Wednesday, March 09, 2011

7613 Gilbert St, Philadelphia, PA


Bill Crider told us about the tragic loss of his childhood home recently. And two weeks ago was also my brother, Jeff's, 60th birthday. That brought this house and my childhood to mind.


This house in Philadelphia (second door from left shown here) was bought by my parents in 1947 for less than $8,000. Probably a lot less. It was maybe 750 square feet. It claims to have 1000 on a website today, but that would have to include the unfinished (in our time) basement. It had three bedrooms, one bath, a living, dining room and kitchen.

Our block had not a single tree on it. When I asked my father why, he said it came that way! How unlucky to chose a block with no trees, I grew up thinking.

This was not a section of the city you lived in because you liked city life. When people speak of an urban childhood--well this was not really one. This area lacked the amenities of city, suburb or country in many ways. It was on the far reaches of Philly (an area called West Oak Lane) and it took an hour to get downtown. The stores within walking distance were shoe repair stores, drug stores, grocery stores. No book store that I can remember. Nothing remotely glamorous. There was a run-down movie theater (Renel) within walking distance. In early childhood, the only library was a mobile one but later came a a very nice facility.

My brother's room was the size of a closet and yet some families on this block had four children! Life on this street took place in the alley behind the houses where perhaps fifty or sixty children tore across the cement and mostly mud lawns in good weather. We played until dark--games like dodge ball, capture the flag, baby in the air, stick ball. We built tents, rode bikes up and down, pushed doll buggies. played jacks, hopscotch and jump rope.

The children had their own little village beneath the flapping clotheslines.

We shared the alley with Thouron Street, which was mostly Jewish families. Gilbert Street was mostly Catholic and Gentiles. Our elementary school was Samuel Pennypacker and I was one of the very few gentiles attending. It was an excellent school. The Catholic kids went to St. Raymond's. Everyone was lower middle-class. Some people moved into the more affluent suburbs over the years, but most finished high school here. It was a safe place to grow up.

My parents lived there until around 1973 when they sold the house little more than they paid for it. I have driven by that house once or twice since. It looks much the same. I can't remember if anyone planted a tree or not

How about your childhood home?

Thanks to Jeff for sending our beloved alley.

Also-I think I am going to blog about my mother on mother's day. Sort of a meditation more than something reverential. If anyone would like to do the same, let me know and I will post links. Many of our mothers never (or don't now) have an Internet presence or voice. I'd like to change that a bit.

30 comments:

Bill Crider said...

Great post, Patti. I lived in two houses before the one that burned. We moved from one before I started to school and from the other a few years later. I could still draw pretty accurate floor plans of both of them, but you couldn't prove the accuracy since both of them are long gone.

pattinase (abbott) said...

This was our only home. My mother had moved constantly as a child and didn't want to put us through that.
Not hard to remember a house this small accurately. From my brother's bed, he could put his feet on any of the four walls.

Joe Barone said...

Oddly enough, the childhood home I remember most we only lived in a few years. It was a big white two-story house with at least four bedrooms upstairs. One time, my parents called upstairs and asked me to bring down the bottle of codine-filled cough syrup from the bathroom cabinet. By the time I got downstaris, the bottle was empty. I liked cough syrup. My dad (an MD) had to take me to the hospital and pump my stomach.

After a few years, we left there and moved to the grounds of the mental hospital where I spent most of my childhood.

I still go by that house occasionally, and though I was fairly young when we moved from there, I still remember how it was laid out more than 50 years ago when we lived there.

I suspect many people have a fondly-remembered childhood home.

George said...

We sold the house we grew up in June 2010. My mother was diagnosed with Alzheimer's and became so confused we had to place her in a nursing home for her health and safety. But, in order to pay the $10,000 per month nursing home bill, we had to sell my mother's house. She'd lived in it for over 50 years. It's a 3-bedroom, 2-bathroom, brick ranch-style home. My mother and father raised 5 children in that house. With the wear-and-tear of seven people in that small house, we were constantly involved in "fix-it" projects. Every holiday, we'd paint at least one room (my mother and father trained all of us to be good painters). Like you, Patti, I drive by the old homestead. It looks the same as it has for 50+ years.

pattinase (abbott) said...

Oh, I do remember how cough syrup used to have codeine in int routinely.
My house felt safe--and that's the most important thing. And life was never dull with the number of people crammed that close.

Margot Kinberg said...

Patti - Thank you so much for sharing this! It's making me quite homesick for Philadelphia. What a great, great post :-). Isn't it amazing how we have such clear memories of our childhood homes? I lived in the same place until I went away to school at 18, and I could still probably draw a floor plan...

Todd Mason said...

My family, after my birth and including only the places where I resided for more than a month (my father was away for training or job activity of other sorts for various periods), had occupied nine different domiciles, in six states, by the time I was 18. And plenty of visits to relatives in other states during those years. Though the nine includes the camper, on the back of a pickup, which we used to move from Alaska to Oklahoma and then on to Massachusetts. Riding on top of the cab, in my bunk, for a good part of that trip in a way that would Not be recommended for a 5yo these years (usually with my parents in the cab) was one of the memories of childhood...alternately reading and looking out the "front" window of the bunk extension at the road ahead. I remember all but the first house in Fairbanks pretty clearly, though I wouldn't be able to do as accurate a set of floorplans as Bill, most likely. Fairbanks 1&2, Oklahoma City (I was a Federal brat in kindergarten there...you tell me why 9/11 didn't overpower my memory of the Murrah bombing), West Peabody MA, Windsor Locks and Hazardville/Enfield CT, Londonderry NH, Honolulu and Kailua HI...and since majority, other sites on Oahu, in Northern Virginia, and around Philadelphia...though usually longer, rather like your mother, Patti...usually trees, though. And a fair amount of bookstores and libraries.

pattinase (abbott) said...

My grandfather was an architect and followed the job in mostly hard times.

Charles Gramlich said...

My childhood home couldn't have been more different in most ways. Far out in the country, in the middle of woods on three sides with a mile of open fields on the other before you reached anything like a main road, which was dirt at the time. we didn't even have a pole light when I was little so it was extremely dark. But I loved it and remember it fondly. It fell in on itself a few years back and it was kind of tough seeing it go.

Richard R. said...

I don't remember much about the house I spent the first 4 years in, except it was my mother's dream house, built with money inherited from her mother. Architect designed, builder-contractor built, it all the touches. The the taxes got to be a burden, so my dad said, and they moved out to the country, in an area with minimum acreage rules. We lived on a 5 acre avocado ranch, and the rest of the place had every fruit and citrus tree you could think of. We were in that house from my age 4 through high school graduation. When they bought it, it was on a hilltop with nothing - mean nothing at all - in the way of landscaping, planting, anything. Just the avocados and the 2 bedroom house (1 bathroom) and garage. They had a builder add a bedroom and bath, my dad did all the rest; the planting, fixing, den addition. My mother always missed the previous place.

That's the house I loved and remember well. There was a huge area, probably 50 acres or more, of undeveloped land behind the house, owned by Union Oil but without any wells or anything, just vacant except for weeds, Pepper trees, a creek. We'd ride the neighbor's horses on that land, or I'd just go wander it. I loved the freedom.

Cap'n Bob said...

As a Navy brat, I lived in a new place about every 18 months, in five states. Even after my father retired from the service the pattern continued. I've been in my current home for 21 years and plan to die here.

pattinase (abbott) said...

Everyone I know who moved extensively in their childhood feels that way. Nothing is harder than walking onto a school playground for the first time.

Todd Mason said...

Turns out I wasn't counting the camper, for it would make ten. Tougher than the playground was the classroom, usually...though also tougher in my adult life, even if sometimes only a little tougher, is carrying several hundred boxes of books and magazines down and up stairs...I've been hiring movers for the last several relocations. (I've lived in twelve domiciles as an adult, so far, including the dorm room...but was in one apartment for seven years, and the current one for three and counting...and those twelve have managed to be in "only" four states).

Anonymous said...

We lived in an apartment house in Queens (Kew Gardens) when we were kids - it was a brand new building at the time (early 1950's) jsut up the hill from what is now the courthouse.

We moved to Brooklyn when I was 9 and we didn't forgive my parents for months. They moved on August 1 when my brother and I were away at summer camp and we never got to say goodbye to our friends. (When we came home from camp we were informed my mother was pregnant with what turned out to be my first sister.)

In Brooklyn we had a huge 7 room apartment, the first floor of a two family house. I lived there until I got married 12 years later. It was a major street (Ocean Avenue) with two lanes of traffic in each direction, which often proved tricky when the ball we were playing (punch ball in the alley) went into traffic and often got hit by a car and we had to chase it. Still, that was better than hitting it on the roof and losing it.

We had lots of bit shade trees, by the way.

One other thing I remember is being sent by one of my parents across the avenue to one of the apartment buildings. It had a cigarette machine and a milk machine in the lobby! When it was late and the corner store was closed it would feed their cigarette jones.


Jeff M.

Anonymous said...

That should be 'big' shade trees.

I hate to move. I don't like change in general. Since we've been married we've lived in three apartments in 40 years. This is by far the longest I'vw lived anywhere in my life - 24 years and counting.

It's home.

Jeff M.

pattinase (abbott) said...

All the streets around us had shade trees. I never did get it.

Deb said...

What a great essay--and it certainly opens the floodgates of memory. I was born and raised in London. The first house I lived in was the first floor of a two story flat. Two bedrooms, a tiny living room & kitchen, with a toilet built off the kitchen. No bathtub--we washed up at the sink. My parents had three kids in that place, which is still standing today. On a trip to England a few years back, my Dad drove by but said the street was so crowded with cars (and, I felt, in subtext, so dangerous), that he couldn't stop and take a picture. The second place we lived was on a typical post-WWII "pre-fab" housing estate. Two bedrooms, a living room, a kitchen, and this time a bathtub! Also, the estate was built amid an area that had been heavily damaged during the war. It was 1966, but "the field" (as we called it) behind out home looked much the same as it had in 1946. Long after we moved to America, the whole housing estate was torn down, to be rebuilt per one of my English cousins as "three-quarter-of-a-million-pound Maggie Thatcher yuppie masionettes" (i.e., upscale condos). My parents still live in the first and only house they ever purchased in America in the summer of 1969. It was originally three bedrooms, one bathroom. Over the years they added more rooms, including another bathroom. I'm not sure how much it's worth today, but I know it's more than the $13,000 they paid for it.

One thing that jumps out at me in reading everyone's reminiscenses (sp?) is how we almost always managed with one bathroom despite having fairly large families. My children complain because we only have two bathrooms so they have to "share." You better believe they get a lot of "When I was your age...." stories from me!

pattinase (abbott) said...

We lived in a miner's cottage in England for a time (1994-95). It had been built in the 1700s and not much improvement. The bathroom was a add on and without heat. In fact, the heat was just electric heaters which cost a fortune.

Erik Donald France said...

That was lovely, and elicited cool responses, too.

So, your area must be 3-4 miles north of Germantown Ave? It reminds me of a British neighborhood out of Lipstick on your Collar, or from the Albert Finney-directed movie Charlie Bubbles. I lived for a while in West Mt Airy and did a lot of walking around -- there was a food co-op over there, and a Deaf school. I loved walking around Philly, even the scarier parts, used to walk from Center City to Temple U, which reminds me of one of the old Father Divine hotels still operating a secondhand shop. . . you'v egotten the Proustian thing going on . . .

pattinase (abbott) said...

This area is considered West Mt Airy now. It has a little more grass than Baltimore, but not much. I had a friend who attended the deaf school.

Yvette said...

What a great idea, Patti. The first home I remember was in a Manhattan brownstone, on thirty something street (we could actually walk to Macy's if we'd been so inclined) on second avenue across from a small park which was great. Every Friday night in the summer they played 'swing' and people just showed up to dance outdoors in good weather.

We used to roller skate everywhere, even over near the entrance to the Holland Tunnel - how any of us survived, I don't know.

We lived in a small apartment (my brother and I shared a room) where my mother had to cook on a coal burning stove. I think we were on the second floor. On the main floor facing the street was a shop in which a woman used to make lamps out of large pieces of semi-precious stones or crystals, i.e. amethyst, etc. A magical place.

We moved away when I was in the 4th grade.(Down to the lower east side near what is now the South Street Seaport and was then just plain South Ferry.) The building on thirty something street was later torn down and some ugly nondescript apartment house sits there now.

pattinase (abbott) said...

If your skates were like mine, the metal ones with a key, they sure made a racket. But the noise was part of the fun. Not smooth sailing though.

Yvette said...

Yes, exactly! The ones with a key! I loved those things. We had fabulous, hair-raising times for sure.

bruce lynn said...

Hi Patti, I stumbled across your blog while searching for links to St. Raymonds Elementary School which I attended from 1952-1961. I grew up at 7706 Gilbert St, up the next block from you, and I have more memories of those years than I have of the last 40. My Dad came back from WW2 in 1945 and I was the first of 4 children (Catholic-no birth control) born in 1947. For 4 years we lived with my grandmother in North Philadelphia near Hunting Park and Broad. When my parents could afford to move they bought the house on Gilbert Street.. We owned a TV three years before we owned a car but everything was in walking distance, church, school Phillips Grocery, the drugstore even the Doctor, Dentist and the Barber all had offices in the end houses because they had a side entrance and the basement was used as an office. You either had basement or a celler depending on whether it was a finished livable space or a dark storage area. Because the neighborhood was completely Caucasion, religion was the focal point for most adults. As a Catholic I saw others in my community as members of one of three groups. Catholic, Jewish and Miscellaneous which included the Protesant Denominations. The Catholics and Jews had much more of an identity because they attended their respective Houses of Worship however the Protesants had quite a few different denominations each with their own specific beliefs and rituals.
Almost every family had kids so within our one block radius there was 30 house each with 2-4 kids and so ther was always someone to play with. We usually played in the driveway which was wide by city standards or in the street much to the dismay of our parents and the motorists.
I left home in 1966 to go into the Air Force and my parents moved to the Northeast in 1975. I still read the Philly Inquirer on line and it is sad to see the impact that crime and drugs has had on the neighborhood. I realize there are quite a few hard working families that have been affected by the criminal element and that seems to be everywhere. On a bright note in 2006 I attended my class reunion. Not my High School (Cardinal Dougherty which just closed after 50+ years and Olney which I attended for two years) but St. Raymond. It was my 45th Grade School reunion. We had 65% of the graduating class (8th grade) attend. Those who have attended reunions know that the jerks are still jerks ect. but what struck some of the classmates that I hadn't seen in 50 years was the things that I remembered that most people forgot.

pattinase (abbott) said...

Bruce-This is so strange and wonderful. I am sure you knew some of my friends who went to St. Raymond's. I remember those years very well too.
I dated boys who went to Cardinal Doughtery in high school.
I remember standing in line in Phillips forever because they always took the adults first. I am only a year younger than you so we probably stood there together. My grandmother lived on your block in an apartment after my grandfather died. I walked past your house every day when I went to Leeds Junior High or to my church on Vernon Road and Rugby. I left to marry in 1967 and my parent moved to Jenkintown. We are in Detroit now and my brother in Virginia. I was in Philly in November at a conference but didn't get up to the old neighborhood. Downtown looked very vibrant compared to Detroit. I was very impressed. So nice to hear from someone from the old hood. The Internet has its wonders.

Anonymous said...

Patti you were probably right behind me because were were ranked by age, My sister Sheela was the same age as you and the Philips only child Larry used to hang out with us. We would play this little game on Sunday when the store was closed called Rob the Bank. We would play in Larry's room for a while and then tell his parents we are going outside and then we would cut through the store and fill our pockets with candy. As an adult I realized that his parents must have known what was going on but never let on. Maybe they were glad that Larry had some friends. I remember a couple of famlies who lived on your block that went to St. Raymonds with me, the Yanni's, two girls and a boy Jesse who played basketball with us and the Burns family whose son Tommy was my nemisis. This is a public blog so I shouldn't elaborate but the word bully comes to mind including an incident where I was chosen as a sponsor for Confirmation and I wound up getting a black eye the night before confirmation. My Grandmother would stay with us occasionally and when I showed up at the house with my right eye closed she almost fainted, Being a devout Catholic the first words out of her mouth were, "Jesus Mary and Joseph what is the Bishop going to say when he sees you?'" As a sponsor I had to stand behind the kid getting confirmed and put my hand on his shoulder. The Bishop glanced at my eye as he went by and then winked at me which I thought was pretty cool.

pattinase (abbott) said...

I did know Tommy Burns. He lived right across the street from me. But that's about all I remember about him. We tended to play with the kids on our side of the street on in the alley behind us.
There was also the Murphys, who had several children but older and younger than us.
There is always a bully, isn't there? Mine was at Pennypacker, Louis Moonblatt, about whom I still have bad dreams today.

bruce lynn said...

Wow I remember Louis Moonblatt and you are exactly right he was a bully. I remember him as a middleschooler probably went to Leeds, We used to call him Moony. It seems like after High School he used to hang out at the Stenton Bowling Alley. The kids I went to school with used to hang out at the stores on Vernon Road "The Road" but somehow I wound up hanging out at the Washington Lane Bowling Alley and the Howard Johnsons on Stenton Avenue. I went to Cardinal Dougherty for 2 1/2 years but the only girls I knew there were the ones from St. Raymonds. Dougherty was Co-Institutional but not Co-Educational meaning boys and girls were in the same building but there was a wall down the center, boys on one side girls on the other, separate classes and even the starting times for classes was staggered so we didn't even ride the bus together. Going from 8th grade at St Raymonds which was coed to 9th grade at Dougherty was a step backwards. The girls I dated went to Germantown . Do you remember the cemetery on Woolsten, the one with the crematory. That place scared the hell out of us as kids because one of the bigger kids told us that they burned people alive in there and if the smoke was white it was a white person and if it was black it was a black person. The most colorful character though was a kid that lived across the driveway from me on Rugby Street, Dickie DeMarco My son and grandson say this was a guy they would really like to meet. He would get a bunch of kids to come to his back yard and would thow small toys down to them from his bedroom window which was two stories up. Then heat would heat up pennies on the radiator, pick them up with pliers and throw the hot pennies along with the toys. He was the kind of person that you never knew what he was going to do next. Ah the memories

pattinase (abbott) said...

Yes, I hung around with those kids on Vernon Road until my parents put a stop to it and took me out of Germantown HS and put me in a private school. Jerry Lazarra, Sammy and Franny Bianchini, Ronnie Plummer, Anne Gartland, Paul Gardner etc. Some of those boys started stealing cars.
I remember bowling at Stenton Lanes too. I do remember the cemetery but not Dickie DeMarco.

bruce lynn said...

Patti I my situation was very similar. I got kicked out of Dougherty halfway through 11th grade for grades and conduct. Much to my parents dismay I was excited about going to Germantown because I had a lot of friends that went there and I was hanging out with kids from St A's, Immaculate and St. Benedicts and dating a girl Cindy Miller whose Dad was a caterer. I thought I was big stuff and then my Dad dropped the bomb. He told me, "You are not going to Germantown there are too many gangs there, you're going to Olney" That's where he went. So I went to Olney where I did not know a soul and rode 2 buses to get to school and then dropped out half way through 11th grade. I did get my GED though because it was the only way that I could get into the Air Force and miss the draft.