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Old Chester, PA: Great Leopard

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Great Leopard sticker courtesy of Paul Crowther
Great Leopard sticker courtesy of Paul Crowther

Owners | About the Great Leopard | Recollections

Shirley McFadden, Great Leopard Organist


Owners: Jack Coopersmith
William Coopersmith

About the Great Leopard: "In the 1950's, probably before, and even maybe into the sixties, the Great Leopard Farmers Market was in an old building on Penn St between Fifth and Sixth Sts.  It sat on the North side of Penn St, next to the Pennsylvania RR (Now Septa) and the parking lot was on the side and rear of the building as far as the Chester Creek. On the second floor of this building was the Great Leopard Skating Rink.

"But the owner, Jack Coopersmith, should best be remembered for the many hungry children he provided Thanksgiving dinner for over the years. (I believe he had two sittings to serve as many as possible.)  The skating rink was put to use after dinner, so the kids could skate.

"The building was eventually torn down, and a new building erected which housed the Delaware County Board of Assistance offices for a period of time. The skating rink moved to 202 in Concord Twp, but I believe is now out of business.

"There was a second Great Leopard, although I am not sure if it was at the same time. The location was at 12th and Crosby, Chester.  This building became the home of the Del Co Board of Assistance [in January 1953; formerly at 10th & Crosby St.] until they needed more room and started using the Penn St. office as well.

"Mr Coopersmith had a son, William. I don't know if Bill is still alive, but he ran things after his dad died.  They were both into politics."

"Jack Coopersmith was a true promoter. He was known as HiLo King Jack.
He would appear in ads dressed in a crown and robe.  (Or at least an image represented the real guy) Hi quality-Low prices was his slogan.

Thanks to Jack Chambers, Jokerjak908@yahoo.com

[5/6/2001 Editor's note: Bob Slob reports that Bill Coopersmith is indeed still living.]

The original Great Leopard was destroyed by a fire which began on April 21, 1971. Thanks to Larry Hunter, hunter1298@home.com for the following sequence of events:

Great Leopard fire - It started April 21, 1971
Sequence of calls as listed in the Daily Times write-ups I have:
1st Alarm - 5:17 PM
2nd Alarm - 5:23 PM
General Alarm - 5:34 PM
April 22 - 3:00 PM firemen recalled for rekindle
General Alarm ended @ 1:07 AM -  April 22

Delaware County Daily Times coverage and photo by Walt Chernokal - Wednesday April 21, 1971


2/12/2004:

"Does anyone remember my brother, David Paden and his now wife, Marty Schultz? David played the organ for many, many years and also taught skating as did his wife Marty - they were both skating pros and went on with Coopersmith to Rt. 202 in Concordville. My brother is still playing the organ for a rink in Philadelphia - his wife has retired some years ago. As a matter of fact, some of the skaters from Spinning Wheels followed him to Philadelphia for lessons and also went there for regular skating sessions. David now lives in Tulleytown, PA and is 66 yrs. old."

LaVerne Herron


Recollections: 6/22/2006:

"My sister, Diane, and I used to skate at the Great Leopard three nights a week for quite a few years. That was about 1967-1970 or 1971, if I remember correctly. We spent so much time there, it was like our second home. I remember Sonny Maresco played the organ most of the time then, although I do have a vague recollection of Shirley. We had so much fun skating with all the regulars - John Fenimore, Mary Lou Diggins (her mom worked at the snack bar), Bill Harris, Ginny and Rita Cortesini, (wow, there are so many I can't possibly name them all), doing dance steps and "The Shuffle". Those were probably some of the best years of my life. Sure do miss those days."

Thanks to:
Trudy (Hansen) Powell

"PS My parents, Bill and Fran Hansen, met at the Great Leopard, and eventually became "Old Timers". I have a few pictures they gave to me. I'll see if I can dig them up and scan and email them to you."


3/17/2005:

"I was so excited to be made aware of the oldchesterpa website. My sister downloaded everything and I spent the evening reminiscing about so many of the "old" places. I was born in Chester and during that time my mother, Lorraine Peterson, taught skating at the Great Leopard. My older sister, Pat Peterson started skating at the Leopard at the age of 10 months. Her skates were baby shoes mounted on wheels and were the smallest every made at that time by Chicago. They currently reside in the Smithsonian Institute in Washington. I was a bit lazier and didn't skate until 12 months of age!

I can remember all the wonderful parties and broadcasts from the rink as a child. How I loved Shirley McFadden who was great friends with my parents (my father, Bud, was a state figure skating champion). Even after moving from Chester I still managed to get to the Leopard when I
would visit my grandparents. I can still feel the adrenaline rush when I would climb those stairs to the top (anyone remember Charles Wahligs huge speed skating portrait at the top of the steps?) and view that long and fabulous floor. I also loved the lighting around the snack bar and organ booth.

I can also remember the great skating competitions and can especially remember when a freestyle skater (Donnie Everett) from Merryland didn't gage his distance very well and ended up grabbing the bar at the window to prevent himself from falling to the parking lot! The windows were always wide open in the summer. Anyone remember Bubbles the floor guard - we always gave him such a run for his money.

I also remember the newsboys parade in Philadelphia when Jack Coopersmith would take us to skate down the streets. We would have such a good time and I can always remember such a big smile on his face. He truly made all of us feel so special.

In later years I took lessons from Bill Kilby and he was a great friend. I miss him. After turning professional and teaching skating I returned to the Great Leopard to teach along with Gerry McNeive. At the time, Bill Coopersmith was running the rink and Sonny Maresco was the organist. How Gerry and I loved dance time and Adeline Mancini would always come out of her office to watch us - we were such hams! I went on to teach at Spinning Wheels but nothing could ever compare to the Leopard. (Bill and his wife live in East Goshen and there is a Jack Coopersmith Memorial Park there as well.)

When I think of skating my fondest memories are always of the Great Leopard. I can remember my sadness upon hearing of its' demise as there would never be another rink to touch as many lives. It was truly the place to be!"

Thanks to
Kathy Peterson Tini, Douglassville, PA


1/3/2003:

"Billy Gorman's recollections of the great music at the Great Leopard Roller Rink brought back fond memories of my favorite place to go every Friday, Saturday and Sunday, from 1960 to about 1968.

Shirley McFadden was the best organist around. She knew how to blend the old Waltz and Fox Trot music with the modern music of the '60s. Shirley made it difficult for the Floor Guards because she could really get the skaters moving. Sometimes a bit too fast!

I remember when Shirley would play certain tunes, a group of the more advanced skaters would start to "Flea Hop". It was a fast paced combination of fancy steps, followed by loud tapping of the wheels on the hard maplewood floor. The Flea Hoppers were usually lead by Bill Kilby, Jimmy Stevens, Ted Chubs, Shirley & Dianne Smith, Mary Lou Robinson and John Fennimore, to name just a few.

The only person that could make the crowd move better than Shirley McFadden was Larry Ferrari. Larry was a Philadelphia area celebrity that had a weekly TV show. He could play any kind of music on the organ. Once or twice per year Mr. Ferrari would join Shirley at a Sunday night session and really make the old rink organ sound great. Having skated in numerous rinks after the Great Leopard burned down, it was then that Shirley's talent was fully appreciated by many of the Great Leopard regulars. Very few organists could come close to matching Shirley's ability at the keyboard.

I understand Shirley is well and has her hair done at Reilly's Hair Salon on Pennell Road, in Aston. Joe Reilly was a great friend of the late Bill Kilby, who was an all-around Delaware County Athlete and Dance Skating Professional at the Great Leopard and Elsmere Roller Rinks. Bill was one of Joe's first customers."

- Mike Majeski


4/5/2002:

"Tom Bulger mentioned a speed team when he was skating there. I don't recall a speed team in the late thirties, early forties, but speed was the start of one of the great skaters of the times. They would have races and the winner would get a free pass for the next week. I was with my cousin when he won the race and did every week until they stopped him from entering. No one could beat him in his age group. He became a skate pro and instructor for the rest of his life. He was called the "Little Pro" as he played all sports and was one of the best in the Chester area. Name:  Bill Kilby."

- John J. Flanagan, jjfcpo@earthlink.net


3/7/2002:

"The Great Leopard was one of the earliest super markets, built from the shell of an old mill, a weaving mill, I believe, which was shut down in the 20s and reopened as a market in the late thirties. It had two floors and extended from fifth street along the railroad tracks (trestle) a distance toward the creek. There was a cement structure behind the market used to burn trash and dispose of spoiled groceries. The second floor of the mill was turned into the skating rink during the same period, late 30s, and attracted skaters from all over the area. I lived about a block from the market and could hear the music from the organ on Saturday nights, in the summer, when they opened the windows and doors to ventilate the place. There was a railroad siding or shunt that spurred off the main line on sixth street just above Concord Avenue, I believe, and they pulled the freigh cars down along the side of the market to unload the cars. Some of us were small enough to get into the cars from the top and take some of the goodies inside. Saturday night at closing time they always had a sale to get rid of the perishables, refrigeration was used for meat and dairy goods, and you could get all you could carry for a penny a pound. That was a long time ago."

- E. H. "Ted" van Deusen, evand@columbus.rr.com


2/26/2002:

"I too was  in the rink when the fire began. We were taking private lessons. When the music was turned off, we heard noises in the ceiling and I remember making jokes that "The Birds" were trying to get us.  The next thing we knew Jimmy Dill, who took care of the rink, was telling us to go downstairs and to leave our belongings there. We had no idea that the rink was on fire. Once outside we were pushed farther and farther back. I was 13 years old at the time. I remember standing on the 7th St. bridge watching my precious rink burn to the ground. I couldn't leave. My poor family had no idea that we had safely gotten out and my grandfather tried to enter the building. Even though they were glad I was safe I'm sure they wanted to strangle me. I never even thought of trying to contact them. I still miss that rink as I'm sure many of us do. Spinning Wheels was just not the same."

- Pamela Kline Watras
Watt6@aol.com


11/27/2001:

"In the 70's I was a frequent patron at the Great Leopard every Tues, Fri, Sat & Sun.  I was on the speed team it was a fairly new event in the area, I also skated dance and figure, I remember my teacher's name was Ida, but I don't remember her last name.  A bunch of us were in the building the night it caught fire.  I remember the smoke coming out of the ceiling and the next thing we knew we were being hustled down the steps, girls in their skates and skating skirts (that's where I got my neck problems ;) and most of us with shoes in hand and skates on feet.  We watched for most of the night from the parking lot over by the tracks, it was a very sad thing and most of us had tears in our eyes.  When they built the new rink in Concordeville it was quite a few years later, it was just not the same a lot of the faces were the same, but a lot were not.  People grew up and away.   The rink closed I guess about 10 years ago and Henry Heintz (Heintz Lumber) bought it and move his family business from the West End."

- Thomas V (Tom) Bulger, tbulger@avaya.com


"The Old Great Leopard Rink actually caught on fire and burned for three or four days in late 1970 or 1971. The floor of the rink was made from Maple and was probably so old and dry [and oiled] it was almost impossible to put out. I skated there for many years in the Saturday afternoon sessions, and then represented the rink in competition for many years. The "new" Great Leopard was called Spinning Wheels and was on Rt.202. It was built and run by Bill Coopersmith, Jack's son, until the insurance became so high that Bill decided it was no longer profitable. The Great Leopard was named for Great Leopard Enterprises, which was the corporation owned by Jack Coopersmith.

"I think there is still a plaque at the site of the old BI-LO and rink where soon to be President John F. Kennedy did a campaign stop and addressed the City of Chester. I was there with my family and afterwards, we went skating."

also

"WVCH used to have a radio show broadcast from the Great Leopard Skating Rink on Saturday afternoons where you would hear songs from the live organ that was being played at the rink. Some of the kids would also be selected to sing along with the organ. I remember singing "Little GTO" and being quite thrilled about it. The organist back then was a lady named Shirley, but I can't remember her last name."

- Bill Gorman, BG171@aol.com

 

 

 

If you have any information and or pictures that you would like to contribute about the Great Leopard in Chester, please forward it to john@oldchesterpa.com


2000, 2001, 2002, 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006 John A. Bullock III.

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This page last updated 06/26/06