Thursday, January 22, 2015

99 Years Ago in Philadelphia: End of January, 1916

Huge Gas Explosion in Point Breeze!

The dotted line indicates the direction of a flying manhole cover at 20th and Watkins.
             On an unusually warm winter morning near the end of January, 1916, a gas leak was detected around 20th and Morris Streets. The U.G.I. spent hours looking for the source of the leak, and then shit went bad. The gas ignited and rocked the block like nothing else. People were rocked out of their beds, windows shattered for 3 blocks around, and 150lb manhole covers flew up 40 feet. One landed on someone's marble steps and shattered them. Another blew a hole into the cornice of a corner building. Luckily, no one was killed and only one person was injured. A 300-pound Mrs. Holden was thrown out of her bed from the force of the blast and landed on her arm, fracturing it.
           Sadly enough, the whole gas explosion situation has not really changed. Nowadays, gas explosions still happen all the time in this city. Just last year, there was one a few blocks away from the one described here.

The same corner today via Google Streetview.

NIMBYs Go Nuts Opposing Saloon on 52nd Street

         Saloon owner P.J. Malone was tired of having to run his bar in what was then a shitty neighborhood (3rd and Arch) and wanted to move to the burgeoning commercial district found in the city's newest and nicest neighborhood, 52nd Street. He petitioned to move his saloon to the Northwest corner of 52nd and Larchwood, across the street from the new park created from the old Black Oak Woods (now Malcolm X Park).
        This sent the neighbors into a huge tizzy. They had moved over to this neighborhood to get away from the types of characters that would frequent this place! Not only that, it was very close to whqat was then one of the district's finest schools, Samuel B. Huey!

The old Huey School at 52nd and Pine before it was replaced with a shitty building from 1964. Pic from
          The neighbors and local civic advocates had slated this area of 52nd street to be a "Church District" and were pissed off. These saloon NIMBYs were already successful in stopping one from opening at 52nd and Ranstead the year before, so their NIMBY powers were primed to take down another one. The fear, of course, was that 52nd Street would one day become a bad neighborhood. Some were already talking about the shady characters that have been hanging around the corridor ever since the Davenport Saloon at 52nd and Walton opened. The goal of many was to create a "neighborhood of sobriety" here.
          Church leaders, local suffragists, a whole mess of temperance movement groups, and even the owner of the Davenport Saloon opposed the new place. Eventually, the NIMBYs won and P.J. Malone was shit out of luck.
         As many of us know, efforts to keep the 52nd Street corridor from becoming a bad neighborhood, well, weren't quite as successful as those early residents had hoped. Today, the shitty 1964-built replacement of the Huey School has a Great Schools rating of 1 and has a perpetually unfinished mural along its Pine Street facade. Cousin Danny's Exotic Heaven stands even closer to the school than Malone's saloon would have. At least there's a church in between the two. Imagine what kind of stripper you would have to be to only be able to get work on 52nd Street in a club assembled from three D.F. McConnell Modern Porch Houses. I guess teachers at Huey could always point to the place and tell kids "You don't want to end up working at Cousin Danny's, do you!?!? Do your work!"

Huey school on the left, church in the middle, Cousin Danny's on the right. Google Streetview.
"Demented" Choir Boy Steals 10 Grand Worth of Loot From St. Mark's

           Over the course of 2 years, St. Mark's Episcopal Church, still located in their kickass building on the 1600 block of Locust Street, was losing items one by one. A rector at the church hatched a plan to cut a secret peephole in the wall of the choirroom to see who the thief was, and finally figured out that one of the choir boys, 16-year-old George F. Davis, was the one stealing all of these valuable objects. The police went up to his house at 2423 n. 23rd Street and searched the place, finding silken robes braided with golden thread, silver candlesticks, satin stoles, jeweled ornaments, a big-ass censer, and a bunch of other church shit wrapped in newspapers and tucked into little corners in the attic and basement.
          After the cops locked up George, folks started coming out of the woodwork in his support, stating that the boy's mind was impaired by "too much reading" and that he was suffering from a "religious mania". The kid was a Freshman at Central High, which back then meant he had a verified IQ of over 115, so he was no dummy, just "demented". Young Davis, when asked why he was stealing all this valuable shit priced at about $10,000, stated "I wanted to have church of my own where I could preach my own sermons".
          Magistrate Pennock didn't give a fuck about Davis' crazies and held him on a $600 bail, which was pretty high for the time. About six days later, the church chose not to press charges and were able to get their rich-ass parishioners like George Wharton Pepper to pay for him to be treated in a sanitorium. Magistrate Pennock was satisfied with this and let the boy go.

George's house where he stored all the loot via Google Streetview.


  1. So whatever became of this fine lad?

    1. He became Bishop of the Old Catholic Diocese of Hamilton, Ontario, Canada. Here's a bio from their website-- ends up his kleptomania problem continued into his adult life:

      "The Right Reverend George Frank Davis, M.A., was born on 18 November 1899 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, USA. In 1923 he was ordered a deacon by the Rt. Rev. M. Edward Fawcett, PECUSA Bishop of Quincy. In 1925 he was priested by the same bishop. During the years 1923 to 1926 he served as a choirmaster and cleric within various charges of the Diocese of Quincy; from 1924 to 1926 he also served as secretary to Bishop Fawcett. Other PECUSA dioceses he served in as a priest, organist and or a choirmaster from 1926 to 1940 include Pennsylvania, Maine, Fond du Lac, Bethlehem, and Harrisburg. On 21 June 1940 he was deposed from the ministry of PECUSA by the Rt. Rev. Wyatt Brown, Bishop of Harrisburg. On 3 October 1948 he was installed as the rector of St. Francis of Assisi Old Catholic Pro-Cathedral in Hamilton, Ontario by the Rt. Rev. Dr. Walter P. Crossman, Lord Bishop of the Old Catholic Diocese of Hamilton. On 24 July 1949 Fr. Davis was consecrated by Dr. Crossman, solo, as auxiliary bishop of the Diocese and continued on as rector of the Pro-Cathedral. On 1 October 1949 he succeeded Bishop Crossman as the Diocese's ordinary. He was consecrated sub conditione on 22 April 1950 by the Rt. Rev. Francis Michael Donahue of the North American Old Roman Catholic Church (NAORCC). In 1953 he was deposed as Bishop of Hamilton when it was discovered he was suffering from a form of kleptomania. He went back to the USA where he organised a very successful ministry in Hinsdale, Illinois. By 1967 he was serving as an bishop in Archbishop Richard A. Marchenna's faction of the NAORCC. He died on 10 October 1968."

  2. Whatever became of this fine lad?