The information listed below is current as of the date the transcript was finalized.
Abstract of Interview
Jack DelConte grew up in South Ambler, Pennsylvania. His father worked at Keasbey & Mattison, as did his grandfather and an uncle; only his uncle and a cousin have developed asbestosis. He remembers Ambler as a thriving town until about the time he returned from the Air Force, when K&M had left and the town began its economic slide. The hills of waste materials were good for sledding; kids and catfish swam in the reservoir; on St. Francis Day Sons of Italy set off fireworks from the top of the “dump”; the neighborhood was Italian and close-knit; there was baseball on the field that now holds a Post Office.
Having returned from the Air Force and a few years working in Washington, D.C., DelConte and his wife settled in Lansdale, Pennsylvania. The “dumps” had been cleaned up and carted off; not many people were sick, and generally people just accepted illness. DelConte was hired to demolish and refurbish some of the old Wyndham Hotel, which had deteriorated badly. A whole wall collapsed from water damage; the basement was only dirt; there were jerry-built rooms on the upper floors. When the construction was complete DelConte, who had restaurant and bar experience, was hired to manage the hotel’s restaurant, 34 East Tavern. The restaurant had been an Irish pub but is now a family place.
Although the dangers of asbestos are now known, most people DelConte knows are fatalistic about the probability of harm. When asked his opinion about the BoRit site, DelConte says he trusts the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to be capping it properly, as they did with the “dumps.” Furthermore, he thinks that attempting to remove all the asbestos is impossible, as it will have been dispersed everywhere by weather and flooding. He feels that the seventeen-story high-rise that caused the initial concern at BoRit was probably a good idea; that Ambler could use more housing. Otherwise, he says, Ambler is progressing nicely. There are eleven or twelve restaurants, all with good food. There are a playhouse, a symphony, parades, art festivals, nice new houses near the train station. All the new businesses help the whole town prosper. Despite all these changes, however, he says that there is still the old community feel.
Table of Contents
Grew up in South Ambler, Pennsylvania; father from Ambler, mother from nearby Conshohocken. Father worked at Keasbey & Mattison (K&M). Attended Catholic schools. Played on building-high hills of asbestos-containing materials; called waste areas "dumps. " No knowledge of or concern about hazard at the time. K&M employed perhaps sixty-five percent of Ambler workers; Ambler Chemical Plant also large employer. Close-knit Italian neighborhood; Sons of Italy, baseball. Fireworks on St. Francis Day set off from dump. Baseball field now Post Office. Served in U. S. Air Force. Married, moved to Lansdale, Pennsylvania.
Noticed decline when K&M left town. Decline due to unemployment, not asbestos fears. Ambler was company town. Knowledge of possible hazard first spread after his return from Air Force. Remembers dumps being cleared out; piles of waste material good for sledding. Fatalistic beliefs. Swimming in reservoir common when he was young; catfish also in reservoir.
Lives in Lansdale. Brother and friends still in Ambler. Worked at Finn McCool's, now manager of 34 East Tavern. Ambler revitalizing: now eleven or twelve restaurants, all with good food; playhouse; Ambler Boiler House; nice new houses near train station; art festivals; parades; symphony; students from Temple University. Still has community feel; many improvements mainly to night life. Thinks seventeen-story high-rise project would be good; new high-rise near Deck's Hardware already full. Parking difficult. Many would like asbestos removed altogether, but he thinks it impossible, as Wissahickon Creek flooding and weather generally have dispersed asbestos widely.
Former Wyndham Hotel, high-class hotel when hewas young. Deterioration terrible, but almost all redone. DelConte superviseddemolition and rebuilding, putting in concrete basement. Collapse of wall. Apartments above restaurant when building finished. Was Irish pub, Finn McCool's, now a family restaurant. DelConte had worked in restaurants and bars, so was hired as manager of 34 East when renovation complete.
Likes Ambler's progress. Thinks more businesses bring more prosperity for all. Nice town, friendly, still cohesively Italian, like South Philadelphia. Everyone knows everyone else. Diversity of professions now.
About the Interviewer
Lee Sullivan Berry earned a master’s degree in medieval studies from the University of Notre Dame, and a bachelor of arts degree in religious studies from the University of Pennsylvania. As a staff member in the Center for Oral History, Berry conducts background research and oral history interviews, edits transcripts of completed interviews, and coordinates with interviewers and interviewees to finalize transcripts. She was the lead interviewer for the REACH Ambler project and has presented her work at meetings of the American Society for Environmental History and Oral History in the Mid-Atlantic Region.