January 23, 2019

   

A Conshohocken Christmas - 1968

50 years ago

1968—THERE WAS A WAR, ASSASSINATIONS, A SONG CALLED “IN-A-GADDA-DA-VIDA”

“GREEN ACRES” AND “BEWITCHED” WERE ON TELEVISION

AND CONSHOHOCKEN WAS CELEBRATING CHRISTMAS

By Jack Coll

     Are you old enough to remember 1968, perhaps some of us were too young while others may have been too high, so if you’re up for a trip down memory lane, let-us drift back in time a half-a-century and recall a few memories both good and bad from 1968.

     A number of television shows debuted in 1968 including “Adam-12,” “Here Comes The Brides,” and “The Ghost And Mrs. Muir.”  Two of the debut shows that I enjoyed were “The Doris Day Show” and “The Mod Squad.”  Doris Day played Doris Martin and the show ran from 1968 until 1973. 

     “The Mod Squad” was this young “Hip” show about three young outsiders who weren’t police officers but who ran into trouble with the law.  To avoid jail the three agreed to infiltrate the counter culture and help fight crime as undercover agents.  It starred Michael Cole as Pete Cochran, Clarence Williams III as Linc Hayes and Peggy Lipton as Julie Barnes.  The show ran for 123 episodes from 1968 thru 1973.

     Other 1968 popular television shows included Laugh-In, Gomer Pyle, Bonanza, Mayberry, RFD, Family Affair, Gunsmoke, Julia, Dean Martin Show, Here’s Lucy, Beverly Hillbillies, Mission Impossible, Bewitched, Red Skelton Hour, My Three Sons, Glen Campbell Goodtime Hour, Ironside, Virginian, The FBI, Green Acres, Dragnet, Daniel Boone, Walt Disney, Ed Sullivan, Carol Burnett Show, Flying Nun, Monkees, and the Jackie Gleason Show. 

     I love talkin’ music and 1968 was a great year, a few we remember, a few we forgot, and a few we’d like to forget, so here we go.  We had the usual mid-1960’s superstars like The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, The Doors, Jimi Hendrix, The Who and Creedence Clearwater Revival.         

Here’s a short list of the good, the bad and the forgotten:

I Heard It Through The Grapevine—Marvin Gaye

Dock Of The Bay—Otis Redding

Mony Mony—Tommy James and the Shondells

Born To Be Wild—Steppenwolf

White Room—Cream

Time of the Season—Zombies

In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida—Iron Butterfly

Every Day People—Sly & The Family Stone

Piece Of My Heart—Janis Joplin

Crimson And Clover—Tommy James and the Shondells

While My Guitar Gently Weeps—Beatles

The Weight—The Band

Think—Aretha Franklin

Hush—Deep Purple

Crossroads—Cream

Judy In Disguise (With Glasses)—John Fred & His Playboys

Green Tambourine—The Lemon Pipers

Tighten Up—Archie Bell & The Drills

Harper Valley PTA—Jennie C. Riley

Incense And Peppermints—Strawberry Alarm Clock

Only The Strong Survive—Jerry Butler

Build Me Up Buttercup—Foundations

Games People Play—Joe South

Slip Away—Clarence Carter

Mrs. Robinson—Simon & Garfunkel

Stay In My Corner—Dells

La-La Means I Love You—Delfonics

For Once In My Life—Stevie Wonder

A Beautiful Morning—Rascals

Who’s Making Love—Johnny Taylor

Magic Bus—The Who

Stand By Your Man—Tammy Wynette

Son-Of-A Preacher Man—Dusty Springfield

Love Child—The Supremes

Israelites—Desmond Dekler & The Aces

Midnight Confessions—Grass Roots

I’ve Gotta Get A Message To You—Bee Gees

Say It Loud-I’m Black And I’m Proud—James Brown

Everybody’s Talkin’—Nilsson

Abraham, Martin And John—Dion

Cry Like A Baby—Box Tops

Hooked On A Feeling—B J Thomas

One—Three Dog Night

MacArthur Park—Richard Harris

Fire—The Crazy World Of Arthur Brown

Do It Again—The Beach Boys

Those Were The Days—Mary Hopkin

Stoned Soul Picnic—5th Dimension

Polk Salad Annie—Tony Joe White

Hurdy Gurdy Man—Donovan

Dizzy—Tommy Roe

Elenore—The Turtles

Angel Of The Morning—Merrilee Rush & the Turnabouts

I Thank You—Sam & Dave

Worst That Could Happen—Brooklyn Bridge

The Mighty Quinn—Manfred Mann

Young Girl—Gary Puckett & The Union Gap

Yummy, Yummy, Yummy—Ohio Express

Hold Me Tight—Johnny Nash

Atlantis—Donovan

Girl Watcher—O’Kaysions

I Started A Joke—Bee Gees

Stormy—Classics IV

     How about it, did you recall most of the music from 1968, I hope we touched on a few memories.  

     From music to film, what was happening at the Riant Theatre in 1968? Well the Riant Theatre was struggling like every other main-street movie house in the country.  Strip shopping centers and a number of malls had more modern theatres that provided free parking, bigger and better snack-stands and other popular amenities. 

     The Riant Theatre opened with much hype on November 11, 1921 but by 1968 the 47 year old theatre needed repairs and upgrades and seemed to be riding out Father-Time.

     A quick check of the year’s top 20 movies included:

2001: A Space Odyssey

Funny Girl

The Love Bug

The Odd Couple

Bullitt

Romeo and Juliet

Oliver

Rosemary’s Baby

Planet of the Apes

Night of the Living Dead

Yours, Mine, and Ours

The Lion in Winter

The Green Berets

Blackbeard’s Ghost

The Fox

Charly

The Boston Strangler

Candy

The Thomas Crown Affair

 The Detective

A few other notable films released in 1968 included:

Chitty Chitty Bang Bang

Coogan’s Bluff

Finian’s Rainbow

Barbarella

Hang ‘Em High

With Six You Get Eggroll

Wild In The Streets

Yellow Submarine

The Graduate

Valley Of The Dolls

Bonnie and Clyde

A number of actors made their debut in 1968, they included:

Gary Busey—Wild In The Streets

Timothy Dalton—The Lion In Winter

Goldie Hawn—The One and Only, Genuine, Original Family Band

Barbara Hershey—With Six You Get Eggroll

Madeline Kahn—The Dove

Stacy Keach—The Heart Is A Lonely Hunter

Sondra Locke—The Heart Is A Lonely Hunter

Ali MacGraw—A Lovely Way To Die

Marsha Mason—Beyond The Law

Malcolm McDowell—If

Chuck Norris—The Wrecking Crew

Talia Shire—The Wild Racers

Barbara Streisand—Funny Girl

     Just wondering how many of the year’s top films you viewed at the Riant Theatre.  In 1970 the Riant Theatre renovated the theatre and held a Grand-Reopening for general rated films.  But the residents just weren’t supportive of the main street theatre.  By 1972 the Riant was only open on weekends, showing triple XXX flicks.  A year later the theatre marquee went blank and just blended in with a number of the boarded-up store fronts that lined lower Fayette Street at that time.

1968 was an extremely turbulent year, perhaps you remember:

April 4, 1968, Martin Luther King Jr. was shot and killed by James Earl Ray.  King’s assassination lead to violence and race riots throughout the United States.

June 5, 1968, United States Senator Robert Kennedy was assassinated at the age of 42 on June 5th.  Kennedy was shot three times by Sirhan Sirhan at the Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles.

January 7, 1968 NASA launched a Surveyor Mission, the mission was to achieve a soft landing on the surface of the Moon.  The spacecraft was successful in its landing and achieved its mission objectives.  The surveyor program led to a manned Moon mission.

November 22, 1968, The popular rock band, “The Beatles” released the “White Album” an untitled double album that featured some of the legendary band’s most experimental music.

Other Events from 1968 included:

President Lyndon Johnson signed the Civil Rights act of 1968 following the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr.

Anti-Vietnam War protests were held throughout the western world.

North Vietnam and Viet Cong troops launched the Tet offensive.

President Johnson ordered an end to the bombing of North Vietnam.

There was an earthquake in Sicily that killed 231 people with more than 250 injured.

The third heart transplant is performed in South Africa by Dr. Christian N. Barnard.

The London Bridge was sold for 1 million, and later re-erected in Arizona.

The Redwood National Park is created in California to protect the giant redwoods.

Aristotle Onassis and Jacqueline Kennedy marry.

The first “Big Mac” went on sale at McDonalds costing 49 cents.

The Beatles created Apple Records and “Hey Jude” was the first single on the label.

     The 1968 Philadelphia Sports scene was extremely exciting for Conshohocken residents who were Flyers fans.  For the 1967-68 Flyers team it was their inaugural season and the first professional hockey team in Philly since the 1930-31 Philadelphia Quakers.  The Flyers won the Division with a 31-32-11 record but lost in the first round of the playoffs to the St. Louis Blues in seven games.

     Bernie Parent was in goal for 38 games with a 16-17 record and Doug Farrell was the other goalie for 37 games he won 15 and lost 15.  The captain of the team was Bill Putnam and Bill Sutherland scored the team’s very first goal in franchise history in a 5-1 loss on October 11, 1967 on the road to the California Seals.

     The Philadelphia 76ers also had a championship season in 1967-68 posting a 62-20 record.  The team played their games at the Spectrum under Coach Alex Hannum.  They beat the New York Knicks in six games in the Eastern Division Semifinals but lost to the Boston Celtics in seven games in the finals.  A number of players on that team included Wilt Chamberlain, Billy Cunningham, Hal Greer, Matt Guokas, Wali Jones, Chet Walker and Luke Jackson.

     The Philadelphia Phillies Baseball Team finished eighth in the National League with a record of 76 wins and 86 losses, 21 games behind the National League pennant winning Cardinals.  It was Gene Mauch’s final year as a Phillies manager.  If you listened to the Phillies on WCAU radio the announcers were By Saam, Bill Campbell and Richie Ashburn who were calling the play-by-play.

     If you were a Phillies fan 50 years ago perhaps you’ll remember a few of the players that included Don Money, Cookie Rojas, Tony Taylor, Bill White, Bobby Wine, Johnny Callison, Doug Clemens, Tony Gonzalez, Larry Hisle, Don Lock, Turk Farrell, Woodie Fryman, Grant Jackson, Larry Jackson, Chris Short and Rick Wise just to name a few of the players on the 1968 rooster.

     If you were an Eagles fan in 1968 well you had one miserable season.  The Birds under Head Coach Joe Kuharich finished the season with a 2-12-0 record, the home games were played at Franklin Field, and their two victories came over the Detroit Lions and the New Orleans Saints. Just to throw a little salt in the wound the Dallas Cowboys were 12-2 under Head Coach Tom Landry, the Cowboys quarterbacks that year included Don Meredith, Craig Morton and Dan Reeves.  The Eagles quarterbacks were Norm Snead and King Hill.  The Eagles lost twice to Dallas, 45-13, and 34-14.

     A few of the other Eagles players you might remember included Tom Woodeshick, Gary Ballman, Izzy Lang, Ben Hawkins, Mike Ditka, Joe Scarpati, and Tim Rossovich.

IN CONSHOHOCKEN

     Growing up in Conshohocken 50 years ago was everything wonderful that lifetime residents remember.  Residents who have joined us in recent years really know nothing about the Conshohocken of 50 years ago. 

     In 1968, the borough had six schools, four elementary schools including St. Mary’s, St. Matthew, SS Cosmas & Damien and Hervey Walker Elementary.  There was Archbishop Kennedy, (Actually in Whitemarsh Township, remember the school changed names in 1966 from St. Matthew’s to Archbishop Kennedy) and then there was the Montgomery County Community College housed in the old Conshohocken High School once located at Seventh Avenue and Fayette Street.  Montgomery County Community College was founded in Conshohocken and called the borough home from the fall of 1966 until moving to their new campus in 1971.

     The town was loaded with children, the combination of post-World War II and the Korean War baby boom, with the majority of residents in the borough being Christian who produced anywhere from four to eight children per family led to an overload of kids.  In 1962, there were six schools, the four elementary schools and two high schools including Conshohocken and St. Matthew High Schools, the six schools combined had nearly 3,000 students.  Today we have one school, Conshohocken Elementary, with about 170 students.

     The Conshohocken Fellowship House was truly the borough’s lifeline for most all of the residents with Al Donofrio serving as Director.  Programs at the Fellowship House at that time included basketball, kickball, arts and crafts and a ton of lobby games including Ping-Pong, pool, and fuzzball along with tons of board games.   

     Other memories came from our youth leagues including baseball and football, scout programs and events in the borough’s parks.

     A decade or so earlier Christmas shopping on lower Fayette Street and along Elm and Hector Streets was the place to shop on Friday and Saturday nights.  According to the 1940 census Conshohocken had 240 retail outlets and service businesses that included barber shops, shoe repair shops and tailors.

     Popular retail stores in the lower end of town thru the years included, Laudato’s Bakery, Rykowski Sons Jewelers, Herman’s Dry Goods and Shoe Store, D’Annunzio Bros., Diamonds- Watches and Jewelry, General Gift and Novelty Company run by Vincent Agostinelli, The Paper Store, Rafferty’s Pharmacy, Conshohocken Fruit Market, Nick and Mike’s, Cameo Beauty Shop, Dominic’s Shoes, Harris Home Furnishing Co., Jacobson’s Men Store, Shirley’s Market, Charlie Hicks Music Store, Redmond’s Shoes, Lefkoe Fashion Shop, A Baby’s Castle-Everything Baby, Light Parker Furniture, Terminal Restaurant, Gordon’s Furniture, Flocco’s Shoe Service, Fran & Bill’s Restaurant, Kehoe Hardware, Conshohocken Flower Shop, Ray’s Appliance, Baldwin Flowers, The Best Shop Women’s & Children Clothing, Anthony’s Men’s Shop, J. A. Warrell’s and hundreds of other stores that once made the sidewalks on lower Fayette Street very hard to navigate on Friday and Saturday nights.

     By 1968, GONE was F. W. Woolworths who moved to Plymouth Square Shopping Center in 1961, GONE was the very popular Grants Store once located on the 100 block of Fayette Street, GONE were dozens of other staple stores that once called Fayette Street home.

     It should be noted that in 1968 while the newspapers and local television stations painted Conshohocken as this run-down, boarded-up mill town, that really wasn’t the case.  The Conshohocken residential section of the borough which included about 90 percent of Conshohocken was beautiful, the avenues and side streets throughout the borough had the fine trimmed lawns, the streets were clean and the residents were extremely pleasant.

     However the gateway coming into Conshohocken off the Matsonford Bridge painted a very bleak picture.  A row of stores at Marble and Fayette Streets had long been boarded up including the former Conshohocken Hotel and Nick Spurs on the right and the former Benny and Reds Barber Shop on the left.  The two short rows of former stores off the bridge fell victim  

to the lack of parking and the disrepair of the buildings.  The boarded up store-fronts continued up Fayette Street to the 100 block, and along the side-streets that included boarded-up stores along Elm and Hector Streets.  In the lower end trash seemed to line the sidewalks and gutters, the whitewashed windows and boarded up storefronts painted a bleak picture of Conshohocken.

     Behind the scenes the wheels of urban redevelopment had been turning for nearly a decade, town leaders continued to work hard on a dream that one day Conshohocken would rise up and be the gem of Montgomery County.

     But for the stores that remained on lower Fayette Street it was still Christmas, and while very few outsiders traveled to Conshohocken to do Christmas shopping dedicated residents continued to support the local businesses.  Not only were the businesses owners our neighbors but we relied on them at a time when the borough had no money to help support our Fellowship House, sponsor our youth leagues and other programs in support of the borough’s youngsters.

     If you lived in Conshohocken in 1968 you were 50 years younger and certainly had a different view of the borough, you had a different perspective, and although the mills were gone for the most part, and the borough was broke, and urban redevelopment was still just a dream, you lived in a great world, because Conshohocken was your world.

     Today’s borough children will create their own memories, different memories, they won’t talk about playing in the woods, or staying out after dark with the neighborhood gang, or reminisce about the Fellowship House like you did, but they’ll all have fond memories of growing up in Conshohocken because Conshohocken is still the greatest town in America.

     If you’re not sure about that just ask anyone who grew up here, they’ll tell you!

     Certainly Christmas 50 years ago had a different setting in Conshohocken, but it was still Christmas, and that my friend never changes.  

Thanks for the walk down memory lane

I needed that!

Thanks for the memories

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