Gabby lived in Kensington, at 2536 North Mascher Street, from September 1969 until he returned to California in August 1970. I too lived on Mascher Street for June and July 1970, working on the grape boycott. Which we won! Here is what Gabby wrote about his arrival in Philadelphia and his first impressions of Kensington.
In September 1969, after 3000 miles of Greyhound I had hit the Philadelphia bus station just before dusk. Bus stations being bus stations and 3000 miles on a bus being 3000 miles on a bus, I was not feeling my very best waiting for a ride to the boycott house, although the crispness of a fall late afternoon cheered my spirits a touch.
Edna Lutz, daughter of a Jewish camp director in Cincinnati and herself an excessively earnest boycotter if there ever was one, picked me up and chattered non-stop the whole 20 minutes it took to get to the boycott house about how exciting things must be in Delano (wrong – they were mainly comfortably dull until my escapade) and how much she’d like to visit Delano (be my guest) and how it was incredible and wonderful how it was like she’d known me forever which just shows what a great family the Union is (give me a break!) and how great it was to have another young person (yikes! us the same generation?) and how well things were going on the boycott and so on without end.
As she palavered I was quietly getting more and more appalled driving north on Broad Street and then east on Lehigh Avenue to Kensington and then back a few blocks south on Mascher Street and the boycott house.
Shit! – the city getting worse and worse and more bombed out, slutted out, burned out, povertied out, benign-neglected-out as we progressed.
A childhood in Nekoosa, Wisconsin, and two-plus years in rural California had simply not prepared me, imaginative young sensualist that I was, for the vigors of an East Coast industrial city slum. Jim! Talk about satanic mills!
Not even the fresh October air could cut through the total gloom and despair I felt clouding around me as we cruised down Mascher Street, shit-ass brick Philadelphia trinity, father-son-and-holy-ghost, and bandbox row houses built 70 years ago crumbling and teeming with life.
Crabbed up cars and junkies and kids playing all over the narrow, chuck-holed street, trash blowing in the wind. Whew! I didn’t hear a word Edna said the last few minutes.
Hauling my gear out of the car in front of the boycott house, I wondered if The Chief had seen the Philadelphia boycott house when he decided that Philadelphia was the place for Gabby. I suspicioned that if not, he at least had gotten a detailed report.
My friend stayed on Mascher Street some. “No wonder Gabby crashed in West Philly whenever he could. That was rough digs.” He – my friend – then pulled out a photo that Big Man sent him. Big Man was a kid on the block in 1970 who befriended the grape boycotters. He defied all odds and made it through to now, still living only a block away. He recently sent my friend a photo of the house now: