Mayfair: Same Frankford Avenue, Different Decade

Mayfair: Same Frankford Avenue, Different Decade
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Ruthanne Madway, executive director of the Mayfair Community Development Corporation, and Dan Hoffman, an urban planning consultant, have worked closely with Mayfair leaders to devise a strategy for reviving Frankford Avenue, or The Avenue, it is commonly referred. A conversation about how to improve Frankford Avenue cannot occur without talking about what’s perceived to be wrong with it.

“A remarkable number of people grew up here and have remained here,” said Madway. “They are very loyal, but it also makes people reflect on what isn’t.”

Residents say they want more quality and diverse businesses. The Mayfair Business Association and the Mayfair Community Development Corporation hold regular meetings and host events throughout the year in hopes of attracting businesses.

History is repeating itself. This is not the first time Mayfair leaders have rallied together for a similar cause.

In 1937, Herb Shulman released “It Happened in Mayfair,” a promotional film intended to attract new businesses to the newly developed community. The cast was comprised of business owners and residents moving about the community, highlighting the amenities of the area. Working as manager of the Mayfair Theater, Shulman was a member of the Mayfair Business Men’s Association and dedicated the film to “a finer and better Mayfair.”

Lifelong residents talk about wanting The Avenue to return to the way it used to be, but no one can agree on exactly what that means. Ask any Mayfair resident, on any given day, what period of time Frankford Avenue was at it’s best and you’ll likely get a different answer. Hoffman says it’s the nature of people to believe that their memories of a place or time will always be better than any other.

“On that, I recommend you go back and see the old movie ‘Atlantic City,’” said Hoffman.

In a scene in the 1980 movie, Lou (played by Burt Lancaster) reminisces about the good old days in Atlantic City with Dave (played by Robert Joy). When Dave tells Lou he had never seen the Atlantic Ocean before that moment, Lou looks to Dave and says, “You should have seen the Atlantic Ocean in those days.”

Further research on the subject suggests that present-day Mayfair is not much different than the past. Mayfair was incorporated in the early 1930s, making it the youngest community in the Northeast. Mayfair’s flagship intersection, Frankford and Cottman avenues, was as vital to the area as it is today.

At the time, Frankford Avenue was called Bristol Pike. Cottman Avenue was originally Township Line Road. After World War II, real estate developers quickly purchased large tracts of land along Frankford Avenue and began building row homes.

“Mayfair is especially interesting to me because this is both a pre-war and post-war sort of suburb of the city in some ways,” said Madway. “It’s still bears the template and the imprint of traditional 1920s town planning because that was when it was originally laid out. A good portion of the buildings on Frankford Avenue are of that period.”

In fact, census data estimates more than 80 percent of the homes in Mayfair were built prior to 1950. By the late 1940s, Mayfair was a fully developed community. Frankford Avenue was lined with grocery markets, florists, bakeries, restaurants and theaters.

Establishments like the Mayfair Diner and the Devon Theater were open for business. Residents could go to Stein for flowers or pick up a cake from Holmesburg Bakery. Like most communities, small, family owned businesses were at the center of commerce.

Many of the businesses that were on Frankford Avenue during the early periods of development are still around today. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, small businesses (fewer than five employees) made up 54 percent of the 584 Mayfair businesses in 2012.

Pat’s Music Center, at Frankford and Cottman avenues, has been open for more than 30 years. Owner Bob Domanico says the only change he’s noticed is the types of businesses and the addition of major chain stores.

“I think The Avenue, even though has changed, is still a great place for business,” said Domanico. “A lot of the family businesses that were open when we started are still here.”

Frank CapriottiMark Capriotti (right) and his bother own Capriotti Brothers Fruit and Produce. They are the third generation to run the produce market that opened its Mayfair location in 1968 at Frankford Avenue near Friendship Street. Capriotti spent much of his childhood on Frankford Avenue.

He remembers sidewalks full of people walking in and out of shops along The Avenue.

“My dad chose this spot for the foot traffic,” said Capriotti. “There was always foot traffic.”

In working with the CDC, Madway spends a lot of time walking Frankford Avenue, talking to business owners. She does not own a car so she walks almost everywhere.

“Frankford Avenue is in many ways the lifeblood of the neighborhood because, whether or not people drive or walk, this is still a walking neighborhood,” said Madway.

Hoffman wants to understand the residents’ view of Mayfair today, which is a stark contrast to 1950. He’s not so sure things are all that different.

“When you unpack it and realize what they’re actually remembering, it’s that they liked to walk around that there was a variety of stuff to buy in the stores,” said Hoffman. “And those bones are still here today.”

– Text, images and videos by Lynette Townes.

9 Responses to Mayfair: Same Frankford Avenue, Different Decade

  1. Betsy January 10, 2015 at 12:34 am

    I have lived in Mayfair all my life 62 years. I would love to see clothing and shoe stores again like back in the day. There isn’t much left to shop at any more. It’s mostly nail salons and such. If we could bring more shops that people could shop at would be nice.

  2. Kristen M. January 15, 2015 at 8:49 pm

    That whole neighborhood is going to crap. I grew up there and my parents still live there. The Avenue used to have a McDonald’s and a movie theater. Now it’s all nail salons and dollar stores. It’s a lot like the Frankford section under the El. Really just a shame.

  3. Gail Parker January 16, 2015 at 12:10 am

    I agree with Betsy. We need Dots to come back now that they have new owners. Payless is back. Get rid of pawn shops and things like that and bring back the clothing,shoes, and gift shops.

  4. Paul January 16, 2015 at 11:00 am

    I have spent my life in Mayfair. I have watched it gracelessly fall from a beautiful suburban (not in the true sense) neighborhood, into the dilapidated image of once was. We have open air drug sales in a lot owned by a foreign business owner (nothing against them, but they clearly don’t come from nor care about our neighborhood – and YES, it is important to note). We have a feeling of fear and discomfort walking down the street at many times of day. When the kids get out of school it is a different less dangerous fear, but a fear nonetheless. The constant overshadowing of creepy hobos and panhandlers is keeping the neighborhood from shining as it once did. We have lost our local service businesses and replaced them with nail salons. We attract the worst of the folks from the neighborhoods below us to come bring their drug trade to our kids, and our adults.

    When you came into Mayfair, you felt like you were in Mayfair. It was a different place.

    In my travels, I have been to many Mayfair’s. They are all the same. They all represent a societal failure. We just don’t care anymore.No one does. That’s a broad statement for a reason, obviously some of us do, but some will never be enough.

    I could harp on the failure of Mayfair on the whole for many paragraphs, and there are many of you that will argue with me. Good! Argue, fight! Bring that passion into bringing your neighborhood back! JUst don;t argue with me, I don’t really care about your counter-opinion or agreement.

    Me? I have found that there are other neighborhoods out there, other places farther from cities. There are safe havens that I intend to go to.

    I fought to try to get into the Town Watch and participate until I had to try to break up a knife fight with a baseball bat outside my house.

    Soon, I say goodbye to Mayfair, it will be a fond farewell and I hope, sincerely, that they get their Stuff together and make it safe, useful, and populated by good people again, they deserve it. And I deserve to be able to show my kids one day where they and I came from, and it not be the dump Kensington has become for our grandparents.

  5. Martin F January 17, 2015 at 12:29 pm

    We need more stores like the Army/Navy and Jock Shop that use to be here years ago that have since moved on.

  6. Molly M January 17, 2015 at 4:14 pm

    I think we need more shops like shoe stores, clothing stores, maybe an antique shop, a real candy store, stuff like that , like it used to be when I grew up ! I’m only 24, but when I was growing up I could tell my parents that “IM GOING UP THE AVE” and they knew Exactley what I meant. That meant I was going to Frankford Ave with my 5 bucks to window shop and buy something small from one of the cool stores on the ave ! Also my parents didn’t have to worry about my safety, now a days I would never send my children up there alone even in broad day light. I’m scared to ! We need to put better stores like it used to be to attract better people ! A lot of people say that we are turning into Kensington, and I do not want that for my children that’s for sure! There is a nail salon on every corner and a bar and pawn shops, no more Mayfair Madrid or the good old Phillies restaurant, or even MOE’S is not the same at all ! I used to be able to go in there and sit and act like a big kid and eat lunch there on their 3 dine in tables. I want my children to grow up just like I did , and I hope that the Mayfair civic association, and all of the people involved in making Mayfair great, start making moves quick ! Because pretty soon were gonna be better known as Kensington #2

  7. George June 7, 2016 at 10:20 am

    Yes Paul it is sad. I lived in Mayfair from 1969 till 2005. Section 8 housing is basically what destroyed it. The only avenue worse than Frankford is Torresdale.

  8. Anonymous December 27, 2016 at 5:16 pm

    I agree with Paul, who put it so well. As soon as my lease is up, I am moving out of this neighborhood. In the few months I have lived in this area, I have been accosted and harassed multiple times by youths and adults just walking on Frankford Ave. One group of teenage boys were particularly menacing, yelling “HEY!” over and over at me and calling me a filthy name when I ignored them. I was also sexually harassed by a man across the street from St. Dominic’s Church where I had just stepped out of to pray in the chapel. I found a used needle in the parking lot by the Liberty Diner, which was no surprise considering the many heroin addicts roaming around the neighborhood like the walking dead. As a woman, I do not feel safe walking on Frankford, especially after school lets out around Cottman Ave. You hear the kids shouting obscenities at the top of their lungs for all to hear and acting like animals. I feel so sorry for the older people who have to hear that or the steady stream of filthy “music” blasting from people’s cars. And so much of this scourge is, as one person said, the fault of the landlords who insist on renting to trashy welfare recipients. I am currently in such an apartment on Decatur St. and the tenants are ruining the neighborhood with their constant fighting, drug use, and visits from the police. The landlords live in NYC so as long as they get their rent from these government dependents, they don’t care. Its disgusting, because there are obviously decent homeowners around here who care about their neighborhood.

  9. Bob standen July 12, 2017 at 8:20 pm

    Can someone tell me the name of a former Mayfair restaurant 1960s / 1970s that was known for their famous chicken noodle soup?

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