Sunday, March 9, 2014

“The Door of Blessing” – Part 2: The Fate of the Block

The Door of Blessing opened at 3611 Baring St. in May 1916. Its provided women recently released from prison a temporary home, training for a new job and a chance to make a better life. It appears that the neighbors were supportive of the home's goals but there were very concerned about the potential impact on the neighborhood.  A petition begun by Raymond G. Fuller and Miss Mary Klemm had gathered more than 100 names in opposition. A large general meeting held at St. Andrews Church across the street led to an offer to raise funds to purchase 3611 plus additional funds to support the home at a different location. However, Mrs. William C. Bullitt and the other organizers of the home were undeterred.
            In 1930, the census shows the Door of Blessing with seven "inmates" ranging in age from 19 to 62.  They included three black women born in Virginia, an immigrant from Germany and one from Ireland.  The home was run by Gertrude Brown, 65 years old, a single woman born in New York who had run it since at least 1920.  The house was sold in 1937 and became an apartment house.
            Who was behind the petition to block the Door of Blessing and what was the effect of the house on the 3600 block of Baring St.? Miss Mary Klemm was the 50 year-old daughter of Mary Klemm who owned the large stone single at the corner of 37th and Baring.  Mrs. Klemm was the widow of John Klemm, a manufacturer.  In 1918, she sold the large single house at the corner of 37th and Baring to Clare Tetlow.  Tetlow might not have met Mrs. Bullitt’s standard for “decent people,” but she controlled the company founded by her husband, Tetlow Manufacturing, a maker of cosmetics.  In 1936, she sold the house to Dr. Hugh McAdams who lived there until at least the mid-1950s.   The other organizer was John Fuller, the son of Dwight and Sarah Fuller who moved to 208 N. 34th St. about 1887.  Dwight Fuller was a dentist and John followed in his footsteps.  However, he gave up dentistry and became a real estate agent about 1914.  He rented at 3402 Baring.  His brother, Dwight B., took over the family house lived there into the 1940s.
            Next door, 3613 Baring was owned and occupied by Levi and Mary Fouse.  After his death in 1914, Mary sold the house in 1917.  It was bought by Owen McGrath, an Irish immigrant who was a saloon owner and liquor dealer.  He lived there with his wife, seven children and her mother and brother.  In 1931, it was sold at Sheriff sale and became a rental.
            Two houses were already split into apartments by 1900: 3616 Baring and 3624 Baring.  The others were either owner-occupied or were rented to a single family.  In 1913, 3604 became St.Andrew’s manse.  During the 1920s, two houses were split into apartments.  The first to be converted was 3610.  In 1900 it was rented to Dr. Belfry and his wife.  In 1908, the following ad appeared: “Apartments for gentlemen only; homelike, southern exposure; moderate summer rates; porch, ‘phone.’”  However, later that year it was sold to James Boyd, a saloon owner and liquor dealer who lived there with his mother, sister and brother into the 1920s.  However, by 1930, it was split into four apartments for three singles and a newlywed couple.
            The other house that went from owner-occupied to apartments by 1930 is 3620.   Its transition was slightly different.  In 1915 it was owned by Thaddeus Zook, a 77 year-old single lawyer who lived there with his two unmarried sisters.  All three died between 1916 and 1919.  The house was purchased by Frank Houston, a theater manager.  He lived there with his wife and two children and five lodgers.  They sold it within a few years and it was divided into seven apartments.  In 1930, there were 13 people living there.
Another type of transition took place at 3603.  From 1902-1922 it was the home of Ellis Bacon and Helen Comly Bacon and their family (including future city-planner, son Edmund).  Both Ellis and Helen had grown up in Powelton.  When they moved to Delaware County in 1922, an ad for 3603 included the statement “Could be changed to apartments."  In 1923, it was purchased by Robert Davies, a 50 year-old immigrant from England.  He had 8 years of education and was a secretary to a private family.  He lived there with his wife, Florence, and daughter.  After his death, Florence sold the house in 1946.  However, the entire time they lived there, the house was divided into seven apartments.
            These were the only transitions to apartments between 1915 and 1930.  In 1930, half (9) were still owner-occupied and one was rented to a single family.  Four houses were owner-occupied but had apartments and five (28%) were just apartments.  The balance changed during the 1930s when four were split up.  By 1940, 10 were apartments (including 3611); only 6 were owner-occupied.  The figure shows a relatively steady pace of change from virtually all owner-occupied (89%) in 1900 to 30% in 1940.
            During the period 1922-1940 some homes remained quite stable.  3615 Baring is a single home that was purchased by the Atkins family in 1884.  They owned the house until 1911.  In 1914, it was purchased by Anna C.  Robertson a 51-year-old single woman who owned it without a mortgage.  In the censuses of 1920, 1930 and 1940, she is listed as living there alone.  It was sold by her estate in 1943.  3607 Baring also remained quite stable.  It was purchased by John Price in 1903.  He died in 1911 and his wife died in 1922.  The house was then sold to Joseph P.  Garvey, a 41-year-old physician.  He and his wife, Mary, raised their family there.  He was still living there in 1950.  George H.  Hill, a 41-year-old broker, purchased 3601 Baring in 1886.  His son was still living there in 1950, 64 years later.
            There was no flight from the Door of Blessing and no sudden rush to the suburbs.  Only the Bacon family moved out of the city.  Most sales followed the death of an owner, not flight.  New owner-occupiers moved in.  However, there was a steady trend toward apartments probably driven by an aging house stock, the strain of the Depression on ownership and the need for cheap housing

“The Door of Blessing” and a Bit of NIMBY

            It was almost Christmas, 1915 and “[r]esidents in the neighborhood of 36th and Baring streets have risen in protest against the proposed location of a home for fallen women, known as ‘The Door of Blessing,’ in the now vacant property at 3611 Baring St. in the midst of one of the city’s oldest and most distinguished residential sections.”  The protest started with a petition begun by Raymond G. Fuller (3402Baring St.) and Miss Mary Klemm (3619 Baring St.) that included nearly a hundred names.  One argument used by those opposed to placing the home at 3611 was that the deeds required that the neighborhood be free from ‘stores, saloons or any other nuisance.’” (Ev Pub Ledger, Dec. 21, 1915)
            The article noted that “the institution is run and backed by a large committee of society women.”  Mrs. William C. Bullitt, president of the association, was firmly in charge.  Her father-in-law founded the law firm now known as Drinker Biddle & Reath.  Her husband was a member of the firm and had died recently. George Wharton Pepper, the treasurer, had founded the law firm of Pepper Hamilton and later served in the U. S. Senate.
            Mrs. Bullitt explained that “It is ridiculous all this tempest in a teapot about the home.  It will be entirely inoffensive, the girls will not be allowed to be on the porch or in sight and it will be like an ordinary house….  It could not depreciate their properties any more than they are depreciated, for it is a very poor neighborhood.  The Pennsylvania Railroad ruined it years ago with the smoke and all the decent people moved out.  I don’t understand where they see it as a good neighborhood.  They threaten they would sell their properties, but they could not, because they are worth nothing.”
            The article noted that on this block of Baring all but two houses were owner-occupied.   “Mrs. Edward Wilson, who lives at 3609 Baring street… said she did not know whether they would move or not as they had just made extensive repairs and alterations.  Mrs. Harry Palmer, at 3613, the other side of the proposed home, said... ’I have small girls,’ she said, ‘and while the home will undoubtedly be orderly and quiet, it is hardly the situation that I would select in which to raise two children.  We would most probably move in time.’”  The Palmers were renters.

Leaded Window in door of Door of Blessing
             The Door of Blessing opened at 3611 in May, 1916 as a home for women recently released from prison.  Miss A. M. Dupree explained “[a]ny woman who wants to try again is welcome.  Every inmate comes of her own free will….  Our doors are open to women of any creed or faith…  There are so many women who have no place to go but back to the conditions that brought them to the prison.”  The women shared the housework and mending and making carpet rugs.  Each was taught a trade and usually a position was found for her.  The home continued at this location for about 20 years.
            Who were the protestors?  Where they conservative anti-progressives?  Did the block crumble in the next 20 years?  In the blog, I’ll review the evidence.