Thursday, February 15, 2018

Skyros Mines

Back from fieldwork in Greece, and eager to share some ideas. One site of research was the Island of Skyros, where I traced the footsteps of the painter Georg von Peschke. Back in Athens, I was passing through the American School and I ran into Betsey Robinson, who introduced me to Ruth Siddall, the geoarchaeologist from University College, London. Over a glass of wine at Omorfo, Ruth told me about the amazing project of urban geology that she is conducting in London. Among the buildings Ruth has studied is Westminster Cathedral, the premier Neo-Byzantine church in the U.K. that contains no less than 126 different marbles, many of them from Greece. An important figure linking Greek marbles with England was William Brindley, who traveled to Greece in the 1880s and discovered a number of forgotten sources. I thank Ruth for adding a geological dimension to the on-going research on the Byzantine Research Fund at the British School that Amalia Kakissis has initiated with last year's London conference on Byzantium and the Arts and Crafts Movement.

One stunning comment that Ruth Siddall made, however, had to do with the Gennadeion Library, whose architect I have been studying. It seems to Ruth that the interior of the library might be clad with Skyros marble. 

Tuesday, February 13, 2018

Digital City: First Year Seminar

Franklin & Marshall College's general education curriculum includes first year seminars known as Connections. I have proposed a new CNX seminar for Fall 2018 that explores further last semester's class Migration Architecture: Intro to Spatial Analysis (ART 175). Rather than introducing students to migration architecture from antiquity to the present, this new seminar takes Lancaster as a laboratory. The students will partner with a number of community organizations and create digital databases, 3D-models, maps and narratives on erased urban histories. We will partner with the Lancaster Historical Society and map the houses of prostitution as recorded by the citizens' Vice Commission in 1915. We will partner with the archaeological field-methods class and excavate a suburban house from the 1920s. We will partner with the Catastrophic Relief Alliance and assist a lower income neighborhood in fixing up destroyed houses. Finally, we will partner with Lancaster's African American Oral History Project and reconstruct the Seventh Ward, Lancaster's most racially and ethnically diverse wards that was demolished in the 1960s to build
public housing. This project will add to the comparative database that David Pettergrew has been building for Harrisburg and my students have been building for Philadelphia. David and I hope to write a comparative article for all southeastern Pennsylvania. We have presented our work in conferences and are busily teaching our students how to build databases with us. We are thankful to conversations with Amy Hillier at the University of Pennsylvania, whose 2012 work on mapping the Seventh Ward in Philadelphia has been ground-breaking.

Like the Seventh Ward in Philadelphia (which W. E. B. Du Bois studied door-to-door in the 1890s) the Seventh Ward in Lancaster was the African-American core of the city. Very little survives from it both physically and historically since the original community was pushed out by a public housing mono-culture of poverty. Last semester, Franklin and Marshall hosted a Common Hour lecture that summarized the galant efforts of Lancaster's African American Oral History Project. You can watch this important event here: "Singing the Lord's Song in a Strange Land: Africans in Lancaster Country," (Oct. 5, 2017), or read about it here. The discussion included Leroy Taft Hopkins, Jr. (Professor of History at Millersville University and President of the President of the African-American Historical Society of South Central Pennsylvania), Betty Hurdle (retired Housing and Community Advocate), Kevin Ressler (candidate for mayor), and Antonio Callari (Professor of Economics). 

In preparation for my seminar, I initiated the conversation with the Oral History Project. In consultation with Leroy Hopkins, I took a first look at the 1912 maps of the core of the Seventh Ward. My little sketch above confirmed multiple African American churches, a synagogue, and other lost establishments. I have had conversations with many different groups in Lancaster. The African American Oral History Project seems by far the most sophisticated, directed by the major historian of African-American life in the city. 

And here is my blurb for the seminar

The Digital City

Buildings, people, sewers, side-walks, trees, graveyards, schools, hospitals, traffic, and the flow of capital. Welcome to the greatest work of art in human history, a work saturated with codes, messages, ebbs, and flows and ideally suited for digital complexity. Our contemporary experience of cities is digitally mitigated by smart phones, devices, global positioning systems, satellites, street views, drones, and sharing economies. Digital literacy makes possible the simultaneous reading of time and space. The city is a material repository of human actions whose traces can be read like a physical book. We will immerse ourselves into Lancaster's urban materiality and write digital stories. We will study the production of space and consider how race, class, and ethnicity have transformed the American city. Each student will partner with a community organization ranging from oral history projects, refugee advocates, historical societies, and neighborhood associations. We will digitally reconstruct demolished neighborhoods, map topographies of vice, and even conduct an archaeological excavation.

Monday, February 12, 2018

Student Life at Sayer Hall 1908

Sayre Hall of Mercer College (now University of North Dakota) was built in 1908, the first in a series of four buildings. We have an extraordinary document, a biography of a 1908 student who gives explicit details of student life in the Hall during its first year of occupation. (See previous post for details)

Roy Thompson of Cando, ND, enrolled at the Grand Forks Preparatory School for his high school senior year in preparation for enrollment at the University of North Dakota. He was the first group of students to be housed at Sayre Hall that had just been completed. I have pulled out some of the most interesting observations about the building.
  • The dormitory was managed by an amicable Mrs. Hoy, who lived with her daughter Grace in an apartment at the first floor of the building. 
  • Upon arrival to the still unfinished building, Thompson and his room-mate selected their room. They chose the southwest corner on the third floor. It had two rooms, a study, and a bedroom.
  • The dormitory was so new that they had to spend two hours unpacking and putting together the brand new beds, the dresser and chairs that had arrived in shipping craters.
  • Electricity had not yet been installed, so they used candles at night.
  • Mrs. Hoy warned to be careful, as the walls were not yet finished and asked them to step carefully over the floors that
    had not yet been finished.
  • The overall impression of a building was austerity. The young Thompson who had grown up in a Victorian house with wooden floors and carpets was struck by the austerity of the Beaux Arts artifice that he likened to a prison: "The thick walls, the deeply set in windows and doors somehow gave the impression of being in a penitentiary."
  • One of the most memorable visceral impressions was the sound of the hard floors: "We were much annoyed at first by the noise of the place. People waking on the terrazzo floors—that was before the day of rubber heels—could be heard distinctly on the two floors below us, and our floor like approaching horses on cement. The emptiness of the building contributed to this clatter, as well as the lack of curtains, carpets and wall decorations."
  • As the semester progressed, Thompson describes the development of a residential comradery. "Meanwhile, everybody in the new dormitory gradually became accustomed to living in close contact with others, and almost before we realized it, life had become a series of routines, repeated five days a week. As in most dormitories there was a strong tendency on the part of the students to regard all property as public. An example was Wiley’s electric flat iron, the only one on our floor. It was used by all and sundry not only for pressing trousers, but also to “cook cocoa,” and make fudge. Many a “feed” was held in the wee small hours after lights had been turned off, when the prevailing dress was not evening but night. During the first year in Sayre all such feeds were negotiated by candle light, and happily so." Another important event was the arrival of food baskets from home. "One of the great moments in the life of a Sayre Hall resident was the arrival from home of a basket of food; everyone on the floor dropped whatever he as doing, and went to the room of the recipient, and had a 'feed'."
  • The students ate at the University's Dining Hall, but Mrs. Hoy began to host small groups of students for Saturdays dinners. "It was during this pioneer year that Mrs. Hoy conceived the idea of treating the residents of Sayre, two or three at a time, to a tasty repast in the clubroom. Such 'feeds' were, of necessity, given on the installment plan and spread out very a long series of Saturday evenings. These 'feeds' were long remembered by the Hall’s residents, all of whom were far from home, and were remembered as a distinct achievement in the matron’s initial year."
  • There is one description of how the common room took over spiritual functions on Sundays. "Early in the year a Sunday evening Vesper Service was started by the management. At first the boys gathered around the piano informally and sang hymns; later there would be a speaker from Wesley College. Such meetings served as a substitute for church series, for those who were in the habit of going to church found in inconvenient to go to Grand Forks. But after a few months the attendance dropped off and the Sunday meetings abandoned."
  • There is one interesting note about Sayre Hall's artistic life. Although not frequented very much, the basement floor had a piano. It was here that one student with an intense passion for classical music practiced for hours.

These are a few highlights that can be intersected with our survey of the building. For me, one of the most interesting parts of the biography is the description of the intellectual conversations that took place within Sayre Hall. Living next door to Thompson was the student Garth Howland, with whom he became life-long friends. Howland was studying art and introduced Thompson to German Expressionism. Together they attended an exhibition of prints by Die Brucke, which shocked the viewers. It is amazing to think that Grand Forks was so connected to artistic fashions that one could see a Die Brucke exhibition. Garth Howland had a stellar career. He studied painting (at Harvard, in Paris, etc.) and in 1926 he founded Lehigh University's Art Department. While at Bethlehem, he became an expert on 18th-century Moravian architecture. William Murtagh, the world expert on Moravian architecture writes in his Moravian Architecture and Town Planning (1967) how Howland inspected Bethlehem's Gemeinhaus, one of the largest log buildings in the country. Howland surveyed the log structure in great detail before it was demolished, very much as we are doing with his beloved Sayre Hall, where he began his architectural studies.

Beyond learning about German Expressionism and classical music, Thompson also participated in a two-week archaeological expedition. In the summer of 1910, he joined History Professor Olin G. Libby in surveying Native American sites along the Missouri River. "We met at Bismarck. The party consisted of Dr. Libby, an Indian chief named Holding Eagle, his son Jim Holding Eagle, Francis Templeton, a U.N.D. student whose home was in Grand Forks, and myself. We were equipped with a farm wagon, two horses, two tents and camping equipment, feed for the horses, and food for ourselves. Jim Holding Eagle was driver and caretaker of the horses. When camping time came, we all pitched in and helped put up the tents."

It is exciting to have such granular information about the life of an academic building from its first occupant. I look forward to see how the biographical account intersects with the material survey. It is astounding to me that within those spaces of Sayre Hall, a young mid-western student could entertain German Expressionist colors and Native American sites under the same roof.
--> --> --> --> -->

Friday, February 09, 2018

College and University 1908 North Dakota

Bill Caraher, my partner in many writing crimes (Punk Archaeology, Man Camps, Refugee Archaeology), began a salvage archaeology project on his campus and kindly invited me to collaborate. The issue is this handsome 1908 Beaux Arts building that will be torn down this June. Our task is to archaeologically document as much as we can before demolition. Bill has set up a one-credit class for his students to carry out the documentation. What I hope to contribute is the architectural context. Research began this morning, and I will share some preliminary thoughts.

In 1905, Red River Valley University, a Methodist College in Wahpeton, North Dakota, moved to Grand Forks in an interesting arrangement of auxiliary co-existence with the public University of North Dakota. Red River Valley University was at the verge of economic collapse so the merger with UND was partly financial. It was also motivated by the demographic strength of Methodists among a predominant Lutheran landscape. 
More interesting is the desire for a science-driven public university to bring to its campus a liberal arts college and create a dependency of arts and sciences. As Louis Menand has argued in The Marketplace of Ideas (2010), liberal arts education in America was invented in order to directly serve the needs of a professionalizing higher education. The liberal arts became the filtering mechanism for professionalization. There was no binary choice between the arts and the sciences; the arts were created as a prerequisite (and albeit inferior) filter for technical specialization. Changing its identity on the new campus, the old Methodist college became an autonomous Wesley College within UND. The coexistence survived until 1963 when it was fully incorporated into the university. 

The two buildings that made up Wesley College were constructed in 1908, with expansions in 1930. Robertson-Sayre Hall and Corwin-Larimore Hall are Beaux Arts buildings in yellow brick and pronounced roof lines. Hundreds of colleges in the U.S. employed this style, following the success of the 1893 Chicago World's Fair, the establishment of a Beaux Arts curriculum, and the City Beautiful movement. More locally, however, the 1908 buildings represent a break from the 1891 identity of a Methodist college, represented by the architecture of the abandoned Old Main in Wahpeton (photo below). They are also distinct from the Collegiate Gothic identity embraced by UND in the 1920s. After leaving Wahpeton, Red River University sold its grounds to the State School of Sciences in 1905, so Old Main turned from a Methodist college to a technical university, as it survives to this day (in 2015 the ND State School of Sciences renovated Old Main).
My first reading of the architecture of Robertson-Sayre and Corwin-Larimore is twofold. On the one hand, they embrace the general fashion of campus architecture, the period between 1893 and 1924 when the Beaux Arts reigned supreme. On the other hand, they assert a liberal arts collegiate identity in contrast to the technical university. It will be important to explore the Methodist connection, since Methodist colleges were pioneers in educational reform. After all, Oberlin College was radical in its admissions of African Americans and women based on its Methodist mission. If we were to point to the premier flagship of Methodist collegiate architecture, it would be Cass Gilbert's transformation of Oberlin College from a stone campus into a neoclassical campus. 

Cass Gilbert's Cox Building above (1915) or the Allen Museum (1917) are arguably more refined versions of a Beaux Arts (with Romanesque flourishes to bridge with the older campus identity). 

The architect of the two North Dakota buildings was a New Yorker. A. Wallace McRae in only known for his house designs that were published in contemporary journals like American Architect and Architectural Record around 1923-1925. Why would Grand Forks reach so far beyond its typical source of architects (either local or from Minneapolis)? My suspicion is a common arrangement for the period, where a metropolitan architect submitted designs that were carried out by a local firm. Built on codified architectural modules, the Beaux Arts style lend itself to mass production. It was during this time that large firms build national practices with the help of a newly professionalized staff of draftsmen. The comparison with Cass Gilbert will be interesting here, since he began his practice in Minneapolis before going to New York.

To simply talk about style, however, is just scratching the surface. UND's archives contains building specs that address the material source of construction. It is amazing, for instance, that Mercer Moravian Tiles were brought all the way from Doyleston, Pennsylvania for the floors. The granular study of the building will allow interesting insights on the East Coast-North Dakota emerging interdependencies. 

What I hope to do in the architectural analysis is to establish the norms for campus architecture in 1908 with a special focus on Methodist institutions. As Michael Lewis has shown in his survey of The Gothic Revival (2002), the Methodists quickly abandoned their anti-formal sensibilities of tent retreats and communitarian architecture. By the 1880s, they had fully embraced the formalistic Gothic style that was once unique to their counterparts, the Episcopalians. The sectarian distinctiveness of the Methodists (and their Second Great Awakening legacy) had architecturally disappeared by 1908. 

I hope we find some material articulation of the dominant conflicts in American education ca. 1900. These conflicts have not gone away. After all, the UND Buildings will be torn down to construct a newer vision of the curriculum. I hope we will address three conflicts: public university v. private college, science-technology v. liberal arts curricula, and secular v. religious values. 

I end with the very mission statement of the merger between Wesley College and UND presented by the President of UND in his address of the annual conference in Grand Forks.  In his March 1900 speech, Webster Merrifield laid out the intellectual and practical benefits of the merger:

“Whereas. The state university is in theory the university of all the people of the state, and is supported by the taxes of the members of the several denominations, as well as by the other citizens of the state, it would seem to be appropriate and fitting that the churches of the several denomination in the state should avail themselves of the privileges which belong to their members as citizens of the state, and should use, to whatever extent may seem desirable in the conduct of their education work, the facilities afforded by the state university. It is recognized that the state university is a civic institution and has for its mission the training of the youth of the state for efficient service as its citizens. It is recognized, also, that the distinctive object of the church is maintaining schools of its own is to secure trained leadership in religious and denominational work. There is, therefore, logically, no conflict between their respective missions, for the same young people are to serve in both these capacities. These two missions being in no sense antagonistic, but supplementary, it would seem the part of wise economy that these two education agencies should avail themselves, so far as possible, of the facilities and appliances of each other in the working out of their respective missions, keeping always in view the principle of separation of the church and state in so far as regards the control and expenditure of the financial resources of each." 

Quoted in Wallace N. Stearns, “History of the Red River Valley University,” State of North Dakota Collections of the State Historical Society of North Dakota 2 (1908), pp. 171-178.

Monday, February 05, 2018

Philadelphia: The Birthplace of Rembetiko

Rembetiko is Greece's urban blues. Like the tango in Argentina, rembetiko was considered criminal, low-class, and unworthy of recording creating a typical paradox. One of Greece's national music genres was practical illegal in Greece. In comes immigration. The first rembetiko songs were recorded in the United States under the growing industry of ethnic music. The economic equation is simple. The 78 RPM vinyl industry was beginning to collapse as radio disrupted record sales. Providing free music (supported by advertisements) and reaching every corner of electrified America, radio was the internet of the 1920s. There is one population, however, that the English-dominated radio could not reach, the millions of immigrants that had landed on American shores. Record companies swiftly recognized the diversified audience, and rushed to capture each ethnic corner of the market. That's how American record executives aggressively sought out the Greek rembetiko players in the U.S., and eventually, establishing recording studios in Greece. The dominance of Greek music in this ethnic market is interesting. Although the twelfth largest immigrant population, Greek recordings made up for a fifth of the total recording output by 1940.

The history of Greek rembetiko is the history of Greek immigrant musicians in the U.S. According to music historians, the first rembetiko song recorded in the U.S. was by Marika Papagika, the first female superstar of Greek music. She and her husband Kostas (Gus) Papagikas (who played santouri) had immigrated to the U.S. in 1914. By 1925, they also established the first Greek music nightclub, called Marika's, in New York, on 34th Street and 8th Avenue. Papagika made the first rembetiko recording in American record history in 1918 for RCA Victor, and released in 1918. The song, "Minore from Smyrna," is perhaps the most amazing three minutes in Greek music history. RCA Victor was located in Camden, N.J., across the river from Philadelphia. Along with Columbia Records (in New York) it dominated Greek recording history. RCA Victor did not only produce the vinyl records but also the hardware on which to play it, the Victrola phonograph. So, imagine being in Greece ca. 1920, where your only recorded Greek music was not only recorded in Camden, but it was played on a Victrola platform brought by a Greek immigrant.

In spite of the international popularity of rembetiko or its dominant place in the national narrative of Greek music, there is relatively little scholarship on the particulars of its creation. I offer a small discovery on the primacy of Philadelphia in rembetiko history due to its proximity to RCA Victor recording studios. The Nipper Building, where rembetiko history was made, still survives. Its iconic stained glass windows can still be seen (see photo above). Most enticing is the fact that RCA Victor's vault of masters was dumped into the Delaware River and incorporated into a concrete dock in the 1960s. Theoretically, they could be archaeologically rescued (see a community-based heritage group that would like to accomplish that here).

My research on Philadelphia's Greektown has made a slight turn on the archaeology of rembetiko. If Papagika recorded the first rembetiko, then George Katsaros is a close second. Katsaros is additionally interesting for his adaptation of the guitar into a hybridized fingerpicking style that reflects African-American blues that he encountered in his itinerant performances throughout the U.S. His love affair with Mexican movie star Riorita orients him outside an ethnic bubble. Like Papagika, Katsaros's recorded his first song "Greek Pleasure" at Victor RCA in 1919. 

The circumstances of Greek recording history are murky. Historians and the Greek community has paid disproportionately little attention in creating the historical archives that shepherd their musical tradition. Since rembetiko music in the U.S. flourished during Prohibition, the Greek performance venues were typically speak-easies and shrouded in secrecy, very much like the censorship that criminalized the performance of rembetiko music in Greece during the 1930s. As a community, Greek Americans have been more comfortable to highlight food and commercial success over drug addiction, persecution, poverty, or sexual oppression, the themes of rembetiko music. Thanks to the devoted obsession of a small group of record collectors, we have at least saved some of the vinyl documents. Amanda Petrusich reports on the culture of collecting in her excellent book Don't Sell at Any Price: The Wild, Obsessive Hunt for the World's Rarest 78rpm Records (2014). The centrality of Greek musicians is evident in many of the other wonderful pieces that Petrusich has written for the New York Times and the New Yorker.

George Katsaros is an exception to the historiographic oblivion that shrouds most of his contemporaries. He retired at Tarpon Spring, where a couple of Greek-American folklorists and historians collected his stories. I thank Tina Bucuvalas, curator of arts for the city of Tarpon Spring, for all her insights on Katsaros, see her recent The Greeks of Tarpon Springs (2016) and an interview on the new journal Ergon. I also thank ethnomusicologist Panayotis League, whose deep insights on Katsaros are not only musical; he got to meet him at his grandmother's house as a kid in Tarpon Springs. Katsaros was rediscovered by a Greek audience in 1995, when he was invited to perform two important concerts in Athens and Thessaloniki, just two years before he passed away at the age of 109. The most important scholar on Katsaros is Steve Frangos, who conducted an extensive oral history project that lead into a Master's Thesis at Indiana University, "Yiorgos Katsaros: Last of the Greek-American Cafè-Aman Singers," (1992) and an article, “The Last Café-Aman Performer,” Journal of Modern Hellenism 12-13 (1995-96), pp. 239-256. Katsaros's guitar playing has received more recent interest in a CD re-recording of his songs by Greece's premier guitarist Demetris Mystakidis, who has reconstructed Katsaros's weird string tunings (listen here.) Clips from Katsaros's oral history were recently featured in the BBC documentary Music of our Times, see "America's Ottoman Diaspora" (2017).

During the last year or so, I have been studying Philadelphia's Greektown with my students. We have reconstructed its spaces digitally by repopulating the old buildings with its original occupants, based on the US Census and historical maps. The core of Greektown was demolished by urban renewal and the expansion of Jefferson Hospital in the 1960s. For the lost buildings, we have analyzed some 700 old photographs from the City of Philadelphia archives. This includes a 1917 photograph of a Greek establishment on 1018 Locust Street marked by the Greek letters on the window shop "Greek Kaffeneion." Image at beginning of post. While reading Frangos's thesis, I was shocked to discover the significance of this corner.

Katsaros travelled widely through the U.S. and performed at countless Greek venues. As he noted in his interview, every city with Greek immigrants had a dozen performance spaces. Philadelphia was not special. In fact it ranked as seventh most populous with Greeks, far below New York, Chicago, and Lowell. But Philadelphia had the recording studios across the river at Camden. And it was in Philadelphia that Katsaros was discovered by the agent of RCA Victor in 1919 and was invited to record the second oldest rembetiko, "Greek Pleasure." In his interview, Katsaros is explicit about the Philadelphia detail. He names the two venues where he played, Culture Restaurant and Kentron Restaurant. He even gives the address "1018 Locust Street" and notes that it was across from the Stephano Brothers tobacco factory (the largest Greek employer in Philadelphia). The kaffeneion that our study of Greektown had identified in the photo (top) shows Kentron Restaurant two years before Katsaros performed there. The contemporary Sanborn Fire Insurance map from 1919 (left) plots 1018 Locust on the southeast corner of Warnock and Locust. North, along Warnock Street, we see the seven-story Stephano Brothers factory at 1014-16 Walnut Street built in 1908 and marked yellow to signify concrete frame. Parenthetically, both the RCA Victor and Stephano Brother buildings were designed by the prominent architectural firm Ballinger.

The 1920 US Census, moreover, lists two tenants in the upstairs floors of this address, a George Skapavos restaurant cook, and a Gregores Boulous dishwasher. These two tenants were most likely the working staff that managed the venue downstairs. Although Katsaros identifies 1018 Locust as the Kentron Restaurant, he does not give an address for the Central Restaurant. However, he notes that his music group was moving from to another. Looking at the business directories from 1912, we learn that this block of Locust Street had no less than four Greek restaurants. What is a business directory? Beginning in 1904, Greek publishers in New York published a guidebook that was distributed to potential Greek emigrants. These guides gave an introduction to life in the U.S. but also contained a directory of Greek establishments in every city to help the immigrant navigate the new country. The map below plots the 1911 Philadelphia directory published by Serapheim Canoutas.

A cluster of four dots on the 1000 block of Locust locates the epicenter of Greek restaurants in Philadelphia and names their proprietors.

1012 Locust St, B. Sirios
1015 Locust St, John Parbos
1018 Locust St, Geo. Thomakos
1031 Locust St, N. Kromidas

The objective of our Greektown study has been to reveal the archaeology of Greek immigration in one city. We combined diverse sources in a geospatial database as the groundwork for a physical, archaeological investigation of the remains. Unfortunately, no further work can be done on the 1000 block of Locust Street because it was demolished in 1967. The Greek establishments were rembetiko was first performed lie buried below Jefferson's Alumni Hall, which takes up half of a city block. With the excavation for the foundations and basement of this building, there will be no physical remains. The green space of Lubert Plaza, in front of Alumni Hall, most likely retains the basements of the north side of the block. As would be typical in demolition practices of the 1960s, these basements are backfilled by the debris of the brick buildings above.

Other Greektown properties, however, survive. Their backyards could be explored. For the birthplace of rembetiko, digital archaeology must suffice, as we populate the individuals listed in the census (below) into a digital reconstruction of the city where Katsaros lived and recorded the second oldest rembetiko.

One final note about dates. The reason why Katsaros has not been considered "the first" like Papagika has to do with a clerical ambiguity. Although he claimed the song was recorded in 1919, the official historian of Ethnic Records did not find any written testimony in Victor's archives for a recording until 1927 (Spottwood 1990). Steve Frangos' oral history settles that problem, as Katsaros confirms the original date. Although Katsaros is explicit about the Philadelphia venues, he tells another story where  RCA Victor representatives approached him while performing in New York. 

Much work remains to be done in the archaeology of rembetiko. Consider the most important performance space in 1920s Greek history, the high-end "Marika's" on 34th Street, New York. We know so little about it, although, we do have a photo of its exterior by Stieglitz (I haven't found it yet). Does this mean that our Philadelphia Greektown project needs some comparative work from New York? For the time being, I am thrilled that we have put Philadelphia on the rembetiko map; more importantly, we have  narrowed it down to an actual building with a visible materiality (through the photos), a cartographic context (through GIS), and a human specificity (the census).

I thanks Panayiotis League, Giorgos Anagnostou, and Tina Bucavalas for their advice. I also want to thank my students Lizzy Wood and Cassie Garison who walked every corner of Alumni Hall looking for clues and practically lost their minds digitizing data. I am only an amateur music historian. I have tried Katsaros's crazy guitar plucking style and would love to take a guitar out to Jefferson Hospital's green lawn and relive a 1919 moment.


Bucuvalas, Tina. 2016. Greeks in Tarpon Springs, Charleston, S.C.: Arcadia.

Canoutas, Seraphim G. 1911. Greek-American Guide, Ελληνο-αμερικανικός οδηγός, 4th Year, New York: Helmis Press

Frangos, Steve. 1995-1996. “The Last Café-Aman Performer,” Journal of Modern Hellenism 12-13, pp. 239-256.

Frangos, Steve. 1992. “Yiorgos Katsaros: Last of the Greek-American Cafè-Aman Singers,” Master’s Thesis, Indiana University, Bloomington.

Petrusich, Amanda. 2015. Do Not Sell At Any Price: The Wild, Obsessive Hunt for the World's Rarest 78rpm Records, New York: Scribner.

Spottswood, Richard K. 1990. Ethnic Music on Records: A Discography of Ethnic Recordings Produced in the U.S. 1893-1942, vol. 3, pp. 1133-1234.

Blog Archive

Kostis Kourelis

Philadelphia, PA, United States