My Urban Mid Century Upbringing

by George Schwab

I was born in 1946, the oldest of 6 children, born to George and Ruth Schwab. We lived at Howard and Diamond streets, just down from Norris Square, in the heart of West Kensington, in the shadow of the Frankford El.

We were a close family, both physically and emotionally, in that all eight of us lived in a little two story, two bedroom row house. The big bedroom was split in two with a partition that went to within one foot of the ceiling and a short hall, allowing the two girls to sleep in the smaller part and the four boys to sleep in the larger part with bunk beds. Mom and Dad had the little bedroom. Things were tight but we were happy, and still are. Though we are scattered all over the country we still keep in close contact.
Perhaps because we were so tightly fitted into the house, early on I took to spending much of my time outside the house. I was fascinated by the city. The alleys, small streets and courts of the city were an endless amazement to me. I knew every alley, cut-through and interior court within a half mile of my house.

Walking the back alleys of Kensington Philadelphia.

Not many people know this, certainly not my family, but during the summer when I was ten or eleven I would get up at midnight or one in the morning and wander around the city, returning before my Dad left for work at 5am. My favorite haunt was the docks down on Delaware Ave (now Columbus Blvd.) That area at night, in those days, was all alight and bustling with the loading and unloading of the ships all tied up to the wharfs. All the activity fascinated me. I kept to the shadows and I still don’t think anyone ever knew I was there.

When I got older I had a paper route, delivering the old Philadelphia Bulletin in the afternoon after school. I had to give most of my earnings to my Mother but with the remainder I would take fifteen cents, ride the El to Center City and explore the huge, fabulous buildings there. The museums, libraries, City Hall, the banks and parks were an almost never ending fascination to me. I remember being able to see the iconic PSFS sign on the way in on the El and I made it a point to find it when I got in town. I also began to develop a taste for foreign films at that time. On holidays and weekends I would go to the small movie houses on Chestnut Street and see all the latest English, French and Italian movies. Alec Grinness, Belmondo, Alain Delon, Bridget Bardot, Mastroianni and Loren were my idols. I never missed an Ingmar Bergman film. I looked in all the furniture store windows. I pressed my nose against the glass and was thrilled by looking at the things in the shops like Dane Décor, Scandinavian Sun and Scandia House.

Stoop sitting at our old house on Dreer Street.

After high school I entered the Air Force in 1965. The circumstances around that is a whole other story but I won’t get into right now. While an airman, I served for four years in Europe, one year in Iceland and three in Germany. As you can imagine my service there was an opportunity to enjoy a whole new realm of urban experience. Upon my discharge from the service in 1970 I came home and began a life as a freelance cabinet maker in Center City till I utilized by GI Bill benefits and entered architecture school at Temple University.Ib Kofod-Larsen in our Jenkintown bungalow.

I completed architecture school in 1980, met Barbara and we were married at the end of that year. I continued my apprenticeship, was registered, practiced and taught Interior Design at the Art Institute. We lived in my grandparent’s old house that was full of furniture. We got rid of much of that furniture and added our own stuff as well as gracious gifts from Bill and Catherine. Not so strangely, the things we bought for ourselves were Mid Century Modern and Danish Modern and the things from the Daleys' were from the same period. It all seemed to fit together nice and cozy.

When we moved to Jenkintown the house was much smaller and after some editing of the larger pieces, the Mid Century and Danish Modern furniture fitted right in. When I retired from teaching and practice the acquisition of Danish and Mid Century pieces accelerated. I’m an inveterate collector of things (we’ll talk about that some other time) and the bug for MidMod furniture hit me. Collecting furniture isn’t like collecting stamps. By early in 2014 I had furniture stacked all over the house and Barbara told me that I couldn’t have any more furniture until I got rid of some of what I had. That was when MidMod Décor was born.