Looking back 50 Years
At Conshohocken and the Rest of The World
By Jack Coll
I’m sitting in my office thinking about a the 50-year reunion coming up for the 1972 Class of Upper Merion High School in a few months and got to thinking about a few things I remember from 50 years ago. As it turns out I hardly remember anything from a half a century ago because I was 18 years old and had very little interest, (if any) in domestic and foreign affairs. I remember the girls, the cars and the music but not much else. So, I referred to my files to come up with some points of interest from 1972. So, if you’re interested in taking a ride down memory lane and recalling a few memories, read-on, the memories won’t disappoint.
Checking my files, I barley recall Bobby Fisher beating Boris Spassky to become the World Chess Champion played in Rayjon, Iceland. I don’t remember the details but I do recall eight Arab Terrorist who invaded the Olympic Village in Munich, Germany and killed eleven Israeli Athletes. You might remember hearing about “Bloody Friday” in Northern Ireland. Twenty-Two bombs exploded in Belfast, Ireland and nine people were killed with more than 130 seriously injured.
Richard Nixon soundly defeated George McGovern for his second term as President. 1972 was the beginning of the Watergate scandal when police apprehend five men who attempted to bug the United States Democratic National Committee Headquarters located in the Watergate complex of Washington D. C. Governor George Wallace was shot three times on May 15, 1972 in Maryland in an attempted assassination attempt by 22-year-old Arthur Bremer which left Wallace paralyzed.
How about this from 50 years ago, 1972 was the first year a video game was introduced on our TV sets, Pong’s Arcade version was introduced by Atari! American swimmer Mark Spitz won a record seven Gold Medals in the Summer Olympics in Munich. Also, in 1972 David Bowie first introduced his glorious alter ego Ziggy Stardust.
Important to our generation 1972 was also the year when the last United States ground troops were withdrawn from Vietnam. President Nixon visited China and J. Edgar Hoover, the director of the FBI for all 48 years of its existence, passed away.
As an 18-year-old kid I did remember almost all of the popular movies that came out in 1972 starting with this one that I’m sure most guys will remember, Linda Lovelace introduced us to the adult flick “Deep Throat.” The movie poster read: “How far does a girl have to go to untangle her tingle.”
Other notable flicks from 72’ included:
The Godfather—Marlon Brando, Al Pacino, James Caan, Diane Keaton
What’s Up Doc—Barbara Streisand, Ryan O’Neal, Madeline Kahn
The Candidate—Robert Redford, Peter Boyle
Cabaret—Liza Minnelli, Michael York
Deliverance—Jon Voight, Burt Reynolds, Ned Betty
Every Thing You Always Wanted To Know About Sex, But Were Afraid To Ask—Woody Allen, Gene Wilder
The Getaway—Steve McQueen, Ali McGraw, Sally Struthers
Lady Sings The Blues—Diana Ross, Billy Dee Williams, Richard Pryor
The Life and Times of Judge Roy Bean—Paul Newman, Ava Gardner
There was also “Play It Again Sam,” “The Poseidon Adventure,” “Sleuth,” and “High Plains Drifter” among others.
That brings us to music, now I remember music, I remember all the music from 1972, all the hits and non-hits, all the one-hit wonders and all the novelty songs. Somehow, I remembered 1972 as being a year of soft-rock, singer-songwriter type artist. I was playing guitar back then and loved the singer-songwriter style of songs. A few of the artists I loved back then included Don McLean, Neil Young, America, Gilbert O’Sullivan, Harry Nilsson, Melanie, Neil Diamond, Cat Stevens, Carol King, Arlo Guthrie, Bread, Paul Simon, Jim Croce, Carly Simon, Harry Chapin and Jackson Browne, among others.
Most of us know the popular songs from 1972 like “American Pie,” Heart of Gold,” “I Am Woman,” “A Horse With No Name,” “Long Cool Woman In A Black Dress,” “Nights In White Satin,” “Back Stabbers,” and so-on. So, here’s a short list of popular songs from 1972 you know but might have forgotten until you read it.
The Candy Man—Sammy Davis, Jr.
Baby, Don’t Get Hooked on Me—Mac Davis
Oh Girl—The Chi-Lites
My Ding-a-Ling—Chuck Berry
I’ll Take You There—The Staple Singers
Everybody Plays The Fool—The Main Ingredient
Precious and Few—Climax
Go All The Way—Raspberries
Never Been To Spain—Three Dog Night
Kiss an Angel Good Morin’—Charley Pride
Schools Out—Alice Cooper
Saturday in the Park—Chicago
Family Affair—Sly & The Family Stone
Freddie’s Dead—Curtis Mayfield
Don’t Say You Don’t Remember—Beverly Bremers
Doctor My Eyes—Jackson Browne
I’d Like To Teach The World To Sing (In Perfect Harmony)—The New Seekers
Day After Day—Badfinger
Morning Has Broken—Cat Stevens
City of New Orleans—Arlo Guthrie
I Can See Clearly Now—Johnny Nash
So between the national events, the silver screen flicks, and the music scene, what was going on in Conshohocken, well for starters let’s look at a few businesses in and around Conshohocken in 1972,
Fran & Bill’s Restaurant at 106 Fayette Street
Uncle Sam’s on Apple Street in West Conshohocken, featuring live bands like “Night-Time Sunshine” and Duck Butter
J&A Lounge, 103 Spring Mill Avenue
Dougherty’s Pharmacy at Fourth & Fayette Street
Rafferty’s Pharmacy, 57 Fayette Street
Marian’s Town Delicatessen, 113 Fayette Street
Vince’s Tavern, 1032 Hector Street
Nino’s Pizzeria, Second Avenue and Fayette Street
Young’s Market, 114 Fayette Street
Baby’s Castle, 73 Fayette Street
Charles Hair Styling, 324 Fayette Street
National Paint Center, 8 E. Second Avenue
Durbas Shoes, 400 E. Hector Street
JD’s Cold Cuts, West 6th Avenue and Maple Streets
Penn Jersey, 611 Fayette Street
Acme Vac-Sew Center, 66 Fayette Street
Duke Fair’s Gulf Station, 5th Avenue and Fayette Street
John Brothers, 2nd Avenue & Harry Street
Rae’s Restaurant, 11 E. Hector Street
Gold Seal Market, 64 Fayette Street
Depol’s Music Store, 2nd & Fayette Street
Conshohocken News Agency, 105 Fayette Street
Charles Hick Store, 70 Fayette Street
Fleming Motors, 601 East Hector Street
B&M Auto Parts, 6th Avenue and Maple Street
Kehoe Hardware, 109 Fayette Street
Ross Noblit’s Conshohocken Esso, 7th & Fayette Street
Domenic’s Shoe Store, 69 Fayette Street
Boccella’s Luncheonette, 521 Fayette Street
Bowe’s Esso, North Lane & Butler Pike
Tony’s Beauty Salon, 9th & Jones Street
Don’s Cold Cuts, (Home of the Super Hoagie) 11th Avenue at Wells Street
Jules Lombardi’s Italian-American Restaurant, 1316 Ridge Pike
E. F. Moore Chevrolet-Oldsmobile, 1200 Fayette Street
You should know that in 1972 McDonald’s in West Conshohocken was offering a 99 cent Dinner Special, for less than a buck you got a “Big New Quarter Pounder with cheese, a regular order of their Famous French Fries, a regular size coke and a nice serving of Hot Apple Pie, billed as a complete meal for 99 cents.
AND SO-ON—the list of businesses go on for another four pages, feel free to list one of the many businesses I might not have mentioned.
So what-else was going on in Conshohocken in 1972, well, let’s take a brief look, of course there was urban redevelopment, some residents were opposed to it, while the majority of residents were all for it.
There was big news in the Conshohocken Soap Box Derby circles, The derby in its 20th year in the borough was allowing GIRLS TO RACE HERE FOR THE FIRST TIME IN THE BOROUGH’S HISTORY. It was reported that 53 racers participated in 1972 making it the biggest race in Conshohocken to date. A number of the racers included William Mellon, Laura Licwinko, Charles Henik, Charles Smith, Thomas Dougherty, John DiSantis, Patricia Anne Carroll, Robert Carroll, Tish Schank, Peter Davis, Donna Donovan, Dennis Donovan, Thomas Weidman, Dennis Burns, Ted Zoltowski, Fred Kelly, Joanne Shaffer, and Ralph Falconero just to name a few of the racers.
A few other things: By July of 1972 Young Windows was in first place in the borough’s Babe Ruth Baseball League with a 6-1 record ahead of Flocco’s Shoe Store, T K Club, Jim Bowe Rambler and Tornetta Trucking. A few of the players on Young’s Windows in 1972 included Joe Haines, Al Cristello, and Ernie Martinelli.
We also had a fifteen team Conshohocken Slow Pitch League in 1972, There was an Independent division and an Industrial division. The Village Tavern and Vince’s Tavern were standing at the top of the Independent Division half-way through the season followed by Bridgeport Pharmacy, Phillips Ford, Swedesburg A. A., Plymouth Hotel, Wally’s Grille, Galanti Welding and Recticon. The Industrial Division was led by Lee Tires and Day Construction Company followed by C & D Battery, Hale Fire Pump, Finneran & Haley and Wolfington Chevrolet.
More than 250 kids participated in the Second Annual Home Run Derby supervised by West Conshohocken Police Chief Albert Slater at the Conshohocken “A” Field. Winners at the derby included Joseph McCann, Scott Stiteler, Brian Wisniewski, James Galie, John Maresca, David Wisniewski, Michael Welsh, James Kelly, and Chris Pupillo.
And of course Conshohocken had a “Pass, Punt and Kick Contest held at the “A” Field sponsored by Phillips Ford. Eight Year old winners were Joseph Stafanick, Adam Donaldson, and Kenneth Pettine.
Always something going on in the police files, I see a red Corvette was stolen from the back lot at E. F. Moore’s Auto Agency. Ed Moore Jr. told police that two other cars had to be moved to get to the Corvette. Looks like Rafferty’s Pharmacy on Fayette Street was robbed not once, not twice but three times in 1972. Unbelievable, a burglary at the Village Tavern, 8th Avenue and Spring Mill Avenue was reported by owner Phillip Gravinese, two windows were broken but it seemed all that was missing was whiskey. (In my opinion that cut the suspect list down to about half the town). On that very same day thieves hit Duke Fair’s Gulf Gas station at 5th & Fayette Street, two windows were broken to gain entry and cash and tools were reported missing. The police report from 1972 runs on-and-on with gang activity and so-on but we’ll move along.
Apparently, this was pretty big news in 72’, Conshohocken Postmaster J. P. Powers announced that a coin-operated photocopy machine had been installed inside the Conshohocken Post Office, it cost 25 cents per copy.
In 1972 Montgomery County announced that four county parks would be open for the summer season. Upper Perkiomen Valley Park, (known as Green Lane to most) was the most popular of the county parks due to the sandy beach and swimming in Deep Run Lake. There were more than 600 picnic tables and 240 fire places with 40 family camp sites. The park also included tennis and basketball courts, fishing, boating and hiking.
Who remembers when the Heywood House once located on Fayette Street between 6th and 7th Avenues was converted from the former Montgomery County Community College office building to provide five social service agencies in the building. And who remembers a Day Care Center being approved at 525 Fayette Street. The Conshohocken Recorder newspaper, then located at 60 Fayette Street stated that 50 children would use the facility with eleven adult staff members.
In the spring of 1972, the Presbyterian Church once located on the corner of Third Avenue and Fayette Street was demolished to make way for the Marshall Lee Towers.
We all remember Agnes!, of course we do in June of 1972 the flood waters came to Conshohocken, it was the worst flood in a hundred years as more than 100 families on the east side were forced to leave their homes and were temporally housed at Hervey Walker School. A dam gave-way in Reading allowing even more water to flood Conshohocken but the real problem at that time was borough officials were informed that crates of high explosives were washing down river and headed for Conshohocken. The Matsonford Bridge was closed to all traffic for a couple of hours in case of an explosion. (Ah, Good-Times)
The borough had problems at the very popular un-official playground, the silt basin above 12th Avenue on the West Side of the borough. A Conshohocken Recorder Newspaper reporter visited the silt basin one spring day back in 1972 and found tons of beer cans and noted that they were mostly Budweiser cans to which he noted that probably says something about people who enjoy the king of beers. Mini-bikes zoomed by and rifle fire was heard in the distance. Youths with slingshots stalked a pheasant as a stagnant pond complete with tadpoles sat nearby. Much of the silt basin was located in Plymouth Township leaving very little supervision.
Then there was the Riant Theatre, just the name “Riant” always draws an “Ah, the Riant” from old timers. Well by 1972 the theatre was showing “X” Movies, or were they XXX. The Riant Theatre in Conshohocken was going the way of many main street movie houses across the country. The building was a little run down, there was very little if any parking and was only open on weekends. The problem was that they were showing the movies with the billboards hanging on the outside of the theatre with both catholic and public school kids walking by the signs everyday going to and from school.
One bill board showed a picture of a young man surrounded by three girls, two of them holding his legs. The headline read: “He Conquered The Hills Piece by Piece.” “And Each Time It was Harder and Harder.” The signs also had little explanations: When You Talk about a Big Man, This Was Real a Big Man. Y all Come Now!”
Talk of news and views of 1972 could go on for a few hours, so we’ll cut-it here leaving everyone with their own memories from a half a century ago. One final note, in 1972 the Conshohocken Recorder newspaper hired a West Conshohocken resident who attended Upper Merion High School, Class of 1972, Phil Ceccola to provide editorial cartoons for the paper each week. Phil was a talented young artist and a pretty damn good photographer. Phil went on to document many of the music bands that traveled in and around Philadelphia including one Bruce Springsteen. Phil’s work has been on display on and off at Coll’s Custom Framing several times highlighting many of his early photographs of Springsteen when Bruce ran around West Conshohocken and Bridgeport, it’s really quite a story, about Bruce and of course about Phil.
Stories and anecdotes in the Conshohocken history files are just endless. For more history articles go to conshystuff.com and punch on articles by Jack and Brian Coll, you’ll enjoy a few of them.
As the Upper Merion Class of 1972 reunion draws closer, I’ll likely to be thinking more and more about life 50 years ago, good and bad, it all history now, nothing to do now except look back. Photographs throughout the course of this article include:
The “Borough of Conshohocken” welcoming sign as traveler’s entered the borough from the Matsonford Bridge 1972
Old store-fronts on lower Fayette Street just off the Matsonford Bridge-1972
Flood waters from Hurricane Agnes in June of 1972 showing the Conshohocken train station under water.
A 1975 photo of the boarded up Riant Theatre, in 1972 the Riant was showing X rated movies that had the community in an up-roar.
Assorted Conshohocken Recorder newspaper advertisements from 1972