The parcel of Philly real estate known as Goodisville is permanently blighted. The writer heightens the nightmare dangers of the industrial neighborhoods he describes: menacing gangs, derelicts, thieves, rapists, tenement buildings, row houses, wooden "shacks," bars, ratty warehouses, dank alleys, rubbish-strewn vacant lots, and cobbled streets. It’s an archetypal asphalt jungle.
(Photo: Philadephia City Department of Records, 1211 North Lawrence Street, 1954)
By Jay A. Gertzman
Photo: 12th and Arch Streets, January 3, 1961
Photo: Broad Street and Snyder Avenue, November 29, 1949
By Jay A. Gertzman
Stone-faced Lundy’s Place, on the Delaware Waterfront, is “a port for rudderless boats” (Cassidy’s Girl).
The place has decaying walls, flinty floors, and a bar and tables ”grey with time.” It is home away from home for drifters, including Cassidy, once a famous aviator but through a series of accidents and misfortunes, now a bus driver.
He met his shapely, fiery-tempered lover Mildred there. Their foreplay is throwing dishes and their sex is a mutually addictive, violent struggle. Their honeymoon was, get this, a “five-cent ferry ride across the Delaware river from Camden.”
Lundy said nothing. There is Doris, a slim,
ethereal alcoholic; the long-unemployed Span and his girl Pauline, with a shape like a toothpick; Shealy, whose fall from writer to clerk parallels Cassidy’s downfall; and Haney Kendrick, a vain well-off clotheshorse who has nothing but Mildred on his mind.
It is at Lundy’s that Cassidy plans to run off with Doris, whose passive gentleness contrasts with Mildred.
It’s an angelic good-girl/ sexy vixen contrast that runs through so many of Goodis’ novels. In Cassidy’s Girl, this grim double-bind is reflected by the rudderless bar and its stony owner.
But at the climax these derelicts do band together, after Kendrick has tricked Cassidy into momentary
inattentiveness at the wheel, causing the bus to crash. They force Kendrick to call the police and confess that he was responsible. Some community solidarity may be born here, but Doris is hopelessly alcoholic and Cassidy and Mildred still can find orgasmic delight only in blood and fury. Without the comforts of conversation, booze, and chances Lundy provides for the clientele to earn some money (by bailing a bit of the Delaware out his leaky cellar), these suffering souls would not be able to persevere.
Photo: Fifth Street and Girard Avenue, June 21, 1962
The Hangout in Night Squad is run by zaftic, sarcastic Nellie, who cannot now remind me of anyone other than Stormy Daniels. “forty-four inch breasts, … no loose fat…a living missile, ready for any man who figured he could tamper with her and get away with it.” (Actually, Trump complemented Daniels on that tactic). She is the model Goodis sex object.
Photo: Water and Arch Streets,
September 15, 1955
Another example is Harriet in Down There. Harriet is
similarly shaped, and Goodis uses her to suggest something of prime importance that Nellie also stands for—allegiance to the poverty-stricken and gangster-dominated underclass neighborhood. A bit of
sunshine, as well as strongly enforced order for the thirsty customers, if not law.
Harriet’s Hut is where a disgraced former celebrity, Eddie, has been reduced to playing the piano as
Cassidy had by driving a bus. Goodis dwells lovingly, and also salaciously, on Harriet’s jutting bust, hard muscle, “tremendous” hips, and “slim waist.”
Her waitress, Lena, is another slim, ethereal beauty, but
sober, strong willed, and well educated. But there is more to Harriet—Goodis makes her not just another of his own personal fantasy sexpots but a person with a major healing role in a downscale but coherent human community.
Eddie is accepted, and the regulars and owner of Harriet’s Hut protect him when police investigate the death of Plyne, the bouncer, at Eddie’s hands. Part of the unique aura of The Hut is that it is “against the
grain” (title of Huysmans’s 1884 novel, the follow-up of which was his 1891 Down There), being an oasis in a kind of time warp, with its sawdust floors, 1920s-vintage pictures on the walls (Lindberg, a Dempsey-Tunney fight), and callous-skinned aging clientele.
There was no TV or juke box, which would be hard to locate anyway in the Hut’s smoky floor-to-ceiling haze. These new electrical devices, signs of
middle-class consumption, would have been out of place in such a neighborhood.
Jay A. Gertzman is author of
By Jay Gertzman
Recently I have had occasion to travel on SEPTA's Trenton line. Between 30th St and Bridesburg the tracks pass through several landscapes that relect what is left of mid 20th-century industrial Philly. The buildings are waiting patiently in all their stoic decay for a great photographer to give them immortality before wind, heat, ice, cold, or bulldozers write finis.
Factories: some seem to have been recently painted, and look fine until you find the shattered or missing windows. On a siding stand freight cars that will never be unloaded. Some outbuildings have been reduced to a single crumbling wall.
I think of the ghost of Blazer, from Fire in the Flesh, as scurrying around behind one. The in-your-face grafitti is fat, wavy, irrational, absolutely fucked. It might as well be a language conceived on the moon, it is so foreign to the iron-clad Fordism when those buildings' assembly lines were in operation.
Row houses of course, still occupied, with the ones on corners shaped like triangles if the intersection of streets is angled . Once streetcar suburbs, they suggest, with little touches, a dream of greater status that the working class or office workers aspired to. The shape of the tiled roofs or bordered windows suggest a long-superceded version of the American dream. But the general uniformity would be perfect for families of thieves like those in Black Friday or The Burglar.
Some street corners are the best remaining models for where the piano player worked, killed a bouncer in a fight, and was protected from the cops by the regulars.
There's a mom-and-pop store or two, not much taller than the guys who hung out there c. 1936 staring at the street corner blonde. The buildings determine the horizons of guys like Ralph, Dippy, and Lenore the fat blonde.
Vacant lots, mostly mud and discarded fast-food wrappers, and, near Bridesburg, a gigantic scrap yard with automobiles awaiting final compacting.
A high school with a roof gym, and a billboard. "God Bless America, Our Troops, and Constitution." Now that's noir. I wish I could read the code of the grafitti.
When David Goodis wrote his Philadelphia novels, the trolley was the daily souce of transit for his characters on the skid.
Route 50 ran from Ritner Street in South Philadephia, on Fourth and Fifth Streets, passing Independence Hall up to Wyoming Avenue, over to Rising Sun Avenue, as it cuts through Feltonville near the former home of Elaine Astor (the one and only wife of David Goodis), past Olney High School, and into the Northeast with turnarounds at Olney Avenue, Knorr Street, and Fox Chase.
Route 50 served the people of Moon in the Gutter and Cassidy's Girl. Cobblestone streets, old mills and factories, corner stores, bars, churches and schools, and legendary politicians marked the working class neighborhoods of the Route 50 trolley. The Southeastern Pennsylvania Transit Authority killed the Route 50 in 1985.
These photographs were taken by David Wilson around 1967, about the time David Goodis died. Source:
Antidedicated (or reversededicated or undedicated or counterdedicated) to the Philadelphia Redevelopment Authority and the Interstate Highway System which destroyed the World of David Goodis.
Text and photos by Aaron Finestone
Philadelphia noir writer David Goodis placed his best writing in a city that is no more, the place cultural historian Jay A. Gertzman calls Goodisville.
Covering Skid Row, Society Hill and Southwark, Goodisville ran to the Delaware River. It is the setting of Cassidy's Girl (around Dock Street) and Moon in the Gutter(Southwark).
The Goodisville waterfront was paved with sunken cobblestones and crossed by railroad tracks. It was home to buses converted to diners, ships, tug boats, fire boats, barges, decaying piers and rotting warehouses.
The death of Goodisville took about 20 years. Beginning in the 1950's Skid Row was cleared. The food distribution activities at Dock Street were moved to South Philadelphia and Society Hill was redeveloped. Delaware Avenue was paved with asphalt. In the 1960's Southwark was cleared for I-95.
The final destruction came at the time of the Bicentennial, when Delaware Avenue was rebuilt, new railroad tracks were laid, and the exciting, living waterfront was converted into the pretty and boring Penn's Landing.
On a day, probably in the summer of 1975, I walked down Delaware Avenue to what was become Penn's Landing. I photographed the rebuilding of Delaware Avenue and the laying of new railroad tracks. By the 1980's, Goodisville was finally dead. Delaware Avenue had become Columbus Boulevard.
I proceeded south of Washington Avenue, where my greatgrandparents set foot in America, to the setting of Moon in the Gutter, to photograph the surviving waterfront activity.
Around New Year's day, probably 1976, I visited the church yard of Gloria Dei (Old Swedes' Church) in the heart of Goodisville. How many Goodis characters lived secret lives here we will never know.