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 22nd and 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. 11th Street – 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, 34th Street, 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 – 35th and 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’s Bakery – 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 6th gr. 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!