Strawberry Mansion: A Former Resident Returns]

Mourners leave a synagogue in the early 50's.
Mourners leave a synagogue in the early 1950s.

It is not unusual to revisit an old neighborhood. Sometimes a sense of nostalgia drags people back to the places where it all began, and according to Allen Meyers, who grew up in Strawberry Mansion over 40 years ago, there are two types of returning visitors.

“There are some people who are afraid,” Meyers said, “and others who will even go up and knock on peoples’ doors where they once lived, get access to their old houses, and be welcomed as neighbors and as parts of the family, which I think is incredible.”

Meyers can be described as the latter of the two schools of thought. Born in South Philadelphia, he and his family took residence in Strawberry Mansion from 1952 until 1961. During his stay there, the neighborhood was a hub for Jewish activity.

“My dad was from west Philadelphia, my mom as from south Philadelphia,” Meyers recalled. “They picked a neutral part of town to live in, Strawberry Mansion.”

According to Meyers, who has written several books about Philadelphia neighborhoods, almost 60 percent of the population was Jewish in its heyday, with 50,000 Jews and more than two dozen synagogues.

Services end in a Philadelphia Synagogue.
Services end in a Philadelphia synagogue.

“There was a tremendous amount of unity in the community,” Meyers said. “Strawberry Mansion was known throughout the eastern seaboard as a Jewish place of existence.”

After his Philadelphia upbringing, Meyers attended Penn State University and Gratz College, where he majored in urban studies, sociology and history. It wasn’t long before Meyers was able to use his fields of study to discover his passion.

“I had to write a paper and I chose old neighborhoods,” Meyers said. “I talked about how they grew and developed. It turned into a lifelong project.”

Meyers wrote his first book in 1990 and since then has authored literature detailing the history of many neighborhoods in Philadelphia. He also takes pride in his heritage and has studied the history of synagogues all over the city and its extended suburbs.

According to Meyers and his extensive research, the Jewish community started in the late 1890s, as the community migrated from Northern Liberties and Fairmount.

“Many Jews took a left-hand turn and followed the trolley cars westward to (Strawberry Mansion),” Meyers said.

The first synagogue in the neighborhood was Beth Israel, which migrated in 1909 from Eighth and Jefferson to 32nd and Berks. After an act of Congress in 1924 halted Jewish immigration, the neighborhood really flourished.

“It was more than just a neighborhood of synagogues,” Meyers said. “This community was composed of free thinkers, communists and people who had democratic values. Opinions ranged from far right to far left, with 60,000 Jewish people at its height.”

At its height, about one-fifth of the Jewish population in the city lived in the enclave between Lehigh and Oxford streets, and 29th and 33rd streets. There were four elementary schools, but no high school, no police department and no hospital. Over 60 businesses existed on 31st Street beginning at Montgomery Avenue.

“You could buy anything from bread to rolls to jewelry to hardware, 31st Street was the place to be,” Meyers remembered. “Everything was here: the meat markets, the bakeries, the delicatessens, the poultry shops.”

The community was once filled with culture. Meyers and his parents would spend an afternoon at Smith Playground in Fairmount Park, one of the first playgrounds in the nation. They would see a Vaudeville show on Oxford Avenue or go to the Robin Hood Dell to see an outdoor play.

The Playhouse at Smith Playground hosted performances of many kinds and still stands today.
The playhouse at Smith Playground hosted performances of many kinds and still stands today.

But when Meyers took a leisurely drive through the dilapidated and brittle-looking neighborhood, vacant lots and dilapidated houses stand in the same place where a once-thriving and prosperous mini-metropolis sustained a large population in the first half of the 20th century.

He saw shadows of what once existed and was reminded of the demise of the Jewish, and white- dominated Strawberry Mansion community.

“In the late ’50s they knew the community was coming to an end,” Meyers said. “The flight of white people from this community was overnight. They moved to Logan, Feltonville and Mt. Airy. New houses were being built and the G.I. bill gave people access to housing outside of the city.”

As the white population moved to suburbs, the Brown v. Board of Education ruling allowed African Americans to slowly take their place in Strawberry Mansion. Eventually, the neighborhood became predominantly black and poor.

Meyers has no trouble fondly remembering the tarnished remains of brownstones in his former home.

“I think that the western sky, the sunset, spiritually in my mind lit up the community and gave it its flavor in some spiritual way,” Meyers said, watching the pink, purple clouds float over an orange setting sun above the seemingly endless forest of Fairmount Park.


  1. My Grandmother had a lingerie store, 1925 31st street, in the 30s – 50s. My father, Sidney, and his two sister Hannah (Zaza) and Sady, grew up in Strawberry Mansion, from the 1920, dad joined the US Navy during WWII, My aunts were there until they married and moved away in the 40s. I had an Aunt Sady and Uncle who owned a fruit and vegetable store a few doors down on the other side of the street. I remember in the early 1950s, when we would visit my grandmother, I’d wake up very early in the morning and watch from the brownstone window on the third floor to see the vendors and the owners open their stores in the dawn morning hours. I remember the trollys and the ‘turnaround’ at the end of the steer and I think it was Greenberg’s bakery at the corner. We’d go to the ‘Robin Hood Dell and sit in the grass in the hill at night and listen to the concerts. I have very fond memories of those times.

  2. Does anyone know the Cravitz Family who lived on Gordon St between 32nd and 33rd streets. Father’s name was Marvin, Mother, Sylvia, Children Florence and Richard…one more child but I don’t remember his name Cravitz was the last name

  3. one family invited me to live with them permanently…fond memories of that summer in the “Mansion.” but it was time to move on..I was 12 years old

  4. My grandfather was Morris Dorfman and he owned Park Tire Service (Mobil Station with curbside pumps & Appliance Store) at 3451 Ridge Avenue (across from the Robin Hood Dell). My father Marv and uncles Dave, Jack and Ron worked with him. In ’69 The City of Philadelphia Redevelopment Program came into the store and told him that the area was being redeveloped and he had 6 months to move or else the city would take the property (imminent domain?) . My grandfather found a place at 3000 N. 27th and moved the business. 6 months later the city found utility lines that ran under the property that ran under the Schulykill as well and did not develop the area (until at least 20 years later) with another project. My dad has told me great “neighborhood” stories from different customers that came into the store, to how my grandfather gave credit to men (when credit was not being given in the WWII years for sets of tires).

    Sidebar, does anyone remember “Sam, the knish man?” I have always heard about this individual.

    Can anyone tell more about Linton’s…was it a chain? I remember the one at Hunting Park and Wissahickon. Others talk about one in Oxford Circle. Was it like a diner? or smaller?

  5. To Allen Myers; I lived at 1835 Natrona St. from 1941 to 1950. Did you also? Maybe when we moved out?
    Love to hear from you.

  6. My dad Bernie Bernstein (spelling error on birth certificate) and his two sisters, Sylvia Born Stein and Gladys Bornstein lived in Strawberry Mansion probably in the 30’s and 40’s before moving to Logan. His father Abraham (Abe) was a barber with place on second floor in South Philly. Grandmother left grandfather around 1936. All have passed and I really don’t know much about my dad’s years there except him telling me stories how he sometimes had to fight his way to school and home as a young teen. I would appreciate if anyone who knew him could get back to me. He had strong feeling for the place as he drove me there from our home in Cherry Hill in the seventies when I was in high school or mid sec nues when I was in college. Dad was youngest of three and born in 1928.

  7. I was born on 2400 Hollywood St. in 1923 when I was 6 we moved to 1924 Napa then to 3108 French St.I attended Stokes
    Elementary, Blane 7th and 8th Gratz High,then I went war. Martin Katz

  8. My maiden name was Lillian Zelitch we lived at 2938 W.Dauphin St. Right near the dental factory and Greenwald’s candy store. My Brother was David. I went to McIntyre Fitz and Gratz. Did anyone know Toby and Ruthie Rubin? What about Rachel Boogay? I used to go to the Park Movies and Fairmount Park and Woodside. Love to know is there anyone out there who remembers me?

  9. Dear Allen Meyers – I’m grateful for your special life-calling, and the books you’ve produced. The Strawberry Mansion volume is in my possession thanks to the initiative of my editor and friend R. v. B. Soon after my birth in January 1930, my parents and I moved from South Philadelphia to the Mansion at 33rd across from Fairmount Park where the fountain stood. Yet when I was but six months of age, we moved to a grocery store-house at the corner of Oakdale and North 31st Streets (2649 N. 31st). We remained in Strawberry Mansion until we moved to Logan in June 1946. But I missed the Mansion and, till 1953, when I relocated to New York permanently, frequently returned to the area where I lived till I was six months of age to a new set of friends. I attended Rudolph S. Walton public school from kindergarten through graduation on 25 June 1942; I went to Fitzsimons Junior High School for one year. I completely identify with practically all the recollections on the last page of the Strawberry Mansion book, page 128. May I add that I’m not embarrassed to say, now at my age, it’s hard not to tear up at the memories of that special time and unique environment, forever passed.

  10. Mel C My Family moved into your house at 32nd and York after your family moved out. Your family pet store became my fathers real estate and corner law office until he died in 1966. We lived there until 1962 when we moved in with my grandmother in West Oak lane.

    I have fond memories of the neighborhood and stokely school and boy scout troop 18. The store owners knew who you were,

  11. To Charles Dorfman, I was a good friend of your uncle Ron who was a grade ahead of me at Walton. We used to shovel snow together, hang out together with other friends. I lived on the 2500 block of 34th street at the rear of your family’s home that frinted Ridge Avenue. We played a ball game against the cinderblock wall located on 34th St. I sold the Evening Bulletin & Daily News , Monday-Fridays 1956-1961 on the corner of Huntingdon & Ridge along the Huntingdon Street side facing the end of the line #54 bus depot. My dad knew your grandfather and the rest of your uncles/dad as well. I lived on 34th St from 1946-1964, then I hitchhiked to Los Angeles to begin my adventurous life in the sun. I knew Sam the Knish Man…my sister Merle was a friend of his daughter. Did your family ever describe the “Coit Club” located between the Laurel Hill Cemetery and Robin Hood Dell? How about the Santa Fe Club on 34th Street across from “Sam the Knish Man” store on Harold St at 34th St. My buddy Eddie Knapp who lived on Harold St was fond of ice staking…we used to go skating at the Pavillon also located across from your family’s residence, just across a segment of the park which had some great beech trees we would climb!

  12. Born and raised in strawberry mantion 3235 w berks St across from stokley across from fairmount and down the street to ben hurs ice cream home made polar.wpolar.we dad a large family of eight and it appeard everyone new us.we all went to the park movie on diamond st every sat.10cents for a small 16cents for a large.21cents at night.the year was 1940 to 1950 then off to the suburbs and my mothers first house on adams ave creighton elem and then olney hs what a great journey.

  13. My family moved to Strawberry Mansion In 1948, I was 5 yo. We lived at 2417 Patton St, just off York. My grandparents lived on 33rd, not far from the Dell. All my aunts, uncles, cousins, lived within walking distance from my grandparents. Friday night all the family went to my grandparents for a big dinner before the lighting of the candles by grandma. My dad worked for Cooklyn Dairy as a milkman. I attended McGuire Elementary School. The area was safe for us kids, Saturday morning we all walked to the Movies, stayed and watched the feature twice. Pat’s Steaks, the ice-cream place across the street from the tennis courts. The PAL, Fairmount Park, the waterworks, the large (to us kids) slide. The Museums, the history, it was a great place to grow up. In about 1954/1955, we all left. My grandparents to Atlantic City, three houses from the Boardwalk on Connecticut St. The rest of the family went to Levittown, Pa., and I spent my summers in AC. In 1961 I graduated from Pennsburry HS, Yardley Pa., and joined the Navy. In 1985, I retired from the USAF. Those of us still alive, are scattered all over the world. I’m in New Mexico.

  14. I just found a photo among my mothers things of the graduating class of June 1922, McIntyre School but I can’t identify my mother, Helen Canter, or my aunt, Ruth Canter or my uncle, Martin Canter in the photo. They lived at 2519 Douglas Street. They all eventually relocated to LA, where I was born
    and live. Does anyone remember them? My grandparents, Jacob and Lena Canter also lived there at the time; he was a singing waiter. My mother, aunt and uncle often spoke of Pflaumers(sp) and Fairmount Park.

  15. I am so happy that I ran across this page and information about Strawberry Mansion. Originally, I grew up in the Village at 26th & York Sts. I attended McIntyre Elementary School at 30th and Gordon Sts. How well I remember the many landmarks previously mentioned. You see, we moved up to Strawberry Mansion when I was 9 years old. Ms. Tervalon was my 1st grade teacher, Ms. Gregory was my 3rd grade teacher. ( I was credited with teaching her how to do the cha-cha (smile). I can’t forget Mr Wm. Fitzpatrick, my 5th grade teacher and Mr Raymond Charles Gregory, my 6th grade teacher. Mr. Sidney Bozniak was the principal back then and Miss Oldt was in charge of the Safetys.
    Ms. Perry (Cotton)was everybody’s kindergarden teacher! During my last days before graduating from McIntyre, I was the captain of the girl safety guides. I was so proud !) I have so many wonderful memories. Pflaumer’s Ice Cream Parlor, Pat’s Steaks (my parents would take us there to get some delicious steaks on holidays) Just reading the many comments took me down memory lane. To this day, I still ride thru Strawberry Mansion, just for “old times sake.” I’ve driven my daughter through the area, just so she might have a sense of where I grew up. The neighborhood is quite different from when we grew up there. I remember Ernestine Coclough and her sisters, as well as Teddy Pendergrass! I loved growing up in the area…it was truly a neighborhood !

  16. Great memories. I thought I was the only Jewish boy that played baseball for the Warwick Boys Club. Now I see others did too. I was born and lived on the 2400 block of Corlies St. My relatives were all in the neighborhood. Weiss, Goldstein,Stolof. Napa St, Natrona, Dauphine Sts.

  17. howard spitalny (referenced above) was one of my boyhood friends. i lived at 2413 31st street from 1942-ca 1952, when my family moved to west oak lane and thus from 4th grade at mcintyre to rowen elementary. my maternal grandparents were at 2406 napa and i had aunts and uncles mostly within half a mile.

    if memory serves, freedman’s(sp?) delicatessen was on the ne corner of 31st and york. across from my house on 31st street was dr. simpkins’ home and office. on the nw corner of 31st and york was a produce store. al’s luncheonette was on the east side of 31st between york and gordon, as was a synagogue — if memory serves, women were still in the balcony and schnapps and cake were served after the services.

    david baskin’s family lived over the family pharmacy on the nw corner of 31st and cumberland. pflaumer’s was on the east side (i think).

  18. re lillian fisher, i don’t remember her biut i sure remember the park movies ($0.10 plus $0.15 for popcorn), fairmount park (including the fountain i often climbed and smith’s playground with the wooden slide) and woodside park. thanks for the reminders.

  19. What a lovely trip down memory lane. We lived on Euclid Street from about 1950-1960ish. Were the last white family on our block having been stunned by ‘white flight’, which seemed to change the neighborhood almost overnight. Love my memories of the Jewish shops on 31st st.(is that the right street, memory a bit fuzzy). I was fascinated by the egg candler in the shop with all of the crates of live hens and the store with the live carp swimming in the galvanized indoor container. Went to Stokley (as did my brothers, Joe and Lee, and then to Blaine. I remember being mugged on halloween one year towards the end, my candy stolen and being told to “run for my life”. My search started when I found this site while looking for any old record of Darrow’s restaurant. The slide at Smith Playground was epic. Memories flood back. Thanks

  20. David Schwartz here.
    I was born in 1945 in Strawberry mansion. We lived on north natrona street. And I went to Sartan elementary school. My fond memories were of the Park movie theater, Smith playground, and playing stick ball on the street.
    For some reason I still miss it, but like they say. You can’t go home again.

  21. Loved reading. Lived at 2429 N Myrtlewood street. Fond thoughts Anyone from Myrtlewood street post or E mail me

  22. My Great great grandmother Pessie lived in Strawberry Mansion with her four daughters and one son ! My mother lived with Pessie her grandmother and went to Simon Gratz high School ! Pessie donated a Torah Scroll with her grandchildren’s names written and dedicated to them. She was orthodox, & was well known in her community for CHESED ! This was around 1900.

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