East Falls Historical Society Oral History Interview
Interviewee: Robert McClenahan (RM)
Interviewer: Lyda Doyle (LD)
Date of Interview: June 9, 2014
Transcriber: Wendy Moody
This is an oral history interview for the East Falls Historical Society on June 9, 2014 with Bob McClenahan at 3805 Vaux Street and the interview is being done by Lyda Doyle.
LD: So, Bob, when and where were you born?
RM: April 14, 1944 Where? Officially, Germantown Hospital, but we were living here in East Falls.
LD: So you’ve lived in East Falls all your life?
LD: And what was your occupation?
RM: I was an electrical engineer for Leeds and Northrup Company.
LD: And where was that located?
RM: When I was working for them they were located in North Wales, Pa. They were originally founded, and for many years, they were over on Stenton Avenue near Germantown Avenue, just a few blocks from Wayne Junction Station. An old established company making industrial instruments but they had moved, just before I started to work with them up to North Wales.
LD: So I guess I’m sort of jumping the gun on this – maybe we should have started out with your earlier years. Your first memories of East Falls…
RM: Well I’ve only lived in two homes: 3434 Midvale Avenue and that was from 1944, and then in 1954 we moved up here to Vaux Street and I’ve been here ever since.
LD: So you were 10 when you moved here then. Did you play outside at the other house? Or did you have friends?
RM: Yeah, I played around in a lot of places. I played a lot just in the driveway behind the house – the driveway that goes all the way down along the row of houses there. Actually I even remember some of the friends that I played with. It seems to me the back driveway was a good place to play in those days.
LD: How about Mifflin schoolyard?
RM: Oh yeah, I played in Mifflin schoolyard. Played in what we used to call the church lot – where our former manse (we’ve now sold it, but where it was). The house is still there. That was a vacant lot until that house was built. We played there all the time.
LD: What sort of games did you play? Do you remember?
RM: I really don’t.
LD: I remember playing Red Light/Green Light and Red Rover Come Over…
RM: I’ve heard all those things but I just don’t remember playing them myself. I probably did but I just don’t know.
The other place that I played is where we’re sitting right now, believe it or not. This house (3805 Vaux Street) and the two just like it here (3310 and 3314 W. Coulter), that was a big open – not open, it was actually a wooded lot, and there were paths running through it. We used to run around through there all the time too.
LD: Did you play Cowboys and Indians?
RM: Oh sure! Sure, all that kind of stuff. And of course we played in McMichael Park. I kind of remember occasionally going down to what they call today McDevitt Playground – I guess in those days it was Dobson’s Field. But I don’t really remember anything about what I did down there.
LD: It had a lot more property before the expressway cut it in half.
RM: Right, sure. We also played down at the school (Mifflin) in their school yard and in that rock garden that they have down there now – that was a little better kept than it is these days – we used to run though there all the time. We had a grand old time.
LD: Did you ride bikes?
RM: Yeah, we rode bikes. We used to ride up on Coulter Street and around these streets all the time on bikes and occasionally roller skates – the old roller skates with metal wheels and the key that tightened it down.
RM: Sledding? Yes. Well I guess there were basically two places you went sledding here. One was the Walnut Lane Golf Course and the other was down here at “The Nuts” as they call it– I forget what the real name of it was. I think at that time it was called Roseneath Farm or something like that.
LD: That was before Ravenhill bought it.
RM: Yes, I think it was something like a private sanitarium at the time which is why it got that rather politically incorrect name of “The Nuts.” But I don’t think most people who used the term knew why they were calling it that because they were calling it that because that’s what everyone called it.
LD: This is a single home. What your other home a single home also?
RM: It was a row house, 3434, about halfway down Midvale Avenue between Vaux and Conrad on the opposite side from where we are.
LD: Do you have any special memories growing up in East Falls?
RM: Well I don’t know “special”… I went to school… I guess most of the activities were centered around church (Falls Presbyterian).
LD: Did the church celebrate all the holidays? Religious and/or secular?
RM: Yeah. We had a Fourth of July picnic every year. Things like that.
LD: How about Christmas or Easter?
RM: Oh yeah, they celebrated all those.
LD: Were there activities for kids connected to them?
RM: Yeah, they used to have at Christmas time – I forget what they call it – it was like a Christmas party type thing and Santa Claus would come.
Santa Claus was Clarence Brehm (a member of the Church) –which we found out later. And he came in his Santa Claus outfit, of course. He would start way in the back of the church and you’d hear him start to sing. He would get closer and closer and closer until he was at the back door of the stage. And then he would go through the thing of calling people up – “What do you want for Christmas?” and everything. He was verygood at it.
The parents would always have to be there and they would say “I want a train” or something and he’d say “That’s interesting” and he’d look at the parents and expect the parents to indicate or gesture either yes or no. If they said yes, he’d say “I think maybe we could arrange that.” If they said no, he had a way of gracefully bowing out saying “Well, I don’t know if we have any of those left” or something like that.
And then he would get out his little hand puppet – he called him Pumpernickel – and Pumpernickel had no teeth! (laughs) He wasn’t really a ventriloquist but he could sort of play with Pumpernickel and have him sing a song. It was a good time.
LD: Were there any Easter Egg hunts or anything like that?
RM: Off and on they did. I don’t specifically remember Easter Egg hunts but I’m sure we did. We still have them today over there.
LD: When did the Strawberry Festival start?
RM: It originally started before I can remember. I don’t remember much about it back in the old days. And then it kind of stopped. And then it got rejuvenated essentially by the choir. They said “Let’s have a Strawberry Festival” which basically then became like a choir concert - a secular concert by the choir. And then they would serve strawberries afterwards. And then that grew into what it is today which is the same thing but it’s become very popular and we now do it every year. It’s coming up in about 5 days, actually. I think they did some other kind of Strawberry Festival before that when we were kids but I really don’t remember much about it.
LD: Do you remember a Christmas Train coming through around Christmas time with Santa Claus?
RM: Yes, yes, I do remember that. I don’t know where it came from – I mean it came on the Norristown Line but where it started I don’t know. But, yeah, it came through and it went all the way downtown, stopping at the stations and then downtown. I guess that was the same Santa Claus who would ride up Market Street to Gimbels.
LD: Gimbels or Wanamakers.
RM: I think it was Gimbels. And then they had a firetruck down there with its big ladder up to one of the upper story windows and the Santa Claus would come along and climb up the ladder and wave to everyone and go through the window and become the Santa Claus for the season in Gimbels.
LD: So did your parents take you down to the East Falls train station to see Santa Claus?
RM: I remember it happening - I don’t have any visual memories of actually seeing it but I’m sure I did, yeah, for all those years I’m sure we must have gone down there a few times to watch him come through. And I think when we did it was originally a steam engine, too.
LD: So, where did you go to school?
RM: Mifflin, from kindergarten to the first half of 8th grade. I didn’t actually graduate from Mifflin. My parents decided for high school they were going to send me to Friends Central on City Line.
At Mifflin I was in that split session arrangement where they had one class that graduated in June and the other class graduated in either January or February.
Well I was in the January or February and, of course, Friends Central operated on the normal September to June schedule. So there was a missing semester in there, and they decided after some conferences, the best thing for me to do would be to leave Mifflin after the first half of the 8th grade and start in the 8th grade at Friends Central. So in fact I backed up one semester. They said their standards were high enough that they thought I would benefit from that anyway. So for that reason I never really graduated from Mifflin.
LD: Do you remember any teachers or any special events at Mifflin?
RM: We were just going over that the other day. I can remember a whole bunch of teachers’ names. I can’t remember exactly where they were. Miss Murphy - Dorothy Murphy - she was the kindergarten teacher. And then I don’t remember who all the different grades were but there was a Mrs. Ream, there was a Mrs. Ruth Harnett, Gertrude Eldridge, Bessie Greenberg, Caroline DeVitis, Ruth Heck, and Mrs. McAllister – I can’t think of her first name. Then of course when you get up to the 7th/8thgrade, then you had a cycle situation with Josef Radetsky, Eleanor Dunn, Eleanor Sypher, Miss Young and Constance Lyons.
LD: And then did you have Shop also?
RM: Oh and shop also. With Floyd Simon with the Brown Bomber.
LD: What was the Brown Bomber?
RM: The paddle!
LD: Oh I forgot – the paddle! He probably made that himself, right?
RM: Yeah, it became called the Brown Bomber because it was shaped like the fuselage of a B-29 bomber (laughs). And he would hold it by the tail! Yeah, just about everybody tasted the bomber from time to time. He was sort of the school disciplinarian also.
LD: Oh ok. Kind of enjoyed his job…
RM: He did, but he knew how to control it. He often – not to me – I talked to my dad later and he said he had talked to him a few times and Simon said he would never use the bomber if he was mad because he knew that he might hurt somebody. But if you were screwing around in Shop, he’d say “Up to the green door.” And there was a song called something about the “Green Door” and on his desk he had a green blotter pad, like most desks do, well he called that the green door. So if you were going to get the bomber, you had to stand up with your hands on the blotter pad – wham! And if the class really got unruly, he’d say “All right, that’s it! Everybody line up!” And he just – wham - one paddle for everybody in the class (boys only, of course) (laughs)
LD: Do you remember anything you made in Shop?
RM: No, I don’t think so. I sort of remember some sort of a tray. It had handles, and holes in either end to set cups or glasses. I can’t imagine where I would have made that if it weren’t in Shop. I know it was something we made somewhere.
LD: How about Shoeshine kits? Birdhouses?
RM: I really don’t remember that. Probably made all those things but I just don’t remember. Once in a while we – it was more the girls, but the guys would have to do it too - the cooking class with Lena Terrell.
I was surprised at how many of those teachers I could remember. Some of them had unique ways of discipline! (laughs) Mrs. Sypher and Mrs. Dunn – well, a lot of them – if you were really bad you had to stand outside in the hall as the classes went by so everyone knew you had been bad.
They had one particular thing they did – if you were caught chewing gum, you had to stand outside and put the piece of gum on your nose and stand there in the hall as everyone went by. And Mrs. Sypher, occasionally, if there was enough gum, she had a way of putting it on your nose and then stretching it back to your ears! And you would stand there that way.
And one of the teachers, Mrs. Ream, if you were bad, you had to sit under her desk! It was one that didn’t have a modesty panel on the side that faced the class – it was open – so you would have to sit there – she would be right behind you - her legs would be right down here, and you had to sit there looking out from under the desk at all your classmates (laughs) These little things probably wouldn’t be allowed today but somehow we got through it, and we’re better for it.
LD: Do you remember assemblies or programs?
RM: Oh yeah. I just thought of two more - as soon as you said that - two more names: Viola Pastoret and Jenny Fishbein. They were two more. Yeah, we had assembly.
LD: Was it every day?
RM: At least once a week. Yeah, at least. And I know there was - I don’t know how they classify it but up to the 6th grade was one level, and then the 7thand 8th grade – and the assemblies were different. Mrs. Fishbein, Jenny Fishbein, was in charge of the one for the lower grades. I remember that. And Mrs. Sypher took care of the ones for the upper classes.
LD: Do you remember singing in assemblies?
RM: Yeah, particularly I remember that with Mrs. Sypher because she was also the music teacher. So, oh yeah, I remember her up there – she had a very expressive way of leading. When you went in there was always music playing. And one of the jobs you hoped you’d be able to get was to run the music. The music was played from a little room beside the stage and while everyone else was in assembly, you’d be up there sitting with the record machine.
You felt real important! And then someone else, when it was over, before the assembly started – when the music ended, it was always somebody’s job to get up, walk up on to the stage and say “You have been listening to….” and then give the name of the piece that was played and then come down. Again, you felt important if you got those jobs.
LD: So were you baptized here at the Presbyterian Church?
RM: That is a question that’s not quite clear. You know the church originally started on Ridge Avenue and then they built this building here. There was a gap of I think a couple of years. They had to sell the old church basically to get enough money to finish the new one. Well, they had all sorts of problems with building this church because the Depression, Second World War, and the contractors went bankrupt and all kinds of stuff.
LD: I didn’t even know that piece of it.
RM: Yeah, it went on for years. So there was a gap. So they had to move…well you know the church started in the Old Academy, as did almost every church in East Falls, except one. Then when they had to leave the old church, they actually went back to what was called at the time the Young Men’s Association. I think East Falls Young Men’s Association. It’s the building that is now next to the Old Academy. They own it. The Old Academy owns it. Now they call it the Carfax Building. But it was originally – it was sort of like a youth social club type of thing. There’s a gymnasium. The church moved back in there in the interim and we think I came along in that interim!
LD: In the nick of time to be baptized there.
RM: Yeah, the record says baptized in this building but we know that the church had an opening dedication in December of 1944 and my baptism date is earlier than that. So while the record says here, we think it was probably in fact in the Carfax building.
LD: I want to go back – I thought of a question - what was the one church that didn’t start at the Old Academy.
RM:I was afraid you’d ask. I think it’s the Good Shepherd. The Methodists did, I know. St. Bridget’s did. We did. I’m pretty sure the Baptists did.
LD: I believe the Good Shepherd would probably be the newest of all the churches.
RM :I think it was, yeah.
LD: So where did you and the family shop for food, clothes and things like that?
RM:Well I guess if we went to a supermarket type thing it would probably be over at Greene and Chelten. There was a market over there called Penn Fruit at the time – there still is (a different name), a very small one compared to today’s markets. But I think that’s where they went for a market but they also went to the local stores here. There was a little delicatessen right across from – well, today it’s the East Falls Post Office - called Helen’s Delicatessen. They shopped there. There’s that Tilden Market over on Tilden Street.
For clothing and other items, we shopped either in Germantown at Allen’s Department store at Greene and Chelten or Rowell’s at Germantown and Chelten or in the big stores in center city.
LD: Did you ever go to the Conrad Market? That was at Bowman and Conrad?
RM: I guess occasionally but I don’t remember going there as much.
LD: How about pharmacies?
Well, pharmacies, that was easy. That was Jimmy Buchanan. James Buchanan, which is at Indian Queen Lane and Vaux Street. Right at the end. A little tiny little hole-in-the-wall but that’s where we went. He and his wife Helen lived right above the store.
LD: I remember their son Bill. What were the streets like and public transportation? I know we talked a little bit about the Christmas train.
RM: Well the public transportation here was the 52 trolley. The closest thing to it today is the K bus. It was one of those double-ended trolleys. It came from – I don’t know where it actually started over in the Oak Lane area or someplace, but then came all the way through Germantown and then finally down Midvale and dead ended in front of what today is Johnny Manana’s. It came down the center of Midvale, and then the tracks turned over and went right in along the curb and then just dead ended. And he (the driver) would get out and he would pull the trolley thing down in the back and put it up in the front.
LD: The poles that contacted the overhead.
RM: Yeah, the poles. And then he’d go again.
LD: Was the 5 & 10 there?
RM: That was what it was, the 5 & 10. I say today it is Johnny Manana’s but the 5 & 10 was there. Caddy-corner to that was the Falls Hardware run by the Kersons. I can’t remember the guy’s name but the woman’s name was Ruth. The two of them and another guy – his name was Max – I don’t remember what his last name was, but they were the ones who waited on you all the time.
LD: I kind of remember wooden floors and a wooden counter, and wooden little cubby holes with all the different things that they sold …
RM: That sounds familiar. I can picture all three of them. Mr. Kerson was kind of a fairly heavy-set, round red-faced type of guy. Max was little, short, hustling around, very knowledgeable though – anything you needed – he would say “Is this what you need?”
LD: Did Mrs. Kerson have a Bette Davis hairdo – a bob they called it – kinda short with waves.
RM: I don’t remember that.
LD: Major Drug was there then too?
RM: Yeah, it was. I never quite sure. There was also an American Store down there which was another place we shopped. I had in my mind that it was on the corner but it couldn’t have been because Major Drug was there, so I suspect it was around the corner near the hardware store.
LD: Were all the streets paved back then in East Falls? Was there cobblestone or brick?
RM: Well, there was a lot of cobblestone – well, Belgian block they call it. If I remember correctly Midvale would be paved along the side and then where the tracks were was Belgian block. This street out here, Vaux Street, had what they called country paving – paved in the center but the shoulders were unpaved. They call that country paved.
LD: I kind of think Crawford Street, as you walked down to the Bathey, was Belgian block.
RM: Now that you say that, you may be right. Coulter Street was brick and still is.
LD: I think Heywood Street was yellow brick and Coulter’s red.
RM: Yes, that’s right.
LD: And Stanton was Belgian block as you came down from Skidoo Street.
RM: I don’t remember the details. Transportation was basically the 52 trolley. The “A” bus to get into town and the train. The 61 trackless trolley ran on Ridge Avenue but I don’t think I ever rode it, the 61 the whole time I lived here, until a couple of years ago when I took the 61 bus into town for something.
LD: Are there any special people you remember who contributed to the life in East Falls or who stand out in your mind.
RM: I’ll have to think about that.
LD: That’s ok. Did your dad work in East Falls?
RM: He did not. He worked in a number of places. I think he started working at the Stetson Hat Factory somewhere in Philadelphia; I don’t know where. Then he worked for a refrigeration contractor – installing refrigerators in houses and small stores and they were out in Upper Darby, west Philadelphia somewhere. During the Depression he worked as a gardener of some sort in West Laurel Hill Cemetery. And then he worked, seemed like everyone in our family worked at Leeds and Northrup for a couple of years.
And then when the wartime came along, he managed to get a job with the War Department as an inspector. He went around to all the suppliers of armaments and equipment to inspect their facilities and inspect the products and that sort of thing.
So he went off to the war during that and then he met somebody who was also working there who was associated with Merck, Sharp and Dohme Pharmaceuticals Company and, through him, he got a job with them. And that’s where he really worked his whole career, was with Merck. Well, it was Sharp and Dohme, then it became Merck, Sharp and Dohme and then it became Merck.
LD: That’s who he retired from.
RM: That started down in center city and moved up to North Wales. There were a number of other members of the family who worked. I guess anybody who worked in East Falls worked at Dobson Mills. That was about it for employment in East Falls.
LD: So vacations? Did you go to the movies around here? What did you do on weekends?
RM: Well, yeah, we went to movies. We went down to the Alden and over to the Orpheum. We went to the shore for vacations, pretty much until a number of years later when we started to travel.
LD: Did you do any fishing?
RM: Fishing? Well, when I was much younger, I used to go down with some friends to the Schuylkill and with a little tiny hook, we’d put little pieces of bread on it and try to catch a little fish about three inches long. A sunfish or whatever they are. Then when we started to go to the shore, we
started to fish down there. We weren’t very good at it. It sorta seems later that we went fishing because we knew dad liked to fish. According to Dave, anyway, it turned out later that dad went fishing because he thought we liked to fish.
LD: Are there any special events in East Falls that stand out in your mind?
RM: Well I guess the 4th of July was the big event. Everyone had their parades and picnics. Ours was – well, what I remember was up at Penn Charter although in the old days I’m told the picnic was held between what’s now Kelly Drive and the river, behind the old Church on Ridge Avenue.
LD: You mean the Falls Presbyterian one.
RM: Yes, the Falls Presbyterian one.
LD: Do you remember parades?
RM: Well we had a parade before the picnic. There were a couple of times when East Falls put together a big parade for the Bicentennial or certain Memorial Days they would do it.
LD: The whole community.
RM: A whole community type of thing. The 4th of July was always – each church had their own parade. Our parade started right here. First of all, somebody – I guess it was Ray Stark, who was a Sunday school teacher, got a truck with a sound system on it and he’d put a record on it and he would play marches as we marched up from church over to Coulter Street over to Penn Charter.
The Methodist Church, who had their picnic also in Penn Charter in the opposite end of the property, they would parade all the way from their church. And of course they had a band – they had the drum and bugle corps. So after a while, we got to the point where instead of getting the sound track, we simply waited for them and they would go up with their band as they passed we would fall in behind them and go up together and then split there. And then eventually we combined the whole picnic and the parade, and we would all go down to the Methodist Church to gather there.
LD: So everyone pretty much walked. Were there kids on bicycles?
RM: Yeah, the kids on bicycles. And the older people, we had cars and we drove them
LD: And the kids decorated their bikes?
RM: Absolutely. Crepe paper streamers in the spokes of their wheels, yeah! And they decorated themselves too – hats. For a while, we started having each of the Sunday school classes make up a little float or something. Some of them got fairly imaginative. Then that kind of all tapered off. Attendance started to go down, but we had some pretty good parades. The Bicentennial parade was the big one. We were all involved in that.
LD: Did people wear colonial costumes?
RM: For the Bicentennial parade, yes we did. Dave and I both had George Washington costumes that mom had made for us. They were originally made for the bicentennial celebration in the church – the service and dinner – we wore the costumes. And then when we had the community parade, we just put them on again.
LD: Oh that’s interesting.
RM: They were blue with lace trims with yellow strips - gold trim. We had white wigs.
LD: Do you have a sense of East Falls as a unique place - lifestyle, homes, community?
RM: Well, yeah. When we grew up in East Falls, it was a community - I don’t want to use the term closed community, but it was a community. You were in East Falls. All your friends were in East Falls, all your activities were in East Falls. When you got married you likely as not found your mate in East Falls.
It’s much different today, of course – it’s a much more transient nature. But that’s the thing I remember – everything was in East Falls and particularly, a lot of stuff was centered around the churches.
I can remember, it used to be that if you were trying to describe a person to somebody else, or asking about a person, you started out by asking which church they went to. If you were saying: “Do you remember Mrs. So and So? She was a Methodist” (laughs). That immediately identified them and the circle of people around them.
LD: You were born way after the Depression, Prohibition, and even World War II, but do you remember anything about the Korean War or Vietnam? How it affected anyone from East Falls?
RM: Vietnam, yes. Korean War, no. I was still about 10 years old so that didn’t have much effect on me. With Vietnam, obviously, the main thing I remember was trying not to have to go. But several people that did go, and we had one death in the church – somebody who died over there, Ricky (Richard) Whitehouse.
LD: I forgot that he was in your church.
RM: Yeah, he was killed in Vietnam. Yeah, it was a real struggle not to have to go over there. Basically, between going to college and then going to work at Leeds & Northrup, they were able to qualify - they did a lot of work, not as much for Vietnam, but they had the reputation – so they were able to obtain deferments for their employees.
LD: So they were still doing work for the defense industry, somewhat.
RM: Somewhat. They had done a whole lot during the Second World War – I have pictures of the award ceremony that they had. And the Army brass would come and give awards for the company’s contributions to the war effort and war production. In Vietnam, mostly, they were able to justify that by the fact that they were making the instruments that allowed heavy industry to work, and the heavy industry was making the war materials. So, they would say, in the chain of events, our product was important for defense so we were able to get deferments (4E’s).
LD: Do you remember presidential elections, or assassinations? How they affected life in East Falls.
RM: Well, sure, it affected life. I mean, sure, I remember them. I don’t remember them necessarily affecting Falls in any particular way.
LD: Do you remember any radio or television shows? Or movies growing up?
RM: Oh yeah, of course all the kids shows. Buster Brown. Willie the Worm, Howdy Doody after that. And then we had to go to dinner. If dinner was late, and we were very good, then we were allowed to watch a little of Frontier Playhouse (cowboy movies).
LD: So what changes do you think we’ve seen over the years in East Falls?
RM: Well, it’s not the same concept of the neighborhood that it was. There’s much more coming and going today. It used to be that you had to be very careful in East Falls about talking to anybody because so many people knew everybody else. In fact, if you talked about somebody probably the person you were talking to was somehow related to them. (laughs) So you had to be very careful.
Now, that’s not true anymore. It was always surprising while you traced the family webs that everybody seemed to be interconnected in some way, shape or form. I guess some of our family were considered newbies in East Falls. I remember hearing that you weren’t considered a “Fallser” unless you were at least second or third generation in the Falls. Much of our family came from Kensington/Frankford area when they first came to America.
LD: So do you have anything else you’d like to add that we didn’t cover?
RM: Let’s see, what else did I do? I never played in any of the East Falls sports associations but I did play - the church had a team in the Roxborough Church League.
LD: A team of what?
RM: Softball. I was not very good, but I ended up being President of the League for 25 years.
LD: Oh boy! You definitely contributed to it then!
RM: We (the Falls) had actually two teams – the league was mostly in Roxborough and Manayunk, but we had two teams in East Falls that played in it – ours and the Falls Methodist. And, in fact, we were bitter rivals. Oh yeah! There were some rough-tough games between those two teams. Of course you should know something about our East Falls team because Bill Furman was our star pitcher.
LD: I knew he played…
RM: He was a very good pitcher. Buckleys were Methodist. Once again, right away we associate a name with a church! They were Methodists. The Hornes and Dave Webster - they were all associated with the Methodists.
LD: I know Dave Budenz’s dad played but I’m not sure if Dave played.
RM: If he did it was before I got involved.
LD: Dave was my age.
RM: Oh the young Dave? I don’t ever remember him being involved with that league. I started playing for them in late high school and early college. Most of the guys in the church were part of the softball team so I did. Mostly for a while I’d get in when we were way ahead or way behind. But then eventually, the guy who managed them, Ralph Hamilton needed some help and I started to pitch in and help him a little bit.
Eventually, I ended up taking over the team and then I got involved in the league and I guess I opened up my big mouth too many times about things and ended up being elected president. After 25 years, I finally had to say – because they wouldn’t stop re-electing me – so I finally decided to leave one day – “That’s it! I’m out!” which is pretty good for somebody who was a lousy ballplayer.
LD: Everybody has their talents.
RM: I could deal with organizations – I wasn’t a manager in the sense that I was a coach – I couldn’t tell somebody how to play ball better. They could tell me better than I could tell them. I guess that was my biggest sports accomplishment.
Well, and then we used to play volleyball in the church – you wouldn’t believe it if you looked in our Fellowship Room because the ceiling wasn’t much higher than this living room (an exaggeration). We had a very unique style of volleyball – it was totally illegal. But we would do it and we got good at it. You carried the ball more than you were allowed to by official rules – you couldn’t bump the ball like you were supposed to in volleyball because you’d hit the ceiling every time. So you had to use your palm - well that’s illegal but pretty tough stuff handling the ball that way. So every Tuesday night – we played volley ball in the church and that went on for years and years. I was pretty good at that actually!
LD: Well, it’s great exercise.
RM: Yeah. Almost all of the men in the church played from time to time. Jim Linton, Bill Harrison, Ralph Hamilton, all of them. Ralph Hamilton was a very good friend of ours – golfing buddies. As I said, he got me started in softball and he was very good at volleyball – a little short guy but he was very good at volleyball. And one night we were playing volleyball and he had a heart attack on the volleyball court. He died later that night. They took him to the hospital and, technically, he was still alive but he died in the hospital or on the way. That was quite a shock because he was a very good friend.
LD: That must have been difficult. Now you mentioned golf; did you play golf?
RM: Yeah, it was always a group from the church – anywhere from 4 (foursomes) to-8 – we’d go out almost every Saturday in good weather.
LD: Where did you play?
RM: It kind of rotated around. They’d play in Center Square, Skippack, Montgomeryville, Valley Forge – a variety of places – Upper Dublin somewhere.
LD: Did you every play at Walnut Lane?
RM: Once in a while they would play at Walnut Lane, yeah. And my dad was part of that group. So after a while, they got a little bit older, and I guess they needed someone to fill in and they allowed me to go along with them. I never got as good as some of them were. Then gradually that sort of died off and then it sort of became just Dave and myself and Ralph Hamilton. We would meet somewhere – not every week – we wouldn’t do it on Saturdays. Saturdays were too crowded. What we would do was meet on a Friday night and try to get in – we’d never get in 18 – we’d get in about 15 or 16 before it got dark. Yeah, we played quite a lot of golf.
LD: Did you ever play Green Briar or as that a private club across the river?
RM: Don’t recall that. No, I never played there.
LD: There was an East Falls Golf Association for quite a number of years.
RM: Yes, I don’t know anything about it. I was not involved in it.
LD: I just recall seeing trophies in store windows. So do you have anything else you’d like to add?
RM: Well I don’t know… We like to walk around East Falls and try to remember what was there way back. Sometimes it’s successful and sometimes not. We were walking along Ridge Avenue down there trying to figure out where everything was. The funeral parlor – Turner’s Funeral Parlor…
LD: And where was that on Ridge?
RM: Right along the row where the post office is now – between the post office and the gas station. Another thing that was there was the barbershop that we went to.
LD: How about the dentist.
RM: We were just discussing that the other day. The dentist I remember was on Midvale Avenue right near St. Bridget’s. I remember it in a house that was sort of adjacent to what is now the convent. It stands by itself. There were actually two or three…
LD: Wasn’t the post office there?
RM: The post office was one of them. And I thought I remembered the dentist being in one of them. Dave says no, it was below closer to Ridge Avenue. But it was in there somewhere – his name was Dr. Duryea; I remember that.
LD: Do you remember the Falls Tavern? That was down there near Turner’s and where the gas station is.
RM: I sort of remember that, yeah. Helen’s Store was right across the street from that. Felix Herrera’s barbershop was there and that’s where we went to the barber’s until he closed that shop and moved up with his brother Freddie on Conrad Street. Then we started going there.
LD: Well ok. Do you feel there is anything else?
RM: We could probably come up with all the neighbors where we were on Midvale Avenue. I couldn’t remember the houses but I came up with about six names.
LD: And what were those six?
RM: Right on the corner, closest to Vaux Street, was the Guano’s, and then coming down were the Schwartz – the young fellow named Ford Schwartz was a buddy of Dave’s - his father was a policeman, and then there was another friend of his named John Paige who lived down there, and then the Studells, and Pauline and Morris Gable, and Ray Stark and then us.
And then below that was the Grimes - Florence and Bob Grimes. And either one or two doors below that were the Yosts - Howard and Mary Yost. There were a couple of school teachers who lived down on the lower end of that row. I think their name was Rementer but I’m not really sure about that.
And I think there was a Miss McAllister who I know was a teacher in the school who lived in that row somewhere. I only have a rough idea in the row – the only ones we know are the Ray Stark and Grimes who lived next to us and Gables who lived the next one up. She was kind of big sister to my mom, and took care of us from time to time and that sort of thing. The Studells had a daughter - a son and a daughter – and the daughter, Joyce, was a little bit older than us and babysat for us all the time.
I don’t remember anybody across the street, believe it or not – I can’t imagine why, but I can remember all those names in the same row but right across the street I can’t remember anybody. Not a soul! Except of course the church manse was there – it was down originally where the church was. Before they moved the church, the manse went into disrepair so they had to tear it down. They bought a new one down on Midvale Avenue about four doors below the present church and that was the manse until the 1950s when they built this one across the street.
Other than that, I didn’t know anyone on that block. East Falls was a good place – it had a family feeling. It’s still there to some extent but less and less as time goes on. Even in our own church, where it used to be that if you weren’t at least a third generation in the church, you were a newbie. Now, I don’t think now there are any second generation – well, maybe you, me –there are a couple of us but it’s becoming less and less. That’s the difference between today and the way it was when I was growing up.
LD: Thank you very much.
RM: You’re welcome.
East Falls Historical Society Oral History Interview
FRIENDS OF MCMICHAEL PARK HISTORY
Interviewee: Alexis Franklin, Founder and Coordinator of Friends of McMichael Park (AF)
Interviewer: Ellen Sheehan (ES)
Date of Interview: July 22, 2009
ES: I would like to ask you about your initial involvement with the Friends of McMichael Park.
Alexis: Hello. We started the Friends of McMichael Park because there was a need. The six acres were neglected. Trash cans were overflowing and it became a dumping ground, unfortunately, in the neighborhood where people would throw spare tires and sofas and the grass was three feet tall and I got tired of looking at it one day and 1 went over and posted small signs all around the park that said the turtle needed a friend. I scheduled a meeting at the Redeemer Lutheran Church, not knowing who or what would show up and Anne Land came along with a representative of the Department of Recreation and the room was filled with people who were concerned with McMichael Park. So that is how it started. Everyone agreed that it needed attention hut there wasn't anyone spearheading so Tom Williams and Keith Shively, who lived across from the park were willing to act as coordinators with me to get things started; write letters, start a Friends group, open a bank account, get our EIN number and make contact with other community organizations.
ES: Are you a non-profit?
Alexis: We are non-profit. We kind of "ride the coat tails" of the East Falls Development Corporation. They have been very helpful since the very beginning. We are going back 20 years to 1989.
ES: Did you live near McMichael Park?
Alexis: I lived catty-comer to the Park right on Henry Avenue. I grew up on Queen Lane. I moved there in 1959 and attended Ravenhill Academy so I used to walk to school every day and go through the park. At that time the park was attended to. It wasn't as bad as later. It got progressively worst. We were at the mercy of swimming pools and recreation fields that needed the attention obviously because the children needed swimming pools. So our grass wasn't being cut because the swimming pools needed to be open or the baseball fields needed attention, so we were put on the back burner and that's why the conditions got so bad.
ES: So at the time the park was under the auspices of the Recreation Dept. Did that change?
Alexis: Our City Councilman was Michael Nutter, who is now the Mayor. The Friends met with Michael Nutter and we discussed the fact that we were a passive park, which means we do not have a baseball or basketball field, so because we were a passive park we felt it was more of a grass cutting, peaceful place and we felt we should be under Fairmount Park because they were the ones who could really take care of it. They had arborists, which the Recreation Dept. did not have. They started sub-contracting the grass cutting and we have the grass cut every two weeks.
ES: Have they cooperated with you for these past twenty years?
Alexis:Actually, they have. There have been a number of district managers over the years, through Fairmount Park. We are part of District 3, and they are based on Henry Avenue, across from the Saul High School, up in Roxborough. They drive by every day. If they see a tree has fallen they are right there. They have been receptive. Any problems with the water fountain, they repair.
They assisted with the small stone walls on either side of the sign. They have given it a nice presentation. Anything we need they write letters of support. They help us get additional funding for the Park. The Friends provide maintenance but there are some things we cannot do. We cannot do cement work. We can't do masonry or large trees. We do have large trees since the park was established in 1929. If we need a major work we can get a pruning grant from a local arborist.
ES: Has the community in general supported you?
Alexis:Absolutely. We have always encourage people to use the park. Dog walkers use it and take care of it. We have nice people who stock pile debris. They work within the park. We are grateful for people who help. We encourage people to use the park so that it continues to be a viable centerpiece for the neighborhood.
ES: What about your volunteers?
Alexis: We have about 90 volunteers right now, not all active. We are aging up. We started out young and doing physical work, mulching and moving earth. Those who couldn't do that would help by phone calling and letter writing, which was great. There is always a handful willing to come out and prune every spring and fall. We have had a lot of people who adopt a bench, a tree or area of the park. They weed, etc. on their own time. We basically meet as we can get together. People are working so we get together when we can. No dues because why would we ask people to work and pay money too? We would rather have them use volunteer time to come out and help maintain the park.
ES: How do you support the organization for paint and supplies?
Alexis:Basically, we rely on generous donations from the community. People are very generous. One of our major fund raisers is "Love Lights" supported by the Fallser. Everyone who purchases a love light for $5.00 (and it has stayed $5.00 over the years) gets an acknowledgment in the Fallser. Julie Camburn has been very helpful to us. We started out for a few hundred dollars and here we are after ten years and we raised $1‚000.00 this year. For one night, we light the tree with little red lights on Valentine night. For a February night it has been very successful. We use to have dancing at the lighting but the weather got too unpredictable. Sometimes people come with candles to the tree. It's very sweet. It's turned into something meaningful. I was inspired by Wissahickon Hospice. They had a lighting that they do every year at Christmas time for a loved one no longer with you. That is how I initially thought of the idea.
ES: When did you start your column with the Fallser?
Alexis: I found out this year that they celebrated their anniversary this year and I was one of the first ones. Fifteen years. I had no idea I had been writing it this long.
ES: How did you come up with the name "Turtle Talks?"
Alexis: I did it because there was a little newsletter that we had with that name. Some people refer to it as the "Turtle Park" so we called our newsletter after the turtle. We only issued one or two newsletters when Julie started the newspaper and she suggested we call it "Turtle Talks." When I'm away on vacation, another volunteers will step up and write the column. Whenever a volunteer wants to do something I am fine with that. This is not a monarchy. Great, if you want to do something.
ES: How have other community organization helped you? For instance, East Falls Community Council?
Alexis: We have done a number of things. Every year the East Falls Festival and Flea Market use the Park. Money raised from the Flea Market goes back to the community. The Friends have applied for grants and we have obtained money from the fund for clean-up, doggie scoop bags, "Shakespeare in the Park." Every year it's something different. Initially our signs came from the East Falls Development Corporation and the Friends purchased the other one.
Our Historical Marker was gotten through funds from the community. We applied through the State for funding however, Morton McMichael did not have enough historical significance throughout the State so they turned us down. So we decided to do our own. We applied to East Falls Community Council for half of the funds and the Friends were going to raise the other half. We got to the council meeting and your sister (Doris Kelley) stood up and said “I think this historical marker is so significant for East Falls that the community should pay for the entire marker.” There was a vote from the floor and it was voted on. Tom and Keith and I looked at each other and couldn't believe it. We didn't have to do the fundraising. It was so sweet of her to say she believed in the importance of this for the community. She was outspoken in a good way.
ES: Have other organizations used the park for other purposes?
Alexis: The Medical College Hospital has used it for their health fair. The schools have use it. We coordinated with East Falls Tree Tenders, Penn Charter, Mifflin, St. Bridget’s. We had daffodil planting days. We have a program with Bartram Gardens where the school children come and learn about trees - an environmental class. They do leaf rubbings and seed identification. The wildlife is there - birds, butterflies, squirrels.
One year Penn Charter Lower School wanted to plant a tree, so they held an earthworm sale at the school and earned enough money to plant a tree at the corner of Coulter and McMichael Street, near the Penn Charter campus. It is a beautiful pink flowering tree and every year those kids who are grown up now, come back and remember how they raised the money for the tree by selling earthworms. Many times kids come back now to do clean-ups or play ball.
ES: In reference to the Marker, where did it go and was there a ceremony?
Alexis: The marker was established at the corner of Midvale and McMichael Street. We had a dedication (in 1995) on Morton McMichael's birthday, which is October 20. He is the former Mayor of Philadelphia, Republican, Founder of the Union League, and he also founded a newspaper publication in Philadelphia. Because of the Union League's connection, we had the Men's Chorus group from the Union League, "The McMichaels" come and perform. We also had Edward Rendell, who was running for Mayor of Philadelphia. And a few others state reps, Michael Nutter. Keith Shively made a cover with a sketch of Morton McMichael. We unveiled the marker and held a dedication ceremony, the group sang, and we had punch.
ES: How did the Hymn Sing for Christmas begin in the Park?
Alexis: The Hymn Sing (note: Carol Sing) was an offshoot of the EFCC. Pastor deHeyman started it. Each year it got bigger and bigger. More instruments were added, more people came, candles were provided and music sheets. After the Hymn Sing, we went to the library for hot chocolate refreshments, and Santa Claus.
ES: What about other organizations such as the Falls Festival?
Alexis: The Falls Festival started small and grew - health care from MCP, Battle of the Bands. They were before we were founded. Lucy Iannitto usually was involved. They asked me to chair the "Baby Parade" and that's how I got involved. Later, I became chair of the Festival for a couple of years. Then I decided to just stick with the park.
ES: How did you establish your logo?
Alexis: The turtle is our logo. We ran an art project. Our theme was "What the Park means to you" John Gowling came up with a lovely drawing of the turtle. He remembered playing in the sand around the turtle as a child. He designed our first logo, we put it on a T-shirt and that was our fundraiser for several years. About five years ago we added the 19129 zip code. A lot of people didn't know where East Falls was so we used die zip code on the shirts.
FRIENDS OF MCMICHAEL PARK
3904 HENRY AVENUE
PHILADELPHIA, PA 19129
FRIENDS OF McMICHAEL PARK
COORDINATOR.... ALEXIS FRANKLIN (1990 TO PRESENT)
LOCATED IN THE EAST FALLS SECTION OF PHILADELPH1A. IT IS SIX GREEN ACRES WITH AN OPEN FIELD AT THE NORTHWEST END. THE PARK 1S NAMED AFTER MORTON MCMICHAEL, A FORMER MAYOR OF THE CITY. THERE IS ALSO AN HISTORICAL WAR MEMORIAL ESTABLISHED FOR ALL VETERANS. IT IS ALSO "HOME OF THE TURTLE", ONE OF THE LAST SURVIVING CEMENT TURTLES IN THE PARK SYSTEM. MCMICHAEL PARK IS CURRENTLY MAINTAINED BY THE FAIRMOUNT PARK COMMISSION, DISTRICT THREE.
THE FRIENDS OF MCMICHAEL WORK WITH THE FOLLOWING COMMUNITY AND CITY GROUPS:
EAST FALLS COMMUNITY COUNCIL (EFCC)
EAST FALLS BUSINESS ASSOCIATION (EFBA)
EAST FALLS TREE TENDERS (EFTT)
EAST FALLS FLEA MARKET COMMITTEE
EAST FALLS FESTIVAL COMMIITEE
EAST FALLS DEVELOPMENT CORPORATION (EFDC)
PENNSYLVANIA.HORTICULTURAL SOCIETY (PHS)
FAIRMOUNT PARK RANGERS
FAIRMOUNT PARK COMMISSION
PHILADELPHIA DEPARTMENT OF RECREATION
FRIENDS OF THE WISSAHICKON
CONTINUING CARE OF TREE PITS AND GARDEN BEDS INCLUDING WEEDING, WATERING AND MULCHING. LIGHT PRUNING OF SMALLER TREES.
1990,1996,1999,2001 - BENCH PAINTING 0F 22 PARK BENCHES. SOME EFFORTS COORDINATED WITH PHILLY CARES AND THE BOY SCOUTS OF TROOP #221 LEAD BY BILLY SCARPATO
1991 - REPLACEMENT S1DEWALKS AROUND PARK PERIMETER. DEPT. OF RECREATION.
1995, 1997 - SPRING ANNUALS PLANTED IN FRONT 0F WAR MEMORIAL AND GARDEN ENTRANCES.
1994 - HILARY LANGER DONATED AN EVERGREEN FROM HIS HOME TO BE PLANTD NEAR WAR MEMORIAL.
1993 - THREE WHITE AMELANCHIER TREES PLANTED IN HONOR OF MOTHERS DAY.
1993 - JOE LOCASTRO DONATED A KOUSA DOGWOOD FROM HIS GARDEN.
1995 - ESTABLISHED CEMENTED BASE TRASH RECEPTACLES IN PARK.
1996, 1998, 2000 - PRUNING OF THE TAXUS YEWS AROUND THE WAR MEMORIAL. (COST $300.00/BARTLETT)
2000 - MILLENNIUM GROVE ESTABLISHED ALONG WITH 2 KOUSA DOGWOODS AS PART OF THE "GIFT FOR ALL SEASONS PROGRAM"
1999,2000 - PENN CHARTER & THOMAS MIFFLIN STUDENTS PLANT DAFFODIL BULBS FOR SPRING BLOOMING.
2000 - FILM SERIES COORDINATED WJTH SUNOCO WELCOME AMER1CA..."T0 CATCH A THIEF" STARRING EAST FALLS OWN GRACE KELLY.
2000 - MAYOR EDWARD G. RENDELL TREE PLANTED WITH DONATIONS RAISED BY THE EFTT.
2000 - PERENNIAL BED AND RETAINING WALLS ESTABLISHED AT THE PARK ENTRANCES UNDER SIGNS.
1999,2000,2001,2002 - COORDINATED PROGRAM WLTH BARTRAM GARDENS AND EFTT WITH THE LOCAL SCHOOLS.
2001 - NEW TELEPHONE BOOTH AT THE CORNER OF HENRY AVENUE.
2001 - SUMMER ENVIRONMENTAL CAMP, WILLIAM PENN CHARTER SCHOOL.
2001 - SWEETGUM TREE PLANTED NEAR HENRY AVENUE IN HONOR OF TWO WONDERFUL VOLUNTEERS, TOM WILLIAMS & KEITH SHIVELY WHO HAVE MOVED AWAY.
2002...3 - BOLLARDS ARE 1NSTALLED ON MIDVALE AVENUE NEAR BUS STOP TO REMOVE CURBSIDE HAZARDS AND GROUND IMPACTING, INSTALLED MIKE DESANTOS, FPC.
2003 – AUGUST - SECURITY LIGHTING OF THE TURTLE AND THE WAR MEMORIAL- INSTALLATION BY MIKE DESANTOS OF THE FAIRMOUNT PARK COMMISS1ON.
GRANTS & FUNDRAISING -
1992 - NEW PARK SIGNS AT HENRY AVENUE ENTRANCES...$840. GENERATED BY THE EFBA.
1996 - EAST FALLS FESTIVAL AWARDS COMMITTEE ... $1,000. TO ESTABLISH AN HISTORICAL MARKER DEDICATED TO MORTON MCMICHAEL.
1996 - NEW PARK ENTRANCE SIGNS ... MONIES RAISED BY FOMCMP.
1997...PURP GRANT ... $20,000 MATCHING GRANT FROM PENN. URBAN RESOURCE & AMOCO OIL CORPORATION & THE EFBA TO PRUNE 25 PERIMETER PARK TREES.
1998 - INTERIOR PRUNING OF OLDER TREES ... BARTLETT
1995, 1996, 1997 - DAFFODIL BULB SALE AT THE EAST FALLS FLEA MARKET.
1996, 1997 - TOTE BAG SÄLE AT THE EAST FALLS FESTIVAL.
1998, 1999 - RAFFLE BASKETS AT THE EAST FALLS FESTIVAL.
1999, 2000, 2001, 2002, 2003, 2004 - "LOVELIGHTS' ON VALENTINES DAY...ANNUAL FUNDRAISER FOR FRIENDS ... BUY A LIGHT FOR SOMEONE SPECIAL IN YOUR LIFE ... RAISES $400.00 ANNUALLY.
2001 - NEW FLAG AND RESTORATION OF FLAGPOLE.
2002 ... SEPTEMBER 11 - ONE YEAR ANNIVERSARY ...52 FLAGS WAVED IN MCMICHAEL PARK TO HONOR ALL OF THOSE WHO PERISHED IN THE WORLD TRADE CENTER DISASTER.
2003 - SPRING ...5TH GRADERS FROM WILLIAM PENN CHARTER SCHOOL PLANT ANNUALS AND GROOM THE BEDS AROUND WAR MEMORIAL. (COST $40..00 MULCH/FLOWERS)
2003 – MAY - PHILLY CARES ... MULCH AND WEED TREE BEDS AROUND 60 NEW TREE PLANTINGS IN THE PARK. 60 BAGS OF MULCH WAS DONATED BY HOME DEPOT, CONSHOHOCKEN. 10-15 VOLUNTEERS FROM OUTSIDE THE NEIGHBORHOOD.
2003 - 0CTOBER - SPRING BULB SALE TO RAISE MONIES FOR NEW ENTRANCE SIGNS AT THE CORNER OF HENRY & MIDVALE AVENUES /HENRY & COULTER ST. ($400.00 RAISED)
2004 - JANUARY ...$ 1500.00 GRANT APPROVED BY THE EAST FALLS FESTIVAL FUND TO PAY FOR ONE OF THE PARK ENTRANCE SIGNS ... APR1L INSTALLATION.
2004 - FEBRUARY ...$300.00 RAISED THRU NEIGHBORHOOD "LOVELIGHTS" ... DOLLARS RAISE CONTRIBUTED TO THE MATCHING MONIES NEEDED FOR PARK SIGNS.
2004 - OCTOBER ... DONATION OF "DOGIPOTS" FROM SCHULKILL NATURE GROWING GREENER.. TWO POTS WITH BAGS WERE INSTALLED THRU FAIRMOUNT PARK, DISTRICT THREE AT THE CORNER OF MIDVALE AND HENRY AND COULTER AND MCMICHAEL STREETS.
2004 - NOVEMBER ... CABLING OF THE "BIG" PAULOWNIA TREE. WORK DONATED BY HAL ROSNER OF BARTLETF. COORDJNATED THRU EAST FALLS TREE TENDERS.
JANUARY 2005 - PRUNING OF THE YEW BUSHES AROUND THE WAR MEMEMORIAL. WORK DONE BY BARTLETT TREE SERVICE. MONEY GRANTED BY THE EAST FALLS FESTIVAL FUND. ($600.00)
FEBRUARY 2005 - LOVELIGHTS FOR VALENTINES DAY. 8300.00 RAISED. FOUR VOLUNTEER HOURS PLUS THE SUPPORT OF THE LOCAL NEWSPAPER, THE FALLSER.
2005 - SPRING ... MULCHING OF TREE PITS ALONG MIDVALE AVENUE. ALSO, BENCH PA1NT1NG ... 22 BENCHES. PAINT DONATED BY DURON PAINTS. WORK DONE AS A COMMUNITY SERVICE PROJECT FOR THE 9TH GRADE BOYS AT CHESTNUT HILL ACADEMY. (Cost of mulch, $240.00) (16 volunteer hours)
2005 - JUNE FLEA MARKET.. .T-SHIRT SALE TO CELEBRATE THE FORTIETH BIRTHDAY OF THE MCMICHAEL PARK TURTLE.
2005 OCTOBER - SPR1NG BULB SALE ORGANIZED BY CHRISTINA KISTLER ... RA1SED $500.00
2005 NOVEMBER - COMMUNITY SERVICE PROJECT WITH THE 6th GRADE BOYS FROM THE WILLIAM PENN CHARTER SCHOOL. TURTLE SWEEPING, MULCHING AND GENERAL CLEAN UP FROM THE GROUP OF 13 BOYS LED BY PENN CHARTER TEACHER, CHARLIE BROWN. COST $45.00 FOR MULCH. 4 VOLUNTEER HOURS.
2005, FALL - BENCH DONATED BY THE GREICOS IN MEMORY OF THEIR PARENTS, JUDGE STAN AND SOPHIE KUBACKI
2006, FEBRUARY ...LOVELIGHTS RAISED $350.00. FALLSER SUPPORT PLUS 4 VOLUNTEER HOURS
2006, MARCH ... FRIENDS RECEIVE A GRANT FROM THE EAST FALLS FESTIVAL FUND OF $275.00 TO PURCHASE DOGGIE BÄGS. MCMICHAEL PARK USED 6000 BAGS IN 2005.
2006, APRIL – 4th GRADE CLASS OF THE WILLIAM PENN CHARTER SCHOOL CAME OUT CLEAN UP THE WINDER GARDEN AS WELL AS WEED AND MULCH THE STREET TREES ALONG MCMICHAEL STREET.
2006, JUNE - FRIENDS OF MCMICHAEL PARK SELL, "TURTLE T-SHIRTS" TO BENEFIT PARK PROJECTS. -
2006, SPRING - GIFT FOR ALL SEASONS BENCH PUCHASED BY THE HUGHES FAMILY TO CELEBRATE RITA HUGHES BIRTIIDAY. RITA IS A REGULÄR IN MCMICHAEL PARK.
2006, AUGUST - 5 BENCHES REPAIRED BY THE FRIENDS OF WISSAHICKON. FPC HAD NO CARPENTERS.
2006, SEPTEMBER 11th, FLAGS FLYING IN MCMICHAEL TO COMMEMORATE THE FIVE-YEAR ANNIVERSAY OF THOSE WE LOST IN 9-11.
2006, SEPTEMBER - 5 RECENTLY REPAIRED BENCHES WERE PAINTED AND PRIMED BY RICH LAMPERT AND DEBORAH THORP.
2006, OCTOBER - PARK PRUNING ON LOW LIMBS AND SUCKERS. CHRISTINA KISTLER, RICH LAMBPERT, VINCE GRIECO, JOHN FRANKLIN AND ÄLEXIS FRANKL1N
2007, FEBRUARY - LOVELIGHTS RAISED RECORD DOLLARS OF $750.00 THIS YEAR. ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS APPEAR IN THE FALLSER.
2007, APRIL - ARBOR DAY COMMUNITY SERVICE WITH W1LLIAM PENN CHARTER SCHOOL. PLANTED THREE TREES WHICH WERE DONATED BY FAIRMOUNT PARK AND ALSO ASSISTED IN REMOVAL OF DEAD TREE ON COULTER STREET SIDE. LIMBS WERE ALSO STOCKPILED AND REMOVED.
2007, MAY - PHILLY CARES ... PLANTINGS AROUND THE WAR MEMORIAL
2004-2008 - VINCE GREICO HAS STOCKED THE "DOGGIE BAGS" IN THE PARK. CORNER OF MIDVALE AND CORNER OF COUTLER @MCMICHAEL
2008, FEBRUARY - LOVELIGHTS RAISED $900.00
2008, MAY - TURTLE SWEEPERSIKJSTLER FAMILY. BRUCE CLAYTOR ADOPTS RENDELL TREE AND CORNER OF COULTER & HENRY AVENUE. ALEXIS FRANKLIN WEEDS & MULCHES TREES ALONG HENRY AVENUE.
2008, APRI - COMMUNITY SERVICE DAY WITH PENN CHARTER MIDDLE SCHOOL. WEEDING AND MULCHING AND REMOVAL OF A FALLEN TREE. ALSO, WEEDING OF THE WINDER GARDEN.
JULY 23, 2008 - SHAKESPEARE IN MCMICHAEL PARK, "TAMING OF THE SHREW" BROUGHT BY COMMONWEALTH CLASSIC THEATER. SPONSORS: FRIENDS OF MCMICHAEL PARK, FAIRMOUNT PARK COMMISSION & EAST FALLS COMMUNITY COUNCIL.
OCTOBER 1, 2008 - COMMUNITY SERVICE DAY WITH PHILADELPHIA UNIVERSITY. LEAD BY ASSOCIATE DEAN OF STUDENTS, STEVE SPANNS AND UNIVERSITY FACILITIES DEPARTMENT, STEVE MCQUINN, 10 STUDENTS, FRIENDS ALEXIS FRANKLIN & JANE LYONS. PAINTING OF THE 22 GREEN BENCHES IN THE PARK PLUS A NEW COAT FOR THE TURTLE. PA1NT & SUPPLIES WAS DONATED BY DURON PAINTS IN EAST FALLS.
OCTOBER 18, 2008 - MCMICHAEL PARK WAS A CHEERING STATION FOR THE THOUSANDS OF WALKERS WHO PARTICIPATED IN THE SUSAN B. KOMAN WALK FOR THE CURE.
OCTOBER 2008 - APPROVAL OF A $ 10,000.00 PRUNING GRANT THRU STATE REPRESENTATIVE JEWELL WILLIAMS. LESHAE HUDSON, ASSISTANT TO WILLIAMS, WILL DISPERSE FUNDS AS SOON AS THEY COME THRU. PAT CROSSAN & ALEXIS FRANKLIN WALK THRU MCMICHAEL PARK AND PREPARE LIST FOR THE STATE REP.
FEBRUARY 2009 - LOVELIGHTS BRING IN RECORD NUMBERS ...$ 1000.00 RAISED. ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS AGAIN SUPPORTED BY TEE FALLSER.
APRIL/2009...COMMUNITY SERVICE DAY WITH THE WILLIAM PENN CHARTER MIDDLE SCHOOL. MULCHED AND WEEDED TREE PITS WITH 10-12 STUDENTS AND A FACULTY MEMBER.. CYNTHIA KISHINCHAND AND ALEXIS FRANKL1N SUPERVISED FROM THE FRIENDS OF MCMICHAEL PARK.
JUNE 3, 2009 - FRIENDLY PRUNERS, CHRISTINA AND BRIAN KISTLER, JANE KENNEDY, FRANCES BOURNE, BILL HOFFNER, AND RICH LAMPERT GAVE CLEARANCE TO ALL LOW LYING BRANCHES IN LIGHT OF THE EAST FALLS FLEA MARKET THAT WAS SCHEDULED THE FOLLOWING WEEKEND.
East Falls Historical Society Oral History Interview
Interviewee: Jack McNicholas (JM)
Interviewer: Lyda Doyle (LD)
Date of Interview: March 19, 2011
LD: Ok, this is Saturday March 19, 2011. My name is Lyda Doyle and I am interviewing Jack McNicholas. So I guess we could start with when and where you were born.
JM: Ok, I was born November 2, 1931 and actually born in Roxborough Memorial Hospital.
LD: Ok, and where were your parents born?
JM: My dad, whose name was James, was born in Ireland. My mother was born in East Falls, and her name was Mary Lynch. She was born on Clearfield Street, 3412 Clearfield Street, down what we call the lower end.
LD: So you grew up right here in East Falls?
JM: Yes, when my mother and father got married, they bought a house, a brand new house, on 3300 Tilden Street in 1927 and that’s where we were all born and raised.
LD: And when did you get married and move from that house? Were you there ‘til you got married?
JM: I was there ‘til I got married. I was there and I was born in 1931, I got married in 1960, and I was still there with my mother in 1960 when I got married.
LD: And then you and your wife bought this house?
JM: No, when we first got married we had an apartment, at 33rd and Allegheny, and we lived down there for about 2 years. Then we came back to East Falls and bought a house that I’m still in at 3429 Indian Queen Lane. That was around 1962.
LD: Alright. And how many children did you have?
JM: We had ten.
LD: That’s amazing.
JM: My wife had ten with a little help from her friend here. Hahaha
LD: And you were a mailman?
JM: I was a mailman for thirty-five years. Most of it right here in East Falls.
LD: So was it easy to raise ten kids with a mailman’s salary?
JM: It was, but I worked two jobs most of the time because my wife wasn’t. She had her first child, she worked up until then, and she never worked outside of the house after that, and so I just got a second job and I would have gotten a third job than to do what she did because her job was hard. She had three in diapers more than once at one time. It was really hard but she was really good at it so she got through it.
LD: Well, tell me about what it was like growing up in East Falls. Did you play sports?
JM: Well, when I was younger we didn’t have too much for sports because it was during the Second World War and everyone was in the service. So it didn’t have any sports teams, little league teams or anything like that. I went to St Bridget’s when we would play once in a while, we would play softball at Mifflin School, after school and then we would get games like the seventh grade would play the sixth grade over at Dobson’s lot, which is now McDevitt. And we just didn’t have bats or balls. We only had a few clubs. We would have a game. We would chip in and buy these balls at McDermott’s store on Sunnyside and Conrad, like they were a nickel. We called them nickel rockets and after about two innings dust would come out and we would tape them with black tape. We would have one bat. I can remember the bat would get broken and would have to tape it… One time we took it up to Dominic Cain on Conrad’s street and he taped it and put a screw in it. It was just because all the then men were in the war and there were no coaches.
We didn’t have any sports. No we didn’t have football or anything else. We’d play pick-up games at Dobson’s field and we had McCarthy field which was over around Cresson and Merrick, where we call the new homes are now. We had little pick-up football games, things like that. Nothing organized until, well after the war. After the war, like 1945 to 1946, I was just starting high school and they got a softball league up which was all the guys come back from the war. They had different teams like the VFW. Alden Theater had a team and bars like McMackins, Quinny’s had teams, and we had a team, they just called us the kids. We were all like sixteen, fifteen. Played in the league. We played all over. We played at Inn yard down at Ridge. It’s still there by the firehouse. We played there, we played at McMichael Park, and we played over at what we called McCarthy field, which the homes were built over there, I guess late 40’s early 50’s. They had a field there. And that was a pretty good league.
They didn’t start playing hardball back in East Falls, I guess until the 50’s when the East Falls Sports association got together and start having teams which they’re still going strong doing very well. I worked there. I coached little there for fourteen years, baseball, and with guys like Dick Garner and Phil Morris, and so many others Chicky Gramlich, and we did very well. We played in the Wissahickon league for a few years, then we got our own junior league and now our older teams play in the Roxborough leagues and they still have things going on down there, baseball.
LD: Was the Pop Warner Association down there?
JM: Pop Warner was football.
JM: Football, they had the East Falls Falcons, which were… They started right at the end of the war, and they played Pop Warner football. They were like the away team; 160, 150, 160 pounds. They had some good teams. They played the Wissahickon Hawks the one time. The Hawks were really good, they were really good from Wissahickon.
LD: Now, being so close to the river, did you ever go fishing as a pastime?
JM: No, when we were kids, we weren’t allowed down the river. My father wouldn’t let us. They were too worried we would fall in.
LD: They were too worried you’d fall in.
JM: We’d get whacked if they were afraid we’d fall in, and of course we lived on Tilden Street so that was a pretty good walk down there, and we were told to stay away from there until we got older. When we went down the Bathey and things like that which was right next to the river, but when we were younger we were told to stay away from there. So we did.
LD: Now being part of the post-war baby boom, when I went down to the Bathey they had to split into girls days and boys days. Was it like that when you were younger?
JM: It was like that when I was a kid. I started to go down there. I guess I started going down there in the late 30’s because I was born in ’31. I remember going down there nine, ten years old before the war, and we spent a lot of time down there. I just remember we use to just get in then we’d have to come out. Then we’d have to wait then get back in again. They had staggered hours.
LD: They called it ranks then?
JM: I forget what they called it, but we had to get out and get in line to come back in.
LD: I kind of remember coming out and going around the building and getting back in line.
JM: Yeah, they had you go out and come back. We use to go across the street, there was a store across the street on Ridge Avenue. Right around Ridge and Crawford (ed. note: Crawford ran down beside the end of Dobson Mills close to where the twin bridges start. You can still see part of it inside the fence). People named Croce had the store, and I knew one of the sons, Joe, he was my age, and his sister kind of waited on the customers. We use to buy a little loaf of Italian bread. I forget, nine cents or something, and we’d just pull it apart and eat it. No lunch meat or anything. That would be our lunch, but we spent most of the day down there, the afternoon anyway. Walked down, walked back it was some good time down there.
LD: Now, where did you go to high school?
JM: Roman Catholic High, Broad and Vine. That’s when we went to St Bridget’s for grammar school, and that’s where, more or less, you went to Roman if you wanted to go to Diocese. You could go to St Johns in Manayunk, but you had to pay some tuition and of course the other schools; the Prep and La Salle were private. You could go if you had the money, but we all, most of us went to Roman.
LD: So you took the bus?
JM: Took the bus, I can remember the first year of high school, we went to St Peter’s annex, which was 5th and Girard. So that was the only way to get there, we would all have to, no matter where we lived in East Falls. We would have to walk to Ridge and Midvale, get the trolley down to Girard. This was 1945. Right? September 1945. Right after the war ended in Japan. 61 to Girard Avenue, we’d get off there and we’d get the 15 trolley down to 5th street. We went to an annex school, which was St Peter’s. We went there for a year and then we went to the main building - Broad and Vine - and we would get there by getting the C-bus on Henry Avenue to Broad. Then we’d get the subway down to Broad and Vine. That’s how we went.
LD: You mentioned the end of the war, do you remember D-day or VJ day?
JM: Oh, yeah. I remember it very well.
LD: Here in East Falls?
JM: Yeah, I can remember the day the war started. I did write that down. I was ten years old and I was in the Alden Theater on Midvale Avenue, and I was by myself, ten years old. Those days we use to walk all over; no one was afraid to go anywhere and now I can remember. I was there on a Sunday afternoon and I walked from there over to Dobson Field, which is now McDevitt, there was a football game going on and everybody was talking about the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor. That’s why I remember December 7, 1941. It was a beautiful sunny day and I remember the two teams that were playing, it was Roach AC, which was a team of all guys down Ridge Avenue round the Bathey.
LD: Roach Row?
JM: Yeah, Cockroach Row. That’s what they called it but they had a team called Roach AC, and I can remember they had a little roach on it, not on the football uniforms but they had a baseball team at one time and they would have a little roach on their jersey. But they played McCarthy AC. McCarthy AC was a bunch of guys from, more or less, over around Fisk Ave and Midvale (ed. note: Dobson St. – Fisk did not connect with Midvale or Cresson), upper, by the railroad. I guess you would say they had field over there named McCarthy field and I guess they named the field after that or it must have been some guy name McCarthy. It’s no longer there but that was the… I guess I was in fourth grade. Then I was in eighth grade. I just graduated eighth grade in June of 45. Then I started high school in September of 45. So I can remember all that excitement.
LD: Were there bells ringing, a parade or anything?
JM: There was a lot of people banging pots. You know like it was New Year’s Eve. Then, of course, all the anticipation of the people coming back. I had an uncle, my mother’s brother, who was Tom Lynch, who was first to go, and he was in the army four and a half years and he was oversees almost three years. So he was one of the first ones to come back and then some didn’t come back and then I remember they were all excited, a lot of them would have never went to school. That’s one of the good things that came out of it. They could get that GI bill and a lot of them went to college and got degrees, things like that. And they were worried about getting jobs, but most of them got jobs and went on from there. So all through high school it was all these people coming back and it was pretty exciting.
LD: Do you remember anything about rations during the war?
JM: Yeah, during the war, we had, my father had a car but we never used it. We use to go and get spring water every time. We took the car, we had to push it to get it started. I don’t even know why we even bought it, but we always had to jump start it.
LD: You became experts at jumpstarting…
JM: Yeah, you’d just push it down the alleyway. Then we’d go and get spring water in Atlantic City once and it took us about eight hours (note: Jack clarified later that it was 8 hours round trip. He also said they went there for salt water taffy and got their spring water in Germantown), but they had coupons for gas and I can remember they had red, and black. I think black for gas, and red coupons for meat. The meat and the gas, I don’t remember whether sugar and things like that there were certain coupons. But I do remember the coupons.
LD: The ration books?
JM: Yeah, the books. We never had too much problems with it. I can remember, whether you want me to say on there or not. Your father had a gas station on Midvale Avenue. He was a kind man and…
JM: A big husky man. My father became very friendly with him because every time we had a problem with the car. It was Dave Furman who we had to see to take care of it. He became good friends with my father. He had… he was one of the first gas stations down there, I think. That I can remember, he was there for quite a few years and he had a good business with everybody who went to him. Of course, there weren’t a lot of cars around during the war, but I can remember that, I think it was an Atlantic Station, but I am sure. Was it? Yeah that’s during the war, I was only a kid.
LD: So did you start with the post office after high school?
JM: No, when I got out of high school… There just, well though it was 1949, it seemed as though all the vet guys from World War II, you know, they were still getting jobs and they were getting preference which they should. There wasn’t much around for a kid, 17, I remember. I got a job down in Dobson’s Mills. The place called Vander Beck, it was a hosiery mill and there were some guys from East Falls, who were the bosses. Joe Verdone was a boss down there. Anyway, I worked there for about a year. I remember I started at 75cents an hour that was 1949 and that was shift work, three to eleven, but I could walk to work and things like that. I worked there for maybe a year.
Then we bounced around, we would work, I worked at a container corporation up in Manayunk for a while. I worked at Mrs. Schlorer’s Pickles down on Scott’s Lane at the time, and I know they use to play music down there. Mostly all women, and we would start singing and this and that. And the guy called us in the office, me and a fella named Harry McGready. His name was Ed Schlorer - Mrs Schlorer’s nephew, believe it or not. He said “You fellas are live wires and we really like you but all that singing you get the women going, and we can’t have that. So we are going to let you go.” So that was the end of that place. Then I bounced around a few places.
Then the Korean War came along in 1952, I went in the Navy, and I was in the Navy a couple years. Came out of the navy in ’54. And there wasn’t much around, so mostly everyone who came back from the Korean War would take tests. I took the postal test, I took the fireman’s test, I took the policemen’s test. Some guys went to school with the GI Bill, but my dad passed away right after I came home and I had sisters still in high school. So my older brother and I had to work to help my mom out. I took all these tests and I passed all the tests, but I went and took the postal test. When they called me, I ended up being a letter carrier, and I lasted thirty-five years.
I worked in center city for one and a half years. I worked at Manayunk for a year, then I got transferred to East Falls for the last thirty-two years or so, right in the neighborhood. So it was good, I retired when I was sixty, and during the time I was in the post office, I worked part time for Philadelphia Textile College. Then when I retired from the post office I got full time up there. I worked security and I drove a van and I worked there for twenty-three years. They were nice people. It’s Philadelphia University now, but they were nice people to work with. And it helped as a side job. I didn’t have to travel, I could walk over there, so that was about it for the working.
LD: I know, something you said made me think of another question. There were some factories in East Falls. There was Aston Hill…
JM: Oh God yeah. Well, see, when I was a kid, Aston Hill was down there at that complex, where the mills, we call Dobson’s Mills, down around Ridge Avenue (ed. note: it later moved up to Henry Avenue where the trade school is now – same building, just down from arboretum). This side of Allegheny, like past where the twin bridges are now, but there were a load of different mills down there. I remember when you rode by there, there was a place that made pies. Wasselle’s. W-A-S-S-E-L-L-E-S. They made pies, well I guess they made more than pies, but you could smell the pies and then there was the place I worked at Vander Becks, which was a hosiery mill. Then they had a place, I forget the name of it, but luggage. They made suitcases things like that, leather bags and I don’t know how many more places were in there. But a lot of people worked down there. They called it Dobson’s Mills, and a lot of people… In fact, my mother’s mother worked there during the First World War. They made uniforms or something down there, for you know, 1918. But I can’t remember the names of the other places that were in there, but a lot of people in East Falls work in there at one place or another.
LD: Do you remember the businesses that were around when you were growing up? Like you mentioned McDermott’s, the Green Corner…
JM: Green Corner was there. A lady we called Miss Hall, an older woman, she ran it. And then of course McDermott’s, and Fitzpatrick they had the corner store at Sunnyside and Conrad. It was just novelties. They sold all kinds of games and puzzles and candy. I don’t remember them having ice cream or anything like that. And there was at least two or three grocery stores. There was Caldwell’s, on Conrad Street by Ainslie (in the gray stone building that are apartments now). Then down, well right next to Caldwell’s store at Conrad and Ainslie on the corner (where Petrone’s Realty is today) was an old German guy. Schaff, his name was - a jeweler. You would see him working on watchers and stuff. Then down from there on the corner was McDermott’s Fitzpatrick’s store. Right there on Sunnyside and Conrad. Then right next to him on the other side of Sunnyside was a plumber, George Kelly, his name was. Next to him, couple doors down, was a meat market, Sowden, who sold meats. Then there was a barbershop, it was Herrera’s. Freddy Herrera and Felix, Felix was the owner and his brother Freddy were barber there. Right before you got to Division Street. Then past Division, on the corner of Bowman and Conrad, there was a store there, was it Claytons? Then it became…
LD: When I grew up it was Gotwol’s. It might have been between Clayton then Gotwol’s.
JM: Yeah, I think it might have been Clayton’s at one time. Then I don’t know if it was during the war or after the war or before the war, there was an appliance store there, Buckley and Hodge. I’ll never forget because the guy, Buckley, was about six foot six inches and he used to pitch for East Falls baseball team with Harry Prime, he was a catcher. The guy was a pitcher, who went to school at Penn Charter or somewhere (ed. note: yes, and they lived on Netherfield Road). He, Buckley and Hodge, and I don’t know how long that store was there. Then it sold appliances, refrigerators, and all that stuff. Then I think Clayton’s had and of course it changed hands so many times, this guy named Max Celser had it then. Tom, the guy that has the restaurant now, he had it for a while, then a guy named Joe Buloba had it. Before him, then of course there was that beer distributor, McKeever’s, which there are new apartments there on Conrad before Indian Queen Lane. When we were kids, Gene Rowland had it, and his wife, who I think you interviewed, Gene Rowland and Frank Rowland for years. And of course I forget what was on the corner where the Saloonery is now. I can’t remember what was there. I know McMackin had a bar there (catty corner from Murphy’s), but before McMackin, I forget what was there. Caddy-corner to where the Saloonery is now, McMackin had a bar there. Then when he had the new one built, where the Saloonery is now, he moved across the street, but McMackin use to be in the old place which is now Smokey Joe’s. McMackin, that was McMackin’s old bar before he moved across the street. Then up Conrad, up at the far end of Conrad, at Crawford, there was a little store on the corner. Real small little corner store, a guy named Bob Wittaker had it for years during the war. On the other side of Conrad, the brewery Hohenadal brewery, we all remember that.
LD: Was that still functioning when you were growing up?
JM: It was still functioning when I was a kid. I think, in fact, when I was twenty-one, and be able to go into McMackin’s place. I think they still had Hohenadal beer on tap. I remember they had strikes there. Like, after the war. In like the late ‘40s, they would have pickets and this and that. And I think Hohenadal’s, they were in business ‘til the early ‘50s.
LD: Was there a steak shop at, I don’t know, if it was Conrad or Cresson and Scotts Lane?
JM: Cresson and Scotts lane?
LD: There was a contractor there - that was the last business.
JM: No, where the contractor, Cameady is now, that was a bar, Si Feeler’s bar. They called it. Around the Horn, I don’t know why. It was right on the corner of Scott’s Lane and Cresson. And they had a whole row of houses on that block. Where Caveedy’s is now and all the way up to Crawford. There were, maybe, forty houses.
LD: Wow, that’s many.
JM: Yeah, because I can remember when we were kids playing. I can remember in the ‘50s, when the Falcons were playing, or ever when baseball games were going on. The older guys who lived on that road. Instead of walking down to the field, they would just stay and look down and watch the game from…
LD: From the fence?
JM: From the fence, that was on top of the railroad there. I don’t remember a steak shop there.
LD: I think it was a tavern, but they might’ve made sandwiches also.
JM: It could’ve been. I remember Si Feeler’s bar, but I…
LD: Don’t know if they had food.
JM: I think there might have been a steak place on Conrad Street, but that doesn’t ring a bell right now.
LD: Do you remember a reservoir, right behind McDevitt’s, where the parking lot is now. When I was a kid it was all dried up, but you use to be able to climb down inside it. It was right between Scotts Lane and where the McDevitt parking lot is now …
JM: Where McDevitt is now. I can just remember… Well it was Dobson’s Field, they had three fields. They had main field, when you came off Indian Queen Lane. They had a ball back there. Then in the middle was the main field where center field was facing, where Hohenadal’s was. Then down toward Scott’s Lane was a smaller field. Where a smaller field… what, they have two fields now? I’m not sure. (note: they are back to two fields now)
LD: Isn’t there just one?
JM: Is it only one now?
LD: Yeah I think.
JM: Well there use to be?
LD: Because the expressway ate most of the ball field.
JM: There use to be three fields, and like you know, the big team, like semi-pros, the Trojans or whatever, I think they called them the Gotwols brothers, they had great teams. Then they played all these teams from Kensington and Mayfair and… I forget some, I remember Mayfair and Kensington had teams because when the visiting team would come, we’d hang around and try to be the bat-boy for them, for like a quarter. I can remember players. I remember the Gotwols brothers (Dave and Webster), Mike Caukin, Dave Budens. These guys are all dead now. Harry Prime, he became a singer. They had an article in the paper about him. I think he must be ninety by now. And he was a catcher, I think for the baseball team, like in the ‘40s, late ‘30s. And Conrad. I talked about Sam Pollis, the shoe maker and right across the street on the corner of Conrad and Ainslie, there was a bar there called Quinn’s. Owen Quinn owned that bar, and on that side like at Sunnyside there was that Merrick Hall, where it used to be the Falls Official Club (note: originally America Hall). And there’s Dr. Durst there now. The garage there, they’re working on… I don’t know what they’re gonna do, put parks there, I don’t know, where that big lot is. I can always remember a lot there on Bowman and Conrad. Then there was a little store on the corner… had the little name… Annie Morrison had the store. Old lady, when we were kids. When someone had a birthday, they could go down and buy some hankies, handkerchiefs and stuff, like for a nickel, you’d get a couple of handkerchiefs for my sisters, to take to a birthday party. I don’t know whether it was exactly on the corner of Bowman and Conrad, or just the second house, but she was very old then, her name was Annie Morrison. And of course coming up at where Apollo’s is now, was a guy named Harry Katz had a drug store. Then of course you had Mifflin. Mifflin was built around 1935. They had Breck’s School before they moved to Mifflin. They had a place where you could play inside, you know. I remember a gym, they had games, but I forget. Then Krail Street ran all the way down to Crawford, and you could get down there and down to Ridge. That was before they put the expressway through. And…
LD: Now was the post office, in East Falls, on Midvale at that time?
JM: Yeah, the post office… Back when I first started working at the post office, the post office was still on Midvale. You had - right up from the church, the first house was Dr. Morani. She was a woman doctor, surgeon. She had an office there and I think there was another house. Then there was the post office and then there was a house next to the post office that the Pete Kelly’s lived there. Kelly’s that were related to John B. Kelly, I think. And I worked in there for… I started there in the post office around ’55 and I worked downtown and Manayunk. Around ’57 I came down to East Falls when they went down to Ridge Avenue. I’m trying to think it must have been the early ‘60s, but I’m not sure. And of course they had… Yeah the post office, well the new St Bridget’s school was built by then and then the old movie was there. I don’t know when the old movie got there, but I remember the old movie that was at Fredericks Street.
LD: Oh, at Fredrick and Midvale?
JM: Fredrick and Midvale and I remember it was a dime. In the late 30’s early 40’s it was a dime. I think during the war they moved up to Midvale, where the Chestnut Hill Bank is now, that use to be the new-old movie. And I’m trying to think… I remember going to the old movie. The use to give you candy when you went in and…
LD: They gave you the candy? You didn’t have to pay for it?
JM: No, they would give you like a piece of candy. I don’t know whether they did it all the time or just Saturday matinees or whatever. I remember it was a dime and I remember it went up to eleven cents. Then when they moved up to Midvale Avenue, where Chestnut Hill Bank is now. I remember that was the first time they started the evening movies. You know night time, it was always day time before. And we were always - we had to be a certain age before we could go at night.
LD: Now, you mentioned that the East Falls Beneficial Association was originally on Conrad and when did they move to Cresson?
JM: I’ll tell you when, because when I was a kind, they were on, up in what they call America Hall, which was the upstairs of that building at Sunnyside and Conrad. And I remember going in there when I got out of the Service… When I was in the service, you could go in there as a guest, if you were in the Service. That was like 1952, somebody signed me in as a guest and when u came back from the service in 1954, right around that time. ’55 they moved to Cresson Street between Bowman and Indian Queen.
LD: Was Len’s store there?
JM: Yeah, Len’s store was there (note: Len’s was a sporting goods store). Len’s store was on the corner (note: Bowman and Cresson – an empty lot now). Now, when I was a kid, Len’s store was the Republican Club. Yeah, Len’s store was a Republican Club, and it was an old building then. Then when the Republican Club folded up, I think the Republican Club moved into where the Benefit Club was. Then Len moved into the old Republican Club, across the street was the Italian Club. Now, when I was a kid, the Italian Club was a coal yard there. A guy named George Walker had a coal yard there (note: later the coal yard was smaller and owned by the Ferrante family). There was no Italian club. Now, right on the corner on Cresson Street, there was a place we used to call the Wagon Wheel. It had a wagon wheel outside. That was some kind of club. I don’t know whether it was the old Italian Club or just a club owned privately but a guy named Rafferty ran it. And I don’t think I ever went in there. I went in there, I think, the Italian Club might have taken that place before they moved into the new building, which was Walker’s coal yard. But I’m not sure but I can remember the old Italian club when we played football, this was around 1956 or around there. Pete Maggio (note: he later owned Pete’s Café on Midvale Avenue across from Furlong’s old office) was our coach, and we use to change in that old building into our football equipment then walk over to Dobson’s. That’s where we played. Let me see…
LD: I can remember that those associations ran picnics…
JM: Yeah, the Beni club had a picnic every year. Kids loved it. We would get, I think we would get as many as three buses, three or four buses. They would leave, maybe, 7:30 in the morning and then you’d get home, maybe, 7:00 at night. And they went to Mermaid Lake, we had different places.
LD: Forrest Park maybe? Was that one of them?
JM: Yeah, I forget. I know Mermaid, but there was an old place up further. Later years we had places that had bathrooms, but we went to some places that didn’t. I remember this one placed you’d use to have to walk across this rickety bridge to go to outhouses, you know. I forget the name of that place, but they had all kinds of food, and everything and usually they had a place where you could swim. And they had lifeguards and things like that, but it was something the kids looked forward to.
LD: And did Santa use to come to the Italian club?
JM: Yeah, they had a Christmas party. See the Benefit Club, no women were allowed in there (note: Benefit Club was the East Falls Beneficial Club), and I can remember the first time they had the Christmas party for kids. They had it in the regular falls benefit club, which was on Conrad street and I don’t know who the president was then. But then, because the women were coming in with the kids, I know there was something about the liquor. They covered all the liquor up with like black tape or something. Everybody was inebriated… you know. Then it got the, the upstairs of the Benefit Club got so small, there was so many kids that they made arrangements with the Italian Club after that. Where any member, their children or grandchildren were eligible to come. We had quite a few kids that was quite a few years. The kids got an individual present. Then we had a Santa and we had entertainment stuff or them. It was a shame when that place went, but everything else went. I forget what year that went.
LD: Now do you remember parades and there was memorial services here in East Falls on Memorial Day? Or Fourth of July?
JM: Well the main parade that I remember was the Fourth of July because St. Bridget’s use to march in it and have a picnic. We would go to McMichael Park, and you had to meet down at the school in order to get a ticket for a hotdog and a soda. If you didn’t go down to the school and march - then you didn’t get a ticket. And it got so bad… I mean there were so many kids. I remember one time we would go up Midvale over Conrad and up Sunnyside and they couldn’t even go up Sunnyside (too narrow) so they moved over to Bowman because it was wider. Then over Vaux and then up Midvale or up Coulter probably to McMichael’s. They had tents and they had everything.
Then the other churches, they all had their own. I remember the Baptists, this friend of mine, Dave Webster, was big in the Baptist Church, or was it Methodist (note: yes, Methodist, not Baptist), it might have been Methodist. They had a drum and bugle corps, and they played every year. They played up into the ‘90s, I think, the ‘80s anyway. Even when it was only three or four of them left, but St Bridget’s they would hire a band, sometimes they did sometimes they didn’t. And I remember my kids use to go with their friends to one of the churches I forget which one. They use to have their picnic at Penn Charter (Falls Presbyterian). I forget whether they were the Presbyterians. Now the Lutherans had the picnic right on their own grounds down, then, on Midvale and Conrad. They had their own Fourth of July picnic there then of course there was the group that… Penn Charter and… I forget where else. One time they use to a… Before Abbottsford was there, they had picnics up there at one of the churches Bessie Dobson belonged to, I guess. (Note: Falls Presbyterian. She was a financial contributor and helped get the new church built). But the neighborhood, they had all kinds of picnics, Fourth of July.
LD: And remember putting a wreath in the river on Memorial Day?
JM: Yea, and I think they would fire rifles and stuff then I think it ended up at McMichael’s. They had an honor guard. I know a few friends of mine; Franny Kelly and Joe McShane and all that. They had an honor guard. It was a shame that not a lot of people showed up in later years. A very few would go up when they had the service. They had the wreath at McMichael where they would have a memorial there. People for the VFW, they tried to keep that every year and I don’t know whether they do it anymore. I don’t know.
LD: Now, did you and your wife get to go out ever?
JM: Rarely, very rarely. Wakes and weddings. No, we didn’t go out much, but we did… She had a large family and I had a large family so between christenings and birthdays and Christmas. We’d all walk up to her sister Marie’s, the Boyles, on Bowman Street and we’d spend Christmas with them. They were in an out. I was coaching Little League and that was… I’d go to a house party on New Year’s Eve every once and a while. Jack Lally would have a party down on Sunnyside, but no. We would, not until the kids got in high school, we would start going out, for dinner every once and a while. We’d see shows, we’d went to a lot of those shows in the tents, like Valley Forge and King of Prussia. Where they had plays…
LD: Theater in the Round, those types of things?
JM: Yea stuff like that. And out to Fairmount Park. They had one right over here by? Chamounix or Belmont, whatever.
LD: There was a Kelly Memorial Play house there, wasn’t there?
JM: Yea, well they had a swimming place, Kelly. But this place was very close by. Now the one they have now is down further where they have these musicians come (note: Robin Hood Dell), in Fairmount Park. I went down there to see Barry Manilow, down there one time.
LD: Like concerts in the park?
JM: It’s bigger, I forget the name of it because you going around down past Hunting Park, you go down that way. But this place down here, I can’t remember the name of it (note: The Mann Music Center is in West Park). They use to have shows and it was in the park, but it was smaller (Robin Hood Dell).
LD: When I was working at McDevitt I use to take the day campers over that way. They had a Children’s Theater at, it was called Kelly Memorial Playhouse. It was a theater in the round and it was over by the Belmont Plateau.
JM: That could’ve been the same place.
LD: It probably had a different name then, when you were going.
JM: Yeah, but I’m talking maybe in the ‘70s, late ‘60s early’70s. Playhouse in the Park that’s they called it. It was over there. The one they have now is down further (Mann Music Center), which is bigger. But I remember we went over one time and saw BB King and then we saw some musicals and stuff.
LD: They had Mann Music Center there.
JM: That’s the one that’s big now. But we saw a musical at Playhouse in the Park, the one time. And of course the bigger ones we saw; Valley Forge, was it? Yeah we went up there a few times. They had some big shows.
LD: Did you go to Robin Hood Dell?
JM: Yeah. I went to Robin Hood Dell. I also went to the one, the one time, I remember we saw “The Most Happy Fella.” It was way out US1 (Bucks County Playhouse?). I can’t remember the name of it. But those, the one’s we are talking about are around here.
LD: So you married at St Bridget’s?
JM: St Bridget’s, 1960, May.
LD: And was that where your reception was?
JM: No we couldn’t get it. There weren’t many places around here. The Italian Club, you could rent the Italian Club, but it was very small. We had a good American Legion over there (Wissahickon Avenue – still open), but it was booked for that day. So we finally ended up, Polonial Hall, we had Polonial Hall (Terrace Street, Manayunk – houses now). I don’t know if it’s still there now, but it was big, plenty of room. And it was… I can remember my mother-in-law didn’t want liquor. She didn’t want liquor. And I forgot who the caterer was but this was in 1960. I think we had roast beef sandwiches and potato salad, beer, and I forget what kind of music we had. But I think it was like $2.50 a head, $2-3. But it worked out.
LD: So like the Italian Club and the East Falls Beneficial Association were started to help the families, or for social reasons?
JM: Well the Italian Club, the Italian people, when they actually formed the club it was called the East Falls Italian Mutual Aid Society. So they did have benefits. They had some kind of deal where if you were a charter member you’d put so much in and I don’t know whether you got money when u were out of work or sick, I don’t know. Probably have to find someone of Italian descent who would maybe remember from here, and from the parents or grandparents. I don’t know. But because, if you weren’t Italian you’d just pay the dollar a year as a social member.
And the Beneficial Club, I remember seeing the charter I think it was formed in 18-something, 1890 something like that. And it was mostly British, who come over from England. That lived in East Falls that formed the club and it was called Falls Beneficial Association. Even when I first joined in 1955, they still had benefits. If you were out of work or sick, you got fifteen dollars a week or something. Well the benefits, I think maybe they lasted until the late ‘60s or mid ‘60s. They were in place, when I went in 1955, but the enrollment… Well they were chartered and only had so many members. Sometimes you’d have to wait years to get in there. I had to wait like a year and a half. I had to wait until somebody died or dropped out for not paying dues. And I became a secretary. I was a secretary down there for years. And it was all recording dues. You’d paid so much every month and then keeping track of all that. And if someone got behind then you’d have to send them a certified letter. Then if they didn’t respond, if they got dropped then they’d get a letter saying they were dropped, for not paying dues. But the benefits didn’t last long once I got there because there was too many… They didn’t have enough to pay out or whatever, I remember they were giving $5-10 a week out at a time, which I guess in like the ‘20s and ‘30s that was a lot of money, but they did stop the benefits. They didn’t change the name. But they did stop the benefits.
LD: The East Falls Golf Association, they use to have a benefit?
JM: The golf? They had a tournament every year. Supposedly it’s the oldest neighborhood golf tournament in the whole country. And it started, in what - 1920, something like that. Right after the First World War. You know, like John B. Kelly and a couple of guys like that. And in later years, when I was a kid, even Roche Petrone, and that was going down, but some group of guys jumped in and kept it going. It’s still going now. They’d play every year.
LD: I remember seeing trophies in windows or prizes.
JM: Every year the major drug put on display the trophies because at that time they had a big book made up every year with ads and memorabilia and everything in there. And I remember a guy, Bill Gable, who went around to different businesses to get. And at one time, everyone had an ad in there. And then that went to put in and at that time a couple Kelly’s and a few other members at Bala Country Club. And they would play every year over there. And when I was a kid, I remember I went over and caddied I was in high school and I caddied for Judge Daily and Spike Lally then later years I played. I played quite few years then they got priced out of Bala, or wanted a different venue. So then they started playing different places. They played all over. They played at, up at, the Cigna course there in Roxborough there past Friendly’s.
LD: Did you ever play at Green Briar (across the river from East Falls)? Was that still open then?
JM: I don’t know. They played at Lulu and played at places, I can’t remember, of course now the last 3-4 years they’ve been playing at… I can’t remember the name.
LD: There’s one in East Norriton.
JM: No they played up. God I wish I could remember the names of these courses.
LD: I wish I could help but I’m not a golfer.
JM: The one up above Norristown, they played there for a few years. I can’t think of them either. But they got over a hundred players.
LD: Westover, did they play at Westover?
JM: Yeah, they played at Westover. They played up there a few times. (Jack makes a phone call).
LD: There was the Melrose Country Club. That’s… East Falls was kind of self -contained, you could pretty much get everything you needed here in the neighborhood right? Clothes and food…
JM: Well, they didn’t have Acme’s and things like that. There were a ton of corner stores. Well we’d walk down. There was a five and dime store right where Johnny
JM: That was a big Woolworth’s, I think.
LD: Now, wasn’t there a drug store on the corner of Indian Queen?
LD: Falls Pharmacy
Jack: Well, it was called Falls Pharmacy, Jewish guy, can ‘t think of his name. Well did they have prescriptions at Ridge and Midvale, where we were talking about them having the trophies?
LD: Major Drug?
JM: Major Drug, I think they had prescriptions, but the guy around the corner here at Indian Queen, I think that was the Falls Pharmacy.
LD: And there was the hardware store?
JM: The hardware store was right across from Major Drug, like on Ridge, on the corner there. I don’t know what’s there, a market or something.
LD: An art gallery?
JM: That was the hardware store and overtop of it was the Hall…
LD: A Masonic Hall was it?
JM: Because they use to have weddings and stuff there. And then up from the hardware store on Ridge. McIlvaine’s was there before the move up to Midvale Avenue. Funeral parlor, McIlvaine’s was between the hardware and the firehouse. Then up from the Major Drug was… Sam, Jewish guy, had the store and it was produce and stuff. Of course you remember he had these shelves outside that he’d put the stuff on display like vegetables and fruits. Then of course there was always some sort of market in there, and a store. And it changed hands because I remember this big old guy, Steve, was a butcher in there at one time. And next to that was a barber shop and I forget who owned it then (note: Freddie Herrera opened his own shop there. His brother kept the one on Conrad Street), there was a restaurant, John Bourne Shop, John Bourne had it. They had great steak sandwiches. The best, they had these French rolls then he had pressed ham on toast with lettuce which was cheaper if you didn’t have enough for a steak sandwich, but that was right across from the firehouse. And of course Welshy’s bar was down there. I forget the name of the place now; then, like you said, there was a shoe store, store named Borland’s. I think it was right at the bottom of Eveline. I remember they use to sell shoes and stuff (and women’s lingerie). Polis and there was a Heimlich’s, that was the bigger store that was right up from Eveline. And I think your husband’s family lived up from there on Ridge. But after Heimlich’s there was some houses.
LD: And wasn’t it Fiedler’s
JM: And Dr. Fiedler (note: a pharmacist – his brother was an M.D.) had his store right at the bottom of Stanton. Then right across from Stanton was something else. I don’t know if it was another barber shop or what. That’s where Harker has his plumbing stuff there now. There was a store there I think. Then there was another little store, Caruso’s had a store (note: up on Calument about halfway to the bridge – rear-faced Labby Hill). When you got to Calumet, right past Calumet, right before you hit the project. There was a couple of big old houses there. At the bottom of one of the houses was this old lady and her husband. Her name was Caruso their son Dennis, who they called Demsy, was a coach of the football team, East Falls Falcons - that was Caruso. He married one of the Fiedler’s. Dr. Fiedler’s sister, I think. No, he didn’t… I think he married the one named Laura. Yeah, they had a little store, and you hardly ever saw anyone in there. Then on the other side of the street, I forget, what was over there. Where that…
LD: That Dunkin’ Donuts or…
JM: Yeah, Dunkin’ Donuts or something there. I forget what was there. There was a church right across from there. Lutheran’s or something were down there (note: no, it was the First Presbyterian church of East Falls). Then of course the Inn Yard. There was a couple of houses down there.
LD: Did you ever go shopping Germantown? Did you ever take the trolley, or take the kids down there?
JM: When we were kids we use to walk up to Germantown because they had more movies over there. And we’d walk, we’d walk up Queen Lane and over Chelten, then right on Chelten Avenue. They had the Chelten movie, and then you’d walk up to Germantown Avenue. You’d walk around the corner and there was the Colonial which was the big movie. Then there was a little street off to the left where a movie called “Bandbox”, was it “Bandbox”, I forget. It was dime, fifteen cents, but we would walk over, about a half hour’s walk. But we were all kids, it was no big deal. It’s good to have your choice of three different movies because we only had the one here.
LD: Well, we’re a little over an hour, you know, how are you feeling?
JM: I’m alright.
LD: Is there anything else you would like to add, any special memories?
JM: When you got down to the Ridge, I know a lot of people probably told you about that little store, across from the Bathey.
LD: No you’re my first interview.
JM: But I know a lot of people, who remember that store, but they don’t remember the people that owned it. And the people that owned it, their name was Croce.
LD: Croce, ok
JM: Joe Croce was a friend of mine, he was my age. I ended up delivering mail, he lived on Allegheny. He married a girl… what was her name? Mickey Steinberg, do you remember him?
LD: I don’t remember… Tom would remember Mickey Steinberg, but I know Herby Steinberg.
JM: Well, Mickey was an older brother. They lived down the Roach, when they were kids, but Mickey married. When Mickey became a fireman, he lived on Krail Street at one time, but then he moved to the north east. But News, there were these people from over around Allegheny. Their name was “News”. They were four girls, they were all pretty, Mickey Steinberg married one, Joe Croce married one, and Jakey Murphy. The Murphy’s from the lower end (Surgeon’s Row)
LD: The lower end.
JM: Well, Jake was like, he was younger than me, but he married. And you would probably know his kids from the playground. This Jake Murphy’s kids, the older ones, Richie was the younger one, there was one they called Shag (Billy).
LD: Oh right I know…
JM: I think they live in Manayunk now.
LD: Johnny’s the oldest.
JM: Johnny was a cop. Well Jake was their father.
LD: Was their dad?
JM: Yes and that wife of his, she’s still living.
LD: Yeah, Mrs. Murphy was a News.
JM: News. And her and Steinberg’s wife and Joe Croce’s wife were all sisters. Nice people. I use to deliver their mail on West Moreland street right off Hunting Park. What’s funny, they all married guys from over here. But I use to see them when I coached little league because Jake’s kids, one of his kids, Richie, and yeah I see Johnny, he’s retired from the police. He refs basketball and all that stuff. Yeah, in high school and all that I think. And Jakey he died kind of young. Bum Bum, he was an older brother (died young also). We cover a lot of things.
LD: Well after moving around and traveling, East Falls always seemed like a special place, you know. Like you were fortunate to have grown up here.
JM: Yeah it was, the way it was situated, it was like… and it was even better in the old days. They had church leagues and baseball. All the churches had teams. Yeah, it’s a pretty close knit community. It’s still holding on, there aren’t a lot of new people in East Falls. Like I said, they still have a good sports association and school are still pretty good. There’s not a whole lot of problems, I think. I guess there’s problems everywhere with people and kids getting in trouble and stuff. We were lucky, that’s why I got involved in the sports. Well of course I had kids and it was a good way of keeping them out of trouble. You know running around down there. They come home and they’re tired between practice and games. It kept them going and some play football and football season would start. Then they tried to get soccer going but it would never take off. Soccer’s great because all you need is a pair of shoes. And you don’t need all that expensive equipment, but they couldn’t get it going. Once East Falls was a great soccer neighborhood, at one time. All the English and Scots that came over here, they were big on soccer, and when I was a kid the ran…They had some good teams, East Falls. I was too young for the team and I can remember the Johnny Berras and John Taylor and the Verdones and Mr. Miller. He was this old Englishman, they played all over. I remember teams came here. They played the Germantown boys club. Then when the war started the Second World War started. They could never get it going again.
LD: Now, was Abbottsford built for homes for veterans?
JM: No, it was homes for defense workers.
LD: Oh ok.
JM: When the Second World War started, they needed places for… They had Midvale’s Steel over there and they had Budd’s and SKF, they were all making something that was good for the war, for the war effort. And they build that strictly for people who were working defense jobs. And that a lot of them came down from up-state. And a lot of them were from around Germantown and places like that. They moved in there because the rent was cheaper. But they had to work in a defense job. I can remember because St Bridget’s, our class size expanded right around sixth grade, fifth or sixth grade, they came in. All these people from up-state because their parents moved down here, moved up there because they worked in defense. Let me see, sixth grade would have been 1943 so it could have been fifth or sixth grade, when they came down here. And some of them with the war and everything they gave way to…different people ran it and they didn’t get the same break so they made it like they had to leave. They got priced out, a lot of people, who moved down from up-state. All different nationalities and they blended in pretty good. I remember when we were kids, even they had a softball team, Abbottsford we called them. They were older guys, guys working in defense jobs, but they all played in an East Falls league. And I got to be friends with a few who stayed, whose families stayed in East Falls some of them went to high school with me.
LD: Is there anything else you like to add?
JM: Just those golf courses I can’t remember. North Hills I’m thinking.
LD: Well we can always add it in the written later. If you think of it, you can call Ellen or me. Or call me and let me know.
JM: Its actually North Hills; they went up there about three or four years ago, and everybody liked it so much that this will be their fourth or fifth straight year.
JM: It’s North Hills or something. I’ll let you know. Yeah I think that’s it. I tried to mention all the stores. Is it still recording?
LD: Well, I can’t shut it off cause it’ll go back to the beginning.
JM: Oh, I see. Maybe he’ll call me in the next minute or two.
LD: But they type it up from here, so you’ll have a typed copy.
JM: Yeah, but up here I know I mentioned Buchanan’s was a pharmacy that was right up the street.
LD: Wasn’t there a barber shop up at Conrad and Bowman?
JM: Yes, there was. In fact, this guy named Joe Barreras (and his brother Dominic) was a barber there. He was from the Roaches but there was a little store because my wife lived right up the street on Bowman. And that’s where they got their lunchmeat and everything. All I know is the guy’s name was Herby. I think they were Jewish people and they had a son named Herby. There was an old guy and his wife and son named Herby, but we won’t mention that. It was a little corner store at Sunnyside and Vaux. It was when I was a kid, it was called John Young’s, John and May Young. John Young, he was in his ‘50s or ‘40s and his wife May and his father. And he use to cut lunch meat and bread and stuff. And we were on the tick everyone was on the tick, that’s what everyone called it.
LD: Yeah, down on Ridge, it was on the “I”.
JM: Ok, we called it The Tick…
LD: Did they have a board up with your names?
JM: No, they kept it in a book (note: in Caruso’s on Calumet your name was up on a board). They wouldn’t put on a board. That was private. Then everyone knew your business. When you’d come in he’d have a pencil and a pad. And you get a quarter pound of this and a quarter pound of that. Then my father was a policeman, he got paid every two weeks, and my mother the first thing she did was go down and straighten that up. But she did most of the shopping at right down at the corner of our street that was…Maybe that was Clayton’s. The one that’s called the Tilden Market now - that could have been Clayton’s or Caldwell’s, maybe it was Caldwell’s because there were two Caldwell stores. Yeah, it was Caldwell’s because one Caldwell had the Tilden Market and the other had the market right next to St Pollis on Conrad and Ainslie. Ed, he had a smaller store but it was Howard Coldwell that had the store up here. And my mother did most of the shopping there. And then across the street at Tilden and Vaux, there was an old guy named Beckman, who was a huckster at one time, but he was so old when I was a kid. That just a couple of times a week, he would open his garage which was right on Tilden Street where the alley way is near Vaux. And he would sell produce.
LD: Out his garage?
JM: Yes, out of his garage because I never remember him having a truck or a horse and wagon. When I was a kid everyone delivered with horse and wagon. Yeah, that was in the late ‘30s.
LD: Was that milk, bread, and produce?
JM: Milk and bread. Produce, no, no one came around with produce. We had the milkman and the bread man.
LD: Was there a ragman?
JM: Yeah well – ragman; we did have a ragman. I remember a ragman. I think they walked carrying stuff on their back. Then we had a guy who use to come up the alleyway selling horse radish and stuff.
LD: How about Fuller brush, did they come around? Or the vacuum cleaner people?
JM: I kinda forget, I was probably wasn’t home if they came during the day. I think I already mentioned, I do remember right before they had lighting, right across the street on Tilden Street they had a lamp post. And every night, before it got dark, a guy would come up the street with a ladder. Put the ladder down, open it up, maybe a four or five step ladder and would climb up the ladder and put something to light the lamp. That was it.
LD: So they were gas lights back then?
JM: Yep, I think, well we were in the middle of the block and that was right across the street from me, and I think there was one on each end then one in the middle of the street. I remember that. I don’t remember whether it went out by itself in the morning or whether they came around and put it out. I don’t know because they would probably come around right before daylight. But right before it got dark. Walking too, not riding. I can remember when the horses. I can remember one time when they would do their duty, you know I mean. One day, my father had our porch enclosed because of the kids and he didn’t want to have dust bothering anybody. And one time he told my brother, Jim, “Get the shovel, get the shovel, get out there and shovel that into the lawn.” Well we only had a little lawn and we didn’t know what he was talking about. Then he said “you’ll see, you’ll see”. And like two weeks later we’d have the grass up like that.
LD: It was free fertilizer.
JM: We thought he was crazy - “What do you mean shovel it up there?” We were young, eight to ten years old and then we found out why. Then I remember when the delivery with the horses. They had the wheels, the kinds you see in the westerns, like those wagon wheels with the wood and all that.
LD: The spokes, the wooden spokes and iron rims.
JM: Yeah, then they went to rubber wheels. Then I think the horses were done, but that was, I guess, late’30s. I don’t know if at the beginning of the war whether they were still there or not but I remember the trash trucks. I kind of think they were mechanized. People who picked up the ashes, I forget about the trash. I guess that went with the ashes but the ashes was a big thing with us. We didn’t have gas heat until the early ‘50s. Right before I went into the service, maybe ‘51 to ’52.
LD: And up until then it was coal?
JM: We had coal. You’d have to go down to the bottom of the cellar, and down at the bottom was the coal bin. And when we had the heater and then cellar window was right next to the heater. They built the houses that way. And I never got to do it…my father took care of that. You know he had to shake it down and get the ashes. Then we would help shovel them into the buckets. Pretty big buckets but we couldn’t fill them too high because then they got too heavy to lift up. It would take two of us. One would go outside and open the window while the other would lift it up. We put a couple of them out on trash day. And those guys would come by with the handkerchiefs and or the stockings around to avoid swallowing all the dust. But I don’t remember horses ever pulling them. They always seemed to have the motored engine or whatever. Yeah, I can’t think until I leave.
LD: That’s alright you can always write an addendum. You can write it down and we can add that.
JM: Oh I’m sure many people would remember much more than I can.
LD: I don’t know about more, but maybe from slightly different perspectives.
JM: People will remember something a little different something someone forgot about. That I’d remember and vice versa. I do, thank God, have a fairly good memory, but I know some people…But I go… Even down in Florida this year. I’m going back. And I could meet someone and talk about something in third grade and they’d say “Wow, you remember that” I do.
LD: Well, it’s been fun for me just listening and all…
JM: Yeah, I enjoyed that. I didn’t know how I’d make out or if I could help out any.
LD: Well, you did a really good job, and I think we made an hour and it’s over an hour and twenty minutes. You did a really good job.
JM: Yeah, I said to my daughter “I don’t think I can talk for over an hour without a couple of beers”, but I did alright. Yeah, I hardly have any beer anymore, but yeah it’s been fun.
Note: Jack clarified later that it was eight hours round trip to Atlantic City, not one way. He also said they went there for salt water taffy and got their spring water in Germantown.
East Falls Historic Society Oral History Interview
Interviewee: Tony DiStefano (TD) with his wife Rosemarie DiStefano (RD)
Interviewer: Wendy Moody (WM) and Lyda Doyle (LD)
Interview: November 29, 2022
Transcribed by: Wendy Moody, EFHS
WM: Hi. It’s November 20, 2022. Lyda Doyle and Wendy Moody are in the home of Rosemarie and Tony doing an oral history interview. Tony thank you for agreeing to this. Can we start by asking where and when you were born?
TD: Where I was born was the Medical College of Pennsylvania, or Women’s Medical as it was known then. That was in May of 1943.
WM: Specifically when?
TD: May 22nd
WM: How about your parents?
TD: My mother was born in 1917 in Philadelphia, as was my father. He was born in 1918 in Philadelphia. Both of them had immigrant parents. On my mother’s side they were both born in Italy in a little town in the province of Avellino called Carife. On my father side, his father was born in a little town in Italy called Acquafondata (in the province of Frosinone) and my grandmother, who was of Ukrainian descent, was born in a small hamlet in Austria in the 1880s.
WM: What part of Philly did your parents live in?
TD: My father grew up in the parish of Saint Mary of the Eternal at 22ndand Cambria.
WM: What section is that?
TD: That’s a section within North Philly. It used to be very ethnic Italian neighborhood.
TD: I don’t think so.
LD Not like 22nd & Toronto and all?
TD: Well if that’s Swampoodle, my father was born in Swampoodle. My mother was born in another parish called (St. Malachy, located at 1420 N. 11thStreet – it is still a very active parish). She was also born in North Philly around 3rd and Girard.
WM: So where did you grow up?
TD: When I was born my mother and father separated, and we went to live (my sister and I and my mother) in my grandparent’s house in the lower end of East Falls at 35th and Allegheny.
WM: Was that considered East Falls?
TD: We always affiliated with East Falls but we prided in calling ourselves “Lower Enders.”
WM: And why was that a pride?
TD: Well it’s like an esprit de corps. We’re a little tougher than those Upper Enders…
WM: What was your specific address?
TD: 3523 West Allegheny Avenue. It was a 6 bedroom 3 story house.
WM: Where did you go to school?
TD: I went to grammar school at St. Bridget’s.
WM: We’ll get back to schooling in a minute, but going back to your parents, so did you have a relationship with your father?
TD: Yes, I had a very good relationship with my father. I saw him often.
WM: And what did he do?
TD: He had various jobs – he was a carpenter, truck driver, handyman, that kind of thing.
WM: And you said you one sister?
TD: I have a sister, Anna Marie. She was born in 1940. She also attended St. Bridget School. And a brother Gus – he was born in 1947.
LD: He works for Joan McIlvaine.
TD: He’s second in command at Joan McIlvaine’s Funeral Parlor.
WM: So did your parents share any memories of their early years in East Falls?
TD: Well they both didn’t grow up in East Falls but they shared some memories - my mother, more so, because she grew up in East Falls. She went to Saint Bridget’s School for the first six years, then to the Breck School, which was the local public school on Crawford and Krail. And then, when she went to high school, she went to Germantown High School and when she completed the 10th grade she quit and got a job.
WM: So did she tell you anything about Breck School?
TD: She probably told me a lot but all I remember was that it was a very good experience. She enjoyed it.
WM: Let’s go to your schooling. So you were at 35th and Allegheny, so how did you get to St. Bridget every day?
TD: Well we walked to school in the morning, and at lunch we’d walk home, and then back again for the afternoon.
WM: How long a walk are we talking about?
TD: It’s about six blocks - up Ridge Avenue, then up Midvale Avenue. It wasn’t that difficult.
WM: Tell us about your years at St. Bridget. I know there are a lot of memories – your teachers, your activities. What stands out?
TD: Well when I went to school there we had one lay teacher – the rest were all nuns. As I look back, it was a positive experience. I enjoyed every bit of it. There were multiple grades and a lot of kids to each classroom – as high as 80.
WM: Really? In one classroom?
LD: It even got higher when I was there.
WM: I remember Joe Petrone talking about that too. So how did you physically do that? Was it two to a chair?
TD: No, we could do it- we were little kids. You mentioned Joe Petrone. Joe Petrone always reminded me that I was his first friend in first grade.
LD: The desks were the kind where the back of your seat was the front of the next one – the old desks with the inkwell. And they were all attached on runners.
WM: Were you a good student?
TD: Yes I was a good student, I think.
WM: Get into trouble?
TD: Not much.
WM: Even with Joe as your best friend?
TD: No, he didn’t get in trouble really. He was just a good guy.
WM: Great guy. So who were some of the teachers you remember – the nuns that stood out?
TD: Well I remember my 1st grade teacher, Sister Alice Terese. I liked her a lot. And my 8th grade teacher – Sister Helen Marie. She was an elderly nun but you couldn’t help but like her. And the rest – I had no complaints. So often you hear that nuns wouldn’t let the students write with their left hand – they never stopped me.
LD: Me either.
TD: While I was there, I was an altar server. – an altar boy.
WM: How were they selected? Did you volunteer?
TD: I volunteered. One of thoughts going back then – I’d have early mass for a week - 6:30 mass at church - and I’d have to leave the house at 6 o’clock, walk up Ridge Avenue and Midvale, and there was never any fear. Today kids couldn’t do that. And then besides that, we pulled duty at Ravenhill Academy. They had 7 o’clock mass every morning. So when you got that, it was a long walk. We’d go to 7 o’clock mass and then we’d come home and go right back to school.
LD: You couldn’t just go from Ravenhill to St. Bridget?
TD: No. A lot of times the priest who had the duty to say Mass would drive us home.
LD: So in those days, girls could not be altar servers – that’s why Ravenhill needed the boys from St. Bridget.
WM: I see.
TD: And on Saturdays, if you had the mass, they gave us breakfast at Ravenhill and we just thought it was wonderful – with all the girls.
WM: How long did you do that?
TD: From 5th grade to 8th grade.
WM: Anything after school or just before school?
TD: Just before school. Certain holidays – if there was a funeral, you’d be taken out of class and attended mass or helped the priest. And occasionally, we’d do a wedding. I did several of them in my years.
Easter and Holy Thursday were big deals for the Catholic Church and for those holidays, many altar boys were involved.
WM: Did you have special duties on those days?
TD: I was an acolyte – I carried a big torch with a candle and wore a special white cassock with a velvet red covering and a sash. Pretty cool.
LD: When you were going to 6 o’clock mass, some times of the year, that had to be in the dark?
TD: Of course, but times were different then. If I lived at 35th and Allegheny, I would not allow my 12 - 13 year old boy to walk to St. Bridget in the morning.
WM: Were the nuns strict as teachers?
TD: They were strict but fair. They were firm. They had to be, because of the volume of kids they had. They had to control the classroom and I remember it was difficult for some.
RD: You can’t teach in chaos.
WM: Did you have assemblies? What were some of the special things you did at St. Bridget?
TD: Well, we had an annual fundraiser called a Mardi Gras that they had games of chance and food in the evening – 2 or 3 nights in a row – that was exciting. And we had assembly room in the auditorium. One event I remember, they raised money for a new tv.
WM: What were they using the tv for?
TD: Just to have it in the auditorium. By today’s standards, it was not special.
WM: Were you in the old school on Stanton?
TD: My first and 2nd grades were old school and then we moved - 3rd thru 8th in the new school building.
WM: Tell me a little more about that – the difference in the settings.
TD: Well the old school was built in the 1800s and the new school was built around 1950. It was more modern. It had a lot of tile. Not much wood. Water fountains in the corridors.
LD: The desks were different – separate tables and chairs.
TD: The desks were different.
WM: Did you have fewer in the classes at that point or not?
TD: As the years went by, there were fewer and fewer, but the classes were always a minimum of 60 kids.
RD: Even when I taught there.
WM: Did you teach there? I didn’t know that.
RD: When I taught there, they couldn’t have more than 35 because the state law went into effect. I taught 1st grade for ½ year there, then I taught 3rd grade for three to four years.
WM: So they were allowing lay teachers at that point?
RD: Oh yes. There were mostly lay teachers. We had one or two Sisters.. When I was there, there were very few Sisters.
WM: And who was your principal?
TD: Mother Mary Siena and Mother Marguerite.
WM: And what were they like?
TD: They were very nice. I can’t say a bad thing about them. They made school pleasant. – I remember Mother Marguerite used to speak on the public address system at the end of the day and she always said the same thing at the end: “Children, remember, we can’t all be rich, good looking and bright, but we can all be clean, obedient and polite.”
WM: Were there afterschool activities? Did you have a choir? Or sports teams? Anything going on?
TD: I didn’t play many sports at all.
WM: Did they have them there?
TD: Yes they had them. They had baseball and football. That’s about it. But as my brother would say when we grew up, “Tony is non-sportable.” Those were his words.
WM: So what did you like doing? Were you in the choir?
TD: No, I wasn’t in the choir… in the later years – 6th grade I guess it was, I got a paper route.
WM: Which paper?
TD: The Evening Bulletin. And the branch where you picked up your papers was at Conrad and Bowman Streets. My first paper route was Indian Queen Lane, Krail Street, and Haywood Street and Plush Hill. I did that for a little less than a year and I transferred to the Lower End and I did Westmoreland Street, 34thStreet, and Clearfield Street. I continued doing that until I graduated from high school.
WM: Good for you. You got to know all the people?
TD: I got to know all the people. And I often tell the story: I used to have a bunch of little kids following me and one little boy, Bobby Dougherty – he was turning 5, told me he was having a birthday party and he wanted me to come. So I said “Yes, yes, of course.”
WM: What street was he on?
TD: He was on Westmoreland Street. So the night of the party – it was a Friday night – I received a call from his mother. She said “Tony, you have to come. Bobby won’t allow the party to start unless you get here.”
WM: So tell me about after school. What would you do?
TD: Well, I did my paper route, homework and watched some tv. And when it was cold I would mostly stay in the house but I also….one of the things I remember very clearly when I was a child was - we lived at 35th and Allegheny, which was adjacent to the Dobson Mills. Dobson Mills was a major employer, from not only East Falls, but all over. And what struck me was at 5 o’clock you’d hear the whistle blow and the employees would come out in droves to catch the 60 trolley, the R Bus or the 61 trackless trolley.
WM: What year did Dobson Mills close, do you know?
TD: I think the woolen mills fazed out during the 40s but I’m not sure. But as they closed, other businesses moved in. There was a luggage maker, Venetian blind maker, a motorcycle business – Triumph Motorcycle had a dealership up in the mills, as we called it. But one of the things we did as Lower Enders – there were so many children to play with, you could always find someone willing to do what you wanted to do. We played a lot of games – boxball, tag, card games, and pinch meowser…
WM: Tell us what that is.
TD: Pinchmeowser was a game where you’d get a row of kids about eight across, all holding hands, with somebody facing you. You would walk towards him. and at a certain time, someone would send a signal – the first hand would squeeze, and by the time the squeeze got to the last one, they would go: ”Meowser” and run. The person – single- would try to tag you so you would be “it” and you would have to do that.
WM: And what else did you play?
TD: We played stick ball and half-ball. As a Lower Ender, one of our playgrounds was Laurel Hill Cemetery. We used to like to walk through there – we never damaged any gravestones or anything, but it was an oasis for us. It was fresh and clean and the proprietors who ran the cemetery knew we were there.
WM: Was that hide and seek?
TD: No we’d just explore. We’d walk down to the river, read the gravestones. When it snowed, it was a sledding paradise over there. That was fun.
WM: Going back to Dobson Mills, do you have any memories of when it was still operational?
TD: The only memories I have are when the 5o’clock whistle blew. But in the summertime we used to do something called soda bottle hunting. And soda bottle hunting was to wander through the mills and the workers would buy bottles of soda - even a quart bottle – and occasionally beer bottles – and we’d gather them up and redeem them for two cents a bottle and a nickel for a big bottle.
WM: Where did you redeem them?
TD: Any store. And you could take them into a bar if you had beer bottles and they would give you a nickel for each one. We were recycling – we were ahead of the curve!
LD Did you have a wagon?
TD: I had a wagon.
RD: He still has it in the basement – his Bulletin wagon!
TD: You never know – it may come back…
WM: You may need to work again!
RD: Didn’t your mother work in the mills?
TD: My mother worked in the mills, sure. She had several jobs there.
WM: Do you remember what they were?
TD: She was a sewing machine operator.
WM: Was she making carpets or clothes?
TD: She was making clothes – sweaters. And that’s how she supported us and herself.
WM: Did she ever tell you any stories of what went on there?
TD: Not really. I know it was hard work. It was piece work, and she was in the union so she wound up with a pension which was a good thing.
WM: I wonder when they unionized, because at first they weren’t unionized.
TD: It was the International Ladies Garment Workers union.
WM: So what about weekends – what would you do for fun?
TD: Well, we didn’t drive up to the mountains or drive down to the shore, we just enjoyed the neighborhood. And, as I said earlier, one thing we had that I don’t think the kids have today is – we had many, many friends.
Everybody had large families, and I remember, also, very clearly, in the late ‘40s and early ‘50s people started getting tvs. There were one or two - and the owners would allow all the kids to come in and watch Frontier Playhouse or Howdy Doody around 5 – 6 o’clock. As more people bought tvs, that ended. But we used to go into other kids houses. The Lower Enders were very generous with their food – they would also feed you; it was nice.
LD: Was the Alden movie there yet?
TD: Yes, the Alden movie was there. In my younger years, we would go to the Saturday matinees. Then when I got a little older, we would do Sundays – that was more for the big kids.
WM: Different movies?
TD: Yeah, the Saturdays were more for children – they had cartoons and stuff. The older ones would be like Ben Hur, Demetrius and the Lion…
WM: How much was it to get in?
TD: It was a quarter for us. It jumped to 50 cents for adults.
WM: I remember Joe Petrone said he had a job there sweeping – did you do that?
TD: No I never worked there.
WM: Let’s name some locations and just say what comes to mind that you remember… How about McDevitt Playground?
TD: Well I remember McDevitt Playground before it was McDevitt Playground. It was called Dobson’s Field and it was much larger than it was today, because during the ‘50s, they cut it in half to put U.S. 1 Bypass. So some of us still call it Dobson’s Field.
WM: Was that for baseball?
TD: It was a playground – they had rides, swing sets, and all that. And three baseball fields, I remember.
WM: Were you in a league – oh no, you were “non-sportable”!
TD: I was “non-sportable.”
WM: How about Plush Hill? I don’t suppose the mansion was still there?
TD: Sure. The mansion was one of the stops on my paper route.
WM: Oh tell us about what that looked like.
TD: It was just a big old building with lots of apartments – maybe 6 apartments. I had a couple of customers in there.
LD: You mean the apartment that was on Indian Queen Lane – red brick? That’s Plush Hill, but the mansion she’s talking about is up where the Gotwols family lived in part and the Bowmans lived in the other wing.
WM: I’m talking about Indian Queen and, is it Krail?
LD: So up by Haywood was where the Smith Mansion was – not the Haywood that’s there now.
WM: Do you remember when that came down?
TD: No, I can’t say I remember. It’s probably in the ‘60s.That’s all been developed now – new homes there.
WM: So much I never got to see….Did you go up to McMichael Park?
TD: We used to go to McMichael Park every 4th of July. St. Bridget would have a parade, and there would be a couple of marching bands in there. John McIlvaine always brought up the hearse at the very end of the parade and he had a sign on the back “The End.”
TD: That was nice. And Redeemer Lutheran also had a parade that day – a small parade - and we used to go over there and get some food.
WM: Each church had their own location for their picnic?
TD: And their own float. And their own people marched in it and they all ended up in McMichael Park.
LD: And some went to Penn Charter for their picnic. Some went to McMichael.
WM: And I think the Lutherans stayed on their own grounds.
LD: The Presbyterian Church went to Penn Charter.
WM: How about the library?
TD: The library was great. I remember my first library card number: 25542 and I used to get the same book out all the time – The Five Chinese Brothers.
WM: That’s a great book. Do you remember any of the staff who was there? The guard? The librarian?
TD: No, I can’t say I do. But I remember when I got older, this one librarian who was so helpful all the time and I used to make excuses to talk to her. I think her name was Wendy Moody. (Laughter)
WM: Oh dear! When you went in at first, was the circulation desk in the middle? Because in the ‘50s they reconfigured it.
TD: Yes, it did change. I remember the old way. And I remember it was so peaceful and quiet in there - it was a nice refuge.
LD: How about the Inn Yard?
TD: I remember it but I never spent any time there. It was part of the Lower End, but not my part of the Lower End.
WM: How about the Schuylkill River?
TD: Well, I had friends who lived to fish on the Schuylkill River, but I never could get quite into it, though I’d go down there. But what I do remember is the Bathey. The Bathey was a city pool at Ferry Road and Ridge Avenue. It’s now a restaurant of some kind. The Bathey had girls’ hours, boys’ hours – a tough schedule to follow, but it was a nice refuge in the summer.
WM: Was that something you did every “boy’s” day?
TD: Yes, but I didn’t live down there. – a nice little getaway for us city kids.
WM: So you weren’t jumping the fence like Joe Petrone in off-hours?
TD: Everybody jumped the fence…
LD: On Sundays when it was closed.
TD: And at night too. We climbed up the wall and went in the water. We didn’t vandalize or damage the facility.
WM: What about Gustine Lake?
TD: No, once or twice I was there but it was too far away for us. We didn’t have a lot of interest in Gustine Lake. One of the things I remember was we used to have a picnic at St. Bridget every year at Woodside Park.
WM: Tell us about that. It was a class trip?
TD: It was a class trip. We started at St. Bridget and hiked over.
WM: What was your route?
TD: We crossed Falls Bridge and somehow zigzagged through the woods there.
WM: The tunnel?
TD: Yes, there was a tunnel there – a big storm tunnel under the rail line that we could walk through, but that was a shortcut – you weren’t supposed to go that way.
WM: And what happened once you got there?
TD: Well we just enjoyed the Wildcat, which was the roller coaster – the big one, and the different rides, the candy, and stuff like that.
LD: Did you go on the boat rides?
TD: Probably. I can’t say I remember. But the other thing, with St. Bridget and the Alden - at Christmas time, St. Bridget would give everybody a box of candy and a free ticket to the Alden Theater to see a movie. And then later in those years, we got candy and we could visit the Italian Club. They had soda and refreshments for us there.
WM: Let’s get back to the Italian Club later. What about Powers & Weightman?
TD: I never spent any time there.
WM: Hohenadel Brewery?
TD: Hohenadel Brewery, yes.
WM: What happened there? Was it operational at that time?
TD: It was operational in my years – it wasn’t making beer, it was making soda. The soda had a brand name – it was called “Beverage” and the workers were always gracious to the kids. On the railroad tracks they’d throw us a case of soda. We’d drink a lot of soda.
LD: That was nice.
TD: “Beverage” it was called.
WM: Once it closed, did you go in there and explore?
LD: That was my generation – same generation, a few years later…
TD: (to LD): What year did you get out of grammar school – St. Bridget?
TD: So five years difference…
LD: So 7th and 8th gr we would play in there.
WM: What about Old Academy?
TD: I never had anything to do with it until I became an adult and got married.
WM: What would you do when it snowed?
TD: We would go to a place near the Lower End called Nonni’s Field – that was on Clearfield Street at 32nd Street. It’s now been developed – there’s a warehouse there. It was a long hill – we would sled there. But our favorite sledding place was the cemetery. That was ideal. And the third was in East Falls off Warden Drive – a place called “The Nuts.”
WM: Did you ever go to Mt. Vernon Cemetery or just Laurel Hill?
TD: I remember when Mt. Vernon had sheep to help cut the grass – to keep the grass trimmed.
WM: How interesting. Let’s go back to the Italian Club - did you go there growing up or as an adult?
TD: I went there Christmas time for that Christmas celebration for 2 or 3 yrs. I’ve been there for weddings but I’ve never been a member.
LD: How about Dutch Hollow?
TD: Yes, I would explore the caves. I went in one side and out the other but I never was comfortable in there.
WM: Where would you go in and where would you leave?
TD: There were two caves dug into the ground. You could go into the one on the left and come out on the right or vice versa.
LD: At the top of Arnold Street.
WM: Let’s move on to stores and restaurants you remember. Could you go up Ridge, Midvale and Conrad?
TD: Ridge and Midvale. Going down Ridge, across from the post office, there was a grocery store called Helen’s, which seemed so big.
WM: There are house there now?
LD: There’s a beauty salon.
TD: It was a good place – they seemed to have everything. It was a neighborhood grocery store.
WM: Did your mom shop there?
TD: No, my mom would shop at the grocery stores in the Lower End – 35thand Allegheny. There were two stores, and half a block up there was an American Store, and another store at Clearfield and 35th Street, so we had a lot of stores.
WM: So heading down Ridge towards Midvale, anything else you remember?
TD: If you would cross – right past Helen’s, there at the base of Indian Queen Lane and Ridge, there was a pharmacy there called Katz’s. He had a soda fountain in there. And I remember we would go in there at the end of the day and if there were pretzel sticks that were broken he would give them to us. The nicest guy.
WM: Do you remember the owner?
TD: Katz? I don’t remember… nice to the kids. Then right next to his place was the 5 & 10. The 5&10 was a cornucopia of neat little things.
LD: Wasn’t the 5 & 10 where Le Bus is?
WM: Did it have a name?
TD: It was called the 5 & 10. Then next to that, going up Midvale, there was a jewelry shop, a bakery –Haas’sBakery – it was an outlet for the main store which was on Queen Lane in Germantown.
WM: Do you remember the name of the jewelry store?
TD: Clifford and Kay.
WM: Very good. Let’s keep going up Midvale.
TD: There was a barber shop there – it had two barbers in it.
LD: Freddy and Felix Herrera?
TD: Yes. Herrera’s Barber Shop. But across the street was the Major Drug Store. And the Major Drug Store was a pharmacy but it also had a soda fountain and booths.
WM: The same Major’s that’s there now?
TD: Yes. What I remember there was going in on Sunday mornings and getting a toasted tea biscuit.
WM: Going up the street, were there any restaurants along there?
TD: On the side where Major Drug Store was, there was Pete’s Spaghetti House that I never frequented. And another bar.
LD: That was Frisco’s. But before that, it was a seafood place between the Majors and Pete’s Spaghetti House.
TD: I don’t remember that. Pete’s Spaghetti House was a bar, right?
LD: It was Johnny Mazzio and Pete Mazzio’s place.
TD: But next to Major’s Drug Store on Ridge was Sam’s Grocery Store. What I remember about that was, right outside the door, he had a big barrel with pickles in it. We would grab a pickle on the way back to school and stink up the classroom.
TD: But across the street from there was a hardware store – an old fashioned hardware store with lots of sawdust on the ground - and they had all kinds of hardware. It was nicer than a Home Depot.
WM: Do you know the name of that?
TD: No I don’t.
WM: That’s where Palestine Hall is now – the Masonic building?
WM: Fire station was in the same place?
TD: I think it shifted a little bit but it was always there.
WM: And anything further up Ridge? Was there a Fiedler’s?
TD: Fiedler’s was another drug store. That was up at the base of Calumet Street or Stanton Street.
LD: Stanton Street.
WM: And what about Conrad Street?
TD: Conrad. I remember where the Conrad Market was, when I was a kid, they sold steak sandwiches – steaks and hoagies. In the late ‘50s the price was 25 cents for a steak.
WM: Was that called Clayton’s?
TD: I don’t remember.
LD: Yeah, Harry Prime lived above it.
TD: Oh is that right? That’s where my paper branch was, I remember. We had lots of drug stores in East Falls.
WM: Any other restaurants besides Pete’s?
TD: Down by the Lower End we had two restaurants right at Scott’s Lane and the Ridge. I don’t remember their names, but one we called “The Greeks” – I guess the owners were Greek, and the other one was called “The Rack.” So I don’t where those names came from. And next to The Rack was a bar with an old-fashioned ladies entrance on the side – that was called “The Pollacks”, I guess because they were Polish. That went on to become the Catfish Café and now it’s completely gone.
LD: What about the Falls Tavern?
TD: Well I remember it being there, but I was never in it – I know it had a fire damaging its wooden structure.
LD: I remember going on Friday nights to get fish dinners because we couldn’t have meat on Fridays. My First Holy Communion party was there. Coming up Midvale, was Jerry the barber there then?
TD: Yes, he was, on the right side across from McIlvaine Funeral Home.
LD: How about Lucky’s Florist?
TD: That was there.
RD: The florist was there on the Ridge. Was that Kelly?
LD: William Lupannacci. On Midvale.
LD: I’m trying to think about Kelly’s? I thought that was on Allegheny.
TD: William Kelly Flowers was across from Corpus Christi, on Allegheny Avenue.
LD: That’s the one I remember.
WM: Corpus Christi?
LD: On the corner of Allegheny.
TD: 29th and Allegheny. It’s a big Catholic church. Clare McIlvaine Mundy had her funeral parlor there. It’s up in Roxborough now.
LD What about Connie Mack Stadium? Did you ever go to any baseball games?
TD: Yes I did. We would walk there, generally, from where we lived. And one of the things I remember very clearly, when the game would let out, the traffic on Allegheny Avenue was so intense.
LD: It was faster to walk….
WM: Let’s go back to your life. So you graduated St. Bridget, and then you went to Germantown High?
TD: No, I went to Roman Catholic High School. I graduated in 1961 and I didn’t play any sports.
WM: And what happened after? When did you meet Rosemarie?
TD: I worked for a year in a store that sold marine and industrial supplies. Then I joined a two year Marine Corps program. I did a little less than two years, then three years of Reserves.
WM: So what years are we talking about?
TD: 1963 and 64 for my military.
WM: Did you stay in the country?
TD: Yes. I went to California most of the time. Then I met Rosemarie in 1966. In 1969 we got married.
WM: And you met how?
TD: There was a little Jewish deli around the corner from where Rosemarie lived and one day I went in there and asked for a cheese hoagie.
RD: He was working at Germantown Hospital.
TD: I was installing equipment for General Electric. The lady said to me “Are you Catholic?” I said yes, because I was getting a cheese hoagie, for obvious reasons. She said “Are you spoken for?” I said “No, I’m not spoken for.” “Well will you take this girl out on a date? I’ll give you a free cheese hoagie for the next month.”
RD: That’s not true!!
RD: He went off… that part is not true.
TD: On the counter she had a stack of cards with this girl’s phone number on it. Call this girl!
RD: That’s not true either!!
TD: So we started dating and three years later we were married.
WM (to RD): And your story is…
RD: Well basically that’s true.
WM: Was she a friend of yours?
RD: Well we lived right behind her store. This was near LaSalle College and our house was on a little tiny street behind the main street of Olney Avenue. So my mother would go to the store for groceries when we didn’t go food shopping and the people who owned the store were Lottie and Jack Kettle. And there was another older gentleman there who I became good friends with when I went into the store. Anyhow, Lottie was always concerned about me having a date. So my mother went into the store and Lo ttie said “There’s a nice boy who comes in here and he’s Catholic and he’s not spoken for and I’d like Rosemarie to meet him.” And my mother said “Don’t get me in that. Rosemarie is home sick from school with the flu. You can call her and ask her.” So she did. Lottie called me and asked me and I said, “Lottie, I’m not really good with blind dates” but anyhow, I said ok.
TD: Make it happen!
RD: So she gave him my phone number and we went out - we were supposed to go out on a weekend but we ended up going out during the week. But after that we dated. We broke up once in that time. Tony got really cold feet after a year and a half or so. Then we dated again and got married in 1969. But Lottie was the matchmaker.
WM: So what year did you get married?
TD: 1969 at Immaculate Conception in Germantown.
WM: And where did you live?
TD: We bought this house a couple of months before we got married. It was our starter home and here we are, 53 years later, and we’re still in our starter home!
WM: So tell us about buying this house. I’m interested in the Manor; were you looking at several houses?
TD: Well we were working with a realtor.
RD: Not originally. We were looking all over the city…
TD: And we just couldn’t find anything and somehow through one thing and another, we met Mr. Harry Robinhold, who was the well-known realtor in East Falls, and he asked if we had any problems with East Falls. We said no. So he brought us to this house (3437 West Queen Lane) and we walked in the door. He sat down on the sofa and said “You go through it and do whatever you need to” and we decided we’d buy it. We paid $13,000 for it in 1969 and we’ve enjoyed it. It’s been a good home for us. We’ve raised two children here.
WM: Can you describe the house for the tape?
TD: Well it’s a townhouse, or row home as we know it. It has 3 bedrooms, 1 bath, with a living room, dining room, kitchen and a basement and a garage. With a front porch. One of the biggest draws was the nice stone fireplace in the living room.
WM: Would you call it Tudor style?
TD: Yes. Its Tudor style.
RD: And now we have a second bathroom in the basement.
LD: And you don’t have to downsize!
WM: So who were your neighbors back then? Do you still have the same neighbors? Tell us about your street and the dynamic of Queen Lane.
TD: Well it has changed but it hasn’t changed. People are here generally for the long haul. Our neighbors on each side have been here at least 40 years each.
WM: And they are?
TD: On our one side we have the Laddens – 2 sisters who are retired - Rita and Mary Ladden. And then on the other side are John and Fran Chicci. John is an East Fallser and Fran is from Doylestown.
WM: I probably should interview John at some point. Is there anything else you can tell us about the street or how it has changed?
RD: When we moved here, we had two elderly sisters on the opposite side here.
TD: Where the Chicci’s live. And on this side were a married couple Eve and Lanzey Mangino. Eventually they moved to the house next door to them on the other side because it was a little bigger and the end of a group.
WM: Did you say your parents said something about living here?
RD: Tony’s mother.
TD: My mother was concerned if I could make the mortgage payment of $95 a month.
RD: But she was excited because we were moving to the Manor. This was a farm before there were houses and it was known here as The Manor. She thought that was just wonderful that we were moving here.
TD: It was called Queen Lane Manor.
LD: I didn’t realize it came down this far.
RD: This was all part of it.
WM: Just going back a little, before we began the tape, we were talking about the Irish and the Italians in East Falls. Can you talk a little about that – the interplay between them and which streets different people lived on?
TD: Well there was a small rivalry but it went above us – I never really felt it – it wasn’t as harsh by the time we got to this age - young adults. It’s always been there and it will never end – rivalry between ethnic groups but we got through it ok.
WM: And which streets were primarily which ethnic groups?
TD: Well the Lower End was mostly English and Irish. The Upper End - up here where I currently live - was Catholic and Irish for the most part. Stanton Street and Calumet were predominantly Italian. I don’t remember any major incidents except stories I heard from back in my parents/grandparents age. We still hear things occasionally – there are remarks, both ways.
WM: But everyone went to St. Bridget and everyone got along?
TD: Everyone got along – there was no “All the Italians have to sit in the back or front or anything.”
WM: And do you remember the project coming in – Schuylkill Falls?
TD: I remember both projects- Abbottsford and Schuylkill Falls brought a lot of kids to our neighborhood. Many of them used it as a stepping stone and have done very well. But what I remember mostly about it is that it brought so many more kids to play with and grow up with.
RD: A lot of the kids from Abbottsford went to school at St. Bridget, and then when I was teaching, the other project was there, and a lot of kids came from there.
LD: They had a school in Schuylkill Falls Project but it only went to 6thgr. So then they came to Mifflin or St. Bridget.
WM: Was there much interplay between schools? Did you hang out with the Mifflin kids or the private school - Penn Charter kids?
TD: Just the ones who lived in your neighborhood. I can’t remember any kids in my neighborhood going to Penn Charter, but certainly lots of Mifflin kids. In fact many friends went to Mifflin.
WM: Was there any connection with the schools themselves - times when they got together?
LD: Other than the parade. They were all in the same parade.
WM: What about holiday traditions – Halloween, Christmas, any neighborhood events?
TD: No neighborhood events that I remember. The Christian people all had Christmas trees – that was just the normal thing.
WM: Where would they buy them?
TD: Ridge and Midvale, 35th and Allegheny. They were sold everywhere and they were very inexpensive.by today’s standards.
TD: We all went trick or treating. It was fun to go into a bar because they’d throw pennies at you.
WM: Did you spend any time up beyond McMichael Park?
TD: Not really, until high school - then we started. Public transportation was more accessible. When kids started driving their parents cars, then we’d go to the Roxy Movie or places beyond the neighborhood. We didn’t go to malls.
WM: What about the train stations? Did you play on the tracks or hang out there?
TD: Well we didn’t hang out, but at St. Bridget’s on a cold winter day I remember very clearly coming up to the train station in East Falls and going inside to warm up, but then you could go under the tracks, through the tunnel, to another smaller outstation.It had a coal stove in there and it would be cherry red hot.
LD: The little outer part of that building is still there.
TD: Do you remember that when it was a building?
TD: It was nice.
WM: After you were married and you raised two children here?
WM: Where did they go to school?
TD: St Bridget. Our two children are adopted from South Korea. The oldest one is Rita Josephine and she went, after St. Bridget, to Hallahan High School and then Drexel University and she became a mechanical engineer. And the other guy, Tony, went to Roman Catholic and he went to Johnson Wales College and Bentley College. He’s done many things – he was an accounting executive at Greek Seminary, then he went to work at Chase Manhattan Bank as a mutual fund analyst. He had his own real estate business in Boston and now he lives in central Massachusetts and he works for a building contractor.
WM: Did you adopt them as infants?
RD: No. We expected infants, but Rita was 2 years old when she came. She was born in 1973 and she came in 1975 – she was 2. Tony was almost 4 years old when he came.
WM: What year was that?
RD: He came in 1978. He’s always played sports and worked hard.
WM: So once you were married, could you talk a little about social activities in East Falls? Was most of the social life centered around the church, or did you see couples?
RD: The church, the family. We have a lot of family here.
TD: Within East Falls here, we have my brother and his wife - they live down the street – we’re 5 houses apart – brother Gus.
WM: On Queen Lane?
TD: Yes. And I have a niece who lives on Conrad Street at the end of the block – Gussie’s daughter, Denise.
WM: So most social events were family…
RD: Yes, most social events were family. My father died in 1975 and eventually Tony bought a house across the street and brought my mother here so that it was closer, because she lived in Olney. And my youngest nephew also came to live with her. St. Bridget was a major part of our lives because the kids went to school there and we were involved in those things. And friends on the block – I mean, when we moved here, we were one of the first young couples on the block, now we’re one of the old couples. Other young couples moved in and we all had children, so every night after dinner we’d sit outside – the kids would ride their big wheels up and down, or play outside. So we did have things with them. We had parish things that went on that we would go to, and friends that we had when we were single who we used to go out with, we still see – they come here, we go there…
WM: Any encounters with someone who was famous, the Kellys, Arlen Specter, Mr. Rendell?
TD: Well I can’t say the Kellys…
RD: Yeah, we did.
TD: Yes we did, at St. Bridget we had…
RD: When the Prince (Albert of Monaco) came for the Gala…
TD: We met the Prince. He was the guest of honor at the 150 year celebration at St. Bridget’s.
RD: And John Kelly, the cousin of the Prince, who was a great help. We met him and we were in their company at St. Bridget’s.
TD: Yes, and when we were young going to school at St. Bridget, we got to see Grace Kelly.
WM: Tell us about that.
TD: Well I just remember the Prince and her coming to mass. What struck me were the shoes he had on. They were what would call desert boots. And I saw Connie Mack several times when I was a child.
WM: Did you? I heard his brother lived on Netherfield.
TD: That I don’t know.
LD: Where did you see Connie Mack?
TD: I think I saw him at church at some event. And you mentioned something earlier. Several years ago we had a block party on our street which was very nice. The neighbors all got together and it was nice socialization. Having lived here for 50 years, we know a lot of the neighbors
WM: I bet you do. Going back to Grace, what was your impression?
TD: Well she was a very classy woman but looking at her when your 12 – you just know she’s a luminary of some kind. She had as nice, gracious smile and he likewise.
WM: So what changes, in general, have you seen in your many years in East Falls and why do you like living here?
TD: Well the changes are here, no doubt about it, but basically the neighborhood is still the same. I’d say middle class, and the people all get along. It’s still a safe neighborhood considering what it’s like today in other parts of the city. When I was a little boy, my mother, on Sundays, would allow us – my sister, who’s 3 years older than me, myself, and my brother to go for a ride on the trolley car from one end of Allegheny Avenue to the end of the line, round trip.
WM: What number was that?
TD: The 60 trolley. And there was no fear of anything happening. My sister was probably 13 – 14. We would do that kind of thing.
RD: About the neighborhood, our neighborhood has changed – we have a lot of young people having babies. We have a young couple about four houses up and they’re here only about maybe a year or so. The young man is a teacher at Lower Merion High School. Anyhow we didn’t see him for a few days and our neighbor John said “Have you seen Ben?” and I said “No, I haven’t seen Ben.” We’d always see him coming home from work, parking the car. He said “I hope he’s ok.” So a couple of days later I saw Ben’s wife walking the dog and I asked her if Ben was ok because we hadn’t seen him come in from work. And she said “Well he coaches water polo in October through some month and he doesn’t get home until 6- 6:30.”
WM: So you’re all watching each other.
RD: And the other woman from across the street has been here quite a few years said “I bet this didn’t happen in the neighborhood you lived in” and she said “That’s true, nobody cared in Port Richmond.” And this other girl said “I called their house last night because their lights were on. We had just been out walking the dog and suddenly I saw all the lights go out and she called across the street to ask if everything was ok.” That is what happens since we’ve lived here and that’s what still happens now. They go away - we take their paper in, take their mail in, we watch their house and they do for us. So that still exists, at least in this block of Queen Lane. Down and up.
LD: Do you want to talk about your motor cycle riding?
TD: Well I’ve always liked motorcycles and, before I was married, well I had one before we got married and then, after we were married, I bought another one. Rosemarie and I were on a drive down to her mother’s house on a Sunday and a car backed out of McDevitt’s Playground and I hit him and Rosemarie ended up with a broken back. She had to get surgery and metal plates put on either side of her spine and she did well with it – the plates came out. Then I gave it up for a few years. And she said “If you want a motorcycle you can have it” so I bought another motorcycle and I had it close to 35 years. I bought it in 1986 and I sold it this year because I recognized the fact that a 79 year old man shouldn’t be riding a Harley-Davidson anymore.
WM: I have two more questions. I forgot to ask you what your career was.
TD: Well my career was working in the medical imaging business - medical imaging being x-rays, CT scanners, and all that kind of stuff. I started out as a service engineer for eight years. I then became service manager for a company, Linton Industries, that was in the business. My first eight years I worked for General Electric.
WM: Was that downtown?
TD: It was right at Ridge and Hunting Park Avenues - that’s another story how I got that job…. I left GE after eight years and went to work for Linton. And at the end of my 3rd year at Linton, GE took me back and offered me a position in a sales role. So for the next 18 years I was a salesman for GE selling to a group of hospitals. Then I left GE at age 50 and went to work at another company. I was a regional sales manager and a sales representative. My last ten years I worked 4 days a week and retired at 66.
WM: Quickly, how did you get into that field?
TD: Well I got into that field because I was looking for a better job and I interviewed and was offered a position at Bell Tel. when I was getting my physical and I had to get a chest x-ray and it said GE on this big machine. And I said “I know where that is – that’s at Ridge and Hunting Park, so on the way home that day I pulled in there and I told them I was looking for a job and they offered me a job and that’s how I became a GE employee.
WM: This was right after you left the service?
LD: Did you sell equipment to MCP (Medical College of Pennsylvania)?
TD: Sure I did. They were a good account of mine.
WM: Any memories of MCP?
TD: The only memory I have is that it was a nice hospital and it was a shame it had to close. From my basic knowledge of medical equipment, they had it equipped very well. The doctors there I respected – one I did a lot of business with was George Popky and he was a good radiologist and a good guy.
LD: Did you ever sell any OR equipment – operating room – a c-arm or something like that? I may have used some of your equipment.
TD: I’m sure you did.
WM: Any special memories of East Falls – any special events – stories that you want to part add to your interview?
TD: It has fond memories for me in general. Nothing jumps out for me. It’s the city I grew up in – the city of Philadelphia - but it’s the neighborhood I identify more with than the city. It’s my little town.
WM: Well thanks so much, Tony. It’s been very enlightening. We appreciate it.
Addendum (further questions for Tony, asked at a subsequent interview on Jan. 12, 2023):
WM: So, Tony, do you have any other childhood memories?
TD: Well, two childhood memories that, when I think of, pleased me a lot. One was, almost every summer when I was young, we would take a trip to Riverview Beach Park which was an amusement park in south Jersey (Pennsville). And the way to get there was on a boat – a steamboat –
on the Delaware River called the Wilson Liner. There were two boats – I don’t remember their names, but you would board them at Chestnut Street and Delaware Avenue, and it was fun to us, like we were riding on a big ship. And the amusement park was not much different from any other amusement park.
WM: How long did it take to get there?
TD: I think it took about an hour.
WM: Did you do anything on the boat?
TD: Well we bought snacks and wandered around. We looked at the big steam engine that was in the boat - it was fascinating to see all the moving parts.
WM: And it docked right at the amusement park?
TD: It docked right at the amusement park and made two or three stops on the way down – one was in Chester, and one was further down on the New Jersey side. The other thing that I remember from my childhood was my mother would take the three of us to a movie downtown, either the Mastbaum (20th & Market) or the Boyd Theater (1910 Chestnut) and we would see some kind of cinematic type movie.
WM: How wonderful. Beautiful old theaters inside?
WM: I wanted to ask you also about St. Bridget, because you have a long history there. You’ve already told us your childhood memories of the school. How did you feel when the school closed?
TD: Oh I was very disappointed and I’m still disappointed to this day that they didn’t find a way to keep it open.
WM: How did that come about?
TD: Well the enrollment was down – it was less than 200 – and it didn’t make financial sense for them to keep the school open. I understand the reasons. A lot of the schools closed, but we had a wonderful school with a wonderful facility. Now it’s an apartment house.
WM: Was there anything East Falls or St. Bridget did to try to keep it open?
TD: Well behind the scenes evidently they did a lot.
RD: And there was a young girl – I can’t think of her name – she started a Go-Fund-Me to raise money and try to keep the school open. And I think they did have, once or twice, small protests, but a lot of people did not participate because we tried to respect the pastor, too, in what was going on. There was a lot of stuff going on behind the scenes, politically, that you couldn’t fight. The merge would have been better if it had come here – they were planning a merge, but the merge was for us to go to a parish in Manayunk, which did not have the facilities that we have.
WM: So did the existing students end up going there?
RD: No, that school folded as well.
TD: They were dispersed to different schools – St. Francis downtown in Fairmount, IHM (Immaculate Heart of Mary)…
WM: What year did this happen?
TD: It’s around ten years ago now. (note: 2012)
WM: You mentioned the pastor, and I did want to ask you how many of the pastors you remember and if you could talk about them.
TD: Well I remember when I was in 1st grade, I remember the pastor – he was Father Allen. And he died. And I remember very clearly the church bells rang all day long it seemed. Then Father Cartin, who was our pastor for about twenty years.
WM: What was his personality like?
TD: He was a very old-school priest. Very firm, very stern. But a nice priest.
RD: A very good and generous man behind the scenes.
WM: Did he preside over the school and the church?
TD: Ultimately all of the pastors have final control.
RD: There’s a principal in the school.
TD: That reports to him.
RD: Yes, and in those days it was a Sister.
TD: And then after Father Murphy retired…
RD: After Father Cartin, Father Murphy.
TD: Father James Murphy – he was there probably about 8-9 years.
RD: He was there a long time, yes.
TD: Then for a short time we had Father Peterson.
WM: What was he like?
TD: He was distant, didn’t get up close to anyone.
RD: And he wasn’t here a long time, maybe three, four years.
TD: And then we had Father York who was our pastor - a real tall handsome guy. He looked like Richard Chamberlain.
RD: He did, sort of.
TD: He was a good pastor. I didn’t get to know him very well. Then we had Father Devlin after him, I believe.
RD: No. Father Kelly.
TD: Father Kelly. He was a very personable pastor who did a lot for the parish.
RD: He did a lot for the parish. The parish was 150 years old when he was here, and he had a big gala that included Grace Kelly’s family - and her son, the Prince came (Albert II, Prince of Monaco).
WM: That’s when you met him. About what year are we talking about?
TD: Add 150 to 1853, that’s 2003.
WM: And how long did Father Kelly stay?
RD: He was here about five to six years.
TD: And he was responsible for a lot of things happening to the physical plant. The main thing was, he had the church air conditioned. He had wonderful connections with labor unions and they worked very closely.
RD: And the new floors, we got. And they changed the pews the way they are today.
TD: He updated things.
WM: And after Father Kelly?
TD: Father Devlin – a real good pastor – everybody liked him.
RD: But he was a very good man, a very good priest.
TD: And he fought hard.
RD: He just wasn’t as powerful as the other two pastors against him.
WM: Then how many after Father Devlin?
RD: Before Father Feeney, we had a whole series of short-termers - they were only put here to tide over. They moved to other parishes.
WM: And Father Feeney is the current one?
TD: Father Feeney passed away. Father Feeney had been a pastor in a suburban parish and, he said this from the altar many times, “I told the Cardinal I wanted to be a pastor in a parish with a zip code beginning with “191” He was a Philly guy from Kensington.
RD: Port Richmond.
TD: So he got sick – he was on kidney dialysis and other things and he gave up being pastor and became a regular priest, doing regular priestly duties at St, John’s in Manayunk. Right after that we had a couple of temporary priests.
RD: We had Father Delacey. Father Delacey was parochial administrator while there was a transition, because they didn’t know who they were going to send. After a while Father Taglianetti became our pastor.
WM: Your current one.
TD: Yes, do you know him? Nice guy.
WM: What’s his personality like?
TD: He’s very easy to talk to – just a nice man. He’s been a good pastor for us.
RD: He’s had a lot of crazy things go wrong with the church – the roof, the spires, which should have been done over the years. We just got a big leak which has been coming through the walls in the back of the church. They finally found it and, I have to say, I said it was at the top of that hill…
TD: A broken water main.
RD: No running water today when we went to Mass.
TD: See, initially the water company was called in, and they did a water sample and they said it was ground water. And then somebody else, a consultant for Father Taglianetti – an East Falls guy – what’s his name?
TD: He’s a contractor. He pushed the water company and they tested the water again and said “Oh yeah, there’s chlorine and fluoride in this water – it’s a water main.”
RD: On Stanton Street, and people were complaining they had water in their basements.
TD: And there was no water pressure, so they took care of that right away. I don’t know if they replaced that main but one of the things they can do is shut it off.
WM: It’s great they identified what is was. Had Lyda mentioned that all of these pastors were Irish until the current one?
RD: Yes, that’s true. We never had an Italian.
WM: So how does that feel?
TD: Well it’s good. But I’ve known people who were Italian – and I’m biased towards the Italians, but I don’t say they’re the best in the world – it’s the individual.
RD: It’s the person themselves.
TD: The worst boss I ever had in my career was an Italian guy.
WM: Over all your years at St. Bridget, what physical changes have you seen in the church itself? Was the altar ever redesigned?
TD: When Father Carton was around, he had a major renovation to the church. In the old original Catholic Church, the priest faced the altar during mass as well as all the people. During Vatican II, which is when they changed things, they turned the altar around and the priest faced the congregation. For old guys like me, I liked the old way more.
WM: Around what year was this?
TD: Well that’s probably early ‘60s.
RD: I don’t remember, but I think it was the early 1960s under Pope John 23rd(note: Vatican II: 1962)
WM: How did the congregation react to that?
TD: They accepted it. They didn’t protest or anything.
RD: You just go with the flow…
WM: Could you hear better with him facing you?
TD: No, you could hear the same. There was a lot more ritual in the old Catholic Church. At Christmas and Easter, many altar servers, priests, and nuns would be involved. Before Vatican II, Holy Communion was only dispersed by the priest. Now the lay people can do it. Going to St. Bridget, I think I mentioned this earlier, being altar server and altar boy, and going to Ravenhill - I even did that when I was in the Marine Corps for a period. I was an altar server there too, in California.
WM: Was the church painted in all those years?
TD: Oh yes. When Father Carton did the rotation of the altar, he had the church painted from top to bottom.
WM: Lyda mentioned Grace Kelly commissioning some painting there?
TD: That I don’t know (note: GK commissioned the ceiling at St. Bridget to be painted the same as the ceiling in the palace in Monaco).
RD: Before Vatican II, there was an altar railing which, in this church, was marble, I guess.
TD: It was brass with a wooden top to it.
RD: I don’t remember that. Anyway, that divided the sanctuary from the congregation, and when you went to communion then, before Vatican II, you went up and knelt to receive communion along that railing.
WM: And now?
RD: Now that’s changed. The railing has been taken down in almost all the churches. Now you walk up to the person giving it out.
WM: So it was symbolic that they got rid of the railing?
RD: I guess their idea was that you were part of what took place.
TD: And it flowed better.
RD: It does.
WM: What about activities? Does the church have traditions of things they do every year?
TD: It used to be, when I was in school, up until probably 1960, they had an annual party called the Mardi Gras. And it was a big event – games of chance…
WM: For adults and children?
TD: Yes, for about a three day period.
TD: (to RD): Was it here when you were here?
RD: No, we didn’t get married until 1969. Depending on the pastor, the principal, the people involved, there were spaghetti dinners to raise money. When the school was here, at the end of the school year, they always had some kind of sports activities at McDevitt.
WM: Any auctions?
RD: Well the auction only happened when we had the Gala. And then, after the Gala, every year there was what they called the Living Faith Award and people from the congregation could nominate different people for something that they did over the years, and then there was a committee and you would select people.
WM: One winner?
RD: No, there were, I think five different categories – five or six and people would be chosen. It could be husband, or husband and wife – it could be one person or both - and that involved having a big social like that Gala. Not as big as the Gala, but at a country club. We did that for several years – it was a big moneymaker – it would bring in around $40,000 a year.
WM: Was the Gala annual?
RD: No, the Gala was only the one year (150th anniversary), but every year they had this social for several years. The original coordinator gave up his position and no-one else was interested in taking over.
WM: And that convent in front of the church on Midvale?
TD: As you face the church, the building on your left – on the right side is the rectory, on the left side is the convent.
RD: Was the convent.
TD: The old convent. It used to house maybe 30 nuns – well, there aren’t that many around anymore so they downsized the convent and made it the building next to the rectory. It’s a brick building. It used to be Dr. Alma Morani’s office. But the building now is empty. For several years it was rented to the Vesper Boat Club. There are two buildings on either side of the church – two great big buildings – same type of architecture. But as you face the church, the one on the left was the old convent – it sits high and back. There’s a big statue of the Blessed Mother in front, and right now it’s an empty building. They have get-togethers there. It’s a meeting room.
RD: They do sandwiches (note: sandwich prep for the needy) there on Saturdays. The children who don’t go to Catholic School have their prep – their religious classes there on Sunday, and when we had the St. Bridget Prayer Shawl Group and we crocheted, that’s where we went. Seniors used to meet there, but there are too many steps, and the steps are not easy to navigate. So they meet at the rectory now. But the building on the other side of the rec tory – if you go down the hill, the first little building you see, that’s the convent now. There are three Sisters in there now. It could house four. That used to be Dr. Alma Morani’s house. But next door to that, there used to another little house and that was called the Kelly House - I don’t know why it was called the Kelly House. When Father Murphy was here, that was the office for the Rectory. And he had a library upstairs on the 2nd floor. And he made the front of the Rectory – he took those office rooms out and made what they call an Oratory, which was where we had daily Mass. And it was big enough for one class of children to come. One class would come every day – a different class. Beyond that, where the parking lot is now, there was a big building that used to be the Post Office. That building, Father Murphy converted – the 1st floor was a place you could have meetings. He had art exhibits because he was very into art and people of different ages would exhibit their art and be judged. Down the basement he had a full kitchen put in. It was lovely; it was very nice. We didn’t have use of it, and they could never rent it out because of insurance – especially if there was going to be alcohol, so when they did the parking lot, that building went and the Kelly House went. And the Rectory – whatever pastor was there then – it must have been Father Peterson or Father York – changed it and cut the Oratory in half and put the offices back in again in the Rectory. And those two buildings were knocked down to make a parking lot.
TD: The Post Office had major termite damage and it would have cost a fortune to replace all the floors, so they decided it wasn’t worth it and tore it down. Do you remember that building?
WM: I do remember that building - I came to East Falls in the ‘80s. Any other memories of St. Bridget? Has the congregation changed over the years?
TD: Well, when I was young, on Sunday, there were nine Masses, including one in the school auditorium. There was a 9 o’clock Mass in the church and in the auditorium because the congregation was so big.
WM: This was back when there were 80- 100 kids in a class?
TD: Yes. Now we have three Masses on Sunday and they are moderately attended. They’re not attended like they were years ago.
WM: So what would “moderate” be?
TD: I’d say – there’s a census that’s published each year…
RD: Well they do a count at every Mass that’s written down. I would say it varies – I can’t tell you now, after the pandemic, but between, say, 95 and 104 – 110 depending…
TD: Per Mass.
RD: Yeah. Saturday afternoon Mass would be a more attended Mass – a lot of people go to that because it’s at 4 o’clock. The seniors can go to that. I think it’s one of the only parishes in the Archdiocese that has a four o’clock Mass – they’re all supposed to be five o’clock or after.
TD: On Saturday.
RD: Yes. But Father York went to the Archdiocese and asked them to change the time because, he said, “My seniors can’t come out – they’re afraid in the dark.” So it stayed at four o’clock.
TD: The 9 o’clock is usually pretty well attended and the 11 o’clock is lighter.
WM: What about the choir? Was that always there?
RD: The choir has been there as long as I’ve been here. I know when it started - around 1973 - 74 because I had my cast on.
TD: In the early years when I was there, it was a children’s choir. A big choir.
WM: Were you in it?
TD: No, I wasn’t in it; I was an altar boy. So when that sorta ended – when the enrollment started dropping, the church started an adult choir. And to this day it’s still a functioning choir. They had their Christmas Get-together last Sunday at Tina Bartuska’s house.
WM: Is there a Choir Director?
RD: Well Bill Riechers is Choir Director and pianist.
TD: He’s not in our parish, but he’s paid to be the Choir Director. He plays the organ and the piano too. Sometimes we have guests…
RD: If he’s away or he’s sick.
TD” Somebody else fills in for him.
WM: Anything else about St. Bridget we should know?
RD: No. It’s our parish and we’re very loyal to it and were doing everything possible to keep it open and viable.
WM: And your role, Rosemarie?
I’m an Extraordinary Minister and I’m a Lector. And for a good while, until the pandemic, Angela Ludovici and myself used to set up every morning for Mass. Father said we abandoned him when he came, but he came right before March 2020 and we got shut down. And I had said to him “Father, with the pandemic, we can’t do this.”
WM: Did you have zoom services?
RD: We do now, we still do.
TD: Mass is every day. It is livestreamed on Facebook.
WM: So you have a choice of going or zoom?
TD: Yes, but they would like to see you there.
RD: It’s mostly for people who can’t get to Mass now - who are sick or whatever- shut-ins – homebound. But he does one Mass on Sunday, that 9 o’clock one. And once in a while, if the choir is singing, Bill will livestream us, but it’s livestreamed every day.
WM: So do you get a lot of people on zoom?
RD: You don’t know that. Daily Mass, I can tell you there are usually only five or six people, because the Daily Mass people go to Mass. And there are – I’d say, 20 -23 people who go to Daily Mass, which is a nice number.
WM: Ok, thank you very much!
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