A while ago, I bought an illustrated map of Kensington created by Jessie Husband. It’s a beautiful visual depiction of the area where I grew up, and it is full of local Kensington history. I have it on a wall in my office. It’s a powerful reminder of how lucky I was to have grown up in Philly and especially Kensington.
Bob McNulty, a superb writer, brings history to life with his fantastic well-studied true stories from Kensington’s and Philadelphia’s past. In 2010 Carl Manley created Old Images of Philadelphia, which has over 270,000 members. His page is perhaps the most extensive collection of photos from old Philly. The Kensington Neighborhood Alumni group, run by Lynn Gillis and other moderators, has over 27,000 members and a large selection of Old Kensington photos and stories.
These folks, and I hope myself, are archiving how we lived, loved, and survived our youthful years from before the 1940s to the 1980s.
As I studied Jessie’s colorful map of Kensington, I thought of several locations that hold a special place in my heart and mind. I’ll tell you about them. Please comment about your unique Philadelphia places and people.
HOWARD AND WISHART STREETS
During my earliest years, my playground was Wishart Street. Gilly Satterfield, Billy Pullman, and I must have terrorized the neighbors with our antics as we re-fought the Second World War, donned our Davey Crockett coonskin hats, and beat each other up based on whether we were wearing a Confederate or Union civil war cap.
A few years later, when we were allowed to cross Howard Street, we were playing wire ball, handball, buck buck, Tin Can Eddy, and other games. I don’t remember any neighbors complaining, other than the owners of the candy store that was positioned just behind home plate. We never broke the big plate glass window, but we hit it with many pimple balls.
THE CRAMP ELEMENTARY SCHOOLYARD
I spent seven years lining up to go to class and playing during recess in that schoolyard. I learned how it felt to be hit with a Chestnut during play wars with my friends. The schoolyard had some of the only trees in the neighborhood. I had my first crush on a girl in second grade. She looked great in her Halloween Cowgirl outfit with six-shooters hanging by her side.
After I graduated from Cramp, we occasionally hung out in the Cramp schoolyard, and I had my first real kiss there. As I remember, the police were not happy about kids hanging out in the yard at night, and we more than once escaped the long arm of the law running down Waterloo Street.
Front Street, between Allegheny Avenue and Westmoreland Street, was where just about everyone in the neighborhood did their shopping. My most prominent memories involve going shopping with my grandmother Ethel Hird. When Nanny went to Front Street, she was on a mission. She never had cash to spend on extras, so we went to the A&P first. It was on the corner of Front and Westmoreland, directly across the street from the Police station. I remember that there was never much fresh fruit in the winter months. Back then, they weren’t flying in loads of grapes or oranges, and we had never even heard of a Kiwi. My absolute favorite part of the A&P was the coffee section. To this day, I love the smell of fresh ground coffee.
If she had money left, Nanny’s next stop was always Webb’s Bakery. Their assortment of goodies was terrific, and for a small child, it was a wonderland. Butter cake was her favorite, but over the years, I probably sampled most of their dessert and bread offerings.
When I was ten or so, I tried taking orders at the A&P store in an attempt to make a few coins. I would pull my red wagon up to the line of other kids and wait for someone to ask us to take their order home. The lesson I learned was never just to wait. You had to ask them for the order.
Another icon of Front Street was Pinky’s Shoes. I don’t remember the actual name of the store. People called the owner Pinky because the skin around his eyes was always pink. Each Easter, we would go there to get our yearly pair of shoes.
Remember the police station across from the A&P I mentioned? I didn’t know then that I would see the inside of that station three times as a teenager. In the 1950s, the city was on a mission to get kids to stop hanging on the corners.
I could write a book about Front Street, and in fact, I did include it in my first novel, Mercy Row. There are so many memories that I am going to speed-write the rest of this section.
The bowling alley at Front and Clearfield: Yikes, I spent every nickel I could find playing pinball there.
Jerry’s Shirts: As a teen, I would look for button-down collars.
Jerry’s Shirts: As a teen, I would look for button-down collars.
Jack’s Camera on the 3300 block of Front Street: I hung out there after four years in the Air Force, where I was a photographer.
The hardware store at Front and Wishart: We bought construction staples there to use when we had slingshot fights.
The luncheonette at Front and Lippincott had great hoagies, and it was an excellent spot to place a bet on a horse.
The fruit and vegetable store at Front and Lippincott: I once went in to buy something and saw a massive spider crawling on the bananas. I never went near the bananas again.
The appliance store on the 3200 block of Front Street: I saw my first television set through their window.
The pharmacy at Front and Allegheny: The only store open on Sundays.
Emily’s Home-Made Candy: The store was located in the middle of the block between Lippincott and Clearfield Streets: This was my grandmother’s favorite candy shop. In 1966, just back from Vietnam, I went there to buy Nanny some candy. Emily remembered me, and she invited me to see her chocolate factory (no, I did not have a golden ticket) behind the store. It was fascinating. I even got an extra chocolate bar.
The Bank on the corner of Front Street and Allegheny Ave.: We fished for coins dropped down the large grate on the Front Street side. My mom had her Christmas fund account there.
The Wishart movie theater was on the east side of Allegheny Avenue and Front Street: I can’t imagine any place that influenced me more than that theater. I believe my love of movies and storytelling started there. Across Front Street, in front of the bar, was where my grandfather hung out, and all the way to Clearfield Street, there were a variety of stores selling candy, hoagies, produce, meat, and my favorite, the German bakery that had the best rye bread in the world.
It just occurred to me that if I tried to describe Kensington Avenue, I would need to write a 500-page book. I don’t think you want a post that long, so I’ll just say that Kensington Avenue was Kensington’s shiny necklace. You could pretty much find anything your heart desired on Kensington Avenue. If the avenue was the necklace, then the movie theaters were the diamonds. The Midway, Kent, and Iris movie theaters were our favorite hangouts. The Howard Theater was nearby on Front Street.
I remember sneaking into the Wishart Theater when we had no money, taking a date to the Midway, and watching other teenagers dance in the isles at the Kent theater during a movie featuring The Peppermint Twist by Joey Dee and the Starliters. “Actor Joe Pesci was once a member of the 60's rock group Joey Dee and the Starliters, as was a then-unknown guitar player by the name of Jimi Hendrix.”
Of course, I left out sneaking booze into the movies because I don’t want you to think me a bad person.
PEOPLE NOT PLACES
I am glad I wrote this story because it reminded me that it’s people, not places, that really influence our lives and provide the best memories. It’s family first and then friends and neighbors. It’s the adventures I had with Gilly Satterfield, the Santucci’s, Billy Pullman, Georgie McGiver, Harry Elliott, Harry Eckhart, Butch Moffett, Phil, and Bob Gormley, Eileen and Emily Hannagan (Gormley), Pat Morris, Joan Morris, and so many others. And by far, it is all the fine people I met during my first 18 years in Kensington.
The photos for this post are from Temple University’s digital archive and my personal images. I have over 1240 colorized images from Philadelphia from the 1930s to 1980 on my website. Visit my Harry Hallman Novel’s Facebook page to see a link. You can also share this article from my page.
Wm Cramp School when being built in 1909.
The Wishart Movie at Front Street and Alleghany Ave.
Bike giveaway at the Wishart Movie Theater 1950s
Buck, Buck 1970s
Kensington Ave and Alleghany Ave. 1970s
York Street and Front Street 1960s.