Tag: Joseph Ruane

Baltimore Avenue Amble

A short three-block stroll along Baltimore Avenue hints at how St. Francis de Sales Parish  is woven into the fabric of the neighbourhood.

cherry tree inn

Beginning at 46th Street, the Aksum Cafe at 4630 Baltimore stands on the site of the original yellow clapboard Cherry Tree Inn – a historic rest stop on the Baltimore Pike, named for an ancient cherry tree that once stood out front (a bar at 4540 — today’s Gojo — adopted the name as an homage in 1933, causing lasting confusion). Our first parish chapel/school building – now a wing of SFDS School — was built on the back section of the old inn’s property towards 47th Street in 1891.  Some records suggest that piece was once a lake – more likely, it was the water-accumulating “dip in the waffle” created by surrounding raised road construction. (Incidentally, the firm of James “Sunny Jim” McNichol, who donated our St. Joseph Altar, built and paved some of the larger roads in the city including Baltimore Ave., the Benjamin Franklin Parkway, and Roosevelt Boulevard).

In the early 1900s, most of the 4700 block of Baltimore Ave over to Warrington was occupied by the Wilson farm which included a house, a barn, an orchard, and several cows. Our parish purchased the property in 1920, intending to build an annex to the school. Third grade and commercial classes were held at the farmhouse (approximately where the Warrington garden is today) for a couple of years, and several parish fairs were held on the grounds. In 1926, plans changed, and a wing was added to the school along Farragut Terrace, instead. The Wilson property was then sold to Brown & Sons Developers, who built the present block. This ad appeared in the Parish Monthly Bulletin:

47th & balt

 

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Byrd Theatre 4720 Baltimore Ave.

Dream of popcorn in today’s municipal parking lot at 4720. Or huskies pulling sleds? The Byrd Theatre, named after famous polar explorer Admiral Richard Byrd, opened in 1928 and was torn down in the 1960s. It was, reportedly,  never profitable as a movie venue, but in 1933, during the Great Depression, it had a moment of glory when SFDS held its de Sales Night gala there one year, instead of the usual big showy “do” at the Bellevue Stratford Hotel downtown:

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SFDS De Sales Night at the Byrd Theatre 1933

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While you are there, take a little time to admire the beautiful murals in the parking lot painted by David Guinn in 2008. He’s included a number of local landmarks – can you find our church?

 

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

 

Now continue on to 4726 Baltimore Ave. Today, it’s part of Vientiane Cafe. Some folks might remember that Mariposa Food Co-Op used to be here (before it moved to 4824). Long before that, from 1944 to 1954, it was home to the SFDS Parish Bookstore and Lending Library – offering blockbusters such as Communism and the Conscience of the West by Fulton Sheen and Of Flight and Life, by Charles Lindbergh. Imagine the walls lined with bookshelves, and earnest customers choosing uplifting reading material through the general haze of cigarette and pipe smoke characteristic of the era.

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McHugh Realty was at 4800 Baltimore (where the Gold Standard now is) for over forty years. Gerald McHugh, Sr. represented the parish in many real estate matters, and went on to become the broker for the Archdiocese. The McHugh family has been in DeSales for four generations.

1955 mchugh realty

An old parish record notes that the IHM Sisters moved to a house at 4804 Baltimore Avenue for two months in 1915 while their original convent – a house at 47th and Windsor — was renovated (The present convent was built in 1926).

It’s an empty lot, today, behind a fence, but parishioner Henry Amlung’s fur store once stood at 4810 Baltimore Ave. His store made the news in 1919, when it was robbed by the “Motor Bandits” who were “terrorizing West Philadelphia” in a newfangled automobile. Under-equipped police eventually had to borrow a car to chase them! Here’s Amlung’s Parish Monthly Bulletin ad:

amlung furs

Last, but not least, number 4830 was the home of Ruane Electrical – started by current parishioner Joe Ruane’s Grandfather. Joe recalls delivering flyers and arranging the windows in the late 1940s, and he spotted a fire in the shared basement that once saved the block.1943 ruane baltimore ave

‘Nuff said for now: Parish stories are many, but time is short!

Find more stories of Baltimore Avenue on our sister website, https://streetofhistoryphiladelphia.wordpress.com/

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Weekly Parish Dances

tuesday dances 1946 (2)The 1940’s and 50’s were part of a big dance hall era,” Joe Ruane recalls, and dancing was the popular pastime: “our crowd would go to St Joe’s (his home parish in Collingdale) on Sunday night; de Sales Tuesday and Friday night. On Wednesday night I would go to the Carousel Hall in Clifton Heights which my father owned which had a big band…and then I would…go to the Arcade Hall on the 5000 block of Baltimore Avenue where my friends hung out. Saturday would be Holy Cross, Springfield.” 

From the 1930s to the 1960s, Saint Francis de Sales offered regular Tuesday night dances in the parish auditorium for all the “young people of the parish and their friends.”  A typical 1950 Monthly Bulletin notice advertised: Music for the occasion is played by the well known and very popular orchestra of George Sommer. Admission is seventy-five cents. Good music and a very beautiful auditorium provide the atmosphere for a very enjoyable evening. All the young folks of the parish (no High School students) are cordially invited to attend these Tuesday evening Socials. We would like to see many of our young married couples attending and can assure them of a very enjoyable evening.”

George Sommer, with his “Big Band” sound, was known as “one of the best dance bands in the city and one of the most popular.” Information about the band appeared in Billboard Magazine, and they played at ballrooms across the city.

What about the High School students? They had their own dance night at de Sales auditorium every Friday. John Deady recalls that “I attended the Friday night dances. Admission $.50. On the stair case going up to the stage (rectory side) is a closet. There was a turntable in the closet where 45 rpm records were stacked. Cokes were sold at the kitchen on the other side of the stage. Did not go to the Tuesday night dances. Understand it was a wide age group that attended them.”

The Tuesday and Friday groups likely catered to slightly different musical tastes. A 1959 Parish Bulletin opined: “Older people often express disapproval of rock and roll because it is so noisy and so violent, and the music accompanying it seems so unbearably monotonous. But for oldsters to be unsympathetic toward rock and roll for these reasons does not make it morally wrong.”

Joe Ruane’s father, incidentally, was a disk jockey for the dances in Collingdale, and Joe recalls a big event there: “a pre-publication test run of Bill Haley’s ‘Rock Around the Clock’ in 1953.” However, Catholic high school students were discouraged from joining the dance floor at American Bandstand, Dick Clark’s famous TV dance program, broadcast from its 4548 Market Street TV Studio (Today’s Enterprise Center for minority entrepreneurs). That was still considered too “fast!”