East Falls Historical Society Oral History Interview
Interviewee: Lorraine Brown (LB) with her daughter-in-law Sara Reiter (SR)
Interviewer: Wendy Moody (WM) and Katy Hineline (KH)
Interview: November 18, 2019
Transcribed by: Wendy Moody, EFHS
WM: It is November 18, 2019. We’re in the home of Lorraine Brown, doing an oral history interview – Katy Hineline and Wendy Moody. Also present is Sara Reiter, Lorraine’s daughter.
WM: In-law! Ok. So thank you, Lorraine, for letting us come.
LB: Oh you’re quite welcome. I just hope I can be of some value.
WM: I’m sure you will. Why don’t we start at the beginning and why don’t you tell us when and where you were born.
LB: I was born in Philadelphia and raised in Philadelphia, and the hospital was St. Luke’s which was down around Poplar Street, somewhere in old Philadelphia.
WM: Is that South Philly?
LB: No, it wasn’t South Philly. It was old Philadelphia, off Girard. I think it was off Girard. It’s no longer there. It’s been torn down. And I think there is another hospital there but I’m not sure what it is.
SR: It’s changed names several times. It’s around 10th and Girard, just north of Girard, sort of what’s now –
WM: What neighborhood would that be?
SR: Northern Liberties.
WM: And when was that?
WM: What was your exact birthday?
LB: August 2, 1928.
WM: Leo… and how long did you live there?
LB: We were living with my grandmother who came to this country with her children, one of which was my father. And she was quite young when she died, but at that time it wasn’t a young death. It was more average. She came from Russia. My father was born in Harbin, China, because my grandfather worked for the Trans-Siberian Railroad.
ALL: Oh my.
LB: And I think he was one of the first to be in that section of the railroad. And I think he had a drinking problem, and my grandmother had a sponsor and she left and came to this country with three – she had five children – but one was left in Siberia who was older – he was married – and then she came with the other four, one of which was my father and he was just about 5 or 6.
WM: What was your dad’s name and when was he born?
LB: Our last name was Molodyko.
WM: Can you spell that?
LB: And he was Valientin Moldyko? And then he became Ed Harris.
WM: Ed Harris. How do you spell Milideiko?
LB: Molodyko. And my father was (Pause) I’ve forgotten…
WM: When was he born – do you know?
LB: He came here – it was 1903…. pretty sure.
WM: So they came and moved to Northern Liberties and …
LB: Yes, and they rented a home – I don’t know if they rented it – but it was at 3rd and Poplar. And my mother and father were married in Media in 1925 at the courthouse. And the courthouse is still there.
WM: What’s your mother’s name and her maiden name?
LB: Esther, her name was Esther Gordon and she was born in Bronx, New York.
WM: Do you know how they met?
LB: No I don’t, but they were both very good dancers and at that time they had lots of dances, and I’m sure that’s where they met. And my mother loved her mother-in-law. After they were married, we lived there. And they were married three years when I was born. She took care of me, and I remember her swaddling me every night – I still remember…
WM: Your mother?
LB: Not my mother, my grandmother. At the time I spoke Russian but I never read or wrote it, so I was not able to keep it – I knew words, but not real language. After she died, I did not continue Russian.
WM: So then it was your parents, and you, and do have siblings that were living in the house?
LB: I have a brother who is now an orthodox priest and he lives in Florida now. But he did live in Alaska for 32 or 33 years – he had a parish there. He built it from nothing and now it’s a cathedral. I think it’s on the historical list of visiting places in Alaska. But he’s in Florida now. He’s 84 and he’s doing ok, but I think they’re going to be moving to Mechanicsburg in a little while because he has no children in Florida and at this time they would like to be near their kids – they have six.
WM: So how long did you live in Northern Liberties?
LB: I would say it was about four years and then, after the passing of my grandmother, my mother and father bought a home in Kensington but it was around Huntington and – it was pretty far – it’s not at Kensington and Allegheny – it was a lot further than that in lower Kensington. And we were there, I would say, about three years when my mother and father bought a home at Front and Ontario. It was still Kensington, but it was a middle class, blue collar, very friendly neighborhood and I went to middle school there, and I went to elementary school, and I had lots of good friends that I kept – really my whole life – and they’re all gone now except for me.
WM: So at what point – did you move from there to East Falls?
LB: No. When my husband and I got married in 1949, we moved to an apartment close by – it was at 2nd and Ontario. And we were there – that’s where my first child was born – Sara’s husband. That was 69 years ago, and we lived there – and the girl downstairs who owned the apartment – she and her husband. Her name was Lorraine also. And we were friends. But then I became pregnant again with my second son, Barry, and the apartment was growing small. We knew that we wanted to have a bigger home. My mother’s friend – who lived on Front Street also – her husband was a Committeeman, which was a big deal at the time, and he put our name in for Abbottsford Homes.
We knew nothing about Abbottsford Homes until we started making inquiries and found out that it was just for veterans, or spouses of veterans, who had passed. I knew about a veterans home – a veteran’s community – there was one on the Boulevard at the time – I think it was Nabisco’s property at the time, and I had a friend who lived there with her husband, and I visited her several times there, and knew that it was right for them at the time. He had experienced much in Guadalcanal, and really needed contemporaries around him. And it seemed a suitable place for him.
After a while my mother’s friend’s husband, Mr. Wallace, had our name in and we were notified that there was space for us so we moved.
WM: What year was that?
LB: It was in the early 50s. Greg was born in ’50 – he was almost 3 so it was near ’53.
WM: So it was you and your husband and three children? Well, one child at that time …
LB: One child at that time and I was expecting. When we moved in we were greeted very warmly by the people downstairs – the Lee’s – Christine and Tom – and they had a couple of children and it made us feel like we did the right thing.
WM: That’s a great feeling.
LB: Yes. We lived on Defense Terrace – all of the streets were named for places that designated veterans.
WM: Do you remember the names of any of the other streets?
LB: I only remember where we lived – on Defense Terrace. And you could not park in front – there were very few cars – and the cars had a special place at the very end of each terrace. We didn’t have a car and there were very few people that did.
The place that we lived in was very – it was very – I can’t say primitive – it was all the necessary rooms but it certainly wasn’t luxurious, but it was fine. We were very happy to be there. There was a place for children to play that did not include cars or anything really destructive.
WM: Can you describe – just in general – when you went into Abbottsford what it looked like? Many buildings?
LB: Yes. It was large. It was close to a hospital – it was called Women’s Medical. It was off Henry and Abbottsford Road. It was very big, to my mind. There was a gully where the kids could go down and play ball and not be distracted by any oncoming cars or any other vehicles.
WM: They were two story buildings?
LB: Yes. Our home was on the corner but underneath it – to the side – were our neighbors, the Lee’s, and on the terrace there were about ten houses on the same level, and they all led into the gully where you could walk or do whatever – have sports or that kind of thing.
There was a camaraderie there because everyone was either a veteran or the spouse of a veteran and it seemed like they all had similar experiences. They were in the foxhole together. There was a lot of confidence there that they were all doing the right thing. They knew that it was not going to be a permanent home – that someday they would be able to go out on their own and have the money to do what they wanted.
My husband, at the time, he had been working at a carpet company (Artloom Carpet Company) which left the country and he was without a job. Then he worked at … and that lasted not too long. My best friend Eva – her husband was in the elevator business which was, at that time, just for fathers and sons. But he put my husband’s name in as a desirable employee if they would hire him. He had hoped for that. Then he was hired by a door company for the elevator companies, and that door company was right near where Sara and Greg first lived. I don’t know that they are there any more.
WM: Was that in East Falls?
SR: That was on Shackamaxon.
WM: What was the name of that company?
SR: The door company…
LB: I don’t know.
WM: That’s ok.
SR: But they installed the elevator doors for the student elevator that used to go up to Costumes and Textiles – he installed those doors. (Ed. note: at Philadelphia Museum of Art)
LB: My husband probably installed those doors and he really enjoyed the job. But there was a lot of traveling. Then he got a call from the elevator company – I forget his boss’s name, but he was very sad to lose him, and my husband went into elevators. And he simply loved it. He was there for 40 some years before he retired.
WM: What was that company called?
LB: At the time it was Eastern. And it was privately owned by a father and his sons.
WM: Where was that located?
LB: That was at 5th and Girard, I think – the offices were there. Since then it has changed names, but they still install elevators. My middle son is still working there.
WM: No kidding, really? That’s great.
LB: But he is ready to retire. But Abbottsford, again, was a place where – my friend Winnie was a widow – her husband had been killed in the war and she was there. She lived two terraces down – I can’t remember the names of those terraces – and everyone was starting to say “We’re not going to be able to live here much longer because there are protests that they want to change it from a Veterans community to a low income community.
WM: That was right around the time that happened – around ’53 – was when it was beginning to switch over.
LB: And the protests were minimal in the beginning and then…
WM: People were protesting that they wanted it to stay the way it was?
LB: No, the protesters were the people who wanted it low income.
WM: Were they coming to your location to protest?
LB: They were coming to our location and marching, and decided this is what it should be. The war was over – I guess for a number of years, and they felt that it was time to change it. Of course everyone was objecting, but people were starting to think about leaving and gathering all their wits about them, and their money, and it was a hard time for many.
WM: So a very transitional time there.
LB: A very transitional time.
WM: Would they come – the people protesting – was this frequent?
LB: It was getting to be very frequent.
WM: Over months? How long a time span?
LB: I would say it went on for about a year.
WM: Were there marches? Or Signs?
LB: Marches. Yes, there were marches. And our friends that we had made there were looking for a new home and we were too. We had the two children. We needed more money, and at the time there was a job opening at Brown Instruments. They made thermostats, but I worked in the office filing and running the mimeograph machine But I took a job from 6 to 10, and my husband took care of the children and I would come home on the Z bus – the Z bus stopped right there on the corner of Abbottsford Homes. And I would meet people coming from Strawbridge’s where they worked.
WM: This was 6 in the morning?
LB: No, six in the evening. Six to ten, so it would be maybe 10:30. And they would be coming from – a couple of the men that I knew from riding the bus and from seeing them in our area – they would talk about the houses they had looked at, and one day the one friend said “Strawbridge’s just had a million dollar day for Strawbridge’s – he said I can’t wait to tell my wife.” So then, a little while later, he told me that they had found a home and they were going to be moving. And then my friends Chris and Tom Lee – they were looking – and then we started looking. That was when we had found the Welsh Road home. But we still didn’t have enough money for the down payment – I think it was $1000 so I took this job with Brown Instrument.
SR: Where was that located?
LB: That was – I took the Z bus there, but I can’t remember exactly where it was. It was on Wyndrim Avenue across the street from Wayne Junction.
LB: No, I think it was closer to you, Sarah, in Glenside. I’m not sure. I think it’s still there. And we went by bus to Holmesburg because we had seen the houses advertised. And that’s when we found the home – a row home in Holmesburg and we lived there for 35 years.
WM: What year did you move there?
LB: That was in the middle ‘50s because Brian was born in ‘58 – my third son. I think – so we had moved there before he was born because he was born at Rolling Hill Hospital and my other two sons were born in Episcopal – Episcopal Hospital is still there but Rolling Hill is now a rehab center, I’m not sure.
WM: So you came to Abbottsford around ’53?
LB: No, about ’54.
WM: And left….? What year do you think you left? ‘57 or so?
SR: Greg was born in ‘50; Barry was born in ‘53 so you came to Abbottsford Homes before Barry was born?
SR: Was he an infant?
LB: No he was one or two.
SR: Oh really; ok.
LB: And I was – Barry was 3 ½, I think, when I was pregnant with Brian – so between Greg and Brian there are 7 years.
WM: I’m just trying to get a sense of how many years you lived there.
LB: We lived there I would say close to three years.
WM: When you were there, where did you do your shopping?
LB: There was a market on the premises and I would allow – we would allow $18 for our weekly shopping (laughter). And sometimes I would have a coach and I‘d bring my groceries home that way or they would have someone bring it.
WM: It was a grocery store?
LB: It was a little market. It had all the things that I needed.
WM: Were there other stores there too?
LB: No, not on the premises.
KH: Were there any community areas where residents got together?
LB: No. It was just the homes in the middle of this open property – open area.
WM: So it had a playground?
LB: It wasn’t a playground – there was no equipment, no swings or seesaws or anything like that. It was just open ground – it was called the gully. That’s what everyone referred to it. And kids had a good time just running and playing ball and so forth.
WM: So it must have been later – I looked it up before I came here – when they were first advertising Abbottsford Homes they said there was a basketball court and a playground. Do you think that came later when it became public housing?
LB: I’m sure that came later. I’m sure that came later.
KH: Now that would have been a federal program at a when you were there.
LB: In the beginning it was strictly for veterans.
SR: Was it very inexpensive?
LB: I think we paid $50 a month and they wanted to make it low income and those who, I guess, were on welfare and so on. But they made it so that they didn’t say veterans were being kicked out or anything – they just said it was going to be low income and I think if you made more than a certain amount of money you had to leave – find other places to live.
WM: So at the point when you left, was that before or after that transition took place?
LB: It was in the middle – people were leaving and coming and it was later – not very much later – that it was made into low income housing. And I think it’s still on the list of low income housing. I haven’t been out that way in many, many years.
KH: Now was Roosevelt Boulevard there at the time?
LB: Oh Roosevelt Boulevard was in, yes.
KH: So there was a sort of barrier between East Falls and Abbottsford Homes because of the highway running between them, or did you get into East Falls?
LB: No, I was in Abbottsford Homes is located in East Falls.
KH: So did you go to shop in East Falls in addition to the market?
LB: Well yes. We didn’t have a car but there were things that we did. Our means of transportation then was the bus. If we went downtown we would take the elevatedor the subway.
SR: So you would take the bus to the subway.
WM: If you needed things like clothes or a hardware store, would you go to Germantown or lower East Falls?
LB: You know what – I just don’t remember. My husband did a lot of shopping as far as bringing things home from the market, but we did most of our shopping at the community shop-store-market.
WM: Can you describe that store a little bit? Who ran it?
LB: Well, it wasn’t like Giant (laughter). I think I remember just one person waiting on things, and you asked for things at a counter. Bread and milk and that kind of thing you could take from the storage that was provided. As far as the other things, I remember just getting fruit and whatever was needed for the week. It certainly wasn’t a beautiful big market. But I don’t know if there were big beautiful markets at that time.
I remember when we lived on 2nd Street in the apartment we would go to an A & P and that was the best that was around at the time.
WM: Did you ever go into East Falls down Midvale and Ridge? Do you have any memories?
LB: I have no memories of that.
WM: Ok. Did you ever go to the movie theater here?
LB: At that time, no. There were very – seemed to be confined to living in there and then going to work.
WM: And your children then were too young to be in school?
LB: Too young to be in school. Then when we found our home in Holmesburg, the school was very close by – it was the Brown School and they did all their elementary school work there. And then went to high school – Lincoln High School – and then I started working at Brown School as an aide, then I became a reading aide in there, and had many good friends in the school.
But as far as Abbottsford, it was a place that was very needed at the time, as I look back, because it gave those veterans the need to know that there were so many others like themselves.
They were patriots – on holidays that required flags they didn’t disappoint. And it was a place where there was a warmth about it – my friend Winnie became – she worked at the ballgames and she was cooking hotdogs and she was very fussy and the hotdogs came out beautiful. All of a sudden all of these people were there and the hotdogs were coming out raw. Everyone knew about it and it was something we could all appreciate and laugh at with her, but those were the kinds of things that drew the people there together.
And there was a sadness when, although they knew they would sometime leave, they didn’t expect it to be in a hasty manner, which was went on.. And as I look back on it now, I’m glad that we lived there. It gave me a new sense of what these people went through and what turmoil they must have lived for a while. And I think this quieted them.
WM: So it was really a big support group in a way. So Katy kind of asked before, but were there any communal activities – was there a meeting room? Any organized programs, or events or picnics or anything for the residents?
LB: I don’t remember too many things that drew everybody together, but they somehow found each other and were able to communicate and have that camaraderie. So even though we were not there for a length of time, it was a good place to be for the time we were there.
WM: Now the people who did have school age children, where did they go to school?
LB: They went right there – I’m not sure the name of the school – I don’t know that there were buses.
WM: Was it Mifflin School?
LB: I think it was Mifflin.
WM: Do you have any memories of the library – did you go down to the library?
LB: I don’t remember the library and I’m a library person! I don’t remember one being there. I know I was very busy.
WM: Was there a library on the premises of Abbottsford?
WM: Did they ever talk about the history of Abbottsford? It had been a mansion before they built the housing there, of the owner of Dobson Mills – it was called Bella Vista.
LB: They might have, but that I don’t remember.
KH: Did you carry on with those friendships that you had?
LB: I did for a time with the Lee’s, and with Chris and Bernice down at the other end, but after – I don’t know what is going on with them now. The Lee’s were older than I was – the two of us – I’m sure they were both older because their children were older, a lot older. And the other people, I think they moved to another state. And Winnie and her child – I’m not sure – the lady next door was a widow also – she lived to the right of me, on the same level.
WM: You said that the apartments were somewhat simple, but can you take a minute to describe what they were like inside?
LB: Yes. We had a living room and a kitchen and then it was 2 bedrooms – I’m not sure that they were all on one level – it seems to me that the bedrooms and the bath…. the homes were terraced. The Lee’s were below us, but they were not directly. Part of it was under our place. So that when you came out, you had to walk down and kind of go around, but it was still attached to ours, which was a level higher.
WM: But were the bedrooms on the same level as the living room?
LB: I don’t think they were.
WM: Was there a washing machine?
LB: When we were in our apartment, my husband used to take our wash to my mother’s (laughter). She had a wringer washing machine, and I had a little tiny machine, and I used to wash a lot by hand. I used Tide products. I had to go to the skin and cancer hospital to have my hands wrapped for 12 days at a time because my hands were broken out from the Tide. I finally had to have Xray treatments on my hands.
That was before I moved out.
SR: Greg talks about – he remembers having a toy ironing board and an iron and he would iron when you were ironing.
LB: I would iron every Tuesday –I haven’t ironed now for 2 years!
WM: Did you ever go into Germantown?
LB: Yes, a couple of times – I went with my friend Peggy.
WM: Any memories of that?
LB: Well, we went to lunch there, and we also did some shopping at one of the famous stores, and I can’t remember the name of it. Everyone knew about it.
KH: Allen’s was one of them, and Rowells was one.
LB: It might have been.
KH: That was the fancier of the two.
LB: It was a fancy store. My friend really liked it. And she sewed. And she would buy material at that fabric store.
KH: I think that fabric store is still there.
WM: On Germantown.
WM: Did you take a trolley or bus into Germantown?
WM: Were there any holiday traditions at Abbottsford? At Christmas? Anything you remember?
LB: No. People decorated. I don’t remember any holiday traditions for the group. I know there were gatherings that we went to in our own area there. Food was provided by everyone, and there was a joyfulness to the groups. But I don’t remember any aggression or anything of that sort. It seemed very calm at the time.
WM: So it seemed like a very supportive environment.
WM: Did you go to a church when you lived there?
LB: No. No. We did go a couple of times to a church that was a candy store, and on Sundays it became a Fundamentalist Church.
WM: Right on the grounds of Abbottsford?
LB: No, no, no. We came on the bus. Actually it was at Front and the Boulevard. And then after we moved from Abbottsford, we started going to that church. And of course the church has since moved and bought properties that became their churches, but not the candy store (laughter)
The Fundamentalist Church did not acknowledge anyone drinking. So the place where we were, at the bottom of the candy store, it was like a hall and they had a bar. And then when they would come in on Sunday morning they would cover the bar, but you could still smell the beer! (laughter)
SR: When you were at Abbottsford, was it all white or was it mixed racially?
LB: There were very few people that were not white.
SR: But there were some?
LB: There were some. Yes. Yes.
KH: All of you must have been the same age – which was another reason it was so comfortable.
LB: That’s right. They shared experiences. Not that they were together in the war, but their experiences were similar. It gave them the feeling of similarity.
WM: Where was your husband stationed during the war?
LB: He was in the Navy. And another thing, most of the people that were there had a loss of someone – either a spouse or a relative. My husband lost his one brother in the Pacific. He was on board his ship – he was on the Savannah and then the Battleship New Jersey. And when he was on the Savannah and they were being bombed, the captain came to find him to tell him his that brother had been lost – had been killed. So that was a big blow to him. It was his older brother who had two babies at home.
WM: And your husband was stationed where?
LB: My husband was from Kentucky – I met him here. He was stationed at the Navy Yard. And my friend had a boyfriend, Al, and we would sometimes go downtown Philadelphia to do shopping. I was 16. She was 16. And she said Al was coming to meet her at Reading Terminal under the clock, and he brought his friend who became my husband.
KH: Romance began under the clock.
SR: Pop was in the Mediterranean during the war.
WM: Is there anything else you’d like to share with us?
LB: No, only that it was very nice remembering all these things and I appreciate you listening.
WM: Well, you’ve made it so vivid what it was like. It’s totally new to Katy and I – we had never met anyone who had lived there early on.
LB: Well there’s so much more I could have told you, but I can’t remember all the things – it has been a long time.
WM: Well you did remarkably well.
LB: Well thank you.