East Falls Historical Society Oral History Interview
Interviewee: Joe Petrone (JP) with Kathleen Petrone (KP)
Interviewers: Lyda Doyle (LD) and Wendy Moody (WM)
Transcriber: Wendy Moody
Date of Interview: April 15, 2013
LD: This is Wendy Moody and Lyda Doyle from the East Falls Historical Society interviewing Mr. Joseph Petrone, Sr. at his current home at 83 Tiller Drive in Waretown, New Jersey. So, I guess we’ll start with the basics – when and where you were born?
JP:I was born in Doctor’s Hospital on Summer Street in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania on October 6, 1943 and the bill was $32.
LD: And where were your parents born?
JP: My mother was born in Lyons Falls, New York and my father was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, in East Falls.
LD: And what house did you live in when you came home from Doctor’s Hospital?
JP: I lived in Lupinacci’s house on Stanton Street which would be probably 3663 or 65, down the street from Muggie Guiseppe’s store.
WM: What brought your parents to East Falls?
JP:My father lived in East Falls, on the 3600 block of Calumet Street with his brothers and his cousins. Two sisters married two brothers and lived in that house for 72 years.
WM: And his parents?
LD: That was the two brothers and the two sisters.
JP: My Uncle Tony and my grandfather, Joseph P. Petrone, immigrated here – they worked on the reservoir – they helped build the Falls Bridge, things like that.
LD: Now, the reservoir on Labby Hill or the one on Queen Lane?
JP: I would imagine the one on Queen Lane. It was like in the 1850’s, I guess.
WM: And where were their parents from?
JP:From Italy. A town called Anzi, down in the arch of the boot. Up in the mountains there. I thought it was Anzio, but it’s Anzi, the name of the small town. It’s a mountain town.
LD: Are you currently married?
JP: I’m married to Kathleen Hihn Petrone and she’s from Kensington, but I won’t hold that against her.
LD: And how many children do you have?
JP:I have twin boys, Joe Jr. and James Anthony, and a daughter Heather Alicia Petrone. I have three children.
LD: Currently you’re retired, is that correct?
JP: Yeah, currently I’m retired. I still dabble in real estate with my daughter. Technically, you would say I’m retired.
LD: What kinds of jobs did you have growing up?
JP:I guess the very first job was working on the merry-go-round in Sea Isle City, New Jersey as a job-job and I got paid with free rides, until my cousin Patty came down after her mother died and they sent her down to live with us and she put us on strike. We struck the merry-go-round and ended up settling for 25 cents a night. But he cut out the free rides.
So that was my first job. Then I worked on the pier in Sea Isle City selling bait. And then I worked with my dad when I was about nine. I painted houses. And then I got to clean the poolroom – my father owned a poolroom in East Falls – that was a social gathering place.
LD: Where was that?
JP:Well, it was originally where McIlvaine’s Funeral Home – in the basement where they do the bodies? That was the pool hall. Upstairs was the dance hall where my father and another guy ran dances.
WM: Was it the Young Men’s Literary Institute?
JP:I think that’s what it was. Yeah, that’s what it was called. And then somewhere in the ‘50s we moved down to what was called Roach Road, or River Road, behind what was an Amoco gas station, which now is the Sunoco station. On the second floor.
And I remember Moon Caldarazo moved the pool tables with his dump truck and we had to put them up through the window. So I worked the pool room every day after grade school – I would go down and clean the pool room and carry fuel oil from the gas station to the heater which was a kerosene heater, and shine the balls, polish the tables, and clean the floors, get it ready for another night and that was the job. And I got five bucks every two weeks.
WM: About what year was this?
JP: Oh, it had to be in the fifties. (KP: “I would say late ‘40’s)
WM: And what kind of people came to this pool hall?
JP:Everybody. All the young men, it was strictly men, there weren’t any women. If anything, they’d be calling on the phone trying to find their husbands. Because there were card games in the back and numbers were being taken. I guess you could call it a seedy place – it was – it was just a place to get out of the weather where guys would gather and shoot pool and talk.
And then they would go off from the poolroom, they would travel to Reading or Atlantic City or something to do other things. It was the social center. It was the East Falls Billiard Academy and that way they could discriminate against who walked in there – you had to be a member. You had to be voted in, that was one of the things.
They would play cards in the back room, and if the guy didn’t like what was happening, he would throw the cards up in the air and when I came in there might be five decks of cards lying on the floor, and I would pick them up. I was the only kid in grade school that had 150 decks of blue ribbon cards.
WM: How did you eventually get into real estate?
JP:I went from working with my dad on the jobs – they were the only jobs that I ever had, and then along came the Air Force when I was seventeen years old. So I went into the Air Force at 17 and I more or less grew up in the Air Force.
When I came out of the Air Force, I had an electronics background so I went to work for a telesystems corporation which installed cable systems all over the country. Back then, cable tv was just a way to get a signal into a small town. You didn’t get any television stations. I never thought there was any future in cable television.
So at the time I got married to Kathy and we decided that I should go to college, which I thought was the craziest – me in college. So I started going to night school and eventually the G.I. Bill came along and we made a decision for me to go to day school and get it over with, because Kathy had a job and we really didn’t need a lot of money at the time. So I started going to day school…
WM: Which college?
JP:LaSalle. LaSalle University. And I decided I should get a real estate license.
I started working for the City of Philadelphia in ‘72 at the Housing Authority and I decided real estate was the thing to do, because I was in housing. I took courses and became a salesman. Matter of fact, it was with a black realtor on Allegheny and Germantown Avenue, which is kinda funny – as I go along I’ll tell you. He let me get my license there.
Then I hooked up with a guy named Bernie Meltzer. He used to have a radio show and he wrote columns for the Bulletin. He was like the big soothsayer. And I wanted to get involved more in the business, and he sort of like kept me at arm’s length and he took another kid along and I was a little upset so I left him and started my real estate brokerage business in 1975 in East Falls. I rented from Joe Michetti for $60 a month for my two room office. Joe Michetti was the one who gave me my first haircut when I was a kid so it was kind of neat. And that’s how I got started.
Then, in the City I went from the Housing Authority to the Mayor’s Area Manpower Planning Council and I was running a group of job developers to get jobs for people because unemployment was, oh my God, 7%. It was horrible. There was a lot of money coming up from the government and we were using that to get jobs for people.
LD: That was the ‘70’s?
JP:That was the 70s. Then in 1979 I went to work for the Philadelphia Industrial Development Corporation as a real estate director, and I was searching people down that had abandoned their houses and I thought I should be more in real estate then. I kept looking for a job in real estate and that’s when I found PIDC and they picked me up.
I stayed with them till – I went over to the city to see Frank Rush, who was from Germantown – he used to be a State Representative – he was a politician. He was the real estate director for the city.
I asked Mr. Rush “Can I have a job here in real estate?”
He said “There are no openings – people don’t leave here unless they die” and then he laughed at me. He said “You can have my job – I’m going to retire in 10 years.”
I said “Ok.”
And he said “Oh you’ll never get this, kid, you’ve got to be political and gotta have all this…”
And I said “Just let me know.”
Ten years go by, and I noticed in the paper they had appointed a new real estate director by the name of Paul Deegan. And I said “Son of a gun.” So I called and said “What happened? I didn’t see the job posted or anything”
And they said “Oh, the job wasn’t posted – they appointed him – he’s a political appointment.”
I said “Ah, nuts.” So I went to a reception that Mayor Goode was having. I said I might as well go around and introduce myself to the new guys – now I’m a political placement too. My situation was political. So I ran into a guy who shakes my hand and says “I’m Paul Deegan.”
And I said “You son of a bitch. You took my job.”
And he smiled at me. I said I’m going to like this guy.
And said “I didn’t take your job. I was appointed. As a matter of fact, I’m going to fill that position. We need a real estate manager.”
I said “Can I…?”
He said “I can’t do anything for you but I’ll tell you when the test is.”
I said “That’s all I ask.”
So I took the exam and came out number one. And then I took the verbal – there was a verbal board – this is funny, because a fellow working for me at PIDC was the ex-real estate director that had retired and came back in as a political appointment. He had told me a story about the firehouse on Samson Street – about how it burned. The firehouse burned down! And how they had to redo it – and he was telling me all these stories about it.
The next day I go for this interview with guys from New York City and other cities that they brought in to form a panel. And they said we’re going to give you two things – we’re going to give you a piece of real estate to study and we’re going to give you a rental situation. So they hand me a package and I go in the room and open the package up and it’s the firehouse on Samson Street. The one I just got all this information on. I said “God wants me to have this job.”
I mean I went out and knocked their socks off. They couldn’t believe the information I had. I was only talking about it the day before. I knew the numbers, I knew the figures; I knew everything. And they looked at me and said “How do you know this?” And I said “Because I’m the best there is.”
So they send me into the room with a rental package – it turns out it’s the building I’m in! 1234 Market Street! At the time was PDIC and I knew everything about the building because I was in the building! And I said “God wants me to have this job!”
And I also had Veteran’s Preference which put me – well, Deegan told me this later, but his boss was black – the head of Public Property was a black guy named Sykes. He was trying to get his friend into my job. His friend couldn’t get around me because of my grades in the test and everything. So Deegan says, “Well, who do we have? “We got this guy Petrone.” “Can we work with him? He said “Yes, I think so. “ So he said “Hire him.” And that’s how I got the job.
It was a miracle, right. So the first person I called was Frank Rush in Florida – he retired to Florida.
He says “Yes?”
I said “This is Frank Rush from Philadelphia?”
“Used to be.”
I said “This is Joe Petrone from Philadelphia.”
He said “I don’t talk to anyone from Philadelphia anymore.”
I said “I got your job.” It was like putting the silver bullet on…
“You got to be kidding me!”
I said “I got your job, Mr. Rush.”
He said “You are persistent, aren’t you!”
“Oh, I told you, I just needed a chance.” It was such a great feeling.
I said “Can you give me some advice?”
And he says, “Yeah, don’t ever do a deal without having someone there with you.” Because of all the ramifications.
I said “I’m coming to Miami next week for a convention with the city. I’d like to stop to talk to you. Maybe you can help me”
He says “Anything you want. You come on by”
He died the next day. It was amazing. So that’s how I got into real estate. I eventually became civil service, which is the job I took the test for, and that’s how I retired out of the city, as a top real estate official of the city. It always amazed me. I’d walk out at night, look around at the city, and pinch myself and say “Not bad for a kid from East Falls.” I did that. I really did. I just never thought I’d get to the top – in a million, zillion years, but it was up to Kathy and my mother-in-law – they sort of pushed me. That’s how I did it.
But I stood at Convention Hall, and I’m looking around at everybody standing around in their caps and gowns, and my young cousin is standing next to me, who graduated with me, and I said “I can’t believe. I can’t believe it. It’s such a thrill.”
I also had a general contractor who worked for my dad in the ‘70’s. I had that company. I also had a manufacturing company that manufactured fishing equipment that Penn Reel wanted to buy from me. I talked to them about taking over my line. I eventually sold it to a guy in Maryland. So that was my manufacturing company I had.
I sold Fuller Brushes. I was one of the first Amway salesmen. I still have the kit – it cost $10. The first sales kit for Amway. I was an Amway Representative. I was a sales representative for things you would get – like pens, pencils, buttons.
LD: And didn’t you work in summers up in Hazelton?
LD: At DeSoto?
JP:No, Hazelton – our family is in Hazelton – Uncle Jim and Uncle Joe and Grandmom and Aunt Rose – we would ride up to Hazelton to see the family. And Aunt Mary had a soda factory – it was named Hazelton High. I would sit on the production line and grab the sodas…
LD: So you were actually working there…?
JP: No, I wasn’t working there. I was sampling the goods. I think Aunt Mary had a poolroom too; she had a couple of pool tables in the store. But I remember Hazelton is not too many memories. I went down in the mines with Uncle George – took me down into the coal mines. And I remember putting tools together to go in the coal mines because, to me, the coal mines were down in the dark place. They must have been like the cellar in the house. So I took a monkey wrench with me and a flashlight. And I could envision hot water heaters and house heaters down in the mines – that’s my idea. We had a machine in the backyard – you would crack the coal with it for the house.
LD: In East Falls?
JP: No, in Hazelton. Across the street in Hazelton was the company store for the coal mines. And it was right next door to a gigantic strip mine – it was just the most monstrous hole in the ground I had ever seen. I remember they had a toy steam shovel for sale. But they would take you out into the woods – they had bonfires in the woods and weenie roasts – that were a big entertainment thing.
WM: Let’s get back to East Falls, because you’re second generation and have so many memories of the neighborhood. So can we start by getting some memories – things your parents told you about Falls or anything you remember about their growing up?
JP: My father was the youngest of the family. And he was quite a character. My Uncle Tony was dating my Aunt Peg and they were trying to save money to get married. So when Uncle Tony would park his car, not to use gas or anything, and they would be walking along the Ridge at Midvale and they would see his car go by. And Uncle Tony would say “God, that looks like my car!” It was my father – he stole the car and was out running the gas up. My father was a character.
One time they came and nailed a sheriff notice on my grandfather’s door, ok? For the sheriff to sell the house. And my grandfather said to my father “What is this, Roque?
He said “Oh dad, it’s an honor. The city is honoring you. This is an honor.” Well, my father had signed a bill at Penn Athletic one night for dinner for everybody, being a big deal. Well, that’s what they were after, for the payment for the dinner. And they took the house to Sheriff’s sale. Well my Uncle Tony got home, now my Uncle Tony being the smartest of all of them, he told my grandfather exactly what was going on and my father certainly got into a lot of trouble over that. That was one his shenanigans he got into.
WM: What school did your father go to?
JP: He went to St. Bridget’s. Then he went to Roman. Oh, all through my life it was “Oh you’re going to go to Roman. They’ll straighten you out!” My God, I’m going to get to Roman and they’re gonna beat me and flog me! And then he went to St. Joe’s on a scholarship to be a doctor. He didn’t last too long there, so he dropped out of St. Joe’s.
And then he worked at the Navy Yard under an admiral as an expeditor for parks and things. Because he was working there, they didn’t take him into the service, because he was working at a defense job. And then Mr. Daily, who was Judge Daily, a magistrate around 22nd and Indiana, taught my father to paper hang, so he became a paperhanger.
That was technically his trade, was being a paperhanger, and running the pool room, and writing numbers, so… He did just about everything and anything – things were tough in the ‘50s in the recession. In the Eisenhower years, things were a little tough. Everybody in the neighborhood worked for my father painting. Sometimes you would go to a job, there would be 10 guys on the job painting. Everybody painted to make a living.
But Happy Morell (?) was his partner in the pool room. Morell was a big family on Stanton Street.
WM: Did he know the Kellys?
KP: You have all kinds of Kelly stories…
JP:Oh yeah, he was very friendly with John B. Kelly. Mr. Kelly had a golf association. Dad was involved with the golf association which was up over Pete’s Bar. They used to meet up there. And dad used to row in the early days. And Mr. Kelly gave me a golden oar from the Henley Regatta from his son when he (won the Henley Regatta)…And I had that for years and years. I kept it in my cigar box with all my marbles and all my things. I don’t remember who I gave it to, or where it is, but Mr. Kelly gave it to me at the Benford Club one day.
Dad would take me to the rowing club on the river. Upstairs at the bar, I remember behind the bar there were oars like in a tournament thing – all these beautiful oars. Mr. Kelly gave me an oar.
WM: What was your impression of Mr. Kelly?
JP: He was a nice man. He was a strong looking man, his hair slicked back. But dad would do the painting and papering up at the house for them. And dad would go through the front door with his paint bucket walking up the steps, spilling paints all over the floor with Mrs. Kelly running behind “You son of a bitch! You’re spilling paints on my steps!
We did the nursery on the top floor for Caroline, when she first came over from Monaco. We painted the nursery blue. I said to Mrs. Kelly “Why are you doing this blue?” She said “I like blue.” So we painted the nursery and she came over the first time into that nursery.
We also did the LeVine house up on School House Lane. We were painting the house because the Prince was coming and they were going to have a reception.
WM: Which house was the LeVine house?
JP: It’s right past Netherfield Road. There’s a ranch house right there. I’m trying to remember who bought it. That kid, Michael Young?
WM: Judge and Eileen Lynn lived in the corner of School House Lane and Netherfield.
JP: In a brick rancher?
JP: That’s the house! It has the pool? That’s because we painted the pool! She said “What did you do?” My father said “Ah, it looked shabby so I painted the pool! He painted the pool! What kind of paint did you use? It was pool paint. Daddy asked for an invitation to the party. They said “You’re not going to the party!”
I remember the butler – the driver – the driver’s name was Fordie. A short black guy and he had a raspy voice like Rochester. But they were nice people.
And the upstairs bedroom, if I remember, has a measuring thing on the doorjamb for the kids. And I understand the people have left it there. They didn’t touch it; it’s still there. I remember seeing that.
WM: Any special impressions of Grace?
JP:Ah! I was in love with Grace. It had to be ‘53 or ’54 at the most that Mrs. Kelly was very heavy into the hospital and they had what they called the Rose Carnival. And they would have a carnival in the front of the hospital there, where the circle was, and they had a forklift with a bucket on it and the kids would use it as a forklift and would shake it – it was a big thrill.
And they had all these matronly ladies from Germantown that would come and work at the carnival – they would sell at tables. And my job was to ride in the back of a Buick convertible with Grace Kelly and sell chances for the Rose Carnival. And we would ride through East Falls with a speaker, and a guy named Tony Minesol, I think, was the guy that ran things. It must have been from Minesol Furniture.
But I would sit in the back with Grace, and they would walk along with the car – the thing would be blaring and people would be selling the chances. And I would sit there and just gawk at her. And I was in love with her. I was maybe eight or nine. She was just very pretty, and she was just a princess. She wasn’t a princess, she was a beautiful person at the time; she was an actress. That was my thing with Grace Kelly. And Humphrey Bogart came to the house one day to visit.
And one day at the Rose Carnival I was working a table with an old lady from Germantown and I was blowing balloons up. And somebody brought a compact over – a gold compact – and said “Oh Grace gave you this to sell.” It had engraved Grace Kelly on it. It was hers. And it was like five bucks. Five bucks was a million dollars in those days and I wanted that so bad, so bad. And I didn’t get it. I remember that. But she was a beauty.
LD: So where did you yourself go to school?
JP: I went to St. Bridget’s.
LD: Do you remember what the school was like? How many kids were there? Were you in the old building?
JP: Yes. The first day I met Tony DiStefano, whom I’m best of friends with today. He comes for breakfast over here. John Ruddy, and Derry Ruch. We all met outside the old school.
WM: And the year was…
JP: Well I went to Roman in ‘57, so 8 years back from that.
LD: So the new school wasn’t built yet?
JP: Oh yes, the new school was built. What we were doing – we were given jars and every family would put money in the little jar. That’s how it was built with money from the parishioners. My sister was in the new school. Third grade on was in the new school.
First and second grade was in the old school. And in the first and second grade in the old school – we had like four people to a seat. It was so crowded; there were like 72 people in a room. We had these long benches that went behind the wrought iron desk and we were jammed. It was really crowded.
I wrote a story about it. We had a load of nuns and every day there would be a procession of the nuns coming up from the doorway across the schoolyard, marching.
The first lay teacher didn’t come till later. She was pretty.
LD: They were coming from the convent to the school?
JP: Convent to the school. And I would go back to the convent and sit in the kitchen and the nuns would give me cookies and all. The real old nuns were in the kitchen. We lived in the Lupinacci house until ’49.
WM: Was that the Lupinacci that moved next door to me, the florist?
JP: No, Mrs. Lupinacci. That was her house that was rented to my father and mother. That was the son next to you, Lucky Lupinacci.
WM: What was a typical day like at school?
LD: Did you have recess?
JP: Yes. Recess was in the schoolyard. We just ran around and acted goofy and told stories and everyone settled in with their own friends in a corner.
KP: Under a big maple tree was popular when I lived there.
WM: Did you go home for lunch?
JP:You could go home for lunch, yes. Some people did go home for lunch. Some people brought their lunch. We had what was called a lunch program. It was government surplus food. It was terrible. It was cans of spinach from WWII with cheese and stuff.
The lady who cooked it must have been diabetic. She never put salt in it. It was terrible. Then Mrs. Conaty came along, my buddy’s mother and she made the food worth living for. You either packed your lunch or you would pay for your lunch or run home for lunch.
They would ring a bell and when the first bell rang you froze. Whatever you were doing, you had to freeze on the spot. And then the next bell you would march over and get in line. It was like an Army.
KP: It was an old school bell and my kids used to get a hold of it.
JP: Do you want me to read this to you?
LD: We’d rather have you talk about things that aren’t in it.
WM: We’ll add this paper to the interview.
JP: My sister was in third grade and I was in first grade and every time I got in trouble it was like “Why can’t you be like your sister?” And then they’d haul my sister out of her class because her brother was misbehaving. She hated that.
Then we would take piano lessons for a quarter a lesson. I took lessons for about 50 years and couldn’t play anything.
LD: Were the lessons in the convent?
JP:They were in the bottom of the old school and then they were down in the convent. There was like five pianos down in the convent in the basement lined up. You would go in there.
WM: Do you have any memories of St. Bridget? Anything interesting that ever happened there?
JP:I was in altar boy school and then I found out that altar boys had to wake up at 4 in the morning. And I said “Uh, uh, not for me.” So I flunked out of altar boy school. I was the first one in history to drop out of altar boy school. To this day, I can still say the Latin.
But then again, my buddies were going away with the priests on the weekend and I thought that was kind of weird. They would go up to the mountains.
LD: Did you make your communion and confirmation at St. Bridget’s?
LD: And there were processionals?
JP: Oh yeah! Beautiful processionals. There was a May Queen. A girl would be chosen as May Queen and she would crown the statue out in front of the church on Midvale Avenue – she would put the flowers on it. And we would sing.
We would have the Mardi Gras. Mardi Gras was a big celebration in the auditorium. It was games and dinner and entertainment. Mrs. Marascowould sing. She had a beautiful voice – she was a big entertainer. And the Morrells – Mr. Morrell was like the President of the church. He was the main man. Mr. Morrell was in charge of getting things done. Everyone would look up to him; he was like the mayor. And there was a load of Morrell boys and they lived side by side on Stanton Street.
KP: Right across from the school.
JP:And I would be walking down the street one day and doors would open and like Mario and George would come out and start tumbling in the street and start punching and biting each other and scratching each other. And I stood there and I’m saying to myself “They’re brothers! Why are they doing that?”
I didn’t have any brothers. I had four sisters. And I couldn’t imagine – “Is this what it’s like to have brothers? But the Morrell family lived next door to each other forever – they’re still there, I guess. What’s left of them.
WM: Were there any other school traditions besides the Mardi Gras?
JP: Oh yeah.
KP: …how about the lines leaving school? The rich and then the very rich…
LD: The up-street line, and the down-street line…
JP: You couldn’t break it until you were across the bridge and then you could break. You marched up the street single file.
WM: Was somebody leading you?
KP: Usually the nuns.
JP: And there was a Safety Patrol. It was a big thing to join the Safety Patrol. Tommy Knox was the captain of our Safety Patrol. The guy who ran for Mayor? The multi-millionaire that you hear about? Tommy Knox was our captain. He had a bunch of brothers.
WM: Who was Principal when you were there?
JP: I forget that. I remember Sister Rosalita. She loved the boys. Boys could do no wrong. Girls were always in the wrong; the boys were in the right. Sister Rosalita – she was a doll. Sister Helen Marie – they called her bulldog.
LD: Did they have Bingo?
JP: Yes. They had Bingo.
WM: Tell us about living in East Falls. Shopping…can you describe the shopping district?
JP:We shopped at Caldwell’s store on Conrad Street which was next to where my real estate office was. You would go up there and buy your meat for the day.
WM: Near Epicure?
LD: No, closer. Closer to Ainslie.
JP: Yes, right next door. It’s a duplex now. That was Caldwell’s store. And they were butchers. You’d go in there and they’d have meat hanging up in a butcher locker and they had potatoes and onions and all. And they had toilet paper on the top shelf. You used a catch thing to grab it and push it down.
And there was Love’s store up on Sunnyside. And then there was the Green Corner – that was a store right at the railroad tracks.
LD: Indian Queen Lane and the railroad tracks.
JP: There was a store on the 4000 block of Ridge Avenue that I own now that was – big Italian family – Joe Caruso’s. And there was the store at the top of the bridge there – which was Caruso’s – and there was Caruso’s in the middle of Calumet. And there were stores all over the place. And then on Conrad there was an Acme Market store on the corner of Bowman and Conrad Street – there was an Acme Market store! That’s where the apartments are now – one was a paper branch (note: a place where newspapers were held for a neighborhood. Paperboys would go there to get them for delivery) and then on the corner was the Acme Market. But we didn’t have shopping centers. We didn’t have giant supermarkets. Acme was the first one, then A & P came along.
LD: There were a lot of drug stores…
JP: Oh, drug stores! There was Katz’s was at the corner of New Queen and Conrad Street. And there was Love’s on Indian Queen Lane and Vaux. And then there was the Tilden Drug Store. And there was Doc Fiedler’s store down on the Ridge.
LD: And wasn’t there McDermott’s at Sunnyside?
JP:McDermott’s was a candy store at Sunnyside and Conrad and he was in partners – it was Joe Fitzpatrick and Mr. McDermott. They were partners. And one would run it one week and one would run it the next week. And we used to sit there and read the comic books for free. “This is no library, you know!” But I was friends with Joe Fitzpatrick, who was his son.
WM: What else do you remember about that store?
JP: It had three telephone booths in it, in the front. It was a nickel for a phone call. It had a soda fountain – an old soda fountain. They would fresh-pack the ice cream into containers. And of course they had copy books, pencils, and penny candy. We’d drive the guy crazy – I’ll have one of them – no, I’ll have one of those…
WM: A woman sent me a story about that store and picking out her candy…
JP:Yep, that’s it. Penny candy. It went into a little brown bag that he would put the candy in.
KP: What kind of ice cream did he sell? Was it Breyers?
JP: I think it was Dolly Madison. And he hand-packed it.
KP: It would drive him crazy if you couldn’t read – asking him to read all the flavors.
JP: And Bob’s had Breyer’s. Bob’s was where the deli was, where the Hindu guy just opened up. That was Bob’s and he sold ice cream in there. And that would be hand-packed too.
WM: And where was Fiedler’s Pharmacy?
JP: Fiedler’s Pharmacy was on the corner of Ridge and Stanton. The Victorian on the corner.
WM: Now where would you go for clothes?
JP:You’d go to Len’s at the bottom of Bowman and Cresson Street. You’d go with five or six dollars and you’d get a brand new pair of Lee’s jeans, a shirt, and a pair of sneakers, and a buzz haircut and you were set for the summer. He was a Jewish guy. Very nice, wonderful man. He took care of the neighborhood. He would box it.
WM: Was it where the Italian Club was?
JP: Right across the street. They tore it down. He donated it to the East Falls Sports Association. That’s how he left. He donated it and he retired. He was a nice man. He was a gentleman. He was a really nice man.
LD: He kind of looked like Lawrence Welk.
JP: Yes, he did. He had pepper hair. He liked my father. He talked well of my father. He never treated you like a kid. You were the customer.
KP: When you left the store though, after you bought the new sneakers – I remember this when I moved into the neighborhood because all of the lines along that street were just tons of sneakers…
JP: You’d throw your old sneakers up – that was a rite of passage.
WM: What other kinds of stores were in East Falls?
JP:Well, you had Len’s for clothes, you had Katz’s for pharmacy – or Mr. Fiedler. You had all the little grocery stores.
WM: Was there a florist? A shoemaker?
JP: There was a florist down on Midvale and a jeweler there – Kay’s Jewelry was down on Midvale. And there was a photographer across from the church. He did most of the photography…
WM: Was that Brownworth?
JP:No. It was another name, but he was across from the school.
LD: It wasn’t Sieger was it? I think that might have been Roxborough. Wasn’t there a lingerie or women’s store at the bottom of Eveline and Ridge?
JP: There was a furniture store – Minesol’s Furniture.
LD: That was on the other corner, but I guess you wouldn’t have shopped for women’s clothes.
JP: There was a firehouse and an undertaker across the street. And there was a gas station on the corner and next to that was the Blue Star Restaurant. Every Greek restaurant was called the Blue Star Restaurant.
WM: Where was this, on Ridge?
JP: On Ridge, heading east. There was a giant hardware store on the corner.
WM: In Palestine Hall?
JP:That’s where it was, and upstairs was Odd Fellow’s Hall. And across the street there was this Amoco gas station. I have some 8mm movies…
LD: Now wasn’t there a Catholic shop beside the hardware store?
JP: There was something there like that.
LD: A religious store.
JP: And there was a barber shop – Herrera’s Barber Shop – next to the Greek restaurant and then there a break, and then there was the old Falls Tavern back off from the street. And the back escape steps from the poolroom – we’d run back out there when the cops came in the front.
KP: All his relatives – the older ones – had their functions there. There were lots of pictures people passed around.
WM: I wish I had been in the town to see that. What other restaurants were there?
JP: Well, down by Scott’s Lane – Scott’s and the Ridge was another Greek Restaurant. We used to go in there a lot. My father liked his coffee piping hot. And the bar was called Pollack’s, on the corner, which became the Catfish or something?
LD: The Catfish Café.
JP: And that was called Pollack’s. That was a bar with beveled glass windows.
LD: Wasn’t there a Chinese restaurant somewhere near Ridge and Midvale?
JP: No, they served Chinese food on Friday night at the Falls Tavern. That’s where I learned to eat shrimp chow mein. Because we were Catholic – you had to have fish cakes – but along came the Chinese who saved us with shrimp chow mein.
JP: Quinney ’s? She wasn’t talking about bars…Quinney’s was a bar on the corner of Conrad and Ainslie Streets which was across from Tilden Pharmacy and the Tilden Food Market. Quinney ’s Bar, on Friday night at the back door, you could get seafood out the back door – crab cakes and a bag of French fries. And Rosie would be in there making the seafood. ”And what can I do for you tonight, lad?” (said in Irish brogue). She was lovely! She was as big as me, and she and her girlfriend were in the kitchen back there and they made the fried crab cakes. They smelled of the crab cakes and the fries. For 25 cents you got a bag of French fries. My mother would send me up to get some French fries.
KP: I thought she had really good clam chowder.
JP: I don’t remember that, Kath. I don’t remember the clam chowder. I remember the crab cakes and the French fries and I remember the smell of stale beer, and they had a ladies entrance on the side. If you were a lady you had to go in the bar by the ladies entrance. My uncle was our front getting loaded every night – my uncle Jim Kelly. He would stagger out with Mr. Dean. Mr. Dean would go down Ainslie and Uncle Jim would walk up.
WM: Where would you go for a dentist and doctor?
JP: The dentist was on down on Midvale Avenue next to Pete’s Spaghetti House. There was a dentist in there. And there was a photographer studio in there. Pete’s Spaghetti House it was called – it was a bar. Pete Mazzio had a Thunderbird convertible – he used to drive around in a little two-seated convertible. He was quite a handsome guy. He was quite the ladies man. Pete’s Spaghetti House – Joe Caruso was the bartender for years. He married Betty Caruso. He lived in my mother’s house when he first got married – a lot of people started in my mother’s apartment in her house.
WM: What was your dentist’s name?
JP:Oh, I don’t remember that. Doreia?
LD: Was Dr. Fiedler your doctor?
JP: Dr. Fiedler was my doctor. He lived across the street from my mother.
WM: What was he like?
JP: Oh he was great. He was a little stiff shirt –little official. His father was the pharmacist. They called Doc Fiedler, the pharmacist, was called Doc Fiedler. When you got hurt you’d go in there and he’d fix you up.
LD: They were brothers.
KP: Were they father and son or brothers?
JP: Father and son.
LD: Wasn’t Fiedler’s Drug Store and the doctor brothers?
JP: No, no,
LD: Didn’t he have another brother that worked in the drug store?
JP: There were a lot of Fiedler’s.
LD: But as stiffshirt as he was, he did make house calls.
JP:Oh yeah. But I mean he was very official. He wasn’t one for a joke or anything.
LD: Very straight laced.
KP: One day my dog was having puppies and one got stuck and I made him come over to the basement and my mother walked across the street and he helped me get the puppy out. It wasn’t his usual duty.
JP: I met, next door, Mrs. McCarthy who had little cats. (jumbled…) So I dipped the cats in the paint cans. I colored the cats – I painted the cats!
LD: Your dad had a work car. Did that double as the family car?
JP: Oh yeah. My dad always had a station wagon because he needed it for his business, for his tools. And that was always the family car too.
He coached the East Falls football team and he would haul the cheerleaders around in the back of the car, getting paint all over their cheerleading outfits. He would back out of the driveway and crash into the tree across the street, like every day.
WM: On Calumet Street?
JP: On Ainslie Street. He had a ‘56 Chevy station wagon and he would back out and hit the tree. And it got so we had a case of lenses in the garage and he would change the lenses when he hit the tree!
KP: It took about 30 years to kill the tree.
JP: The tree was totally imbedded with red glass from my father hitting the tree. So I turned 16 and he takes me out for my first driving lesson. I put it in reverse. I hit the tree. Now any other father would have gotten upset but he turned to me and said “Chip off the old block!” and we drove away. I hit the tree; I couldn’t believe it!
LD: Now if you wanted to go to Germantown or anything did you drive?
JP: The 52 trolley, which was like a dime at the time, or you walked.
WM: What would you go to Germantown for?
JP: Germantown had everything. It had Allen’s, it had Rowell’s; these were two big department stores. It had all the stores. It was a shopping – it was like Frankford Avenue. In Philadelphia, you had an attitude that you shopped.
KP: Germantown was big shopping all the way up to…?
JP: So our closest shopping districts – you either got on the train and went to town or you went to Germantown.
WM: If you went to town you’d have to take the train?
JP: You’d take the train to town to Reading Terminal. It was wonderful for a kid – all kinds of smells and sounds, thousands of people. And in the train station itself they had huge model trains there in cases. They were beautiful. They were works of art.
And then you went down the escalator and there was Horn & Hardart’s and you got a custard cup or a cup of beans. Or you went to the automat – you put the nickels in – it was a wonderful place!
And then you went outside to Market Street and the guy was selling fresh chestnuts – roasted chestnuts right in front of the Arrow Shirt Store next to the Reading Terminal. And then you went to Snellenburg’s and Wanamaker’s and Gimbels and Lit Brothers.
Your mother would haul you all through these stores. We had an aunt who worked in Snellenburg’s, ok, and she was a mente – that’s another story –but Aunt Frances was one of those ladies with the fluffy starched white thing with the watch which would hang off…
KP: A maiden lady.
JP: We’d go downtown or you went to Germantown.
WM: Would you go anywhere by bus?
JP: Well, East Falls had a lot of transportation. They had the 61 which was a trackless trolley that had electric – the pole went up but it was a bus with tires. We called that the African Queen because that would take you right up through north Philadelphia and that was its nickname. It went down Ridge Avenue and go through the deepest part of North Philadelphia.
Or you would take the Z bus, which was a little bus that navigated the hills of Manayunk and Roxborough and would take you to Erie Avenue and you’d get the subway at Erie Avenue. Or you’d take the A bus to the Franklin Institute and the Art Museum and would end up around City Hall – that was the terminus for the A bus. And then the 52 trolley, which was the real trolley car on tracks, would take you up to Germantown.
LD: And the turnaround was Ridge and Midvale.
JP: The turnaround was at Ridge and Midvale and we would run out and grab the pole – pull the pole down – and go to the other end and put the pole up so the trolley could go in the other direction. And the conductor would throw us a nickel or a dime. The sub-conductor would curse at us because he didn’t want us to touch it. But most of them would throw us a nickel or dime and you’d run into Hatcher’s bakery there and play the pinball machine or buy a doughnut. That was right there.
WM: Do you have any memories of the old train station?
JP: Oh, at the bottom of Ainslie? Oh yeah. The train station had a potbelly stove in the waiting room on the other side, and we would go in there as kids and feed the potbelly stove. It was a hangout. Of course the trainmaster would come across and chase us under the tunnel.
There was a freight station at the bottom of Ainslie Street – it was a house where the train would pull in – our gang used to hang there. But we would get on the platform – the steam engine would be coming and we would try to stand as close to the steam engine as we could as rocked by – one of the kids stood too close and got nailed.
KP: That train station was beautiful when I moved here in the seventies…
JP: Yeah, what do you call it, Dutch revival? I took the picture when it was burned.
WM: What do you mean by nailed?
LD: He didn’t get killed, did he? The one who was standing too close to the train?
JP: He lost his arm, I think.
WM: Do you remember when it was burned down?
JP: Yeah, I was there; I took the pictures. They were my pictures that were in the paper.
WM: Tell us about that. What year was that?
JP: Well the kid who set my car on fire burned the train station.
KP: Joe, it was 1960 something, right?
JP: No, we were on Stanton Street, Kath.
KP: Yeah, our rear window faced…
JP: We were on Stanton Street in ’70, hon.
KP: (continues) and the heat from it was so hot. In the middle of the night I saw this red glow and I woke him up and said
“Joe, something’s on fire across there.”
JP: What’s the kid’s name?
KP: (withheld here)
JP: He set it on fire. He set my car on fire.
KP: He was a pyromaniac. It was a beautiful station. It was the most beautiful…
LD: It had that little octagonal tile floor.
JP: And a giant regulator clock on the wall and the bench around the whole length of the station, a wooden bench. And they had little tiny vending machines to buy penny chicklets.
LD: The cashier had the metal bars.
JP: And there was a freight room and there were restrooms. Everyone knew the train station man. You would sit there and you’d wait with your mother for the train to come.
WM: What was his name?
JP: Oh God…
WM: That’s ok; you’re doing great.
JP: The railroad crossings had gates that went up and down. There was actually a man in a house that made them go up and down.
Mr. Altomare ran the one on Indian Queen Lane. We’d sit in the house with him and he’d raise the gates up and down.
LD: Is there anyone special in East Falls that stands out in your mind as contributing to the community?
JP: Mr. Morrell was a big guy. He was in our church. He was the man. He ran everything; he was in charge.
LD: How about the East Falls Business Association?
JP: There wasn’t any when I was a kid. I don’t remember that.
One of the things the school did for you – the last day of school, you’d go to church and as you came out of church, the nuns would hand you a strip of tickets. Then you would go from up on Stanton Street. They’d march you down Stanton Street, across the Falls Bridge, through the tunnel where the water’s coming out now? There was no water coming out then. You’d go through the tunnel and you’d come out into this area we used to call “Chamounix.” People called it Chakamaxin – it was Chamounix!
We would march up the hill, which had a reservoir on top, which was breech so it had cascading waterfalls. At the top was a big pond with toads and frogs. They would march us along the path of the old park trolley, through the tunnels, and we’d come out at Woodside Park.
WM: Tell us about that.
JP: Oh, that was a wonderful place! Woodside Park was the amusement park. You used to go by the traction companies at the end of the traction line, so you would ride the traction cars to get there. There was one called the Great White Amusement Park outside of Chestnut Hill as you come into Flourtown. The pond that’s there was part of the Great White Amusement Park. Willow Grove Park. Woodside Park.
Woodside Park was a wonderful place. They had a giant lake at the end and you could get in a motorboat and drive it yourself. It was in wooden channels but you could drive it. Right across from that was a funhouse – that was the better funhouse. At the end of the funhouse, you rolled down a giant carpet – you would fall down the giant carpet – and you would be out.
Next to the funhouse was a shooting gallery and that’s where you learned to shoot your first rifle – your 22 rifle. Next to that was a giant roller coaster called The Thunderer or something – a – wooden roller coaster. Above the wooden roller coaster was an arcade and then you got into the children’s rides. There was a whole area with children’s rides. Next to that was the carousel, which is now out at Memorial Hall. Coming down from the carousel was the Pretzel, the tunnel of love, the rocket ride, and the next funhouse. Across from that was the whip, the ferris wheel, and you went down into the lake…
WM: Did they have dances there? Entertainment?
JP: It wasn’t like Willow Grove where they had John Philip Sousa and big dances. Woodside had a big gazebo in the picnic room. The nuns would be in the gazebo. Your parents would come late in the afternoon and have a picnic lunch.
WM: Tell me more about this tunnel – I can’t picture where this tunnel is by the Falls Bridge.
JP: You go over the Falls Bridge and you don’t go to Kelly Drive which is to your right. If you turn left, there is a waterfall coming out. There was a dry tunnel that was just a walkway to get onto the tracks. They turned it into what is now – they used it as a water course for a drainage ditch. Back there at Chamounix – we spent great days back there at Chamounix.
WM: What else did you do for recreation?
JP: We swam in the river.
WM: Tell us about the river, what you did…
JP: We fished in the river; we swam. We jumped off the bridge – the Falls Bridge. We’d climb off the bridge onto the stone pillars. The park guards would come after us. They’d be climbing down one side and we’d be climbing up the other – or they got us on both ends – we’d have to jump in the river and swim away. That was a hell of a jump too. We had kids drown over the years. We lost guys in the river.
WM: Did you go over by the Canoe Club? I know some people accessed the water that way.
JP: Yea, that’s where the kids drowned. Gucci Festa and Johnny Woods – the Woods boys drowned. The glass guy – he had the glass shop there on Ridge Avenue – he died that day the guys were with him.
WM: How old were you when you were doing this?
JP: Anywhere up to 13. From 9 years old up…. You’d hang out with a crowd. The guys on Tilden and Vaux were known as Tilden University – Tilden U. They had shirts that said Tilden U. so when they went down to the shore the girls thought they were college guys – Tilden U. They asked me where I went and I said Slippery Rock – and guess what – there’s a Slippery Rock College! I ran into someone who went to Slippery Rock once. But there were the Lower – Enders – they were the guys down from Allegheny and Ridge Avenue. They were called Lower-Enders.
WM: What were you?
JP: I hung at Tilden and Conrad at Bob’s. But, then again, that didn’t last too long because I saw no future in hanging out on the corner.
I was in the Boy Scouts – and from the Boy Scouts I went to the Sea Scouts, and from the Sea Scouts I joined the Civil Air Patrol. I was flying planes at 13 years old and those guys were still hanging out. At age 17 I was in the Air force and they were still hanging out on the corner. I was in and out of the Vietnam War and they were all called and got shot. A lot of them did. I got it over with – the Civil Air Patrol was a big thing for me.
WM: What made you leave home at 17?
JP: Because I couldn’t wait to get into the Air Force – it was my dream. John Wayne was my hero. I was going to fly airplanes. I was in the Civil Air Patrol – I wore a uniform then. I was learning all about aviation. I went into the Air Force with a stripe because I was in the Civil Air Patrol. And then I found out they don’t have 17 year old pilots! If I had to do it over, I’d have gone to college first.
WM: Tell us about some of your memories of East Falls institutions, say, the library…
JP: The library was an island – it was the place to go escape to. You could go there and sit there – it was quiet. You could get a book – they had a book that I was in love with – it showed you how to build all kinds of things – tree houses, scooters. It was wonderful. I used to sit there for hours looking at that book. The library was a big part of life there.
WM: Can you describe what it looked like?
JP: It was just like it is today. You walk in there and you think you’re there from the forties. There’s some mechanical stuff that’s new, but it hasn’t changed much. It’s the same room. It’s kind of neat.
WM: Do you remember the librarian?
JP: Oh god no. There was a Young Man’s Society on Indian Queen Lane but it was more of a Protestant organization. We didn’t get very much involved with it. They had a pool table in there and ping pong – stuff like that.
LD: What about McDevitt?
JP: McDevitt was a place you’d go to play basketball or sports if you wanted to get into that type of thing.
WM: Were you into that?
JP: I wasn’t into that. I was off flying planes.
WM: How about Old Academy? Any memories?
JP: It was there. I never went to any of the plays there. It was the place Grace Kelly started. I never went to anything as a young person. I really didn’t.
LD: Do you remember when they were building the expressway?
JP: Yes, I have movies of it. I was flying over it. I was taking movies as I was flying over it. I’m a pilot and those kids down there were playing in the dirt.
WM: Had you seen the old Breck School?
JP: Oh yeah. Breck School turned into a concrete yard. There was a concrete company there – that’s where you bought your concrete. Keystone Concrete – I’m pretty sure. And there were black fellows there who worked who came and did concrete on the weekends.
My father would hire them – we poured our driveway with them. You pulled in on Krail Street and you pulled into the yard – there was a concrete company there.
WM: So they didn’t take the school down for the expressway? They took it down and it became a concrete yard and then the expressway?
JP: The concrete yard was there when they did the expressway. You remember that, Lyda?
LD: But I moved upstate for a while.
JP: I think they did it in 1957 – they built the expressway.
LD: I was playing down there in the dirt when they were building it.
JP: Well I was flying over it.
WM: And the school came down when?
JP: When they did the expressway. When you came down Crawford Street there was a giant stone wall – it was huge, that retaining wall that held the school up.
LD: That’s how we used to go to the Bathey.
JP: Yep. The Bathey. I went down to the Bathey that way too. We walked by the Italian store down there and we’d buy an Italian roll for ten cents. A big huge bread Italian roll that we’d eat when we came out of the Bathey for sustenance. We used to steal soda out of the soda factory and go in those woods right there across from Breck School and hide our sodas in the bushes and drink hot soda. (Note: See Addenda at end for more of Joe’s memories on the Bathey)
WM: You’ve given us, at other times, some memories of Alden Park and the Bathey, but is there anything you’d like to add about either of them?
JP: Alden Park was a beautiful place. Some kids who lived there went to Str. Bridget’s. We called them rich kids. But Alden Park – my father would paperhang in Alden Park. He’d paperhang with paper that was like burlap and it was very hard to paperhang. He would cut his hands because he had to use razor blades. I would go to the apartments with him and it was kind of neat, as a kid, to see these people living there. The swimming pool was magnificent. The swimming pool is Mercer tile. It’s beautiful. The roof rolled back and it was just gorgeous. My sons became lifeguards there so I got to swim every night at 9 o’clock when they shut the pool down.
One of my memories of Alden Park was, on the top of the roof, the rolling roof, I found a bunch of bunny rabbits – little bunny rabbits in a nest. I remember that like it was yesterday. Little tiny bunny rabbits.
WM: What about the Alden Theater?
JP: Alden Theater was the place. You went there Saturday morning and it was 25 cents. There was a fellow there by the name of George who was in charge of keeping the kids in line. He was a little guy who lived on Eveline Street. N – he looked like Indiana Jones. George lived on Frederick Street – Heather owns the house on Eveline. Frederick Street – George lived on the right hand side going down. He had a brown fedora hat – he looked like Indiana Jones – a brown suit and wire-rimmed glasses and he was in charge.
He would stop the traffic on Midvale and get the kids across. We’d all run across to the gardens (at Mifflin School) and play cowboys and Indians. Whatever the movie was, we’d re-enact in the gardens. But George was in charge. One of the big things was if you got a job as a broom boy – I became a broom boy – you didn’t get paid but you got all the free movies you wanted. (See addenda at end for more of Joe’s memories of the Alden Theater)
(pause – tape resumes)
…. Caves.… there’s a picture of it – you guys have a picture of it. When I became real estate director, someone called up and complained and my boss made me seal them up. I spent fifty grand sealing them up.
But when they sealed them up on those kids, they dynamited the front and as soon as they were gone, we dug them out. But that was called Dutch Hollow, and Wiehle Street was – like ten houses on Wiehle Street – there were poor people who lived there.
WM: Going back to the upper and lower Falls, though, was most of that developed the way it is now when you were growing up?
JP: The “New Homes” – they were the first new homes we ever saw in East Falls – over on Cresson Street – called “The New Homes” and we always referred to them as “The New Homes” and the only construction that became newer was Boathouse Row on Wiehle Street.
WM: My house was built, I believe, in 1952.
JP: Your house is…
WM: 3310 West Coulter – was that woods? Across from the Presbyterian Church?
JP: When I was a kid the woods were on Ainslie Street – across from my real estate were woods – right where Joe Michetti’s house is and all the way up to the farmhouse – it was all woods – there were giant trees there. We used to burn it down every spring…
WM: Did you ever get injured with all these things you did?
JP: I got my head split by Walt Christenson with a sword one day – we were sword fighting with wooden swords and he hit me on the head and split my head.
KP: And you know who sewed him up?
JP: And you know where I went? Katz’s Pharmacy. Katz’s Pharmacy closed it up.
WM: So you weren’t injured but did you get in trouble a lot…
JP: My mother got upset at me for blowing the yard up a couple of times. We were called the Atomic Gang because Walt Christenson was a scientist, and he would invent the blasting powder and we were the delivery system – Buddy Schwick and I were the delivery system. Walt would make the bomb, Buddy would light it, and I would deliver it.
LD: Was Walt from New Queen Street?
JP: Yes. Walt eventually went to work for the Navy, building super atomic weapons for the Navy.
KP: Perfect man. (laughter)
JP: He was destined to do that – but he would make the powder – there were three of us, and we were always into really neat things – we built bombs, we had explosives, rockets, grenades. Tommy Monghan and the guys – there were about 12 of them – and they would come to beat us up and we would blow them up. They tried to get us on the top of the hill behind the Alden Theater – up on the top – and they were running up the hill to get at us and we were throwing grenades at them. And they ran away.
But they would follow us into the woods and I’d say “Walt, they’re following us” and he said “Yeah, I see them back there” and he said “Lets scare ‘em.”
So we put a bottle up on the hill and we’d hide and we’d pull out a zip gun – bang! We’d blow up the bottle and they’d run away. Because we were armed and dangerous…
We would make jetex powder cans from fuses and put ball bearings in them with gun powder and make grenades. We stole the ball bearings from Nice Ball Bearing (ed. note: located at 2901 Hunting Park Avenue) – we would climb the fence. They threw out all the bad ball bearings in the back and we would get them for our sling shots. We also equipped our sling shots with arrows – we would put a little loop here and shoot arrows.
WM: Were you the ringleader? Did you think of these things or were you following other kids?
JP: Well Buddy Schwick and Walt were older than me – I was the young kid – I was the gullible one. “Here, go blow that up!” “Okay!” You know, but we were all pretty much thinking things up – I was the younger of the gang – I was just…
LD: I think Walt Christenson’s back yard on New Queen backed up to the cinder path.
WM: What was that?
JP: That was a path that led from Mifflin schoolyard down to New Queen Street at the bottom (Cresson Street). I don’t know if we called it cinder path or not but – but also next to the railroad station was called the cinder path, so I’m trying to remember if that was still the cinder path – maybe they were both called the cinder path.
LD: I remember seeing him shoot a rocket up in his backyard.
JP: It was my poor mother who suffered. Her yard was the testing range. She’d go on the phone and she would go to my aunt and say “Oh my God, there goes another one of my bushes in flames.”
I hid up on the roof one night – I didn’t come home because I was scared – I burned the backyard down. I was hiding up on the roof when she got home.
LD: Now as far as the wars, or presidential elections and assassinations, did that effect life in East Falls? Do you remember people talking .…
JP: Everything was done by your political committeeman or your ward leader. Like the Spinos were big deals during the Republican times – they were Republican committee people, and Mr. Spino was like the boss. If you wanted a job as a policeman or a fireman you had to go through your committeeman or ward leader, and you had to pay $300 under the table to become a cop. That was the way it was in the old days.
Like Joe Valrose. He was the last of the old politicians – he lived on Indian Queen Lane – and he would teach me how to be a good politician. He said “You never fix anything until somebody complains!” I said “What do you mean?” And he said “Well, if there’s a hole in the middle of the street, you walk around it –don’t pay no attention until Mrs. Caboose says ‘What are you going to do about the hole!’
Then you fix the hole because then they know you did it. Then they owe it to you.” I said ‘What do you mean?” “Listen, kid, listen.”
I’m coming home one night and there’s a truck coming down the hill – a Streets Department truck. And I said “Where are you going?” “We’re going to Stanton Street to fill the potholes up.” “Wait a minute!” I climbed up on the running board. As the truck turned onto Stanton Street all the Italian ladies were out there sweeping…
“All right men, come on! Fill those potholes up!” so they jump off the truck; they fill the potholes.
And he says “All right, go ahead.” (in Italian Accent, animated) “Oh, Giuseppe, you’re such-ah nice-ah person to fill the holes!”
Come Election Day: “Mrs. Cacucci, we’re electing Adolph Hitler today – will you pull the lever….?”
“Absolutely Joe, anything you want!” Click. And that’s how it worked. They did for you, you did for them.
Well how did you know they did for you? It was simple. When we set up the voting booth, we put a matchstick behind the lever, and we said “Mrs. Cacucci, you’re gonna vote for my guy, right?” And she goes in, and if that match didn’t fall, you know she didn’t pull your lever. You’d watch for the match to fall to the floor.
Or they would put Old Spice shaving lotion on the lever – when they came out, they’d shake their hand when they walked away, they’d smell their hands to see if they could smell the Old Spice.
Some of the old politicians drilled a hole through the ceiling and sat up there and watched it. (laughter) That’s old politicians.
KP: They would pick people up. I remember my father-in-law had a list of all the old people and he would take them to the polls. They were very active committee people – everyone knew them – they’d come to your house in the mid of the night if there were something wrong.
JP: They would get you out of jail. They would go to the magistrate and give him something. They were always coming to get my father to get out of jail. We were driving down to Jersey to get guys out of jail.
But my dad was a Republican committee man for 40 some years and I was the kid who ran and put the folders in the mailbox. He would drive me around and I would distribute the stuff.
Dad always told me “I would go to the State Store and buy the cheapest gallon of wine you could buy – for like a dollar a gallon. Then I’d go get wine bottles out of the trash can over at Falls Tavern and I’d fill the wine bottles up and put corks in them. Mrs. Cacucci! Here! Have a bottle of my homemade wine! You’re my favorite voter.” “Oh Giuseppe! You’re such a nice-a boy!” And it was shit wine and they thought it was homemade.
And one year, he said “I went to the store and I bought ketchup and gravy and all this stuff and made a big batch of gravy and I put it in Mason jars and told them it was homemade spaghetti sauce.” That’s what he did. He taught me those things.
WM: What about the more recent history of East Falls. Were you involved in the Community Council?
JP: Oh yeah. Very early on when they started.
WM: What was your position?
JP: I think I made Vice President – I don’t remember. I never liked to take the President’s job – it’s too much work and you had to ‘eat breakfast’ with them…
They just made me President of Unico Village in South Philadelphia. I don’t want to do it. Now I have this 350 unit apartment complex for senior citizens.
KP: Going back to East Falls, we were in the real early CDC (Community Development Corp.) – at the very beginning of it.
JP: Roberta, Bill Morrow, Joe Michetti, myself, and Howard Curlett was the Zoning… and these were people with knowledge of real estate. Now you have people who don’t have knowledge, but we put a lot of time in. We spent a lot of time. And then along came the new guys and they threw us out. Didn’t even ask us if we wanted to serve. It kinda hurt after all that time. And we were really fair – we did a good job.
WM: What about – since you were in the real estate business, what changes did you see in the housing market in East Falls?
JP: Oh my God. When I first opened in 1975, I used to tell my buddies who never lived in East Falls “Buy real estate in East Falls; it’s a great investment.” And people would say “Oh no, the projects are going to drive us out of here.” I bought Caruso’s store in the middle of Calumet Street and completely renovated it. The people on Calumet said “Are you crazy? Are you crazy? We’re leaving! Are you crazy?”
I turned it around. I bought every abandoned house on Calumet, refixed them, sold them, and put young people in them and the whole street turned around.
And the projects disintegrated – I got the projects closed down – Frank Rizzo closed down the high rise down for me – I got them to blow it up – my dream project.
WM: Really! What was your role in that? What was your involvement?
JP: In what?
WM: In the project coming down.
JP: Well you got to start with the fact that when I was a kid we thought that was a hotel up there. I was going to get a job as a bellboy. I didn’t know what public housing was until the kids started coming to school – they didn’t have any food, didn’t have any clothes. I mean they were poor.
And I remember the first black kid who showed up at St. Bridget– it was a girl. I remember that poor girl was the first one in St. Bridget, but the project was a lot of poor people. They didn’t have anything and they came to St. Bridget. They were assimilated, finally.
I remember on Stanton Street I was about 9 and I was sitting there one day and this black guy pulled up in a truck and goes out and into the house next to Lupinaccis. And he goes inside – his kid is in the front yard playing. So I go over and start playing with the kid – black kid – we’re sitting in the dirt playing trucks or something, and I said “Are you moving in?” ”Oh no, my dad just cleans the house.”
That night a bunch of guys got a mob up together and went in and destroyed the house. I’m sitting there going “Oh, no, black people aren’t moving in – he was just cleaning.” They paid no attention. They went in and cut all the joists with chain saws. Destroyed the house because they thought a black family was moving in. That was my first experience with prejudice like that. I couldn’t understand.
WM: You were living in East Falls during this transitional time when stores started to close. Can you tell us a little bit about that? Apparently there was a thriving business district – do you think it had anything to do with the public housing that things changed?
JP: No. no. It’s just that shopping centers started to come along. They didn’t make money anymore, the little stores. We used to go to Manayunk to a place called Resnicki’s which was a grocery store, to shop on Friday nights. It was modeled like a mini supermarket but it was like a Polish store – you could buy some really neat stuff. And why my father went there I don’t know, but we used to shop in all the local little stores. If you needed bread, my mother would say “Go up and get a loaf of bread, go up and get a pound of meat.” You would buy as you needed it because your refrigerator wasn’t very big and you didn’t have a freezer.
LD: Couldn’t you buy things “on the “I”? (note: the “I owe you”)
JP: Oh yeah. They kept a slip on you. But things changed, like refrigeration changed, television came along and people started eating tv dinners in front of the tv. Things changed. Technology changed. People started getting cars and could drive. Not many people had cars in our day. You would look up and down the street; there wouldn’t be that many cars. To have a car was a big deal. I remember – was it Calumet was cobblestones? And they paved it.
Back to the 70s, people were fleeing Calumet Street. The blacks in the project were throwing rocks in the windows. You’d be sitting there having dinner and a rock would come through the window. Or they’d shoot at them from the high risers with bullets. They would run out on the opening on Calumet Street and have gang wars right in the middle of the street. And people were leaving. They were fleeing. Three black families ended up living on Calumet Street.
We moved in 1970 to Stanton Street and came back to East Falls in the 1970s. I had my contracting company at the time so I bought Caruso’s store. And people thought I was crazy. I paid $2000 for that store. I had to take all the equipment out of it – the walk-in boxes (note: refrigeration boxes)
I ended up selling it to the English family for $9000 and moved them in from out in Lansdowne. And I told them – East Falls is going to come back. So they listened to me. I owned a total of 28 properties on Calumet Street that I bought, fixed, and sold. So I was the redevelopment authority that started to turn the Falls back. The people saw me doing this and they didn’t flee. They said “Well if he could do this, I can do this” and they started painting their houses and they stayed. And there’s no doubt in my mind that I had a lot to do with people hanging on in East Falls.
WM: That’s great.
JP: As part of my city job, I worked with the Housing Authority, and Schuylkill Falls was one of my charges. And I would go to work every day with a gun and a stick. And I would climb the high risers because the elevators were never working and I’d find bodies in the fire towers. I’d find bodies in the elevator shafts. There would be burn-outs every weekend – boyfriend burning out his girlfriend because she wouldn’t let him in and he’d throw gas into her apartment. This is how it was.
I immediately instituted putting glass in all the windows in the high rise that were broken. It was like a tank car leaking oil. That’s how bad it was. I stopped the heat from escaping.
I put a ban on dogs – you couldn’t have a large dog because what they would do – they’d get in the trash cans and eat all the diapers and spread trash all over. And my maintenance guy spent half his day cleaning the trash up instead of doing maintenance. So it was like a Catch-22. So you could no longer have a dog, and you had to put your trash in a metal can with a lid on it so you couldn’t just drop a bag out that the dogs could get at.
I also put charges in that if you broke something you paid for it. You broke a window you paid for it. Now the window might have cost us 5 bucks but we charged maybe 50 cents or a dollar, but for people in the project that was money, you know what I mean? My maintenance fell off 50%. It was amazing – how you gave them responsibility.
I put a gate up at Calumet – it got closed at 9 o’clock. There were no more gang wars because they couldn’t get out of the gate. They had no reason to run in and out. And I raised the fence 12 feet behind the houses. They couldn’t throw things straight through your window. You had to throw them up and they’d just fall down. I cut the vandalism out. They called me Hitler. They called me a prejudiced person. And I said to them “Look, you don’t belong in this project unless you have a reason to be here.” You can’t just walk in and out of this project. You can’t come in and burn some girlfriend out because she don’t want to see you.
The Catholics got involved. Bishop something. They brought a pair of chain cutters and gave them to the people so they could cut my fence. I was very upset over that. I had success. It was called defensible space. I read a book called Defensible Space. And I started applying that concept to the housing projects – that people would defend what they thought was theirs. And it worked.
In the meantime, out in the neighborhood, I was buying houses up. I bought a 3 story, 4 bedroom house on Calumet for $600. That’s how bad things were. Of course the houses were in really bad condition.
WM: What year are we talking about?
JP: ‘70’s. And eventually I sold them to – what’s that kid’s name? It don’t matter. But I bought and sold. Bought and sold. Bought and sold.
When did the housing project close?
JP: It closed during the Rizzo years. I was in the Rizzo administration. I started to get involved with politics – I was one of Rizzo’s first volunteers. Long story short I quit…
KP: Who was the guy who used to nag every time we went out we’d see him and he’d say “Joe…”
JP: That was the Housing Authority Director John White. He’d say “Leave me alone, Joe.” So Frank (Rizzo) closed down the high rises. Well it only took a couple of weeks before they were vandalized to the point where they were destroyed. And when HUD got mad and told him he couldn’t do that, they couldn’t open them up because they were destroyed.
So then I started bugging Specter (Sen. Arlen Specter) and those other guys. Eventually they blew them up. And when they blew them up, I was on the plunger with two other people. It was like the end of a dream for me that I had worked so long and hard to blow them the hell up. It was over – I was so happy about it.
In the meantime, East Falls property values started really… then I hooked on to the developer in Houston, Texas – the Frenchman – and convinced him to buy Dobson Mills and build (the new) Dobson Mills. And I brought him to East Falls from Houston Texas.
WM: So you really had a major role in the redevelopment.
JP: Oh yeah. You look at the doctors and the businesses and I was the one who brought them here. So we did Dobson Mills.
KP: Hyde Electric … he brought over here.
JP: So Kath says “We ought to buy some properties across the street.” And she was instrumental in me buying the properties I own across from the mills, which turned out to be part of our retirement, thank God. But if I had held onto the properties I owned in East Falls I’d be a multi kazillionaire. I never ever thought in my wildest dreams that the houses I owned on Calumet for 2 or 3 thousand would become 150,000 – 200,000 dollar houses. Never ever.
WM: Do you still own properties?
JP: Yeah. I own one on Calumet – just one.
KP: It was $5000. I didn’t want to buy it. It was too expensive.
JP: It was $4000, dear.
JP: Of course we spent a fortune, $72,000 rehabbing.
KP: No, I spent $90,000.
KP: But I tore it all down – took out the knob and tube wiring.
JP: That’s what happens when you don’t pay attention to what your wife is doing… So I tried to get people in invest in East Falls and I was successful – I brought in a lot of the people – the developers that were buying the properties.
KP: He got young Fallers that were like Frankie Rafaelle – the younger crew- and Joe English. Joe was the plumber, and his brother – they all bought properties.
WM: Joe? He just renovated our bathroom. Is he from Falls?
KP: No, originally from Roxborough. They moved out of the Falls. They lived in the Falls on Calumet Street in a house I sold.
JP: Frankie Rafaelle – he was working at the gas station pumping gas – he now owns 150 houses. And Mark Sherman – I brought Mark Sherman to East Falls.
WM: Did you!
JP: I did all the buying for him. Mark Sherman – he came to me at Frankie Rafaelle’s’ hunting cabin at the kitchen table – the two of them – and they said “We want to get involved in real estate – will you help us get funding?” So I did. The rest is history.
LD: Is there anything else you would like to add?
JP: Like what? I could go on forever. I just think Stanton Street to me is a magical place. It was definitely a village. I mean Aunt Tillie and Aunt Josephine, who are no relation at all, are extended family. All my life I thought they were my aunts and uncle, and here they were just people who befriended my mother. Who carried me as a baby. I grew up thinking aunts and uncles.
Just a wonderful place – people would look out for the kids. Somebody was on hard times they’d send a pot of soup down. Clothes, leftovers. There was no welfare or anything– it was “Take this down to Mrs. Murphy; she’s having a hard time.” Her daughter was my babysitter when I was a baby – the Murphy girls.
There was no hatred or anything, just getting along. Just trying to make it in the world. I often think I’m going to write a book someday about Stanton Street – Jimmy Street – that’s what it used to be called.
KP: We were all young marrieds, and then older aunts and things were there. There was a karma that was really, really good. We were the first ones to move. I’m sorry that we did. And then the other couple went.
I go back there when I show it to young couples – they’ve all done the same thing. There’s real special right in that particular area, of people being able to bond and work together.
JP: You knew everybody’s house by the name, rather than the house number – the Donahues, the Murphys, the Machinis, the Sykes, the Lupinaccis, the Bellofatos, the Desiderios.
KP: We went up to Penn Street. You’re disconnected. It’s not the same as it is in a row house. They’re nice people, and you all meet at community meetings, but not outside of your house on the steps.
LD: On the stoop.
WM: Well thank you so much, Joe.
LD: Yes, really wonderful.
WM: If we have more questions we’ll be back again.
(pause, then continues)
JP: Zakes were living in an apartment on Indian Queen Lane and they were producing their cakes out of the stove in their apartment. And they asked me to find them better accommodations than the apartment. I said “I’ll do you one better – I’ll get you an apartment and I’ll get you a bakery on the first floor.” They said “You can do that?” I said “Yeah.”
I got together with Frank Moran (note: President of the EF Community Council). We got the place rezoned, and they were allowed to bake cakes on the premises if they lived upstairs. And that was the start of Zakes Cakes.
LD: I love their cakes.
KP: I remember her coming out of the store and being so pregnant. And everything that she was baking was so… she had the best croissants.
WM: And so generous to the library. She’d call me up and say “I have so much left over from yesterday – do you want it for your
programs tomorrow?” So she would give us all kinds of things.
Just tell us, for the record, some of the businesses that you started in East Falls – some of the developers you worked with.
JP: Sherman Mills. Dobson Mills. Both of those were a result of my real estate. The doctor on Indian Queen Lane – what was her name? I brought her back
KP: Carol Henderson. Hyde Electric…
JP: Hyde Electric Corporation on Bowman Street.
KP: It’s a very large electric corporation that does a lot of city work. He brought them over here.
JP: I brought them from North Philly to that warehouse on Bowman Street.
KP: Kicking and screaming – they didn’t want to come.
JP: They thought it was crazy. I had to sell East Falls to everybody. They never believed me. They thought it was a black neighborhood.
LD: What did you tell them about it to sell it?
JP: That it was a great place. That I grew up here, that it had a good future. That it was stable. People stood by they didn’t leave. Diversified people. Nice people.
LD: I remember a lot of people on Calumet Street – instead of moving, they put gates on their alleys so people couldn’t get into the back of their house.
KP: I was called the Main Alley.
JP: The Main Alley.
KP: The Main Alley, and you could go from Calumet to the church (St. Bridget). All the old ladies used to use it. I remember the week they closed it. Those poor ladies were crying “How will I get to church!” But I said “You have to walk to the top of the hill. And I know you don’t want to, but you still have to walk to the top of the hill to go to church anyway, and it stops all this nonsense that’s going on.”
JP: I put the artist in the old VFW Post building – the guy who’s the artist – I put him there. I convinced him it’s a good place to rehab and to live. I assembled the lots on Frederick Street where they built those new houses.
WM: How about those townhouses near where Breck School was? Haywood?
JP: Where Dutch Hollow is.
WM: No. Off Indian Queen. I think it’s called Haywood Street.
JP: That’s called Plush Hill.
LD: There was an L- shaped house there and the Gotwols lived in this part and the Bowmans in that part.
JP: I’m trying to remember if I had anything to do with that. I brought in the developer for Boathouse Village. I brought him in.
WM: Where is Boathouse Village?
JP: Wiehle Street – that’s the old train station. All those new houses.
WM: Oh you did that?
KP: That was one of the first things we did. In the 80s?
JP: It was a long time ago.
WM: What was there before?
JP: There were woods. Ten broken down houses.
KP: Pasteboard Row. I think they knocked them down in about an hour.
LD: They were Father, Son and Holy Ghost houses. Just three rooms.
WM: What old buildings do you remember that aren’t there anymore?
JP: The Barnet which was a roadhouse on Ridge Avenue – that’s where the bait store is. That was a roadhouse that was boarded up. We used to play in there. The mansions up on Queen Lane. There were mansions up where the water plant is.
WM: Which ones? Abbottsford?
JP: Fox Street and Queen Lane. If you look at my old map book in the office – it’s from 1928 – you’ll see all of the old estates.
WM: Bella Vista and Abbottsford were the two Dobson brothers’ mansions up that way.
JP: I don’t know whose these were. They were taking it down – they were taking the slate off the roof and sliding it down a ramp to save it. And I was inside, in a ballroom hall with mirrors – it looked like Versailles. It was really neat. The old millhouses down on Ridge Avenue. Weightman Chemical Plant – we used to play in those.
KP: And Pasteboard Row. That’s down.
JP: Pasteboard Row was really the rowhouses on Ridge Avenue across from Gustine. That’s called Pasteboard Row.
KP: What were they called up there? They were horrible, those houses on Wiehle Street.
JP: It was just Wiehle Street. It was Dutch Hollow, and there were houses on Wiehle Street and Chrissy Taylor’s family lived there. And that woman who was my tenant, who burned my building down twice.
WM: Do you remember the old post office?
JP: Oh yeah. It was small. The school stole it out from under me – I was going to buy it for my real estate office.
LD: That’s a convent now.
KP: No, we were going to buy where the nuns are. We were that close to signing the papers. We were going to live upstairs and have the real estate, but Father Murphy convinced Charlie – Charles Kelly – that he would go to hell if he sold it to us and that was the end of that.
WM: And then you said you remembered the train depot. And, what else… Falls Tavern?
JP: Yeah, Falls Tavern.
WM: Can you describe that?
JP: Falls Tavern had cells in the basement from the Revolutionary War. They used to hold prisoners down there. – Revolutionary War soldiers. I heard down in the basement were cells with shackles on the walls.
KP: Didn’t it look like (the building) when you make the turn off Lincoln Drive? It was that style house.
WM: New Orleans.
JP: New Orleans type. Yeah.
KP: It was really neat looking… I felt so bad.
WM: Wissahickon Hall.
KP: This was before we were into conservation and I thought – this isn’t right – they shouldn’t knock this down.
JP: What happened was – it was during the Jim Tate time, and they were going to put in a new police station and someone was making money and the politicians were getting paid off.
LD: There was a building. – I believe it was a taproom/steak shop at Scott’s Lane and Cresson – it’s a contractor’s place now.
JP: I don’t remember a steak shop there.
KP: Oh yeah, yeah.
LD: We used to be able to walk right down Cresson before the expressway – to that corner and they had Philly cheesesteaks.
JP: I think that was a bar.
LD: It was a bar but, they also made Philly cheesesteaks.
JP: It was a bar.
KP: Well I guess the Riviera, or whatever they call it, must have been something.
JP: That wasn’t there when I was a kid.
LD: That’s where the Inn Yard is.
JP: One thing I’m bitter about is the way the Business Association and the Community Council constantly fought me for parking. I told them – the business district at Ridge and Midvale will never ever succeed without parking. No. They wanted to have tea houses and hoochy kootchy stores and they wanted to do it their way. It’s bad enough those businessmen had to fight to stay open to make a living, and the Inn Yard needed a playground like I needed another hole in my head. It needed parking for those business people. That’s what will drive everything else. And until they know that, until they provide parking for those business people, it’ll keep failing. Ridge & Midvale will keep failing.
LD: Tom keeps saying that hundred times a week.
JP: And God bless what’s – her-name, who does the trees. It’s nice that she loves the trees and all that. People have to make a living. What comes first – peoples living or trees?
KP: You could keep green space…
LD: And make a nice looking parking…with planters…
KP: ….and put some parking in there, so you still have your trees, and still have nice little benches. But the basketball court has to go, I’m sorry.
JP: It’s like a magnet.
KP: There’s basketball down at Gustine Lake and, please, do something with our own recreation center. I mean I know people still try to keep it a secret, but let’s make it nice for everybody.
LD: There’s a community center at Abbottsford, they have one. At Falls (housing project) they took away the community center when they put the new public housing there. They didn’t include a community center.
KP: Because, I’ll tell you, because on Stanton Street in the schoolyard, years ago, I begged Father to put a basketball court for the children in the neighborhood. “Ok, but” he said “It’s not going to work.” And I said “Father, let’s try it.” He put up one standard, ok, and I promised him that we’d pay for another standard and keep an eye on it. Do you know it brought every druggie that was over 25 years old? And when my son found a hash pipe and a needle from under the trailer that was there, I went over and said “Father you’re right.” We took it down.
It was a shame because…. couldn’t even play there. They forced them out.
WM: Any impressions of Ed Rendell or Arlen Specter?
JP: Only if you turn that (the recorder) off…
WM: We forgot to ask you how you two met.
JP: I went to a $2 night in Manayunk, at the Adam Kowalski American Legion Post on Shurs Lane.
I was standing at the bar and I looked across the room – there was a mob of people there – and out above all of them stood this blonde with a yellow dress. And I said “That’s for me.” So I walked over and I said “Dance with me, big one.” I think that’s what I said.
KP: “No” you said “Can I have this dance?”
JP: Ok. That was the girl in San Diego I said that to… (laughter)
KP: At that time, when I looked at him, I had seen him at the bar. When he was coming towards the table, I said “Oh this good-looking guy is headed for Barbara” – my friend – because she always could dance… and he tapped me on the shoulder and I said “Oh my, ok, yes” and I looked at him and he had an ascot and a blazer from the University of Pennsylvania. And on a $$2 (a drink) night, he was drinking a screwdriver or something he had to pay extra for and I figured he was very rich.
LD: Tell us about that jacket.
JP: I didn’t have any clothes – I was in the Air Force. I was on leave for the weekend and I rummaged through my father’s closet and the only thing I owned was the ascot. And I borrowed the blazer – I didn’t know it was from the University of Pennsylvania. And I said “Dad, where did you get the blazer?” He said “I won it at a crap game.”
So later on my father – I was home on leave and had my Air Force raincoat, and dad went off to a card game or a crap game and he came back without my raincoat. And I said “Dad, where’s my raincoat?” And he said some guy needed it – it was raining. He gave my raincoat away! That’s the way he was. He was the nicest guy in the world – he’d give you the shirt off his back or, in my case, my raincoat off my back.
WM: And you said you’re the third generation to meet in Manayunk?
JP: My grandmother and grandfather – Ukraine grandmother and grandfather – met in Manayunk.
My mother and father met in Manayunk, and I met my wife in Manayunk. So I told my boys “Stay out of Manayunk!”
But the Conowalls were our relatives– they were Ukrainian and the Conowall’s had a bar in Manayunk so I guess that’s where everybody met – at that bar. He was a banker for bookies – he banked all the money for the bookies.
WM: Amazing, thank you!
Ed. Note: Joe passed away two years after this interview, at age 71, on April 15, 2015.
When his wife, Kathy, proofread it, she added the following:
“Two pertinent things Joe did before he left the city position of Director of Real Estate:
1) He convinced the Art Commission to bring the statue of Rocky out of the South Philly stadium area and put it at the Philadelphia Museum of Art. They said “No” because it wasn’t art – it was Hollywood art. He said “Put it there and they will come.” At first it was at the top of the steps. They hated it and put it where it is now (at street level near the bottom of the staircase). Joe said “Too bad you did that…. People may have visited your museum if they were on top.”
2) His other crowning glory is the High School for Performing Arts. Foglietta wanted it to be a Sneaker Museum. Joe fought hard for that one and won!!
A) Joe Petrone’s Memories of Swimming in East Falls
from a telephone interview by Wendy Moody with Joe Petrone (born 1943) on Feb. 7, 2010.
There were four places to swim:
1) Wissahickon Creek – in April (Devil’s Pond, Sandy Bottom) –skinny dipping.
2) Gustine Lake – filthy with mud, broken glass. We’d float in inner tubes.
Part of the Water Dept.’s pumping station.
3) The Schuylkill River – we’d jump off Falls Bridge from the stone pillars. Park guards would chase us. Lost some friends there.
4) The Bathey – Went to get cool. The safest place to swim.
– Girls days were Tuesday and Thursdays
– Boys days were Monday and Wednesdays
– The building was a waiting area – long cast iron benches. You’d sit and wait for the door to open. You’d run to the
dressing room on the right to change clothes. Pool was on the left. “Roach Road” – Ferry Road.
– Pool was surrounded by a brick wall. Wall on the left was the high wall – 20 feet or so. My father and his buddies would
climb the wall into the pool and skinny dip. Scared police would come.
– As kids, we’d hide in the dressing sheds and run out as soon as the pool opened. Sometimes we were caught.
– There were 6 feet of steps and a shower room before you got to the pool, which had a wrought iron fence around it.
There was a deep and shallow end and a diving board.
– Game was to dunk the other guys. “dump and fill” pool.
– Don’t remember chlorine.
– Adults at night.
– No blacks. No refreshments.
– Kids would have bathing suit hanging out of their pocket. No towels.
– At Crawford and Ridge, you’d buy a loaf of Italian bread on the way home. Tasted really good.
B) Joe Petrone’s Memories of the Alden Theatre, Midvale Avenue
(memories conveyed to Wendy Moody by telephone on Sept. 23, 2011)
In the 1950’s, my mother would go there to get free dishes. The dishes were an incentive to go to the movies. They would have “gravy boat night” for example. The pattern was white with lavender flowers. It was Alden’s gimmick.
The theatre was run by a Jewish family – the son-in-law of the owner was Jules, who rode in a fancy Cadillac, later a Jaguar. The theatre was managed by “George,” who lived on Frederick Street. He was an older man with wire-rimmed glasses, a fedora, a stogie, and a brown suit. He would keep an eye on the usher and the kids. After the movie, he would help the kids cross over to the rock garden.
I had a job there as a “broom boy.” There were about 10 boys who swept under the seats after the Saturday matinee. The brooms were short and, because we swept so much in one direction, the bristles were all bent in that direction. We weren’t paid but they let us in for free.
There were times we would sneak in through the fire doors. One buddy would pay to get in and would stand by the fire doors. When the usher wasn’t looking, he would knock on the door and we would rush in the emergency exit. We had to do it fast since it let in a lot of light.
Once someone let pigeons loose in the theatre.
The usher, Frankie DePero, wore an usher’s uniform.
The Saturday matinees featured cartoons, a short subject, and a double-feature for 25 cents. The Orpheum theatre on Chelten Avenue in Germantown was only a dime. If we jumped on back of the 52 trolley, instead of paying, we’d have an extra nickel for candy.
The Alden was a plain theatre, not fancy like the ones in the ‘20s. It did have a fancy water fountain on the left – red onyx or something.
The popcorn was made somewhere else – 22nd and Swampoodle – and would arrive in giant bags. The popcorn was put in a heating machine. They didn’t use butter until later.
We would go to the old factory at Calumet and Ridge where we would find remains of mercury. We would dip our dimes in mercury before we used them at the soda machine in the movie. The dime would slide through the machine – we got our soda, the dime back, and sometimes we even got change!
After the movie we’d go to the rock garden and fantasize about what movie we just saw. If it was a western, we’d play cowboys and Indians. We played out our fantasies.
Later on, about 1964, I became a projectionist for about a year (in Dover, Delaware). I had to get a license. The first film I showed on my own was “In Harm’s Way” with John Wayne. The film came to us in about 7 reels. We’d have to watch for the flashing signal to smoothly change from one reel to another (there were two projectors).