Saturday, May 14, 2016

Philadelphia Greektown

Greektown is an interesting term. It seems to have come into usage when Greeks were beginning to abandon their urban neighborhoods on their way out to the suburbs. A few Greektowns--most notably Chicago and Toronto--used the designation to create a marketable commercial area promoting a Greek experience (culinary, etc.) If you ask anyone in Philadelphia were was its Greektown, they will look at you like you're crazy. Urban redevelopment wiped out Philadelphia's Greektown in the 1960s. White flight coupled by the expansion of medical centers encouraged Greeks to leave their original neighborhood and found new communities at Elkins Park, Broomall, and Cherry Hill. Saint George, one of the two original churches, remained in its original location mostly because it served as the Cathedral of the Bishop of New Jersey. A Greek retirement home right behind the church also guaranteed the maintenance of an elderly community. 

What were the limits of Greektown in the 1920s? Well, that's one of the things we hope to establish in our research this summer. We begin with a provisional demarcation of Greektown as it was defined by oral histories in the 1960s, an area between Walnut and Lombard and Twelfth and Eighth streets. 

Friday, May 13, 2016

Greek Philadelphia. Stephano Residence

If you have ever seen a pack of Camel cigarettes, you would have undoubtedly noticed the Egyptian iconography. Egyptian tobacco was considered most elite and coveted as superior to Virginia tobacco. Few appreciate that Egyptian cigarettes were actually manufactured by the Greeks of Egypt who brought the product to the United States. Stephano Brothers was one of the best known manufacturers of Egyptian cigarettes and major players in the Greek community of Philadelphia. The company's Rameses II cigarette brand was so successful that they built a grand Beaux Arts factory on 1014-16 Walnut Street, designed by Ballinger. The photo below shows Stephano Bros (demolished in the 1960s), courtesy of Temple University Urban Archives. More photos of the building can be found at the Athenaeum in the Ballinger Archives (see here).

The Stephano family is one of the subjects of this summer's Hackman research that I am conducting with two undergraduate students. We will be studying the materialities of ethnic communities, particularly through buildings, spaces, and objects. Preliminary archival research has lead me to Constantine Stephano's naturalization papers of 1904, ten years after his arrival from Greece. He lists 317 S 12th Street as his residence. 

According to oral tradition, the Stephano Brothers began their cigarette empire at the basement of their house. If this is correct, we have established a locus of domestic manufacturing. We have written to the owners of the property and hope to gain access inside. The house belongs to a development stretching from 309 to 323 S 12th and sandwiched between older townhouses. The block is best known by two 1970s landmarks of gay life, Giovanni's Room to the south and the Alexander Inn to the north. With some further research, we will establish the construction date of this house and add it to the architectural narrative of Greektown. Although this part of the research might not be possible, I would like to compare this post-immigration residence in Philadelphia with the pre-emigration residence in village Dikorfo, Epirus, where the Stephanos originated.

The Stephano Bros. introduced their most successful brand, Rameses II, in 1895. Its early packaging (see here) featured images of Ramses II and Amenhotep. In the 1910s, the company highlighted aristocracy; this 1918 print ad deploys Washington's Mount Vernon residence up on a hill. By connecting the architectural dots, we hope to articulate an important modality of trans-nationalism in the early 20th century mitigated by the Greek diaspora. There has been little scholarship on the Stephano Brothers cigarette empire. But I suspect that their source of tobacco might have been Thrace and Macedonia. In Kavala, for instance, the American Tobacco Company had established an outpost in 1901.

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Kostis Kourelis

Philadelphia, PA, United States