No matter where I go, Philadelphia will always go with me. I’ve taken the old neighborhood to combat in Vietnam as well as to the wailing wall in Jerusalem. I let it shine in the courthouses of Philadelphia and the one and only house of pleasure I visited in Panama.
Yeah, I’m from Brewerytown, an old German-based section of Philadelphia that families of beer-makers settled in a small enclave of the City of Brotherly Love. Brewerytown is near the Philadelphia Zoo on Girard Avenue and not too far from the Eastern State Penitentiary where Al Capone once lived in a section called Fairmount.
Brewerytown was a thriving community once upon a time, but it quickly went down hill as Prohibition set in and the neighborhood lost its livelihood but not its unique nature. There are no more breweries there despite the appeal of the 21st Amendment that was based on something historians called the Volstead Act. (I think a bunch of do-gooders got together to do away with “rum and Romanism” and the “righteous” way of life places like my hometown provided its people and their culture. We had more breweries and delivery beer facilities in our small patch of land then any other in Pennsylvania and maybe the entire East Coast.)
I learned to sing and dance in old Brewerytown. My African-American brothers taught me that in the school yard of a Catholic Church grounds called St. Ludwig’s. (What would you expect from a German parish at the turn of the 20th century? We fondly called it “Dutch Louie’s!”)
My Irish Catholic girlfriend showed me everything I would ever want to know about love while across the street from one of the old breweries. (She agreed to go steady with me at age 14, and I’ve gone steady with no one since giving her my high school ring back then.)
You see, I am the same fellow today that I was back then and it just goes to prove the old saying:
“You can take the kid out of the old neighborhood, but you’ll never take the old neighborhood out of the kid.”
(*Technically in the Fairmount section of Philadelphia at 29th Street below Poplar, this brewery — the Bergdahl Brewery –was one of many that helped contribute to the once thriving business of Brewerytown. The building now houses condominiums.)
(This is one of three stories I wrote today for a writing group meeting weekly in Collegeville, PA)
The building with the murals is located at 31st Street and Girard Avenue in Brewerytown. A memorial dedicated to the men and women serving in the military during World War II is located within feet of the wall.
There used to be a VFW club directly across the street at Girard Avenue.
Making the Brewerytown Rounds
hi Mike so good 2 know u are still here I live on hollywood st. went to St.ludwig 4a few yrs. with bob and joe walsh short y hoffner and Carmen Dijoseph I remember your Dad work at steak house in AC. I been down shore 4 about 40yrs God bless jack
It’s so good to hear from you. The names you mention each bring back wonderful memories v. . . Hollywood Street . . .St. Ludwig’s Church and school . . . Bobby and Joe Walsh . . (I played poker with them in their house and smoked up a lot of their cigarettes when I was only 13 or 14, I seem to recall) . . . Carmen DiJoseph . . . My dad working at the Flaming Angus Steakhouse on the boardwalk of Atlantic City . . .
It’s a delight to know the old neighborhood lives in the hearts of all of us no matter where we may roam!
Hey Jackie Wilson , Just want to say Hi and hope you are as well as you sound! Your old “Chateau” on the boardwalk buddy from Fairmount, Tim Ward. I still remember you always singin’ Dylan – “bare naked, out the window” all the time. Glad i saw Mikey’s post.
Hi Tim good 2 here from u and Mike I alway like your Dad he was number 1with me from t and B days God bless Tex
Please see my message to Tim below and contact Dan Biehl for information about the next neighborhood gathering. Who knows? Maybe we’ll schedule one of ’em down the shore sometime!
This message was offered on FaceBook 1:11 pm 10-14-15:
Kathleen McPeake Gilliano
Mike Contos- i remember you and I really enjoyed that. Tim Ward-“Fairmount”!
Thanks my Fairmount friend. I feel as if I know you. The name sounds familiar. Did you know a fellow named Patty Ward from Fairmount? He was loved by all.
Hi Mike, Yeah, Pat was my brother and I wrote a bit about it in another reply to you, re Joey Oz.
But I forgot to say, “Welcome Home”.
Peace, Tim Ward
“Welcome Home.” I like the sound of that.
So you had two brothers who served in Vietnam. I remember Pat . He should have entered the priesthood,he was so good. I’m glad the neighborhood has honored him with the memorial at 25th and Aspen. I visit it every time I’m in the area.
Listen, you and Mr. Wilson ought to contact Dan Biehl for information on our next Brewerytown gathering. You’ll enjoy seeing some old friends and make a few new ones. Who knows? Even my hero, Joey Osborne, might make an appearance one of these days.
Contact Dan here:
(Please see Message above from Kathleen McPeake Gilliano)
Thanks Cass. I’ll never forget the night me and your sister stood across the street of Bergdahl’s and made a little history of our own together. Memories are made from such stuff from the old neighborhood!
Kathleen McPeake Gilliano
God bless you Mike hope you have a wonderful fulfilling retirement life
This is a message I got from Facebook:
I meet with some ten other writers weekly in Collegeville to write and to encourage others to write. The leader of this Meet-Up group suggests a “prompt” for each of us to write about and we’re given 10 minutes to scrawl away on our laptop computers or notebooks.
The prompt this time was to “describe your hometown.”
I’ve lived in Conshohocken some 30 years, but my hometown will always be Brewerytown, the place that we all grew up and learned the value of life. Hence, I dug through my memory banks and came up with my homage to the old neighborhood.
I can’t believe the response I got from so many of our group from the reunion. I wish I could see you guys weekly and then I’d have a helluva lot to write about!
email@example.com 10:46 AM (20 hours ago)
i chose a much different path – after vietnam – looked forward – never back –
thank you for the reminder of what was good about that life
I didn’t look back for some 25 years after Vietnam. I wanted no parts of it and never joined any veterans group except one at a community college that helped vets get their GI Bill benefits. I still don’t go to VFW or American Legion affairs.
Vietnam bit me in the ass when I got diagnose with PTSD. I found out about it in 2006 and figured that was the reason I had so much pent up anger and rage. The war. I got counseling and more importantly, learned how to meditate which had been taught to us veterans at the Coatesville VA Medical Center for those of us with the ailment. It’s been a life-saver.
I hope to catch up with some stories at the next meeting. Save a chair for me at the “Old Heads” table.
You don’t know how many people I’ve asked if they had seen Joey Osborne, the lead singer for the group of “old heads” who sung at a midnight show at the Uptown Theater some fifty years earlier. “Guardian Angels” never sounded better.
I remember you and Ed Keller and I believe Jackie Toy. But I can’t recall if there were others in the group. Nor do I know what you called the group. (Me and Joe Cleary sang with Bill Kane and Carl Disler as well as a fellow Joe Cleary knew from the Far Northeast, Jim Hubmaster. They adopted the name I suggested, called “The Five jaunts.” Fortunately, I sang bass and was not a very good one. I always enjoyed the baritone sounds which Jackie Toy taught me.)
I heard that your son is a star litigator. Who would have thought lawyers could come from the gene pool that produced Brewerytown offsprings? Joe Cleary and I both attended Temple Law school and had a few classes together before we turned 40 years old. He’s still practicing while representing labor. I went into criminal law (felt right at home!) and worked for 20 years as a public defender in Philadelphia.
God, I’d love to hear “Puppy Love” and how you guys joked and hung out with Howard Melvin and the Blue Notes. (I represented one of that group’s drummers. He was charged with raping his step daughter and his biological child. He got 15-to-30 years and feinted when the sentence was passed down.)
Let us all know about “BrewerytownRecords.” You still have a lot of fans up this way. By the way, you ought to check with Matty Gilliano, who has become a local celebrity for his vast record collection. He’s got the records and knows where to get the ones he might have!
Nice to hear from you! Let us know when you can make it back to 27th and Master streets and we’ll take a stroll in the old “Rec” grounds remembering your father’s bar on the corner.
Thanks for the kind words. Last year I had a reunion in Philly with my band and we recorded a CD of some of the tunes we played. This year I recorded another CD “Smooth Philly Soul” I think it will bring back a lot of good memories Lemon Hill, Hay Rides, walks in the park and hanging on the corner . If anybody would like a CD just send me your address. Mikey you got me thinking that the 2016 project should be to get together with you and Joey Cleary and record some Brewerytown/Fairmount Doo Wop’s for everybody.
Love you all.
You got it Joe.
See you next year!
Joey Osborne- i would like to find your version of “Cried like I Cried”-i have the 45 Jimmy Drum gave me. I’m a musician who grew up in Fairmount. Tim Ward firstname.lastname@example.org will appreciate if you can send me any links!
I sent your request to Joey Oz, as we used to pronounce his name. I always saw him as a wizard, if you know what I mean. And if he heard him sing with his group and watch the music take you to places you never thought existed, you’d know why.
I hope you can make the connection.
Thanks, Mike, that would be cool ! I recall seeing Joey sing at St Franny’s Dance. Yes, Pat Ward was my older brother- your right, he was a great guy and I still have the birthday card he sent me from Nam urging me to be the first one in the family to go to college( our oldest brother Bernie was also over there. it was tough on my parents 2 boys and 2 tours- we had a coming home party on the same day as Pat’s going away party! Anyway, I teach school today and finishing school was a promise that I kept. Pat graduated Roman in ’66 , but they sent my class to Neumann,. where I graduated from in ’67. It was there that I met a lot of the Brewerytown guys, and I think it was Denny Cannon who introduced me to you at some point. Anyway, I like what you write and I appreciate you getting back to me.
Peace, Timmy Ward
The following message were sent to Contoveros via FaceBook
Doris Widman Blash 8:07 AM (23 hours ago)
Michael, nicely done. I believe that was the old Bergdahl brewery. The son of the founder was once imprisoned because he was a conscious objector during WWII. That’s how the story goes. They talk openly about the Japanese being interred but some Germans were also persecuted. Thanks for the bio. The church I went to was Zion German Presbyterian Church located on 28th street above Girard Ave and as a little girl the first service was in German.
Wow Doris, I never knew the history of the family who started Bergdahl’s Brewery. It’s fascinating. Just think, anyone of us of German descent could have been labeled a traitor just because of our birth. Yes, we know about what happened with the Japanese during World War II. I see much of the hysteria with Muslims living in the US and parts of /Europe.
Thank God for people like the founder’s son who chose prison rather than a war he could not fight because of his conscious. He makes me proud that he came from Brewerytown.
By the way, that is the brewery from which I asked Peggy McPeake to go steady on April 11th, 1963. I didn’t know it back then. I really appreciate the information and will include the name in my next editing of this story.
See you at the next reunion God willing!
Hi Mike. What memories this brings back. Reading the part when you asked Peggy to go steady-April 11, 1963. I was at Fort Dix doing my Basic Training. I guess being just a couple of years older, I didn’t interact with many of you kids. Didn’t Peggy have a brother, Danny?
Good to hear from you. I look forward to the next reunion!
Wonderful!!! Yet another unintended reminder! I plan to post something about money on my blog… soon! 🙂
Let you fingers do the talking girl!
See you next Tuesday my weekly writing buddy!
LikeLiked by 1 person
I am just reading all of your message as I am taking the time to learn a little about WordPress. 🙂
You’re a quick study. Now all you got to do is figure out how you can get the like and unlike buttons on your site!
I’d show you, but I forgot how . . .
Yes, the like and unlike buttons will be my next challenge. At some point, I would also like more of the format that you have with the categories.
I enjoyed your stories regarding Vietnam and the old neighborhood. When were you in Panama?
Sent from Windows Mail
I spent several weeks in Fort Benjamin Harrison for what what they called “jungle training.” I went to Vietnam immediately afterwards in 1970.
One of the main things I learned was three card gut, A poker game that many of the junior officers love to play.