Strawberry Mansion: A Former Resident Returns

https://vimeo.com/18642380]

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.



50 Comments

  1. Myers has hit the nail right on the head. I was born and raised in “the Mansion” on Page St. between Diamond & Norris and between 29th and 30th, went to Blaine School, and spent every summer playing
    baseball on Field #1 in Fairmount Park, especially the two-bit league on Sunday mornings.After finishing Central High, Temple undergrad & Med School, I moved to Tampa, FL and have been here since 1969. Growing up on the streets of the Mansion prepared us for life and we all look back nostalgically to those times.

  2. i agree, and followed a roughly similar path — born and raised on 31st above york, mcintyre elementary. then central, temple, and to the south in 1968. thank you for bringing back fond memories.

  3. I still recall a friday evening at the corner of 31st and York, on the steps of the corner deli, where a fellow was haranguing the positives of communism. the crowd gathered in the intersecion, and at least ran him off, if not manhandling him or worse. I was five at the time, and remember no more details. I followed your trail as well,Central, Temple, and eventually Punta Gorda, FL.

  4. Is there anything individuals like myself can do to start a movement to restore Strawberry Mansion. I’ve heard in the past that there were plans to do this. This was years ago, but nothing has been done.

  5. We lived in Strawberry Mansion in 1948. We were not Jewish…. but I have nothing but fond memories of the people of this neighborhood.
    We first lived in an apartment on the corner of Montgomery and Sedgeley Aves. We also lived in an apartment over a Chinese laundry on 31st St… between Montgomery and Euclid. The building was between a Jewish bakery and a Jewish delicatessen a few store fronts from Euclid. One of my playmates lived with her parents who owned another Jewish bakery on the corner of Euclid. As I remember, her name was Harriet. Another playmate, Beatrice Lipshitz live further down Euclid, close to Sedgeley Ave. Her father was an orthodox rabii and her mother was always baking loaves of bread. Several of my friends attended school with me at Blaine Elementary School on Berks St. The Jewish teachers there were wonderful! I also remember being taught to knit and to make ceramics at the synagogue after school. I was never made to feel unwanted… even though I was a gentile. The people of this community had a very positive influence on me and I will akways be grateful that God made them a part of my life!

  6. My grandparents, Sara Stein Abraham and Leopold Abraham lived on Napa Street and probably some other streets in Strawberry Mansion as well. On Napa St., they rented a 2-room apartment and the whole family came to visit at the same time. I slept over many nights in the single bedroom. They moved out around 1952.Papa would hold my hand and take me to the corner store for special treats. These were some of the happiest moments of my childhood.

  7. Strawberry Mansion was my first home. My grandparents (names Matusow) bought a three-story row home there in, I believe, 1903, and my grandmother didn’t move away until the earily 1970’s. She was a very active member of Beth Israel, my first synagogue. Their home was at 33rd & Norris, just down from the Park. My immediate family lived with them for the first eight years of my live, before we moved away. We returned there often, however.
    I have very, very fond memories of “The Mansion,” for the reasons mentioned in this wonderful article. There was definitely a sense of community that I never experienced anywhere else. Norris St. had front porches. On summer evenings, everyone on the block would go outside, sit on their porches or gather in the street to talk. The warmth was not just from the outside temperature.

  8. REDLINING,RACISM

    Many of the African Americans purchased those raggedy houses and then

    could not fix them because some of the same people redlining !!Now

    fast forward to the future 2012,they TEMPLE U. and others their

    babies,have got a new agenda. GoD is the ruler of LAND…

    Black Jewish people moved to this area for peace of mind and continue

    to reside there today April 2012 ,we will have over 55 years of

    PASSOVER…

  9. Thanks for posting this. I lived in Strawberry Mansion from ’51-’58 around 32nd & Diamond. First on Dakota St. and then on Natrona St. Went to McIntyre Elementary. Played basketball at the Jewish Community Center and baseball for the Warwick Boys Club and stickball on the street. Great memories of sleeping in Fairmont Park when it got too hot in the summer. Water ice at Pflaumers, hot dogs at Cherry’s and hanging out at Cozy Corner.

    We left Philly for L.A. in 1958.

  10. I like this weblog very much so much fantastic information. “The highest proof of virtue is to possess boundless power without abusing it.” by Lord Macaulay.

  11. The Western Sky is Just as beautiful in June 2012 as it was in 1912…

    Starting July 2012 Jazz and Old school Funk concerts will be held

    at the Robin Hood Dell…Welcome back Mr. Meyers!

    In the spirit of Ms. Katz and Mr. Rueben (2500 N. Stanley St)who for what ever reason stayed to the end…

  12. I lived on Dakota St. from 1951 until 1966 and it was a special place to grow up. I have several of Mr. Meyers’ books and attended the Strawberry Mansion Reunion in 2004. However, most of the people attending were the generation before my friends and I, so a little older. However, I bumped into several people I knew as a child, and it was very heartfelt.

    I have lived in CA for over 35 years now, but still harken back to the formative years of community in the Mansion when life was much more accessible and kids could be outside unguarded, next to nature with the wonderful park, but within 20 minutes of the wonders of Center City, the museums and culture.

    My only critique is the lack of mention of the northern part of the Mansion — York St, and it’s shopping and community, as well as the forgotten McIntyre Elementary not mentioned in the book.

  13. Hi Barbara. Thanks for posting. We must have been neighbors on Dakota St. and fellow students at McIntyre. I lived right across the street from Spitalni’s (not spelled right) grocery store.

  14. Hi Mike: Was that on the corner of 32nd? Did they have a son named Howard? Did you know the Furman’s on the 3100 block of Dakota St.?

  15. Hi Barbara!

    Yes I too remember York St.(Kay Williams Record Shop)Yellow front market at Stanley & York St,Mrs. Wesley Dress Shop ,Brown,s market,Mr.Jorden’s 30 & York St

    and the streets above …Cumberland
    Huntingdon with the corner stores(Sam’s 30 & Huntingdon St)

    Ohh Beloved McIntyre School 30 & Gordon St ,Our class of 1967 may have been the last or among the last classes to graduate…Mr.Goldstein Room 34 six grade was the best !!

  16. Yes, I knew Howard. We used to play stick ball up the street against the wall behind Pat’s Steak House and football in Fairmount Park. Then we moved from Dakota to Natrona St.

  17. I don’t recall the Furman’s. Yes we lived right on the corner of 32nd and Dakota.

  18. Hello R.Susan Katz,

    Your efforts to restore Strawberry Mansion …
    There is redevelopment going on in Strawberry Mansion… 31st Street

    from Diamond St. to Cecil B. Moore (formerly Columbia Ave) has new

    developments…All residential..Priced at $125,000.00

    There has been quite a bit of demolition on Monument

    and Arlington Streets …Land,land,location viewing the Park

  19. Mike: There’s a group on Facebook: Strawberry Mansion, Growing up in the 40’s and 50’s, etc. You might see some people you know or knew. I remember playing up in Howard’s home above the store. His mother had hairdressing equipment. Maybe we played together at some time? He moved away in the early 50’s as I recall, though.

    Judith: Thanks for your nice memories. Do you remember Mr. Fitzpatrick or Miss O’Connor?

    One of the people in the FB group has a photo of McIntyre School up.

  20. With havin so a lot written content do you ever run into any troubles of plagorism or copyright infringement? My web site has a great deal of exclusive content material I’ve either written myself or outsourced but it looks like lots of it is popping it up all more than the web without my permission. Do you know any techniques to assist stop content from being ripped off? I’d genuinely appreciate it.

  21. I too lived in the mansion I moved there in 1956. I opened a Barber shop at the corner of Hagert and 33rd.. Yes it was a great place to live for a very long time Im black. I have many fond memories.

  22. Hello Larry Howell ! Welcome black ;)! The Strawberry Mansion Civic

    Association is here for you … Thank you for reaching out… have you

    reached out to the Barber presently located at 33rd and Cumberland

    Streets ? Check him out…

  23. I was born in Strawberry Mansion in 1944 and lived at 31st and Diamond Streets until 1944. My grandmother, aunts,uncles and cousins lived a block from me. Some family lived there until the late sixties. I have fond memories of the Park Theatre, Michael’s Bakery, Cherry’s and Pflaummers . It was a great place to live. Fairmount park was a lovely place to visit. Neighbors were warm and friendly. I am nostalgic about those very early years.

  24. My mother and her cousins lived with their grandparents in the 1930s in Strawberry Mansion,, on N. 31st Street, between West Lehigh Ave. and W. Huntingdon Street. I am trying to figure out what high school my mother would have attended and see the article states that at one point the neighborhood had none. Can anyone please suggest what high school a girl would have likely attended from about 1930- 1934? I would be most grateful. My mother’s “baby” cousin has wonderful memories of the house and neighborhood. Thanks very much.

  25. Ij was interesting to find this page about the mansion, now known as the village, I lived on 28th st
    There was jewish boy Richard

    . ,blond hair,Richard Spector.
    I loved his hair. We all had good fun.,We went to the same elem.
    school.

  26. I remember Richard Spector,he would come over our house on 28th st. We would all play, we had
    good fun,we all went to Macintyre
    elem. school.

  27. I cannot express how heart warming it is to read all of the comments. I too went to William McIntyre Elementary School. Sidney Bozniak was the principal during my time there. I have wonderful memories of Fairmount Park, Pat’s Steaks Plaummers Ice Cream Parlor, etc. I originally grew up on North 26th street and later moved to 30th and Cumberland streets. Someone mentioned Mr. William Fitzpatrick…he was my 5th grade teacher, Remember Ms Oldt ? She was in charge of the Safety Squads.

  28. I went to John McIntyre Elementary School. Ms. Perry was my kindergarten teacher. I was in her wedding. She became Ms. Cotton. Ms. Smith was my 2nd grade teacher, Ms.Jean B. Gregory was my 3rd grade teacher Ms. Barbara Joyce McCray was my 4th & 5th grade teacher and Mr. Raymond C. Gregory was my 6th grade teacher. Just last week, I reunited with Ernestine Coclough. Our best friends were Theodore “Teddy” Pendergrass, Sylvester Weaver, Steven Huberman, Barbara Bynum, Ronald Gordan, Henry Kernes, Willie Brazill, Jacqueline Culbreth, and Mark Timbers. Mark died in Vietnam. I have fond members of all of them and I often think of them. I remember Mr Fitpatric, Ms Cotello, Mr. Bosnick, and Ms Oldt.

  29. Hello everyone. I too have happy memories of “the Mansion.”. Can anyone tell me where McIntyre was located.

  30. My family moved to Strawberry Mansion in 1954 and my mother moved to Chestnut Hill in 1998. For years, i tried to talk her into leaving the community, but she would always say, I love the community and many of widow friends are still here, plus my church home is around the corner. I completed 6th grade at McIntyre Elementary School in 1960. Played tag in the old bus barn (currently Strawberry High) and played flag foodball in Fairmount Park. McIntyre Elementary School was torn down many years ago and never rebuild. This was the best location in the city, as you could travel anywhere without much trouble. The community just fell apart around 1968. Race, the have and the have nots were the problems associated with the downfall of one of the most wonderful parts of Philly, Strawberry Mansion. Loved growing up in the area and the life experiences helped me in my adult life. Will never forget Strawberry Mansion from the past, but hopefully i can forget the current state of Strawberry Mansion.

  31. McIntyre was located at 30th & Gordon Sts…NOW PHA is building some housing development there…The LAND that made Strawberry Mansion is still the same LAND Mass…Yes we have been through a lot,but we are working our way back…
    WE Are the Strawberry Mansion Civic Association… Building Bridge From the Past to the Future…WELCOME BACK ….Come visit Fairmount Park …Smith Memorial Playground…Come take a Tour…Many new Developments!!!
    CALL to CREATE your TOUR…
    Call 215-765-9500 – JUDITH ROBINSON

  32. By acident found this web site.
    Moved to Strawberry Mansion from West Philly. I was eight and my brother Larry was five.
    Went to McIntyre.
    Lived at 2419Napa Street.

    Have found by accident four boys I grew up with.
    My only regert is not getting to know a pretty Africian American Girl who lived on Napa Street . She outreached to me just to be a friend. I was to stupid not to reciprocrate .

  33. My relatives owned Cherry’s on 33rd. From the internet, it seems the place was sold in the 50’s to another owner. I would love to find any relatives that may still be living in the area. Hope to hear from you!

  34. My family lived at 1902 Patton Street. My zaidah was sexton of the shul on 31st Street and then the one on the corner of 31st and Berks. I attended Blaine, and led my graduating class in “One Kiss”. Attended Gillispie and Gratz. Had many good friends: Arlene Goldman, Gertie Gold, Marian Drill, Barbara Feldman, etc. 31st street was a marvelous place – everything was available. There was an ice cream parlor where my friends and I would split a club sandwich. Never have found a a better one. The community was wide-open. Went to a teen party where Pete Seeger entertained. Strawberry Mansion was a feast.

  35. Hi Myra,
    Sounds as though you were at my family’s place, Cherry’s. I would love to hear about your experiences there!
    Cheri Cherry

  36. I was working on my computer and decided to look up the name of the store on the corner of 31st and York. I used to work there as a 9 years old boy, in 1961. My very first job. While looking for the name of the store, I found this site. My first response was Hashem is at work. I too attended William McIntyre. I lived across the street from the school. I also attended Gratz High School. I completed my higher education at LaSalle Collage. I remember Pat’s Streak House on 33th Street, across from the park. Oh yes, and Pflaummers. Judith Robinson is correct. My family was one of those Black Jewish family that moved to “the Mansion” for peace of mind as well as live with other Jews. I was there from 1957-1969. The area was let go by the city at a time when help was much needed. But I believe “the Mansion” with fly again.

  37. Wow such memories. I was born 1945 and lived at 28th and York. We moved from Strawberry Mansion in1959. A true mixed neighbor hood of Jews, Catholics, Protestants, blacks, whites with everyone getting alone. I went to Walton school and played ball at Warwick boys club. I want to say high to the Smitties (Smiths) and the Kellys. A special thanks to the black couple that lived next to us, Cookie and Shirley, sorry I forget their last name.

  38. My family lived on the 2100 block of N.Stanley St. 1 was born in 1940. I went to Blaine School ( kindergarten). My kindergarten teacher was Miss Verbit, (how did I remember the name). The Cherry family is related to me. My father had 11 brothers and sisters. We moved to Olney in 46 or 47. Unfortunately I have very little recollection of my father’s
    (Sam) side of the family. My parents divorced when I was a child.My late sister (Gloria) 10 years older than me maintained a relation with a few of our cousins and
    Aunts and uncles. I went to
    Central High,then joined the Navy,retiring after 20,years. Married 53 years,5 sons,7 grandsons,1 grandgaughter. We live in Casselberry,Fl.

  39. Thank you for confirming that Pat’s Steaks was in the Mansion. I was born there and my grandparents lived there until 1968. My Father used to take me to Pat’s, and my fondest memories were the photo on the walls…….my friends thought I was crazy since they only knew Pats in South Philly, thanks again

  40. I certainly enjoyed reading the comments of growing up in the Strawberry Mansion section of the city,my family moved there in 1955,you guys are so on point ,everything you needed was right there,how I discovered this site,I was trying to find pictures of the old Blaine School,if anyone have some would you please post them.

  41. January 2017…we are Strawberry Mansion Civic Association, working to build bridge connecting the olde to the new, the past to the future.

    If you are in Philadelphia and would like a tour of Strawberry Mansion please contact us at Email: jjdthrbnsn@aol.com
    Or Judith Robinson- Director
    215-765-9500 – VM
    TOUR – Strawberry Mansion
    We provide Historic tours and when possible can bring your story to life!
    Family reunions, Alumni reunion, Senior homes,History buffs..
    Come on back…
    Fairmount Park, Smith Memorial Playground…Historic Strawberry Mansion. New developments

    Assistance in Research…

  42. I lived in Strawberry Mansion during the mid-1950’s. My parents owned a pet store on the corner of 32nd & York called Sol’s Tropical Fish Bowl.
    Also lived other the 2400 block of Natrona…2408 I believe. Went to McIntyre, loved Pats (it was so big inside) and clearly remember that when the trolley turned at the corner of my house from 32nd up York the frequent derailments when the he cars came off the tracks on the turn. Those were the days. Moved from The Mansion to West Philly, then Upper Darby and finally Mt. Airy, where I attended Germantown High. Dropped out, joined the Navy and served aboard some of America’s first nuclear Subamines. Eventually I ended up in NYC working for and later running some of the most creative ad agencies in the world. But I will always remember qStrawberry mansion…

  43. I’m writing my memoir and know a large part of who I am comes from my childhood in the Mansion. I stumbled onto this blog and am delighted that I did. Very fond memories are flooding back. I recall Cliff Levitt, of the 1st entry.I lived at 1835 Natrona St. I went to Stokley, Blaine then Central High. I attended annual Strawberry Mansion re-unions 2 or 3 times but they stopped a few years ago…we were getting too old to hold them…darn!
    Hope to hear from any who remember me or other great memories.

  44. My grandparents lived at 2346 N. 31 st Street,They lived behind the store where my grandfather was a tailor. My aunt, Beatrice Feldman, taught 1 st grade at the McIntyre school.She lived at 32 nd and Huntingdon.In the 1940’s- into 1960’s I spent extended time with them all,and have fond and clear memories of the Mansion, Although my parents lived in Logan my mom continued to shop on York Street during all those years, and having spent so much time there, it was a 2 nd home for me.I enjoyed reading these blogs and hope there will be more.

  45. My family were best friends with the Cherry’s…I have fond memories of going to the restaurant and being allowed to work behind the counter. It was such a treat! I would love to make contact with anyone who is a relative.

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