Straight Snapshot: The Chancellor Apartments
There are many locations within Philly’s Gayborhood that are not particularly LGBT identified spaces, but which have great stories of their own and are part of the historical fabric of the neighborhood. I’ll cover some of these stories in short “Straight Snapshots.” The first of these snapshots is about the Chancellor, at 204-206 S 13th Street, next to Woody’s.
THE CHANCELLOR HALL HOTEL
If you’ve walk by the Chancellor Apartments during the day, you’ve seen the busy stylists at work in Cut Hair Salon on the street level. The 24 story building, which towers over the rest of that block of 13th Street, is the 86th tallest in the city. The Classical Revival structure was built in 1928 as the Chancellor Hall Hotel, left, by architect Arthur W. Hall, who designed several other apartment and office buildings in Center City. Early newspaper ads described it as an “ideal location in the center of the Philadelphia Business District.”
After World War II, there was a popular restaurant called “The Forge Room,” above, in the space that Cut now occupies. The Forge featured live entertainment – pianists, vocalists and even an acrobatic dancer or two. Some of the floors above were leased out as office space, and this is where the fun part of the story begins.
ROCK & ROLL, PHILLY STYLE
In 1957, a new record company that featured local Philadelphia talent rented office space in the building. That company, Chancellor Records, took its name from the hotel, but its logo from the Scottish Chancellor family. Chancellor Records, owned by Bob Marcucci, had its first hit on Billboard’s “Hot 100” chart in “With All My Heart,” sung by Jodie Sands. However, the label really became famous for its two major artists, South Philly teen idols Frankie Avalon, right, and Fabian Forte, below, left. Both were hired for their looks as much as for thier talent. Marcucci was able to get the young artists a lot of exposure on the influential local TV show, “American Bandstand,” hosted by Dick Clark. Frankie Avalon recorded the hits “De De Dinah,” “You Excite Me,” “A Perfect Love” and “Venus” for Chancellor. Fabian gave us “Tiger Rag,” “Hold Me,” “Lovesick,” “Just One More Time,” “Steady Date” and “Turn Me Loose,” see record labels, below. Chancellor Records along with its stars, Fabian and Frankie Avalon, helped make Philadelphia a dominant force in the 1950s and 1960s pop music scene.
In the 1980s, when the All In the Family strip bar still lingered a few doors down in the building that family friendly Nest occupies today, many of the Chancellor apartments were used as housing for students from the Philadelphia College of Art, which would soon merge into the University of the Arts. They rented for from $275 to $500 a month then. In the 1990s, it housed the offices of the City Paper. Today, the Chancellor’s studios and one bedroom apartments are still home to a mix of Center City students, young professionals and elderly. I’d bet that among that mix are more than a few LGBT tenants.