by Len Lear
Frank Quattrone, 73, was born and raised in South Philadelphia and has lived in Chestnut Hill and Fort Washington but now lives in Willow Grove with Eve, his wife of 30 years. He graduated from St. John Neumann High School in 1960, Villanova University (on full scholarship) in 1964 and Purdue University with an M.A. in English in 1968.
Frank taught English at St. John Neumann for two years and at Spring Garden College for 24 years. He also taught at Penn State Abington for 18 years, Rosemont College for eight years and at the University of St. Francis in Joliet, Illinois. “He was an absolutely wonderful and inspiring teacher,” said Kristin Pazulski, a former reporter for the Local who took courses with him at Rosemont.
It can be a tough needle to thread, but Frank was also an editor for 18 years at Montgomery Media, a group of 14 weekly newspapers such as the Ambler Gazette, Springfield Sun and Glenside News in Eastern Montgomery County and Lower Bucks County.
He won a boatload of awards as editor of Ticket, the newspapers’ pull-out feature-filled weekend arts and entertainment tabloid, and he has written two books about Ambler, the second of which, “Legendary Locals of Ambler,” was just released June 15 by Arcadia Publishing. Last week we conducted an interview with Quattrone, from which the following was taken:
What got you interested in writing the books about Ambler?
Through personal interviews and on-site coverage of the openings of new restaurants in Ambler’s burgeoning dining scene, as well as Act II Playhouse, the first professional theater in Montco, and the reopening of Ambler Theater (cinema), I came to fall in love with the borough.
Are there any others you hope to write?
I’m considering writing a history of Montgomery County. I also have a novel or two inside me, if the time ever materializes, maybe when I retire. However, I seem to have no retirement skills, so maybe they’ll live only inside me.
How has Ambler changed over the years?
It grew from a milling town to an industrial center with the advent of the North Penn Railroad. And for better and worse, Keasbey & Mattison made it the asbestos capital of the world between the end of the 19th century and the Great Depression. After a period of decline, exacerbated by the rise of big-time shopping malls, Ambler slowly began to climb back, especially from the last decade of the 20th century to the present, through the work of Ambler Main Street, enterprising restaurateurs, the opening of Act II Playhouse and reopening of Ambler Theater, street festivals, art exhibitions and the like.
What do you like most and dislike most about Ambler?
I am most impressed with the “can-do” spirit of Ambler and its enterprising citizens … I love the congenial relationships that have developed over the years between the Italian and African-American residents, originally brought to the area by Richard V. “Doc” Mattison when he built Keasbey & Mattison … and the directors of the great nonprofits in the area who never run out of time to lend a hand to those in need. What I dislike (too strong a word, I think) is the general perception that there is insufficient parking in the borough, particularly along the main street, Butler Avenue.
Of all the people you wrote about in your new book, which one or two did you find the most interesting or compelling and why?
The most compelling, I believe, is William E. (Bill) Strasburg, the founder and prime mover behind today’s Montgomery Media. His pioneering of suburban journalism at the highest level (he helped create Suburban Newspapers of America) is part of a lifetime of service … Of the historical figures, it would have to be Richard V. (Doc) Mattison, the entrepreneurial “baron” who ruled over Ambler’s industrial growth and helped build the streets, homes and amenities still enjoyed by Ambler’s citizens.
You also wrote articles about area restaurants for 22 years. Which ones were your favorites?
Hands down, Zakes Cafe in Fort Washington. The best of everything, from breakfast, lunch and dinner to pastry — world-class, by my reckoning; and any restaurant co-owned and operated by Michael Wei and his partners, including Yangming, Nectar, Cin Cin and Mandarin Garden.
What courses have you taught?
You name it: everything from freshman composition and every period and genre of literature you can imagine, from Homer to Mark Twain to Langston Hughes and Bob Dylan. I once created a literature course called “The Struggle to Be Free,” but my personal favorite was speech.
How have students changed over the years?
Maybe it’s because I teach part-time now, but I have noticed a marked increase in their desire to learn more practical communications skills that they can apply to possible career advancement or enhancement. Years ago, when I was teaching at Spring Garden College, when the economy was much stronger, I found students more likely to choose courses for personal enrichment and stimulation, driven by literature and the liberal arts. The exchange of ideas was heady on both sides. But … there is still so much to be learned from any interaction with students at any level.
More information about both Ambler books is available at www.arcadiapublishing.com.