When the Westbury Met the Parker
The next stop on the Philadelphia Gayborhood history tour takes us to the corner of 13th and Spruce Streets, toward the southern end of the ‘hood. This story tells how the Parker Hotel and the Westbury Bar & Restaurant ended up together. Only a few doors down from the William Way Center, the Westbury is the place you will find us Archives volunteers after an evening of sorting, processing and cataloguing.
THE SPRUCE: A PROHIBITION ERA “BACHELOR HOTEL”
Busy Thirteenth Street runs north and south and acts as the Gayborhood’s Main Street. The once seedy north end, near Chestnut St., has only recently blossomed into a chic restaurant and shopping row, through a lot of imagination and the hard work of people like Marcie Turney and Valerie Safran. The southern end of the strip, however, is still held back by that 12 story eyesore, the Parker Hotel, at 261 S 13th St. It’s hard to believe that the Parker began life in 1924 as an elegant bachelor apartment building called the Spruce Hotel, left. The Spruce contained 209 furnished rooms meant either long term for single males who worked in the downtown city area, or short term for those who were visiting Philadelphia. Each room had a wash basin, a wall cabinet with shelves and either a shared or private bath and shower, which is pretty much true today. The street level lobby contained a restaurant and lounge and in the basement were a barber shop and laundry, see postcard below. In 1926, when Jack Dempsey fought Gene Tunney at Philadelphia’s Sesquicentennial Municipal Stadium, Tunney stayed at the Spruce Hotel.
From the 20s through the 60s, the Spruce Hotel was also a favorite residence for popular musicians staying in the city, including many African Americans. The post-war period in Philadelphia was really a golden age of music bars and dinner clubs; the city was a major stop on the national circuit.
During the mid 1930s, Samuel and Anna Friedman, above, left the drug store they had run on Diamond Street and opened the Spruce Hotel Drugs, later the Parker Hotel Drugs, at the NE corner of 13th and Spruce Streets. The photo below, shows their drugstore and luncheonette in 1960. Many thanks to Stacia Friedman for sharing these photos of her grandparents and their store with me.
In the late 1960s, the Friedmans sold the business and the space became a cocktail lounge called The Fireplace Room. By 1971, the Parker Hotel Bar, as it was now called, was listed in the new national Gayellow Pages as a Philadelphia gay bar.
THE WESTBURY WHEN IT WAS WEST
The Westbury began life as the hotel bar of the Westbury Hotel, (later, apartments), at 15th and Spruce Streets. The Westbury Grill, as it was called, was a music bar and restaurant and was frequently mentioned in Billboard Magazine in the 40s. Here’s an ad, right, for the Westbury from 1948, when $1.50 bought a lot more of a dinner than it does today. The bar and restaurant were popular with the theatre and concert crowds from nearby Broad Street.
In this photo from 1950, below, which looks west on the north side of Spruce St. toward 15th St., you can just see the “Westbury Grill & Bar” sign through the trees in the upper center. The photo has the same neighborhood feel that the street has today.
The Westbury Bar began appearing in gay guides about 1962 and by the 70s it became a staple of Philadelphia LGBT nightlife, always listed as “very popular” in those guides. Some of them describe the old Westbury as “semi-leather and denim.” Here’s the sign, left, from the original Westbury on 15th St., circa 1973. That neighborhood thrived in the 70s, with the Allegro on Spruce St. to the east and Roscoe’s to the west and Steps around the corner on Delancey St..
Below is a photo from The Atlantic City News of two Westbury bartenders from 1980; Chuck Bongarde, left, who had already been working there 10 years when the picture was taken and Jack Applegate, right, who would later take over the business:
Here’s the corner today, below, with the Westbury Apartments still there, and a shoe repair shop partially occupying the old Westbury Bar space.
THE NEW WESTBURY MEETS THE PARKER
After expanding rapidly in the 70s, Philadelphia’s “gay ghetto” began to shrink in the late 80s, with the epicenter definitely moving toward the 13th St. strip east of Broad, where it would coalesce into today’s Gayborhood. The Bike Stop, Woody’s, Uncles and the 2-4 had all opened east of Broad St. in those years. In 1986, the Westbury made the move and re-opened on the southeast corner of Spruce and 13th Sts. as “The New Westbury,” occupying the old Parker Hotel Bar space. It was the only business to migrate from west of Broad St. to east in that era. The Westbury finally dropped the “New” in 1992. The bar and restaurant were owned by Jack Applegate in the late 90’s and early 2000’s, then for a few years by Ned Katuran.
The Westbury has been at its present location for 24 years. Owner Chuck Brault took over management from Ned Katuran in August 2009, when the bar underwent major renovations, morphing into the friendly neighborhood sports bar it is today.
On October 20th, 2014 a small fire broke out on the 9th floor of the Parker Hotel and the 12 story building was evacuated. The fire showed that the hotel’s sprinkler system was not up to code and the hotel has been closed. The fate of the building, which is now being sold, is unclear. On Friday, November 14, the owner of the Westbury announced that the bar would not re-open and Philadelphia’s shocked LGBT community learned that it has lost one of its oldest bars. Goodbye, Westbury.
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