Did you ever read a children’s book, title something like “Dinosaur in My Back Yard.” I’m pretty sure I read it to my kids, although I think it made more of an impression on me than it did on them. In any event, I’ve been having some of those dinosaur moments, mostly relating to places in which I grew up. You know, sort of, what was this place like before I ever existed? I’m pretty sure these thoughts have been prompted by the realization that at some future date I will no longer exist, but McDonald’s is likely to still be around. Full of people eating stuff, blithely unaware of my previous existence. Deep, right?
If you have been following my adventures (why not?), you know my West Philly part grew up in Haddington. Except nobody ever called it that. Only the local branch of the Free Library at 65th and Girard Avenue had the Big H as part of it’s name. But my go to source for The Cat in The Hat was only known as “the libary.” That’s Philly-tawk. No one called it “The Haddington Branch.” No one would have known what you were talking about if you did. But see, we had culture. You didn’t need no picket fence Leave It to Beaver neighborhood. We were tough.
Now, this neighborhood was Italian-American and white. If if there was some doubt in the larger society about if we were really American, just like there had once been some conviction we weren’t white either. At 64th and Haverford, there was an Episcopal Church. It was called St Barnabas, Haddington. I gotta tell you that place made no impression on me whatsoever. I was so rooted at 66th and Haverford that 64th and Haverford might as well have been Ukraine. I had no clue what an Episcopalian was. I never met one. Hell, I don’t think I knew anyone who wasn’t Italian Catholic.
I insert this photo only to prove I am not pulling your leg. I don’t know what it was doing there, when it was founded, zilch. If it had 100 communicants when I was a kid, I’d be surprised. The Rector’s name was Arthur Woolley. Believe me, nobody around there was named Arthur Woolley. Renzulli, Ragni, Villari, Amoroso, Rufo, Arzio. But Woolley? No way. The Church was clearly a vestigial remain of whatever had given rise to the name Haddington. It was long gone by the time my people took over. And took over we did.
I lived directly across from the Russell Gross Post of the American Legion, which was at 6610 Haverford. That post closed up shop in 1980, but we’re talking 1950s here, and it was a going concern. Pretty place, I’d bet now it had gone up in the 1880s or 1890s, long before the home in which I lived. I even think there was a small Presbyterian church behind it cheek by jowl, but I wouldn’t swear to it. What the Hell was it doing there? If you think Haverford, Haddington, Episcopalian, Presbyterian–all of it, hints at some previous WASP existence on the Western edge of Philadelphia, I’d think you’d be correct. That’s only apparent to me now. You’d think one of the fancy types who inhabited the unlamented Philadelphia Social History Project would have looked into it. Sniff. To those guys, the West Philly Italians were the people without history. I hate to break it to you, but that was White Privilege such as I knew it. You wanna argue? Fine. I have a PhD in History from Princeton, and I know how to do this stuff, even if I never gave a rat’s backside about the places where I grew up. Who did? For God’s sake, we produced accountants, carpenters, insurance agents and butchers. Barely white collar then. Who the Hell studied history? You couldn’t make a living doing that.
However, you could make a living running a deli, a grocery store, a funeral parlor, a drug store, a bakery, a butcher, a tap room, or, Heaven help us, a tonsorial parlor (barber to you, cretin) or even an off track betting shop. Yeah, as a bookie or a numbers guy. Those were good jobs, if a bit risky.
C’mon Salvucci. You didn’t know any of those kind of people. Well, what do you mean “know,” as Clinton aptly observed? Where there were taprooms, restaurants, musicians and various shady types, there was, oh my God, the Mob. Cosa Nostra. The Outfit. Small time stuff, you know–there were no Godfathers in sight. But there were, ahem, soldiers.
There was a small taproom, in my day known as Skippy’s, at 65th and Haverford, more or less. It was, believe me, an unprepossessing place. It opened about 1943. I could only see the inside from the door that was usually opened on to Haverford Avenue. Fine dining and music. My memory suggests that a frequent habitue of the bandstand was a certain Mike Pedicin. Cause I saw his name up, and he was a well known Philly sax player. He has a famous sax playing son, Mike Pedicino (Jr), who is a monster on tenor. When he was coming up, I was as confused as Hell, because I didn’t realize Mike was not his father. I thought they had pretty good genes in that family, cause Mike, then with a full head of hair, didn’t look old enough to be a survivor of the 1950s. But his Dad was a Philly legend.
I remember going by Skippy’s on the 31 PTC trolley up Haverford Avenue, before they tore out the tracks for a bus. I’m guessing I might have been four or five years old, no older. So I wasn’t about to do the hang there. Maybe by the time I was seven I’d get to go to Yock’s at 66th and Haverford to buy cigarettes for my dad, or to eye the pinball machine–where they played for money, lol. Yeah, you can play a pinball machine for money. I saw it change hands. Definitely serious crime. The people around there were so naive that Yock once had some “newspaper” announcements printed up saying “Frank Sinatra to Appear at Yock’s Friday Night.” Right. Don’t laugh, there was a crowd of maybe 40 people waiting (including me) when some goofball in shades and a trench coat showed up, probably Yock’s first cousin. He was lucky not to get strung up, but this is the level of sophistication I’m talking. This was my childhood. In Haddington.
We were big on urban legends, halfball (a Philly game that apparently has a New York equivalent) and Robin Roberts, the Phillies’ redoubtable pitcher. Robbie had a few spectacular years in the 1950s. We thought Bobby Del Greco, the Phillies outfielder, lived on 66th street, I guess because some kid, Michael del Greco, did. Even in those days, when ball players had winter gigs at beer distributors, there was not much chance of that. But Hotsy, otherwise known as Hoagie Nose, swore up and down that he did. Yes, the children of the street were kind. We were, in today’s parlance, walking microagressions.
Hotsy was this tall skinny kid who lived vaguely if safely in the inner recesses of the hood. His rather large nose was celebrated in song: “Hotsy is a friend of mine. He resembles Frankenstein. Every time he blows his nose. There is such a big explose.” Yes, it ended on a tonic note. And there was Mister Softie, the rolling soft ice cream vendor who came rolling down 66th Street on soft summer nights to ruin our appetites and drain our forgiving parents of coins. The truck was garish, and it played a melody. Dude. This very tune.
We had lyrics to the melody. And remember, the neighborhood didn’t look anything like suburban Texas, for God’s sake. I didn’t make up the lyrics. A guy named Louie the Louse did. Here we go: “Where is the **** that brings the cream? His name is Mister Softee.” Oh. My. God. **** was a barnyard epithet. The street looked like this two years before I was born. To your immediate left was a blacksmith. Yeah. Had enough?
In any event, before you lose all you patience, I want to tell you about Skippy the Bookie, aka, the “club owner.” And how he interacted with the neighborhood. Now Skippy was a local dude, but I guess he had been to Vegas, seen visions, dreamed dreams. He wasn’t happy with some taproom at 65th and Haverford. He wanted more.
So, in 1963, Skippy went big time. Boy did he go big time.
I also have an exterior photo. This is what Skippy’s had been transmogrified into. Scaperotto’s Music Bar, “the scene of frequent raids over a twenty year period.”
Now, I don’t know how well you can read the text around the photo, but you see the door labelled “Bar”? That was the old original Skippy’s. Now well you may ask, where on earth did Skippy get the scratch to modernize (with Cadillac, see fins) his humble. Haddington operation?
Tune in for the next installment. I’m just getting warmed up. With more pictures, even!!!!
I don’t want to try your patience.