Author Archives: Ken Finkel

The Urban Saloon: Refuge of Men and Power

“I didn’t know anything about girls,” Jack London wrote, “I had been too busy being a man.” For London, as well as millions of other American men of similar vintage, the saloon was ground zero for “being a man” where the “test of true manhood,” as Madelon Powers put it, “was peer recognition for being […]
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Men And Their Saloons

Growing up as a newsboy on the streets of San Francisco, Jack London got to know and love “the wide-open, all-male flavor of saloonlife.” “I had no time to read. I was busy getting exercise and learning how to fight, busy learning forwardness, and brass and bluff. I had an imagination and a curiosity about […]
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Fake Façades: “The Polyester of Brick”

“If you enjoy the finer things of life, good cheer and good times in a beautiful atmosphere—if you take pride in your home—the FormStone club room is for you,” read an advertisement in December 1949. “That ‘lost’ space in your cellar can become the loveliest room you ever saw, with a FormStone beauty treatment. A […]
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Inconspicuous Consumption and Philadelphia Aristocracy‘s Last Preserve

“’Everybody’” belongs to the Philadelphia Racquet Club, proclaimed Nathaniel Burt more than half a century ago.  And by “’everybody’” Burt meant the subjects of his classic Perennial Philadelphians, the subtitle of which is our obvious tip off: “Anatomy of an American Aristocracy. One might have expectations that their clubhouse, designed by Horace Trumbauer, the go-to […]
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The Sawed-Off Shotgun: From Trench Sweeper to Police Power

Sergeant Fred Lloyd became an instant American wartime legend in September 1918, when he singlehandedly cleared an entire German-occupied village by walking the streets “pumping and firing” an army-issue, 12-gauge, Winchester Model 97 shotgun. Stateside, the shotgun had been the firearm of choice for game hunting. On the battlefields of World War I, it earned […]
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Curbstone Markets and the Farm-To-Table Movement

In his “Midnight Soliloquy in the Market House of Philadelphia,” Philip Freneau observed: The market house, like the grave, is a place of perfect equality. None think of themselves too mighty to be seen here, nor are there any so mean as to be excluded. Here you may see (at the proper hour) the whig […]
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A Corner Store Museum in Philadelphia? Why Not!

The corner store. Ahem. Let me start again. The amazing, agile, ubiquitous corner store! We’re been thinking about them for a couple of posts now: It’s 1901: Time to go Grocery Shopping in North Philadelphia and Grocery Chains and the Origins of Philadelphia’s Food Deserts. Regular readers know that, once upon a time, there were […]
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Grocery Chains and the Origins of Philadelphia’s Food Deserts

In the 1920s, the average working-class family spent about one-third of its budget on groceries. “Most households spent more to put dinner on the table than for their rent or their mortgage.” And where “food was hugely expensive, relative to wages” neighborhood grocery stores delivered “only moderate amounts of nutrition” according to Marc Levinson. “Only […]
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It’s 1901: Time to go Grocery Shopping in North Philadelphia

It’s the turn of the 20th century and I live in a tidy three-story rowhouse on Clarion Street, near Diamond Street. North Philadelphia is such a great place to live. What’s not accessible easily on foot is available by streetcar: schools (including Temple College at Berks Street and the Wagner Free Institute of Science at […]
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The Culture of Conformity in Gritty Philadelphia

Francis Biddle was one of the few who escaped. While other Philadelphia patricians stayed at or very near home, Biddle migrated to Washington, D.C, where he quickly “achieved a reputation of talking little, thinking fast and acting faster.” As the U. S. Attorney General during the World War II, Biddle acted way too fast when […]
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