Gommy, Forgotten Campus Shop of Penn and Princeton

Recently I purchased a 1926 yearbook for my alma mater, the University of Pennsylvania, and was pleasantly surprised to see a Brooks Brothers advertisement on the first page of the ad section. Flipping through, I also discovered ads for a few local establishments, including a campus menswear shop called Gommy. It seemed like Gommy may have been for Penn and Princeton what J. Press was for Yale. My interest piqued, I began searching for details on the history of the store.

I was not able to find much at all, however. Menswear expert Bruce Boyer, former J. Press president Richard Press, and trad guru David Wilder were unable to provide any details about Gommy. The one solid piece of information I was able to find on this Philadelphia shop was a quote from B. Franklin Reinauer II, a gentleman who graduated from Penn in 1938. He provides some details on Gommy as well as the general menswear retail environment at the time:

There were some good men’s clothing stores: Gommy’s on Woodland Avenue Street just below 36th Street, and Sox Miller on Spruce Street just above 36th Street. People from men’s clothing stores in other cities would travel from college to college campuses get a room in a hotel or elsewhere to show their clothing to students and hopefully make some sales. Student representatives at different schools tried to get students to come to see the clothes.

Reinauer goes on to recount what campus wear was like during his college years:

When we students went to our classes each day we were dressed in slacks, tweed jacket, shirts [many with button down collars] and ties. There was a fine shoe shine place on Spruce Street just above 36th Street where our cordovan shoes were shined to perfection. We wore coats and fedora hats, too. Those students who were members of the football or other team sometimes wore their sweaters with “P” emblazoned.

Oh, how the Ivies have fallen.

If you can shed any light on what became of Gommy in Philadelphia or Princeton, please feel free to comment. — MARK CHOU

Mark Chou is a 2009 graduate of the University of Pennsylvania, where he was a photographer for The Daily Pennsylvanian and a member of the lightweight crew team. He currently works in finance in New York. Follow his personal blog here.

Image one from 1926; image two from 1930.

25 Comments on "Gommy, Forgotten Campus Shop of Penn and Princeton"

  1. Old School | May 12, 2011 at 9:08 am |

    “Oh, how the Ivies have fallen.”

    Mark,
    It’s not just the Ivies, I’m afraid, it’s the entire world.

    P.S.

    Christian,
    Thanks for introducing us to Mark’s excellent blog.

  2. Old School, thanks for the kind words about the blog!

  3. Michael Mattis | May 12, 2011 at 4:19 pm |

    Great football team there… Oh, wait, that’s Penn State.

  4. To be fair, Penn has more national championships in football than Penn State, even if they did all come before the ads above were published.

    And Joe Pa ain’t doing that well these days, ya know… 7 and 6? Dunno if “great” is really applicable, haha.

    In any case, in terms of football, the SEC dominates whatever other conference any day. (Big 10, Ivy or otherwise).

  5. How can guys with the aesthetic sense to prefer Ivy style in clothing be at all interested in boorish football?

  6. Michael and Madison,

    You may both be interested in a quote from “The Protestant Establishment,” the book written by Penn sociologist E. Digby Baltzell of “WASP” fame:

    “To an amazing degree the pattern set by Harvard, Yale and Princeton after 1880 became that of colleges all over the country. The clubs, the social organization, the athletics–even the clothes and the slang–of ‘the big three’ were copied by college youth throughout the nation.”

    One could argue that the nationwide obsession with boorish football now is in fact due to the Ivies’ example!

    Best,
    Mark

  7. Christian | May 13, 2011 at 7:34 am |

    Football (at least as far as its origins are concerned) is synonymous with the Ivy League. The Ivy League is synonymous with the Ivy League Look. Therefore football is synonymous with the Ivy League Look.

    Your use of the word “aesthetic” suggests you’ve been reading too many style blogs. Could it be that guys prefer Ivy style because of, say, tradition, rather than “aesthetic sense”?

    http://www.google.com/products/catalog?client=safari&rls=en&q=ivy+league+football&oe=UTF-8&um=1&hl=en&ie=UTF-8&tbm=shop&cid=14955006407409564054&sa=X&ei=eUDNTZT5M9GdgQfk7onEDA&ved=0CGcQ8wIwAQ&biw=1324&bih=841#ps-sellers

  8. Christian, you’re absolutely right.

    Just as a quick example, John Heisman (Penn 1891) essentially invented the forward pass, among other innovations in football: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=w2CinSJ43LI.

    Oh, I think there might be a trophy named after him as well or something, by the way. Not sure. :)

    Madison, apologies if you were simply joking, though this has been an interesting discussion nonetheless.

  9. I went to a land grant university in the Midwest, so Ivy style is certainly not a matter of “tradition” for me; it’s an aesthetic preference which also serves to distinguish myself from the loutish masses and indirectly associate myself with those who have the good sense and the good taste to prefer such garb to sweatsuits. This sartorial preference for OCBDs, regimental stripe ties, chinos, navy blazers, etc., most certainly does not require me to be a fan of grown men disporting themselves like oxen.

  10. Christian | May 13, 2011 at 8:42 am |

    While “aesthetic” is overused and bloviating, I rather like “disporting,” so thanks for introducing me to it.

    It even has the word “sport” in it.

  11. And I thank you for “bloviating”, sir.

  12. Don’t most elements of Ivy come from either sport or the military? E.g., OCBDs (sport); sportscoats (um, sport); repp ties (military and clubs); chinos (military). A functional aesthetic.

  13. And don’t forget the polo shirt (tennis) and rugby shirt (um, rugby)! Oh, and for those who prefer not to disport themselves like oxen, you can add in the boat shoe, I suppose.

  14. Michael Mattis | May 13, 2011 at 3:00 pm |

    There’s nothing inherently boorish about American football any more than there is soccer or rugby. What’s boorish is all the bloviating and hype that surrounds it in the sporting media as the players desport themselves for their pleasure and ours. Damned fine game and one that doesn’t need all the gimcracks and fireworks with which it has sadly been encumbered.

    Just ask Richard Harding Davis.

  15. The Reinauer named piqued my interest. For my book “Thirteen and a Day,” I interviewed one David Reinauer, whose family has been among the Jewish community of tiny Lake Charles, La.(where my grandmother was born), for generations. David was himself a Penn alumnus, and it stands to reason his father may have been, too. You don’t say where you found the Franklin Reinauer quotation, but I wonder if his son David, so far as I know still resident in Lake Charles, has some Gommy threads passed on from — dare we hope — his dad.

  16. Current UPenn (College ’13) student here, really enjoyed this type of read.

    Actually didn’t know that you were a Quaker but it’s interesting to find out, not to mention the insight I gain on what the campus was like years ago. It’s funny, because 36th and Woodland doesn’t even exist anymore nor do any remnants of the shoe shine place near Spruce.

    The Ivies have fallen, and fallen fast… especially the only “true” city campus. It’s dominated by commerce, which is why this happens to be one of my, if not the most, favorite style blogs. There’s real heritage in it, not to mention real research.

    As for the boorish comment, football is inherent in anything Ivy. Fact. Without being insensitive to the fact that I may bloviate the ideals by saying this, to ignore the “sport” in a culture based around sportswear is to let bloviation come full circle.

  17. Sox Miller was around until some time in the 70’s or perhaps early 80’s.
    While I did not attend Penn, I has occassion to be on or near their campus frequently in the 70’s.
    It was a very nice store.

  18. Michael, damned fine game it is. I think your “fireworks” point is one of the reasons college football still has more resonance for me than professional football, though of course even college suffers it as well these days.

    Mark, I actually found the Reinauer quote an “Alumni Voices” section of the Penn Gazette website: http://www.upenn.edu/gazette/memories.html#reinauer. This particular Reinauer mentions an “Inter-Fraternity Council of the Christian fraternities” and having been an officer, though, so I’m not sure if this gentleman is part of the same Jewish Lake Charles family.

    Bryan, were you able to attend the Commencement ceremonies earlier today? I was actually back down in Philly for my brother’s graduation (C’ 11), so I definitely had a great time back on campus. Glad to find fellow Quakers interested in history like this. I completely agree with what (I think) you said about influence of Wharton / commerce at Penn, though I’d say Wharton and heritage don’t have to be mutually exclusive, as I’m a W ’09 alum myself!

  19. Also, as a quick update, I was able to forward this article to a historian at the Penn Archives, who was able to provide a little additional information.

    The library of the Archives has a few Philadelphia city directories from this approximate period in time, and under the category of “Men’s Clothing” there was an entry for George W. Gommersall located at 3653 Woodland Avenue, the same address from the 1930 yearbook advertisement. I’d venture to guess that Gommy and Mr. Gommersall are one and the same.

    However, my contact was unable to find any mention of Gommy in the university Archive’s own publications and records, unfortunately. I suppose it’s one of those stores that really has just disappeared, save for its memory in vintage college yearbooks.

  20. Cool discussion — Another recent Quaker here, and I’ve been trying to figure out where the address would fall.

    The closest I’ve found is this picture from the 50s: http://www.phillyhistory.org/PhotoArchive/Detail.aspx?assetId=20758

    Gommy’s should have been just to the right of this picture. I think the Philadelphia Lunch place on the corner would have been 3663 Woodland Ave, judging by some old maps here: http://www.philageohistory.org/tiles/viewer/

    I don’t know if the Penn Archives have any more photos of the block from before the whole area was demolished, but I hope so. This is what’s there now, about where the big grate in the asphalt is between the bollards: http://www.google.com/maps?ie=UTF8&ll=39.950992,-75.196995&spn=0,0.002642&t=h&z=19&layer=c&cbll=39.950992,-75.196995&panoid=S1RPgv9kUdUQc9OCoUqr_w&cbp=12,0.22,,1,2.27

  21. TLP, I think that’s about right, though I think it would’ve been facing Woodland, and not Spruce? I think it would have been right across from what is now the back of Steiny D or somewhere in that vicinity?

  22. Oh how the mighty have fallen….

    Penn senior here. You should see it now–v necks + bermudas are the norm. Nobody even knows what preppy is anymore.

    It’s awful.

  23. I just ran across another picture of that block, and remembered this post. Sadly, you still can’t see Gommy’s!

    http://dla.library.upenn.edu/dla/archives/image.html?id=ARCHIVES_20071024001&size=4

    That’s a shot of 3661 (Cooper’s Beer), 3659 (White Castle), and 3657 (Varisty Shop) Woodland Ave. Gommy’s would have been two doors to the right.

    Anyway, no new info of merit!

  24. I spoke too soon – I found another!

    http://dla.library.upenn.edu/dla/archives/image.html?id=ARCHIVES_20050527006&size=4

    This shot is looking southwesterly down Woodland Ave. The Quad is on the left, the block of buildings in question is on the right side of the street. (You can see the White Castle there for reference to the other picture.)

    I think that the first building next to the parking lot (pointed roof, large second floor window) is 3653 Woodland, the location of Gommy’s. However, the building here has a sign that I think says “FOUNTAIN LUNCH”.

    This shot is from 1940, so if I’m reading the properties and that sign correctly, then Gommy’s didn’t make it out of the 1930s…

  25. I have been looking for a 1926 yearbook from the the University of Pennsylvania. My great-great uncle was Ralph Colson who ran track and field for Penn in 1925-1926 and may have played football. I wonder if he is located in your yearbook? Thanks for sharing!

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