The Philadelphia Gayborhood Guru

Stories of how Philadelphia's Gayborhood came to be

Lincoln, Lincoln, I’ve Been Thinkin’


1896 Lincoln AdThe Lincoln, at the southwest corner of Camac and Locust Streets, mostly fits into the “Straight Snapshot” category, with a history that includes the YWCA, the Seamen’s Institute and a swanky nightclub.  However, there was a brief, but important, LGBT connection in the early 1980s. 

THE 1890s PHILADELPHIA APARTMENT BOOM

1905 near Starr GardenPhiladelphia grew at a tremendous rate in the second half of the 19th century. During the period from 1860 to about 1910, the city tripled in population from 500,000 to a little over a million and a half, just about what it is today. Along the southern edge of Center City, it was not unusual to find eight or nine families of immigrants crammed into three story rowhouses that were known as Philadelphia’s “horizontal slums,” left. For middle class Philadelphians looking for housing further west near the rising City Hall, new options were appearing. One of these was a recent concept called the “apartment hotel.” The apartment hotel took an already socially acceptable model for mutiple unrelated people to reside under one roof—the hotel—and extended it to families. Apartment hotels included not only rooms for rent by the night, but suites of rooms or apartments, that could be rented by the month. High end apartment hotels included dining rooms, barbers, hair dressers and laundry and maid service. Middle class Philadelphians could now maintain a convenient city residence to entertain in during the winter and still escape to their shore homes in the summer.

1899 LincolnAt the end of the nineteenth century, much of what is now Philadelphia’s Gayborhood was a desirable residential area. It was close to the business and entertainment district on South Broad Street, the shopping areas on Chestnut and Market Streets and the Library Company and Historical Society on Locust Street. One of the first of these modern apartment hotels was the Gladstone, completed in 1890 at Pine and 11th Streets, where Kahn Park now stands. A few years later, the Lincoln, right, opened on Locust Street at Camac. The Lincoln had 52 “artistic and comfortable” rooms and 26 baths, a dining room, a sitting room and private rooms for luncheons and dinners. From the 1890s through the 1910s the Lincoln was home to upper middle class bachelors and comfortable bourgeois families who spent the summers at Cape May and hosted debutante parties for their daughters. One resident, Miss Elizabeth Crawford Washington, was a descendent of the grandfather of our first president. A member of the Colonial Dames of America, Miss Washington now lies in Laurel Hill Cemetery.

Fun Fair 1922

IT’S FUN TO STAY AT THE YWCA

1922 the friend ywcaIn 1920, the Young Women’s Christian Association bought the building and operated it as a league branch, the first hotel in Philadelphia exclusively for women. The YWCA toyed with the idea of renaming the building the more pointedly feminist “Betsy Ross Hotel,” but voted to stay with “The Lincoln.” They advertised to “business and professional women” and offered classes in dressmaking, homemaking, music and psychology. In 1922, their “Rainbow Division,” above, held a bazaar at the Lincoln to raise money for their Sisterhood Fund, which provided scholarships for girls who wanted to take educational courses.

1953 Tabu adThe YMCA continued to operate out of the Lincoln, providing a comfortable, safe place for women in Philadelphia until about World War II. In the late 1940s, when nightclubs sprang up all over Locust, Camac, St. James and Thirteenth Streets, the first floor of the Lincoln was home to the Tabu supper club and musical bar. It was owned and run by Stanley Schwartz and Dominick DiMattia who also ran the Alhambra in Maple Shade, New Jersey. This ad for Tabu, right, and its “ultimate in food,” is from the 1953 Philadelphia Yellow Pages.

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SCI

1959 SCI HotelThe Seamen’s Church Institute, founded in 1834, was an affiliate of the Episcopal Church. Its mission was to provide spiritual care, legal help and education to mariners. In 1957, when it lost its enormous city-block wide Walnut Street facility near the river to the plans for Independence Park, it moved into the Lincoln further west on Locust Street. The photo, right, with the SCI Hotel sign, was taken in 1959, looking east from 13th Street. As the YWCA did for women, the SCI at the Lincoln offered not only beds but a social space for seamen, a haven where they could find wholesome recreation, companionship and moral support while stationed in Philadelphia. In 1974, the SCI relocated to the former Corn Exchange Bank in Old City at Arch and Third Streets, closer to the Delaware River.

THE SECOND HOME OF THE GCCP

222CamacOn November 27, 1981, the first Gay Community Center of Philadelphia on Kater Street closed its doors, to re-open a month later at 222 Camac St, in the former Lincoln Hotel, by then renamed The Midston. The photo, left, by PGN photographer Harry Eberlin, shows volunteers working on remodeling the space. They spent thousands of dollars and many hours making the aging structure usable. At the same time, the Center’s administration was reorganized from the old two committee system to a new Board of Directors, co-chaired by John Cunningham and Laurie Barron. 1982 Gay Rights Bill copyJohn is visible on the far left, in this PGN photo, right, taken a few months later, at a party at the Center celebrating the passage of the city’s gay rights bill in August, 1982.

As had happened at Kater Street before, after only two years, the enormous amount of work they did to make improvements to their rented space only earned the volunteers at the Center a triple rent increase. Even though the co-chairs were able to talk the landlord, Grace Richardson, down to only a double rent increase, it was too much for the organization to bear. The Center at 222 S Camac St. closed on December 15, 1982, to be reborn for four years as Penguin Place, the “Community Center without walls.”

THE LINCOLN IS REBORN ONLY TO DIE IN FLAMES

For about 10 years, the building continued to decay as The Midston, a ninety-two room fleabag hotel that rented tiny rooms by the hour and was the site of several stabbings. In 1984, during the first wave of the rehabbing of Locust Street, Historical Developers, Inc, bought the building for one million dollars and announced that they would spend another four million to renovate it into 46 luxury apartments. The firm’s president, Thomas Scannapieco said that the plan was to rent the units our for five years, then sell them as condominiums.

2010 Lincoln

It wasn’t until 2006 that the owner began that condominium conversion. New appliances and fixtures were being installed that summer, when a four-alarm fire broke out in the building on the night of June 30th. By the time firefighters had the flames under control, the upper story wooden joists had collapsed, crashing down through the lower floors. All that was left was the exterior walls. Locust Street was closed to traffic for weeks as cranes scooped out debris from the site. Neighbors were not happy.

RUMORS

2014 8 LincolnThe building remained a boarded up shell for five years until rumors began to circulate in 2011. Cecil Baker and Associates presented a plan to renovate the building, that included preserving the exterior and creating 6 studio, 32 one bedroom and 6 two bedroom apartments for a total of 44 units. The Washington West Zoning Committee voted not to oppose the project, but nothing happened. In September of 2013, rumors again circulated that new owner David Perelman of Pelican Properties had plans to renovate the property. In June of 2014, Philadelphia Magazine confirmed that work was due to start soon. A few weeks ago, in August of 2014, fencing appeared around the Lincoln, left.

If work continues, the Lincoln will reopen to a very different neighborhood than Locust Street was just eight years ago in 2006. The hundred year old structure is now surrounded by several new restaurants including Vedge, Little Nonna’s, Green Eggs Café and Nomad Roman, not to mention the string of popular new spots on the 13th Street corridor. Across narrow Camac Street, Uncle’s has been reborn as U Bar. The same nearby amenities that made the Lincoln Hotel a desirable place to live in the 1890s make it just as desirable today. The face of the Gayborhood has changed while the derelict building slumbered.

A Room for Us All

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In 2013, Giovanni’s Room Bookstore, at 12th and Pine Streets, turned forty. At the time, it was the oldest existing LGBT bookstore in the country; a real treasure for Philadelphia’s LGBT community. What was to be a celebratory entry here turned into a memorial when the bookstore closed in May of 2014. 

Giovannis 232 South 1976

BEGINNINGS: BOYLE, WILSON WEINBERG AND SHERBO

1974 Giovannis RoomGiovanni’s Room has always been more than just a bookstore, it’s been a meeting place, a community center when there was no community center, a safe haven for those just coming out, and a resource for finding information on all things LGBT. The first store, above, opened at 232 South Street on August 1, 1973. Its three original founders, Bernie Boyle, (now deceased), Tom Wilson Weinberg and Dan Sherbo, left, had been members of the Gay Activists Alliance and worked on The Gay Alternative, a gay literary magazine published in Philadelphia. It was a time when gay liberation was new and the air was electric with possibility.

They named the business after James Baldwin’s 1956 novel—joking that Radclyffe Hall’s “The Well of Loneliness” sounded a bit bleak and foreboding. The three men were inspired by Craig Rodwell‘s Oscar Wilde Memorial Bookstore in New York, the first gay bookstore in the country. Boyle, Wilson Weinberg and Sherbo were fearless young radicals, with no business plan or experience, but with plenty of enthusiasm and optimism. When the bookstore opened its doors on the dilapidated, abandoned strip that was South Street in the early 70s, it was one of the few storefronts on the block that was not boarded up—but rent was an affordable $85 a month. At a time when gay bars were masked by painted over windows and  hidden in side streets, Giovanni’s Room was was a clearly visible gay  street presence in the city. Under Rodwell’s guidance, they made regular trips to New York, pushing shopping carts up the aisles of wholesale bookstores like Bookazine in the West Village, paying cash for books by Radclyffe Hall, Walt Whitman, James Baldwin and Langston Hughes. The three men ran the store for almost two years, hosting poetry readings and discussion groups, barely managing to fill the shelves with an inventory of fewer than 100 books. In September of  1975, they sold the business to Quaker friend Pat Hill for $500.

PAT HILL

Pat HillArtist-activist Pat claimed that leaving her civil service job to run the store was “like running away with the circus.” She certainly didn’t do it for the money. There was none to be made; every cent went back into the store. Pat continued her predecessors’ tradition of using the space for public events, hosting women’s evenings, bands and a popular series called “Wine, Women and Song.” Next door, at  230 South Street, The Knave of Hearts Restaurant which had opened on Valentine’s Day of 1975, was at the forefront of what was to be known as Philadelphia’s “Restaurant Renaissance.” Pat had thought about raising money to buy the building at 232, but the Knave of Hearts owner Ty Bailey beat her to it. In late 1976, rather than undertaking a move,  Pat sold the business to Arleen Olshan and Ed Hermance for back taxes and the same $500 she had paid for it.

Giovannis 1426 Spruce 77-78

OLSHAN AND HERMANCE

Hermance & OlshanArleen and Ed moved the store to 1426 Spruce Street, above,  just west of Broad, on the same block as the Allegro bar. The Kimmel Center stands there now. Pat had met Arleen through Philadelphia lesbian circles and knew she would be a good steward of the Giovanni’s legacy. Arleen in turn had met Ed through the early Gay Community Center, where she served as Co-Coordinator and Ed served as Treasurer. Together, they would run the first gender parity lesbian and gay bookstore in America, unusual in a time when lesbians and gay men were becoming drastically divergent.

The late 1970s saw a tremendous explosion in LGBT publishing and their stock grew from hundreds of titles to thousands. Olshan and Hermance made sure the store carried a wide range of titles and subjects, some of which they did not necessarily personally agree with but felt important to include: pornography, pederasty, S&M. No subject was tabu; Giovanni’s Room was to be a forum for the free exchange of ideas. Over time, adhering to this policy of openness earned them both controversy and praise.

Rita Mae & Arleen Olshan Giovannis Room

Olshan, center, and Rita Mae Brown, right

The store remained on Spruce Street only a little over two years. The family who bought the property in 1979 were not at all comfortable with an LGBT business in their building. Ed recalls that the family matriarch would stand in the hall and shout for him to bring the rent out—she wouldn’t set foot in the store. Ed and Arleen were told they had to move.

Giovanni's Room 1958

12th and Pine Streets, 1958

PINE STREET

1 1 g r openingWanting to keep the bookstore on a main street, they looked at space in the new Center City One building, but were refused, on the grounds that “they would attract too many gay people to the area.”  With the help of loans from friends and family, they were able to buy the property on the corner of Pine and Twelfth Streets, above. Hours of volunteer labor turned the run down storefront and wholesale antiques warehouse into the largest LGBT bookstore in the country. By the mid-1980s, the stock reached nearly 15,000 titles. Through most of the 1980s, when Philadelphia city health services carried almost no HIV-AIDS related material, the store published an AIDS bibliography every year, serving as the primary source of AIDS information for many Philadelphians.

Ed Hermance

ED HERMANCE

In 1986, Arleen left the business and Texas born Ed, above, became the sole owner. In 1986, Ed bought the building next door, breaking through walls to double the retail space. In the late 1980s and early ’90s, the store entered its most successful period, with sales peaking at $93,000 the month following Bill Clinton’s election. By the late 1990s, Giovanni’s Room was the principal supplier of American gay, lesbian and feminist books to stores in Europe, Australia and New Zealand.

Over the years the store hosted about fifty readings annually, featuring authors like Leslie Feinberg, Samuel R. Delany, Alison Bechdel, Edmund White, Kate Bornstein, Greg Louganis, and many others of  local and international prominence. When New York’s Oscar Wilde Memorial Bookstore closed in 2009, Giovanni’s Room became the nation’s oldest existing LGBT bookstore. In 2011, Pennsylvania honored the store with a state marker to commemorate its significance to Philadelphia’s LGBT community.

Giovannis 1

Just as the store was being honored for its long and distinguished history, the twenty first century was taking its toll on bookstores everywhere. Local businesses like Giovanni’s Room were finding it impossible to compete with big-box chains and online megastores like Amazon. In 2013, Ed Hermance announced that he was retiring.  On May 17th, 2014, with the future of the building still uncertain, Giovanni’s Room closed its doors after 40 years of serving Philadelphia’s LGBT community. It will be sorely missed. Thank you, Ed.

* * *

2014 3 11 G Room

UPDATE

On August 16, 2014, it was announced that Philly AIDS Thrift (PAT) had signed a two year lease on the building, and will open as as Philly AIDS Thrift @ Giovanni’s Room on October 10. Clicking on the photo below will take you to the PGN story.

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PGN Photo: Scott A. Drake

SOURCES

• Photo of Boyle, Wilson Weinberg and Sherbo from the May 12, 1974 Sunday Inquirer Magazine.

•  Photo of Pat Hill by Joan C. Meyers

•  Other photos and flyers from the collection at the John J. Wilcox Jr. LGBT Archives of Philadelphia

•  Much of the information contained here is from a fortieth anniversary oral history celebration, photo above, held at the William Way Center on March 11, 2014. The event was put together beautifully by John Cunningham. From left to right, moderator John Cunningham, Ed Hermance, Arleen Olshan, Pat Hill, Tom Wilson Weinberg and Dan Sherbo. Video by Peter Lien.

Odd Fellows in the Gayborhood

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FRIENDSHIP, LOVE AND TRUTH

Oddfellows lodges began as fraternal organizations and “friendly societies” in England in the 18th century. Here in America, most lodges were part of the Independent Order of Odd Fellows, which had split off from the original order in 1813.  In 1843, the African American Philomathean Institute in New York petitioned the IOOF to form their own lodge.  Because of their color, they were treated with contempt and their charter was refused.

peter ogdenA Jamaican born sailor, Peter Ogden, left, heard of the Institute’s efforts and offered to apply for a charter for them through his own lodge in Liverpool, England, which was part of the Grand United Order of Odd Fellows. The Victoria Lodge in Liverpool didn’t hesitate to grant Ogden a charter. In 1844, the Philomathean became the first GUOOF lodge in America. A few weeks later, Unity Lodge No. 711 in Philadelphia became the first African American Odd Fellows lodge in Pennsylvania. Instrumental in the founding of the Unity Lodge was John C. Bowers, right. John C BowersBowers was a Philadelphia abolitionist and civil rights activist whose story has largely been overlooked. He served as organist at St. Thomas African Episcopal Church, ran a clothing store at 71 S 2nd Street and was the secretary for the weekly newspaper, The Colored American. In 1862, he spoke out publicly against Lincoln’s plan to remove some five thousand black Americans to Haiti. The Philadelphia Inquirer wrote of him, “[John C. Bowers] was an active and enterprising citizen, warmly interested in all plans for the advancement of his people, [and] prominent in his hostility to slavery.” Since its beginnings, Philadelphia has always produced a wealth of strong black leaders.

Oddfellows postcard

An early 20th C postcard showing Ogden

By 1900, the GUOOF had grown to be the largest black fraternal organization in the country. Now headquartered in Philadelphia, it owned two buildings and had 19 lodges with over 1,000 members in the city. The Philadelphia organization even published its own newspaper, The Odd Fellows Journal. In 1905, the Grand United Order, operating from cramped offices at 602 Spruce St., hired architects Frank Watson and Samuel Huckel Jr. to design a new headquarters for them on the northwest corner of Spruce and 12th Streets. The slim five story Beaux Arts style office building they built neatly filled the narrow 120 foot long, 20 foot wide corner lot. The GUOOF would use that location as their headquarters for the next hundred years, renting out office space in the top four floors to other organizations and leasing the first floor to retail and commercial businesses.

1976 Hasty Tasty Outside

HASTY TASTY

By the middle of the 1970s, the surrounding area was changing. What had been a marginalized section of Center City with a few seedy bars was becoming a real neighborhood with gay owned bookstores, health clubs and cafes. In 1975, restaurateur Jack Friel and his lover John Winfield opened the Hasty Tasty deli in the Odd Fellows building, above.  Friel was a prodigiously active entrepreneur in the expanding Gayborhood. At various times he owned Seasons on Drury St., Bramwell’s on Camac St., managed the Back Street Baths on Chancellor and worked with the Metropolitan Community Church. Jack , John and Dickie Lance, pictured below, ran the popular Hasty Tasty from 1976 until 1980.

1976 1 5 Friel&Lance Hasty Tasty

Jack & Dickie in 1976, photo by Harry Eberlin

FIVE GAY CAFES AND A VIDEO STORE

1992 Duck Soup.jpg

031 Spruce & 12th 1201 St VideoJack sold the business to Larry Wenograd and Bob McCarthy, who ran it for two years as Windows on 12th, inspired by Windows on the World at the top of the north tower of the World Trade Center in New York. It then became the Land of Pizza for two years.

On June 1, 1984, Gayborhood icon Franny Price opened Spruce Street Video, left, on the floor above, advertising it as the first gay video store in the country. The street level restaurant then became Duck Soup, see ad above, from 1987 to 1995. The space would see its last incarnation as a late night gay hangout when Cheap Art, below, opened there in 1995.

2000 Cheap Art

Photo by Kristina Dymond

INTO THE TWENTY-FIRST CENTURY

Cheap Art closed in the early 2000s and Spruce Street Video moved a few doors down to 252 S 12th St. The short lived HX Philadelphia magazine rented office space in the building from 2006 to 2007. In 2008, the Odd Fellows relocated their headquarters to Virginia. That marked a low point. For a few years, the building was boarded up and took on a forlorn, abandoned look, below.

Odd Fellows 2011

The GUOOF sold the building to APM Realty in 2009 and things began to look up. Permits and variances took time to get. The Spruce Street finally opened on February 5, 2012 as The Odd Fellows Cafe, run by Betty and Faith Ortiz, who also owned Spruce Street Espresso a block to the east. Odd Fellows Cafe only lasted 7 months, re-opening as YOLO in October of that same year. YOLO had an even shorter life, closing less than two months later.

On January 31st of this year, Toast, below, opened in the space. Today, the building is clean and neat and the façade is restored to its original Beaux Arts elegance. Toast, and its neighbor Shanti Yoga Shala, operate on the street level. The upper floors of the former African American lodge building hold eight two-bedroom residences.

Toast

An Architectural Endeavor on Juniper St.

Juniper S 207 cupola

The building at 207 S Juniper St. which was home to Key West until 2008 has a lot in common with the building around the corner which housed Sisters until very recently. They both began as carriage houses, they both spent part of their lives as steakhouses, both owe a lot to Mel Heifetz and, unfortunately, they are both now closed. The Juniper Street building, however, took an interesting architectural detour in the early 20th century.

Juniper S 207 1912 Mellor & Meigs

MELLOR & MEIGS

Architects Walter Mellor and Arthur Ingersoll Meigs set up their original office in 1907 in the newly built Lafayette Building (now the Hotel Monaco), on the corner of 5th and Chestnut Streets. They were to become one of the most successful club and residential design firms in Philadelphia, designing over 130 projects over a thirty year span. In 1912, they bought an old carriage house at 207 S Juniper Street to “reclaim” as their new offices, above. They entirely remodeled the building in a rustic, English Cotswold style, adding a large wall of small paned windows on the Juniper Street façade, another on the Chancellor Street side second floor drafting room, below, and setting a charming cupola atop the south east side. (At the time, Mellor himself was living in a stable-turned-residence in Germantown.) The whole effect was of a picturesque nostalgia for a rural past in the midst of what was becoming a busy urban commercial area. In 1915, The Architectural Record described their new offices as being part of the successful movement for the reclamation of small, hidden urban properties that was happening in Boston and Philadelphia, which the magazine called “the two English cities in America.” In 1928, their concession to 20th century technological needs was the addition of an automobile garage to the southern end of the building. The firm prospered on Juniper Street for over 25 years, until Walter Mellor died in 1940.

Drafting Room

 

1973 Mitchells

STEAKS & LOBSTERS

In 1946, the site underwent another metamorphosis and opened as Mitchell’s Restaurant, above. Mitchell’s was a solid, archetypical mid-century Philadelphia steak and seafood restaurant. It was the kind of place where couples from Northeast who came into Center City for a night out would find cocktails and a consistently good meal. For forty years, Mitchell served short ribs, brisket and boiled beef with horseradish to well dressed theatre goers.  In the late 1970s, as competition grew from the innovative menus being served at the new restaurants that were part of the city’s “restaurant renaissance,” business began to drop off. Mitchell’s tried to reinvent itself in 1981, changing its classic menu to include Phila-centric dishes named “Mummers Melange,” “Ben’s Baby Lamb” and a surf and turf combo called “Penn’s Landing.” The new look didn’t work; Mitchell’s closed soon after.

GOING GAY

By March of 1983, the new owners of 207 S Juniper St. were advertising in the Philadelphia Gay News as Your Place…or Mine, serving a simple American lunch and dinner and showing movies nightly on a giant video screen. Your Place was only to last a few months. Below is a rare photo of the building taken during that short time. As always, click on this, or any photo for a larger image view.

Your Place

KEY WEST

To pay back a debt to long time gay rights supporter Mel Heifetz,  the owner gave over a half interest in the operation to him and Heifetz found himself in the bar business. Not long after, the original owner bowed out. On December 22, 1982, the bar reopened as Key West. Its lavish decor was inspired by the tropical Monster disco in Key West, which Heifetz loved; see opening night photo, below. (That’s Danny Ferris tending bar.)

Key West Opening Dec 22 1982

A stunning waterfall dropped all the way the from the top floor to the first, drawing the eye up three stories; there had been nothing like it in Philadelphia. The second floor held the bar and disco and on the first floor was the dining room, below, and cabaret.

Key West Buffet 80sThe Key West dining room set for a buffet

The cabaret featured local and national performers like Big Ed and his oversized cowboy hat; Mr. Ruby Rims, Amy Ryder; Carol O’Shaughnessy; and Jewish lesbian entertainer Lynn Lavner. Key West’s first manager was Richard McPeake, who was involved in the management of several Gayborhood clubs and who also wrote a column for Au Courant newspaper.

Big Ed.jpgBig Ed

1982 Key West - Ruby RimsMr. Ruby Rims keeping au courant

LAST CALL

From the late 1990s through 2008 when it closed, Key West was owned and operated by Chick Winn. With a sports bar, two pool tables, a second floor disco and a top floor Sky Lounge, it served a far more eclectic clientele than many Gayborhood bars. It’s been shuttered for five years now. According to an article here last by fellow blogger Sandy Smith, the property was in the hands of Mark Bee, owner of the Silk City Diner on Spring Garden street. There was some activity there several months ago; the old signage was removed and the façade cleaned up, but things have been quiet lately. It’s one of those quirky, tucked away downtown buildings that does so much to give Center City a charming livability. It deserves a restoration and a new life.

* * *

Very special thanks to Mel Heifetz and Jim Ross who took the time to share their memories and photographs of Key West with me.

Mel Heifetz Key West openingA dapper Mel Heifetz at the Key West opening

I Got All My Sisters with Me

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Like so many clubs in the Gayborhood, Sisters, at 1320 Chancellor Street near Juniper, has a long history. It makes its home in what had been a row of stables, then a series of very popular straight dining spots in Center City.

1895 Kingston

PARKING WARS

The little strip of Chancellor Street tucked away between 13th and Juniper Street was born in the 1850s as Clark Street, then became Kingston Street around 1860. It kept that name until about 1910, when it became Chancellor. Nineteenth century Philadelphia was notorious for changing its street names every 30 years or so, mostly due to the whims of real estate developers, then to municipal standardization. The network of tiny side streets that criss-crossed the downtown area made perfect locations for small “club stables” that could be rented out. The south side of Clark/Kingston/Chancellor St., above, passed most of the first 60 or so years of its peaceful existence as a row of four club stables. Like parking lots today, the number of rental stables that dotted the 19th century city remind us how dependent residents of the increasingly crowded urban environment were becoming on finding places to store their vehicles and horses.

1859 7 15 Club Stable Kingston St1860 ad for stables on Kinsgston Street

From the late 19th century through the early 1930s, the buildings served as stables for Emily Williams Biddle, the great-great granddaughter of John Biddle who settled here in the 1730s. The carriage house was occupied by her driver, Michael Cole. In the photo of Chancellor Street looking west from 13th St. in 1918, below, you can see the awnings of the stables and carriage house on the left.

Chancellor

The photo is from the wonderful collection at the  Philadelphia City Archive. Many thanks to reader Jim Cole who shared this information about Emily Biddle and his great-grandfather, Michael Cole.

FRANKIE BRADLEY’S

Frankie Bradley's logoIn 1933, during the middle of the Great Depression, a retired bantamweight boxer named Frank Bloch opened a restaurant near the corner of Juniper and Chancellor. He called it Frankie Bradley’s, after the professional name he’d used while in the ring. It was common at that time for Jewish prizefighters to use Irish names. (Were Irish considered “tougher” than Jews?) For over 50 years, the family run business would be a landmark gathering place for visiting celebrities and local politicians, including Jose Ferrer, Lucille Ball, Tony Randall, Robert Preston and the ultra-campy Charles Nelson Reilly. Frankie Bradley’s has been called Philadelphia’s Sardi’s; the walls were covered with pictures of stars who dined there.

The restaurant was known for its hearty chicken, lamb, seafood, and garlic-laced planked steak, all accompanied by ethnic Jewish touches like matzoh balls, kreplach and chicken soup. When Frank died in 1976, his son, Harold Bloch, and daughter, Dorothy Adler, took over the business. Harold died in 1983, a few months before the restaurant’s fiftieth anniversary. The still popular restaurant continued to be run by a small corporation for a while, then closed in the fall of 1986.

HESCH’S

In February of 1987, the restaurant re-opened as Hesch’s (Yiddish for Harry’s). At the helm was Philadelphia’s man-about-town, Harry Jay Katz. The ambience was lower East Side Manhattan kitsch, the food was slightly updated 1980 Eastern European steakhouse: huge portions of cholesterol laden, but totally delicious brisket, stuffed cabbage, beef and noodles, and, of course, steak.

Chancellor Hesch's - Sylvester Stallone

Hesch’s attracted the same show business clientele as Frankie Bradley’s; it was Philadelphia’s prime spot for star watching. When Sylvester Stallone, on the right, above, with  Harry Katz on the left and Harry’s daughter Susan, center, was shooting Rambo III in Israel, he couldn’t find a decent steak, so he called and ordered a dozen from Hesch’s – garlic on the side. Hesch’s lasted about two years, closing in 1990. Bon vivant Katz, now in his 70s, is still going strong and still pops up in Philadelphia tabloid headlines from time to time.

HEY, LADIES

1996 SistersFor a few years in the 1980s, there had been as many as four women’s spaces in Center City:  Sneakers on N 3rd St., Mamzelles on Quince, the upstairs at Seasons on Drury St. and the Two-Four on St. James. The early 1990s gave women Hepburn’s on 12th St. When Hepburn’s closed in 1995, the city’s lesbians were left without a bar of their own. A year later, on June 21, 1996, Sisters, owned by Mel Heifetz and Jim Ross and managed by Denise Cohen, opened on Chancellor Street. The photo, below, which appeared in Au Courant, is from the opening night. Denise is in the middle, on the right is Assistant Manager Kirsten Hess and on the left is artist Melissa Sweeney who created the lesbian pop art behind the trio.

As Philadelphia’s only full time lesbian bar, Sisters had to appeal to a diverse population, often advertising that it welcomed everything from “sneakers to high heels.” There was a main bar and restaurant on the first floor decorated in an understated 90s gray and neon look, a dance floor on the second level, and pool tables in the basement.

1996 Sistersopenin

The formula that the club has used, constantly mixing things up and providing something for everyone, continues to work today. Seventeen years later, still under the watchful eye of general manager Denise Cohen, Sisters is going strong, hosting events and providing dining and entertainment in a clean and comfortable atmosphere for Philadelphia’s LGBT and Gay Friendly communities.

2010 Sister PGN Scott DrakeSisters in 2010. Photo by Scott Drake for PGN

SISTERS CLOSES

Sadly, the following appeared in the Daily News today, August 12, 2013, posted by Molly Eichel, Daily News Staff Writer:

Center City’s sole, female-focused LGBT bar Sisters (1320 Chancellor St.) is closing its doors after 17 years, according to posts on Twitter and Facebook. Timaree Schmit, the club’s chief communications officer and member of house dance team Sister Sirens, says she discovered the spot’s plans to close Monday, and that it was all very sudden. The bar has events scheduled through the end of the month, including Schmit’s burlesque show to raise money for the upcoming Slutwalk and fundraiser for an animal shelter. “It was a safe space for LGBT people, especially focused on the women’s community,” Schmit said. “It is the only one in Phily that had that focus.” Schmit said that even though the club still had popular nights and events, the overall numbers at the club had not been as strong of late.

UPDATE

On August 14, 2014, owner Mel Heifetz announced that he had sold the former Sisters to Lord Chancellor, LCC, the same corporation to whom he had sold the former Key West on Juniper St. It will reopen as a straight bar and restaurant. Details can be found in PGN here.

Out in the Open

PRIVATE LIVES IN PUBLIC SPACES:

Bringing Philadelphia’s LGBT History Out in the Open

Tom_and_JamineFirst, I apologize for neglecting this Gayborhood history blog for most of May and June, but I was busy putting together an exhibit about the amazing LGBT Archives at the William Way LGBT Community Center. (Without the support of the artifacts and extensive research materials at the Archives, this blog would not be possible.)

The exhibit, called “Private Lives in Public Spaces: Bringing Philadelphia’s LGBT History Out in the Open,”  is at the Philadelphia History Museum at the Atwater Kent at 15 S. 7th Street near Market. This may be the first significant LGBT exhibit in a mainstream venue in Philadelphia, so it’s a milestone for the community. I was lucky to work on this project with the wonderful WWCC Director of Services, Candice Thompson; talented designer Zach Mosley; and the insanely creative Emmett Ramstad.

“Private Lives” will run until the end of October, 2013. Don’t miss it. There’s more information on the WWCC website here.

Rusty’s: Where Were You in ’62?

Rusty 1974

With this post we’re back on Quince and Walnut Streets, where today you can enjoy a fine burger and a Guinness at Moriarty’s Irish Pub, the former home of Philadelphia’s most famous lesbian bar – Rusty’s.

 lBEFORE THE FORREST

Although today we think of most of Walnut Street as a commercial thoroughfare, like most Philadelphia streets, it began as a residential area. By the 1890s, so many homes had been converted to shops that the city began removing all the stoops to the buildings on Walnut within a few blocks of Broad St. to make more room on the sidewalks for shoppers and to provide easier access to the businesses. Below is a photo of the south side of Walnut Street in February of 1927. Just a few months later, most of these buildings would be demolished and construction would begin on the Forrest Theatre. The ornate buildings on the far left were the Turkish and Russian Baths. More research needs to be done on the Turkish baths that served Philadelphia business men in the 19th and early 20th century and their place in the gay subculture. I’ve only come across one reference to them in a Vice Commission report in 1913, where a hotel bellboy tells the Commission that “now that there’s been a crackdown on prostitutes in the city, the fairies in the baths are getting bolder.” There is a lot more history to explore behind that quote.

1106 Walnut 1927

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Walnut 1116 Star Lite 1958

QUINCE GOES THEATRICAL

The building with the white sign three doors down to the right at the southeast corner of Walnut and Quince, was the Davis and Harvey auction house. On the far right, at 1116 Walnut St., is the building where Moriarty’s now operates. It was home to the W.F. Jones tailoring business for the first few decades of the twentieth century.

When the Forrest Theatre was completed in 1928, it changed the tone of the neighborhood. Restaurants catering to the theatre patrons sprung up at 202, 204 and 211 S Quince St. (See the histories of the restaurants on S Quince St. in this blog archives under the Quince St. category.) In the late 1940s, the business became the  Café Footlight. You can still see the old “Café Footlight” sign painted on the wall in the photo, left from 1958. By the time this photo was taken, the name had changed from the theatrical Café Footlight, to the very fifties Star Lite Café.

ENTER RUSTY

Rusty 1974 Wicca

ENTER RUSTY

About 1963, the bar became known as Barone’s Variety Room. The main entrance to the restaurant and bar was on Walnut Street, but if you went around to the Quince St. side of the building, through the side door and up the stairs, you were in Rusty’s.

In November of 1967, Philadelphia Magazine published an article by Nancy Love called “The Invisible Sorority,” a semi-lurid exposé on Philadelphia’s lesbian community. The article opened with a visit to Rusty’s:

A small sign over the door on Quince Street, a little alley next the Forrest Theatre, says “Variety Room.” It’s very quiet as you go up the old wooden steps to the second floor and down the long corridor. You don’t hear the juke box until you’re actually in the room. You pay the $2 minimum to a woman in a white button-down shirt and slacks who looks a little like a gym teacher you once had, and she gives you a strip of tickets for drinks. It’s a smallish panelled room with a bar at one side and lots of tables clustered around a dance floor. At first, the relaxed atmosphere and informal dress and young girls make you think of a girls college hangout in a small town.

Barones matchesThe woman at the door in the button-down shirt might have been Rusty Parisi, owner of the bar. She is the woman in glasses on the cover of the Philadelphia lesbian feminist newspaper Wicce, above.  This issue, published in 1974, featured an interview with Rusty and a nostalgic look back at lesbian life in the ’60s. Rusty was one of the first bar owners in Philadelphia who was gay herself. She discussed butch and femme roles, police harrassment and her own experiences. When asked how she felt about men in general, she replied bluntly, “I’ve never been with one and I’d never want to be. So that’s what I think of men in general. Not much.”

The matches, above left, are from the cigarette machine in Rusty’s. With their 1960s pin-up girls and phallic rockets, (the one on the right  is limp!), they are two of my favorite objects in the William Way Community Center’s archival collections.

THE RAID ON RUSTY’S

Hanckel & BelloOn the night of March 8, 1968, a year after “The Invisible Sorority” appeared, women out for a drink at Rusty’s suddenly found the jukebox unplugged and the house lights brought up. It was a police raid. Under Police Comissioner Rizzo, raids on gay and lesbian bars were an all too common occurence in 1960s Philly.  Many of the women were verbally abused; police accused them of being drunk and disorderly. Some were booked and held overnight. They were brought before a magistrate the next day, but all charges were dropped. It was a clear-cut case of  police harrassment.

Rusty Pilice RiadThe local chapter of D.O.B. editorialized against the raid. D.O.B., the “Daughters of Bilitis,” was a national lesbian social and support organization with a policy of political non-involvement. The Philadelphia chapter was one of the exceptions. A few nights later, after another raid on Rusty’s, local activists Ada Bello, above, on the left, seated next to Frances Hanckel, right.  Lourdes Barbara Gittings were present. When Police asked Gittings for her I.D., Barbara flashed her ACLU card. The police moved on.*

Rustys Door 2010In May, the D.O.B. arranged a meeting with the Philadelphia Police Inspector and they brought along an ACLU observer. The D.O.B. let the Inspector know that they represented the community and that they were were not afraid to protest violations. The police issued a statement that “homosexuals have been, are now, and will be treated equally with heterosexuals.” Because of their active support in the incident, membership in the Philadelphia D.O.B. increased dramatically. A year before the Stonewall riots, the raid on Rusty’s and the reaction of local lesbians was a success story for gay rights.

Sorority

Matchbooks and cover of Wicce courtesy of the John J. Wilcox Jr. Archives at the William Way LGBT Community Center.

* Some details of this entry have been corrected on July 11, 2013, thanks to input by Ada Bello. Also, according to Ada, portrait artist Susan Schary painted several of Rusty’s patrons, Lourdes Alvarez and Ada Bello among them, as well as Rusty Parisi’s. The whereabouts of the latter is not known.

Thank you, Ada!

Straight Snapshot: And All That Jazz

It’s time again to explore one of those holes in the fabric of the Gayborhood. This time it’s the E-Z Park lot at 1311-1315 Locust Street, in the center of the block, across from the Library Company.

Locust 1319-21 Universalist Church of the Messiah

THE 19th CENTURY GENTRIFICATION OF LOCUST STREET

It would be hard to identify the location of the 1885 photograph, above, on today’s Locust Street, since every one of the buildings in the photo is now gone. This is the northeast corner of Locust and Juniper Streets, looking east. The building on the left, on the northwest corner, was a wonderful Frank Furness designed Library Company building, razed in the late 1930s, a victim of the Great Depression. In its place now stands the dingy four level parking garage next to Mamma Angelina’s pizzeria. In the center was the Universalist Church of the Messiah, designed by Thomas Ustick Walter, the Philadelphia architect famous for designing the dome of the Capitol Building in Washington D.C. Both the church and the next few rowhouses beyond it to the right were torn down around 1894 for two elegant new urban residences, below, designed by Wilson Eyre Jr.Locust & 13th 1319-1321 1894 copy

By the 1890s, the Historical Society had already moved onto the corner of 13th and Locust, the College of Physicians was diagonally across from that and the Library Company was in the building mentioned above at Locust and Juniper. Directly across the street from the Library, where the Sylvania is today was the Episcopal Academy. It was appropriate that Eyre designed two buildings in this intellectual neighborhood for archaeologist and writer Clarence B. Moore and the brilliant paleontologist Joseph Leidy, who was called “the last man who knew everything.” Locust Street was going upscale and highbrow.

THE BANKER & THE RAILROAD HEIRESS

Clement B Newbold 1912When wealthy banker and financier Clement B. Newbold, left, was planning a city home for himself and his young bride to complement their Jenkintown estate, he would hire architect Frank Miles Day, who had worked with Eyre, to build an immense townhouse on the double lot at 1313-1315 Locust Street next to the Leidy residence. Moore’s wife, the former Mary Scott, right, Mrs Newboldwas the socialite daughter of the President of the Pennsylvania Railroad, Thomas A. Scott; their combined fortunes were substantial. The couple spent two months traveling on their honeymoon in early 1897 while the Locust Street house was being completed. When it was done, it was acknowledged to be one of the most handsomely furnished houses in the city.

The façade of the house presented a formal central entrance flanked by two bays which housed a library and reception room. The entrance hall opened onto an incredible two story central hall and a dramatic double staircase, below, leading to the upper floor. Beyond the grand hall were a drawing room, dining room, breakfast room and a garden that wrapped behind the Moore and Leidy houses next door. Some of the buildings where Key West was until a few years ago were stables to this house.

Locust & 13th 1313 interior

Their life together was a whirlwind of Philadelphia Dancing Assembly balls, concerts, Horticultural Society functions, summers in Bar Harbor, Maine and winters in the Carolinas. Mary was a beauty and the darling of what the newspapers called “the young social set.” Their life seemed golden. The dream came crashing down for the couple in 1905, when, while recovering from an appendicitis operation, Mary suddenly died. From then on, Clement spent less and less time at the large, empty house on Locust Street.

THE DIPLOMAT & HIS FAMILY

Charlemagne Tower JrIn 1909, Newbold leased the house to his distinguished friends, Mr. and Mrs. Charlemagne Tower Jr.  Charlemagne Tower, left,  taught history and archaeology at the University of Pennsylvania and had had a long diplomatic career, serving as Minister to Austria and as Ambassador to both Russia and Germany. The Towers were friends with Leidys next door and were prominent members of Philadelphia’s social scene. At the beginning of World War I, Mrs. Tower turned their city residence into a meeting place for the American Red Cross. The Towers lived there happily with their daughters until 1916, when tragedy again visited the house, and the twenty year old youngest daughter, Gertrude, was killed when an automobile she was riding in overturned in Fairmount Park. The family retired from the Philadelphia social scene to their summer home in Waterville, NY and 1315 Locust Street was left in the charge of a caretaker.

1920s chorus

INTRODUCING NEW YORK IDEAS

1922 12 31 PI  MurraysThe house stayed mostly vacant for about 6 years. In 1916, the police reported that intruders had broken in on Christmas night, helped themselves to a turkey dinner and several bottles of the best wine and made off with some of the silver. In December of 1922, an Inquirer ad, right, announced that the former Tower home, scene of so many highbrow society functions, was going to open as Prohibition-era Philadelphia’s newest jazz venue, to be called Murray’s, “The rendezvous for smart people.” It would be a branch of the famous Murray’s Cafe in New York, with after-theatre entertainment, including a revue featuring 26 chorus girls under the direction of Broadway designer Andre Sherri.

Murrays

JohnnyJohnsonThe venue opened the day after Christmas in 1922, packed with members of society and city officials who could dance to the music of Johnny Johnson, left, and his Orchestra. The proximity of Locust Street to the first-class hotels and theatres on Broad Street made it the perfect locale to become a small late night entertainment district. Murray’s was the first music cafe to open on Locust, long before the many “musical bars” that would open there after World War II that would later turn into gay bars.

1931 Locust & 13th 1313In the mid 1920s, Murray’s Cafe became the swanky Club Madrid, run by Joe Moss, and was reputedly one of Philadelphia’s 12,000 Prohibition era speakeasies. Club Madrid lasted only until about 1930, a victim of the end of Prohibition and the beginning of the Great Depression. By 1931, the huge, expensive-to-maintain building was razed, right (that’s the Chancellor on 13th in the background). 

1313-15 Locust Street was a residence for the city’s elite for 25 years, a Prohibition era jazz club and speakeasy for 10 years and now it’s been a parking lot for over 80 years. In this picture, below, from 2011, you can also see the short-lived JR’s Lounge, now Spiga, on the right. In Philadelphia, buildings and businesses come and go, but parking lots are forever.

2011  1313 Locust

BONUS TRACK: “WE”

Just to add a little Prohibition era atmosphere to the story of 1313-15 Locust Street, here is a YouTube clip of Johnny Johnson and his Statler Pennsylvanians from 1927, playing the jazzy “We (My Honey and Me),” recorded at the RCA Victor studios, right across the river in Camden:

Quince Street: Crowded But Not Crushed, Part II

penguin copy

Last time, I began the story of the short stretch of the east side Quince Street between Walnut and Locust Streets – sometimes straight, sometimes gay, but always interesting. We traced it from the 1920s Blue Lantern Tea Room, through its life as Maurice’s, Antonio’s, the Foster House and Flippo’s in the 1970s.

BREAKING BAD

In the early ’80s, now called the Intermission Tavern, the restaurant ended up in a 48 page exposé published by the Pennsylvania Crime Commission. The Commission cited violations that included numerous violations of the state Liquor Code and ownership and use of the site as a meeting place by organized crime associates, some with criminal records. Raymond_MartoranoIn a secret bugging operation, the FBI phone taps and hidden cameras discovered that the Intermission was being used as the headquarters for loan sharking and drug dealing operations by mobster Raymond “Long John”  Mortorano, right, and union boss Albert Daidone. Their methamphetamine and Quaalude trafficking network was estimated to have an annual worth of  between $50 and $100 million. Mortorano and Daidone were both eventually implicated in a murder that was part of a battle for control of Atlantic City’s 10,000 member bartender’s union. The city shut the Intermission Tavern down in 1982. After serving 17 year prison sentences, Daidone and Mortorano were  released in 1999. Daidone retired from mob life, but Mortorano was gunned down in his Lincoln towncar during rush hour in South Philadelphia in 2002.

THE MONSTER MASH

Ron LordOn April 5, 1985, after three years as co-owner the new Bike Stop at 206 S Quince, Ron Lord, right, with partner Roland Frambes, opened a restaurant across the street at 211 S Quince St called The Monster Inn. Jim Madden, who would buy the Bike Stop in 1997, got his start in Philadelphia working at the Monster for Lord. The Monster Inn was named after the chain of “Monster” bars in Cherry Grove, Key West and Sheridan Square in New York, but apparently was not associated with them. (If anyone knows the story, please let me know!) The Monster featured a menu sprinkled with with items humorously and ghoulishly named, in keeping with the theme,  like “Decapitated Coffee” and the “Lox Ness Monster,” served at brunch; see the sample menu, below. The Monster catered to cast members and theatre-goers from the Forrest Theatre and advertised to a gay clientele as well.

Monster Inn menu sm

The Monster Inn only lasted three years, until early 1988. In June of that year, it was announced that Joe Venuti, below, the owner of the Allegro II which had operated at 2056 Sansom St. since 1983, was going to move his club  to the defunct Monster Inn. When the deal fell through, Venuti charged that the corporation that had run the Monster reneged because the Allegro II catered to a mostly African-American clientele. Ron Lord, who had done so much in fundraising for AIDS in Philadelphia,  denied those charges, stating simply that his partners were not ready to sell. Ron’s health was in decline at the time and his original partner, Roland Frambes, had died of AIDS in July of 1987. The Allegro II ended up moving back to Sansom Street. Lord announced that the Monster Inn would re-open as The Home Plate, but that never happened.

Joe Venuti Allegro 2

PENGUINS ON QUINCE

Quince 211 1988For five years in the mid 1980s, the Gay Community Center of Philadelphia (GCCP) miraculously existed without a building as Penguin Place, “The Community Center without Walls,” logo at top of post. In the fall of 1988, the Center’s Board decided that they needed a physical space again. In December, they signed a lease with Ron Lord, owner of the Bike Stop, to rent 211 S Quince Street, the former home of his Monster Inn, right. The GCCP Library and Archives began moving in right away. Within a few months there were problems; it seems Ron Lord’s original lease didn’t allow him to sublet. Furthermore, the building seemed to be in the name of an 80 year old Italian woman in South Philadelphia, which hinted that the building’s organized crime connections were still very much there. During this minor crisis, GCCP Board Members Marge McCann and Michael LoForno worked heroically to keep the Center together. By the time things were worked out, there was some contention among the GCCP Board, inflammatory press added to the problem and Center co-chair John Cabiria resigned. In addition, in early February of 1990, there was a fire in the back of the building, most probably set by a homeless person. Coincidentally, soon after, plans for a new location were announced. The Community Center moved on to 201 S Camac St. and seven years later, to its current home at 1315 Spruce Street, the first building that the Community Center has owned.

BACK TO THE FUTURE

Quince 211 2012The buildings lay empty for a long time, until a few years ago, when they were once again separated into three private residences, restored and sold. Today, the three simple brick façades at 211 to 215 S Quince St., with their tiny marble stoops, tasteful, dark green doors, fanlights and shuttered windows, left, look pretty much they way they did when they were first built about 1850. There’s no hint at all of the long succession of tea room, restaurant, gay bar, mob hangout, gay bar again and community center they housed in the last hundred years.

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Monster Inn Matchbook

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• For more information on the Bike Stop, see T-Squares and Bootblacks: The Bike Stop,” on this blog.

• For more information on the William Way Center, see “A Home for the Community Center,” Part I, Part II and Part III, on this blog.

Quince Street: Crowded But Not Crushed, Part I

Blue Lantern matches

A 1922 article in the Philadelphia Inquirer about the tiny stretch of Quince Street between Walnut and Locust Streets called it “. . . a tinge of the Philadelphia of old, crowded but not wholly crushed,” and even then, almost a hundred years ago, the tiny houses that lined it were already being referred to as “ancient dwellings.” The picture of one of the buildings that accompanied the article, below, right, would be hardly distinguishable from one taken today.

Quince St 208 1922Narrow Quince Street, running only four blocks from Walnut to Lombard Streets, first appeared in Philadelphia City Directories about 1813 as “Quince Alley.” By 1816, it was a full-fledged street, home to a racially mixed working class population of carpenters, waiters, dressmakers and coachmen. By the early 20th century, not unlike other small by-ways in the older part of the city east of Broad Street, it had become a bit shabby. Seventy year old fireplaces were bricked up, ornate woodwork was lost under layers of heavy paint and motley layers of wallpapers covered the original walls, much like what was going on in Society Hill. Well into the beginning of the 20th century, William J. Beattie, who lived at 208 S Quince, right next to where the Bike Stop is today, held the honor of being one of the last horse-shoers in the city.

THE BLUE LANTERN TEA ROOM

Quince S 211 1922 Blue LanternIn the early 1920s, a prosperous Philadelphia dentist named Dr. Eugene Pettit, went though a nasty, much publicized divorce and bought the three two-story rowhouses with dormers at 211, 213 and 215. He moved out of his Clinton Street home and into the top floor of 213, restoring much of the interior to its early 19th century glory and filling every corner of the attic space with the antiques, engravings, porcelains and furniture he had collected. The houses on either side, he rented to an antique dealer and to offices, but the ground floor of 213 Quince became the Blue Lantern Tea Room.  Tea rooms, like the contemporaneous Venture Tea Room on Camac, served “dainty lunches” and light dinners to well-heeled club women in the city. The Blue Lantern, as you can see in the 1922 illustration, left, by artist Frank Taylor, was marked by the large –you guessed it– blue lantern that hung outside until World War II. The Blue Lantern matchbook cover at the top of this post probably dates from the early 1930s, after the Forrest Theatre opened in 1927 on Walnut Street.

MAURICE THE MAESTRO

Quince 211 1958 Maurice

Quince S 211 Maurice 1953Maurice Rotenberg, grandfather of chef Marc Vetri, began his restaurant career in the 1940s, with a small lunchroom in Center City. A great lover of classical music, he decided to replace the pop tunes in his juke boxes with classical selections. The idea was a huge hit. In 1948, he bought the three building complex including 211 Quince Street, broke through walls and opened Maurice’s, above, an “Old World” style restaurant wired by technicians from Philco to pipe classical music throughout the nine tiny dining rooms, including the “Beethoven Shrine” on the third floor.

In the 1950s, celebrities like Eugene Ormandy, Tony Randall and Sammy Davis Jr. would drop in for lunch and to hear some of Rotenberg’s collection of over 30,000 classical records. After Maurice died in 1952, his wife Gussie ran the place for ten more years before retiring.

Long before Philadelphia’s restaurant renaissance in the 1970s, Maurice’s was offering a gourmet “J.S. Bach Club Sandwich” served up with the latest recording of Beethoven’s 9th Symphony.

THE STRAIGHT AND THE GAY OF IT

After Gussie left, the restaurant briefly became Antonio’s, serving Italian cuisine and steaks from about 1968 to 1971. You can see, below, that Antonio’s left Maurice’s signature treble clef on their sign, simply adding “Antonio’s Steak House” below it.

Quince 211 1970 Antonios

Still relying on the patronage of the theatre crowds from the nearby Forrest, the business would go through several name changes in the 1970s, from Antonio’s to the Foster House, to Flippo’s then to Curtain Call. Both Foster House and Flippo’s are listed in gay guides and Foster House had the honor of appearing in 1972’s “Gay Today” article by Art Spikol, which also mentioned the Horizon House, see the last post, below, February 28.

Spikol described the Foster House this way:

The 200 block of South Quince Street is not much bigger than an alley, and runs between 11th and 12th in center city. There is a parking lot on the corner and a few bars on the street–one of which, called the Foster House, is small and quaint, and at night, with its colored lights shining on the sidewalk, surrounds itself with the slightly unreal, super-animated aura of a Disney movie.

It is only eight o’clock, and the Foster House is still relatively empty–two guys talking quietly at the bar, a lesbian couple at a nearby table. The walls are covered with a planned graffiti, and the black-light illumination makes white glow purple. A fun house, with nooks and crannies and little steps leading to a small room in the rear where our meeting is to take place.

Spikol then goes on to describe his meeting with four young gay male activists, including the 21 year old Mark Segal and the 29 year old Kiyoshi Kuromiya.  He bravely endures a four-hour consciousness raising lecture on 1970s gay liberation politics from them, ending the article with an admission that, just possibly, for all his liberalism and understanding, he’s been a sexist male, “right down the line.”

Next time: BREAKING BAD

Lost Horizon

Horizon House

These fast disappearing walls, at the southeast corner of Lombard and 12th Streets,  are all that’s left of a nondescript building that played an important part in Philadelphia’s post-Stonewall gay political movement.

QUAKERS TO THE RESCUE

In 1952, Horizon House was founded by Quakers as a support group for the former patients of mental hospitals. In 1969, the agency built a center at Lombard and 12th Streets, below, designed by the firm of Francis, Cauffman, Wilkinson & Pepper. It was a severe, two story, drab brown brick building pierced with tall, very narrow windows, not unlike many of the houses being built at the time to fill in the gaps in newly gentrified and rehabbed Society Hill. The Center would expand its services to reach out to people with alcohol and drug addictions, those with developmental disabilities and the homeless. In 1972, they also rented out meeting space to Philadelphia’s newly formed Gay Activists Alliance. The Quakers have always been supportive of the city’s queer minority; in 1973, it was Quakers who were the only ones who were willing to rent a space for the first Gay Coffeehouse at 60 North 3rd Street.

Pain Center

THE G.A.A.

The Gay Activists Alliance was originally founded in New York City in late 1969 by members of the Gay Liberation Front who wanted to deal more specifically with the political side of Gay Liberation. By September of 1971, there was a G.A.A. Philadelphia, below, meeting at the University of Pennsylvania’s Christian Association building. (There was a lot of hair going on in those days). Within a year they had over 400 members. In 1972, they began meeting at Horizon House, which they made their home for several years.

GAA

Segal & Langhorne 1972Through the early 70s, G.A.A. was the most active and influential gay organization in the city. Presidents of the organization included activists like Tommi Avicolli, Jeff Escoffier and Harry Langhorne, shown left, wearing glasses, in 1972 with Gay Raider Mark Segal in front of City Hall. G.A.A Philly sponsored dances and social events, as well  as “zaps” against anti-gay lectures, programs and organizations. They fought police harrassment and became involved in local government, supporting political candidates and the passage of a Philadelphia Gay Rights bill.

GayzetteG.A.A. would give birth to the Gay Switchboard hotline, the Eromin Center, which provided mental health services, the Masterbatters baseball team, the Gay Coffeehouse and two publications; Philadelphia’s first gay newspaper, the Gayzette, right, and a monthly arts and literature journal called the Gay Alternative. Along with  Radicalesbians and the Homophile Action League, G.A.A. worked to organize conservative Philadelphia’s first gay pride march in 1972.  In 1973,  they sponsored a drag forum, below, Tommi Avicolli on  the right, with offshoot caucus Radicalqueens, the first trans political group in the city. Brash and outspoken, the Gay Activists Alliance helped give gay men, lesbians and trans-people visibility and a voice in our city and in its politics.

BEYOND PAIN

After Horizon House moved out of 501 S 12th Street in the 80s, the space became a warren of small medical offices and finally the Pain Center, which operated there nearly 15 years. Two years ago, the property was listed for sale. Today, the building is being demolished by developer Virgil Procaccino, who will build six single family row homes on the lot.

1973 RadicalQueens drag forum

GAY TODAY

Another small piece of Philadelphia’s gay history is vanishing, but luckily, in November of 1972, writer Art Spikol dared to sit in on a G.A.A. meeting held there.  The article he published in Philadelphia Magazine, simply called “Gay Today,” is a window into 1970s gay liberation era Philadelphia from a mainstream journalistic perspective.

This is some of what he wrote:

The first time I ever saw two men kiss was on a Thursday, at a place called Horizon House, on the corner of 12th and Lombard, at 7:45 in the evening. The building is dark gray and on a dark corner, and the light from the entrance turned its few steps yellow in the summer twilight. It was there that I walked in, through the lobby to the landing at the bottom of the stairs which would take me to the meeting room–from which, up above, two young men were now watching me. They turned quickly to one another, spoke a few words and smiled, and then turned back to me again. And just that quickly, not knowing if their words concerned me at all, I was feeling uncomfortable.

I climbed the stairs and walked through the door at the top and sat down at one of the cafeteria-style tables that ran along the walls of the meeting room. Around me were 40, maybe 45 people, members of the Gay Activist Alliance, all waiting, as I was, for the others to arrive.

The notes: Mostly young, late teens to early 30s. Mostly men, but some women. Casual. Long hair, moustaches, beards. Average. In appearance, anyway. Surprisingly average with very little, really, to indicate . . . anything.

Straight Snapshot: The St. James

St James roof 2010

The tastefully elegant 12 story residence on the southeast corner of Walnut and 13th Streets has looked down over that busy intersection in the Gayborhood for a little over 100 years. It owes its existence to two men who’ve played an important part in shaping Philadelphia’s development, builder John Stafford and architect Horace Trumbauer.

Walnut & 13th SE

STAFFORD AND TRUMBAUER

In the 1890s, real estate developer John Stafford had made his fortune constructing hundreds of rowhomes in North Philadelphia. Toward the end of the century he turned to Center City and the construction of more prominent, public buildings. The trend toward large, high-end residential hotels was just gaining momentum in Philadelphia; The Gladstone Apartments had opened on Pine and 11th Streets in 1890. In late 1900, the real estate section of The Inquirer announced that the tenants of the four story dwellings on the southeast corner of Walnut and 13th Streets, above, left, had been given notice that Stafford intended to build a new, modern apartment building on the site. In December, it was revealed that he had hired Horace Trumbauer to design the project.

TrumbauerThe 33 year old Trumbauer, left, had gained a reputation as an architect for the elite of the city, designing many residences and estates along the Main Line. This new project of Strafford’s  was to be Trumbauer’s first large commercial design. Trumbauer’s firm would go on to design the Philadelphia Art Museum, the addition to the Land Title Building, the Widener Building, the Ritz Carlton Hotel and the central Free Library of Philadelphia.  Trumbauer would die of alcoholism in 1938.

stjames-1901

Trumbauer’s modern, steel-framed structure, right,  was to be called the St. James Hotel, presumably after the nearby newly named St. James Street, even though there was already a St. James Hotel to the north, on Arch Street. It would be a grand Second Empire structure, towering over 13th Street and boosting Trumbauer’s reputation and career. St James 1904It opened in 1901, a record breaking year for Philadelphia real estate development. The new St. James was furnished with restaurants, shops on the ground floor and a barber. Strawbridge and Clothier designed its silver service. Journalist Lincoln Steffens, below,  stayed there in 1903, while researching a muckraking series on political evils in American cities for McLure’s Magazine.  He’d forever  brand the city with shame, when he entitled  his article about Penn’s city “Philadelphia: Corrupt and Contented.”  The St. James was a success and only three years later, Stafford bought the lots at 1226 and 1228 Walnut Street, immediately to the east, and doubled the hotel’s size, above, left. The Philadelphia Blue Book (a social directory), listed over a dozen prominent Philadelphians as residents of the St. James in 1906, including portrait painter Julian Story. The Philadelphia Dickens Club was formed there and the Rotary Club held their luncheons at the St. James  every Wednesday from 12:30 to 1:30.

Lincoln Steffens

BOOM AND BUST

In 1909, Stafford dissolved the St. James Hotel Company, which he incidentally owned all the stock of, and became the sole owner. He then built an annex to the hotel a few doors further east at Walnut and Camac Streets and constructed what would later be the Camac Baths to use as a laundry facility, power plant and housing for his staff. The buildings were all connected by tunnels that ran under Chancellor Street. I’m told that they are still there today.

1919 10 5 In ReceivershipStafford’s passion for real estate speculation was to be the undoing of the St. James. In 1918, creditors and mortgage holders began filing suits against Stafford, who claimed he was solvent, but short on funds because of his investments in other real estate ventures. By 1919, the hotel was in receivership and shortly after, went up for public auction. The building  was withdrawn from auction when no bids were made. A year later, it was purchased by Louis Cahan at sherriff’s sale and re-opened under new management, announcing its commitment to “courtesy, refinement and high ideals.” Cahan slowly rebuilt the St. James’ clientele and reputation.

1922 Bonwit

HOTEL, THEN APARTMENTS, THEN ST. JAMES NO MORE

1922 12 28 St James New YearsIn 1922, the Bonwit Teller lingerie shop, above, formerly at 13th and Sansom Streets, re-located to the street level of the hotel as “The St. James Shop.” Throughout the 20s, the St. James would continue to advertise nationally, not declining in stature or popularity until the Great Depression in the 1930s, when it was forced to rent out portions of the building as office space. Before World War II, the Philadelphia chapter of the entertainment industry’s Showmen’s Club made the newly air conditioned hotel their home. 1944 Walnut & 13th EThe photo, right, looking east on Walnut Street in 1944, shows how the St. James  dominated the 13th Street neighborhood, rising well above the three story rowhouses and commercial spaces in the area.

The building was listed on the Philadelphia Register of Historic Places in 1973 and was added to the National Register in 1976. In the 1980s, the hotel became apartment units and was rechristened the St. James House, below.

1980s St James House

In 1993, the building changed hands again and became the Walnut Square Apartments. (In the 90s, “Squares” sprung up on dead end streets, in plazas and inside enclosed shopping malls all over the country, an odd nostalgia for America’s lost rural town squares).  All association with the St. James name has been erased and transferred to the newer St. James tower five blocks east on Walnut and 8th Streets.

The hundred year old building is not in great repair. The mansard roof leaks and there are stories of intermittant power outages, but the dignified Horace Trumbauer design still watches over this intersection of the Gayborhood and the late night crowds leaving Woody’s and Voyeur. I don’t know of any connections or anecdotes that link the St. James to the LGBT community’s history, but I’m sure they’re there.

1913 Walnut & 13th West

Looking west on Walnut St. from the St. James in 1913.

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