All the recent talk about Bart Blatstein and his Disneyhood “The Provence” proposal has put me in mind of another ‘Hood in another time.
I suspect the memory I’m about to share is directly connected to the one I already detailed in the very first post on this blog. I suspect all this happened the very same night that I first discovered the Noble Street spot that inspired my awe and terror enough that it still inspires me today.
My best college friend had a co-op job with Philadelphia Newspapers, Inc. (PNI) even before he graduated. He was working as what was then called an “Ad Control Clerk.” Today the position would be called “Traffic.” He had been working at this job for a few weeks when we drove into town together, so he could show me his new workplace.
I remember a slow pass around the block, showing me the Elverson building from all angles. (This included that fateful turnaround on Noble Street.) After this viewing, I believe we parked in a pay lot on 15th street, probably where the Vine Street ramp is now. Then we did something that terrified me almost as much as Noble Street had: we had a few drinks at Westy’s Tavern.
Now, “West Tavern,” the institution that occupies the same space Westy’s then filled, looks exactly like Westy’s did, except for the fact that it was a totally different place. I remember the layout of the bar being more or less the same as it is today. The tone, however, was darker, more purely old-school taproom. I can see a dart board or one of those electric bowling machines. I can see a few taps of Schmidt’s. Most strikingly, I can see pressmen everywhere. They were dressed in ink-stained coveralls, and were really wearing folded newsprint hats.
I can only presume that many of them were deaf or hard of hearing, but I don’t remember knowing that at the time. I do remember that the conversation in the place was an unbearable din. I also remember that I was probably 20 years old, and drinking illegally. That, alone, was terrifying to me. Drinking illegally while surrounded by these loud, dirty men really made me squirm in my seat. This was pretty late in the evening, but Westy’s was full. The reason, of course, is that the paper was being printed at that hour. These men were probably in Westy’s on their lunch break.
After our drink, we walked across the street and stood on the visitor’s gallery, watching the big old Web presses churn out the papers. This was the moment, watching the printing process, when the fear/awe balance shifted for me. I had already fallen in love with newspapers in college. Building the little tabloid we distributed on campus, however, hadn’t really prepared me for the real thing on such a grand scale. The noise and the motion and the sense of actual danger were nearly unbearable. Nonetheless, I was sold. Years later, when I had the opportunity to work for the MediaStream division of Night-Ridder, it was the memory of this site that inspired me.
After we watched the presses for a while, I remember a somewhat confused, whirlwind tour of the rest of the Elverson building, including a stop at my friend’s desk in Ad Control. Finally we ended up out back on 15th Street, watching the delivery trucks load the papers. It must have been two in the morning by this time. I was totally taken by this process, as well. We chose a truck at random and followed it out of town, until it finally made its first stop somewhere in Delaware County.