Just Hanging Out
Kensington and Philly seemed to be designed to provide great hangouts for kids and adults alike. The numerous corner bars of that time was the equivalent of the senior centers today. My grandfather’s favorite spot was hanging on Front and Allegheny outside the Bubble Bar. I’m not sure that was the official name, but I remember seeing painted bubbles on the sign, so I guess it will do.
Pop, my mom’s father, would place his newsboy cap on his head with just the right tilt and walk down Wishart street to Front Street past Nan’s candy shop to take his place with the other older retired men. When I was a small child, I would often see him there and stop by to say hello. As I remember, their discussions were mostly about horses. They had their betting sheets and would go over the pros and cons of betting on one horse or another.
There seemed to be a bookie on every corner back then, so I’m sure one was close. One day on my visit, I heard the guys talking about how Pop had won the daily double. Pop took me aside and said, “don’t tell your grandmother I won this money. Ok?” Of course, I said yes and then when I saw my grandmother (Nanny) I told her. I always felt terrible for Nanny as he never seemed to have much money. Pop you see was retired probably at 40 because he hated taking orders from bosses. So instead, he did odd jobs like making deliveries or being a caddy. Not much money in those jobs.
The old guys would often remark to each other on the beautiful assets of the many women who passed by their corner. I guess it made them feel young to re-live the bygone era when hen would catcall (whistle) at attractive ladies.
My dad didn’t hang on corners. He hung out in poolrooms, where he made a living owning them and also playing men who didn’t realize he had been a champion pool player. I tried hanging at his poolroom from age 8 to about 12. But it just wasn’t for me, so I emulated Pop and hung out on corners.
The first corner we hung out on was Howard and Wishart Street. That corner was the perfect spot to play handball. The intersection was just the right size and created an Ideal diamond for playing baseball. Home base was on the Southeast corner in front of a candy store, who’s owners often chastised us for hitting their plate glass window. Wishart Street ran just one block to the west with a big building cutting it off at Mascher Street. It was perfect for an outfield. Also, there was parking on one side, so the cars were just a small hindrance.
My second hangout was on Clearfield Street between Howard and Hope Street. It was between two buildings and very secluded. It was I deal for teens wanting to smoke and drink a bit without being seen by their parents or the “red cars.” It was also great for playing stickball and close to the bowling alley on Front Street, where we played pinball.
I’m not sure why but the next place we hung out at was on the steps of the Artloom building on Allegheny Avenue. It was much too visible, and that did not last long. It was, however, better for seeing attractive young ladies and offer our verbal approval as our grandfathers had done. The last place we hung out at was on Westmoreland and Hope Street across from the 25th district police station.
We like the little store on the northwest corner. They had great hoagies and the store that was owned by the parents of one of the kids from my block. Being so close to the police station did foster a lot of attention and we ended up inside the station several times.
When I joined the United States Air Force, when I was 18, my hanging out days ended. Hanging out, for boys, was a right of passage that played a big part in teaching us social skills. You see, if you got to “cocky,” there were always some who would put you in your place. Well, everyone but the toughest guy.
About the photos: I didn’t have any pictures of those hangouts, but I grabbed some Google sots that show what they look like now. Pretty big difference. There’s one photo of my grandmother standing on Wishart Street that shows where we played handball. One other photo is of my grandfather taking a rest after hanging out. 😊
Originally posted on The Kensington Neighborhood Alumni Group on Facebook.