East Falls Historical Society – Oral History Interview
Interviewee: Philip Steinberg (PS)
Interviewer: Jenna Musket (JM)
Date: September 21, 2007
Below is an interview of East Falls resident Phil Steinberg. Here he reveals why he came to the East Falls area and what kept him there.
He also provides a personal insight to the many changes that took place in the neighborhood and the city of Philadelphia between the beginnings of his residency in East Falls in 1964 through present day. Lastly, Phil talks about his involvement in the community.
JM: Good morning, Phil.
PS: Good morning, Jenna.
JM: So we’re sitting here. Maybe we want to start. I usually start with very simple questions; you know maybe if you could just start with telling me your name and when and where you were born?
PS: My name is Phillip Steinberg, and I was born in Danville, Illinois, on April 4th, 1931.
JM: Wow. You’re not a Fallser.
PS: I did not come to East Falls until 1964. That’s when I moved, I moved to Midvale Avenue. So, I’ve been here close to forty-five, what’s it forty-three, how long is that? It’s a long time.
JM: It is a long time. What brought you to East Falls? Well actually before we get to that, because, it was awhile, you know, before you moved to East Falls, tell me a little bit about growing up in Danville.
PS: Well actually, my mother was from Danville and we lived in Mattoon, Illinois at the time. It’s a small town south of Champagne, Illinois and what they call the Corn Belt out there. It’s very agricultural. And I enjoyed very much growing up in this small town about 18,000 people. And I went to high school there. And you know, participated in sports and different activities in high school and then went to college in Indiana at a small school called DePauw.
PS: In Green Castle, Indiana. And, then I had a, a scholarship for law school. I went to New York University and then…
JM: Wait, before you, what did you study at DePauw University?
PS: At DePauw, I was very interested in journalism. And was looking to a career in journalism. I majored in English; also political science – I had a double major. And then became interested in law, and decided to go to law school.
JM: Why? What do you think cultivated the interest in law school?
PS: Well I think it was always interested in the political processes, and in a way in public service and that type of thing, so I thought law would be a good background for that.
JM: Were your parents lawyers?
PS: No, no they were not.
JM: Tell me a little bit about your parents.
PS: Well, my mother had grown up in Danville, Illinois and, and she went to-
JM: And her name?
PS: Her name was Beulah, and she went to this school in Indiana, DePauw – where I went. She went for a couple of years – she didn’t graduate and then she married my father in 1924.
My father was a little bit, quite a bit, older actually; he was thirteen years older than she. And he had been – his parents had come over from Germany and he was born in upstate New York. And then had moved with his father, who worked on a railroad, over to Chicago and then finally to downstate Illinois and Indiana. And he worked for a gravel company. And he had his education I think, stopped at the eighth grade which was not unusual in the early part of the nineteenth, no, the twentieth century.
JM: Uh hum
PS: A lot of people didn’t graduate from high school. And so we lived there in this small town; I didn’t have any brothers or sisters.
JM: What did, what did you do with the gravel company?
PS: My father – his title was the vice president, and manager of operations, it’s a small gravel company. They have three what they call pits, gravel pits in Indiana and primarily provided gravel for road construction and also for the railroads. Railroads use gravel underneath their track. It’s called ballast, and whenever they repair their tracks – they put down gravel. They’re now putting down limestone and they have different techniques. So that’s what he did – he worked for this company and he traveled a bit, but it was a nice job.
JM: And your fathers first name?
PS: His name was Frederick. Frederick Phillip Steinberg. And his father’s name was John Steinberg and although it’s a Jewish name, it’s not – he – they – were not Jewish. They were German, I guess Lutheran or whatever. We went to church in what they called a community church in Illinois. It’s called Central Community Church which were more or less throughout the Midwest, the headquarters of the church was in Cleveland. And so the church was a fairly significant part of my early years. I went to Sunday school and sang in the choir and things like that.
JM: Ah, good voice?
PS: (laughs) I had a terrible voice!
PS: They were looking for bodies.
JM: And you enjoyed it?
PS: I enjoyed it. Yeah.
PS: I made a lot of friends that way.
JM: And was your mother also German?
PS: No, she was, her last name – maiden name – was Olmsted. And she was a distant relative of this landscape architect, Frederick Law Olmsted, who was known for the design and construction of Central Park in New York, so we sort of followed the Olmsted genealogy. And they were English. They came from, I mean her father had been born on a farm and their derivation was English.
JM: You wouldn’t happen to know where in England, what area?
PS: Well, there was, there is a family place over there called Olmsted House. It’s to the north of London – I’m not sure exactly the closest city, but that place still, I think it still exists. Or Olmsted Hall.
JM: Yeah, I was just curious because – it’s not with this set of interviews, but with previous ones with the Methodist Church when they closed – many people were actually from the Manchester and Oxford England area and I was just curious if she might have come from that area.
PS: Yeah, yeah.
JM: Ok, so she married a fellow who was a little bit older than herself and you settled down in Danville and you went to DePauw. Which school did you go to for law?
PS: It was New York University School of Law. That was in Greenwich Village, the school building. When I went, was a fairly new building, it was on the south side of Washington Square. And I lived right on Washington Square in New York and had just a wonderful time living in New York.
JM: And where did you live when you were in New York?
PS: Well, I lived right on Washington Square. In 50 Washington Square and then I lived on the west side of Washington Square in a school dormitory called the Holly Chambers. It had been an apartment building and the school bought it and turned it into quarters for students at NYU.
JM: And so you were… what years were you at NYU?
PS: I was at NYU from 1953 to 1956. And those were years when New York was a very open place where you could travel on the subway at any time of the day or night, and the subway ride was fifteen cents. You could have a dinner at a halfway decent restaurant for a dollar, a dollar and a quarter, and so it was quite a different lifestyle.
PS: And we enjoyed it. I was with a group of twenty other law students from different parts of the country that had this scholarship – it was called a Root-Tilden Scholarship. It paid all of our expenses and tuition, so it was a very nice kind of a scholarship to have.
JM: And how did you find out about the scholarship?
PS: Well, well at college they posted a notice on the bulletin board and I saw the notice and it caught my attention and they had this interview process.
JM: Okay so you were one of a group of twenty and, and after 1958?
JM: 1953. But you graduated…
PS: I graduated in 1956.
JM: ’56. So 1956 when you graduated – what happened after that?
PS: In 1956 I had worked at a law firm in New York City on Wall Street and I decided – I wasn’t quite sure what I was going to do because at that time the draft, all the young men were subject to the draft, and although you could get a deferral while you were going to school, as soon as you graduated you were than at the top of the list so I knew I would be drafted and I decided to stay in New York for a few months. Thought about going in as an officer but then decided that if you were drafted you were only in for two years.
And I decided to go ahead with that and I was drafted then out of my home in Illinois in November of 1956 and went into the Army and had basic training and then was sent after basic training in March of 1957 I was sent to Philadelphia. That was the first time I came really to Philadelphia.
I was stationed at the quarter master depot. The quarter master depot in Philadelphia was located in Twentieth and Oregon. In those days it was a very large operation with a great number of people from south Philadelphia working there sewing uniforms. Making uniforms for officers. Most of the noncommissioned officers and fatigues were made like that by contract but they did have a large number of
people who actually were putting together uniforms and also flags.
But it was primarily what you would call a storage depot, where clothing would be stored and then shipped out to camps as it was needed. And we were sent there with a group of other lawyers to review contracts that the Army had let during the Korean War to where there was fraud involved and we were looking for evidence of fraud. We did that for a period of perhaps six months and then we had reviewed all the contracts, so rather than letting us go someplace else, they decided they would use us in working with data processing and computers. And there were – they had IBM computers down there and they sent us to training on how to program a computer.
JM: Where did you go for training?
PS: For training, the IBM had an office at 15th and Locust Street in those days. And we would take classes there. I mean we wouldn’t go in to work at the Quartermaster Depot. We’d get up in the morning; we’d take a subway or a bus down to 15th and Locust and learn about computers. We did that maybe like a week long course and then we would go back and try to apply that knowledge to what we were doing for the Army.
JM: So when you worked with them, what were the fruits of that? Did you get stationed to do something that would’ve brought computers and your legal skills together?
PS: Actually, they didn’t, the legal skills didn’t really enter into what we were doing with the computers. We were primarily assisting in the development in the program for the type of computer they had in those days. In those days a computer was a rarity, and it was, it filled up…
JM: Were they the large…..?
PS: Very large, there were two operated computers so they filled up a very large room which had to be kept at a very constant temperature. And it was a, it was a big project just learning about these computers and learning how to program and they had different techniques for programming in those days. But it was, you know, you were sort of on the, I guess, in the early stages of computing that I didn’t really –
except in one case that I worked on later – I didn’t find too many applications of the computer to law at that point because it wasn’t sophisticated enough.
JM: Is that what kept you in Philadelphia then? What brought you to Philadelphia?
PS: That brought me to Philadelphia, then what happened was that I went to different churches and I went to a Presbyterian church at 2lst and Walnut, it’s called The First Presbyterian Church. And while I was there I went to a young adult group and in that group I met my wife. And then we decided to get married and I got married really before I got out of the Army. And, although I thought I would go back to the Midwest, I ultimately decided to stay in Philadelphia. I had a friend, a couple of friends from Philadelphia – from law school, and I interviewed at where one of them was working and decided that that would be a place that I would probably want to work. And….
(tape cuts off)
JM: Which was where?
PS: That was a firm; the name of the firm was called Drinker, Biddle, and Reath. It was, in those days, it was considered a fairly large firm – it had 35 lawyers. And it had a very nice stable of clients and a very nice group of men that worked there. There were no women there at the time.
JM: Did that change after, how long did you stay there?
PS: I stayed there for 40 years.
JM: So did you see changes over the years?
PS: I saw many, many changes.
JM: In terms of gender, like women coming in?
PS: Women coming in, and also discrimination not only against women but also against ethnic and religious – I mean Catholic and Jewish men found it very difficult to obtain employment with what you would call a Main Line law firm. And I think that was not only true with law firms, but Main Line businesses, generally. If you were wanting to work for a bank in Philadelphia and you wanted to move up the ladder it would be hard if you… it helped a lot of you were an Episcopalian Main Line resident. It didn’t help if you were Jewish or Catholic or from South Philadelphia. I mean, I’m being honest about it.
JM: No, I’m aware of that. I teach Race, Class and Gender up at the college, so it’s a familiar scene, until the country and different communities started doing structural changes to make integration occur or open the doors for people to…
PS: One of the interesting things was, when the Civil Rights act of 1964 was being debated and it was, originally, they didn’t have sex in there as a discrimination item. And one of the southern senators added sex, as you know, to the list, thinking that a lot of the northerners would vote against it because they didn’t want to have – they didn’t want to prohibit sex discrimination. But of course everybody voted for it and that’s why sex discrimination was made unlawful. Before 1964 there was nothing unlawful about discriminating on the basis of sex, religion or color. It’s hard, I mean people may find that hard to believe but that’s the way it was.
JM: Yeah. No. It is stories like yours that are actually eyewitness accounts, talking about the reality of it on a day-to-day kind of basis so it’s not an abstract.
PS: It wasn’t an abstract thing at all.
JM: And it’s not ancient history; it’s not that old.
PS: You’re talking forty years ago.
JM: But in the 1960’s then, when, when the Act was passed, is that when you began to see major changes?
PS: No. It didn’t happen that quickly. No, it took quite a bit longer. I’d say women, I think maybe the first woman that was actually hired to work there as a lawyer was in about 1971 or 72 and that wasn’t unusual at the other law firms either. And of course it took even longer for a woman to become a partner. Or a black.
JM: But that also changed over time?
PS: That changed over time, yeah. Now I think law firms do a much better job. They’re forced by, really their clients, to be more open because many of the large clients won’t do business with companies or firms that have any kind of discriminatory policy. They don’t want to be associated with that. The public perception is so strong.
JM: Well even if there’s little representation or diversity within the firm that reflects that.
JM: So you stayed there for forty years, so that’s what kept you in Philadelphia.
PS: That’s what kept me in Philadelphia. I worked there from 1958.
JM: Well that and marrying a young woman from the Presbyterian Church.
PS: Yeah, yeah.
JM: So tell me a little bit about her, what’s her name and-
PS: Her name is Doris. Her last name was Blank. And we lived on Spruce Street when we first got married. 18th and Spruce. Which was…we had an apartment, a fourth floor walk-up apartment and lived there for a couple of years and then we moved over to 22 and Chestnut into another apartment building called the Coronado, which is still there and it’s been converted now into condominiums. And then one of the lawyers that I knew at Drinker Biddle moved out to East Falls and he bought a house on Midvale at Stokley. And he had us out for dinner and it really was the first time I’d really looked at it- East Falls – and to tell the truth, I liked the neighborhood – in many ways the neighborhood reminded me of this town I’d grew up in in Illinois.
JM: How so?
PS: Well the streets were tree-lined and the houses were similar you know, the
residential houses and it seemed like a very congenial community. So we began, we then -our wife became pregnant and we had a child and we were living in this apartment in Center City and decided that it would be a good time to look for a house. I think a lot of young people do that today; they live in Center City and then have children and find it difficult maybe to raise children right in Center City. People are doing it, but it’s not the easiest thing.
JM: Uh huh.
PS: So having visited our friend here, we began to look down here and in 1963, towards the end of the year, we made an offer on a house near Fox and Midvale. And at that time housing was quite a bit more reasonable than it is now.
JM: I’m surprised at how it’s escalated, I’m here 13 years and I’m surprised at how it’s escalated in the 13 years. But you mentioned meeting your wife Doris, can you talk a little bit about her? Who was she and-
PS: Well she was – she had a job at the Atlantic – what was then called the Atlantic Refining Company. And I think she worked in the personnel department, at that time. I think she worked in different places. But their offices were at Broad and Spruce, so she could walk to work when we lived in the apartment and then I could walk to work where I lived, where I worked. And her background, she was born in Sellersville, Pennsylvania, which is a small town north of Philadelphia and she had gone to Temple University and then stayed in Center City Philadelphia after her graduation and had taken this job. I think she had worked primarily at Atlantic Refining because I know she had been there over ten years when she left and she retired, or left there, probably in the early 1960’s. So she probably worked there for from the time she got out of college until she decided to stop working when we moved- when we had children.
JM: And what did she do when she was at Atlantic Refinery?
PS: I think she just worked in personnel. People would come in and I think they gave them some kind of a test – you know, an aptitude test and different kinds of tests. I think she administered those types of tests.
PS: It was a, it was an administrative, secretarial type job.
JM: So when you came to dinner to your friends in East Falls was your wife also responsive to the prospect?
PS: Yes, she liked it, she liked the prospect. And I also always felt that I wanted to live in the city rather than moving into a suburb. Many of the lawyers down there at Drinker, Biddle and Reath lived in suburbs, and they did that for school reasons and also I think a lot of people, for whatever reason, felt the city was unsafe and you know even in those days and they didn’t want to be – they wanted not to have anything to do with Philadelphia. People still have that attitude.
JM: And what year was this that you moved to East Falls?
PS: Well, we bought the house at the end of ‘63, we actually moved here in January 1964, at the end of January. And it really was a big – the houses are quite large, there on Midvale. Above Henry Avenue, most of the houses are built, what you might call sidewise, sideways on the lot. So that the front of the house faces the – you know the lots are not that big but the houses are pretty good size. It was – they were all I think developed about the same time, either in the late – early nineteen twenties or a little earlier, and they’re built with stone, many of them. They look alike. I think they must may have been built by the same builder.
JM: Same quarry?
PS: Same floor plan. There are various, you know, little floor plans – they’re different But I’ve been in a number of homes up that way; I’ve been in a lot of those houses. There’s a lot of similarity between them. It was a quarry I think not too far from East Falls where a lot of the stone came from.
JM: I think Ridge Avenue somewhere.
PS: I think so.
JM: Because the building of many of things at the bottom of the hill came from the quarries as well. I think Dave McClenahan had talked about that. I found it interesting that you talked about thinking about the choice of staying in the city or going to the suburbs because in the sixties that was right around the time of suburbanization happening out in the areas.
PS: That’s right.
JM: To make the area bigger.
PS: Big, big growth in the suburbs then.
JM: And not too long after that, maybe the building of the expressway, you know, Route 1 taking out — but even the notion of, I guess, whether you stay in the city or move to the suburbs, it’s interesting that you chose to stay, you know, in …
PS: Well I thought you could be part of your community more if you lived in the city. You could have more effect on it in some way. And also the other thing that’s appealing about East Falls is the excellent transportation. Both train and…all the years that I worked downtown I took the Chestnut Hill Local from Queen Lane which was closer to — I was closer to that station then to the East Falls station.
JM: So very acceptable transportation-wise. So if you moved in in the sixties, into East Falls – that’s actually being a resident here quite long.
PS: It is a long time. ‘64 to two thousand — that’d be forty three years.
JM: So in forty three years I imagine you might have seen a lot of changes in this neighborhood?
PS: I’ve seen a lot — a think quite of number of changes. You know when we first moved in, Midvale Avenue – the lower part of Midvale Avenue, had a lot of stores and there was a movie theater where – I think it’s where the bank is now – was the movie theater. There was a little super market down on Midvale.
JM: It’s a shame that moved (laughs).
PS: It is, yeah, I forgot the name of that super market. It was a small one but it was right across from McIlvaine’s (funeral home). It was on the same side of the street as McIlvaine’s. Down that way. It may have been further down.
JM: So, part of the changes that you said – many businesses and industries are moving – moved out of the neighborhood?
PS: They moved out of the neighborhood, yeah.
JM: Would you consider those among the most significant changes that you experienced living here?
JM: Well what were the most significant changes?
PS: (laughs) You know, the one good thing about East Falls is that the houses and streets have not changed, enormously, over a period of forty years. I mean there have been some tear downs and build ups. People have bought the houses, rebuilt them. There’ve been very few new, very few new construction. And it’s really the area around Ridge Avenue and where the Falls Ridge is now that the major changes have taken place, with the demolition of the Schuylkill Towers, I think they call it, I forgot exactly what they called it.
JM: Schuylkill Falls.
PS: Schuylkill Falls housing down there and I think that’s the area that changed the most. But when you get up really above the Reading, the old Reading Railroad, I don’t think there’s been a whole lot of changes that I’m aware of. Warden Drive is the same, Coulter Street is the same. Believe it or not, when we first came up here there were streetcar tracks on Midvale. And there was actually a streetcar that ran up Midvale; I think the same route that the K bus follows today. I don’t know whether the streetcar was called the K or not. It probably was.
JM: Did that eventually go into the trolley tracks that go up Chestnut Hill?
PS: I think it went up Chelten Avenue – and the trolley tracks were up Chelten Avenue. Now Wayne Avenue had a trolley on it for a long time – it was much longer, but the Midvale trolley was taken off pretty early on in the days when they began doing away with the trolley fleet.
JM: Hmm, it sounds like the changes in terms of businesses and some down on Ridge Avenue – what about population wise? Have you seen changes in population over the years?
PS: Well maybe slightly. But then again I don’t think that they’re what I think of – what we’ve seen is not the number of people but the type of people that have come to East Falls. I think when we first came, it was probably an older place, particularly below Henry Avenue. And above Henry Avenue as well probably. But you’ve seen a lot of younger people coming in and finding East Falls a very desirable spot. At least when they’re first married – you know, they can have a house and it’s so convenient to the city. And they had a great impact upon the city – upon the East Falls area. I think the older folks probably don’t want too many changes but I think younger people are much more aware of the need for preservation and the environment protection of the environment and things of that type.
JM: Well you mentioned that that was one of the things that brought you to East Falls when you wanted to establish your family, raise a family and you mentioned the birth of your son?
PS: A daughter.
JM: A daughter?
JM: So tell me a little bit about your daughter, and did you have other children? What’s your daughter’s name?
PS: My daughter’s name is Susan. And she was born in 1963, in April so when we moved up here she was not quite a year old. And then we had another daughter in 1964. They’re about eighteen months apart. They were very close as they grew up because they were so close in age. They played together a lot and they played in the backyard, you know; we had a swing set. And they went to nursery school up in Mount Airy in the Summit Presbyterian Church – they had a nursery school.
And for their school they went to Germantown Friends, which was a very high quality school and not that far. We had a carpool that lived nearby and picked them up there when they were younger. When they got to about the third grade, they walked to school. They would walk up School House Lane and usually meet some other kids but I think that’s a very appealing thing when your children can actually walk to school. There aren’t too many neighborhoods or kids that actually do walk to school today.
JM: Or walk to anything in the neighborhood.
PS: Or walk to anything.
JM: (laughs) Well what was your second daughter’s name?
PS: Her name was Mary. And we called her Mimi. So they had a very good experience at Germantown Friends and I think that, you know, they got a good preparatory education and they both went to college and they both went to graduate school.
JM: And do they live close or far from you now?
PS: Well my older daughter lives down in North Carolina now. She went to Divinity School and she’s a minister. Works, and she, right now, she has two young children so she doesn’t work full time.
JM: What kind of minister?
PS: She’s a family, what they call an associate for family ministry at a church in Chapel Hill, North Carolina called the United Church of Christ. And they have like three hundred children in that church which is a lot. And she enjoys that, but she, you know, would like to get back to full time work.
The other daughter is married and has two children but she lives in Jenkintown, which is not too far away and she went to Library School, and she’s a librarian at Abington Township Library. And she likes that work very much.
JM: Well good, it sounds like you raised two intelligent daughters.
PS: Well, and I think they’re very happy with what they’re doing, hopefully.
JM: That’s nice. Well part of, I mean, I’m sure the reason for doing the interviews has been to talk about the birth of the East Falls Historical Society.
PS: Right, right.
JM: And so I know that you were instrumental, actually since the beginning. Were you at the earliest of meetings?
PS: I came to an early meeting; I was not on the board at the very beginning. I think Ellen Sheehan and Wendy Moody, Katy Hineline, and I know some other people, I don’t know who all, were at a very early meeting and I wasn’t a part of that group but I was asked to join the board maybe after about, you know, nine months to a year, of the organization’s existence.
JM: Okay, yeah, it seems to be as though Wendy Moody and Katy Hineline and Ellen Sheehan were the real catalysts.
PS: I think they were the catalysts, they were the ones – Wendy probably because of her knowledge of all the history, you know, through the library.
JM: And Wendy says “It’s Katy.” Wendy might have had the idea for wanting to do it for a while, but she blamed it on Katy.
PS: Blamed it on Katy for actually getting it started.
JM: (Laughs) For saying “Let’s do it.” So it’s interesting that that’s, I think, part of what catapulted it, because if you talk to other people in the community like Cynthia Kishinshand, I mean, they talked about wanting to have something for actually a number of years.
JM: So part of the reason, you know, for the interviews also is, and I’ve been getting peoples’ perspectives on, you know, people have wanted to do things like this for years. Like why now, why this, why this form, why where we are, and things like that, but maybe before we get to the specifics maybe in general just to talk about volunteerism. Because you’re on board as a volunteer.
JM: And volunteerism is often one of the ways things actually get legs and move. Do you volunteer with other things in addition to the historical society?
PS: Well, yes, I do. But for me I’ve only sort of been interested in different organizations like that. I was on the board of the Germantown Historical Society for a number of years. And when they were – I don’t know whether you know anything about the Germantown Historical Society but-
JM: A little bit.
PS: They – before they moved to their current location, they were located on Germantown Avenue further to the east. Further in toward town. They had buildings there. And when I first got on the board there, I went to meetings in those buildings and they became interested in buying this building that they’re in now and that became a big project. You know, trying to find a home for a historical society. Germantown Historical Society has been in existence for a long time, probably since the early 1900’s. And many have even felt like they’ve covered East Falls. They probably do feel like they cover East Falls. And I always wondered if there were, you know, some kind of an overlap, or even a conflict between the two. But-
JM: One of my favorite – well I don’t know if it’s a story – but when Steve Peitzman gave his talk at the East Falls Historical Society, he lives right on the cusp and his opening line to his talk was “Depending on what window I look out of, I’m a resident of East Falls and of Germantown.”
JM: Right on the borderline.
PS: Right on Wissahickon Avenue.
JM: Yeah, so he’s right on the borderline.
PS: That’s right.
JM: So, you talked with them for many years, and you volunteered with them for many years, and, and why did you do that?
PS: I think I’ve always been interested in history, preserving, things and I think, therefore, these historical society associations provide a real benefit to the community. We used to be a member of the Pennsylvania Historical Society. I was never on the board there, you know. I paid dues, and would go to their meetings. And there were other groups that I belonged to that are similar to that like the Athenaeum, which is an organization down on 6th Street – it preserves architectural drawings and it’s a library function primarily.
And there’s another group I used to belong to called the Library Company of Philadelphia that is an old kind of library that was started by Benjamin Franklin. And they preserve books and papers and things like that. So I’ve been interested in those things. I’ve never had an opportunity to do much with it myself as I always thought I might do. But, it’s just a particular interest that I’ve had.
JM: Well you mentioned the Historical Society of Pennsylvania downtown and the Athenaeum, which are more like centralized repositories?
JM: Do you, what do you find is the value of having a local historical society rather than sending things to a downtown repository?
PS: Well, I think one of the focus’ of the local historical society is so narrow, in a way, I mean, a particular small area and the documents and the maps and the pictures that the local society would have would be much more accessible to people in the community, whereas the Pennsylvania Historical Society would … to go down there and try to find something. I’ve never attempted to do that myself – researchers do that. But it’s such a vast collection that I would be afraid that East Falls might get lost and even some if the items that the East Falls Historical Society might consider important, the Pennsylvania Historical Society might not think it would accept, because of limitations of space and so on. So I think your local societies can do a better job of preserving items of a rather narrow, perhaps narrow interest to the overall community, but of great interest to people who lived in the East Falls, or areas of our society or Germantown.
JM: Oh good. Well you mentioned that when you joined places like the Athenaeum, or you would participate, you didn’t do quite what you had hoped to do. Do you think there’s more of an opportunity to accomplish something with a local historical society?
PS: Well, I think so, yes. I think to the extent that a person has the time, or takes the time to sit down and do research and study something. You could write papers, or you could help to organize a photography exhibit or do what you’re doing – interview people. I know the historical society has an oral history project that it would like to move forward with and they’ve got some of it, but there’s more to be done. And all these things take time and you have to set aside some of your own historical work. As a person gets older they have a lifetime accumulation of papers and photographs that become something that gets thrown out upon the person’s death, or some of them might be saved but it’s not the kind of things that anyone else is really that interested in. So one of my projects is to go through some of my own documents and see if any of those – I don’t think any are particularly of value to East Falls, but conceivably there are some in there – I have boxes of papers because I’m quite a preservationist – too much of one.
JM: So then, with all the digitizing that’s going on now they can actually at some point maybe be digitized.
PS: Well, I would hope, I think that the best way is – I could talk to a friend of mine who had a lot of old photographs – I think if you’re really going to do that, be serious about it. You really should send them – just put them in a package and send them out to a firm that does scanning and digitalizing of the photographs, because for me to try to do that myself although I could do it all with a scanner, one by one, that would be a project and a half. It takes like a long time.
JM: Yes, its very time consuming.
PS: Its very time consuming.
JM: Time and effort.
PS: I don’t know what it costs to send them out, but even for the East Falls Historical Society, if we had a grant that would enable us to contract out some of this scanning, it might get the job done more quickly.
JM: But you know there’s a scanner at the historical society.
PS: Oh I know there is, but my question is how long does it take to do all that?
JM: So you think that there’s more… that more could be done-
PS: I was just wondering if you know – I don’t know – how the professional scanners work, what do they…line these things up and sort of run them through on a conveyer belt type? I don’t know how it’s done.
JM: Well, I-
PS: If you have to take each item and place it in a scanner, close the lid of the scanner, scan again, watch when it goes in, put another item in, that takes a long time.
JM: Yes, I worked in a scanning grant up at the college about a year ago.
JM: And they’re trying to rope me into another one for an architectural postcard project, but it is very time consuming because there is no easy fly through – you do have to lift the lid, but you also have to enter metadata – what’s on both sides of whatever you’re scanning.
JM: Or if the case of, it’s an object, if it’s dimensional, then it gets even a little bit more with description and more sides…it is very time consuming. I actually interviewed Kira Bednar this week, who is a volunteer who actually helps with the scanning – a high school student who actually helped with the scanning this summer – so it’s very slow. And even when we got the grant up at the college, we had all these great ideas for how many thousands of old things that were laying in boxes that we would do, but….we had students working on it…
PS: How many did you do?
JM: The time – the semester – that I was on it – maybe, it wasn’t past five hundred. It might have been in the three hundreds.
PS: Well, my question is whether or not that if you have a large company that does scanning what do they do – do they have slide-throughs that you feed them in and they scan real quickly? I don’t know whether they exist or not. I’m just wondering.
PS: Because there must be a way of doing this more quickly than opening and closing that lid. I mean that takes a long time.
JM: I truthfully don’t know, but I do know that the library – because they’ve got an Arcadia Grant to do the project – they actually got state of the art scanning equipment so I mean, it was real high quality and good level but it was still lift the lid. (Laughs) Takes the time to enter things.
JM: But anyway, I know that one of the reasons that they probably invited you, I didn’t want to make assumptions, to come on the board is because of your legal expertise and I know that you were very instrumental when applying for the 501C3. Can you talk a little bit about that? Like why do you think that kind of thing is good for a historical – especially a local historical society to do? What’s the difference between say, volunteers continuing to do what they love to do and actually going through the process of applying for a 501C3?
PS: Well, I think when the historical society got started they, what they did, they simply had a set of what they called bylaws. And it wasn’t any particular legal structure, it was, as we talked earlier, Wendy and Ellen and Katy had written out, and they had some bylaws and they had used as a model bylaws from other historical associations but it was just – it really wasn’t anything other than what you might call, from a legal standpoint, an unincorporated association.
And usually with an unincorporated association you have a constitution. They didn’t have a constitution. They just had bylaws, which, they, I think, were thinking that that would be adequate to have a tax exemption. And one of the issues that comes up very early on with any kind of a nonprofit organization is whether contributions to the organization can be deducted on tax returns or, if you’re going to get a grant, you’re going to apply for a grant from a governmental entity, the government as a requirement often asks whether you are exempt from tax. And, maybe, technically, a very small organization like the East Falls Historical would not have to be incorporated.
It simplifies the tax process greatly for it to be incorporated, and then to have an application go into the Internal Revenue Service, that verifies that you are tax exempt and you, as a part of that process, the organization receives a letter from the Internal Revenue Service acknowledging that it is tax exempt and that letter is often a requirement for getting grants and without that letter, it might be very difficult for a government agency to give a grant for a historical association.
And therefore it seemed to me, and talking to Ellen, that although it would make it a little more complicated, that it would be worth the effort to go through to get the organization, have a proper legal structure rather than just having bylaws. Because I did not think that the bylaws that were prepared – although they were perfectly fine – would be recognized by the Internal Revenue Service as creating an organization that was exempt from tax.
And therefore I suggested that they incorporate and file for the tax exemption primarily for, really, for two reasons. One, to be able to assure people- if someone wanted to make a large gift, and there may be people who would like when- maybe they won’t make it during their lifetime, but there are people in East Falls who say ‘I’d like to leave $5000 to the historical society’ in honor of my mother or father or something like that and they want to be sure ,or their lawyer, when he writes the will is going to want to be sure that the $5000 will be a charitable deduction. It makes a big difference to people. And with having done this legal work, that can be assured. And I had done similar projects for other nonprofits and so I was somewhat familiar with it.
Even in East Falls, I had worked on getting a tax exemption for the Community Council. Community Council had already incorporated as a nonprofit corporation but had never submitted to the IRS. And the Community Council began to get, be in a position where it wanted to get grants and people wanted to give it money. I don’t really remember, but they got involved with litigation over the Falls Ridge.
JM: Falls Ridge.
PS: And they had legal fees and people wanted to, they were asking people to give money to pay lawyers of all things. And so we did have a tax exemption for that.
JM: Is that when they became tax exempt?
PS: It was around, it was a little before that time, I was the president of the East Falls Community Council from 1997-2000. For three years. And when I got into it I saw that they weren’t, had never, they had started to fill out the tax exemption. There was a lawyer here who was very active back in the 1970’s to early 80’s. His name was Bill Morrow. Did you ever know Bill?
PS: His wife Judy teaches up at Penn Charter and they lived in East Falls and he was the president of the East Falls Community Council, but then for whatever reason they moved out, they moved out near Norristown, I think, to a community out there. And when he did that, of course, his legal work, he wasn’t interested in doing it anymore so it sort of sat there, and nothing much else happened. And the Community Council itself wasn’t all that active back in the 80’s, I don’t think. I don’t know whether – you’ve lived here how long?
JM: 1995 I think.
PS: So when you came, did you start going to community council meetings?
JM: I did; I’m trying to think of some of the people who were, like Rich Lampert and folks like that.
PS: No Rich, I don’t think was involved too much but the president, a lawyer who lived actually not too far from here, his name was George, I’m trying to think of his last name…
JM: (tape resumes) Well, I don’t know what we missed (laughs)
PS: Well, I don’t know what we missed but whatever we missed is not worth repeating! (laughs)
JM: I might need to make a phone call or two to fill in the blanks!
PS: Well, why don’t you go on with your questioning.
JM: Ok, we were talking about volunteerism and the birth of the historical society. So one of the moves this past summer actually was for the East Falls Historical Society to move in with the East Falls Development Corporation – into the space there. What do you think about that move?
PS: Well, I thought it was a good thing for the historical society to have some identifiable space rather than being in the lower part of the library which was a little hard – well, you could find it all right, but it seemed it was a little confining. I think being in a building with another East Falls organization is a good thing, and hopefully people will be able to recognize that the historical society is there. I don’t know if the name has gone on the door yet or not, or whether it can. Is it on the door?
JM: I don’t think so.
PS: I don’t think so either, but I think some kind of outward identification would be helpful if that could be done.
JM: Well it’s funny, because actually I’ve gotten questions from some people up at the school (note: Philadelphia University) about that being the case, even with the East Falls Development Corporation – that it’s kind of, when you go by…unless you really know the stuff is there, it doesn’t really announce itself in a way of…
PS: I wonder if we could get a joint sign of some sort and put it up.
JM: I don’t know about joint, but I think markers for both of them – that would be something. But do you think, again this goes back to the idea about the Pennsylvania Historical Society and local historical societies in general – like the move for more local history – do you think that making local history more visible is a part of community development efforts in general? And do you have anything – well, that and one more question. So do you think – because the EFCD space –development corporations are usually about economic development – do you see making history visible as an aspect of community development?
PS: Well, I do think that having a historical presence and making it visible is an attractive feature for people if you’re trying to attract people here, even businesses and so on, because it demonstrates there is a continuity of interests – that this is not a community that just sort of sprang up, but it has a great long history and that an incoming business, or people, should have respect for that and should take that into account in designing the type of store they might want to have – something that would appeal to people.
Actually a number of chain restaurants really often use that as a theme – if you’ve been to Houlihan’s, or some of these restaurants where they somehow manage to dig up old signs and photographs from the community which makes the restaurant more interesting for people to go there. And I think the same would be true for a developer that was coming in – if he was going to put in a new building or a new store, that he should be aware of the history. And I think it would make the community more appealing to a developer.
JM: Ok. Before you mentioned about the oral history committee in terms of there was work that was done, but it was kind of lagging. When you think of oral history, do you have any sense of whose stories might be good to get from the Falls?
PS: When I think of oral history, I think of people who have lived in East Falls for perhaps their entire lifetime – people who were born in East Falls and that now are in their 70’s to 80’s – sometimes 90’s – and whose memory you would want to record. Because once these people have gone, there’s no way to recapture what they have in their heads and it’s always a shame to let that kind of information disappear.
Not everyone is interested in what went on in the 1920s, but a lot of people eventually might be interested in that, and how before the day of the refrigerator, I’m sure, there were ice trucks making deliveries here, horses and wagons going up and down these hilly and narrow streets. Automobiles were few and far between probably until the 1930s. People got around on public transportation and that’s why the communities developed close to Philadelphia was because they could get in and out with relative ease because of the railroads. And people that remember, for example, life like that, is something that would be of interest – I would hope it would be of interest to a lot of people, but would be of interest to people who like history.
JM: And what about stories of newcomers to the Falls?
PS: Well maybe one or two of those, but I’m not sure that people would be quite as interested in stories of newcomers. But I think some of those stories, and why they decided to come to East Falls, would throw light on what the community can do to make it more attractive and appealing to people – although I don’t think we have any trouble getting people to move to East Falls!
JM: I think we live in one of the hot spots!
PS: (laughs) Right now it’s not a matter of having a lot of vacancies here! A lot of the homes, when they’re put on the market, they’re sold rather quickly. The one area that we’re not too strong in is rental – I don’t know how this Chelsea is going to attract enough people to fill up all those apartments – hopefully they can – that’s a huge complex down there. And I don’t think they’ve started moving people in yet, have they? I’m not aware of it – it looks like it’s still under construction when I drive by.
JM: I’m not quite sure. I don’t want to speak from what I don’t know. I thought there were actually people living there but I’m not sure.
PS: I’m not sure. Maybe they have started moving people in. It helps to attract people and we need to get more kind of commerce in East Falls – we’re short on retail – we’re long on history but short on retail! (laughs)
JM: I’m still surprised that that strip near Falls Bridge is still vacant.
PS: It hasn’t caught on and there are a lot of reasons for that. They’ve explained it because of the way the structures have to be fitted out by the person who rents them and it makes it very unappealing to have to put a lot of money into something and you don’t know how long you’re going to be there.
JM: Yea, it’s a shame because it’s prime …
PS: I thought they would be rented out relatively quickly but it looks like they did a poor job of planning.
JM: Well, the last question I have for you is: Do you have any thoughts of where you see the East Falls Historical Society ten years from now?
PS: Well, my hope would be that the EFHS would be able to locate in a building near the heart of East Falls and that it would have a display of East Falls artifacts, photographs, papers, and that type of thing that it would locate from time to have and would have enough money to be able to hire a part-time curator or someone who could be there so if someone – if it were open two or three days a week – there would be a paid staff. It’s very hard to do these things totally with volunteers. And I think the volunteers could supplement a paid director, but I think it would be an ideal part time job for somebody to be in charge of it and have it open two or three days a week and keep all these items there. I think people would like that, and I think you could have events three or four times a year, as we’ve tried to do now. But you could have different activities down there that would appeal to people.
JM: What do you consider the heart of East Falls? You said you would envision it in the heart of East Falls?
PS: The heart of East Falls is….
JM: The Bathey house or right at Women’s Medical College?
PS: No. My mind is – well, the Bathey house is closer, but Ridge and Midvale, to my mind, is the center – the commercial center of East Falls. And there is a building there – that old – what do they call it – Palestine Hall?
JM: The one that Mark Sherman…
PS: Yes. I think that is a Masonic Lodge building and I think it’s called the Palestine building; that’s what I’ve been told. And that building is vacant.
JM: And it’s also an historic site!
PS: And it’s an historic site. If that building could somehow be made useful, the historical society could occupy, maybe not the first floor, but certainly part of the second or third floor and would be centrally located and maybe, in my mind, would be a long range plan. But trying to carry that out requires a fundraising effort that we’re probably not prepared to undertake at this moment.
JM: Do you know anybody else who is looking to that site as a possibility that we might share?
PS: No I don’t have any particular people in mind, but I think that the ground floor would have to be a commercial site of some sort – it could be a restaurant although it’s a little tough down there because of the parking – lack thereof.
JM: And if it was on the second floor… I guess there’s ways… I mean because of the structure – the old structure …I’m thinking handicapped accessibility,
PS: I don’t know how you’d take care of that – you’d have to put an elevator on someway. You’re talking about really big bucks to make that building handicapped accessible.
JM: Because it is an older building.
PS: I know it’s an older building! Very old!
JM: But it’s a very lovely building. It’s a nice spot there.
PS: It’s a shame to have that building, in a way, become an eyesore, which it is right at the moment. I mean there’s nothing there, I don’t think.
JM: Every once in a while someone hangs pictures in the window there but actually, the longer the time goes by, the more deteriorated it becomes.
PS: I understand the building is quite deteriorated inside and that whoever acquired it would have to be prepared to spend rather a large sum of money to make it habitable. And I don’t know what Mark Sherman’s plan is for the thing.
JM: I know at one point it was a restaurant but I know they veered from that. Anyway, we’ve covered a lot of territory and I hope I haven’t tired you out too much. I thank you for your time.
PS: I’m happy to do this. I’ve enjoyed it and I think it’s a worthwhile project and I wish you the best of luck with your grant and making a good start on trying to provide information on East Falls.
JM: Thank you, Phil.
PS: Thank you.
In the interview above, Jenna Musket questions Phil Steinberg, an East Falls resident, about how he came to live in the area and his experiences there. Phil grew up in the small, agricultural town of Mattoon, Illinois. After graduating high school, he attended college at DePauw University in Green Castle, Indiana where he majored in English and Political Science. His studies later brought him to New York to attend New York University where he studied law. By the year 1956, Phil had graduated with a law degree, but instead of practicing law right away, he was drafted by the military and sent to Philadelphia for basic training. Phil remained in Philadelphia and worked on reviewing contracts and processing data for the military. In 1958, after being released from the military, Phil began working at the law firm called Drinker, Biddle, and Reath. His decision to stay in Philadelphia was largely based on his new position at the law firm and meeting his wife Doris through his church group. Doris was a Temple University graduate who worked in personnel at Atlantic Refining Company. Phil and Doris were married and lived in Center City, Philadelphia on 22nd and Chestnut for a few years. The two had their first daughter in 1963, at which time Doris quit her job and the couple moved to East Falls in 1964. They felt the area was a better place in which to raise a
family, but was still close enough to the city to be a part of city life. At the time of this interview Phil had been living in East Falls for 43 years, long enough to raise two daughters with wife Doris and become an active member in the community.