New Book Delves into SPHS History

Filed under: Featured News,South Philadelphia,South Philly |

By Eldon Graham

A NEW HISTORY of Philadelphia’s iconic public high school has been published by a group of dedicated alumni. Reprinted from South Philadelphia High School by Dr. Tony Evangelisto with contributions from Marc Adelman, Gene Alessandrini, and Carol Evangelisto (Arcadia Publishing, 2018).

South Philadelphia High School is diving deep into its past, in literary form.

The book, by Dr. Tony Evangelisto, is simply known as “South Philadelphia High School.” It chronicles the humble beginnings of the school and all the teachers, principals and students that came through and shaped the school’s legacy into what it is today.

The famous high school located at Broad & Snyder is a staple that has seen a lot and had a lot of recognized individuals come through its hallowed halls. The institution holds over 100 years of history and it has finally been put to the page for the entire world to recognize.

The inspiration for the book comes from a moment Evangelisto had with his wife, Carol, and one of the school’s illustrious alumni, Louis Lonzo, when Lonzo was honored by the school as a violinist for the Philadelphia Orchestra and putting him into the school’s cultural hall of fame in 2014. That’s when Carol asked a question that sent him on a two-year journey into the history of “Southern,” as it is commonly called.

“She looked at me and said, ‘Tony, how can one school produce so many incredibly talented people?’ I gave her a glib answer but then I said, wait there’s more to it than that,” Evangelisto related. And that’s when he started working on the book.

Not long after, Evangelisto contacted Marc Adelman, one of the contributors to SPHS, who attended the school in 1954 and graduated in 1957.

Adelman leads the school’s effort in saving the archives and has taken that position for over 10 years. “When I walked away from the 100-year anniversary celebration, I knew I had to do something, because as I spoke to people, no one knew about the history,” said Adelman.

His initiative led him to a dark, dusty, vermin-filled closet in the school, which housed the school’s history – from the architect’s blueprints of the original school from 1905. Much of this material from the archives assisted research for the book, including material from yearbooks, the public library and the Urban Archives at Temple University. The alumni association for South Philadelphia High School gave every bit of help that you could possibly imagine when informed about the work. A lot of the material used from the archives was scarce at one leaving more to be desired. Donations in the means of archival material can be made to the SPHS Alumni Archives

Author of South Philadelphia High School, Dr. Tony Evangelisto, showcases a copy of the book with contributing author Marc Adelman in the Alumni Room of their alma mater. Photo by Eldon Graham

Published by Arcadia Publishing, this book covers a lot of territory: the early days of the school, stars in entertainment and the arts, law and service, athletics, science, writing, and education – and “the secret of Southern’s success.”

Details of the original South Philadelphia High School are included in the book and which both men fondly remember attending. Facts which could only come the people who attended and from information that is scarcely available today.

The first school existed for only 48 years and was torn down in 1955. The current school opened across the street from the previous school in 1955 and has stood on Snyder Avenue for the past 63 years. Some pieces of the original school can be found inside the alumni room in stained-glass windows that represent the army and the navy; they originally resided in the hallways of the old school.

“What readers are going to find remarkable is the content of the people that went here and the incredible … incredible array of talent,” said Evangelisto

People like singer Chubby Checker; Jack Klugman, actor; Patty Jackson, radio personality; Eddie Gottlieb, founder of the National Basketball Association; H. Patrick Swygert, president emeritus of Howard University; and many more received an education there.

There weren’t high expectations for a school in a low-income neighborhood. “The difference is here our immigrant neighbors, our poor kids had to prove that they wanted to go to high school,” said Adelman. The school was originally planned so that some of the students could enter trades instead of academic positions after high school.

“South Philadelphia High School is the epitome of the success of a public high school that was built first to handle manual training, because they called it the High School of Manual Training. Those in power at the Philadelphia School District didn’t have the faith that these poor immigrant kids could be academic,” Evangelisto said.

“It’s a combination of the neighborhoods, the poverty that we all experienced and the support and caring of all the teachers that made the difference for us. How many kids come through poverty and achieve the kind of things that are graduates did? For us, the issue is that there is a sense of family here that you don’t find it in too many places.”

Growing up in a troubled household caused Evangelisto to seek refuge in the neighborhood gang, which put him on a different path and facilitated his seeking guidance from one of his school teachers.

Evangelisto never thought himself to be the best student but that changed through his experiences at Southern. “The mixture of people to me was so rich that I feel a debt to the school because it gave me the ability to do what I’ve done. I became a college professor and I’ve taught all around the world. A lot of it had to do with the fact that I had teachers here who cared enough for me to challenge me and to help me believe in myself.”

He graduated from La Salle University, majoring in English. He then went to Boston College Law School but had a change of heart when he enlisted in the army with his brother in 1962. He spent nine years in the service.

After the army, he found his passion in teaching. His first gig came at North East Catholic High School. He then taught a Temple University for two years. He eventually found his way to the College of New Jersey, where he spent 41 years.

“I love teaching,” Dr. Evangelisto said. “Part of it is I realized that I have a need to give back to kids and do for them want the teachers here at Southern did for me.”

Proceeds from the book will go to the school. It will be available for purchase on Tuesday, Aug. 20.

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