by Elizabeth Coady
Philadelphia columnist Stu Bykofsky snapped up the police whistle and the Bailey Banks & Biddle “rigatoni bowl.” Brian Lawlor scored the Civil Service Public Service Award, a mounted coral presented to Mayor Frank Rizzo by the Academy of Natural Sciences, and a solid-gold membership card to the Fraternal Order of Police.
“Aaron” from Center City snared the personal handwritten “black book” phone directory, the billy club, leather baton, number ‘1’ dog tag and the mayor’s .38 caliber Smith & Wesson handgun. And L. Ward pocketed a miniature keychain version of Hizzoner’s license place and a snapshot of the mayor with NFL players O.J. Simpson and Jim Brown.
The four winning bidders were among a ragtag crowd of 20 that turned out to Uniques & Antiques on a rainy Tuesday night, Jan. 29, to buy the last items remaining from the estate of Mayor Frank Rizzo, whose Chestnut Hill home at 8919 Crefeld St. was cleared out in a November sale that drew thousands.
“He was one of the greatest bad guys,’’ said Ward, 46, of Chester, who came out hoping to buy the passports of the politician and his wife Carmela, but was outbid. “I was attracted to that.’’
Ward spent $100 by the night’s end on three items, including the fading photo of Rizzo with the now-notorious O.J. Simpson.
“You could ruin a relationship with that picture,’’ said Ward, a business interior designer who bought the photo for his own personal amusement.
Philly.com’s Bykofsky, a city legend in his own right who described himself as “friendly” with Rizzo if not quite his friend, also made the auction to pick up some keepsakes. While there, he bid on a police whistle as well as a Bailey Banks & Biddle bowl that city officials used to customarily bestow on visiting dignitaries.
The police whistle brought back memories for Bykofksy because he used one during his very first “Candidates’ Comedy Night’’ in 1991, which featured mayoral candidates Frank Rizzo and Ed Rendell. The writer organized the event for 25 years to raise money for the Variety Club.
“For one thing it was affordable,’’ Bykofsky said Wednesday morning of the whistle. “… In my own mind, there was that connection, and it was kind of unique. And it was only $30.’’
About the Bailey Banks & Biddle bowl, he said “I got it for $325, and the reason I got it first of all is I like the way it looks on my cocktail table.’’ Then he recounted a more amusing reason: while presenting a similar bowl to a visiting dignitary, Rizzo once observed that “it’ll hold about two quarts of rigatoni.’’
“He was very human,’’ Bykofsky said of the mayor.
“He was the ‘People’s mayor,’’’ asserted bidder Aaron, who said his grandfather was a close friend of the mayor’s. “Anybody could walk up to him; anybody could talk to him.’’
Aaron, who declined to give his last name, dropped $3,700 on Rizzo memorabilia Tuesday night. He said most of the items will go into a family chest handed down through the generations, with members of each consecutive generation adding mementos.
“I really came here for his police memorabilia since he was a cop first, last and middle,’’ the 35-year-old Center City resident said. He said his Rizzo contributions to the family chest “will bring the box into the 20th century.’’
Lawlor, who owns the highly-touted Mid-Century Furniture Warehouse at 1701 N. Second St., dropped a couple grand (“We’re not going to go there,” he said when asked for the specific amount) on a bevy of mementos including a box of 400 plastic “block captain’’ cards that Rizzo handed out to supporters, personal stationary, a plethora of honorary and lifetime membership cards to various clubs and organizations, a Lucite plaque 1976 Philadelphia Bicentennial memento, a vintage snapshot of the mayor as a rookie cop and more.
“This is the most expensive thing I got,’’ Lawlor said showing off the solid gold Fraternal Order of Police membership that sold for $1,300 “plus the juice,’’ which is commission and taxes. “I’m going to keep that for myself. Probably put it in the safe.’’
Lawlor, 54, a regular at the auction house, said he “appreciated” Rizzo’s “leadership.’’
“It doesn’t make me a bad guy,’’ he said. “…He was honest.’’
Ward, the interior designer, also says that while Rizzo was and remains despised in the black community, that he knew a lot of old black men who did business with the mayor.
“OG’s – that’s what you call those guys,’’ Ward said. “Old gangsters who were maneuvering in Philadelphia … They weren’t totally good guys and totally bad guys, let’s put it that way,’’ he said.
He said of the people who ran up against Rizzo: “In most cases, they were criminals.’’
It took less than three hours for the 130 lots plus some uncategorized ephemera to be sold. Some of the highest sale prices included $1,300 for the .38 Smith & Wesson, $500 for two enormous Rolodexes, and $450 for two passports. By the night’s end, most of the mementos were destined for new homes.
“I mean, the stuff went away,’’ said Kent Jackson, 52, one of the auction house’s owners. “That’s pretty much what we’re trying to do here.’’