Fred Maurer Interview

Dublin Core


Fred Maurer Interview


Tacony Creek Park


Fred Maurer was interviewed on July 28 for the Oral History Project.


Matthew Smalarz
Fred Maurer




Matthew Smalarz


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Oral History Item Type Metadata


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FRED MAURER: Fred Maurer.
MS: -- this day, July 28, 2018 as part of the Tookany/Tacony Creek Watershed Partnership Initiative with the Olney Culture Lab. To start today, the first question I have for Fred, did your family utilize the creek, the Tookany Creek, frequently during your upbringing? If so, what did your family use the creek and its surrounding lands for?
FM: None. I was not born in this area. I, uh, moved to Olney about 30 years ago as a, uh, mature resident so I’ll give you one interesting thing which I’ve discussed [01:00] with some locations, when I found out that you cannot swim or fish in Tacony Creek, I had no interest in it. I had no interest at all, uh, until I moved and had, uh, for business reasons, had located in a new neighborhood, had to escape out of Kensington because there were shootings in the back of my house and from houses being burned. Olney was a safe place. I only had one oh, early experience, I’ll stop with that one. When I was, uh, probably about seven years old or eight years old, my sister took me to have a, uh, a ride by, uh -- wagon road, probably Halloween, with [02:00] I forget the name of that. But we had a trip through a hay ride. So, that’s my first experience. The beginning of it was at the, uh, [Hooks Fisher Plane?] area. They came from, uh, I think the vendor’s name was circle bar x. There were three stables in that area. Uh, there are more stables that were private stables. These were too, uh, public ones and one is called mustang stable. Somebody, uh, organized the hay ride for us so we more or less organized the, uh, hay ride at the beginning of Fisher Lane where they call a space [03:00] now I’m trying to preserve. So, that was a place where you began the hay ride and then you went up to the end of the available land and then when you got to the end, near the Roosevelt Boulevard, remember the boulevard started in 1927, that kind of more or less terminated easy access for park users. At the end, near the Roosevelt Boulevard, there was a field, uh, fence where they could stop and have a picnic at that location, you had to bring refreshments, in this area around the boulevard. [When I checked it?] before, there’s still some remnants of the stable I’d been for the end of the trip. Basically, that’s my early experience and I’ll say I stop at that point. I valued it. My sister [did?] it, [04:00] I guess she had a boyfriend and she wanted to, uh, im--im--mpress. It was valuable and we did have horses in the park. Fairmount Park had park guards down, and there were police, three professional park guards and they had a stable somewhere down in that area. I don’t know where this stable was, but we had, [not the?] police, they call them park guards in that area of the park, so that’s like the beginning early remembrances of that area. I’ll stop there.
MS: From your knowledge, how has the community or how did the community use the creek during your childhood or at least in your time living in the area surrounding the creek?
FM: Minimal use of the park. My brother moved to Ruscomb Street which is around the, uh, just a couple blocks below the boulevard and I remember [05:00] his son -- name is [Nolan?] -- he used to go to the park and catch snakes. Now, that would be the area where we’d call Tampa Street and that would be where there has some uses. Most of the park is, uh, was not a friendly area in terms of, uh, recreational use because we didn’t have much recreation. Recreation didn’t really start. There was recreation in Juniata Park which is 1870s. Juniata Park was the, basically, the recreation area. During the second World War, I think of Barney Samuel’s time, they put little features in the park. Uh, now the recreation building that’s there, now, at Whitaker Avenue. That’s the only recreation building in the park so that was built probably [06:00] under Rizzo’s time, I don’t know the date. There were recreational equipment in there when I went down, uh, did restoration work, there were some [still?] wooden features, slides and stuff like that, it’s mostly swings. But, they’re all wood equipment and the playground on Tampa Street, I used to go there and I don’t remember what it was, it’s before I moved, but I remember they had the wooden equipment in there and swings. Until they cut through Whitaker Avenue, that was a major playground area. Once they put Whitaker Avenue in, you lost about one hundred feet of land and recreational uses had been minimalized down to the ball field. When they had iron equipment at the Tampa Street, I restored the iron jungle bars. That was about 25 years ago when I restored that. [07:00] There was some equipment. The park removed basically all the [old?] equipment that were there. On the side of it, [Dam Street?], that’s south of the boulevard, there was a wooden set of equipment. The city removed that. It may have been old and splintering so I can understand [you remove?] some things, but they have not done much activity for the public use. The public main use (inaudible) and I’ll skip a [think?], like we did have fishing one time and boating in some areas, but minimal. For the residents, the use of it was the bicentennial when they got a federal grant. A federal grant, then, allowed them to put in, uh, mature equipment. The WPA, which is 1938, they made the first trail from the, uh, [08:00] along Fisher Lane, that beginning part, up to the end of Cheltenham Township. At the end of Cheltenham Township, there’s a park called [Brookwood?] Park so that’s a part of Cheltenham that is actually owned by the city of Philadelphia. The Fisher family donated that land as Brookwood Park, just an extension, they don’t get much use out of it. The city bicentennial plan did put a parking lot there, unfortunately natural lands people, they took out the parking lot. The bicentennial made lots of improvements. A hard bicycle path to replace the dirt trail. We had solid equipment, picnic groves that were dedicated. We had tables, fire rings, all these kinds of things are in the bicentennial plan, all federal money that homeowners had to (inaudible) so when I moved in the area, most of that stuff was all gone. [09:00] Were so bad, uh, it needed to be repaired. I repaired a [Garden Street?] playground which had started to deteriorate. The city, uh, didn’t want to repair it so they demolished it instead, the only kind of recreational uses that were in a park. Up along the far end of the park, they put in the recreational trail and that recreational trail, it was an exercise path. It went on both sides and that was the first dedicated bridge across the park. We had no access from each side of the park. Half the park where they built it was only on one side so to get across was impossible unless you use a highway, unsafe. So when they made the bicentennial plan, they put in a, uh, bridges to that the maintenance people could drive over and that be-became the major recreational feature. Other than picnic groves in the area, we had a few small ones. [10:00] Interesting in that picnic grove, uh, just south of Adams Avenue, they had planned to put into a, uh, amphitheater. All those sidewalls were uh, sculpted out over the, uh, uh, construction of the mills so we had sidewalls that were, uh, usable, but that area right of it had a wetland which the city has screwed up and the amphitheater was never built, but that was like the, uh, plan. The WPA did file a, a, uh, landscape plan. I did see the landscape plan. It was done about 1940 and was a full-length Tacony Creek Park Trail improvement before the bicentennial plan. The significance of the landscape plan, that’s when Juniata Park gets these walls, [11:00] these, uh, high stone walls. They were built [by?] the WPA as, uh, uh, Frank-Franklin Roosevelt’s tenure so we did have some uses, uh, of a park. Minimal because the bicentennial became more as a recreation-oriented. Programs in the park under Fairmount Park Commission, we did have something, I’ll call them day trips, that was mostly done in the north side of the boulevard. So we did have some uses, but the Fairmount Park didn’t have a budget, city never gave them enough money. When we got rid of the park guard, the park just deteriorated. All the uses deteriorated, all the equipment. The only thing left were park benches. I became interested in the park when I moved there when I found a man named [12:00] William [Krantz?] who was doing restoration in the park and he was fixing the benches and I volunteered to [paint?] benches. That’s my introduction to hard work in the park. So that’s the recreational uses.
MS: Well, that’s great and to follow up on some of the examples you brought up, you mentioned the bicentennial and other related events that the city hosted or financed. Were there any other community gatherings that stood out in your mind that were featured in the park?
FM: They used to have parades, horse parades, from the trail on the south side of the boulevard. As I said, there were stables at that end of the park so they did have an annual parade of horses as (inaudible) my time, but that’s recorded. I used [13:00] a lot of my references, I went to the city archives to read the annual reports of the Fairmount Park Commission which were very valuable. That’s what gave me some of the dates, the activities, the novelties of, uh, what they had done and the fact that, uh, while the park was, uh, planned in 1905 as a watershed park -- now it’s a watershed park. Unique. It’s not a public park, it’s a watershed park, has special purposes and that -- that’s why we have a, uh, uh, incidental recreation, not planned recreation. Under Fairmount Park, uh, when they had summer programs, most of the stuff was in the W-WPA period. They would, uh, have, uh, people come to the park and organize the children to have games, soccer was one of the games. That was minimal use, but that was, uh, [14:00] the value of going back to the city archives and reading the, uh, Fairmount Park Commission minutes. They don’t make reports anymore so we do not know anything about what’s happening in the public park.
MS: That’s interesting. To take from your description of the things it has been used for, has it, in your experience, been used for any educational purposes or to increase environmental awareness inside or around the neighboring communities?
FM: No because the watershed park, I think it’s flooded at times, is not usable so putting in a pa--passive recreation park. It’s also called, uh, not incidental -- transient. It’s a transient park. That is the, uh, the dedication of it so it’s not designed [15:00] for a lot of programs. Some recreational values, putting in a recreational building down at the park -- was OK, but we didn’t have [sand?] or money to do anything other than just (inaudible). William Penn gave them a grant for a, uh, to put in 25 million dollars of improvements in the park. That was a start of a dedicated education program. We had education programs that were minimal and nominal, not focused, so that was an improvement; however, the natural lands people did not want community input. They wanted to have experts do all the things and if anything, they wanted to build a new, uh, education center and that plan went through a couple, uh, argu-arguments [16:00] and, uh, the experts finally decided that the community had no rights to say where it should be so they decided to put it -- this is a battle -- down in Juniata Park, at the end of the park. It became a wholesale slaughter for the people recommending it. The natural lands people were arrogant and they wouldn’t do anything. William Penn grant them 25 million and they realized that the city would not pay for maintenance, would not pay for staff, would not fund the education center in the future, that the William Penn Foundation took the money back and they decided the park will not have it. That actually saved our park because if they had done the [17:00] center where they had planned, at first it was the Olney field north of the boulevard. The Olney field was actually where the, I call it, military field because of the, uh, 1970s I think it was, the, uh, military scare from Russia, they had turned that field into an anti-aircraft station so that was a military field and we had barracks in there and cannons and radars, uh, in other areas of the city so they fed into this site so that was military post. The natural lands people wanted to convert that into two things. They wanted to have all forest and then they wanted to have a building which would have destroyed the integrity of the field. That field only had a couple paths from the, uh, benches that were there. When they made the, [18:00] uh, bicentennial plan, they had some benches along the perimeter where you have [pick packs?] and they made pick-and-grows in the valley. That’s when they became more useful, but the fact that they didn’t get it, I’m so glad that the William Penn Foundation killed the plan. Now, we have a park which we can use. The friends at Tacony Creek Park had done minimal education programs of our own, mostly walks in the park and with Peter Kurtz from the Pennypack Environmental Center, he was our guide for a lot of them. Jackie [Olsen?], who was working for the natural lands people, she did community service. We didn’t have any dedicated staff and, in fact the, uh, building on Rising Sun which is as a maintenance building, that was built for a special purpose. Uh, state representative Fumo got a deal -- [19:00] he’s made a lot of deals -- he made a deal with the state for Fairmount Park to get money to mow the lawn on Roosevelt Boulevard; to mow the lawns on the boulevard -- the boulevard’s three hundred feet wide, it has a lot of lawn -- uh, yeah so they built a maintenance building on Rising Sun Avenue. It’s still being used as a maintenance building. We tried to use that for education purposes, natural lands people did not want to use it so our ability to convince the natural lands people to do anything was useless, but that could have been an easily adaptable building because when the city screwed up and we lost a contract for mowing the lawn, that became basically a vacant building. That was programmatic changes.
MS: I think there are very good examples in there of the way the city and the community interacted with each other that explain the [20:00] relationship to the park land inside these communities. Building off of some of your examples, how have these instances of your using the park or people using the park in the community, how have they shaped your perception of environmentalism and nature in general?
FM: I became full-blown. I have many experiences in public parks. I grew up in Norris Square, I used to go visit Penn Treaty Park. I also lived at, uh, Bartram’s Square, not Bartram’s Garden, but I’ve been to Bartram’s Garden. I’ve been many times at Pennypack, many times mostly to go fishing and trail-walking so I’ve had many experiences. I’ve been a member of the Sierra Club [21:00] for many years, probably about, uh, over 40 years, probably 45 years so I have a background in activity as community service among the community service things I do. I’m a member of the Keystone Trails Association, I had a cab in Shippensburg area at the Appalachian Trail so I was on the Appalachian Trail many times. When I got separated, I spent several months hiking the Appalachian Trail in Pennsylvania and I got the hiking award for, one of my awards, for hiking Appalachian Trail in Pennsylvania, the PA Appalachian Trail. As part of recovering from depression, I decided to do maintenance on the Appalachian Trail so I’ve been doing [22:00] trail work for over 30 years. Hard work, doing natural work, that’s my major experience and I’m still doing trail work. That was a life sentence. My attitude towards nature has been there for years. Right now, it’s dedicated to the public parks and I was a member of the Fairmount Park Advisory Council representing all the parks, so I have really wide experience. I’m still working. That’s enough.
MS: Those are great examples of how you’ve utilized nature for positive ends. Have there been any changes in the city neighborhoods around the park that you feel have influenced its natural identity?
FM: Let me tell you one little incident. New York City, when that bombing came, [23:00] people flooded to the public parks. It became their source of refuge. Public parks are dedicated under the theory of access to the public, a place of refuge and solitude. That’s the founding of it and it began under the Open Air Movement of 1875. That’s when we started to have public parks outside the city. It was only the Consolidation Act that made land outside. So Juniata Park is my first park to be used for park purposes. The [Window?] Park, that’s 1870s when they built that, John [Fidler?], [Edwin?] Fidler, that’s his beginning of the Open Space Movement in Philadelphia and where we dedicated public parks so from that point on, we have a system of parks. [24:00] Fairmount Park in 1867, that made public parks because then we got acquired lands by rights to pay for them, maintenance, and I say we had a park guard of five hundred people. You had lots of security, but once Rizzo took away the security, the parks went to downhill. It’s no longer safe and when I got started, one of the reasons Bill Krantz was doing work was because there were so many dogs in the park and he had been attacked so some group then created a park watch, so it’s the town watch. They did (inaudible) only in the park, they got rid of a lot of the nuisance including [beer?] parties. Thank God, that was John Wood who was our first president of the [friends?] group. We did have community actions and we have restored a lot of it, but without the police department do not want to go [25:00] in the, uh, park. They are scared of the parks so we have some policemen who like it. There was one guy, basically, who helped us. Uh, [Stan Zaparooski?]. He was the 35th district and 2nd district. He’s the only policemen who actually took care of the park and he’s one of the first policemen to stop ATVs in the park and confiscate them. Nobody in the police department confiscated them. He got known for confiscating them. That was before the city even had a program. ATVs have killed the park. They have destroyed it and I did testify in one case where, uh, there were a couple deaths in the park. We had drowning deaths at the end of the park. They were mostly boys, girls do not go in the park and get killed, but mostly boys. They come into the park and they want to do nuisance. The ATVs, [26:00] while I’ll mention that, it was a law suit. I didn’t give the testimony, I supported one of the, uh, people. Uh, I won’t go into the details of it, but it was a million dollar lawsuit. The city caved in and they spent a civil case of 1.5 million because this guy was riding an ATV in the park over a dam after a storm. Of course, he didn’t know that this dam had a cut in the middle, uh, I forget the name of it. It’s a cut so he didn’t know what he was driving over. The dam was only three foot, four feet wide and his -- his -- his wheels were not satisfactory for that, slippery. He probably hit the cut, the spillway, and he fell over [27:00] and killed himself. Then, they started to sue a contractor and then I gave the contractor some evidence and he knew he was not guilty of anything. I remember saying that he [sillowed?] up the creek by doing a project for the water department. The water department is not always our friend. That lawsuit, they settled it for 1.6 million. That’s money we could have used. The city was not negligent, but that’s politics and you see this guy advertising as a client inspector, they’re ambulance chasers so that’s the kind of crap that goes on in our city. If you don’t have a public guard and police don’t want to go in the place, they don’t want to go there and they now have horses, but they don’t want to go in the park so [28:00] I think I answered sufficiently.
MS: That’s an excellent response. On your estimation, do you think the surrounding community or the city of Philadelphia have made enough effort to conserve the creek and the park lands around the creek in recent years?
FM: No. The natural lands program, that was dedication. When you had a full page staff, when you had six people who did community work, they got rid of them. Park guards, when the park guards were established, I was at the first meeting with the, uh, foundation and the goal was to make at least 70 park guards for the city. The budget allowed for 20 so they start with 20 and those guys became very well educated, public service. [29:00] A couple now, one guy’s a state game commission person. One guy’s the head of L&I so some experience of bringing people in to do park work, pay them a job, do professional work, the training was unbelievable, went to North Carolina to do a good old education. Temple has some [use?], minimal. We had an educated staff from the park rangers. Now, when they graduate, the city does not want to pay for them. 70 rangers would help, but right now, there’s a handful. None of them get the training that these first people got. The result is rangers now are useless. They gave them the power to put tickets out, a little CVN, a code violation. Well, when the [30:00] park guard was there, that was part of their income (laughs) so by getting rid of the park guard and the income that actually supported the park’s thing, now we don’t have any support. The politicians like to get their pictures in it, they’ll be there with all the major events, but we’re suffering. The community cannot do it by itself. Right now, it’s a bedroom community for many people, do not live here long. I moved here about 30 years ago now. There are people now, there are people living here since it was built. It was built, basically, after the war, 1950s. People have gone and I’m like the second generation. I won't be here very long, but we don’t have a community system anymore. When we had the Olney Times Newspaper who did the [31:00] neighborhood and put our neighborhood together as a community, when the Friends Group started, we solicited the people who lived in the neighborhood who were our supporters. They lived here, had their children, they went to high school there, but once again, a bedroom community. We don’t have people live here long enough to even acquire an interest in it. Of course, young people now do not want to live where their parents live so as a result, they move elsewhere so I’ll say some older people are living here as a population. Our ability to raise money or support for the Friends Group diminished when we lost the newspaper. Our ability to solicit and create a organization around a park is gone. It killed us completely. One time, we had a mailing list of five hundred people. [32:00] We had about two hundred active people. Well, after that, we went down to 70 people in one year. Now, it’s down to a handful of the people who created the corporation so that’s the result. The city doesn’t have a capability of wanting to do things. The park commission they have now, they’re interested in doing recreation. They are not interested in conserving the park and they like (inaudible) [information on?] what I’m angering now is (inaudible), they’re introducing beer in the park. Where we have a non-alcoholic law in Pennsylvania and in public parks, they’re compromising it so we’re now introducing alcohol in the park. Now, they’d rather have beer parties in the park as sponsored government than to have regulations, “No beer in the park.” Park rangers, when they were here, [33:00] they would advise people, “Don’t drink here. Go outside if you want to drink,” so the value of the park guard who was there as a nice community representative. When the police park guards were there, they were a little more stringent, but they were also valuable because I remember policemen who said, “I became a policemen because I used to go to park guard. I liked his horse.” Those park horses now, which are no longer in the park, they’re in the newspaper now. See, there are some stables in the Fairmount Park system and that’s education for young people. Have a couple good ones, one’s in, uh, West Park, and one up in Pennypack. There were educational qualities [34:00] that the park guards brought it.
MS: Those examples that you’ve just highlighted are an illustration of the tension that exists historically, sometimes, between communities and the city when it comes to maintaining and conserving park lands --
FM: Paying for it.
MS: -- and paying for it.
FM: And willing to paying for it.
MS: Absolutely.
FM: They will have their picture taken, but they’ll not pay for it. A major improvement in the park this year was the restoration -- I’ll call it restoration -- the Adams Avenue stone bridge. Fairmount Park, that’s the park bridge. They will not maintain that. Fortunately, it was Penndot Bridge, so they maintained it. Now, Adams Avenue cut the park in half right at that section, there are three sections of the park, that’s like the Cheltenham side. When they, uh, [35:00] bicentennial put bridges in, the natural lands people took bridges out. They didn’t know, they called it “bridges to nowhere” so they took out the only bridge crossing at Adams Avenue. When I was a consultant for the Penndot, the historical consultant, at the meeting, Robin was there (laughs) and I argued very loudly, “We need pedestrian safety. People are crossing a two-lane bridge even sometimes with bicycles. They removed the only easy access and now we have no access and people walk in the middle. Children go to school by walking up Adams Avenue so I see them daily, walking in the middle of the highway.” Penndot saved us where we had an existing bridge on the north side, [36:00] they built a causeway from the intersection across the park. Now, we have safe access from the street into the park. Thank God. It was not in their budget; the city do any damn thing about it. The only person representing the city is the district manager who really doesn’t exist anymore because the recreation department tells what to do. The historian is the only person who has some authority for some things. She didn’t do anything worse, she approved all the plans that Penndot did. They did a decent job, they did something I valued, but they did not restore that bridge. They rehabilitated it. We had a stone arch bridge, now we have a rehabilitated. [37:00] What they did, they converted stones into a concrete and they cut up the stones into a façade so it’s like an [apoche?]. It looks nice, they did a better job, better than they do. What I like is public safety. You can’t use a public park where you have to walk in the middle of the street so that was a major, major improvement. Penndot did it.
MS: Again, it’s another illustration of when the community has to take on certain responsibilities, this is an example of what it sometimes has to do and it compels the city or other agencies to step up, too. I have one last question. What does the creek mean to you? Or, I should ask, what does the park land around the creek mean to you now that you’ve lived in the [38:00] vicinity of it for so long?
FM: My advocation. I am a conservationist. My first introduction to conservation was religion. I’ll skip a lot of it. I found one book called, uh, I’ll call it The Abandonment of the Cities, not quite the name, but it was about the cities where all the churches were advocating to move churches to the suburbs, suburban abandonment of the cities. As a result, they stimulated depopulating the city. I have the [39:00] paperback book Conservation. That was my best introduction to conservation and the Catholic churches did a lot of it, that was their plan for the suburbs. It might have been a smart plan, but in the essence, a lot of churches were doing it. As a result, we depopulated the city and the structure of self-conservation. Now, we’re trying to recreate it by other means, but that book I read 50 years ago, that was my beginning and understanding what conservation is so from that point on, I’m involved in the conservation movement. I’m still there. It’s going to be my life. [40:00]
MS: Well, that’s wonderful. Thank you so much for taking the time to answer our questions today and, again, Fred, you’ve been a wonderful contributor to this oral history project and that’ll conclude our interview.




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Matthew Smalarz and Fred Maurer, “Fred Maurer Interview,” Hands On History- Oral Histories of the Northeast Philadelphia area, accessed May 23, 2022,