Interviewee: Joe Petrone (JP) with Kathleen Petrone (KP) Interviewers: Lyda Doyle (LD) and Wendy Moody (WM) Date of Interview: April 15, 2013
Joe’s remarkable memory offers the reader humorous and detailed memories of his life spent in East Falls.
LD: This is Wendy Moody and Lyda Doyle from the East Falls Historical Society interviewing Mr. Joseph Petrone, Sr. at his current home at 83 Tiller Drive in Waretown, New Jersey. So, I guess we’ll start with the basics – when and where you were born?
JP: I was born in Doctor’s Hospital on Summer Street in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
on October 6, 1943 and the bill was $32.
LD: And where were your parents born?
JP: My mother was born in Lyons Falls, New York and my father was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, in East Falls.
LD: And what house did you live in when you came home from Doctor’s Hospital?
JP: I lived in Lubinacci’s house on Stanton Street which would be probably 3663 or 65,
down the street from Roger ess’s store.
WM: What brought your parents to East Falls?
JP: My father lived in East Falls, on the 3600 block of Calumet Street with his brothers and his cousins. Two sisters married two brothers and lived in that house for 72 years.
WM: And his parents?
LD: That was the two brothers and the two sisters.
JP: My Uncle Tony and my grandfather, Joseph P. Petrone, immigrated here – they worked on the reservoir – they helped build the Falls Bridge, things like that.
LD: Now the reservoir on Labby Hill or the one on Queen Lane?
JP: I would imagine the one on Queen Lane. It was like in the 1850’s, I guess.
WM: And where were their parents from?
JP: From Italy. A town called Anzi, down in the arch of the boot. Up in the mountains
there. I thought it was Anzio, but it’s Anzi, the name of the small town. It’s a mountain town.
LD: Are you currently married?
JP: I’m married to Kathleen Hine Petrone and she’s from Kensingson, but I won’t hold that against her.
LD: And how many children do you have?
JP: I have twin boys, Joe Jr. and James Anthony, and a daughter Heather Alicia Petrone. I have three children.
LD: Currently you’re retired, is that correct?
JP: Yeah, currently I’m retired. I still dabble in real estate with my daughter. Technically, you would say I’m retired.
LD: What kinds of jobs did you have growing up?
JP: I guess the very first job was working on the merry-go-round in Sea Isle City, New Jersey as a job-job and I got paid with free rides, until my cousin Patty came down after here mother died and they sent her down to live with us and she put us on strike. We struck the merry-go-round and ended up settling for 25 cents a night. But he cut out the free rides.
So that was my first job. Then I worked on the pier in Sea Isle City selling bait. And then I worked with my dad when I was about nine. I painted houses. And then I got to clean the poolroom – my father owned a poolroom in East Falls – that was a social gathering place.
LD: Where was that?
JP: Well, it was originally where McIlvaine’s Funeral Home – in the basement where they do the bodies? That was the pool hall. Upstairs was the dance hall where my father and another guy ran dances.
WM: Was it the Young Man’s Literary Institute?
JP: I think that’s what it was. Yeah, that’s what it was called. And then somewhere in the ‘50s we moved down to what was called Roach Road, or River Road, behind what was an Amoco gas station, which now is the Sunoco station. On the second floor.
And I remember Moon Calarazo moved the pool tables with his dump truck and we had to put them up through the window. So I worked the pool room every day after grade school – I would go down and clean the pool room and carry fuel oil from the gas station to the heater which was a kerosene heater, and shine the balls, polish the tables, and clean the floors, get it ready for another night and that was the job. And I got five bucks every two weeks.
WM: About what year was this?
JP: Oh, it had to be in the fifties.
WM: And what kind of people came to this pool hall?
JP: Everybody. All the young men, it was strictly men, there weren’t any women. If anything, they’d be calling on the phone trying to find their husbands. Because there were card games in the back and numbers were being taken. I guess you could call it a
seedy place – it was – it was just a place to get out of the weather where guys would gather and shoot pool and talk. And then they would go off from the poolroom, they would travel to Reading or Atlantic City or something to do other things. It was the
social center. It was the East Falls Billiard Academy and that way they could discriminate against who walked in there – you had to be a member. You had to be voted in, that was one of the things.
They would play cards in the back room, and if the guy didn’t like what was happening, he would throw the cards up in the air and when I came in there might be five decks of cards lying on the floor, and I would pick them up. I was the only kid in grade school that had 150 decks of blue ribbon cards.
WM: How did you eventually get into real estate?
JP: I went from working with my dad on the jobs – they were the only jobs that I ever had, and then along came the Air Force when I was seventeen years old. So I went into the Air Force at 17 and I more or less grew up in the Air Force.
When I came out of the Air Force, I had an electronics background so I went to work for a telesystems corporation which installed cable systems all over the country. Back then, cable tv was just a way to get a signal into a small town. You didn’t get any television stations. I never thought there was any future in cable television.
So at the time I got married to Kathy and we decided that I should go to college, which I thought was the craziest – me in college. So I started going to night school and eventually the G.I. Bill came along and we made a decision for me to go to day school and get it over with, because Kathy had a job and we really didn’t need a lot of money at the time. So I started going to day school…
WM: Which college?
JP: LaSalle. LaSalle University. And I decided I should get a real estate license.
I started working for the City of Philadelphia in ‘72 at the Housing Authority and I decided real estate was the thing to do, because I was in housing. I took courses and became a salesman. Matter of fact, it was with a black realtor on Allegheny and Germantown Avenue, which is kinda funny – as I go along I’ll tell you. He let me
get my license there.
Then I hooked up with a guy named Bernie Meltzer. He used to have a radio show and he wrote columns for the Bulletin. He was like the big soothsayer. And I wanted to get involved more in the business, and he sort of like kept me at arm’s length and he took another kid along and I was a little upset so I left him and started my real estate brokerage business in 1975 in East Falls. I rented from Joe Michetti for $60 a month for my two room office. Joe Michetti was the one who gave me my first haircut when I was a kid so it was kind of neat. And that’s how I got started.
Then, in the City I went from the Housing Authority to the Mayor’s Area Manpower Planning Council and I was running a group of job developers to get jobs for people because unemployment was, oh my God, 7%. It was horrible. There was a lot of money coming up from the government and we were using that to get jobs for people.
LD: That was the ‘70’s?
JP: That was the 70s. Then in 1979 I went to work for the Philadelphia Industrial Development Corporation as a real estate director, and I was searching people down that had abandoned their houses and I thought I should be more in real estate then. I kept looking for a job in real estate and that’s when I found PIDC and they picked me up.
I stayed with them till – I went over to the city to see Frank Rush, who was from Germantown – he used to be a State Representative – he was a politician. He was the real estate director for the city.
I asked Mr. Rush “Can I have a job here in real estate?”
He said “There are no openings – people don’t leave here unless they die” and then he laughed at me. He said “You can have my job – I’m going to retire in 10 years.”
I said “Ok.”
And he said “Oh you’ll never get this, kid, you’ve got to be political and gotta have all this…”
And I said “Just let me know.”
Ten years go by, and I noticed in the paper they had appointed a new real estate director by the name of Paul Deegan. And I said “Son of a gun.” So I called and said “What happened? I didn’t see the job posted or anything”
And they said “Oh, the job wasn’t posted – they appointed him – he’s a political appointment.”
I said “Ah, nuts.” So I went to a reception that Mayor Goode was having. I said I might as well go around and introduce myself to the new guys – now I’m a political placement too. My situation was political. So I ran into a guy who shakes my hand and says “I’m Paul Deegan.”
And I said “You son of a bitch. You took my job.”
And he smiled at me. I said I’m going to like this guy.
And said “I didn’t take your job. I was appointed. As a matter of fact, I’m going to fill that position. We need a real estate manager.”
I said “Can I…?”
He said “I can’t do anything for you but I’ll tell you when the test is.”
I said “That’s all I ask.”
So I took the exam and came out number one. And then I took the verbal – there was a verbal board – this is funny, because a fellow working for me at PIDC was the ex-real estate director that had retired and came back in as a political appointment. He had told me a story about the firehouse on Samson Street – about how it burned. The firehouse burned down! And how they had to redo it – and he was telling me all these stories about it.
The next day I go for this interview with guys from New York City and other cities that they brought in to form a panel. And they said we’re going to give you two things – we’re going to give you a piece of real estate to study and we’re going to give you a rental situation. So they hand me a package and I go in the room and open the package up and it’s the firehouse on Samson Street. The one I just got all this information on. I said “God wants me to have this job.”
I mean I went out and knocked their socks off. They couldn’t believe the information I had. I was only talking about it the day before. I knew the numbers, I knew the figures; I knew everything. And they looked at me and said “How do you know this?” And I said “Because I’m the best there is.”
So they send me into the room with a rental package – it turns out it’s the building I’m in! 1234 Market Street! At the time was PDIC and I knew everything about the building because I was in the building! And I said “God wants me to have this job!”
And I also had Veteran’s Preference which put me – well, Deegan told me this later, but his boss was black – the head of Public Property was a black guy named Sykes. He was trying to get his friend into my job. His friend couldn’t get around me because of my grades in the test and everything. So Deegan says, “Well, who do we have? “We got this guy Petrone.” “Can we work with him? He said “Yes, I think so. “ So he said “Hire him.” And that’s how I got the job
It was a miracle, right. So the first person I called was Frank Rush in Florida – he retired to Florida.
He says “Yes?”
I said “This is Frank Rush from Philadelphia?”
“Used to be.”
I said “This is Joe Petrone from Philadelphia.”
He said “I don’t talk to anyone from Philadelphia anymore.” I said “I got your job.” It was like putting the silver bullet on…
“You got to be kidding me!”
I said “I got your job, Mr. Rush.”
He said “You are persistent, aren’t you!”
“Oh, I told you, I just needed a chance.” It was such a great feeling.
I said “Can you give me some advice?”
And he says, “Yeah, don’t ever do a deal without having someone there
with you.” Because of all the ramifications.
I said “I’m coming to Miami next week for a convention with the city. I’d like to stop to talk to you. Maybe you can help me”
He says “Anything you want. You come on by”
He died the next day. It was amazing. So that’s how I got into real estate. I eventually became civil service, which is the job I took the test for, and that’s how I retired out of the city, as a top real estate official of the city. It always amazed me. I’d walk out at night, look around at the city, and pinch myself and say “Not bad for a kid from East Falls.” I did that. I really did. I just never thought I’d get to the top – in a million, zillion years, but it was up to Kathy and my mother-in-law – they sort of pushed me. That’s how I did it.
But I stood at Convention Hall, and I’m looking around at everybody standing around in their caps and gowns, and my young cousin is standing next to me, who graduated with me, and I said “I can’t believe. I can’t believe it. It’s such a thrill.”
I also had a general contractor who worked for my dad in the ‘70’s. I had that company. I also had a manufacturing company that manufactured fishing equipment that Penn Reel wanted to buy from me. I talked to them about taking over my line. I eventually sold it to a guy in Maryland. So that was my manufacturing company I had.
I sold Fuller Brushes. I was one of the first Amway salesmen. I still have the kit – it cost $10. The first sales kit for Amway. I was an Amway Representative. I was a sales representative for things you would get – like pens, pencils, buttons.
LD: And didn’t you work in summers up in Hazelton?
LD: At DeSoto?
JP: No, Hazelton – our family is in Hazelton – Uncle Jim and Uncle Joe and Grandmom and Aunt Rose – we would ride up to Hazelton to see the family. And Aunt Mary had a soda factory – it was named Hazelton High. I would sit on the production line and grab the sodas…
LD: So you were actually working there…?
JP: No, I wasn’t working there. I was sampling the goods. I think Aunt Mary had a poolroom too; she had a couple of pool tables in the store. But I remember Hazelton is not too many memories. I went down in the mines with Uncle George – took me down into the coal mines. And I remember putting tools together to go in the coal mines because, to me, the coal mines were down in the dark place. They must have been like the cellar in the house. So I took a monkey wrench with me and a flashlight. And I could envision hot water heaters and house heaters down in the mines – that’s my idea. We had a machine in the backyard – you would crack the coal with it for the house.
LD: In East Falls?
JP: No, in Hazelton. Across the street in Hazelton was the company store for the coal mines. And it was right next door to a gigantic strip mine – it was just the most monstrous hole in the ground I had ever seen. I remember they had a toy steam shovel for sale. But they would take you out into the woods – they had bonfires in the woods and weenie roasts – that were a big entertainment thing.
WM: Let’s get back to East Falls, because you’re second generation and have so many memories of the neighborhood. So can we start by getting some memories – things your parents told you about Falls or anything you remember about their growing up?
JP: My father was the youngest of the family. And he was quite a character. My Uncle Tony was dating my Aunt Fay and they were trying to save money to get married. So when Uncle Tony would park his car, not to use gas or anything, and they would be walking along the Ridge at Midvale and they would see his car go by. And Uncle Tony
would say “God, that looks like my car!” It was my father – he stole the car and was out running the gas up. My father was a character.
One time they came and nailed a sheriff notice on my grandfather’s door, ok? For the sheriff to sell the house. And my grandfather said to my father “What is this, Roque?
He said “Oh dad, it’s an honor. The city is honoring you. This is an honor.” Well, my father had signed a bill at Penn Athletic one night for dinner for everybody, being a big deal. Well, that’s what they were after, for the payment for the dinner. And they took the house to sheriff’s sale. Well my Uncle Tony got home, now my Uncle Tony being the smartest of all of them, he told my grandfather exactly what was going on and my grandfather certainly got into a lot of trouble over that. That was one his shenanigans he got into.
WM: What school did your father go to?
JP: He went to St. Bridget’s. Then he went to Roman. Oh, all through my life it was “Oh you’re going to go to Roman. They’ll straighten you out!” My God, I’m going to get to Roman and they’re gonna beat me and flog me! And then he went to St. Joe’s on a scholarship to be a doctor. He didn’t last too long there, so he dropped out of St. Joe’s.
And then he worked at the Navy Yard under an admiral as an expeditor for parks and things. Because he was working there, they didn’t take him into the service, because he was working at a defense job. And then Mr. Daily, who was Judge Daily, a magistrate around 22nd and Indiana, taught my father to paper hang, so he became a paperhanger.
That was technically his trade, was being a paperhanger, and running the pool room, and writing numbers, so… He did just about everything and anything – things were tough in the ‘50s in the recession. In the Eisenhower years, things were a little tough. Everybody in the neighborhood worked for my father painting. Sometimes you would go to a job, there would be 10 guys on the job painting. Everybody painted to make a living.
But Happy Morello was his partner in the pool room. Morello was a big family on Stanton Street.
WM: Did he know the Kellys?
KP: You have all kinds of Kelly stories…
JP: Oh yeah, he was very friendly with John B. Kelly. Mr. Kelly had a golf association. Dad was involved with the gold association which was up over Pete’s Bar. They used to meet up there. And dad used to row in the early days. And Mr. Kelly gave me a golden oar from the Henley Regatta from his son when he…And I had that for years and years. I kept it in my cigar box with all my marbles and all my things. I don’t remember who I gave it to, or where it is, but Mr. Kelly gave it to me at the Benford Club one day. Dad would take me to the rowing club on the river. Upstairs at the bar, I remember behind the bar there were oars like in a tournament thing – all these beautiful oars. Mr. Kelly gave me an oar.
WM: What was your impression of Mr. Kelly?
JP: He was a nice man. He was a strong looking man, his hair slicked back. But dad
would do the painting and papering up at the house for them. And dad would go through the front door with his paint bucket walking up the steps, spilling paints all over the floor with Mrs. Kelly running behind “You son of a bitch! You’re spilling paints on my steps!
We did the nursery on the top floor for Caroline, when she first came over from Monaco. We painted the nursery blue. I said to Mrs. Kelly “Why are you doing this blue?” She said “I like blue.” So we painted the nursery and she came over the first time into that nursery.
We also did the LeVine house up on School House Lane. We were painting the house because the Prince was coming and they were going to have a reception.
WM: Which house was the LeVine house?
JP: It’s right past Netherfield Road. There’s a ranch house right there. I’m trying to remember who bought it. That kid, Michael Young?
WM: Judge and Eileen Lynn lived in the corner of School House Lane and Netherfield.
JP: In a brick rancher?
JP: That’s the house! It has the pool? That’s because we painted the pool! She said “What did you do?” My father said “Ah, it looked shabby so I painted the pool! He painted the pool! What kind of paint did you use? It was pool paint. Daddy asked for an invitation to the party. They said “You’re not going to the party!”
I remember the butler – the driver – the driver’s name was Shorty. A short black guy and he had a raspy voice like Rochester. But they were nice people.
And the upstairs bedroom, if I remember, has a measuring thing on the doorjamb for the kids. And I understand the people have left it there. They didn’t touch it; it’s still there. I remember seeing that.
WM: Any special impressions of Grace?
JP: Ah! I was in love with Grace. It had to be “53 or ’54 at the most that Mrs. Kelly was very heavy into the hospital and they had what they called the Rose Carnival. And they would have a carnival in the front of the hospital there, where the circle was, and they had a forklift with a bucket on it and the kids would use as a forklift and would shake it – it was a big thrill.
And they had all these matronly ladies from Germantown that would come and work at the carnival – they would sell at tables. And my job was to ride in the back of a Buick convertible with Grace Kelly and sell chances to the Rose Carnival. And we would ride through East Falls with a speaker, and a guy named Tony Minesol, I think, was the guy that ran things. It must have been from Minesol Furniture?
But I would sit in the back with Grace, and they would walk along with the car – the thing would be blaring and people would be selling the chances. And I would sit there and just gawk at her. And I was in love with her. I was maybe eight or nine. She was just very pretty, and she was just a princess. She wasn’t a princess, she was a beautiful person at the time; she was an actress. That was my thing with Grace Kelly. And Humphrey Bogart came to the house one day to visit.
And one day at the Rose Carnival I was working a table with an old lady from Germantown and I was blowing balloons up. And somebody brought a compact over – a gold compact – and said “Oh Grace gave you this to sell.” It had engraved Grace Kelly on it. It was hers. And it was like five bucks. Five bucks was a million dollars in those days and I wanted that so bad, so bad. And I didn’t get it. I remember that. But she was a beauty.
LD: So where did you yourself go to school?
JP: I went to St. Bridget’s.
LD: Do you remember what the school was like? How many kids were there? Were you in the old building?
JP: Yes. The first day I met Tony DiStefano, whom I’m best of friends with today. He comes for breakfast over here. John Ruddy, and Jerry Roushe. We all met outside the old school.
WM: And the year was…
JP: Well I went to Roman in ‘57, so 8 years back from that.
LD: So the new school wasn’t built yet?
JP: Oh yes, the new school was built. What we were doing – we were given jars and every family would put money in the little jar. That’s how it was built with money from the parishioners. My sister was in the new school. Third grade on was in the new school.
First and second grade was in the old school. And in the first and second grade in the old school – we had like four people to a seat. It was so crowded; there were like 72 people in a room. We had these long benches that went behind the wrought iron desk and we were jammed. It was really crowded.
I wrote a story about it. We had a load of nuns and every day there would be a procession of the nuns coming up from the doorway across the schoolyard, marching.
The first lay teacher didn’t come till later. She was pretty.
LD: They were coming from the convent to the school?
JP: Convent to the school. And I would go back to the convent and sit in the kitchen
and the nuns would give me cookies and all. The real old nuns were in the kitchen. We lived in the Lupinacci house until ’49.
WM: Was that the Lubanacci that moved next door to me, the florist?
JP: No, Mrs. Lupinacci. That was her house that was rented to my father and mother. That was the son next to you, Lucky Lupinacci.
WM: What was a typical day like at school?
LD: Did you have recess?
JP: Yes. Recess was in the schoolyard. We just ran around and acted goofy and told stories and everyone settled in with their own friends in a corner.
KP: Under a tree was popular when I went there.
WM: Did you go home for lunch?
JP: You could go home for lunch, yes. Some people did go home for lunch. Some people brought their lunch. We had what was called a lunch program. It was government surplus food. It was terrible. It was cans of spinach from WWII with cheese and stuff.
The lady who cooked it must have been diabetic. She never put salt in it. It was terrible. Then Mrs. Connody came along, my buddy’s mother and she made the food worth living for. You either packed your lunch or you would pay for your lunch or run home for lunch.
They would ring a bell and when the first bell rang you froze. Whatever you were doing, you had to freeze on the spot. And then the next bell you would march over and get in line. It was like an Army.
KP: It was an old school bell and my kids used to get a hold of it.
JP: Do you want me to read this to you?
LD: We’d rather have you talk about things that aren’t in it.
WM: We’ll add this paper to the interview.
JP: My sister was in third grade and I was in first grade and every time I got in trouble it was like “Why can’t you be like your sister?” And then they’d haul my sister out of her class because her brother was misbehaving. She hated that.
Then we would take piano lessons for a quarter a lesson. I took lessons for about 50 years and couldn’t play anything.
LD: Were the lessons in the convent?
JP: They were in the bottom of the old school and then they were down in the convent.
There was like five pianos down in the convent in the basement lined up. You would go in there.
WM: Do you have any memories of St. Bridget? Anything interesting that ever happened there?
JP: I was in altar boy school and then I found out that altar boys had to wake up at 4 in the morning. And I said “Uh, uh, not for me.” So I flunked out of altar boy school. I was the first one in history to drop out of altar boy school. To this day, I can still say the Latin.
But then again, my buddies were going away with the priests on the weekend and I thought that was kind of weird. They would go up to the mountains.
LD: Did you make your communion and confirmation at St. Bridget’s?
LD: And there were processionals?
JP: Oh yeah! Beautiful processionals. There was a May Queen. A girl would be chosen as May Queen and she would crown the statue out in front of the church on Midvale Avenue – she would put the flowers on it. And we would sing.
We would have the Mardi Gras. Mardi Gras was a big celebration in the auditorium. It was games and dinner and entertainment. Mrs. Marasco would sing. She had a beautiful voice – she was a big entertainer. And the Morrells – Mr. Morrell was like the President of the church. He was the main man. Mr. Morrell was in charge of getting things done. Everyone would look up to him; he was like the mayor. And there was a load of Morrell boys and they lived side by side on Stanton Street.
KP: Right across from the school.
JP: And I would be walking down the street one day and doors would open and like Mario and George would come out and start tumbling in the street and start punching and biting each other and scratching each other. And I stood there and I’m saying to myself “They’re brothers! Why are they doing that!” I didn’t have any brothers. I had four sisters. And I couldn’t imagine – “Is this what it’s like to have brothers? But the Morrell family lived next door to each other forever – they’re still there, I guess. What’s left of them.
WM: Were there any other school traditions besides the Mardi Gras?
JP: Oh yeah.
KP: …how about the lines leaving school? The rich and then the very rich…
LD: The up-street line, and the down-street line…
JP: You couldn’t break it until you were across the bridge and then you could break. You marched up the street single file.
WM: Was somebody leading you?
KP: Usually the nuns.
JP: And there was a Safety Patrol. It was a big thing to join the Safety Patrol. Tommy
Knox was the captain of our Safety Patrol. The guy who ran for Mayor? The multi-millionaire that you hear about? Tommy Knox was our captain. He had a bunch of brothers.
WM: Who was Principal when you were there?
JP: I forget that. I remember Sister Rosalita. She loved the boys. Boys could do no wrong. Girls were always in the wrong; the boys were in the right. Sister Rosalita – she was a doll. Sister Helen Marie – they called her bulldog.
LD: Did they have Bingo?
JP: Yes. They had Bingo.
WM: Tell us about living in East Falls. Shopping…can you describe the shopping district?
JP: We shopped at Caldwell’s store on Conrad Street which was next to where my real estate office was. You would go up there and buy your meat for the day.
WM: Near Epicure?
LD: No, closer. Closer to Ainslie.
JP: Yes, right next door. It’s a duplex now. That was Caldwell’s store. And they were butchers. You’d go in there and they’d have meat hanging up in a butcher locker and they had potatoes and onions and all. And they had toilet paper on the top shelf. You used to catch a thing and grab it and push it down.
And there was Love’s store up on Sunnyside. And then there was the Green Corner – that was a store right at the railroad tracks.
LD: Indian Queen Lane and the railroad tracks.
JP: There was a store on the 4000 block of Ridge Avenue that I own now that was – big Italian family – Joe Caruso’s. And there was the store at the top of the bridge there – which was Caruso’s – and there was Caruso’s in the middle of Calumet. And there were stores all over the place. And then on Conrad there was an Acme Market store on the corner of Bowman and Conrad Street – there was an Acme Market store! That’s where the apartments are now – one was a paper grants (?) and then on the corner was the Acme Market. But we didn’t have shopping centers. We didn’t have giant supermarkets.
Acme was the first one, then A & P came along.
LD: There were a lot of drug stores…
JP: Oh, drug stores! There was Katzie’s was at the corner of New Queen and Conrad Street. And there was Love’s on Indian Queen Lane and Vaux. And then there was the Tilden Drug Store. And there was Doc Cedar’s store down on the Ridge.
LD: And wasn’t there McDermott’s at Sunnyside?
JP: McDermott’s was a candy store at Sunnyside and Conrad and he was in partners – it was Joe Fitzpatrick and Mr. McDermott. They were partners. And one would run it one week and one would run it the next week. And we used to sit there and read the comic books for free. “This is no library, you know!” But I was friends with Joe Fitzpatrick,
who was his son.
WM: What else do you remember about that store?
JP: It had three telephone booths in it, in the front. It was a nickel for a phone call. It had a soda fountain – an old soda fountain. They would fresh-pack the ice cream into containers. And of course they had copy books, pencils, and penny candy. We’d drive the guy crazy – I’ll have one of them – no, I’ll have one of those…
WM: A woman sent me a story about that store and picking out her candy…
JP: Yep, that’s it. Penny candy. It went into a little brown bag that he would put the candy in.
KP: What kind of ice cream did he sell? Was it Breyers?
JP: I think it was Dolly Madison. And he hand-packed it.
KP: It would drive him crazy if you couldn’t read – asking him to read all the flavors.
JP: And Bob’s had Breyer’s. Bob’s was where the deli was, where the Hindu guy just opened up. That was Bob’s and he sold ice cream in there. And that would be hand-packed too.
WM: And where was Fiedler’s Pharmacy?
JP: Fiedler’s Pharmacy was on the corner of Ridge and Stanton. The Victorian on the corner.
WM: Now where would you go for clothes?
JP: You’d go to Len’s at the bottom of Bowman and Cresson Street. You’d go with five or six dollars and you’d get a brand new pair of Lee’s jeans, a shirt, and a pair of sneakers, and a buzz haircut and you were set for the summer. He was a Jewish guy. Very nice, wonderful man. He took care of the neighborhood. He would box it.
WM: Was it where the Italian Club was?
JP: Right across the street. They tore it down. He donated it to the East Falls Sports Association. That’s how he left. He donated it and he retired. He was a nice man. He was a gentleman. He was a really nice man.
LD: He kind of looked like Lawrence Welk.
JP: Yes, he did. He had pepper hair. He liked my father. He talked well of my father.
He never treated you like a kid. You were the customer.
KP: When you left the store though, after you bought the new sneakers – I remember this when I moved into the neighborhood because all of the lines along that street were just tons of sneakers…
JP: You’d throw your old sneakers up – that was a rite of passage.
WM: What other kinds of stores were in East Falls?
JP: Well, you had Len’s for clothes, you had Katzie’s for pharmacy – or Mr. Fiedler. You had all the little grocery stores.
WM: Was there a florist? A shoemaker?
JP: There was a florist down on Midvale and a jeweler there – Kay’s Jewelry was down on Midvale. And there was a photographer across from the church. He did most of the photography…
WM: Was that Brownworth?
JP: No. It was another name, but he was across from the school.
LD: It wasn’t Sieger was it? I think that might have been Roxborough. Wasn’t there a lingerie or women’s store at the bottom of Eveline and Ridge?
JP: There was a furniture store – Minesol’s Furniture.
LD: That was on the other corner, but I guess you wouldn’t have shopped for women’s clothes
JP: There was a firehouse and an undertaker across the street. And there was a gas station on the corner and next to that was the Blue Star Restaurant. Every Greek restaurant was called the Blue Star Restaurant.
WM: Where was this, on Ridge?
JP: On Ridge, heading east. There was a giant hardware store on the corner.
WM: In Palestine Hall?
JP: That’s where it was, and upstairs was Odd Fellow’s Hall. And across the street there was this Amoco gas station. I have some 8mm movies…
LD: Now wasn’t there a Catholic shop beside the hardware store?
JP: There was something there like that.
LD: A religious store.
JP: And there was a barber shop – Arrera’s barber shop – next to the Greek restaurant and then there a break, and then there was the old Falls Tavern back off from the street.
the Falls Tavern. And the back escape steps from the poolroom – we’d run back out there when the cops came in the front.
KP: All his relatives – the older ones – had their functions there. There were lots of pictures people passed around.
WM: I wish I had been in the town to see that. What other restaurants were there?
JP: Well, down by Scott’s Lane – Scott’s and the Ridge was another Greek Restaurant. We used to go in there a lot. My father liked his coffee piping hot. And the bar was called Pollack’s, on the corner, which became the Catfish or something?
LD: The Catfish Café.
JP: And that was called Pollack’s. That was a bar with beveled glass windows.
LD: Wasn’t there a Chinese restaurant somewhere near Ridge and Midvale?
JP: No, they served Chinese food on Friday night at the Falls Tavern. That’s where I learned to shrimp chow mein. Because we were Catholic – you had to have fish cakes – but along came the Chinese who saved us with shrimp chow mein.
JP: Quinney ’s? She wasn’t talking about bars…Quinney’s was a bar on the corner of Conrad and Ainslie Streets which was across from Tilden Pharmacy and the Tilden Food Market. Quinney ’s Bar, on Friday night at the back door, you could get seafood out the back door – crab cakes and a bag of French fries. And Rosie would be in there making the seafood: ”And what can I do for you tonight, lad?” (said in Irish brogue). She was lovely! She was as big as me, and her and her girlfriend were in the kitchen back there and they made the fried crab cakes. They smelled of the crabcakes and the fries. For 25 cents you got a bag of French fries. My mother would send me up to get some French fries.
KP: I thought she had really good clam chowder.
JP: I don’t remember that, Kath. I don’t remember the clam chowder. I remember the crab cakes and the French fries and I remember the smell of stale beer, and they had a ladies entrance on the side. If you were a lady you had to go in the bar by the ladies entrance. My uncle was our front getting loaded every night – my uncle Jim Kelly. He would stagger out with Mr. Dean. Mr. Dean would go down Ainslie and Uncle Jim would walk up.
WM: Where would you go for a dentist and doctor?
JP: The dentist was on down on Midvale Avenue next to Pete’s Spaghetti House. There was a dentist in there. And there was a photographer studio in there. Pete’s Spaghetti House it was called – it was a bar. Pete Mazzio had a Thunderbird convertible – he used to drive around in a little two-seated convertible. He was quite a handsome guy. He was quite the ladies man. Pete’s Spaghetti House – Joe Caruso was the bartender for years. He married Betty Caruso. He lived in my mother’s house when he first got married – a lot of people started in my mother’s apartment in her house.
WM: What was your dentist’s name?
JP: Oh, I don’t remember that. Doreia?
LD: Was Dr. Fiedler your doctor?
JP: Dr. Fiedler was my doctor. He lived across the street from my mother.
WM: What was he like?
JP: Oh he was great. He was a little stiff shirt –little official. His father was the pharmacist. They called Doc Fiedler, the pharmacist, was called Doc Fiedler. When you got hurt you’d go in there and he’d fix you up
LD: They were brothers.
KP: Were they father and son or brothers?
JP: Father and son.
LD: Wasn’t Fiedler’s Drug Store and the doctor brothers?
JP: No, no,
LD: Didn’t he have another brother that worked in the drug store?
JP: There were a lot of Fiedlers. Some of them were in trouble.
LD: But as stiffshirt as he was, he did make house calls.
JP: Oh yeah. But I mean he was very official. He wasn’t one for a joke or anything.
LD: Very straight laced.
KP: One day my dog was having puppies and one got stuck and I made him come over to the basement and my mother walked across the street and he helped me get the puppy out. It wasn’t his usual duty.
JP: I met, next door, Mrs. McCarthy who had little cats. (jumbled…) So I dipped the cats in the paint cans. I colored the cats – I painted the cats!
LD: Your dad had a work car. Did that double as the family car?
JP: Oh yeah. My dad always had a station wagon because he needed it for his business, for his tools. And that was always the family car too.
He coached the East Falls football team and he would haul the cheerleaders around in the back of the car, getting paint all over their cheerleading outfits. He would back out of the driveway and crash into the tree across the street, like every day.
WM: On Calumet Street?
JP: On Ainslie Street. He had a ‘56 Chevy station wagon and he would back out and hit the tree. And it got so we had a case of lenses in the garage and he would change the lenses when he hit the tree!
KP: It took about 30 years to kill the tree.
JP: The tree was totally imbedded with red glass from my father hitting the tree. So I turned 16 and he takes me out for my first driving lesson. I put it in reverse. I hit the tree. Now any other father would have gotten upset but he turned to me and said “Chip off the old block!” and we drove away. I hit the tree; I couldn’t believe it!
LD: Now if you wanted to go to Germantown or anything did you drive?
JP: The 52 trolley, which was like a dime at the time, or you walked. Ok, you walked.
WM: What would you go to Germantown for?
JP: Germantown had everything. Lit had Allen’s, it had Rowell’s; these were two big department stores. It had all the stores. It was a shopping – it was like Frankford Avenue. In Philadelphia, you had an attitude that you shopped.
KP: Germantown was big shopping all the way up to…?
JP: So out closest shopping districts – you either got on the train and went to town, or you went to Germantown.
WM: If you went to town you’d have to take the train?
JP: You’d take the train to town to Reading Terminal. It was wonderful for a kid – all kinds of smells and sounds, thousands of people. And in the train station itself they had huge model trains there in cases. They were beautiful. They were works of art.
And then you went down the escalator and there was Horn & Hardart’s and you got a custard cup or a cup of beans. Or you went to the automat – you put the nickels in – it was a wonderful place!
And then you went outside to Market Street and the guy was selling fresh chestnuts – roasted chestnuts right in front of the Arrow Shirt Store next to the Reading Terminal. And then you went to Snellenburgs and Wanamakers and Gimbels and Lit Brothers. Your mother would haul you all through these stores. We had an aunt who worked in Snellenburgs, ok, and she was a menta – that’s another story –but Aunt Frances was one of those ladies with the fluffy starched white thing with the watch which would hang off…
KP: A maiden lady.
JP: We’d go downtown or you went to Germantown.
WM: Would you go anywhere by bus?
JP: Well, East Falls had a lot of transportation. They had the 61 which was a trackless trolley that had electric – the pole went up but it was a bus with tires. We called that the African Queen because that would take you right up through north Philadelphia and that was its nickname. It went down Ridge Avenue and go through the deepest part of North Philadelphia.
Or you would take the Z bus, which was a little bus that navigated the hills of Manayunk and Roxborough and would take you to Erie Avenue and you’d get the subway at Erie Avenue. Or you’d take the A bus to the Franklin Institute and the Art Museum and would end up around City Hall – that was the terminus for the A bus. And then the 52 trolley, which was the real trolley car on tracks, would take you up to Germantown.
LD: And the turnaround was Ridge and Midvale.
JP: The turnaround was at Ridge and Midvale and we would run out and grab the pole – pull the pole down – and go to the other end and put the pole up so the trolley could go in the other direction. And the conductor would throw us a nickel or a dime. The sub-conductor would curse at us because he didn’t want us to touch it. But most of them would throw us a nickel or dime and you’d run into Hatchers bakery there and play the pinball machine or buy a doughnut. That was right there.
WM: Do you have any memories of the old train station?
JP: Oh, at the bottom of Ainslie? Oh yeah. The train station had a potbelly stove in the waiting room on the other side and we would go in there as kids and feed the potbelly stove. Of course the trainmaster would come across and chase us.
There was a freight station at the bottom of Ainslie Street