Local Roller Rinks (thinking back)October 29, 2023
Thinking of Conshohocken while listening to a Country SongNovember 7, 2023
Don Len Trophies,
Gambling and other Maple Street Memories
By Jack Coll
9-20-23 (published 11-5-2023)
Like most residents of the community, I happened to be driving up Maple Street and there it was, a “For Sale” sign on the building at 624 Maple Street on the front of the former Don Len Trophy Building. I was aware that trophies, plaques and other award-winning hardware and memorabilia given out for accomplishments far and wide were no longer being prepared at the site but I didn’t realize the building would be going up for sale.
Don Len’s have been making trophies, award plaque’s, team jerseys and jackets in Conshohocken since 1966. It all started with a store and shop once located at 119 Fayette Street, in recent years 119 Fayette Street is home to “Blackfish” Restaurant. The trophy business was started by Don Ciotti and Len Wasmanski.
I can remember meeting young Lenny Wasmanski in 1980 when Mike Borzelleca and I were coaching a Conshohocken little league team and wanted to present each child on the team with a small trophy. We worked a deal with Lenny where we would stop in at the Fayette Street Shop one night after hours and assemble the trophies costing us two dollars for each trophy, it cost us a total of thirty bucks for the team.
Lenny and I became good friends throughout the years until his passing a few years back.
There’s something to be said the Wasmanski father and son team. They served the Conshohocken and vicinity communities for many years with kindness and at least in the early days they could produce a product overnight when needed, meaning a lot of organizations were late with their orders, or forgot, and the biggest request was we forgot to get a coach, or a board member or presidents an award and the banquet is tomorrow! Lenny never failed them.
The sale of the building was a topic of conversation among a few of my peers when one of the guys said he thought he remembered stories of the Don Len Building being a gambling hall years ago. The comment sparked my interest a little bit because I had never heard of a gambling hall at that address on Maple Street.
Now there’s a lot of history on Maple Street and yes, there was gambling on the strip back in the day. History on lower Maple Street goes back before the turn of the century when Irish immigrants settled in Conshohocken and the row homes on Lower Maple Street were cheap. The Irish mill workers flooded the area and it became known as “Cork Row” with a little play on Cork County Ireland.
For a time, African Americans populated the neighborhood thanks in part to Alan Wood busing in hundreds of African Americans from North and South Carlonia to work at Alan Wood’s steel mills. Conshohocken and vicinity simply didn’t have enough residents to work in the mills so Wood sent buses down south to recruit laborers promising a good wage and free living. Almost all the men to respond and move to Conshohocken were former slaves or the children of slaves. Upon arriving in Conshohocken, they set up tents and cabins on the Alan Wood Steel Property and later moved into the low rent houses on Maple Street. For a while Lower Maple Street was known as “Banjo Row.” It was said if you walked lower Maple Street in the early evening, you could hear the sound of banjo’s coming from every other porch along your stroll.
Then came the Italians, they arrived in Conshohocken for the same reason as everyone before them. They could work, worship and raise a family in America, and that was their dream. Once again, the scene along Maple Street changed and the area was flooded with Italians and Maple Street from Elm Street to Sixth Avenue and along the avenues particularly on Second, Third and Fourth Avenues the area was well known as “Little Italy.”
Getting back to the question of was the Don Len building ever a gambling hall? Flipping through my files I see that it was a bakery for many years. While I’m not sure when the building was constructed, I can tell you that Dominic Camardo owned and operated the business from 1935 until his death in 1949. His son Edward Camardo who resided on West Sixth Avenue for many years took over the business and within a year and a half in April of 1950, sold the business to Joseph Corropolese of Norristown. The sale included the building, all the fixtures, stock and goodwill. Corropolese had operated a bakery business in Norristown since the mid 1920’s.
About the gambling, well, it turns out that I have a file for that. Third drawer down, and in the back was a dusty old, what I call another “Useless File,” marked gambling. Well, according to my files gambling in Conshohocken is nearly as old as the borough itself.
An article that appeared in the Conshohocken Recorder newspaper in the fall of 1908 stating that a number of Cigar Stores in the borough were speak-easies and places of gambling. The article goes on to say that “Gambling is one of the oldest pastimes in history. In referring back to the history of our own country. I found out that the Indians were inveterate gamblers and it strikes me that a great number of our people must still have a lot of Indian blood in them.”
So, Let’s see, the earliest Maple Street gambling incident I have on record goes back to July 30, 1912 that started with a report of gambling on the corner of Seventh Avenue and Forrest Street. Officers Ruth and Mason responded but arrived too late to catch the gamblers in action. On their way back to the police station by way of Maple Street they saw a crap game in progress on Maple Street at First Avenue. While the police saw the game in progress all but one man escaped the police. Reports of Sunday morning gambling throughout the borough were also reported in the same article.
On a Saturday night in the spring of 1929 Joe Moser’s Cigar Store once located at the corner of Elm and Maple Street was raided by Chief of Police Donovan along with Officers Jacquot, Rosco and Williams in response to gambling complaints. Moser and a number of Conshohocken residents were arrested and fined for their illegal activities.
On April 14, 1930, the Pennsylvania State Police along with Montgomery County Detective Bougher raided the Cigar Store owned and operated by John J Harvey at 922 Maple Street. Harvey, a long-time resident owned the property at 916-922 Maple Street for many years. It was Harvey’s Ice Cream Company for a while, then Harvey Motor Company, it later became the Conshohocken Welding Company. By the mid 1930’s John Kelly owned and operated a beer distributor from the property. Beer was $1.50 a case, a $1.65 if you wanted it delivered and Kelly carried 58 different varieties of beer back then. By 1940 the property became a National Armory Guard Headquarters for the famed Conshohocken “Battery “C” Unit.” Among other things the property became office space and in recent years it has served as an accountant’s office.
But in April of 1930, it was a cigar store supplying illegal beer, wine and liquor, remember it was a time of prohibition, also confiscated by the State Police were a number of slot machines.
Getting back to the original question, was the Don Len Building ever a gambling hall, well, this might answer that question. In February 1953, a raid was conducted at 618 Maple Street. This is the property next to the Don Len Building, 618 Maple Street is currently a private residence or apartments but for many years was just a garage and the alley separates 618 Maple and the Don Len building. It was considered a major Montgomery County gambling hall according to Chief County Detective Albert Murphy. When the raiders walked in, Murphy said, “the establishment was taking horse race bets, and found run-down list, dope sheets, and numbers slips along with $362.60 in cash.” On the wall directly behind the table was a coin box telephone which they ripped down for evidence. However, before the device was taken down Detective Murphy took a bet from somebody who identified himself as “Peg,” the bet was for one dollar on number 333. It was determined that all the horse race betting was done in the front room on the first floor. In another room to the rear the raiders discovered a pool table used for shooting craps. Fifteen patrons were in the hall at the time of the raid, all were released.
So, one can understand the confusion of the gambling hall on the 600 block of Maple Street, but it wasn’t in the Don Len building.
With all that being said, I can return another useless file to the back of the filing cabinet, perhaps I’ll find a need to dust it off again in years to come, perhaps it stays one of many useless files in my library.
The “good ole’ days” weren’t always good, but they have always been interesting, if you enjoy the old stories, now might be a good time to sit and talk with your mother and father, your grandparents or elderly neighbors, they have stories to tell, it might take two or three beers to loosen them up, but they have some great stories to tell!
*Note, as of publishing, the old Don Len Building has been sold and is currently being renovated for the new owner. We wish them luck and welcome to Conshohocken.
** Look for details about the Conshohocken Adult Prom coming soon, save the date February 24th, 2024
*** Conshystuff Food Drive, happening now. Drop off food at the CNC 107 East 4th Ave or Coll’s Custom Framing