else?

WM: [We] bought it from a man who rented it to a blind, pushcart man, who (18:00) kept a pack of dogs on the second floor. The first time I went into the house, after he was out of the house and the house had been closed for a month, the fleas picked me up and threw me back in the street.

CE: [Laughs]

WM: Just deplorable. Of course, there were fire escapes across the front of all those buildings. I have a documentary photograph among my papers that shows all this. They had pulled the walls out, of course, and that’s where my problem came. You had to restore the long side wall, as Penny Hartshorne [Batcheler], as I always call her, always said, “We held our breath, because we thought your house was going to be the first to fall down, and then we’d go like a stack of cards.” But anyway –

CE: Do you remember the name of the man you bought it from?

WM: No, I don’t.

CE: Do you remember the name of the push—

WM: I think it was a Jewish name, but that’s all I remember. (19:00)

CE: You don’t remember the name of the pushcart man with the dogs with the fleas.

WM: Never did know that man.

CE: [Laughs] OK.

WM: Now, I can tell you a funny story.

CE: Good.

WM: I was standing – I’d never bought a house before. I was scared to death, and I didn’t have the money, and I’d borrowed it from my father. Alice borrowed it from her brother down on the King Ranch. Here we were, owners of this building – slum building in a slum neighborhood. It was a sunny day, and suddenly I thought the weather was changing, and I turned around. It had gotten slightly darker; the sun had gone behind a cloud. Hanging in my doorway was this rather shapeless mass of a woman with no teeth, as I remember, staring at me with this insolent stare. (20:00) The first thing that my neighbor said to me – and this is a quote – “Did you buy this Goddamn house?”

CE: [Laughs]

WM: I shook my head. I was speechless. She went, “Tch, tch, tch,” and shook her head. Every other word was G-D. She’d say, “You know, the same G-D man who owns my house owns your house. He won’t do anything to them, and he’s going to raise the G-D rents from thirty-five G-D dollars a month to fifty G-D dollars a month, and I won’t pay it. Besides, this neighborhood is changing.” And that’s a quote. I remember that as though it’s engraved in my mind.

The funny thing about it was she was a charwoman who cleaned offices, and she had raised a daughter who had become a registered nurse. I remember at an early citizens’ meeting, you know, property owners’ meeting down there, where she stood up. She [the daughter] made the most (21:00) impassioned plea about the changing neighborhood. She said, “You know, you’re all very excited about discovering the neighborhood where I was born and raised. What’s going to happen to me and my mother financially? We’re not going to be able to afford to continue to live here.” Which we all knew, of course. So did she. She was educated. Her mother was not.

The postscript of the whole story is, years later, I was up from Washington, and of course I wasn’t living in Philadelphia all this time. I was working out of Washington, D.C., as Assistant to the President of the National Trust [for Historic Preservation]. Years later, I was up, and I stopped in to see Frank Graham in the late afternoon. He wasn’t home from the office yet, but his mother answered the telephone. She was very refined, quiet, rather a distinguished woman. He had the drawing room furnished beautifully in classic revival furniture, all very formal. We were sitting there making chit chat, waiting for Frank to arrive. I said to (22:00) [her], “Oh, Mrs. Graham, is there anything new in the neighborhood? What has happened?” She said, “Well, I can’t think of anything new.” She thought for a moment, and suddenly she brightened and said, “You know, I did see Mrs. Goddamn the other day.”

CE: [Laughs]

WM: [Laughs] I laughed out loud, ‘cause it’s the last thing I ever expected to come out. Getting back to the house, I was living in Alexandria, Virginia, by that time, and Alice gave notice from her apartment, on the strength of the time contract that the contractor had given us. Of course, he’d got behind schedule. She had to move, and he wasn’t finished yet. I used to get these hysterical telephone (23:00) calls from her in tears from Philadelphia. I kept saying, “Alice, I can’t do anything about it from this distance. You’ve got to cope with it.” Anyway, he never did finish many little things in the house, and I withheld $1,000 of his bill. I do remember that. He never came back; he didn’t bother. He’d made enough money out of the process.

CE: Do you remember what the cost of that contract was?

WM: I think it was only about $10,000. In fact, it’s got to have been, because I know we got it into move-in condition for Alice for about $20,000. That included the new roof, new plumbing system, new wiring system, new kitchen, new bathroom, and all of the pipes for the second bathroom on the third floor.

CE: You paid $9,250 for the house. (24:00)

WM: That’s right. $2,000 more than Frank Graham had paid the year before for a far superior house owned by the Girard Estate.

CE: Do you recall what the Redevelopment Authority’s specifications were governing the restoration of your house?

WM: I don’t remember any at all. All I remember is that after a purchase, you had to at least begin the rehabilitation/restoration process within X number of months. That was to keep people from buying them and sitting on them, I presume.

CE: Yes, I imagine so.

WM: I do remember, right behind us was an empty lot, and that guy from Flourtown, Bob Trump? Is that a name that’s familiar to you? Bob Trump?

CE: Barbara Trump?

WM: No, Robert Trump. (25:00)

CE: No.

WM: Well, he and his mother were in Flourtown or someplace up there. If my memory serves me correctly, they were low-profile antique dealers. Around the corner on Delancey is Drinker’s Court on the north – is it the north or the south side? – I’ve forgotten which side it was on.

CE: Drinker’s Court is on the south side of Delancey.

WM: Well, I know that. I’m talking about a house alongside Drinker’s Court that was not part of the court houses.

CE: Oh.

WM: I remember going in one of those, and there was an elderly woman living in there. No central heat. She was living in the eighteenth-century manner. An open fireplace, big bank of coals. You know, she cooked on it, she did everything on it. There was one (26:00) bathroom, one toilet at the end of the court. Those were the bathroom facilities for everybody who lived in the court. There were many trash-pickers’ carts parked in front of the buildings.

Well, whichever side it was, there was a two-and-a-half-story early eighteenth-century, maybe even late seventeenth-century, building, probably around the 1720s, that was bought by a contractor or developer or something like that. The rear wing was half-timbered, with wooden hinges. I remember, when this guy bought this thing, Pete tried to keep him from tearing it down, unsuccessfully. He tore the whole (27:00) thing down, and he sold the façade of the rear wing to Bob Trump, who took it up to Flourtown and presumably sold it. I don’t know whatever happened to it, but it’s in the Philadelphia area somewhere. Then he [the developer] built the building that’s there now. Brand new. Now that’s either west or south of Drinker’s Court. I think it’s west. I think it’s towards Third Street.

CE: You think it’s on Delancey Street?

WM: I know it is.

CE: It is on Delancey.

WM: It’s right next to Drinker’s Court. It’s either, as you face Drinker’s Court, to the right of it or the left.

CE: All right. That’s an interesting story. You mentioned earlier –

WM: Before we forget, before we leave Trump, he also bought two others on Delancey Street down towards Second Street on the east side of the [Court]. They were very early houses, and he paid $2,000 for one and $3,000 for the other. Then (28:00) he built that low-rise –

CE: Excuse me. Did those two houses – they were adjacent to each other?

WM: Yes.

CE: Did they have pent eaves?

WM: Yes.

CE: They’re still there.

WM: Yes, I know. Then he bought the lot behind us, behind 319 South American Street, and built the house that’s there now, which didn’t affect our view from the second floor, thank goodness. If he’d built a regular, three-story townhouse, we’d have lost the view and we did have a view of, by that time, the Delaware River. By that time, the whole block from Second Street down to Front Street was just open. Nothing was there.

CE: Right. You mentioned earlier the contractors and your dealings with the – a (29:00) meeting with the local civic association. Can you –

WM: I didn’t meet with them. I just went to a meeting.

CE: You went to a meeting. Did you attend those meetings regularly? Were you a member?

WM: I couldn’t attend those meetings.

CE: Oh, because you were in Washington.

WM: I was in Washington.

CE: Do you have other stories about your relations with the neighbors, either the ones who were in the neighborhood when redevelopment started or who moved in during redevelopment?

WM: There was a psychiatrist who lived on – on – what’s north of Delancey?

KS: Cypress?

WM: No, no, north of Delancey.

CE: North of Delancey is Spruce.

WM: Spruce. OK. He lived on Spruce just west, on the south side of Spruce, of South American Street. He moved ultimately to Lancaster, not too many years ago. (30:00) Now I can’t recall his name, and I can’t recall when he moved, but he lived there with a very jovial black friend whose first name was Sterling. I remember that, because he certainly was a sterling character. Really was marvelous. Then in that same block – I think in that same block – God, I just had her first name in my mind – now it’s gone out of my mind –

CE: What’s her last name?

WM: Oh, I don’t remember her last name, either.

CE: Was it Gretchen Becker?

WM: Yes, Gretchen, she did all that stuff herself. I can’t tell you how many times I saw her on scaffolding, re-pointing the bricks.

CE: She renovated her house herself?

WM: Pretty much so. I mean, she had contractors in to do things she couldn’t (31:00) do herself, of course. She did her own contracting and so forth. She worked for one of those big law offices.

CE: Right.

WM: Then there was Mae O’Neill.

CE: Yes, tell us about Mae.

WM: Well, I got to know Mae through Alice. I got to know all these people through Alice, except Frank, whom I had met before, because he lived in my other neighborhood when I was married, before my divorce. Mae was the bookkeeper for a publishing company, as I remember, or the controller. They were some place up around Arch Street, I think. She lived in Bala Cynwyd and kept house for her mother. Never died – never married, rather – and her mother had a long, long, slow demise. Mae is always characterized in my mind as one of these No Flies on Me, Buster types, (32:00) Take Me as I Am or Leave Me Be. If you don’t like it, that’s your problem.

CE: It sounds like the neighborhood was full of a lot of those people.

WM: A lot of characters. You know, in the early years, you could leave your door wide open, and nobody would take anything, because, as far as the robbery set were concerned, there wasn’t anything down there worth stealing. You know? It wasn’t until the Ingersolls moved in, you know, and did over that house on Spruce Street, looking down Philip, I guess it is –

CE: Yes.

WM: – and they had their paneling stolen, as you probably know, several times, and bought it back. Well, then, suddenly it became a neighborhood that was worth looking into, in which you might be able to grab something. That’s when you had to begin locking your doors.

CE: You say that when you bought the house on American Street, that the neighborhood was a slum? (33:00)

WM: Definitely.

CE: I know that the Redevelopment Authority characterized it that way, but we have talked to people who are now in their eighties and nineties, [who] have lived in the neighborhood all their lives, and they deny that it was a slum.

WM: Well, of course, you get used to anything. I remember when I first moved from Georgetown to Alexandria. When I’d drive down the Parkway and enter into Alexandria, you enter an area with all sorts of parking lots and gas stations and so forth, and I thought it was atrocious, with overhead utility wires, no signage that was coordinated with any other signage. It was typical, suburban, tacky road trash.

CE: Right.

WM: After a while, I didn’t see it. That’s my answer to that statement.

CE: Thank you. It’s something that we talk about a fair amount among the four of us, and I’m interested in your view. What was the reaction of your family and your (34:00) friends to you and your aunt buying and renovating this house?

WM: Oh, well, I was already in the preservation business, you know, thanks to Pete. I had an established image in preservation, and thereby thought it was fine. I told Alice, “DO NOT – capitalize – DO NOT invite the family down to see this house until we’re finished.”

CE: [Laughs]

WM: She couldn’t wait, and they came down. For instance, the house on Delancey Street backed up to the end of the row, and we were at the end of the row. It had a high, wooden fence that was falling into South American Street, filled with trash to the top. People were still throwing their slops out the front door. There were (35:00) what I would call third-world dogs, looking like they hadn’t eaten in weeks.

CE: [Laughs]

WM: Then, around the corner, was this bar, you know, and there were brawls and so forth all the time – and shootings going on.

CE: You didn’t want your family to come? I can understand that.

WM: She invited her family down one Sunday after church, and she never spoke to one of her brothers again.

CE: Oh, dear. [Laughs] Well, thank you. Karen is going to ask you some questions now.


KS: You’ve mentioned that you became a historic preservationist, and we’d like to hear something about your opinions overall about the redevelopment of Society Hill. Also, the preservation of individual houses as opposed to some of the public buildings in the Park. Talk to us a little bit about –

WM: Oh, I see what you mean. Well, one thing you might be interested in (36:00) knowing, I got into – I’m trained as a contemporary architect, you know. I mean, I was at Penn when Lou Kahn was there, and a whole bunch of very well-established, contemporary architects of the twentieth century were teaching, but I had started before the Bauhaus hit, for one semester. I remember my design issue in the drafting room was to design a Palladian bridge. When I came back in the fall, it had all been thrown out. We had a new Dean from Harvard, Holmes Perkins, etc., and we had a marvelous collection of life-sized copies of Michelangelo’s Bound Slave and things of that nature. He directed that they all be broken up with hammers, so the students couldn’t take them home. It was that revolutionary a change. I got basically into the preservation business (37:00) by getting to work for Charles Peterson, first of all, with whom I had a lifetime friendship. I always called him up on his birthday. His last birthday before he died – I don’t know whether this should be on the record or not. It doesn’t make any difference, I guess. I called him up, and I said, “Well, Pete, another birthday.” “Yeah,” he says. You know how he was. I said, “What are you going to do?” He says, “Oh, some rich dame’s taking me to a fancy restaurant tonight for dinner.”

KS: [Laughs]

WM: When Penny [Batcheler] called me up and said, “Would you say (38:00) something at Pete’s memorial service? Say something funny.” I said, “I can’t say anything funny. He wasn’t a funny man. The only thing I can think of, the woman who took him to dinner is likely to be in the congregation, and I can’t do that.”

KS: [Laughs]

WM: Well, anyway, Pete had been invited by a man named Ralph Schwarz, who is still alive and lives in Bethlehem, to come up and lecture in Bethlehem on what was happening in Society Hill.

CE: Excuse me, could you spell Schwarz?

WM: S-C-H-W-A-R-Z.

CE: Great. Thank you.

WM: Very important to him that nobody put a T in there.

CE: Right.

WM: Anyway, Pete was invited up to Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, and he invited me to go up as the projectionist. I went up with Pete, and we stayed overnight at the Hotel Bethlehem after he gave his lecture. The next day, Ralph picked us up and he took us through all of the Moravian buildings on Church Street, and they were all connected, in ninety-degree heat outside. Then I had some correspondence with Ralph and all that business, etc. Then I went off and studied in German universities (39:00) as a Fulbrighter for a little over a year.

I came back, I got married, I was lecturing at Penn in architectural history, and trying to get something else that I could do at the same time, in order to get enough money. I got a call from this guy called Ralph Schwarz. He told me that a woman had died in Bethlehem, called Annie, not Ann, but Annie S. Kemerer, and she had left a collection of things that were in the Bethlehem Steel Company warehouses. He worked for the treasurer of the Bethlehem Company corporation, Ralph did. She had, in her will, stipulated that a museum be created so that future generations could learn of the past of Lehigh Valley. (40:00) Ralph said, “The Board is looking for someone to become the director.” He spelled out what he knew were all my qualifications: trained as an architect, trained in art history, knows German, etc., all this business. So, I became the first director of what became known as Historic Bethlehem, Inc. No, take that back. Scratch that. I became the first director of the Annie S. Kemerer Museum.

CE: And can you spell Kemerer for us?

WM: K-E-M – I think there’s only one M – E-R-E-R.

CE: Right.

WM: Or maybe K-E-M-M-E-R-E-R. It may be the latter. There’s a very good museum now in Bethlehem, right in the historic district.

KS: It was this experience then that started you onto the historic preservationist route?

WM: Well, then I – yes, because the same board created a second nonprofit (41:00) organization called Historic Bethlehem, Inc., because the city was embarking on urban renewal, and the new town hall was to be put up Church Street, right next to all these pre-Revolutionary Moravian buildings. They wanted a vehicle in which they could stand down the city if they had to, to preserve the buildings, in case they wanted to take them by eminent domain. I became director of Historic Bethlehem, Inc., which had no assets, and I did everything that I was unprepared to do in life with no training for it. I had a newspaper column. I had a radio program. We had a membership campaign. We got one thousand members in two weeks. One of the things that I did – if it hadn’t been for the Junior League, I couldn’t have operated. My salary was the handsome salary of $7,000 a year.

KS: Now, was this about the time you purchased the house in Society Hill? (42:00)

WM: Oh, we purchased the house, because I had just gotten married in Williamsburg to the daughter of the chair of the history department of the College of William and Mary (Dr. Richard Morton), who now has a building on campus named for him. His daughter and I had known each other in graduate school at Penn. She was a painter from the Pennsylvania Academy, etc., and we even traveled together. This was after the Fulbright. I was married when I was in Bethlehem, PA. We got a telephone call one day from a man named Dan Hopping in Manhattan, [who] organized the summer field schools of the Society of Architectural Historians. … Dan became a good friend, etc., and [for that group] I organized the type of tour (43:00) I wouldn’t be caught dead doing today. A year later, I met some man from Boston at a National Trust [for Historic Preservation] meeting. He’d been there, and he said, “I want to let you know, it was a very unusual experience. I was so busy I didn’t have a chance to go to the bathroom for three days.” I got them up before dawn, for example, to go down to the Sencon Valley Country Club, where I had them turn on all the sprinklers. The sun was coming up, and we went to the Club for breakfast. It was like going to Versailles, that type of thing.

CE: What was Dan’s last name?

WM: Dan Hopping. H-O-P-P-I-N-G. He was an architectural delineator. Not an architect, but he worked for an architectural firm, as I remember. Anyway, to that tour (44:00) came the then-President of the National Trust [for Historic Preservation], Dick Howland, Dr. Richard Hubbard Howland, who just died last year, and Helen Bullock, who had written the Williamsburg Art of Cookery, who was the historian with the Trust, and a woman named Terry Brust, who became Terry Morton –

CE: Terry Brust?

WM: Terry Brust, B-R-U-S-T, from Frederick, Maryland; she married Ham Morton, who was an architect, and they live in suburban Washington still. As a result of that, I got this invitation to come down as the Assistant to the President of the National Trust, which is how I got to Washington. When we get up to what we’re talking about now, in the early ‘60s, I was already established in Washington, living in Georgetown – no, I had already moved to Alexandria, (45:00) next to Christ Church. Of course, I was going up to Philadelphia quite frequently, because I still had a mother living up there – didn’t die until she was one hundred and three years old – Alice was there, my brother was there with a family out in Wynnewood, and I had lots of friends there. It was easy to think that I could do over a house long distance in Society Hill, if I got the right people.

KS: Tell us then a little about your opinion overall about the redevelopment of Society Hill.

WM: Well, I think by and large, you know, it’s a very positive opinion. I think one of the major gaffes that occurred was not providing ample parking. I know you all wrestle with that. I thought that George and Penny [Batcheler] were very wise (46:00) when they bought that house across the street, where George now lives, for her mother. They were instrumental in creating off-street parking area behind that row of houses. That was a coup that should have happened more frequently.

A lot of good eighteenth-century houses were demolished, not a whole lot, but a fair number, in the area north of Spruce Street, where the Pei Towers [Society Hill Towers] are and where all of the Pei townhouses are. That was mostly high-rise, industrial. I remember where the – what was the name? – Wagner’s Spices. That was a marvelous place to go into, with the smells and the light, and so forth. Tucked in between all those buildings would be one, two, three and maybe even four eighteenth-century houses. Pete fought very valiantly to try to save those in that area, unsuccessfully, but that was a relatively small price to pay for the saving of – what? how many? –

[End of first side of the tape]

[Beginning of second side of the tape]

WM: – was that Ed Bacon [who] insisted on tearing down the corner buildings to put contemporary buildings on the corners. I think his idea behind that was that this would then eventually impact the human consciousness with a contemporary neighborhood, not a historical neighborhood. Being trained as an architect, this is where I feel very free to take pot shots at architects. I guess I have to – they gave me an award last year – I should temper my use of statements. You know, one of the most difficult design issues is to design successfully a contemporary house in a historic neighborhood, in the middle of a whole street of houses that are one hundred- to two hundred-years earlier. Most architects fail miserably at it, in my estimation. (1:00)

CE: How do you think that has been done in Society Hill? Do you think there are successes or –?

WM: There are successes. No question. But if I were pushed, I would really give it a C, not an A.

CE: [Laughs] Spoken like a true teacher.

WM: There’s only one house that I think is so successful, and that’s in Georgetown, and Hugh Jacobs [he might mean Hugh Jacobsen] designed it. You can look right down that block and miss his contemporary house. It’s because he learned what the rhythm of solids and voids are across that narrow space of a row house, you know, the proportions, color, materials, etc., the silhouette, all of that. Most architects have such big egos that they don’t like to pay that much attention to context. They claim they do, but most of them don’t (2:00) because they want to put their stamp on something.

KS: Tell us what you think of the preservation of individual houses –

WM: I’m hard pressed to say that. You have to remember, I haven’t lived there – in Philadelphia, since 1950 – fifty something, the first half of the ‘50s, long before I bought the house in Society Hill. You know, I remember going to a number of houses of what we call the pioneers, these days, and they were very well done. I suspect that the quality has probably diminished a lot over the years over the first group, who went there because they loved old buildings, not because it was a chic place to live. There’s a difference. (3:00 )

KS: Are there other cities that have undertaken comparable preservation efforts?

WM: Yes, it’s common all over the country. In setting up the National Register, not all the states had the capability to allow any jurisdiction within their state to set up a historic district. I think I’m correct in telling you now that, long since, you can set up a historic district in any state in the country at this point. About – I would say, about a quarter, if not more, of the listings on the National Register of Historic Places aren’t historic districts. I mean, it’s not unusual – it’s a common occurrence. I’ve been giving some advice to the local preservation commission over in Castine, Maine, … and they are getting terrible opposition from the (4:00) people who own the houses, because they don’t understand what being on the National Register implies. It’s just another form of zoning. That’s all it is. It takes one step further, and what it points out is that the private property owner, when they buy a house in an historic district, takes on a responsibility to all the other property owners within the given area on what they can and should and shouldn’t do to their own house for the public benefit, as you probably know.

CE: The man who is likely to be Philadelphia’s next mayor appears to think very favorably about city planning and historic preservation. If you could talk to him about those subjects, what advice would you give him about historic preservation (5:00) in Philadelphia going forward?

WM: Well, you know, I’m hard put to answer that question, and I repeat I haven’t lived in Philadelphia for so long. Now that most of the family is dead, except for a nephew who lives in Bryn Mawr, has his office in the Bellevue Stratford, and is a lawyer. I don’t get up there. I got up and had Christmas with Jan [Mears] this year, and that’s the first time I’ve been there since I developed a divided life between Maine and an apartment on the west coast of Florida.

CE: Generally speaking, as an old city, a large, old city with a lot of old housing stock and old buildings, would you advise him to encourage the preservation of those buildings or do you think –

WM: Let me answer it this way. I have never, ever, found a neighborhood designated as a historic district that ever became an economic liability. The problem (6:00) is, they all become golden ghettos. It creates a social problem, a homogenization of certain strata of whatever the society is in a given area, because prices go up, houses get sold, realtors want to sell houses as fast as they can, because they make money doing it. Then the appraiser comes in and appraises the house, and then the assessor comes in and assesses the tax base on what the last house on the block sold for, and so, as you know, it’s just an escalating ladder all the way. I don’t know what the answer to that is, and I have never seen an answer in any country I’ve ever been to. And, I’ve been to a lot of ‘em.

CE: Maybe he could make a name for himself by finding an answer to the question.

WM: He certainly could. You know, I mean, there have been attempts at it. The (7:00) late Lee Adler in Savannah [GA] with a whole bunch of HUD band-aid programs, tried to rehab a black neighborhood south of the big park downtown in the historic district, with a paint-up, fix-up campaign. The secret is changing occupants from renters to owners, and if you want to find out where it’s been done to the n th degree, pay a visit to Pittsburgh. Pittsburgh is a city like Cincinnati, in a way, of neighborhoods, ethnic neighborhoods. I can’t think of the name of that black guy from Pittsburgh, who is on the staff of the National Trust, but he’s been very much involved in that. A lot of those neighborhoods, black in this case, or Polish or other ethnic groups, were (8:00) in very run-down condition, because nobody owned anything. They were somebody else’s property. You know, this is the reason why Communism failed, too. When I worked for the Secretary of the Interior, I was sent to the black world frequently. You talk about slums. God, it was awful. Nobody owned anything. So why take care of it? It’s not mine. The simple psychology of it was absolutely glossed over. They have successfully rehabbed a lot of very good, Victorian neighborhoods in Pittsburgh, and kept the people living there as owners.

CE: Well, and certainly that’s what happened in Society Hill. So, Q.E.D.

WM: Well, it isn’t exactly the same thing that happened in Society Hill, because it wasn’t an effort, to my knowledge, to keep the existing renters there. (9:00)

CE: As renters.

WM: No, as owners.

CE: As owners, yes.

WM: You see, [then it was] early enough in the game that that concept, that collective social consciousness, had not seeped into the preservation field as yet. I mean, it’s very much a part of the preservation field today. I remember signing on the National Register a little black community south of Atlanta called Cabbagetown. It’s just changed the entire community. I mean, they were just typical, southern, black unpainted shacks. There’s a great sense of pride now. The gardens are kept. I mean, it’s just fine, you know. If you really want to learn a lot of lessons, go down to Charleston, if you haven’t been there yet.

CE: Oh, yes.

WM: I’ve been several different times. I’ve been on a team (10:00) evaluating the building stock in Charleston. Charleston, of course, has “King Riley I”. He’s been mayor of Charleston ever since I’ve known Charleston, and he is very gung-ho for preservation. As far as I’m concerned, to have a successful preservation field, you have to have three things: You have to have an aroused citizenry interested in keeping what’s there, because they’re the people who deal with it every day, and see it every day. The visitors don’t. You have to have an interested and supporting public sector, being the mayor and the city council, and you’ve got to have money. Charleston got that a long time ago and established that, and it’s going gang busters, even after all the years that I’ve known it. They flew me up last year for an interview of this type, a taped interview, and I simply took a day and walked around the city. It’s just (11:00) marvelous. The important thing, of course, is keeping the scale of the city, of the neighborhood. You know, they’ve had several – one, especially, big fight – and they were able to grind that [building] down to something like four stories. It’s still a humongous building, but it’s designed so you would never suspect that it is.

KS: Let’s turn now to your work for the Park Service. Tell us a little bit more about what you did when you were here at Independence [Park] and while you lived in Philadelphia.

WM: Well, I worked on a group of houses – is there a Marshall Street?

KS: Yes.

WM: On the north side of Marshall Street – and I don’t know what streets it was between – Fifth and Sixth? Where is Independence?

KS: Marshall Street is between Fourth and Fifth. (12:00)

WM: All right, Fourth and Fifth. On the north side were a group of first decade nineteenth- century, perhaps three-story townhouses, about six of them. Pete asked me to see what I could do about those houses. The interesting thing was that it led me to a study of the Philadelphia row house, which was published in the Society of Architectural Historians’ Bulletin in the 1960s, as I remember. I found out that there were only about four different house plan variations that, to my knowledge, were still being built in the twentieth century: the smallest being the bandbox house or the Father, Son and Holy Ghost thing; then a townhouse with two rooms on each first floor, no rear wing, etc., for servants, (13:00) etc.; and then the large, developed townhouse, which is the commonest in Society Hill with the two front rooms and then the stairway going up to the second, third floor, and then the narrower, rear wing, and then a bandbox house behind it for the servants. That’s taken right out of London – not London, but out of Dublin. You see a lot of houses in Dublin you could swear were from Philadelphia, [with] all sorts of details. Then there is the fully developed central hall type thing, which is pretty rare. That’s about it. I developed, I think as I remember, I think there are plans. This article I wrote has a lot of plans – not a lot, but it has some plans in it, drawings that I did. (14:00) I may have included Marshall Row, as I called it, in adapting them to duplexes, but then I understand the Park Service tore it all down anyway.

KS: Oh, and that is where the Maintenance Facility is built.

WM: Oh, it is?

KS: Yes, I’m sorry to say.

WM: The one building Penny [Batcheler] and I salivated over was a little wooden building to the south of the Second Bank of the United States, called John’s Tailor Shop. It was just marvelous, but of course, nobody was allowed to buy anything. It was all demolished. The main thing I did were the two things I alluded to earlier, the Choregic Monument of Lysicrates on the roof of the Stock Exchange – the Strickland Stock Exchange – and the Bishop White House. I remember being with the archaeologists there while they were excavating the privies, I think a double (15:00) level privy there. They found all sorts of things there, including false teeth and toothbrushes, etc., and you probably are aware of that also.

KS: Yes. What happened – what was your association with the Park Service once you left Independence and went to Washington?

WM: Well, none, really, except [with] the Director [of the National Park Service], who represented the Secretary of the Interior on the Board of the National Trust, and Ronnie Lee, Ronald F. Lee, who was the Chief Historian of the National Park Service. I have a pet theory, which I cannot prove, but David Finley, who was Andrew Mellon’s Man Friday, who got the job of being the first Director of the National Gallery, was from South Carolina and had a brother named States’ Rights –

KS: [Laughs]

WM: – [Finley was] Chairman of the Board of the National Trust when I arrived. Helen (16:00) Burgess, who was – the name always goes out of my mind – the big library in New York. It was put up by her grandfather.

CE: The Morgan?

WM: J.P. Morgan. She was one Vice Chairman and the other Vice Chairman was a woman from New York also, who had controlling interest in New York Central Railroad, Angela Plaice, and Dick Howland was the President. I was the fifth staff member, and there were two thousand members and one property.

KS: Now, were you employed by the Park Service after you left the National Trust?

WM: Well, when the Congress passed the National Historic Preservation Act, and I was tapped to be the Keeper [of the National Register], and [when] the Congress gave the Secretary of the Interior (17:00) the responsibility, he passed it to the Director of the Park Service, and the Director passed it to me. The buck stopped with me, with nothing in place except that Bob Utley, a Park Service historian, had written a letter to all the state governors, that the Secretary of the Interior signed, asking them to appoint one person in their jurisdiction to carry this new responsibility out in his name. I had 56 people to coordinate, 50 states and six territories. They didn’t know what they were in business for.

Getting back to before that happened, Ronnie F. Lee, I’ve convinced myself, is the man really responsible for [the] National Trust in this country, not David Finley. David Finley has gotten historically the credit for it, because (a) he had the social connections and money always talks, and (b) he had the first meeting in his office at the then fairly new National Gallery. Ronnie Lee, [who was Secretary of the Board of the National Trust] was a very quiet, self-effacing (18:00) man, who didn’t care who got the credit as long as whatever he thought should happen happened…. He was then transferred and became the Director of the Philadelphia regional office of the Park Service. He was the Secretary of the Board of the National Trust. When that happened, I became the Assistant Secretary of the Board, because somebody local [was needed] to [affix] the stamp of the corporation to make documents legal, so we didn’t have to run up to Philadelphia all the time. Ronnie was the first person that I ran to when George Hartzog, Jr., [the seventh Director of the National Park Service, appointed in 1964] offered me this job as Keeper of the National Register. I knew what was going on. It was all Park Service conversations going on constantly. George Hartzog created an (19:00) advisory committee of J. O. Brew from Harvard, Ernest Connolly from the University of Illinois, and Ronald F. Lee, then the Chief Historian. When they finally decided this thing was going to land in their lap, etc., the other two pointed their fingers at Ernest [Connolly] and said, “Ernest, you be the head of the office,” so the office of Archaeology and Historic Preservation came into being.

I had known Ernest, because I had served on the Board of Directors of the Society of Architectural Historians years ago, as had he. He was not a close friend, but he was somebody that I knew and who I knew was a good professional. I knew George Hartzog, because George always came to the National Trust Board meetings representing the Secretary of the Interior. I was out (20:00) in St. Louis organizing the National Trust annual meeting, which was one of my nine programs, and it was the last program I ever organized for them, as it turned out. The same PR agent who was handling my visit said to me, “Did you know that the Director of the National Park Service is here dedicating the August Busch Brewery as a National Historic Landmark?” I said, “No.” She said, “Well, they’re going to get the Clydesdale horses out. Would you like to go down and see them?” I said, “I’d love to.”

CE: [Laughs]

WM: We got down there, and she pushes me to the front. Along come all these Clydesdale horses, and along comes a bunch of them with a flatbed truck behind it, and on that, standing by himself, is guess who? The Director of the Park Service. He looks down at me, and he said, “Murtagh?” I said, “Yes, George. National Trust annual meeting.” “What the h--- are you doing here?” He leans down and shakes my hand and pulls me up on the wagon. Last I saw of the PR agent. (21:00)

KS: [Laughs]

WM: We were in one of August Busch’s great big, nineteenth-century copper beer vats. I mean, literally, it’s two stories high.

CE: Wow!

WM: It had been all cleaned up for the occasion, you know, and everything…. George put his arm around mine and said, “Now, I want you to leave that organization [the National Trust] you’re working for and come work for a real organization [the Park Service].” That’s how I got my job [as the first Keeper of the National Register of Historic Places.]

KS: Wow. That’s how you got your job.

WM: The post script to the whole thing: for almost, I don’t know, six months to a year, after that, periodically, I would get a form from somebody, I guess in Personnel, and it was one of those things that was boilerplate, and you typed in certain things. It said, “Dear.” And then somebody would have typed in not “Mr.” but “Dr. Murtagh.” Then the form said, “We’re very sorry to tell you are not eligible for the job (22:00) for which you applied.” And somebody had typed in “Lack of education and experience.”

KS: [Laughs]

WM: I never kept one of those. Too bad. I just put them in the circular file. When these kids would come in to ask for advice about how to get a job, I would think, “I’m the last person you should talk to. I don’t even know how I got my job here.”

KS: How long did you work for the Register?

WM: Until Jimmy Carter put a nut in the office, who I liked as a person but I couldn’t work with him, and I quit. So that was about – Carter administration – about 14 years, I guess, something like that. And then Adele Chatfield Taylor began talking to me about going to New York to direct the graduate program in Columbia. I said, “Well, you know, I’m not basically an academic.” She says, “Well, we need somebody like (23:00) you with the experience you could bring to the thing.” And, bad decision on my part, I went there at a reduction in salary. Such a stupid decision. Of course, basically, I couldn’t afford to live in Manhattan the way I wanted to, and I got a call from the Director of Property at the National Trust saying, “We understand that you’re moving to New York. We have two gate lodges at Lyndhurst, the property that the Duchess of Talleyrand left to the National Trust in Tarrytown. Which one do you want?”

KD and CE: [Laugh]

WM: I chose the little one right at the front entrance. I got up the next morning, after I moved in, and it was wall to wall campers, which you could see on 64 acres. Dogs. It was the Westchester Dog Show.

KD and CE [Laugh]

WM: …. I learned the first week that nobody was going to come over to Harlem to have lunch with me, and to go over to them was too expensive and took too many hours out of the day. I developed this stock answer to the question “Do you like living in New York?” I would say, “Well, you know, 64 clipped acres that are somebody else’s expense and problem is a piquant contrast to the instant carnal knowledge of the Seventh Avenue subway at rush hour.”

KD and CE: [Laugh]

CE: That’s very snappy.

KD: May we return to Philadelphia, please? Do you have photographs of your house, property, before, during and after restoration?

WM: I have some “before” slides which I have in a file in Florida. I should tell you, before I moved to Florida, I gave my entire library and all of my files, with (25:00) the exception of my day books, which I still have, thinking I was going to write an autobiography, which I’m never going to do, probably. All of it is at the University of Maryland in special collections. I was really taken aback when I heard that Pete also did the same thing at my suggestion. [Laughs] I didn’t suggest it at all, but he felt – and that’s the reason why all his stuff went to the University of Maryland.

The reason why it went to the University of Maryland: I had occupied a chair there when the architecture school was first started. Years later, I was starting a preservation program there in the fall, and that was about the same time I got the telephone call from a woman I knew on a search committee at the (26:00) University of Hawaii, that they wanted to start one. I would spend the fall semester in Maryland and the spring semester, which begins in January, in Hawaii. Then I moved out there full time, and I lived there almost ten years before I came back east. Now, with all that, I’ve forgot the beginning of this whole –

KS: I was asking you about photographs [documenting the property].

WM: Oh, photographs. I gave them an endowment – I think I gave the University of Maryland $25,000 – so that it could be gotten in order immediately. I have used it on more than one occasion, and they find things for me immediately. If I have any pictures in that collection, they would be able to put their hands on them right away.

KS: We understand that you had a log book? (27:00)

CE: A day book?

KS: A day book.

CE: You said you kept your day books?

WM: Yes, I have all my day books – I don’t know how far back they go, maybe ’59, something like that. I can sometimes tell you who I had lunch with, who I had dinner with, what I ate, what the weather was. Better notes when I was out of the country.

CE: Do they include information about the renovation of the house on American Street?

WM: I just don’t know, because I haven’t looked at them for years.

CE: Oh.

WM: …. I took some photographs. I’m pretty sure there are prints that must be at Maryland in special collections. I remember (28:00) I have a picture not of the first floor or the second floor but of the third floor, which really shows the slum condition. I may have one of the second floor, because I vaguely remember a picture of an arch. There was a piece of gray slate or something, and … it was about three feet off the ground. Now, I couldn’t figure out what it was and then I noticed a nail about four feet up further. I don’t know why, but I put a toe hold on the shelf and pulled the nail out of the wall, and the whole armature came out, and there was the arch-headed niche behind it.

CE: Wow. Do you have any other stories like that of what you discovered in the house or working on the house?

WM: Well, I remember I tore down the outhouse, and a dead rat fell in my face. (29:00)

CE: Oh! [Laughs]

WM: He’d been dead for a long time. It was just a shell. You could have heard the scream six blocks away.

CE: You said that you hired a contractor, a general contractor, to do the actual work on the house.

WM: Right.

CE: Do you remember what his name was?

WM: No, I haven’t the faintest idea what his name was. Again, that might be in the archives in Maryland.

CE: Right.

WM: I’m pretty sure I kept some files on that. They could fill that in, probably. I just don’t know.


WM: He was from the suburbs someplace…

CE: Well, they may have –

WM: At that point, nobody knew what they were doing. (30:00)

CE: Did you talk much – well, I realize you weren’t in Philadelphia – did you ever get a chance to talk with any of the other neighbors?

WM: Well, Frank always had a big New Year’s Eve party, big one. All the neighbors would come. Everybody was invited…. During the Second World War my father (and my grandfather) were in the food business. My father inherited a fleet of stores, which he lost in the Depression, but he (32:00) still had a couple of stores. I used to go down to that block on [South Street], where they sold chicken and beef, and buy either a side of beef or a crate of chicken that had been dressed, etc., to take out to his stores…. Yes, he’d call up and place the order, and I’d go pick it up. That was another reason that I got interested in the neighborhood. I was running around there when the Stock Exchange was the Food Distribution Center. It was filled with trucks.

CE: We have been told by some lifelong residents that there were also horse-drawn wagons at that time, before redevelopment started. (33:00)

WM: No questions about that. I can remember – when I was in high school and I graduated in the summer of ’42 – coming home from a prom maybe, I don’t know, at two o’clock in the morning or four o’clock in the morning, and hooking a ride on the back of the horse-drawn milk truck to – excuse me just a minute. My carpenter’s here.

[Tape is turned off, then on again]

CE: That’s OK. Our tape is about to finish.

WM: We’ve been at it for about an hour and a half.

CE and KS: Yes.

WM: I hope it’s been useful.

CE: It really has. Your stories are great and we very much appreciate your taking the time to talk to us.

WM: It’s comic relief if nothing else.


CE: Thank you very much.

WM: All right.

KS: Thank you.

WM: Thank you for the opportunity. Bye.

CE and KS: Bye.

[End of Interview]

Transcriber’s Note: When Mr. Murtagh read a draft of the transcript, he made some changes and additions. These are reflected in the final transcript but are not noted as changes. They account for some of the discrepancies between the recorded interview and the transcript of it. In addition, a few minutes of conversation at the beginning and end of the call have been omitted because they were irrelevant to redevelopment in Society Hill.

©2007 Project Philadelphia 19106™. All rights reserved.

About the Interview

Karen Stevens and Cynthia J. Eiseman
Cynthia J. Eiseman
Interview Location
Telephone (Penobscot, Maine)
Interview Date
July 24, 2007
Murtagh, William J.
Narrator Type
Redeveloper - Restoration
Oral History Sources