A Cursed Mansion in Belmont: The Rise and Fall of the Rorkes (Part 1)

Allen B. Rorke (1853-1899). Philadelphia Inquirer, December 27, 1899,

In the 1890s, the self-made construction magnate Allen B. Rorke appeared to be living the Gilded Age dream.  Fame, fortune, social standing, and grand houses were all his.  He belonged to the Union League, the Masonic Order of the Odd Fellows, the Legion of Honor, and the Clover Club.  Among his construction clients were the Poth Brewing Company, the Philadelphia Traction Company, and Jacob Reed & Sons. He resided with his family in a townhouse at 131 S.18th Street, just off fashionable Rittenhouse Square.

As a loyal member of Philadelphia’s Republican Party machine, Rorke was considered by his friends to be an ideal candidate for mayor.

Yet in the laissez-faire circus of late 19th century Philadelphia, the pressure to maintain appearances was crushing. And appearances could be deceiving.  One observer noted that, “His contracts were always carried out with a disposition to do more rather than less than his specifications called for.”

The son of a master carpenter, Rorke, like so many tradesmen’s children, left school at 14 to apprentice himself in his father’s trade.  At 21, he struck on his own. One of his earliest construction projects was the Horticultural Hall at the 1876 Centennial Exposition, a colossal cast-iron and glass pile designed by Hermann Schwarzmann.  By his 30s, Rorke had a healthy portfolio of building projects in the Philadelphia area.  His City Directory listing advertised for “estimates and Plan furnished upon application, for Banks, Warehouses, Mills, Churches, Dwellings and Buildings of every description” (Philadelphia City directory, 1884, p. 1369).  Like many other prominent builders, he maintained an office in the Philadelphia Bourse Building, near Independence Hall.

129, 131, 133 S.18th Street, 1963.

Rorke’s most high profile project was the construction of the new Pennsylvania State Capitol in Harrisburg. Designed by architect Henry Ives Cobb, the structure was a replacement for a neoclassical structure that burned in a spectacular fire in 1897.  Yet many in the Pennsylvania state government were unhappy with the Rorke/Cobb collaboration.  One observer derided it as an  “unadorned, unfinished, several-story brown brick structure that looked like a factory.” The legislature decided that, rather than upgrade the structure, they would spend the money on on a more grandiose home.

As a way of solidifying his dynastic ambitions, Rorke purchased a big lot at the corner of 41st and Odgen Street in West Philadelphia as the site of his son Franklin’s new suburban home.  It was an odd location for a socially-ambitious businessman: the Belmont neighborhood at the time was comfortable but hardly fashionable.  Yet the Franklin Rorke mansion rivaled the big homes under construction a few miles to the west in Overbrook Farms. Unlike the nearby twins and rowhouses, Franklin’s turreted Queen Anne mansion at 862-872 North 41st Street was a freestanding structure, surrounded by a garden and stone fence.

That summer, as the new family mansion rose on 41st Street, the Rorkes vacationed at the Seaside Hotel in Atlantic City. The nation had fully recovered from the Panic of 1893, and the luxury hotels of the Jersey Shore were booked to capacity from June to September. The Philadelphia Times described the children as an “exceedingly clever lot.” That fall, a laudatory article appeared in the Philadelphia Times, praising Rorke as “the nation’s greatest builder.”

On Christmas Eve of 1899, Allen Rorke spent the day with his son Franklin in West Philadelphia. The mansion at 41st and Ogden was nearing completion. The following day, at his townhouse on Rittenhouse Square, Rorke complained that he wasn’t feeling well. He then collapsed to the floor, felled by a stroke.  A second stroke rendered him unconscious. He died on December 26, his wife and sons Franklin and Allen Jr. at his side.

His funeral which took place at his Rittenhouse Square home. Governor William Stone and Mayor Samuel Ashbridge served as honorary pallbearers.  Soon after the doors of the Rorke family’s grand West Laurel Hill family mausoleum were locked, his grieving wife and sons received another jolt. High society pundits speculated that Rorke had left a legacy north of $1 million, a princely sum in fin-de-siecle Philadelphia and enough for the three heirs to continue on in high style. Instead, “the nation’s greatest builder” had left his family a mere $952.56, or about $20,000 in today’s money.

Franklin and Allen Jr. were also left their father’s construction firm.  The question was whether or not they could salvage it, and their family’s fortunes.


Allen B. Rorke, Findagrave.com


“Builder Allen B. Rorke Is Dead, But His Work Will Live On,” The Philadelphia Inquirer, December 27, 1899


Sandra Tatman, “Rorke, Allen B,” Philadelphia Architects and Buildings 


H.R. Haas, “862-72 N. 41st Street,” Nomination for Historic Building, Structure, Site or Object, Philadelphia Register of Historic Places, Philadelphia Historical Commission, March 7, 2017


“Big Season is on in Atlantic City,” The Philadelphia Times, June 27, 1899.

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They Were Wrong Demolishing Scottish Rite

150 North Broad Street, Scottish Rite Cathedral or Temple (also known as Town Hall) April, 1983. Photographed by Jefferson Moak for the Philadelphia Historical Commission (PhillyHistory.org)

Philadlephians gathered at the Scottish Rite Cathedral, also known as Town Hall, for all kinds of events between the 1940s (when the Christian evangelist Hyman Jedidiah Appleman launched his crusade) and the 1970s (when Dr. Timothy Leary presented “An Evening of Standup Philosophy”). Most were musical. Just about everyone stopped by, from Miles Davis to Peter Paul and Mary; The Irish Rovers to The Doors; Pete Seeger to the Ahmad Jamal Trio. Bob Dylan started his set in October 1964 with The Times They Are A-Changin’.

Indeed, they were.

All that praying, philosophizing and singing made no difference when it came to the survival of Town Hall, a building whose developers, the Scottish Rite Masons, committed a cardinal sin in 1927 of locating the 1,900-seat, Art Deco structure north of Market Street. No amount of design savvy or best intentions by architect Horace W. Castor could overcome the sheer audacity of being at Broad and Race Streets. More than anything else, that dictated the difference between success and failure, appreciation and indifference, and, ultimately, the difference between preservation and demolition.

No matter that the Philadelphia Historical Commission designated this palace of performance as “worthy of preservation” in December 1973. Less than ten years later it would be sold to a parking lot mogul and, soon after, demolished and replaced by—you guessed it—a parking lot. Sure, the city needed more performance venues. The Pennsylvania Ballet needed studio and rehearsal space. John de Lancie, Director of the Curtis Institute of Music expressed distress at the prospect of a loss. He called it “one more blow to the organizations that try, against overwhelming financial odds, to achieve stability and provide cultural activities that a city of this size deserves.”

Broad Street entrance, 150 North Broad Street.Photographed by Jefferson M. Moak, April 1983 {PhillyHistory.org)

On the eve of destruction in March 1983 (so far as we know, Barry Maguire didn’t get to perform his song of the same name there) architect, planner and preservationist Maxwell Levinson described the imminent demolition “shocking. … With the present desperate need for a first-class Performing Arts Center in Philadelphia, the destruction of the Temple and its fine facilities is an outrage.”

All hope evaporated as the Historical Commission chose not to come to the building’s defense by implementing a six-month delay of demolition. The building “has gone beyond its usefulness,” explained one architectural history technician with the Commission. Demolition, the Inquirer reported, was “expected within the next ten days.”

The Inquirer’s architecture critic, Thomas Hine, stood out as one of the few voices in favor of preservation. “The choice between landmarks and parking seems simple on the face of it,” he observed. “There is no point in having plenty of parking if there is no place for you to go.”

But Hine, too, wavered. In an article offering a backhanded compliment in its headline: “A historic building, even this one, deserves a reprieve,” Hine conceded that although the Scottish Rite Temple “does have some attractive decoration near its cornice line…few would mourn the loss of the building.”

He noted that the Historical Commission fell down on two fronts. Not only did the Commission abstain from delaying the demolition permit “as allowed by the city’s historic preservation law” he pointed out that “city preservation and planning leaders did a walk through and agreed the interior of the building was in ‘terrible condition,’ that there were cracks in the wall that appeared “ominous.'”

“The decision may well have been correct,” wrote Hine, “but it does raise questions about the value of historic certification. If a quick look by a few city officials, none of whom were really qualified to judge the building structural integrity, is enough to undo certification, what is its value? … By voting a delay, the Historical Commission could have given an opportunity for anyone who might have an interest in the building to take a look, along with competent structural engineers and architects who could make an informed judgment on whether the building had a future.”

Demolition underway, 150 North Broad Street, 1983. Photographed by Jefferson M. Moak for the Philadelphia Historical Commission (PhillyHistory.org)

Stripped of all stewardship, with advocacy abandoned, the building had no future. A few months later, standing at the empty intersection, columnist Clark DeLeon reminisced about losing yet “another landmark.”

“They chipped away at it, foot by foot, filling the night sky with the glow of metal cutting torches, undoing the craftsmanship of the men who built the windowless fortress more than 55 years ago. And now on the same site where the stately structure once loomed, there is a sign that says, ‘Warning: Do not reverse over treadles. Tire damage.’”

Right. You can’t drive in reverse once you cross those spiky treadles. Nor can you undo a hasty, ill-informed demolition.

[Sources:Christopher Hepp, “Will Wrecker’s Ball Be Final Lot of Scottish Rite Cathedral?” Daily News, December 14, 1982; Gregory Byrnes “Town Hall to be sold; to be demolished,” Inquirer, December 14, 1982; Thomas Hine, “Town Hall set for demolition,” Inquirer March 5, 1983; Thomas Hine, “A historic building, even this one, deserves a reprieve.” Inquirer, March 13, 1983; John de Lancie, Director, Curtis Institute of Music – Letter to the Editor, Inquirer, April 9, 1983; Joe Clark, “Last Rites for Town Hall – Wreckers Come Knocking,” Daily News, June 8, 1983; Clark DeLeon, The Scene: another landmark gone,” Inquirer, September 23, 1983; Philadelphia Historical Commission file on the Scottish Rite Cathedral.]


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Philadelphia’s Town Hall: Where Bob Dylan (and Many, Many Others) Performed

Town Hall (Scottish Rite Temple) 150 North Broad Street, September 1966 (PhillyHistory.org)

As mentioned last time, Bob Dylan will reopen the long-closed Metropolitan Opera House December 3rd, 55 years after his first Philadelphia appearance further down Broad Street. Where exactly did Dylan first perform in Philadelphia? Not the Academy of Music, which would be a logical guess (although Dylan did perform there in February 1966).

On October 25 1963—after the release of The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan, after his duet with Joan Baez at the Newport Folk Festival, and after singing at the March on Washington—Dylan made his Philadelphia debut at Town Hall, Broad and Race Streets. (Correction: According to Dan DeLuca, Dylan’s first “official gig” in the city, before an audience of about 45, was at the Ethical Society on Rittenhouse Square in May 1963. )

Dylan almost didn’t make it to Town Hall. “Riding here in manager Al Grossman’s Rolls,” The Daily News reported after the concert, Dylan and Grossman “suffered a flat tire and had to repair it” on the roadside with the help of the owner’s manual. The audience inside Philadelphia’s Town Hall waited patiently.

What? You never heard of Philadelphia’s Town Hall?

In a way, Town Hall’s anonymity today shouldn’t be a surprise. This “ominous, almost windowless” structure opened in 1927 as “The Temple of the Ancient Accepted Scottish Rite of Free Masonry, of the Northern Jurisdiction in the Valley of Philadelphia” and was pulled down in the early 1980s. Only from the 1940s through the 1960s did producers and presenters program its gigantic auditorium with results that were at times impressive.

Starting in the early 1940s, Town Hall became a reflection of popular culture. Some would attend the mass meeting sponsored by the Philadelphia Fundamentalists, hearing Hyman Jedidiah Appleman launch his evangelistic crusade. (“A Jew Preaches Christ!” read the newspaper advertisement.) They’d endure Carle Knisley conducting Philadelphia’s Piano Orchestra, “22 girls at 12 Baldwin Grands.” Railroad buffs lined up to see the “National Model Show.”

Folks would come to hear William Z. Foster, the National Chairman of the Communist Party share their “important statement of policy” the presidential elections of 1944. They’d return to view “Russia’s First Post-War Musical Film ‘Hello Moscow!’” and the “Rebirth of Stalingrad,” kicked up a notch with “Russian Songs and Dances.”

Increasingly, the venue was used for performances: Gilbert & Sullivan’s “The Mikado;” Vivian Della Chiesa and 70 male voices with the La Scala Opera Company Orchestra; the “Trapp Family ‘Musical Mother’ Baroness Maria Augusta von Trapp and her nine sons and daughters under the conductorship of the Family’s Priest, Franz Wasner;” The Southernaires Vocal Ensemble; and Ruth Morris, the “Great Negro Soprano.”

In 1944, drummer Gene Krupa and his new 30-piece band performed. Two years later, a presumably different audience came for a “Hayloft Hoedown and Barn Dance Show,” that was broadcast “Coast to Coast” on ABC.

In January 1950, a televised auction for March of Dimes offered “a new automobile from Frank Polumbo; gas hot water heaters, sets of tires, “four dozen autographed baseballs signed by members of the Athletics and Phillies, 12 footballs signed by each member of the Eagles championship squad; a refrigerator, a console TV set” and much more. A year later, Philadelphians got a taste of African dance with  Pearl Primus, the Trinidad-born dancer and choreographer.

In the mid 1950s, regulars saw the Don Cassack Chorus and Dancers, the Kings College Choir, a “Holiday Parade of Stars” with Frank Fontaine, Roger Williams, the “peppy and pert” Eydie Gorme, and “Philadelphia’s own Al Martino.” The Sensations (also local) performed “Yes Sir, That’s My Baby.” And in November, 1955, Ray Charles and his band performed sets before a backstage narcotics raid, thanks to the Philadelphia Police.

Detail of Town Hall (Scottish Rite Temple) 150 North Broad Street, September 1966 (PhillyHistory.org)

In the late 1950s, things revved up even more with the Miles Davis Quintet, John Coltrane, “Philly Joe” Jones and “Cannonball” Adderley.

A distinct folk habit took root with a regular visitors in Pete Seeger, The New Lost City Ramblers, Cynthia Gooding, John Jacob Niles and others.

In February, 1960, Hal Holbrook brought his long running one-man show, “Mark Twain Tonight” to Broad Street. Here it is from the 1967 version for television.

Audiences enjoyed the flamenco guitar of Carlos Montoya, the flamenco dance of Vicente Escudero in his “final farewell tour.” They heard the jazz piano of the Ahmad Jamal Trio.

In 1961, “America’s Most Controversial Comedian,” Lenny Bruce, brought his brand of reality-based satire. Here he is on “fake news.”

In 1962, Town Hall’s audiences welcomed Joan Baez, The Greenbriar Boys, Theodore Bikel, Earl Scruggs and Lester Flatt, Marle Travis and the Foggy Mountain Boys, Josh White, Peter, Paul and Mary Bill Cosby “Temple University’s star fullback.”

Theodore Bikel returned the following year. So did the Weavers, The Greenbriar Boys, Lester Flatt, Earl Scruggs and the Foggy Mountain Boys. New faces, including The Johnson Boys, Clancy Brothers, Tommy Makem, and Ramblin’ Jack Elliott and, of course, Bob Dylan.

In the remaining years of the ‘60s, Town Hall presented Nina Simone, Marion Williams, Judy Collins, The Blues Project, Woody’s Truck Stop, Lou Rawls, the “controversial folk-rock group” known as The Fugs, The Nazz and The Doors, where Jim Morrison was said to perform in leather pants for the first time.

In 1970, Town Hall presented Yussuf Lateef and his quintet, Mose Allison’s Modern Jazz Quartet. In January of that year, Murray Weisberg, the general manager of Town Hall, died after a 20-year run. Things would never be the same again.

Later that year, the seven-story landmark was sold back to its original owners, the Scottish Rite Masons. After that, all it took was a few mishandled performances to erode audience faith. When the Buddy Miles Band took the stage in April 1971, there were more ushers in the hall than audience. The Inquirer reported “rumors that the rest rooms were locked” and quoted Buddy Miles muttering “This is weird. This is (bleep) weird.”

Eleven mostly silent years passed before a headline asked readers who remembered Town Hall to wonder: “Will Wrecker’s Ball Be Final Lot of Scottish Rite Cathedral?” In December 1982 a new owner filed a demolition permit. The plan? To put up a parking lot.

“Don’t it always seem to go,” wrote Joni Mitchell, who performed instead in the 1970s at the Academy of Music, the Second Fret, the Main Point, “you don’t know what you’ve got ‘til it’s gone.”

[Sources: Advertisements in The Philadelphia Inquirer and The Philadelphia Daily News, 1930s-1970s; Jerry Gaghan, “Riding High,” Philadelphia Daily News, October 28, 1963; “Masons Again Own Long-Lost Town Hall,” The Philadelphia Inquirer, September 2, 1970; Jack Lloyd, “’Buddy Miles’ Band Sparkles-But the Audience is a Flop,” The Philadelphia Inquirer, April 24, 1971; Christopher Hepp, “Will Wrecker’s Ball Be Final Lot of Scottish Rite Cathedral?” Philadelphia Daily News, December, 14, 1982;  [Obituary] M. Weisberg, Theater Head, The Philadelphia Inquirer, January 3, 1970.]

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Against All Odds and Expectations: The Metropolitan Opera House

Metropolitan Opera House – Broad and Poplar Streets, May 5, 1925 (PhillyHistory.org)

During those long decades when Philadelphia’s many performing arts venues were disappearing, every last one of them had a friend in Irv Glazer, who “never met an old theater” he didn’t like. An accountant from Delaware County, Glazer spent much of his adult life assembling a massive research collection which he managed to distill into his book, Philadelphia Theatres, A‑Z. Glazer described in comprehensive detail no fewer than 813 theatres built over the centuries. The vast majority had come and gone and by 1991 Glazer turned over 21 file cabinets packed with “original photographs, dedication programs, playbills, news clippings, and correspondence memorabilia” to the Athenaeum of Philadelphia, he held out only a faint glimmer of hope that one of the biggest, and arguably one of the best—The Metropolitan Opera House at Broad and Poplar Streets—might survive.

Glazer’s descriptions in Philadelphia Theatres, A‑Z stand as a somber record of an all but lost world. His entry for the Met, presented below in its entirety, reads more like a lament than a call to action. But in the last several decades the city’s tune has changed. On December 3, the Met will reopen with Bob Dylan, whose Philadelphia debut was further south on Broad Street 55 years earlier, in October 1963.

Here’s Irvin Glazer on the Met, from Philadelphia Theatres, A‑Z:

METROPOLITAN OPERA HOUSE (Philadelphia Opera House), Broad, Poplar and Carlisle Streets; Capacity 3,482 (Parquet 726, Parquet Circle 616, Grand Tier and Boxes 486, Balcony 904, Gallery 750). The architect was William H. McElfatrick.

The 240-feet wide facade of the Metropolitan Opera House, faced with cream-colored brick, terracotta and marble, was the widest of any of the theatres constructed in Philadelphia. The elaborate cornice is 75 feet high and the tallest portion, the roof above the stage, is 120 feet. An immense cast iron, upward-slanted, marquee with an intricate scrolled decor hung above the five pairs of double doors at the entrance to the main lobby on Poplar Street. The Poplar Street facade is 160 feet wide. Porte-cocheres on Broad Street and parallel Carlisle Street protected the entrances for the Grand Tier box holders. A marquee, similar in design to the Poplar Street projection was originally suspended over the Broad Street stage entrance. There were thirteen separate entrances on Broad Street, mostly within high stone arches, and each with two or three doorways. Three levels of open balconies and arched windows relieve the monumental proportions of the structure. One of the most unusual features of the interior is the Grand Tier or Entresol suspended from the front of the balcony above and containing 28 boxes, each with a private room at the back, and all opening on to a grand curving promenade adorned with numerous marble statuary. This plush area-way overlooks the rear of the orchestra level or Dress Circle and, at eye level. looked across to the 50 feet wide and 140 feet long Grand Salle de Promenade which was built above the main lobby.

Metropolitan Opera House, Auditorium, 1942. (Image courtesy of the George D. McDowell Philadelphia Evening Bulletin Collection, Special Collections Research Center, Temple University Libraries)

The walls of the theatre were of deep Tuscan red, relieved by handsome white fresco work. The proscenium arch was in gold leaf and red and topped by two figures holding the Commonwealth coat of arms in their outstretched hands. The ceiling was splendidly decorated, also in red and gold, and featured a great canvas by Chmeilewski in the center of the sounding board. Atop the fourth level of the proscenium boxes are free-standing, heroic size, statues in a group twenty feet in width. A total of 84 recesses, each with an individual crystal light fixture, rose in an arc from the top of the proscenium boxes to form a frame for the sounding board. The facings on the balcony and the six levels of box seats are heavily ornamented in the Louis XIV style of the interior. There were, originally, eighty box seat sections. These together with the wall arches and framed sections in the ceiling were lined with clear bulbs . The orchestra seats had individual arm-rests and featured royal crests atop their backs.

The proscenium is 52 feet wide and 40 feet high with a backstage width of 116 feet. The stage is 5 feet deep from the footlights to the curtain line and 66 feet from that point to the back wall. There were eight sets of permanent border lights. The orchestra pit on several recorded occasions accommodated the combined orchestras of the Philadelphia and Manhattan Opera companies, a total of 160 musicians.

Metropolitan Opera House – Broad and Poplar Streets, May 5, 1925 (PhillyHistory.org)

The Metropolitan Opera House opened as the Philadelphia Opera House on November 17, 1908, seven months and twenty days after the ground breaking. This house was the second of the envisioned chain of opera houses planned by Oscar Hammerstein as competition to the New York Metropolitan Opera Company. The acoustically excellent house was a financial success in its first season. During the second season, five operas per week were being presented in competition with the New York Metropolitan’s two a week at the Academy. There was, also, another large opera house building on Broad Street, (Grand Opera House, Broad Street and Montgomery Avenue). A twenty percent loss during the second season made Hammerstein’s venture insolvent and the house was sold for $1,200,000 dollars to the newly formed Chicago-Philadelphia grand Opera Company and re-named the Metropolitan Opera House. The New York Metropolitan, the La Scala Of Milan, the Philadelphia Orchestra and the local ballet utilized the facilities until 1920 when the Academy of Music again became the premier concert hall. Vaudeville, musical comedy, legitimate stage drama and moving pictures were the varied policies until 1926 when the auditorium was transformed to resemble the interior of a church for the presentation of Max Reinhardt’s “The Miracle.”

In September, 1928, the Stanley Company took over the theatre with a vaudeville and film policy. A projection room was installed on the Grand Tier, and the fourth levels of the stage proscenium boxes were torn out for organ chambers to accommodate the four manual, 39 rank Moeller organ, the city’s largest theatre organ installation. The organ console was placed on a lift in the center of the orchestra pit with the provision that it would be covered when dropped into the basement affording a flooring for that section of the orchestra. This was the fourth and last organ installation. The Stanley policy lasted five months and sustained a loss of $170,000 dollars. The theatre was again used as a concert hall called the “Met”. The “Great Waltz” in 1935 occupied the stage featuring gliding marble columns, dropped crystal chandeliers and a symphony orchestra on a floating platform.

In 1939, a basketball court was formed by extending the stage height into the orchestra seating area. In 1943, the interior was transformed into a ballroom. On March 6, 1948, a fire destroyed part of the interior. The Salle de Promenade became a school for auto mechanics and was double decked. Stores replaced all of the Broad Street access lobbies. The exterior decorative frieze work and pediment decorations were removed. The interior, now with hammered aluminum wainscoting, became a “gospel” church. Because of its accessibility, spaciousness and excellent acoustics, the stage and extended apron were used for rehearsal and recording by the Philadelphia Orchestra. The interior which was designed from plans submitted by Oscar Hammerstein is a tribute to his innate sense and understanding of the inexact science of acoustics. In 1984, the Met is a church only.

[Sources: Andy Wallace, “Irvin Glazer, 74, restorationist’ [Obituary] The Philadelphia Inquirer, May 22, 1996; Irvin R. Glazer, Philadelphia Theatres, A‑Z: A Comprehensive, Descriptive Record of 813 Theatres Constructed Since 1724 (New York: Greenwood Press, 1986); Rob McClung, “The Rise, Fall, & Revival Of North Broad’s Opera Palace,” Hidden City Daily, June 14, 2018.]

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Bedfellows Not So Strange: Richard M. Nixon and Frank L. Rizzo

Mayor Frank L. Rizzo with President Richard M. Nixon at the White House, Washington, D.C., January 24, 1972. Photograph by Lou Zacharias. (PhillyHistory.org)

In 1952, as candidate for vice president during the Korean War, Senator Richard M. Nixon traveled the country stoking fears delivering his anti-communist message. “At a time when millions of young Americans are fighting and dying, fighting Communists overseas, we need a fair, a sane, but an absolutely effective program of dealing with the Communists right here in the United States of America.” In Philadelphia on February 5, Nixon sharpened his message before a live television audience (WFIL – Channel 6) moderated by the team that founded Meet The Press.

The subject: “How Can We Best Fight Communism within the USA?”

In order to wage his fight, Nixon needed like-minded allies in law enforcement. In Philadelphia, that’s where Frank Rizzo would come in. Rizzo was officer responsible for the police motorcade ushering Nixon’s limousine from the airport to Center City. And for a spell, the two men, “America’s foremost anti-Communist politician of the Cold War” and a cop known as “The Cisco Kid” sat talking, and agreeing about the Red Menace.

Sixteen years later, Nixon returned, this time campaigning for President. The Republican candidate asked to meet with the new Police Commissioner. The meeting between candidate and cop, also in a limousine, reportedly lasted five, or even as long as ten minutes. According to Tom Fox, “Frank Rizzo jumped into Richard Nixon’s limousine at the airport that day and he and Richard Nixon had this . . . conversation in whispers. When Frank Rizzo got out of the limousine, the newspaper people wanted to know what he said…”

“Aw,” said Frank Rizzo, “I was just giving him Carmella’s recipe for meatballs and spaghetti.”

Nixon had a more believable explanation: “Rizzo’s record has met with the approval of all law enforcement officers across the United States. He has an effective record. I wanted to get his views. As I see it, other cities could use Rizzo’s ideas.”

S. A. Paolantonio, Rizzo biographer, provides a third explanation: Nixon “approached Rizzo about running for mayor—as a Republican.”

Rizzo would run for mayor in 1971—as a Democrat—and took office in January 1972 facing a massive deficit—about $100 million. For help, Rizzo turned to his friend in the White House. “We did very well indeed,” Rizzo told reporters on the White House lawn, grinning broadly after the 45-minute meeting.

President Richard M. Nixon and Mayor Frank L. Rizzo on the occasion of the signing of the Revenue Sharing Bill – Independence Hall, October 20, 1972. (PhillyHistory.org)

“We want the Bicentennial City to be well taken care of,” assured Nixon. “Philadelphia will get its fair share” of federal aid. Nixon then “winked broadly” and said he’d be making a “nonpolitical visit” to Philadelphia later that year, a visit that happened to be in the midst of Nixon’s re-election campaign.

In return, Nixon would get Rizzo’s support. “I’m a Democrat but I’m very fond of President Nixon, Rizzo said. He is one of the greatest Presidents this country ever had.”

As the election approached, Nixon made another promise, that Philadelphia “would be the exclusive host for the Bicentennial celebration.” In mid-September, Rizzo traveled again to the White House “to find out what I can do to help re-elect the President.”

“Right now he is building a strange new political power base and he is doing it with a foot in both parties,” wrote Tom Fox of the mayor in the Daily News. “I cannot remember a politician making this kind of daring move and landing on his feet, but Frank Rizzo gets away with it because he is a singular man. Amazing.”

Less than three weeks before the election, Nixon did come to Philadelphia to sign the State and Local Fiscal Assistance Act of 1972 at Independence Hall. The bill, according to Daughen and Binzen, “pumped hundreds of millions of dollars into cities and towns in all fifty states. There were hardly any strings attached… Most of the local jurisdictions used it to pay operating costs, thus holding down taxes.  …Philadelphia got $70,000,000 of this manna from Washington in Rizzo’s first year as mayor. That was nearly 10 percent of the city’s operating budget.” The city actually ended up with a surplus.

As expected, George McGovern, the Democratic candidate for President, carried Philadelphia. According to Paolantonio, “Nixon lost the city by a mere 88,000 votes, despite the Democratic party’s 302,000-voter registration edge. [The president] carried South Philadelphia by a near two-to-one margin” and he won Pennsylvania. In all, it was “a landslide reelection victory.”

“Frank Rizzo had delivered.”

“I was more thrilled by the President’s reelection that I was by even my own victory,” Rizzo told reporters on November 8, “because yesterday’s election meant so much to the people of America. They have rejected the Democratic Party as the party of radicals… The liberals and radicals are out of business…”

Rizzo maintained an unflagging loyalty to Nixon. After the President’s second Watergate speech, August 15, 1973, Rizzo commended the president “for his courage in presenting his case before the American people” and urged Americans to “close ranks behind him and the great office he holds.” But Watergate led to Nixon’s resignation and the funds to make Philadelphia “the exclusive site of the Bicentennial celebration never materialized.”

Rizzo ran for re-election the year following Nixon’s resignation. His campaign slogan: “He held the line on taxes.” Soon after the election, Rizzo faced up to reality and convinced City Council there was no choice, the city’s wage tax needed to be increased as much as 4.31%. That would be among the highest in the nation. More than 250,000 angry citizens signed the recall petition.

In 1986, Rizzo would finally leave the Democratic party and formally declare himself a Republican—again. Actually, Rizzo’s original registration was  Republican. His years with the Democrats was a marriage of convenience.

[Sources: “Tonight, on TV, Keep Posted.” Inquirer, February 5, 1952; Tom Fox, “The Big Bambino Renews an Old Friendship” Inquirer, January 25, 1972; Dan Lynch “’Bicen City Will Be Well Taken Care of,’ Nixon Tells Rizzo in 45-Minute Visit.” Inquirer, January 25, 1972; Jon Katz, “Nixon Assures Rizzo: City Will Get Its Share,” Philadelphia Daily News, January 25, 1972; Tom Fox, “Big Money Talk in the White House” Philadelphia Daily News, September 15, 1972; Donald Janson, “Rizzo Bolstered by Nixon Victory: President Sends ‘Warmest Thanks’ to Democrat,” The New York Times, November 12, 1972; “Rizzo Hails Nixon’s Talk,” Inquirer, August 16, 1973; S. A. Paolantonio, Frank Rizzo: The Last Big Man in Big City America (Philadelphia: Camino Books, 1993, 2003); Joseph R Daughen and Peter Binzen,The Cop Who Would Be King: The Honorable Frank Rizzo (Boston: Little, Brown and Company, 1977)]

More PhillyHistory posts on Frank Rizzo herehere and here.

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The Rise of Rizzo

Frank L. Rizzo at his desk in City Hall on the first day of his first term as Mayor, January 4, 1972. (PhillyHistory.org)

To win re-election in 1967, Mayor James. H. J. Tate figured he needed to send a law and order message. So even before the primary polls closed in the Spring, Tate announced his choice for police commissioner: Frank L. Rizzo.

The day of Rizzo’s swearing in, Joe McGinniss, then a columnist at the Inquirer, described the 46-year-old commissioner walking through the corridors of City Hall.  “It is almost as if he had just been elected Pope” wrote McGinniss, suggesting that in Rizzo’s family “there is less honor in being President than in being commissioner of police.”

“The only thing he thinks more of than a cop is two cops.” noted McGinniss. Rizzo, “quotes J. Edgar Hoover with an much reverence as he does the Bible.”

“It might be said that he believes in speaking loudly and carrying a big stick anyway,” wrote McGinniss of Rizzo’s policing style.

After a lunch of eye roast at the Lit Brothers restaurant, Rizzo walked “quickly and chestily, back to his office. ‘I feel like a movie actor these days. All these pictures. I don’t go in for that posing stuff, but I’m getting pretty good. You see me this morning? Bowing from the waist? How about that?’”

“It is sort of fun, at least for now,” wrote McGinniss, “having Yogi Berra as commissioner of police.”

Rizzo’s “fun” with the Press, or with McGinniss, anyway, would last only a few weeks.

During the summer of 1967, riots in Newark and Detroit left 69 dead, 3,900 injured, and resulted in hundreds of devastating fires. In late July, Mayor Tate ordered, and Philadelphia City Council quickly passed, a proclamation declaring a state of limited emergency prohibiting public gatherings of groups of 12 or more. Those who disobeyed were subject to up to two years imprisonment.

On July 30th, a demonstration across from the Cathedral of Saints Peter and Paul resulted in 22 arrests. Rizzo insisted eight were card-carrying Communists, although he refused to confirm their identities and used the occasion to further stoke fear adding that several “agitators” from Newark and Detroit were now doing their worst in Philadelphia.

“I think it is a despicable and cowardly thing Rizzo has done” said Spencer Coxe, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union in Philadelphia, who was among those arrested.

“The trouble with Frank Rizzo,” wrote McGinniss, “is that he keeps having these delusions that he is really J. Edgar Hoover. “And, operating in that great tradition, he has decided that the best thing to do with his enemies, since he is unable to keep them all in jail, is to stand up and scream that they are Communists. . . . It is a trick that worked for Joe McCarthy until, like a greedy card sharp, he tried it once too often.”

When asked “if he thought Rizzo had the right to make such charges and then refuse to back them up,” Mayor Tate said. “If Rizzo is against Communists, I’m for Rizzo.”

“It is the kind of thing you should expect from Frank Rizzo from time to time,” observed McGinniss. “It is the way he is. Like two weeks ago when he gathered a small audience of reporters in a corridor behind a City Hall courtroom and told them, with great glee, the story of a man he had beaten up. He told how he chased the man, caught him, and finally threw him to the ground.”

“’Then I come down with the old number 12,’ Rizzo said, stomping his foot on the floor, ‘and that guy ain’t walking right today.’ Then Rizzo did an imitation of a man who cannot walk right.”

“It sounds a little gruesome,” wrote McGinniss, “but what the hell. The guy was probably a Communist, anyway.”

In September, the Bulletin published a poll that found Rizzo’s approval rating was 84 percent. “Only 3 percent disapproved of the way he was handling police affairs,” wrote biographer S. A. Paolantonio.

Three years later, when Rizzo resigned to run for Mayor on the law and order and no new taxes platform, Tate claimed he hadn’t “seen anything like this kind of popular support for a candidate since FDR.” Election day in 1971 had a remarkable turnout of 71%. Rizzo’s Republican opponent, Thacher Longstreth, carried 16 of the 17 predominantly African-American wards, but Rizzo beat Longstreth by 48,524 votes.

“He was one of us, said Eleanor Cucci, a housewife in South Philadelphia. “Everybody else in there had forgotten the little people. If he didn’t win, we would have moved out of the city.”

“Above all else,” said a Martha Brennen of Roxborough, “I knew Rizzo was going to look out for us.”

The morning after the election, Rizzo was in the shower at 8224 Provident Street when son Franny answered the telephone. It was President Richard M. Nixon, a longtime Rizzo admirer. The mayor-elect grabbed a towel.

“Frank? President Nixon, congratulations. How are you? . . . I know what you went though. I’ve been through it myself.  . . . You ran a clean campaign. I just wanted to call you and congratulate you.”

[Sources: Joe McGinniss. “The Passing Scene—A Loud Voice and a Big Stick,” Inquirer, May 22, 1967; “A Proclamation,” Philadelphia Daily News, July 28, 1967; Francis M. Lordan, “8 Card-Carrying Reds In Group That Defied Tate Ban, Rizzo Says,” Inquirer, August 16, 1967; Joe McGinniss, “The Passing Scene—The Techniques of Frank Rizzo,” Inquirer, August 18, 1967; “Rizzo Resigns to Run for Mayor of Philadelphia,” The New York Times, February 3, 1971; Don McDonough and Leonard J. McAdams, “Winner’s First Day: Nixon Call Catches Rizzo in Shower,” Inquirer, November 4, 1971; S. A. Paolantonio, Frank Rizzo: The Last Big Man in Big City America (Camino Books, 1993, 2003).]

More PhillyHistory posts on Frank Rizzo herehere and here.

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Books in Trust: The Germantown Friends Free Library – Part 1

Germantown Friends School Meetinghouse, 34 W. Coulter Street.

“Where there is no vision, the people perish.”  Proverbs 29:18

Today, Germantown Friends School is well-known for its strong arts and theater programs.  Yet there was a time not too long ago when the school could not acquire fiction for its library.  The restriction lay was written into a type of ancient trust so common in Philadelphia institutional life.  The Cope Trust, set up in the 1870s to fund the purchase of new books in a library open to both students at GFS and the greater Germantown community, explicitly forbade the librarians from acquiring “works of fictitious character commonly called novels.”

This might seem Philistine by today’s standards, but this stipulation had as much to do with economic sense as the philosophy of Quaker “plainness.”   In the mid-19th century, most children left school at 14, and libraries were places driven young people could further their education without the assistance of a teacher. The Scottish-born Andrew Carnegie, who arrived in Pittsburgh with his family at age 11, worked as a “bobbin boy” in a mill for 12 hours a day, 6 days a week for a meager $1.20 per week. Unable to attend school, Carnegie petitioned a local subscription library for access during his precious hours off.   He was turned away. Not only could he not afford the $2 subscription fee, but also it was only open to local apprentices, not to the general public, let alone millworkers. Incensed, the teenaged Carnegie wrote the local Pittsburgh paper about his treatment. The library relented, and let the immigrant boy into the stacks. Carnegie eventually got a job as secretary/telegraph operator for Pennsylvania Railroad president Thomas A. Scott, and went on to be America’s most successful steel producer.  In his retirement, Carnegie would donate $60 million of his fortune to the construction of almost 1,700 public libraries throughout the United States. Many continue to serve their communities to this day.

When, in the wake of the violent Homestead Steel Strike of 1892, he was asked why he gave so generously to libraries, but refused to increase his workers’ wages, he retorted: “If I had raised your wages, you would have spent that money by buying a better cut of meat or more drink for your dinner. But what you needed, though you didn’t know it, was my libraries and concert halls. And that’s what I’m giving to you.”

In 1853, the same year Scott hired the young Carnegie to work at the PRR, the Germantown Quaker Alfred Cope donated funds for a permanent library that could be used by the students Germantown Friends School and members of the surrounding community.  Previously, GFS’s book collection was squeezed into the meetinghouse’s cloakroom.  The reading list was quite serious. Among its 200 or so books were George Fox’s Journal, the eight-volume The Friends Library, Piety Promoted, and Penn’s Rise and Progress. Readers who took out a book for more than two weeks were fined twelve-and-a-half cents a week.

Salvation for Germantown Friends’ library came in the form of Alfred Cope. Heir to a Philadelphia shipping fortune, he never entered the family business due to frail health.  His father Thomas Pim Cope was founder of the Cope Line, which operated a fleet of transatlantic sailing packets between Philadelphia in Liverpool.  Like New York’s Black Ball Line, the Cope Line introduced the revolutionary idea of regularly scheduled departures.  Previously, ships waited until their holds were full until setting sail. This practice, while saving merchants money in the short term, left passengers and merchants waiting for days or even weeks. The Cope Line turned the old business model on its head, making passengers and merchants tailor their schedules around the shipping line’s The vagaries of wind and weather made regularly scheduled arrival times impossible until the advent of steam-powered transatlantic liners in the 1840s.  During the Cope Line’s six decades of existence, the business made the Cope family one of Philadelphia’s richest clans.  Henry Cope, another son of Thomas, took his inheritance and purchased 55 acres on Germantown’s Washington Lane.  Named for the Cope family’s ancestral village in England, the Cope estate is now the Awbury Arboretum.

Awbury Arboretum, intersection of Washington Lane and Ardleigh Street, June 1, 1956.

In 1857, Alfred Cope purchased a building on Germantown Avenue to house new classrooms for GFS, as well for the now-800 volume library. The books had previously been rather unceremoniously shoved into the Meetinghouse’s ladies cloakroom.  Fifteen years later, the chronically-ill Cope made his final gift: $13,000 to erect a purpose-built home for the Friends Free Library, which would be open to both students of the school and the wider Germantown community. The new library opened its doors in 1874, its shelves lined with 5,634 books: 1,500 children’s books, 25 Friends volumes, 262 science books, and 238 biographies.   Yet when setting up the trust that would fund the acquisition of new books, the Cope family inserted an important stipulation for this public-private library: no fiction, except for children’s books.

The newly-appointed librarian William Kite vigorously defended the stipulations set forth in the Cope Trust, and according to one account, “the factory girl who tended a spinning jenny, the messenger boy, the studious young man with notebook, he found something for them all, even for the rowdies who plagued him by coming in droves and asking fot tracts which he knew they would not read.”

Within a century of its founding, however, the Friends Free Library realized that to stay culturally current, it had to find creative ways to acquire works of fiction — in the interest of the community and the students of Germantown Friends School.

Interior of the Friends Free Library , 1881. Courtesy of the Germantown Friends School Archives.

Steven Ujifusa, a Philadelphia-based historian, is the author of Barons of the Sea: And Their Race to Build the World’s Fastest Clipper Ship (Simon & Schuster 2018).  He has appeared on National Public Radio, CBS Sunday Morning, and is the recipient of a MacDowell Colony Fellowship and the Philadelphia Athenaeum Literary Award for Non-Fiction.  His first book, A Man and His Ship: America’s Greatest Naval Architect and His Quest to Build the SS United States, was named by The Wall Street Journal as one of the ten best non-fiction books of 2012.  www.stevenujifusa.com


Bill Koons, “A Short History of the Friends’ Free Library,” Collection of Germantown Friends School.

“Friends Free Library of Germantown, 1848-1948, Some Notes in Retrospect, Collection of Germantown Friends School.

Susan Stamberg, “How Andrew Carnegie Turned His Fortune Into a Library Legacy,” NPR, August 1, 2013. https://www.npr.org/2013/08/01/207272849/how-andrew-carnegie-turned-his-fortune-into-a-library-legacy, accessed August 16, 2018.

“Our History,” http://awbury.org/our-history/, accessed August 21, 2018.



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12th and Pine: Where “The Cisco Kid” Became “The Big Man”

By transferring Captain Frank Rizzo, a/k/a “The Cisco Kid,” from the station house at 39th and Lancaster to 12th and Pine in May 1952, Police Commissioner Thomas J. Gibbons hoped to solve two problems. He increased law enforcement in Center City and saved Rizzo from himself in racially charged West Philadelphia.

Police Station, 12th and Pine Streets, before demolition, June 8, 1960. (PhillyHistory.org)

On Pine Street, the gung-ho Rizzo immediately got to work with a campaign of raids on Locust Street strip joints. And more. He ordered “a 24-hour raiding spree . . . of vagrants and panhandlers,” throughout Center City, sweeping more than 50 men off the streets. (Rizzo knew this “anti-mugger operation” would appeal to many law-abiding citizens.) His raiders turned eastward to Society Hill. “Police Seize 10 In Reefer Raid, last night at 2nd and Pine,” read a headline. Then he doubled down on his favorite targets: after-hours clubs, this time venturing beyond the Locust strip.

Police Station, 12th and Pine Streets, before demolition, June 8, 1960. Detail. (PhillyHistory.org)

According to biographer S. A. Paolantonio, Rizzo not only became “the frontline commander for the Center City officials who wanted Center City cleaned up,” he also became “an intriguing and hotly debated political figure in his own right.”

Rizzo’s raids sent a law and order message to the public, to law enforcement, to City Hall and to the media. Occasionally, his shenanigans backfired. In 1955, Rizzo and another officer chased down and arrested five carousing sailors. Then, back at the 12th and Pine Street station, they beat them with nightsticks. “Navy asks full probe of brutality,” read a headline.” Warrants were served on both Rizzo and the other officer, Robert O’Brien, charging aggravated assault and battery. Meanwhile, the sailors were fined $10 each and released.

The charges were soon dropped, but Commissioner Gibson knew full well Rizzo had beaten those sailors “for no reason.”

Rizzo’s ire then turned to the coffee houses of Center City, popular gathering spots for gays, interracial couples, artists, intellectuals and “followers of jazz music.” “’Beatnik’ Center Raided by Police” read a headline the day after police descended on the Humoresque Coffee Shop at 2036 Sansom Street. Patrons “in traditional garb of chinos and sweaters” were were charged with breach of peace and “released after brief interrogation.”

Other targets included the Proscenium Coffee Shop and Experimental Theater at 2204 Chestnut Street, the Gilded Cage at 21st and Rittenhouse Streets, the Artists’s Hut at 2006 Walnut Street, but Rizzo seemed to have a special interest in the Humoresque, which, according to the Inquirer, was considered to be a “‘gathering place’ for drug addicts” and a destination for “sex deviates” openly “flaunting . . . their sexual immorality.”

In the midst of one raid in February 1959, Rizzo stood before the gathering crowd, many of whom supported his actions, pointed to the Humoresque’s young owner, Mel Heifetz, and shouted: “Are you going to allow that creep to operate that den of iniquity?”

Rizzo threatened Heifetz: “If you defy me, I’ll hang you from the chandelier.”

Heifetz, who much later would make a $16 million gift to The Philadelphia Foundation to support LGBTQ-serving organizations, sued Rizzo and lost, but not before the captain was transferred again, this time to a new station in the Northeast, far from Sansom Street.

Stewart Klein of the Daily News (and later a prominent film, theater and television critic) felt sufficiently inspired to write a poem celebrating the occasion of Rizzo’s departure from Center City.  “Better than anything at the time” Paolantonio observed, An Espresso of Sad Parting, captured “how much Frank Rizzo had become a folk figure—hero to some, feared by others.” Here’s an excerpt:

In the Locust Street coffee parlors
Through the doors he often tore
Say it softly no one hollers:
“He don’t live here anymore.”
Down Mole, Ranstead, Quince
The streets the days of yore;
Sly smiles instead of winces:
“He don’t live here anymore.”
Somewhere the hoods are crying,
Somewhere the dips are sore
But expressoed lips are sighing
“He don’t live here anymore.”

Ten years after he took the helm at the 12th and Pine, “Rizzo was at the forefront of the national debate over law enforcement. He recognized the political power of fear.”

According to Paolantonio, Rizzo had become “the biggest of the big men in the Philadelphia Police Department – a big cop for all America.”

“It was only a matter of time before he had the title to go with it.”

[Sources: Joseph Daughen, “Center-City Booze Bistros Have Lost Their A-peal,” Bulletin June 14 1962; “Drive on ‘Muggers’ Ordered by Captain,” The Philadelphia Tribune, September 2, 1952; “Police Seize 10 In Reefer Raid, last night at 2nd and Pine.” Inquirer, October 4, 1952; “5 Sailors Accuse Rizzo of ‘Vicious’ Beating With Stick in Station,” Inquirer, August 24, 1955; “‘Beatnik Place Raided by Police,” Inquirer, February 14, 1959; “2 City Departments, State Agency Probe 4 Midtown Coffee Shops,” Inquirer, February 19, 1959; “Neighbors’ Suit To Ask Closing of Coffee Shop,” Inquirer, February 25, 1959; “Coffee Figure Charges Rizzo Threatened Him,” Inquirer, February 27, 1959; S. A. Paolantonio, Frank Rizzo: The Last Big Man in Big City America (Camino Books, 1993, 2003).]

More PhillyHistory posts on Frank Rizzo here, here and here.

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Where Frank Rizzo Became “The Cisco Kid”

When reformers took over City Hall in 1952, Thomas J. Gibbons, the newly appointed police commissioner named Frank Rizzo to his first command.  The 30-year-old Rizzo had recently passed the civil service exam for sergeant and was considered a good match for a tough section of West Philadelphia. Rizzo’s propensity for raids on numbers parlors, brothels and speakeasies were sure to get results.

16th District Police Station, 39th Street and Lancaster Avenue, July 21, 1933. D. Alonzo Biggard, photographer (PhillyHistory.org). Built in 1914, demolished in 1949.

Rizzo’s aggressive style would also get criticism from the predominantly African-American community around the station house at 39th Street and Lancaster Avenue.

“The crime rate in West Philadelphia is the worst in the city and I am determined to clear up these conditions,” Captain Frank Rizzo told a contingent of citizens complaining about warrantless raids on private homes. A nine-person committee, which also met with Commissioner Gibbons, raised issues of “police brutality, illegal arrests, intimidation of prisoners under arrest, assignment of Negro police to “Red” cars, and the general relation of the police to the community.”

“I am interested in good government,” responded Rizzo. “I am not racially prejudiced. I do not run roughshod over the citizens in the district.” He showed off “a stack of warrants” and confiscated liquor stored as evidence in the basement of the station house.

Rizzo’s tactics at 39th and Lancaster made headlines that kept coming: “Worst In The City;” “Capt. Rizzo Refuses To Stop Arrests.And more.

“Out in West Philadelphia, the district cops and the neighborhood kids have a nickname for Acting Capt. Frank Rizzo, who commands the 39th Street and Lancaster Avenue police station,” wrote Frank Brookhouser. “They call him ‘The Cisco Kid.’”

“Rizzo, who could become one of the legendary figures on the force, is a good officer, earnest, serious and efficient,” continued Brookhouser.  But he is also something of a General Patton type—flashy, aggressive, a strict disciplinarian.”

“The Cisco Kid” nickname—a readymade from popular culture—would stick.

16th District Police Station, 39th Street and Lancaster Avenue (Google). Designed by Max W. Bieberback, Jr., architect. Dedicated in 1950.

(William Sydney Porter, a/ka O. Henry, invented “The Cisco Kid” in “The Caballero’s Way,” a short story published in 1907. The young, handsome, Mexican-American Robin Hood “killed for the love of it or any other reason that came to mind.” With his speckled roan horse, “The Cisco Kid” rode from the printed page into the American popular imagination via 27 films, 1914 to 1950; 600 radio episodes, 1947 to 1956; 156 television episodes starting in 1950; and 41 Dell comics, 1950-1958.)

But Brookhouser, who noted that Rizzo’s nickname garnered fan mail, soon stepped back from Rizzo’s rising legend. “The overly zealous actions of Acting Captain Frank Rizzo, who has become known as ‘The Cisco Kid’ since his promotion from sergeant, have been causing a furor in West Philadelphia. There have been complaints from civic leaders, and it has reached the point where the DA’s office just doesn’t know what to do about him.  Rizzo …has been making raids indiscriminately, according to the complaints. In one case he found two people sharing four bottles of beer in a home, charged them with operating a speakeasy. Raiding another house, he made arrests because there was dancing. After another arrest, he jammed a large group of people in two cells for hours. … There is such a thing as trying too hard, Captain.”

Rizzo wouldn’t last long much longer at 39th and Lancaster. Two months later, Commissioner Gibbons, looking to “strengthen control” in Center City, transferred Rizzo to the 19th District Station at 12th and Pine Streets.

You could sense a collective sigh of relief in West Philadelphia.

Plaque at the 16th District Police Station, 39th Street and Lancaster Avenue.

Ed R. Harris at the Philadelphia Tribune sounded downright gleeful: “That wasn’t an earthquake that hit Center City the other day. Just the reaction of the smart money boys when they learned that the ‘Cisco Kid’ was being transferred to 12th and Pine…Now we’ll really see what kind of raiding Capt. Rizzo can do.”

[Sources: “Worst In The City,” Philadelphia Tribune, March 29, 1952: “Group Protest Of Warrantless Raid In W. Phila.” Philadelphia Tribune, March 18,1952; “Capt. Rizzo Refuses To Stop Arrests,” Philadelphia Tribune, March 25, 1952; Frank Brookhouser, “It’s Happening Here,” The Philadelphia Inquirer, March 5, 1952, March 26, 1952 and June 30, 1952; “Gibbons Makes Midcity Shakeup, The Philadelphia Inquirer, May 27, 1952; Ed Harris, On the Town, Philadelphia Tribune, May 31, 1952: S. A. Paolantonio, Frank Rizzo: The Last Big Man in Big City America (Camino Books, 1993, 2003).]

More PhillyHistory posts on Frank Rizzo herehere and here.

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Searching for John Sloan’s Philadelphia Saloon

John Sloan, McSorley’s Bar, New York City, 1912, oil on canvas (Detroit Institute of Arts).

Artist John Sloan considered the back room of McSorley’s a “sacristy.” So, it follows naturally that his five oil paintings of the venerable New York ale house are sacred icons of saloon culture. Between 1912 and 1948, Sloan didn’t merely depict life at McSorley’s, he conflated, celebrated and elevated populist ideals of art, community and the urban male.

Sloan may have depicted this in New York, but he had his awakening as an artist of the people back home in Philadelphia.

“Mr. Sloan’s school of art was life itself, his own and that of others, and finally the streets of two great cities—New York and Philadelphia,” wrote John Butler Yeats at the time. He transformed, everyday scenes “of robust lower-class Americans” with “spontaneous brushstrokes and unpolished depictions” finding inspiration in everyday life. “I saw people living in the streets and the rooftops of the city,’ wrote Sloan, ‘and I liked their fine animal spirit.”

“Rembrandt would have delighted in McSorley’s,” commented Hutchins Hapgood, “Velasquez would have found his account there, too, as our own John Sloan does.” This camaraderie, speculated art historian Mariea Caudill Dennison, “must have reminded him of his youthful experience as a member of [Robert] Henri’s group in Philadelphia.”

Sloan left Philadelphia for New York in April 1904 at the hardly tender age of 33. In Philadelphia he first learned to appreciate what friend and mentor Henri liked to call “that eternal business of life.” Sloan would also come to share Henri’s firmly-held belief that painting was a “man’s vocation,” that “an artist’s life [was] a virile occupation.” Art deepened “mysterious bonds of understanding and knowledge among men.”

A perfect match for the long established, male-dominated saloon culture. Henri’s group, mocked as the “Ashcan School,” created a new kind of art, one that refused to pander to what Sloan referred to as “the ignorant Listless Moneyed class.”

Now that we surmise Sloan’s early saloon experiences were in Philadelphia, we’re faced with the challenge: which of Philadelphia’s many saloons was it? Where was it located? And does it survive today?

Patrick Rogan’s Taproom, Northeast corner, 9th and Berks Streets, February 24, 1903 (PhillyHistory.org)

Of course, Sloan’s Philadelphia saloon would have to offer something like McSorley’s, a place, as Dennison put it, where “a man could feel that he was the master of his own fate. …”a place where the world seems shut out, where there is no time, no turmoil. . .” A place with an owner and keeper who, according to Travis Hoke, was “considerably more than the mere proprietor” someone who is “one of the biggest figures in the neighborhood…a bartender, [a] counsellor in all the ways of life, [a] recipient of confidences, disburser of advice, arbiter of disputes, authority every subject.”

Hoping for clues, we turn to Sloan’s diaries and find mention of a return visit to his family home in December 1906. “Arrived in Phila. at 5 o’clock or thereabouts. The City (uptown) where I left the train looked so small I felt as tho’ I should be able to look in the second story windows of the houses — yet this is the neighborhood in which I grew up from 7 years old to 30 years about.”

What neighborhood was that?

The Sloans lived at 1921 North Camac Street, a rowhouse between 12th and 13th, Norris and Berks Streets. Back home in 1906 he savored some powerful memories, like making ice cream. “When I was a boy I had to twist the freezer handle 35 minutes down cellar.  . . .with the jam shelf swinging overhead. I can bring the whole thing back: the old damp piece of red carpet, ingrain, that I used to cover over the finished job.  The twist in the wooden stairs going down cellar. The heaving ruggedness of the earth floor, the joists overhead where, toward the front end opposite the round furnace, I had a trapeze. Out there the gas meter that I so longed to take apart. The hole of mystery under the marble steps [in] front.”

The left arrow indicates John Sloan’s residence at 1921 North Camac Street, what is now the center of Temple University’s Main Campus in North Philadelphia. The right arrow indicates Patrick Rogan’s Taproom, 9th and Berks Streets. (Source: 1910 Philadelphia Atlas, Philadelphia GeoHistory Network)

Interesting memories of this long-ago demolished house that stood north of where the belltower on Temple University’s main campus is now. But no mention of a visit to the local saloon.

Was there one? Of course there was.

On September 25, 1900, John McDermott sold to Patrick Rogan the building at the Northeast corner of 9th and Berks Streets. Sloan would have been 29 years old and only three blocks away when Patrick Rogan opened his etched-glass double doors and tapped his first kegs. We’re fortunate to have a photograph of it from 1903.

But, alas, Rogan’s saloon is long gone.

[Sources: Mariea Caudill Dennison, “McSorley’s: John Sloan’s Visual Commentary on Male Bonding, Prohibition, and the Working Class,” American Studies, Vol. 47, No. 2 (Summer 2006), pp. 23-38; Hutchins Hapgood, “McSorley’s Saloon,Harpers Weekly, Vol 58, October 25, 1913; Travis Hoke, Corner Saloon. The American Mercury, March 1931, pp. 311-322; Grant Holcomb, “John Sloan and ‘McSorley’s Wonderful Saloon,’” The American Art Journal, Vol. 15, No. 2 (Spring, 1983), pp. 4-20; Bruce St. John,”John Sloan in Philadelphia, 1888-1904” The American Art Journal, Vol. 3, No. 2 (Autumn, 1971), pp. 80-87; John Sloan, The Gist of Art (New York, American Artists Group, Inc. 1939); John Sloan’s Diaries, 1906-1913, The Delaware Art Museum; John Butler Yeats, “The work of John Sloan,” Harper’s Weekly, November 22, 1913; Real Estate Transfers, The Philadelphia Inquirer, Sept 28, 1900]

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