Posted on 5 Comments

Growing Up in Frankford part 1

I got an email from Lyle (Corky) Larkin offering his remembrances of growing up in Frankford.  This is the first installment:

Many very fond memories come to mind when I stop and think back to my earlier days in Philadelphia.  “Philly” as it is fondly referred to by most of its natives.  It all started in 1940 at 1626 Wakeling St.  Can you imagine a city where doors were not locked, it was safe, drugless and clean. Scrubbing the front steps was not a myth, it was weekly occurrence.  Littering was not acceptable in the neighborhoods.

Schools didn’t have grates over the windows – or if they did, they weren’t to keep people out, but to keep them from being broken by kids playing in the schoolyards – accidentally, not deliberately.  Neighborhoods took responsibility for all the kids

Most of the houses are “row homes” meaning homes that share common walls.  Some of these homes were semi-detached and had an alley between each two houses.  Many blocks had an alley behind the houses; it was a narrow alley with cement curbs that had a steel rail or caps on each side.  People would put their trashcans out back and the trash man would come by on a given day and collect it.

I remember such things as “The El”.  An elevated train that can whisk you from the Northeast end of Philly to Upper Darby in less than an hour.  I used this mode of transportation at the early age of nine.  On Saturdays, I would go “Downtown” and visit such places as The Franklin Institute, The Philadelphia Art Museum, The Aquarium, Betsy Ross’s House, The “Liberty Bell, Fairmount Park, the famous “Boat House Row” where they held Scull Races on the Schuylkill river each Saturday and Sunday during the warm weather. The Fox Theater at 16th and Market St. The Reading Terminal which was probably one of the first “indoor Markets” for it was always filled with a variety of vendors selling everything from fresh buttermilk to made on the spot sandwiches. In all my travels I have never found a better “Chinatown then the one which was located at 9th & Race St.

The Horn & Hardart “Auto-mat” Restaurant was on Frankford Avenue, between Margaret and Overington St. Philadelphia was the point of origin for Horn & Hardart, in 1902 and disappointed many folks when it finally closed in 1962. I often stopped there with my grandmother on her way home from Nevin’s Drugstore where she worked, to pick up some of their “Macaroni and Cheese” or Creamed Spinach” to bring home to add to our dinner. The Auto-mat is not the usual restaurant. You are not  served by a waiter, or even standing in a cafeteria line. When you entered the store, you would be faced with sparkling clean rows of glass enclosures full of sandwiches, fruits, pies, drinks and entrees.  All these are behind doors and when you put the right amount of nickels in the slot for that window, Just turn the knob and the door unlocks and allows you to remove your selection.  Once a week my grandmother would give me enough money to eat lunch there.  That was a special treat.   A typical Friday dinner: included Meatloaf 5 cents Baked Beans 5 cents, Creamed Spinach 5 cents, Mashed Potatoes with Gravy 5 cents, Hard Club Roll with Butter 5 cents, Skimmed Milk 5 cents (their dispensers could handle the then nu-homogenized product) and Coconut Cream Pie 10 cents.  Total; 35 cents.  Not bad for a complete dinner

Another place that stands out in my mind was the “White Tower” at Frankford Avenue and Margaret St. Open twenty four hours a day, you couldn’t help but catch the aroma of sauteed onions as you passed by this black and white tiled little gem.

News and shoe shine  stands were usually located at the bottom of the steps of the “El” stations.   Barrett’s Chemical Plant, is a place most people from Frankford would remember, it was famous for  it’s regular explosions.  The Frankford Arsenal was another landmark, during the war the arsenal would be busy making various mortar shells etc.

Whitehall was the local playground and indoor swimming pool.  Located at Wakeling St. and Torresdale Ave. directly across from Harding Junior High, where I attended 7th through 9th grades.

You were only allowed to swim in one hour shifts because so many people went there.  After the hour was up, they completely emptied the pool area and let in the next shift.

To be continued.

Who is Corky Larkin?  In his own words:

I started out in Smedley School and Mr Julianna was the Principle in 1947 went to Harding after that, then decided to go to what is now “Walter B. Saul High School of Agricultural Sciences ” and two weeks a month to Gratz for academic classes.   I started my own business when I was ten years old by having my friends father take me to Atco NJ to the egg farms and buy them wholesale then I started an egg route in my neighborhood.  I made pretty good money back in those days.  I finally left Frankford in 1968 when I bought a home in Palmyra NJ and started my family, but I traveled into Philly every day for work.   My first job was at “Allied Hobby Shop” located on Frankford Ave. Near Foulkrod street in 1955 working for $75 cents an hour.

The company I worked for (B. Paul Model Dist.) I was sales manager, on Allegheny Ave. went out of business in 1976 and I saw a chance to get away from the harsh Philadelphia winters so I moved to Tucson, AZ for a couple of years then to Texas City, TX for ten years then to San Marcos, CA where I started my own Courier Business which I still own and operate,  ace Book.  The family that is left back East lives in Marlton, NJ and Virginia Beach, VA

Posted on

Growing Up in Frankford Part 10

Continuation of Lyle (Corky) Larson remembers:


They were made of metal and were shaped like a pyramid with slots running up all four sides. You placed them on top of the gas stove and placed the slices of bread upright against the sides. As the heat reached up inside the toaster, it would blacken or if you were lucky, brown the side of the bread. You would then have to turn the slice over to get it done on both sides. Many a burnt finger was caused by this process.


We as teens, hung out at “Big Boys” drive-in on the Boulevard near Cottman Ave. They had the cutest waitresses with short skirts and sweaters as uniforms, complete  with “Bobby Socks”. Pull your car into one of the many parking spaces and have a girl come out and take your order. In just a little while, she would return with a tray  full of food and hook the tray on your car door. The milkshakes were the best! Even if you didn’t have any money for food, it was fun and the accepted thing to drive  very slowly through the parking lot (cruise) to see who was there that evening. It was also a great place to be seen with your date.

The Front Porch

The front porch was probably the most important part of keeping a neighborhood together; it was also a way to escape the heat. During the summer months, it was a  relief just to be able to get out of these hot houses. Each afternoon, people would wander out of their houses to enjoy the cool air. This was before air conditioning. Almost every house had it’s own front porch, complete with a decorative railing to protect you from going off the edge. Some were furnished with swings suspended  from the ceiling with chains, or gliders others had wicker furniture, complete with coffee tables and upholstered sofa and chairs. Toward late afternoon, many of the  folks would be sitting on their porches having iced tea and chatting with their neighbors. However, they were never too busy to stop and greet the people who were  coming home from work as they walked down the street. There were no strangers on my block. Moms and dads would use this vantage point to look out for each  others children who might be playing outside. If a skirmish might rise up, it was the unspoken duty of any grown-up within shouting distance to keep things under  control. The magic part of all this is that the kids had enough respect instilled in them to “Listen To Their Elders! When you walked home, many times you would say hello to as many as twenty neighbors and even catch up on the latest news. Some of the folks used to sit on their porches from early morning till dusk, reading the  paper, catching up on the sewing or even doing some of the preparation for that night’s dinner. Many times my grandmother and I would sit there and snap beans or  peel potatoes. As time went by, some of these porches were glass enclosed and they were called Sun Porches. This process made them useable during part of the  colder months as well as the summer. It was not unusual to come out of your house during a rainstorm and find one of your neighbors taking refuge on your porch.  (“Just till the rain lets up a bit.”) It was also a great place for the kids to stay out of the weather and it was large enough to accommodate the kids and their toys. A lit porch light was always a sign of “Welcome”, it was also an indication that you were in trouble for being late if you were a kid and just getting home! I‟ll wager that  many lasting romances began on these very porches Perhaps your parents began their courtship on one of them.


Posted on

Growing Up in Frankford Part 8

Continuation of Lyle (Corky) Larson remembers:


You couldn’t buy one at the store because all of them were hand made by us kids. The materials needed to build one of these beauties consisted of a three or four-foot  piece of 2X4 lumber and a discarded orange crate. Add one, old steel wheeled street skate taken apart, which now gives you two sets of wheels. Nail a set of wheels to  each end of the 2X4 and turn it over and nail the orange create to one end of it with the open part facing toward the other end. Next, make yourself a set of handlebars.  Take two short pieces of lumber and nail them to the top of the create forming a “V” with the pointed end facing toward the closed end of the create, tack  some plastic streamers at each end of the bars. Next step was to decorate the sides of the box with bottle- caps. You can spell out your name or make different  designs. Take two empty soup cans and nail them to the front and you now have a set of headlights. We used these to get all over the neighborhood, whizzing down  hills and leaning into the turns to keep from turning over. If your buddy didn’t have a scooter, that was OK because he could sit inside the crate while you did the  scooting. Each one of these scooters was unique as they portrayed the individual who constructed it. Some kids even made “Low-Riders” by using a longer 2X4 and it would sag in the middle almost touching the ground. We were more than happy to oblige when mom asked us to go to the store for her, for we now had “CARGO” for  our scooter. It was not an unusual sight to see a band of kids each with one of their legs “pumping” the street with a “Keds” sneaker at the end of that leg burning up  the street in a big rush to go nowhere. Some Saturdays you could find us at the top of the Wakeling St. hill getting ready for the big race of the day.

Bottle Caps

This is kind of like the boy with a stick and a hoop; it just takes a little imagination to make a game out of anything. We would take the cap from a soda bottle and fill it  with melted wax. Most times this was from mom‟s candles when she wasn‟t looking. We had games both with and without wax. We also spent a lot of time smoothing  the bottom of the caps against the concrete to make them slide better. We then met on the street or sidewalk with a piece of chalk and drew our playing field. A large  square was drawn, with numbered boxes at the corners and the middle of each side. In the middle of the square a skull and cross bones was drawn. The object of the  game was to flick the bottle cap from one end of the square into each of the numbered boxes. The first person to do so was declared the winner. If a bottle cap  happened to land on any part of the skull and cross bones, that person was out of the game. Some of the grown-ups used them as chips while playing cards, they had a value of one penny each. Games played around the neighborhood in the streets and alleys were some strange derivatives of Baseball called Stickball, Hose-ball,  Wallball, Half-ball, Step-ball and Wire-ball. Ya just gotta live in the city to experience these games. Bats, when required for a game, were old broomsticks. Believe me, hitting anything as small as a tennis ball with a broomstick is no easy task. In those days, one of the types of balls that could be purchased in stores was called a  „pimple ball‟. This was probably an unofficial name but its the only one I recall. It was a white rubber ball with bumps of about 1/8″ diameter all around it. Hence, the  name „pimple-ball‟. These were the balls eventually used for Half-ball; once they developed a hole in them and lost their air, they were cut in half at the middle to  make two half-balls. We started recycling a long time before it became fashionable. To celebrate the 4th of July holiday, all of the kids in the neighborhood used to decorate our wagons, scooters and bikes with red, white and blue crepe paper, and ride them around the block in a mock parade. Another thing we did to our bikes  was to tie balloons in a position near the wheels so the spokes would rub against them and make a noise similar to a motorcycle. We would also tape small American  Flags to our handlebars.

Shine for a Dime

One year for Christmas I got my very own shoeshine box. It was an oblong  wooden box with four small legs and piece of wood on top slanted upward and shaped like  a shoe with an indentation for the heal of a shoe to rest on. I was so proud, I couldn‟t wait to start practicing. I got some black paint and on the side of the box, I  carefully painted “SHINE 10 CENTS”. I got an old belt from who knows where and tacked it to the front and back of the box so I could sling it over my shoulder to  carry it. I was instantly “In Business”. Can you believe it? A shine for ten cents, and I knew all the best places to look for customers. I would go to the “El” Stops at  Frankford Ave. and Pratt St. If business was slow there I would go to the Margaret St. El stop and wait at the bottom of the steps for the people who were coming home  rom work. I would call out “Shine, only a dime”. And sure enough someone would take me up on it. The result would always be the same; they would always give me a tip afterward. This meant “Movie Money for the next Saturday.

To be continued…