From an Old Resident

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Over the years, we’ve received some eyeopening letters from former residents of W Rockland Street and the surrounding blocks. Here’s one from Phil O’Donnell of Cheltenham, who provides a snapshot of life in Southwest Germantown in the 40s and early 50s. Phil lived just around the corner on Wyneva Street and his grandfather lived on W Rockland Street, next to the houses that would later become abandoned. He sent this letter via email in June 2011 after reading Inga Saffron’s news report in The Philadelphia Inquirer about the demolition of the two remaining houses at the corner of W Rockland and Greene Streets. Declared imminently dangerous, the buildings were torn down after Mayor Michael Nutter, who read Saffron’s earlier report on the first annual Grow This Block! planting day, made a surprise visit to the block to see what neighbors were working on. 

——-
Good Morning Emaleigh,

I think what you are doing is wonderful. I could go on and on about the wonderful times I enjoyed when I was a youngster in Germantown. I lived at 63 W. Wyneva St. from the time I was born in Germantown Hospital in 1942 until we moved to Cheltenham Township in 1953. I thought my parents must have hit the “jackpot” (back then there was no legal lottery) because I thought we were moving to the “suburbs” where the wealthy folks lived. My folks even bought the first car that we had in my life, a 1953 Plymouth Savoy.

I was 10 years old and missed walking up to the Acme at Seymour and Germantown Ave. We pulled our wagon to help Mother bring home the groceries! And going to the New Lyric theater matinee on Saturday afternoon (used to be up on Germantown Ave just past the firehouse) was a treat IF we had the $0.10 admission price. We had no car because my father took public transportation to work at RCA in Camden, NJ. He would leave early every day on the #23 trolley car on Germantown Ave. to the Broad St. subway, to the “Bridge Train” that still goes across the Ben Franklin bridge to Camden. And he arrived home every day at the same time.

SEPTA's Route 23 trolley on Germantown Avenue approaching Eerie Avenue on July 13, 1977. Photo by Mike Szilagyi.

SEPTA’s Route 23 trolley on Germantown Avenue approaching Eerie Avenue on July 13, 1977. Photo by Mike Szilagyi.

In 2012, congregants attend the final Mass at St. Francis of Assisi, which sits in-between Logan St and W Rockland St, across from the vacant lot. Photo by Theresa Stigale.

In 2012, congregants attend the final Mass at St. Francis of Assisi, which sits in-between Logan St and W Rockland St, across from the vacant lot. Photo by Theresa Stigale.

My elementary school was right through the alley to St. Francis of Assisi school. My parents had been married at SFoA in the church rectory because my mother was not Catholic and Dad was. My Cub Scout meetings were at SFoA. My Den Mother was Mrs. Conway who lived at 150 W. Wyneva St. in the block between Greene and Wayne Ave. Also in that block at the corner of Greene and Wyneva was the local Unity-Frankford grocery store which was our equivalent to today’s 7-11 convenience store. Wortley’s Drug store was at the corner of Greene and Wyneva, right next to my house. Opposite the drug store, the corner house on Greene at Wyneva was Dr. Scanlon, the dentist. Our playground was Logan Park which is still through the alley across the street from my house. The “big kids” were allowed to go up to “Happy Hollow” playground way up on Wayne Ave. across the avenue from the end of Wyneva St.

The streets were lined with large trees and springtime always smelled so clean to me. The yards all had some kind of flowers in them. I remember Rose-of Sharons and Lilacs that were so strong smelling, it smelled so good. It was officially spring when almost every house put up their awnings on the porch to give some shade from the sun when we sat out on the porch. There was no such thing as air-conditioning.

The house that was just torn down (4817) next to the corner empty lot belonged to the Edward McGinty family. Mr. McGinty was a career Phila. policeman. One of their sons, Joseph went on to become a Phila. policeman. They had five children as I remember and went to SFoA with me.

The next house (4815), if I remember correctly, belonged to the Hepp family who had four or five children. Those kids also went to SFoA. They moved to Ardsley not long after we moved to Cheltenham.

4819, 4817 and 4815 Green St, at the corner of W Rockland St, in 2009.

4819, 4817 and 4815 Green St, at the corner of W Rockland St, in 2009

The empty lot at the corner of Rockland and Greene was a local grocery store where we used to buy penny candy, TastyKakes and Franks sodas. The corner house at 74 W. Rockland belonged to my grandfather, Patrick Francis Xavier O’Donnell. My aunts and uncles all lived there until and sometimes after they were married. Some of my cousins lived there in their early days. It was a large three story house with a lot more room than our two story house right behind it on Wyneva St.. Your site shows many pictures of that house. Just as I remember it.

I’ll stop here before I bore you to tears and again say that what you are doing in my old neighborhood is a wonderful thing. It was/is a great, convenient, fun way of life.

– Phil O’Donnell

74 W Rockland St during Grow This Block! in 2012

74 W Rockland St during Grow This Block! in 2012

Herb quickly learned how to become a master gardener at Grow This Block! in 2012

Herb quickly learned how to become a master gardener at Grow This Block! in 2012

 

Herb's garden in full bloom and the vacant lots in 2013.

Herb’s garden in full bloom and the vacant lots in 2013

October 2013: After the residents at the last two houses on W Rockland St planted gardens, neighbors worked together to install several flower planters along the border of the lot. It began to look like a space people cared about.

October 2013: After the residents at the last two houses on W Rockland St planted gardens, neighbors installed several flower planters along the border of the lot. It began to look like a space people cared about.

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