Brewerytown never too far behind me

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.)

Brewery_Philly

Going steady at the old Berddahl  Brewery*

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)

 

37 comments on “Brewerytown never too far behind me

  1. 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.

  2. contoveros says:

    Making the Brewerytown Rounds

    My good friend, Cassie McPeake Gilliano shared this post on Facebook and it got a few recollections from lots of her friends. I hope she doesn’t mind me sharing this with others here.

    Kathleen McPeake Gilliano
    This was written by Mike Contos……so nice
    November 14 at 1:13pm

    Kathleen Bilynsky
    Kathleen Bilynsky Thanks for the post my heart is St Ludwigs brewerytown heart emoticon
    November 14 at 1:26pm

    Alicia Cummins
    Alicia Cummins You go Mike.
    · November 14 at 5:51pm

    Mariel Halupa
    Mariel Halupa Enjoyed the article very much – keep writing and posting
    November 14 at 10:51pm

    Carmen Dijoseph
    Carmen Dijoseph playing half ball at the brewery was great fun
    November 15 at 6:06am

    Jack Wilson
    Jack Wilson hi Carmen nice to know your still here i think about you now and then and St ludwig’s been down the shore 4 40 some yrs 5 kids still alittle nuts God bless your bud jack
    November 16 at 6:39pm

    Carmen Dijoseph
    Carmen Dijoseph remember stopping by your house near stiles st.on our way to school everyday.living near reno nv.,married with a daughter we are very proud of.nice hearing from you.
    November 17 at 12:54pm

    Rosemary Kelly McCafferty</strong
    Enjoyed that article. Great memories of Brewerytown, friends and St. Ludwig's.
    November 15 at 1:06pm

    Jack Wilson
    u got that right it in the blood amen St. Ludwig’s
    November 15 at 2:08pm

    Michael J Contos
    Wow, I didn’t know that you shared this Cass.
    Cool
    I’m glad it brought back so many memories.

  3. contoveros says:

    This is what one realtor advertises as the Brewerytown of today. Check it out!

  4. jack Wilson says:

    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

    • contoveros says:

      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 . . .

      My Blog, by the way, is dedicated to my dad. His name was Achilles Contoveros. Someone at Ellis Island shortened it to Contos. I took the name back when I “grew up” some six or seven years ago.

      It’s a delight to know the old neighborhood lives in the hearts of all of us no matter where we may roam!

    • Tim Ward says:

      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.

      • jack wilson says:

        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

        • contoveros says:

          Jack,

          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!

  5. contoveros says:

    This message was offered on FaceBook 1:11 pm 10-14-15:

    Kathleen McPeake Gilliano

    Wow that was great, well put….a nice write up Mike and a great picture

    • Tim Ward says:

      Mike Contos- i remember you and I really enjoyed that. Tim Ward-“Fairmount”!

      • contoveros says:

        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.

        • Tim Ward says:

          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

          • contoveros says:

            “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:

            daniel_behl@vanguard.com

            Michael J

    • contoveros says:

      (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!
      “Mikey” Contos,
      aka contoveros

      ——————————————————————–
      Sunday

      11/15, 7:49pm
      Kathleen McPeake Gilliano
      God bless you Mike hope you have a wonderful fulfilling retirement life

  6. contoveros says:

    This is a message I got from Facebook:

    daniel_behl@vanguard.com
    2:07 PM (17 hours ago)

    to me
    Mike, who /what Why did you have to complete the request?
    I like what you wrote; its well written.
    Dan

    • contoveros says:

      Dan,

      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!

      Thanks,

      Michael J

  7. contoveros says:

    The following message were sent to Contoveros via FaceBook

    duff6551@aol.com 10:46 AM (20 hours ago)

    to me


    i chose a much different path – after vietnam – looked forward – never back –

    thank you for the reminder of what was good about that life

    God bless
    Duffy

    • contoveros says:

      Duffy,

      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.

  8. contoveros says:

    The following message were sent to Contoveros via FaceBook

    Joe Osborne 8:50 AM (22 hours ago)

    Mikey …..Very cool..

    Wow strange…..Just yesterday I registered a domain name …BrewerytownRecords…I am planning on putting up some of my music and Brewerytown photos, etc. if anybody has some pics send them to me.

    Joey O

    Sent from my iPad

    • contoveros says:

      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.

      • Joey Oz says:

        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.

        Joey Oz

        • contoveros says:

          You got it Joe.

          I’m going to get in touch with Dan Behl to start working on that. I’m sure I could locate Joey Cleary and Bill Kane as well as a fellow from the great Northeast to join us. His name is Jim Hubmaster and is a friend on Facebook who sang first tenor.

          See you next year!

          Michael J

    • Tim Ward says:

      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 twdr112@yahoo.com will appreciate if you can send me any links!

      • contoveros says:

        Tim,

        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.

        Sincerely,

        Michael J

        • Tim Ward says:

          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

  9. contoveros says:

    The following message were sent to Contoveros via FaceBook

    Doris Widman Blash 8:07 AM (23 hours ago)
    to me

    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.

    • contoveros says:

      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!

      • Bill Foley says:

        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?

        • contoveros says:

          Yes, Peggy had a younger brother named Dan. He was named after his father, but I don’t think he was ever called a junior. The last I heard he was in Fairmount. Cass of course is in New Jersey and so is Peggy. I believe Patsy is in the Norhteast, but I don’t know about Nancy or Rosemary, the “baby” of the family.

          Good to hear from you. I look forward to the next reunion!

  10. Wonderful!!! Yet another unintended reminder! I plan to post something about money on my blog… soon! 🙂

  11. nursebelva says:

    I enjoyed your stories regarding Vietnam and the old neighborhood. When were you in Panama?

    Sent from Windows Mail

    • contoveros says:

      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.

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