Tag: 1950s

SFDS Parish Lending Library

sfds bookstore 1948
The SFDS Parish Bookstore was located at 4726 Baltimore Avenue

Our literary-minded St. Francis de Sales Parish has always kept up with local reading trends. Today, we have several book clubs; in the early 2000s, we had a library in the back of the church; long ago, we had a bookstore and lending library on Baltimore Ave.

The Journal of Library History reports that “Rental libraries were all the rage in the 1920s and 1930s coming seemingly out of nowhere and threatening to transform totally the reading and book buying habits of the American public.” On Baltimore Avenue number 4726 (Vientiane Cafe today) was the Terry Shop in 1939, run by W.A. Fares, and offering “unusual gifts” and a “lending library.” When that business left, SFDS took over and in May 1944, opened its own Parish Lending Library on the spot.

What did the lending library do? The Parish Monthly Bulletin noted that “The purpose of the Parish lending library is to make good literature easily available for everyone…” The library was open day and evening hours Patron membership of $5.00 allowed two books to be borrowed per week; an Annual $2 membership entitled patrons to rent one book a week at a fee of one cent per day; and nonmembers could rent single books for three cents a day.

The venture seemed to be successful: by its first anniversary, it had “a membership of 1,107 persons and over 200 of these are non-Catholics. It has on its shelves 1,576 volumes, all of the latest in Catholic books and the approved best-sellers. To date is has circulated 7,192 books among a variety of readers. The average patronage is 42 persons a day.” What were people reading?  Lists published in the Parish Monthly Bulletin included a variety of books such as  Communism and the Conscience of the West by Fulton Sheen; Powder Puff: the Adventures of the Easter Bunny in the City; The Remembered Face of Ireland by Josephine Hunt Raymond; Of Flight and Life by Charles Lindbergh; and More Murder in a Nunnery by Eric Shepherd among many others.

The Parish Monthly Bulletin also published a list of the 21 librarians. Census data from 1940 brings them to life: among them, Loretta Mulloy, who lived at 4811 Chester, was 18 in 1940, and the middle child of seven living at home with parents. Frances Cunniff, at 431 South 50th, was 31 in 1940, working as a clerk in a printing firm, living at home with parents and two siblings. Rita Duffy, at 4634 Chester, was a secretary/stenographer for a coffee importer. Her brother, age 32 and unmarried in 1940, was listed as “head of household,” with mother and ten siblings (youngest age 16) all living at home. Adele Smith, 1110 South 52nd Street, had attended three years of college and was a teacher, living at home with Mom and four siblings. Less than half were married, which makes sense: the library could have been considered a safe place to meet and socialize!

What happened to the Parish Lending Library in the end? Short answer: it moved to the basement (Choir Room) of the SFDS Little School in 1954. Long answer: The Journal of Library History concludes that “The rise of paperbacks and television, coupled with the increased cost of books after World War II, contributed to the demise of the rental business.

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SFDS Bookstore at 4726 Baltimore Avenue in 1948
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SFDS Parish Bookstore in 1948
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SFDS Bookstore in the basement of the Little School circa 1954
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The Bellringers

bells 1965It takes one to ring one! Donald McDermott was “keeper of the keys” back in the 1950s and 1960s, in charge of Bellringers, CYO, and various other organizations at SFDS, and he writes about the experience:

From about 1958 to 1967, I selected (high school and older) boys to ‘ring the bells’ with strict guidelines. Before 6:45 PM, they used the Rectory side door, went into the back office to the key cabinet, took the sacristy and the choir- loft gate keys. They opened the sacristy door and went through the church to the vestibule stairs, unlocked the gate, went up to the bell console, and reconnected the rod on #1 bell ‘Adolph.’ At exactly 6:45 PM they played the ‘De Profundis’ actually the ‘Out of the Depths’ a musical Psalm 130 by Scott Soper. It is the last of the seven canonical hours – the last of the day, just after Vespers – often called Evening or Night Prayers.

Usually the choir loft room was crowded with the Bellringers and friends. Cards had the hymns on them written using numbers in place of notes. The ringer had to know the melody, otherwise whatever he played would just be discordant notes. Jim Slavin (one of the students) could transpose any music into numbers, so the boys played ‘Happy Birthday,’ ‘We Shall Overcome,’ the Mickey Mouse theme, etc. They were usually disguised by additional notes, adjusting the tempo, etc. Often, Bishop McShea, the priests, and the Sisters would laughingly ask ‘Was that the Mickey Mouse song that I heard?’ My response was ‘If that’s what you thought you heard…’

The Bellringers did a tremendous amount of work/jobs around the parish. Mother Boniface and Mother Rose Anita often requested their services – to whitewash the walls in the convent basement, clean-up the garden at the convent, decorate the Community Room for a party, etc.

One of the strangest things was when Jack Niehenke, Bill McLaughlin, Jim Slavin, etc. wanted to carry a statue of the Blessed Virgin Mary in the May Procession. I asked Mother Rose Anita, and looking at me over her glasses, she laughingly asked ‘Are we now an Italian Parish?’ I took a table from my bedroom, disassembled it, using the four spindles as handles, to make a platform for the statue to be carried. Jim Slavin painted the platform powder blue. The boys, wearing suits and ties, carried the statue after the May Queen’s Court in front of the Bishop and priests. Nothing but compliments that Mother Anita and I always laughed about.”

Fran Byers notes that Jim Slavin sang in our choir for many years until his death in the late 1990s!

The Age of Aluminum

lower church doors dagit brochureAluminum today is the material of sticky storm windows,  suburban garage doors, baked potato wraps, cheap cookware, and recyclable beverage cans. But in the 1950s, it was a bright lightweight space-age metal used in airplanes for a new age of travel and in satellites for the emerging “space race.”

When our lower church was renovated for Bishop McShea by Henry D. Dagit and Sons during the postwar baby boom in 1953, a prominent feature of the renovation was the new aluminum-and-glass doors that replaced narrow, dark, inconvenient stairwells known for accumulating slush and puddles. The new arrangement provided a celebrated “three sets of double-entrance doors” on two sides of the church with indoor vestibules for the added convenience of the rapidly-expanding parish.

But why choose aluminum for the doors rather than a more traditional material? Thomas Jester, writing on postwar aluminum in architecture, notes that in that period, “metals were selected not only because they met specific performance criteria and characteristics but also because they conveyed newness, celebrated industrialization, and even highlighted their specific qualities for poetic effect.” The “curb appeal” of shiny aluminum-and-glass doors along 47th street was a sign to the world that our parish was active, modern, and up-to-date.

lower church dedication prog border (2)Use of metal also comfortably bridged old and new: The National Organization of Ornamental Metal Manufacturers proclaimed in 1947 that metal construction offered “strength, utility and permanence, dignity and beauty…” These were important qualities for our church, where the ancient chi-rho symbols (XP representing the first two letters of Christ in Greek) incorporated in the sleek aluminum grillwork provided a thematic link between the time-honored upstairs and the new downstairs; and also between the work of architect Henry D. Dagit — who built the original church — and that of his sons, the next generation, who designed the renovation.

Aluminum began to lose its mystique around the time the easy-opening soda can pull-tab was invented in 1959. At the same time, the rush to the suburbs and the upheaval of Vatican II began the gradual shrinking of our parish population. Over time, the aluminum doors were used less often with fewer masses, and in recent years, we’ve favoured the traditional historical upstairs over the brighter, more streamlined downstairs – which became, for forty-two years, the home of our Vietnamese congregation. Today, the distinctive sound of the lower doors creaking open is a call from the past, drawing us in to an awakening appreciation of our whole parish story.

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