Capturing late 1960s Philadelphia–Trolleys, Neon, Cobblestones and All

 

When people fall for trolleys, they fall hard. It’s why some folks are so passionate about the bringing back the Route 23 trolley, the subject of Tuesday’s news story about the City’s plan to pave over its tracks at certain intersections. David Wilson was visiting family in Glenside and Elkins Park in 1966 when he fell in love with the Philadelphia Transit Company’s green-and-cream colored beauties. The Chicago teenager returned to Philadelphia nine times over the next four years, roaming the city with his Brownie Hawkeye camera to photograph streetcars, trackless trolleys and even buses. His hobby would lead to a career in freight logistics and urban transit planning. We stumbled across Wilson’s photos on flickr, where he has posted not only his Philadelphia material, but also thousands of photos (23,921 to be exact) of transit in numerous cities, including a spectacular collection from Chicago.

We like trolleys well enough, but we were enthralled by the portrait of the city’s neighborhoods Wilson inadvertently created. There are photos of Olney, Kensington, Fairhill, Tacony, Germantown, Elmwood, Ludlow, Powelton, Fishtown, Gray’s Ferry, Eastwick and South Philadelphia. We went ahead and posted them all because, well, there’s nothing like looking at a whole bunch at once to make you feel like you’re there. It’s a period we rarely see represented in Philadelphia history or photo books, or online, especially in color. Wilson’s photos depict a city that in many cases looks little changed from the 1950s–or even the 1940s in certain shots. The corner stores are still open, the neon bar signs still lit, the glass in the factory windows still intact. Yet we know now that these neighborhoods were on the brink of massive social and economic change. The slow decline in population that began in 1950 was about to accelerate, and many of the streets we see in Wilson’s photos would soon become a shadow of what they once were.

7th and Girard looking east, 1968 | Photo: David Wilson

7th and Girard looking east, 1968 | Photo: David Wilson

Erie at Broad looking northwest, 1967 | Photo: David Wilson

Erie at Broad looking northwest, 1967 | Photo: David Wilson

Looking southeast down Germantown Avenue at Venango, 1966. The "SMILES" sign is still there but no longer works. | Photo: David Wilson

Looking southeast down Germantown Avenue at Venango, 1966. The “SMILES” sign is still there but no longer works. | Photo: David Wilson

49th Street at Woodland Avenue, 1967 | Photo: David Wilson

49th Street at Woodland Avenue, 1967 | Photo: David Wilson

Looking north on 8th St. at Market, 1967 | Photo: David Wilson

Looking north on 8th St. at Market, 1967 | Photo: David Wilson

Castor and Cottman Avenues, 1967 | Photo: David Wilson

Castor and Cottman Avenues, 1967 | Photo: David Wilson

Looking north on 12th at Market St., 1970 | Photo: David Wilson

Looking north on 12th at Market St., 1970 | Photo: David Wilson

6th St. at Susquehanna, 1967 | Photo: David Wilson

6th St. at Susquehanna, 1967 | Photo: David Wilson

9th and Snyder, 1968 | Photo: David Wilson

9th and Snyder, 1968 | Photo: David Wilson

9th St. at Passyunk, 1967 | Photo: David Wilson

9th St. at Passyunk, 1967. That’s Pat’s Steaks behind the first trolley. | Photo: David Wilson

9th at Chestnut, 1967 | Photo: David Wilson

9th at Market, 1967 | Photo: David Wilson

9th St. at Willow, 1967 | Photo: David Wilson

9th St. at Willow, 1967 | Photo: David Wilson

40th and Lancaster, 1967 | Photo: David Wilson

40th and Lancaster, 1967 | Photo: David Wilson

40th and Parkside, 1967 | Photo: David Wilson

40th and Parkside, 1967 | Photo: David Wilson

Woodland Avenue, 1967 | Photo: David Wilson

Woodland Avenue, 1967 | Photo: David Wilson

5th and Wyoming, 1967 | Photo: David Wilson

5th and Wyoming, 1967 | Photo: David Wilson

5th at Ruscomb, 1967 | Photo: David Wilson

5th at Ruscomb, 1967 | Photo: David Wilson

5th and Spencer, 1967 | Photo: David Wilson

5th and Spencer, 1967 | Photo: David Wilson

Looking east on Allegheny at 3rd, 1966 Photo: David Wilson

Looking east on Allegheny at 3rd, 1966 Photo: David Wilson

Frankford and Arrott | Photo: David Wilson

Frankford and Arrott | Photo: David Wilson

Frankford and Arrot, 1967 | Photo: David Wilson

Frankford and Arrot, 1967 | Photo: David Wilson

Bridge and Pratt, 1967 | Photo: David Wilson

Bridge and Pratt, 1967 | Photo: David Wilson

Girard at Berks, 1968 | Photo: David Wilson

Girard at Berks, 1968 | Photo: David Wilson

Looking east on Girard at Susquehanna. That's I-95 under construction | Photo: David Wilson

Looking east on Girard at Susquehanna. That’s I-95 under construction | Photo: David Wilson

Girard at 5th, 1968 | Photo: David Wilson

Girard at 5th, 1968 | Photo: David Wilson

Looking west on Girard from 7th | Photo: David Wilson

Looking north on Girard from 7th | Photo: David Wilson

8th at Wolf, 1968 | Photo: David Wilson

8th at Wolf, 1968 | Photo: David Wilson

11th and Morris, 1968 | Photo: David Wilson

11th and Morris, 1968 | Photo: David Wilson

32nd and Tasker, 1968 | Photo: David Wilson

32nd and Tasker, 1968 | Photo: David Wilson

4th and Market, 1967 | Photo: David Wilson

4th and Market, 1967 | Photo: David Wilson

5th and Arch, 1966| Photo: David Wilson

5th and Arch, 1966| Photo: David Wilson

8th and Sansom, 1967 | Photo: David Wilson

8th and Sansom, 1967 | Photo: David Wilson

8th and Walnut, 1967 | Photo: David Wilson

8th and Walnut, 1967 | Photo: David Wilson

Germantown at Windrim | Photo: David Wilson

Germantown at Windrim, 1967 | Photo: David Wilson

Wayne at Abbottsford, 1967 | Photo: David Wilson

Wayne at Abbottsford, 1967 | Photo: David Wilson

Delaware and Dilworth, 1968 | Photo: David Wilson

Delaware and Dilworth, 1968 | Photo: David Wilson

Castor and Wyoming, 1967 | Photo: David Wilson

Castor and Wyoming, 1967 | Photo: David Wilson

82nd and Eastwick, 1967 | Photo: David Wilson

82nd and Eastwick, 1967 | Photo: David Wilson

69th St. Terminal, 1969 | Photo: David Wilson

69th St. Terminal, 1969 | Photo: David Wilson

Peter Woodall is the co-editor of Hidden City Daily. He is a graduate of the UC Berkeley School of Journalism, and a former newspaper reporter with the Biloxi Sun Herald and the Sacramento Bee. He worked as a producer for Radio Times with Marty Moss-Coane and wrote a column about neighborhood bars for PhiladelphiaWeekly.com.



66 Comments


  1. 1st photo shows the former Girard Theater at 625 West Girard Ave
    http://cinematreasures.org/theaters/39637

    That’s another historic movie theater at 5th & Spencer but I can’t quickly identify it. Someone?

  2. Geeking out pretty hard with these. Thanks.

  3. Obvious thought: Diversity, neighborhoods, people walking and riding transit, all the urbanist dreams for our future were the mundane realities of our past.

    Nasty thought #1: How are people maneuvering those big cars around the trolleys?
    I though trolleys interfered with cars and were therefore an abomination.

    Nasty thought #2: Look at all those gentrifiers invading the neighborhoods.

    Humane thought?: While there is no excuse for the racism, hate and negativity one sees in philly.com readers’ comments, perhaps looking at these photos, young whippersnappers can feel a smidgen of sympathy for the aged farts who mourn
    what Philadelphia has lost.

  4. Brilliant work Peter Woodall…..As one of those aged farts referenced in Morris Street’s post I am enjoying the look back to the streets and trolleys of my youth. Big cars maneuvered around just fine. I doubt their were as many cars on the road then, and we didn’t have all that many places to go. And I’m glad the neighborhoods are being rediscovered for all their inherent virtue and value that cannot be duplicated anywhere ever.

    • Well said John Snyder. Back then in the 60″s which I loved I was a young girl just staring to drive and I had no problem getting around the Trolleys.
      These pictures brought back memories. thank you Peter Woodall

  5. young whippersnapper

    This is such a fantastic collection.. Thank you for sharing.

    Morris Street- We do mourn, although maybe not as sincerely, as we don’t know first hand what was lost. Ignorance is bliss.

    • It’s interesting to see how many of those neighborhoods look better now than they did in the 60s. Also, in spite of what old timers say about ‘how the streets were clean back in the day’, at least judging from a few of the pics here, not much has changed at all.

  6. Mary McWilliams

    Great job. These photos are brilliant. Thank you

  7. Peter J. Curry

    Hi: Wonderful photos. One correction: “9th & Market” is actually 9th & Chestnut.

  8. i notice in one of the pictures there is a Good & Plenty logo painted on the building…were they made in Philly?

  9. that would be 6th and susquehana

  10. Great pictures!

  11. Thanks for taking me back to 1966/67 when I was 13/14 years old. This brings up good memories of what it looked like.

    • WE LIVED IN OLNEY TWO DIFFERENT TIMES AND WENT TO CARD VARTSINAL DOUGHERTY HIGH! GREW UP ON 5TH STREET (4927 )MOVED TO NICETOWN/ TIOGA ST. VERONICAS ELEMENTARY ) AND HUNG OUT AT 5TH & ALLEGHENY ( THE MANN REC CENTER )! WE USED TO GO ACROSS THE STREET TO RONAN MOTORS AND RIDE THE NICE DODGE CONVERTIBLES THAT WERE ON DISPLAY ON A TURN TABLE ! LOTS AND LOTS OF GOOD FIST FIGHTS ! LOVED PLAYING ON THE R R AND HOPPING FREIGHT TRAINS & HAVING STONE FIGHTS ! DOES ANYONE REMEMBER VARTS PHARMACY AT 5TH & RUSCOMB ! LOVER PULLING THE TROLLEY POLES FROM THE WIRE ! LIVED ALL OVER THE CITY WHEN IT WAS NICE ! NOW A VERY DANGEROUS PLACE WHERE ONCE UPON A TIME YOU COULD GO ANYWHERE PRETTY MUCH ! PENNA. R R STATION, GERMANTOWN AVE, BROAD & ERIE ( SUN RAY ) DRUG STORE &( WHITE TOWER ) FOR 5 HAMBURGERS FOR A DOLLAR ! THOSE WERE THE DAYS ! I LIVED @ 3414 NO. RANDOLPH ST. A DEAD END STREET WHERE A STEAM TRAIN WOULD PASS & & YOU’D BE PULLING PEICES OF TINY COAL FROM YOUR HAIR ! WOW ! THOSE WERE THE DAYS LOL !

  12. love these, thank you!

  13. Fantastic pictures. They bring back many memories. Thank you. I believe Picture #26 is looking west on Girard Avenue and was taken from Marshall Street. Marshall Street runs north and south and is between 6th and 7th streets.

  14. Although this is not exactly the Philadelphia of the 60’s which I remember, it still produces nostalgia. “You can’t go home again.” but you can look at the pictures.

  15. The trolleys’ “Pay Enter”, “Pay Leave” signs inspire memories. They did away with the cashiers/conducters who sat by the exit doors and you started paying the drivers. Even after the transition some of the trolleys still had the little semi-booth by the exit doors. Kids liked to sit there.

    Interesting storefront sign in #26: “Parcels To The USSR”

  16. Something that particularly struck me is that in spite of the dirt and grime on the buildings and streets, there seems to be no graffiti.

  17. The city was dirty but more from the former coal ciders and smoke on walls, new autos and truck exhaust and their worn out junk, but less trash no plastic and little graffiti. Fortunately the animal urine and manure was gone and just about everyone had running water etc. But the car and even the bus were about their business in decentralization (the bus while transit never has as good ridership lowering the transit effect to little and GM documents confirm they understood this in their plans to switch people to cars over the longer term as happened instead of upgrading to then emerging Light Rail standards) which piled on top of obsolete buildings increasing percentages of poor as the rich drove away and other problems was enough to tip the balance towards destroyed much of the inner city. This would only though be beyond the reach of the where the Center City oriented electrified rail lines that before SEPTA the City subsidized so they survived to continue to achieved a critical mass enough (added to the new car traffic everywhere but to make the difference) to sustain denser urban culture. I could go on and on with the proofs about this around the country. Besides the nostalgia and pollution issues it actually this inner city Light Rail power to (re)develop urban areas (even more then Subways if done right) where they can be built in this poor environment where we ignore the subsidies highways receive etc that is one of the reasons that so many people for so many years have spoken up in favor of trolleys. The trackless trolleys (not buses) shown in many of these pictures are also known to have higher ridership then buses like the trolley which is by a rule usually double on comparable lines are a half step worth their extra effort too if done right. But highway interests, misinformed, bottom line only and suburban oriented interests block bringing back some lines that could again if done right really help multiple corridors. These beautiful pictures of the old city are part of the record but in part not understood for their full lesson.

    • Scott, I thought of you as soon as I started reading this -“When people fall for trolleys, they fall hard.”

      Peter, great photos – thanks. Will need to look at them all again.

  18. Wonderful photos… I loved the trolleys. I am sad that there are no shots of the #34 line which went out Baltimore Avenue… that was ‘my’ line. Rode it to high school in 1963, in and out of center city from the 50s through the 70s. Thank you for this feature!!

  19. I AM ALMOST SURE THAT THE ONE PHOTO SHOWING WAYNE AVE AND ABBOTTSFORD IS WAYNE AVE JUST ABOVE SEYMOUR. THE KEYSTONE BANK WAS AT THAT LOCATION AS THE SIGN SHOWS, 5000 BLOCK OF WAYNE AVE.

    WONDERFUL PICS. I REMEMBER RIDING MANY OF THE TROLLEYS SHOWN.

  20. love the pic of 11th and Morris, the slanting fruit stand. remember those all over the city

  21. Ray ( Sarge ) Garcia

    Many Thanks for the photos. It brought back good wholesome memories. My Dad was a Neon Sign Electrician and worked for Penn Neon and Federal Sign Company. He and I serviced many of the signs shown throughout the photos. In many ways we left our mark on the history of Philadelphia and Germantown in particular. I will forward your work to others who will have the same sense of appreciation. God Bless.

  22. I worked for SEPTA 1973/2005, I worked in Luzerne depot for 5 years. These are great memories. The 4th pic down has the old Woodland Depot on the right side before it burned down about 1978. lost a lot of trolly’s. then we got a bunch from Toronto Canada and they were all rusted out and only lasted about 2 to 3 years before junked. It was the last breath of the light rail in North Philly

  23. These are such a visual treat! Unlike black and white film, which makes the past abstract and distant, these color photographs make the 60s landscapes immediate and tangible. Thanks so much for posting them.

  24. Joan Nerney-Roman

    Thank you for the beautiful photos. I remember riding the 56 trolley to get to work in town and the wait time between trolleys was not long at all. They were always dependable. Give me back the good old days which we did not appreciate then !!!

  25. Kevin McKernan

    My worst nightmare was getting the wheels of my old ’50 Ford caught in the wet/frozen trolley tracks while riding down cobblestone Germantown Ave in the Germantown section. I would be slipping and sliding. Great shots! Many of us put in mucho hours on those PTC buses and trolleys.

  26. Great pictorial. I used to live on 7th St. bet Berks and Montgomery and we had a trolley go by our house. Over the years you drown out the noise and eventually fall asleep. After while you didn’t even hear it anymore. I remember as a kid grabbing onto the back of the trolley while on roller skates (yes, ball bearing with a skate key) and letting it give me a free ride for a few blocks. Not sure which picture # it was, but you showed a trolley on Girard Ave and Berks. If I recall, these 2 streets run the same way and didn’t intersect.

    • Girard and Berks intersect in Fishtown, right near Girard’s end at Aramingo. The picture right below it is turning around from the same spot. The buildings on the right side foreground are gone. At that intersection now stands a strip mall (Dunkin Donuts and Beer City), and a years-old vacant lot upon which is right now being built eyesore, suburban-style townhouses complete with curb cuts and garages. Combined with the gas station / check cashing parking lot one block down at Girard and Susquehanna, this is probably the most unfortunate stretch of Fishtown, especially considering the one really solid classic rowhouse block which still stands immediately to its north…

  27. Barry Rabinowitch

    Fantastic photos. Brings back a lot of great memories while growing up at 7th & Girard. The one photo marked looking north on Girard at 7th is actually looking west on Girard at 7th. You can see the Reading Railroad bridge at 9th Street. 7th Street was and still is the northbound street at that intersection. I lived at 1215 North 7th Street which is between Girard Avenue and Thompson Street. How about some great photos of the old time trolley cars that ran before the “Streamliners”?

  28. Michael Ferraro

    Peter-
    Thanks for reviving lots of old memories. Great collection.

  29. Doh! Thanks for the correction Barry.

  30. Thank you for the memories. I remember as a kid visiting friends on Tenth Street and walking to what we called ‘The Trolley Barn’ probably at or near Luzerne Street. There was a ‘turntable’ there to change the direction of the trolleys. Hope in your travels around the city that you had the good fortune to see and photograph the Trolley Barn.

  31. Fantastic collection! It would be great to see these pics juxtaposed against the same shots taken in the present day…

  32. The photo at 5th and Wyoming brings back memories. The Music sign in the background is Keyser Music. I took music lessons from Earl Keyser in that store for 3 years. Thanks for the memory.

  33. I left Philly in 1865 to enlist got back only times to visit. I’d love to see my old friends.
    Thanks for the post and wonderful memories they offered to all those people.

  34. So where did the trolleys go? Some sat and awaited their fate: http://romanblazicwordsandpictures.blogspot.com/2014/06/trolley-jolly.html

  35. Great post Roman!

  36. Peggy Hartzell

    Now we just need the soundtrack to go with them. Around 1963 took the trolly from Chestnut Hill to the end of the line and back one time just to see all the neighborhoods it went through. For some crazy reason didn’t take my camera. One of the best rides in the city.

  37. So many memories and familiar scenes of the city’s “cultural landscape.” Until ’56 I lived at 1718 N. 7th St. where the #47 trolley ran (and earlier, the green wooden #3, all the way from Bridge St. to 33rd & Columbia). I took the 47 south from 8th & Columbia past Lit’s and Strawbridge’s at 8th & Market to Fleisher Art Memorial on Catherine St. Then and now the #59 trackless trolley from “Orthodox & Margaret” to Bell’s Corner in Rhawnhurst. The turnarounds at Hellerman & Bleigh are long gone. Many stores over the decades at Castor & Cottman; a new store coming soon in the former Lit’s (now Macy’s in nearby Roosevelt Mall). I was a substitute Ludlow School safety at 7th & Girard. Klein’s Market in the former Girard Theater must have been the crowded store with the high shelves on the east side of Marshall St. just south of Girard, where my mother shopped. The #15 runs again on Girard. Across from the Good & Plenty plant was the Diamond Theater. One block south on 6th St. was Dawn Doughnuts, and below that, Ominsky’s Pharmacy in the triangular plot between 6th & Germantown Ave.

  38. These are great to scroll through and go back in time to my youth.
    There is one I’d like to point out. The pic of 11th & Morris as you look at the south-east corner the second store from the corner was Milano’s Steaks. They never get ant mention but they made the BEST cheese & pizza steaks I’ve ever eaten! If any of the family or friends agree please comment.
    Another note on the trolleys is we just returned from a trip to San Francisco, and they seem to be collecting as many trolleys from all over the country.
    We actually happened to ride in a Philly trolley on one of our rides there.

    This is great stuff! Thanks for the memories!

  39. Thank you, Peggy, for the Chestnut Hill memory! Growing up near 5th and Lehigh (lawrence&cumberland actually), connecting to that line & going all the way to near Wissahickon (sp?) Park was an all day adventure. Is the large Indian statue still there? Now I live in Oregon but that was where i first got an idea of what the West might be, the Creek starting the wonder wander into deeper waters more Pacific. What freedom as a child! And to go by packed trolly to the Phils games- double headers for $.50 bleachers (no more “cent” signs on keyboards!) in 1963. It took 20 minutes to be downtown in the middle of everything- history, art, the big stores, and artisanal shops (before we knew the names), luxury movie theatres. Remember f-l-y-i-n-g-> through that tunnel heading north on the 5/6th St line, near Arch? Walking was easier then too for a 4th grade altarboy serving 6:30am mass- from Lawrence to 7th St and the huge St Edward’s church (that’s still there).

  40. Traction Resource

    Note that all these pictures were taken in the 1960s, by which time industry was disappearing all over Philly. The trolley system was by then whittled down to a handful of routes that could be served by the fleet of PCC streamliners that had not yet put in their 20 plus years of intended economic life. As the neighborhoods on some lines deteriorated and everyone bought a TV set ridership was in a perpetual downward spiral. It was continuation of a period in which the decline in public transport and the decline in center city were clearly simultaneous. Right into the 1970s when I was dating my wife to be we would go to New Jersey for a nice Sunday dinner. Had anyone suggested at the time that eventually people would be moving back into center city that person would have been considered a nut. By the time SEPTA finally was owner of the Philly transit system after years of haggling over price it had been milked to the Nth degree, with as much deferred maintenance and organizational deterioration as was possible without having the system enter a state of collapse. Inadequately funded catch-up has been a constant effort ever since. That reality has never been really understood by our political classes – that maintenance costs money whether you do it or not.

  41. even back then, too many cars in a city not meant for them…

  42. David Wilson was ahead of his time. Hidden City and Abandoned America are our masters of neighborhoods frozen in time. Thank you for posting Mr. Wilson’s Brownie pictures.

  43. I’ve seen these several times, love the images and the memories they bring.

    One note, slide #63 the caption says 5th & Cumberland, but as you can see on the street signs in the photo, it’s actually 6th & Alleghany.

  44. Hey great photos!! I miss the PCC trolleys. Do you have any photos of the Germantown Ave and Westview Street trolley barn? If so can you please email one to me? Thank you.

    Sincerely,

    Christopher

  45. Aah how well I remember routes #26 and #52 that ran on Chelten Ave. in Germantown. #52 had controls at both ends of the trolley, while # 26 had a turn around at Chelten and Morriss. It left Chelten and proceeded on it’s route at Chew. This was back in the 40’s and early 50″s.What wonderful and simpler times, unlike today.

  46. born and raised in Germantown, lived there for 17 years.

  47. I really enjoyed this loking back session…. i grew up at 19h & Girard….2 doors from the corner…so i could stand in my doorway and wait for PTC Trolley. (Philadelphia Transportation Company….was before SEPTA)….So I remember the neighborhood well…for the past 45 years i have been living in Hunting Park,,,around the corner from what used to be the Luzerne Depot…and not far from Germantown and Erie….it closed about 15 years ago….Anyway..looking through these photos… I drive past about 5 of the photo places in a week…the only places i dont see is far West Philly….i loved seeing where buildings used to be….and land before there were buildings….the Route 23 trolley was the longest trolley ride in the WORLD…..well SEPTA just mesed that up….they changed it into 2 routes….one runs Chestnut Hill to downtown….then you have to change to another to get to South Philly….and actually i think they changed it to a bus….. i think the only regular trolley we have is Girard Ave….and thats because of historic reasons and ride to the Zoo.

  48. My memory is totally shot at 82—I can’t remember the name of the cute lady I met yesterday, but although I moved away in 1975, I remember all the streets…all! Two trivial errors: Girard is east-west, you can’t “look north” on it…LOL! Bridge and Pratt could not be an intersection; they are parallel east-west streets. The last stop on the Frankford El was Bridge St. Pratt was on block south, which was the home of a PTC four lines bus terminal for when we got off the el.

    Route B ran northeast up Roosevelt Blvd all the way to Langhorne. Route R ran west on the Blvd to 10th St where the Blvd ended and became “Hunting Park. So the R took lots of us to the Budd factory and a little beyond.

    A big THANX to Peter is in order.

  49. I miss riding these lines esepcially the 56 on Erie It was my favorite Line It would go hell bent for leather on Sunday Morning hardly no traffic and hit nearly every green light I wish SEPTA had bought more “K cars to fill the void of these lines

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