East Falls Historical Society Oral History Interview
Interviewee: Gustav Krebs (GK), lifelong resident of East Falls
Interviewer: Wendy Moody (WM) and Lyda M. Doyle (LD)
Transcriber: Wendy Moody
Date: December 9, 2021
WM: Hi Gus. It’s December 9, 2021; we’re here at 3310 W. Coulter interviewing Gus Krebs; doing an oral history. Thanks for coming Gus.
GK: You’re welcome. Thanks for having me.
WM: We want to learn a little more about you and your family – you’re a lifetime Fallser. Tell us about where and when you were born.
GK: I was born right here in East Falls at the Women’s Medical College of Pennsylvania.
WM: Really. When were you born?
GK: I was born in 1942 – October 12, Columbus Day.
WM: And where did you live then?
GK: I live in the same house that my grandparents lived.
WM: You live in that house now?
WM: Really. And that’s on Stanton Street? What number?
GK: 3691 Stanton Street.
WM: So your parents grew up here and your grandparents? Let’s start with your grandparents then. What’s the earliest you can remember of who came to East Falls?
GK: I can only go to the grand-uncles and aunts, to tell you the truth, because I didn’t really get to know my grandparents because they had died fairly young. I guess you could say a memory that I do maybe barely remember my grandmother on my mother’s mother…
WM: Where were your grandparents from?
GK: They came from Ireland.
WM: Both sides of the family?
GK: No, just the one side – my mother’s side. Their names were Dunkerly
GK: Irish. Irish English.
WM: And your father’s side?
GK: They were German. My grandfather came from Dresden, Germany.
WM: Do you know why either side came here?
GK: I believe on my mother’s side – when there was a famine in Ireland and all of the oppression from the English, I think that drove a lot of the people here to America.
WM: Did they settle right here in East Falls?
GK: I’m not sure that that was their first settlement. I don’t believe it was, but I’ll get to that later. My paternal grandparents who came from Germany, they resided in New Jersey. They were in a little town called Cecil, New Jersey. They owned a restaurant there. It was called Krebs Kitchen. I remember that pretty well, as young as I was, because it had a statue of Lucy the Elephant from Margate.
WM: Was it a German restaurant?
GK: No. Well, German-American. From what I hear, of course I wasn’t around at the time, during the Depression, that restaurant thrived. There were people who still had money and, from what I understand, they would come to that restaurant – my grandfather’s restaurant. It was a bar-restaurant and my father would play classical music. He could play piano.
WM: So tell us how things evolved into coming to East Falls.
GK: Well my mother – I can’t skip over too much…
WM: No, no, just tell us your story.
GK: My great uncle worked at the mill – Dobson Mills. His name was – there are 3 Irish names that are involved – there was the Dunkerlys, the Mulligans and the McFaddens. The Dunkerlys – that’s the side that my mother was on, the Mulligans are my great uncle, and the McFaddens are my great cousins.
WM: Did all of them work at the mill?
GK: Not all, no. From what I understand, just my great uncle did.
WM: Do you know what he did there?
GK: He worked on the looms to make the fabrics and rugs and whatnot. I understand they made uniforms for the soldiers in the Civil War. My great uncle – Francis X. Mulligan, as a child laborer at Dobson Mills, lost his left arm.
WM: That wasn’t uncommon.
GK: It wasn’t uncommon. He lost his left arm below his elbow and I remember him very vividly – and here’s a picture of him – Francis X. and myself.
WM: And he has his arm behind you.
GK: Yes – the arm that he lost – the left arm.
WM: Was it in a machine?
WM: So you had connections with your grandparent’s siblings.
GK: Their siblings.
WM: Did he share any other memories of the mill?
GK: The mill itself? No.
WM: Did he like working there – did he complain?
GK: Well you know what happened – there was no Workman’s Compensation back then – there was no OSHA. So when people got injured, especially at such a young age – the Child Labor Laws were not established – they did keep a job opening for him afterwards as a watchman. So he would do what watchmen do.
WM: So his whole career was there.
GK: Basically his work career was at the mill. He also was, believe it or not, he was the caddy master at Philadelphia Country Club – golf club. And from what I understand, he could hit a golf ball further with one arm than most people with two. I remember, not just in that picture, with the dog Taffy, we used to go through the woods where Woodside Park was – just after Woodside Park was a country club.
WM: What was the country club called?
GK: Philadelphia Country Club – golf club, I guess.
WM: On the other side of the river.
GK: And we would frequently take walks through that area, through part of Woodside Park, thru Woodside – West Park, I guess you could call it.
WM: Tell us about your parents – where they were born, what were their names, what they did.
GK: Well my mother’s name was Katherine with a K – we called her Kass – Kass Dunkerly. She was born here in this country.
WM: What year?
GK: I do believe 1912.
WM: In East Falls?
GK: That I’m not sure,
WM: And your dad?
GK: He was born – I want to say – not in Germany, here in the United States, and I do believe in New Jersey because that’s where the restaurant was. His mother died from the 1918 flu just shortly after giving birth to him – that’s why I don’t know much about the paternal side.
WM: So how did your parents meet and what brought them to East Falls?
GK: My mother used to work – she was a waitress at the East Falls Tavern – the old Falls Tavern that was torn down. That was really a shame that that happened.
WM: I wish I had seen that – that’s where the gas station is now – I never got to see it.
GK: Yes. It replaced it. Well it wound up as a gas station but they put a bank there first and the bank failed. And that bank was torn down and the gas station was put there. But that was an historical landmark, the old Falls Tavern. So I guess my father was going in there as a patron and my mother, of course, was the waitress – yada yada…. you know how that works out.
WM: What were they doing in East Falls though? Do you know the reason they came?
GK: My grandfather owned some property in East Falls and I believe it was along Ridge Avenue at the bottom of Calumet Street as, I guess, an investment thing, or to rent out a property or two…
WM: So do you know where each of them lived before they were married?
GK: I do believe my father lived in…
WM: New Jersey?
GK: Well he came from New Jersey but where he lived here, I’m not sure. My mother, of course, lived in the same house that I’m in now on Stanton Street.
WM: Did she have siblings?
GK: Yes she did – she had a brother and a sister – actually two brothers and a sister – Rita, Joe and John.
WM: Where did she go to school?
GK: I do believe she went to St. Bridget’s.
WM: Did she ever share memories of St. Bridget’s?
GK: No, I don’t recall her sharing memories. She also went to Peirce College.
LD: Peirce Junior College. So she didn’t go to the Breck School?
WM: I’d love to hear more about the Falls Tavern. Did she share memories of that? What do you remember about it?
GK: I just remember going there visiting, or being taken there by my mother – sitting there at a table having a soda or something like that or getting something to eat but other than that I’m not too familiar.
WM: Can you describe it? I’ve seen pictures of the outside – it kind of looks like New Orleans.
GK: It kind of had that flavor, yeah.
WM: And what about inside?
GK: Well, ya know, being that young age, it’s kind of hard to describe what it looked like.
LD: When you walked in, the bar was on the left – a long bar.
GK: Well you might have that memory better than I have.
WM: So when your parents were married they moved to Stanton Street?
GK: They went to Jersey first and lived with my grandfather because he was pretty much alone, but he did remarry. My father went off to war – I’m kind of jumping here – because when my grandparents with the German ancestry came from Germany, they were escaping the Nationalists – is that what they call them? The Brown Shirts – the persecutions that were going on, and they actually fled Germany.
WM: Was your dad in the Army?
GK: My grandfather fought for the Kaiser in World War I and he was in the Kaiser’s Army against the Allies. I have a beer mug of his and some mementos when he was in World War I.
WM: And your father?
GK: Yes, when they came here to this country they were under suspicion, because of the fact they were at war with Germany. My father, in order to alleviate that, enlisted in the Army just to get the pressure off – hey, his (my grandfather’s) only son and he’s going to join the army. And that’s what he did.
WM: How many children did your parents have?
GK: One. Just me.
WM: What are your memories of growing up on Stanton Street? Can you describe the house and what the street was like?
GK: Oh yeah, it was a great place to grow up. We had a lot of good things – we had the playground which is now called Inn Yard Park.
WM: What was in the playground then?
GK: Well it was run, I believe, by the Department of Recreation and they had swings, sandboxes, monkey bars – before the basketball court was put in there.
WM: You knew everyone on the street?
GK: Oh yeah, there were a lot of kids on the street. As a matter of fact the picture that I have here is my neighbors – we grew up together, and the blond haired guy was my oldest best friend – he just passed away August 23 (2021).
WM: And he is…
GK: Mike Costello. He was the youngest of 10 kids and they lived in one of those little row homes on Stanton Street.
WM: Describe your house.
GK: 3 story, brick, stucco front, 4 bedrooms.
WM: Did they change them over the years – the houses on Stanton?
GK: No, I’ve made some changes to the house since I’ve been there – I built an addition, put a new kitchen in…
WM: What year was it built?
GK: It’s over 100 years old – probably 1880 something.
WM: So tell us about your growing up – where did you go to school?
GK: We didn’t have what you call pre-K back then. We started 1st grade between 6 and 7 years old.
WM: St Bridget?
GK: St Bridget.
WM: Big classes?
GK: We had huge classes. Back then there were dual classes – double classes – 2 first grades, 2 second, 3rd, 4th, – all the way up to 8th grade they had double classes and this was because, basically because of the projects we have here in the Falls. We still have the Abbottsford Project, and then we had the Schuylkill Falls Project. The children from those projects would go to St. Bridget’s – the Catholic students. There was Corpus Christi on Allegheny Avenue but that school had closed – now I don’t know exactly when, but a lot of the people from what I describe as the lower end of East Falls would come up here to St. Bridget’s.
WM: So you were taught by nuns?
WM: Can you describe what your day was like?
GK: Oh gosh. Well these nuns – it was the Order of Saint Joseph nuns – are still in operation. I think there are three nuns still at St. Bridget – Sister Margaret, there was Pat; there was Dorothy. I just saw the two of them today earlier. They came down for Julie Rocco’s funeral.
LD: We still have Sister Margaret and Sister Roseanne and I forget the new Sister.
GK: There’s a new one there today, but I’m not familiar with her. Sister Margaret is still there.
WM: Were they strict teachers?
GK: Oh yeah! We had what they call corporal punishment back then.
WM: What was the corporal punishment?
GK: With the ruler – they had rulers. They liked to pull the back of your hair. They liked to push your head against the slate ….there was one time I didn’t know the times table – the 7 or 8th times table – so I had to write it on the blackboard – the blackboard was slate – hard slate. We called this one nun the Mighty Midget.
LD: Sister Helen Marie?
GK: Not Helen Marie.
LD: Helen Marie was “Peepers.”
GK: I still have a lump on my head from having my head smashed against the blackboard for not knowing the times tables.
WM: So you had a regular schedule of all the subjects – English, geography?
GK: Oh yes.
WM: What did you do at recess?
GK: I don’t think we had recess.
WM: Did you go home for lunch?
GK: Oh wait, you’re right. Yes – I lived so close I could just walk down the hill. Yes, there was recess because we had a little playground.
WM: Were you in the old building on Stanton Street?
GK: Started out in the old building, yes – 1st grade was in the old building.
WM: Can you describe it?
GK: Oh my goodness. Now its apartments. The 1st grade on the ground level was where you go down that little ramp – there are windows and there’s a door. That door was where the 1st grade was. Large classrooms. Lots of kids.
WM: Did you have to share desks?
GK: I don’t recall sharing desks – maybe I’m wrong about that. But, like I said, double classrooms. I guess you could call it grade school, but they did have corporal punishment. They did have heavy discipline.
WM: Did you have any outings?
GK: In school? There was an outing they would have at the end of the school year. At that time Woodside Park was still in operation. What we would do, we would get tickets (from St. Bridget) to go to Woodside Park.
WM: Late 40s?
GK: Yeah, mid to late 40s. We would all line up on Stanton Street and go down Stanton, across Inn Yard Park, across the Falls Bridge, and, in a big line, go over to Woodside Park with these tickets.
WM: Did you go through that tunnel that I keep hearing about?
LD: The first tunnel – the second one wasn’t there yet.
GK: Yeah, before the expressway.
WM: What were your memories of Woodside?
GK: Well sure. That impressed every kid. There were all kinds of rides, funny houses, the house of mirrors – I remember that they had a pond, they had ducks, a roller coaster.
WM: Did you have favorite rides?
GK: Sure, sure – I liked the bumping cars, that was one thing. The roller coaster – I wasn’t so hot on that. There was one ride they had that spun around and you would lay inside this thing and just spin around. It was really a crazy thing – I liked that. I don’t know what the name of the ride was, but everyone was plastered against this wheel that would going around and around and around.
GK: Yeah, sure, a little scary.
WM: And what about assemblies – do you remember those?
WM: When all the classes came together in the auditorium?
GK: Well we did have the auditorium. As the school years went on – as you got older – they would use the lunch room as an assembly room to gather. During the holidays, when Christmas time came around, they would have plays.
WM: Were you in any?
GK: No, no (laughs). When I was in high school I was in one, but that was something else.
WM: Did you ever eat your lunches at school or did you go home?
GK: No, I went home.
WM: What about sports? Did they have a sports program?
GK: Hmmm. No, I don’t recall sports so much. They had Boy Scouts.
WM: Were you in that?
GK: Yes I was – temporarily, until I got thrown out.
WM: Tell us about that.
GK: When I say I got thrown out, it was pretty much because I didn’t memorize. You see, it’s just like with the nuns. I was supposed to memorize the times table and I would get up to maybe the 3rd or 4th times table and after that, if I didn’t memorize… I would try to do it fast on my fingers…. Six, fives….1,2,3,4,… laughs
LD: I catch my granddaughter trying to do that.
WM: So they wanted you to memorize something in Scouts?
GK: Yeah, yeah.
WM: What about the interaction between St. Bridget and Mifflin or any other schools? Penn charter? Was there any connection that you remember? Did you know kids in the other schools?
GK: You know, basically, we wouldn’t associate with these other schools because we didn’t have too much in common – the way the nuns would say “We know we’re the best” and this and that, “and the others are kinda inferior.”
WM: So who went to Mifflin, in your perception?
GK: Everyone that I knew and everyone that I hung around with went to St. Bridget. I can’t recall anyone on Stanton Street that went to Mifflin.
WM: Were you there when Joe Petrone was there?
GK: Yeah, sure. Joe Petrone and I – we grew up together, we were in the same class together. I just saw Tony DiStefano – we were in the same class together.
WM: We are hoping to interview him too.
GK: He did mention that – first he said you’re such a nice person, then he said “Wendy said she wanted to interview me too.” And he said to me before I left “Don’t you make up any stories!” Laughs
WM: Well tell us about when you weren’t in school. What did you guys do? What trouble were you in?
GK: Well we had a lot here in East Falls growing up and still do. We had the playgrounds, the Inn Yard Park – that’s what it’s called now – what did we used to call it? Anyway… it was hardly ever grass covered – we used to play ball there before the trees were put in. We used to play softball. We would choose up sides – who would be in opposition to who could hit, who could play the base, who was good at pitching. And I just heard of someone recently that one of the guys – he was a good ballplayer, Harry Carr, was laid to rest.
WM: Where else did you hang out? Did you go to McDevitt?
GK: Yeah, we would go to McDevitt’s – there were ball teams there, and sometimes we would join them – not to be part of the, as we said, “across the tracks” – the other…
LD: Above the tracks?
GK: Above the tracks or across the tracks…. yeah, it was like…
WM: You’re saying kids from other parts of East Falls would go to McDevitt?
GK: Oh absolutely.
WM: Was that good or bad?
GK: That was good because we would challenge them to a ballgame. We would have – the guys I grew up with – Mike Costello, as I was telling, you, Harry Cass, Tommy Winters – Tommy’s still here and he lives down on Stanton Street.
WM: Good to interview?
GK: Yeah, he could be a candidate for an interview, yeah… Joey Flynn, oh my goodness – there were a lot of kids on Stanton Street. and we all played. We had was called the old lot – now the old lot was across the street diagonal from where I lived. It’s a parking lot now. And before it was a parking lot, it was just dirt, weeds…
WM: What did you do there?
GK: We used to play little Army games – we had these little Army guys – these little statue things. You know how kids’ imaginations run with them – I guess girls have the same imagination when it comes to house play or dolls.
WM: Did you get in trouble?
GK: (Pauses)… I can’t say…although I do remember one time we were throwing rocks – I don’t know – we heard some voices down one of the back alleys in the yards and we just started tossing some rocks. Anyway, an adult came out of there – out of the alley – and he’s holding his head “WHO threw that rock!!” Well the other guys had run earlier – they left and were gone and I was the last one to leave, so being the last one, he saw where I was and where I had gone – I went right to the house. And this caused quite a stir because my mother happened to be wiping the windows outside and she heard this man saying “WHO hit me with this rock?” Who knows what rock hit who?? So it turned out I got blamed for it, and my mother started giving it to this neighbor: “Hey you, don’t you be picking on my son!” Then his wife came out and started mouthing with my mother. They were all out on the street fighting and I couldn’t say who was blamed for what, but I just happened to be the unfortunate one.
WM: Did you play at the railroad tracks?
GK: All the time!
WM: What did you do there?
GK: Oh yeah, we would always walk the railroad tracks, especially when we went to McDevitt, because McDevitt was right along the railroad tracks. We hardly ever used the normal route, where you would take the streets to go from one street to the next. We’d just go up on the railroad tracks. We would take it to McDevitt – we wouldn’t go beyond McDevitt because that was a different world, a different neighborhood. But we would go up to Wissahickon – we loved to go to Wissahickon. As a kid growing up, we were in Fairmount Park a lot, besides going to Inn Yard Park.
WM: Where would you enter the Wissahickon?
GK: Up along the Ridge.
WM: By the transfer station?
GK: That was one way to go, to follow the creek up along the Wissahickon Creek or, what we used to do, we used to cut through along School House Lane there at Apalogen. Before the houses were built back there, it was all wooded – we used to call it The Pines.
WM: Was there a road?
GK: No, it was basically – there might have been one road there – a dirt road – or something to get you through this area, but we would go through The Pines to get to the Wissahickon. That was like a shortcut.
WM: What did you like to do in the Wissahickon?
GK: Oh my goodness. A lot of things. Fish – I liked to fish, but mostly it was just to be with your friends. Actually we used to go back there in the summertime and skinny dip – we did that!
WM: Do you remember where?
GK: Yeah, sure. Along Lincoln Drive and Devil’s Pool. I remember one time we were back there skinny dipping, and there was a park guard – of course they had Philadelphia Fairmount Park guards. They were on houseback, these guys. They would chase us – we knew he was across the creek so he couldn’t catch us and we wouldn’t harass him, but we would ignore and we would do what we were going to do. Before the expressway was built, I remember, we used to go over there and play – what we called hanging out…
WM: Where Breck School was?
LD: I think the west side.
GK: Yes, the west side – we would cross the Falls Bridge before that expressway was built. I used to actually hunt back there.
WM: For what?
GK: Squirrels, rabbits. I had a little 22 rifle.
WM: Was that unusual to have a gun?
GK: Uh, Yes. Do you see this little dog here – Taffy? (points to photo). I used to go across the bridge with her and into the woods and we would just have a good time, before the expressway. But, then again, where the old VFW used to be – where it’s now Chris Gorka’s Clay Studio – that was the old VFW – Veterans of Foreign Wars, Robert J Lautenbach VFW Post 6629 – They had a bar in there – it was a pretty active thing, and every year they would have – on Memorial Day, 4th of July – they would have this group…
WM: Where was this located?
GK: On Stanton Street – 3698 – where the artist studio was.
WM: Doris Bartuska’s brother (Paul Gorka).
GK: That’s right. They had a – Memorial Day, 4th of July, Veteran’s Day, Flag Day – they had a group – a littler marching band – they would get together and, let’s say, Memorial Day, they would get together and march – they had bugles, drums, the whole thing, and they would march down Stanton Street to the river’s edge there, where the steps go down the river, and they would lay a wreath in the river. They had these 22 caliber guns – I don’t know if they had real bullets in them or not, but they used to shoot to make a salute when they laid the wreath on the river. Well, they had these in this VFW and I don’t know how exactly how I got hold of one….
(laughter) I can’t say honestly – or dishonestly – how that really happened.
WM: Your parents knew though…
GK: No they didn’t know…
WM: Oh they didn’t know! So before we move on, any other memories of the railroad or the train station?
LD: Did you ever walk over?
GK: The East Falls train station – that was a beautiful building. That was a gorgeous structure. How it got torched or burned down, I don’t know how that came about. I certainly miss that a lot. And on the other side of the train station was what they called The Caves.
WM: That was Dutch Hollow?
GK: Dutch Hollow!
WM: Tell us about that.
GK: Not directly in Dutch Hollow, but say above – up near where the train station was – just in back of the train station – there’s a fence there that you can go through – there’s a fence there now – an iron fence, but there wasn’t any fence when I was growing up. We used to like hanging around, playing in the caves.
WM: Were they from the breweries?
GK: Exactly. This was an extension of the breweries that were in Dutch Hollow – it was a part of that. But of course you know how all that went. They all got filled in. Oh, the other place we used to like to go was Merck’s Labby Hill. We called it Labby Hill – Laboratory Hill. Now on Ridge Avenue, what they’re doing now is they’re in the process of building – apartments, condos, whatever. From Calumet Street there up to Merrick Road – in that area – between Ridge Avenue & Kelly Drive – there was a laboratory there – Merck’s and we used to go in there…
WM: That was Powers and Weightman before?
GK: Yes, Powers & Weightman.
WM: I’ve seen pictures of the houses there, but they had their own school as well?
GK: Yes they did.
WM: What do you remember about that plant?
GK: It was shut down. In other words, at the time, it was closed and we would break in – go through the fence somehow – over or under the fence. We would find mercury and, “Oh man, isn’t that neat!” What a cool thing to find. Well I told you about the Fairmount guards – the park guards. This one park guard in particular, Coco we called him; he wasn’t mounted. You know, along the drive they had these park guard shacks or houses – they still have one up at Rittenhouse and if you go back to Valley Green…what is that…
LD: Bells Mill Road.
GK: Bells Mill Road – exactly. Thanks. If you go down to the bottom of Bells Mill Road, there’s a little guard house right there.
WM: Were you ever kicked out of Merck?
GK: They chased us all the time but they couldn’t catch us. I remember Coco coming into the building trying to get us and we were up in the beams. The beams in this building were like 2 ½ feet across, and we were skinny little kids, and we’d get up on the beams and he couldn’t see us. We were being hidden by them.
WM: So would you say you were a ringleader or were you following the crowd?
GK: I was no leader; I would follow the crowd.
WM: Did you ever feel intimidated that you had to follow the crowd if you felt something was wrong?
WM: I’m interested in the library – any memories?
GK: Yeah, sure. We would be required to do some kind of book report and I remember going to the library and you could get these short versions of these books – instead of an 1 ½ or 2” thick book, you could get a little version – we would get things like that.
WM: Any memories being inside the library?
GK: Very nice. People were always pleasant as long as you weren’t disturbing anybody. They didn’t have computers or anything.
LD Did you ever walk the railroad tracks to Connie Mack stadium to see the game– like the freight lines for a little while and then pop up onto Lehigh?
GK: No, but we used to go to the old brewery – Hohenadels. We used to go through that from the railroad.
WM: That was closed also?
GK: That was also closed.
WM: I went there once before they demolished it. What did you do there?
GK: Doing what kids do – run around, explore.
WM: Did you ever see old bottles and equipment?
GK: Oh yeah, boxes, bottles…..smashed them against the railroad rocks or throw rocks at them.
LD: Do you remember the vats in the basement where they brewed the beer?
GK: Yeah, vaguely.
WM: How about the movie theatre?
GK: The Alden – that was great! I mean, the nice thing about growing up where I did – you had these playgrounds and places to hang out, and if you wanted to be a little more brave, you’d go into these abandoned buildings, which you’re not supposed to, but we did anyway because that was the attraction – you wanted to check it out.
WM: What was the movie theatre like?
GK: The Alden was great. We had the Saturday afternoon matinees.
WM: How much were they?
GK: 25 cents. I remember you could get a nickel for a beer bottle. I had a wagon, and I used to go around to people’s trash and I would get the beer bottles, put them in the wagon, and take them down to Pete’s Spaghetti House. They had a ladies entrance – you didn’t go through the bar, but you went through the alley to the ladies entrance, and you brought this wagon full of beer bottles and Joe Caruso, God rest his soul….I’d have, say, 35 cents – 4 or 5 bottles, and he’d say “Ok, you got 25. How much is the candy?” He would give me two more nickels.
WM: So what kind of movies did you see there?
GK: Ok, they were cowboy movies. Gene Autry…
LD: Lone Ranger?
GK: That’s right, the Lone Ranger. They had cartoons all the time. We always loved the cartoons.
WM: Was the theater full?
GK: Always full.
LD: There wasn’t a seat to be had. And this was a typical Saturday afternoon matinee.
WM: I heard they gave out dishes.
GK: I think at one time they gave out glasses or dishes.
WM: That was before you went there.
GK: Well I wouldn’t be interested in anything like that.
LD: They had an upstairs balcony.
GK: Yes they did.
WM: Do you remember the owner?
GK: His name was Rube.
LD: Brother George.
GK: There was this guy George. They actually hired me to clean. At the time, after the movies you had to clean up – it was a mess because you had popcorn bags, you had boxes, you had everything you could think of and you’d sweep the aisles. You’d go between the aisles – and sweep the aisles and you got in for free. In other words, the incentive was – you weren’t getting paid but, inadvertently, you were able to get into the movies.
WM: Were there a lot of you kids hired?
GK: No, not too many.
WM: I think Joe Petrone told me that after the movies you’d go across to the rock garden?
GK: To the rock garden, right at Mifflin School.
WM: And what happened there?
GK: Well we would play out the roles in the movies that we saw. I remember being the Cisco Kid, Pancho, Hopalong….absolutely!
LD: Do you remember the newsreels before every show?
GK: Oh yeah, sure. And the cartoons! You’d get the newsreels to know what was going on.
WM: Another thing I’d like to touch on – the business district. I wonder if you can walk us through, when you were growing up, what the stores were along Ridge, Conrad, and Midvale – what you remember and which you went to.
GK: Well, There were a lot of little mom and pop stores at the time. I remember at the top of the street of Stanton was “Muddajosette”. And you’d say “What, what’s muddajosette”? That’s Mary Joseph in Italian.” So we’d say “Where are you going?” “I’m going to Muddajosette’s.” Right across the street.
WM: It was an Italian grocery on Stanton?
GK: It was a candy store. They had candy; they had pinball machines.
WM: Exactly where?
GK: Upper Stanton. Right across the street from the old school (St. Bridget). It used to be the playground area – now it’s a parking lot. Directly across the street was Muddajosette.
WM: What else do you remember? Where did you get your food?
GK: The other place was on Calumet Street – Louie’s. Louie Caruso. We would go to Louie’s store. The nice thing about Louie’s was, if you didn’t have the money, he’d put it on a tab.
LD: On the “I”
GK: But what he’d do, he was putting a little extra in maybe.
GK: A little interest. (laughs)
WM: That was a grocery store?
GK: That was a little grocery store – a little mom and pop.
WM: That was Calumet and where?
GK: In the middle of Calumet Street.
LD: Below the entrance to the project.
GK: Below the bridge.
WM: What were the restaurants? You mentioned Pete’s.
GK: Pete’s Spaghetti House.
WM: And Falls Tavern?
GK: Falls Tavern.
LD: How about Quinny’s?
GK: Quinnys. There was Lamby’s next to the post office.
WM: Where were those two?
GK: There were more bars in East Falls than there…
LD: Than there were people! (laughs)
GK: I mean, you could walk from one bar to the next.
WM: Where was Lambys?
LD: Lambys was down the Ridge near where the post office is now. Next door to that.
LD: Ainslie and Conrad.
WM: Was Billy Murphy’s there back then?
GK: No. Murphy’s wasn’t there.
LD: And was it McMackin’s at Indian Queen and Conrad?
GK: I guess. The other place would be George McGill’s – that was on Midvale.
LD: That was a seafood place.
GK: Yeah, they called it that, but it was basically a beer take out joint.
WM: And what about clothes, 5 & 10s, hardware stores?
GK: We used to have a 5 & 10 store right there where Le Bus is now.
WM: What was the name of it?
GK: I was going to say Woolworths but…
LD: There was a big name…
WM: Would you go in there?
GK: Oh sure. And they had newsstands right at Ridge and Midvale – they sold papers, magazines, books – well, what I mean by books is booklets.
WM: Any clothing stores?
GK: There was Len’s, which was on Cresson and Bowman.
LD: You know where that brand new house sticks up across from Franklin’s? That’s where the store was.
GK: That was Len’s.
WM: You’d get your clothes there?
GK: Well yeah. I remember going in there…
LD: Play clothes.
GK: Yeah, dungarees, sneakers…
LD: Work clothes.
GK: Yeah, yeah, yeah. If you wanted real clothes you’d go over to Germantown – Howard’s, Rowell’s.
WM: Do you remember if the hardware store was at Ridge and Midvale?
GK: Oh yeah, sure. There was a hard store right where the – what do they call it?
LD: Right in front of Palestine Hall.
WM: And what about Conrad? Was that a thriving business area?
LD: There was a grocery store on the corner of Bowman and Conrad.
GK: Yes there was. I forget what it was. Not Caruso’s….Crescenzo’s Market?
LD: Well maybe. You were a little ahead of me so.
LD: I remember the Gotwols worked there for a while.
GK: The Green Door? There was a place called the Green Door.
LD: The Green Corner. That was down by the railroad and Indian Queen.
WM: What was that?
GK: It was like a soda shop. It had a counter and stools. They had some groceries.
WM: Where would you go for ice cream or candy?
GK: Well that was one. The other one was The Majors. That had a counter – you could go in there and get ice cream sodas. I remember –what was his name – Ralph and Rube or Abe, his son. They sold pharmaceuticals also.
LD: Because sometimes we called it the Major Drug Store.
WM: How about Fiedler’s? Was that there?
GK: Fiedler’s was at the bottom of Stanton Street.
WM: What was that?
GK: That was a pharmacy. Now, Mr. Fiedler – I remember I cut myself. My mom said “Go down and see Mr. Fielder and see what he says.” If he said it was ok….
WM: So not a doctor….
GK: Not a doctor.
LD: But they called him “Doctor.”
GK: Well his son became a doctor.
LD: Oh, so Dr. Fielder was his son? I thought it was his brother.
GK: No it was his son.
WM: Who was your doctor growing up? What did you do when you needed a doctor?
GK: Dr. Kent. No, not Dr. Kent; Dr. Kleinman.
WM: In East Falls?
GK: He was on Indian Queen Lane.
WM: I’d like to hear about when the project came in.
GK: Well, which project?
WM: So when you grew up, it wasn’t built yet, is that right? What do you remember about when that came?
LD: The 1950s?
GK: Well we used to play in that area – of course that was what we called Labby Hill. But what we did, when they were building it – there were all kinds of building materials around. They had a watchman there – we called him Magoots or Magooch – and we called him the Hatchet Man because he would come at you with a hatchet. Whether or not he’d use it or not, it didn’t matter, because it scared the crap out of you. So we would play in there – I remember jumping out of a second story. Along the Ridge there, they had the row houses with the partition in the front between each one, and they were building. They had big piles of sand out front – and Magoots started yelling “Get your….out of here!” and started chasing you. I ran, and when I got to the end. I thought “What am I going to do?” so I jumped into the sand pile. (laughs)
WM: Was there a lot of resistance when they started building the project?
GK: No, no. because the projects were basically for Veterans who were coming home from, not WWII – the Korean War. They were being relocated.
WM: So you said that’s where Powers & Weightman was?
WM: Did it have any impact over the years?
LD: Well it started out with quota laws that the residents of the housing development had to reflect the neighborhood – so if the neighborhood was 20% Italian, 20% Polish, 20% Irish, Jewish, whatever, that’s what the population had to be. But then they dropped those quota laws.
GK: I wasn’t too familiar with any of that, but East Falls was basically Italian, Irish, Polish.
WM: Did the Italian kids play with the Irish kids?
GK: Oh sure.
LD: In our generation, not the one before.
GK: In our generation, yeah.
WM: Tell us what happened after grammar school. Where did you go to high school? What was your career?
GK: Not a good thing for me to go to Roman Catholic High School… I had enough up to here of the spoon-fed whatever, this that, whatever – and corporal punishment – pray and pay. Mea culpa. Mea culpa.
WM: Was there any choice? Was it preordained that you were going to Roman?
GK: It was preordained. There wasn’t much you could do about it. Nothing you could do about it.
WM: Did you graduate?
GK: Not from Roman. I went to Roxborough – transferred.
WM: What year did you transfer?
GK: Sophomore year.
WM: Was that better?
GK: There at Roxborough? It was great – are you kidding? Everybody was off your back – you weren’t looking behind you all the time. I remember one incident at Roman. They had banned books – books you couldn’t read. This is how goofy they think – as soon as somebody tells you not to do something, you’re going to want to do it. You want to find out about it. So one of the books was called Peyton Place – you remember that?
LD: I wonder why they banned that! (laughs)
GK: So I’m in the lunchroom at Roman and the kids were outside playing. There were a few of us in the lunchroom and we had books open. So it was like – I had the American history book – which was the bigger book, and inside that book I had Peyton Place. So I’m reading Peyton Place and we had this disciplinarian – Spike Devlin – we called him Father Spike because he always had a toothpick in his mouth. Of course this was the time of corporal punishment. Alright – so I’m not saying a word to anybody – I’m minding my own business – I’m reading a book. And Father Devlin had a habit of going around with the toothpick in his mouth and his hands in the back and he’d go like this – and you knew he was coming because he gave you a warning, but this time he was in back of me; I didn’t know. He grabbed it – me by the collar and the book, pulling me out of the seat. And you talk about him scaring the crap out of you….first I didn’t expect it, second, I saw who it was, and third, I knew what to expect. Because in his cassock he had a nightstick – this is what they did – he had a nightstick and he would give you “This is a banned book!!” Stand up against the wall – reach up as high as you can on your toes – so you’d stand up on your tippy toes and your calf would stick out – he would take the nightstick and whack you in the calf.
WM: And you still remember that.
GK: Oh you couldn’t forget it.
LD: Would your legs buckle?
GK: Absolutely – then you’d fall. And then he’d say “Get up again.” You had the other calf. Whack! He’d hit you in the other one. You’d collapse. Then the bell would ring and you’d be late for the class because you couldn’t get to the class. So Roxborough was much different.
WM: What did you like about it?
Girls. The girls. I mean it was like, relaxed. No one was on your case and you were welcome and there were guys from Roman. There were guys from different Catholic schools.
WM: Were your parents supportive of you switching?
GK: Oh yeah.
WM: I forgot to ask what your father did for a living.
GK: My mother had remarried. I don’t have a lot of knowledge of my biological father so much.
WM: Were they divorced?
GK: Yes, when I was about three.
WM: What did your stepfather do?
GK: He worked for the PTC – the Philadelphia Transit Company.
WM: Were there many years between when she divorced and remarried?
GK: There were about 4 or 5 years. I was about 6 or 7.
WM: Was that hard?
GK: Yeah, sure, because hardly ever back in those days did people really get divorced. I mean… it was like the woman stuck it out. There was a lot of abuse. When my father came home from the Army, from his service there, he became an alcoholic. He just drank alcohol and, along with the alcohol, along came the abuse too.
WM: And did your mother continue to work at Falls Tavern when you were growing up?
GK: I did say she went to school at Peirce, and how that all came about, I’m not sure but…
WM: But you had money coming into the house?
GK: Because of my great uncle. Here’s something I don’t think people were maybe aware of – here’s a picture of my mother and I. My great uncle was bringing money into the house, my mother would work part time, and I was going to school. There was no compensation when people got injured, but the Dobson brothers who owned the mills, they heard about my great-uncle losing his left arm – hand – forearm, and I think they offered him the house. Not to give it to him so much – now I’m not too sure of this – but probably at a price you couldn’t refuse – made him an offer he couldn’t refuse, and I think that’s how that came about.
WM: So what did your career become after high school, briefly?
GK: I graduated high school and then I went into trade technical school. I went to this school called McCarrys School of Mechanical Dentistry. Yeah, I like working with my hands and I like challenges. Right after high school I was about to join the military and in the meantime, I knew I had some dental work that needed to be done. My stepfather at the time – he was going to Temple Dental School. And I heard in the military how they just ripped you apart just to get you drafted or accepted in the military they wouldn’t save teeth, they’d just pull them the hell out. I heard about that, and I said I didn’t want to go into the military with all these problems with my teeth. If you had a cavity instead of filling, it they’d yank it out. So that was back then. So I went to Temple with my stepfather because he was there.
LD: To the dental school?
GK: To the dental school, exactly. And I got friendly with the senior student who was working on me. His name was Salvador Musko – he was from Rhode Island and he came there to Temple to study dental… ok, so he showed me around and he said “Look, have you ever see a dental lab?” And I said “I had no idea what a dental lab is” so we would go to the lab. Temple, just like Penn, they have a lab – Penn Dental and Temple Dental. So he took me around through the lab and I saw all these people making all these different appliances and I said “Oh wow, isn’t that something.” And he said “Do you like working with your hands?” and I said “Yeah, I really do – taking things apart and putting them back together.” And he goes ok. Not just him, but my stepfather looked into this. In Center City, on 15th and Walnut, or 13th and Walnut – yeah, 13th. There was a school called McCarry’s School of Mechanical Dentistry. I applied there. I got accepted, of course – they’re not going to un-accept you – they want your business, but if you worked out with it, people were more than happy to teach you, and Mr. Rosenberg and Mr. Bidole I remember. It was like a year and a half, 2 years.
WM: Who hired you after?
GK: My mother was friendly with this local dentist, Dr. Flanagan.
WM: In East Falls?
GK: The Flanagans still live here.
WM: Where was he?
GK: On Indian Queen Lane, or one of those streets. Turns out that he knew these people who had a dental laboratory in Center City. So I was given the opportunity to knock on the door and I was hired as an apprentice. And I worked there for about 6 ½ or 7 yrs. And the people there – I loved them all – they were great guys – Joe Lappen, Adolph Shomberg.
WM: And then you went on to somewhere else?
GK: I went into a private office up in Erdenheim.
WM: So the career was in making dental appliances. Dentures?
GK: Dentures, partials, bridges, crowns, caps.
LD: How did you get to Erdenheim – did you drive by then?
GK: By that time I did. When I was 21 or 22 I bought my first car.
WM: One or two things before we end. I wondered if you had any special memories of holidays in East Falls – Christmas, 4th of July?
GK: Well sure – as I was mentioning before about the VFW Post that was across the street…
LD: That was Memorial Day?
GK: Memorial Day, Flag Day, Veterans Day.
WM: How about 4th of July? What did you do?
GK: Go to McMichael Park.
WM: Was that the church picnic?
GK: Yes there was a picnic. The school, church, whatever, would get together and we’d go up to McMichael Park. They also had the same band – the same group – who would march up Midvale Avenue to McMichael Park. I don’t know what particular day it might be – say maybe the 4th of July – instead of, say, Memorial Day, when they would put the wreath down on the river, on 4th of July they would march up to McMichael Park – there would be a lunch picnic taking place there.
WM: Were you in the parade?
GK: No, I wasn’t in the parade.
WM: What about Christmas? What went on – anything beyond your family Christmas?
GK: Well, they always had Macy’s, Wanamaker’s – those department stores around Christmas time, before they had the Christmas Village. They still have it – Wanamaker’s – the lights.
WM: So you would go downtown?
GK: Yes, we would go downtown – take the train.
WM: Any local traditions? Caroling?
GK: Not so much as the organized thing like they have today.
WM: Where would you get your tree?
GK: Ridge & Midvale. They sold trees at Ridge & Midvale – Christmas trees. I remember they hired me to go around…. we would make these Yule logs that you put on mantel pieces, so, being kinda handy like I was, you’d take the drill, the saw, the this, the that, the hammer – you’d make ribbons, and put candles in these things. People bought them.
WM: In a general way, what changes have you seen in the neighborhood? What’s your feeling about East Falls? Has it changed? What do you like?
GK: Yes. Mainly the thing I have seen that has changed has been when they closed St. Bridget School. There were families that were here in the Falls that moved away because of the fact that St. Bridget School closed.
WM: What year was that?
LD: Charlie is nine – she was only several months old when they moved here, so 8 or 9 years ago. That’s why my daughter moved here, so all her kids could walk to school. (Note: St. Bridget School closed in 2012)
GK: So that was the big change. The kids that are growing up here in the Falls are nothing like what we had when we were growing up. I mean, yeah, McDevitt’s is still there, yeah, you got the Inn Yard Park but no one plays ball down there anymore. You don’t have the Bathey. The other place we used to go would be the Bathey in the summertime – that was a public swimming pool run, I guess, by the Department of Recreation.
WM: What do you remember about that?
GK: Oh that was great.
WM: Joe said he used to jump over the wall?
GK: We would climb over the wall when the place was closed.
LD: Turn the water on?
LD: They would fill the pool.
GK: Sure, that was a lot of fun.
LD: Do you remember Boys Day and Girls Day?
GK: They had that. They had adults on certain days. I think at nights – certain nights – adults could come there.
WM: Were you a swimmer?
GK: I didn’t know how to swim but that’s where I learned to swim.
LD: That’s where the whole neighborhood learned.
GK: Yeah, you’d hang on the pool wall and you’d go from the shallow side creeping along until you got to the deep side, and the lifeguard would say “What are you doing up here? Can you swim?” “Oh yeah! ““Get up out of there – let me see!” So I’d get up out of there and he’d throw me in the deep part.
LD: And then he’d have to jump in after you!
GK: No, then you had to learn how to swim!
WM: What about the river?
GK: We did a lot of things along the river! The river was a big attraction. I remember in early high school I joined the Wissahickon Canoe Club which is right at the Wissahickon and the Schuylkill River where they merge. We would go there and it was so much fun – we would swim in the river, of course.
WM: Was that challenging with the current? Were you on the little island?
GK: We’ve done that. We’ve swam to it.
WM: You wouldn’t jump off the bridge…
GK: What bridge?
WM: Falls Bridge.
GK: Hell no, but there was a railroad bridge further up the river and we would jump off the railroad bridge.
LD: The one in Manayunk?
GK: Yeah. It’s a wonder I’m still alive!
WM: Yes, it’s amazing you’re here for the interview! (all laugh)
GK: I remember when we were talking about hunting over in Fairmount Park before they built the expressway. Now I took the dog across the bridge – the railroad bridge. In one leg I had the stock of the gun and in the other I had the barrel, so that the park guards, you know…you’re just walking your dog or whatever. But I managed to get up to the railroad bridge and I crossed the railroad bridge, pulling the frigging dog. So I’m hiding the dog and I’m looking down, and you could see the river below between the railroad ties. Once I got over there I was fine because then you could hide the gun.
WM: About how old were you at the time?
GK: About 13, 14.
WM: So what did you shoot? Did you eat any of it?
GK: Squirrels rabbits. I’d bring them home to my step-grandfather and he would make rabbit stew.
WM: About how many years did that go on?
GK: Late ‘40s probably, and then they started building the expressway and you couldn’t be doing it. I had a park guard chase me with the gun. I was trying to get across the field with the dog Taffy and we had snow, and I had the gun loaded and I had it cocked, and I hear in back of me “Hey you! What are you doing!” And I look over out of the corner of my eye and in the corner of the field there’s this park guard guy on a horse!
LD: I wonder if it was Chris Fallenstein – he used to be in this area.
GK: I don’t know Chris.
WM: Did you get out of there?
GK: I tried running with the dog and I’m trying to uncock the gun as I’m running. Well the gun goes off – the dog luckily was over here. Boom! The gun goes off! And I thought, son-of-a-bitch, I’m gonna be caught because I fell down. I looked in back of me and the park guard is going the other way!
LD: His horse took off on him!
GK: He took off!
WM: What was the impact of the expressway coming in? Did that change anything?
GK: Sure. It changed everything basically. The only way you could get to Center City was thru the West River or East River Drive or Ridge Avenue. You could go that way and get down to Center city or to the Art Museum and all that, but this was a big impact on the area – the Schuylkill Expressway.
WM: But what about in the neighborhood itself?
LD: And getting into the woods where you used to hunt?
GK: No, I had given that up after the Expressway was being built. I didn’t hunt anymore and, of course, the incident with the park guard gave me a second thought…
LD: A wake-up call.
GK: A wake-up call. So I thought, well, ok, we’ll just forget that. But the impact of the Expressway was tremendous at the time. Nowadays we call it the “Sure-Kill Expressway” but, it’s like always, well 8 x out of 10, it was obsolete when it was built because of the influx of the cars.
LD: It was kind of up against the wall of that hill so they couldn’t make it wider.
WM: So the impact in the community itself – I mean it impacted going to the city, but Breck School disappeared…
LD: I guess he’s thinking more of the Schuylkill part of it, not the Roosevelt. That did impact the neighborhood more.
GK: Sure, sure.
WM: About when was that?
LD: I remember I lived on Haywood Street, so they might have started it when I was 7, so 1955 maybe. And by the time it was complete, maybe ’57, because I remember riding my bike across it before cars were allowed, but it took three of the ballfields away from McDevitt’s.
WM: So one last question: what about this whole area – the upper Falls area – did you ever come up here, were all the houses here and what was your connection up here?
GK: Well we would come up here and cross over School House Lane and go over to Apalogen – there were a couple of streets there. We’d go down through the area we called The Pines to get to the Wissahickon. There weren’t that many houses, yeah, there were some houses that have been here for a long time, 60-70 years.
WM: Did you ever walk up to Penn Charter to play?
GK: We would go up there – we would play up there – not often, but I remember going up there playing ball – taking a glove and a ball and going up there with friends.
WM: And what about the Kellys? Did you see them in church? Any connection at all?
GK: Honestly, as I got older the Kellys became more popular. But as a kid – Kelly who? Kelly for Brickwork. Kelly, I do believe, was more responsible for the project because of the fact that he had that business. Kelly’s bricks went into the project and I do believe that that’s how that came about. You know, one community shouldn’t have two projects. Now I heard that we could have had the incinerator that Roxborough got, so we were better off with the project in that regard.
WM: Did you ever see the Kelly children?
WM: Anything you’d like to add, Gus?
GK: I did see when Grace Kelly – of course she got married in Monaco – but she had a ceremony here also. And I did, just before the Kelly house over here was rebuilt – was redone by Albert – I met Albert at St. Bridget’s because he was there. Yeah, I met him in person because I was sacristan of the church at the time. Father Kelly was pastor at the time, and he invited Albert because they had the same last name, but they were no relation. Albert invited him to Monaco and he went. Father Kelly took him up on his invite. But there was a mass for his father at St. Bridget and that’s why Albert came, to attend the mass for his father.
WM: I see. I did forget to ask you that, and we’ll end with this – your role at the church. Have you had an active role at St. Bridget over the years? What were some of the things you’ve done – you were the bingo caller…?
GK: Yes, I was the bingo caller for the senior citizens at St. Brendan’s Hall meeting room.
LD: Did you take part in the Mardi Gras carnival in the auditorium every year?
GK: Yes I know they had that, but no.
WM: Did you see changes in the senior citizens club over the years?
GK: Yes I have, sure. The seniors die off kind of quick from what I’m finding.
WM: Is it still going on?
GK: The meeting with the seniors? Yeah. I believe that they do have a meeting there, but it’s not like what it was when Phil Morris was the President of East Falls Senior Citizens.
WM: I remember in the ‘80s when I was librarian I would go down to speak to them and the room was full for bingo.
LD: They still meet there because it’s in the church bulletin, but I’m sure the numbers are nothing like they were.
WM: What other roles did you have there?
GK: Well, sacristan – meaning helping with whatever needed to be done – light candles, set up for Mass…
WM: Did you do that many years?
GK: Let’s see, Kelly was there and then Devlin – so I’d say eight years? And then I had joined the Franciscans. Now the Franciscans work with the homeless in Kensington on Kensington Avenue – 4100 Kensington Avenue – St. Francis Inn. I was a dishwasher there for 20 years.
LD: And the church (St. Bridget) still makes sandwiches every Saturday morning that we take over.
WM: Oh, that’s where they go!
GK: That’s where they go – the Inn of St. Francis.
WM: Anything you want to add before we close?
GK: We’re carrying on. We’re doing our thing. We’re giving EM (Eucharistic Ministers) – communion to the homebound with St. Bridget’s (to Lyda). I think you are also.
LD: We give out communion – Eucharistic Ministers.
GK: So you get involved, but it’s not like a big deal. We try to help out as best we can. Like I say, I’m still going to the Inn but not as much since the pandemic, of course. But the fraternity I belong to, every 3rd Saturday, they’re going to send one of our group down there to volunteer down at the Inn – whatever is needed. As a matter of fact, this Saturday coming were going to meet at St. Ann’s on Lehigh Avenue in Port Richmond. That’s where were going to meet every second Saturday.
WM: Thank you very much, Gus. It was a great journey into the past. You’ve offered us a lot – thank you.