River Wards: Then and Now, Old and New: A lifelong Port Richmond resident

Theresa Varillo, who lives on Gaul Street.

You might say Theresa Varillo’s Port Rich­mond home is the rock of her life.

She’s lived in it since she was born in 1942, save for a while liv­ing in Kens­ing­ton after she was mar­ried. She and her hus­band re­turned to the Gaul Street home in 1987. In the dec­ades since, she said the house has re­mained stead­fast among many neigh­bor­hood changes.

“It just looked dif­fer­ent,” she said of dec­ades-ago Port Rich­mond. “There were lots of trees, and hedges on the sides of all the houses. It was more beau­ti­ful here.”

When she was grow­ing up, she said that Rich­mond Street was a bust­ling shop­ping des­tin­a­tion, and with the neigh­bor­hood’s three movie theatres, en­joy­ing films on the sil­ver screen was a pop­u­lar pas­time.

“It was 25 cents for a kid, and 50 cents for an adult to go to the movies,” she said. Now, she said, she wants to see Rich­mond Street re­turn to its former glory.

“I’m hop­ing it can be more like [Main Street] Manay­unk,” she said.

She said most of the people liv­ing on her street grow­ing up had been liv­ing there since the houses were built.

“The at­mo­sphere is dif­fer­ent,” she said of Port Rich­mond now. “[Then] people sat out­side and they talked, the churches had block parties and two-week car­ni­vals.” The best dec­ade, she said, was the 1950s.

“It really was like ‘The Happy Days,’” she said. “It wasn’t un­til the Vi­et­nam War that things really got messed up.”

She said she feels re­l­at­ively safe in the neigh­bor­hood, and that Port Rich­mond is a great place to raise a fam­ily.

Port Rich­mond, Varillo said, has a small-town feel­ing that is “stuck in time.”

“We still have the feel­ing of people know­ing each oth­er, of neigh­bors be­ing very help­ful,” she said. “I’m glad I stayed here.” ••

You can reach at mjamison@bsmphilly.com.

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