Parting Thoughts

My Mother’s Childhood Homes

Posted 28 October 2013

My wife Irene and I recently spent a week on the east coast, starting in Washington DC for my nephew Oliver’s wedding, and ending in Bennington, Vermont.

Along the way, we spent a couple days in Philadelphia, where my mother grew up. The major historical sites were closed, thanks to our dysfunctional government, so we decided to pursue some personal history.

After checking at the library, we were sent to the Historical Society of Pennsylvania. We didn’t find anything in their family history records, but they did have directories from 1920 (when my mother was born), 1925, 1930, and 1935.

My grandfather’s name was Harry Palsov, and there was only one person in Philadelphia with this name, making the search easy. My mom told me they moved every few years, and, sure enough, each directory had a different address. We visited all four of them.

Palsov residence in 1920, 2601 N. 31st St., Philadelphia

This is where the family lived when she was born. Harry’s profession was listed in the 1920 directory as grocer, and the downstairs was probably a grocery store, with the family living upstairs.

The neighborhood, which has the unlikely name of Strawberry Mansion, is now 98% black and mired in poverty. Wikipedia provides the following history:

“Strawberry Mansion was home to a number of Philadelphia’s wealthiest families in the 19th Century. It became a mixed-income, predominantly Jewish neighborhood, but since the middle of the 20th century the neighborhood has been struck by economic decline and urban decay. Modern Strawberry Mansion has acquired a reputation as one of the most dangerous areas of Philadelphia. The neighborhood is quite large geographically and in population and has been difficult to police or maintain with historically inadequate city funding.”

Here‘s a couple views looking up and down the street from their house:

Their 1925 address wasn’t far away, about a mile to the east in the same neighborhood:

Palsov residence in 1925, 2616 N. 19th St.

By 1930, the family had moved to the middle-class neighborhood of Wynnefield, across the river. Their first house was a duplex:

Palsov residence in 1930, 5426 Morse

In her brief autobiography, my mom commented, “We moved from the Strawberry Mansion section to Wynnefield. It was a wealthier area with gardens. My mother was delighted with the dozens of different flower bulbs that she could plant. I remember having two little friends, and one had a white fur coat. I was so envious.”

By 1935, they moved a mile north to a 7-bedroom house in a lovely neighborhood:

Moving up in the world, the 7-bedroom house where Helen spent her teenage years, 2412 N. 53rd St.

In her autobiography, Helen noted, "By the time I was in junior high we had moved to a still bigger house in an even fancier neighborhood. I made lots of new friends, some of whom I have today."

The house is built entirely of stone. It has lawns front and back, and a free-standing garage in the back.

The back of the 53rd St. house, with the current resident and my wife Irene

My mom said they had a couple living in the back that worked for the family as housekeepers. Presumably the garage had been converted to living quarters.

The current resident bought this house in 1999 for just $150,000—pricing there is obviously not like California.

Here’s a map showing where each of the houses is located: