Keeping It All in the Family: Part II
This post continues the story of the odd building at the northwest corner of 13th and Locust Streets where Nest and Green Eggs Café are today.
THERE GOES THE GAYBORHOOD
In 1959, when the photo, above, was taken, the south side of the building at 1301 Locust was home to the Eden Roc Supper Club and the Cub Lounge. By now, the top name jazz performers formerly featured at Locust St. venues were giving way to tawdry “all-girl revues.” Many blamed the demise of the music club scene in Philadelphia on the popularity of television in the ’50s. It gave viewers easy access, right in their own homes, to the best talent in the country. On top of that, the downtowns of many American cities began to decay as the push to the suburbs began in earnest after World War II. To survive, many clubs resorted to giving the public something that television in 1950s America couldn’t: sex. By 1961, 1301 Locust had become the Copa Club, one of the notorious “bust-out” joints that lined Locust Street from 12th to Broad. These “bust-out” joints were seedy clubs where “B-girls,” who worked for the house, mingled with customers, conning male clients into buying them rounds of overpriced, watered down drinks, luring them with empty promises of sex. Even Philadelphia Magazine began referring to the strip as “Lurid Locust” and “Philadelphia’s Barbary Coast.”
The maze of tough, seedy venues in the complex, many of them mob owned, changed names frequently during the 1960s. At one time as many as six bars operated on the premises under the same license. Some of them, like The Hideaway, the after hours S.A. Club and the ZuZu Club, which had Philadelphia’s first “go-go boys,” catered to gays, trans people, drag queens and hustlers. When the Kit Kats, right, a naive young male vocal quartet performed at the Club 13 in the late 1960s, they had this to say:
“Friday night and Saturday night, when we were done at 2 am, part of our contract was, we would go upstairs and there was a private club that started at 2 am, and we’d start playing up there. But there they had some pretty bizarre shows! Like, we would take a break and on would come a female stripper. And by the end of her act she takes off her pasties – and it’s a guy! And all of a sudden, we looked at each other – I thought, ‘Hey, I’m from Fishtown, but we didn’t have this sort of thing in Fishtown!’”
Philadelphia’s Locust strip was never plastered with the screamingly lurid photos and suggestive artwork that was the trademark of New York’s old Times Square. Liquor Control Board regulations here kept that kind of advertising off the fronts of buildings and relegated it to the lobby partitions just inside. The conservative Philly red light district would have neon signs, yes, but garish photos of busty strippers in g-strings and pasties? No.
In the late ’60s, affable South Philadelphian Tony “Crow” Gentile, above, would open the Living Room in the 1301 Locust complex, followed by his famous All in the Family Lounge. He claimed he named the club not after the TV show, but after his pole-dancing girlfriend Denise and a dozen or so of her female relatives all of whom worked there. Gentile’s plan was to keep Locust Street an adult entertainment district, but to clean up the worst parts and the “bust-out” joints and turn them into “gentlemen’s clubs;” in other words, to make the naughty a little nicer.
In the ’70s, the building housed the All in the Family Lounge in the north side, the Club 13 in the basement and the Skabidoo on the south, Locust St. side, see photo, from 1972, above. Visible to the right is the 13th St. Dewey’s, the so-called “fag” location of the popular Center City coffeeshop chain. Located upstairs in the complex in the late ’70s was the gay, private membership bar called Harmony Club, which presented cabaret acts and drag shows, below.
THE BUMPY ROAD TO GENTRIFICATION
In the 1980s, a push to clean up the Locust strip gave birth to the 13th Street Business Association, an unorthodox coalition of bar owners, traditional business people and gay activists. Members, above, left to right, included the aforementioned strip bar owner Tony Gentile and Association co-chairs Michael Guzzardi, owner of the Chancellor Apartments and Mark Segal, publisher of the Philadelphia Gay News. It was perhaps this alliance and Gentile’s fight to make adult entertainment discreetly acceptable that made 1301 its last hold-out on Locust Street. In the early ’80s, part of the building became Whispers, below, an another after hours club.
Things dragged on throught the 1990s. The Nile, above, served as an after hours dance club for African American youths until 1996, when it was closed because of licensing issues. Whispers gave way to La Mirage and then finally the glossy black granite façade of Signatures, below. All these businesses met opposition from Ruthanne Madway and her ad hoc committee, Wash West Neighbors. It was a long battle. As late as 2000, in a spoof on Ed Rendell’s “Avenue of the Arts” for Broad Street, local papers still loved to refer to Locust St. as the “Avenue of the Tarts.” In 2002, when Signatures applied for an extension of its liquor license to cover what they promised would be a “classy, upscale restaurant,” Madway again fought tooth and nail, this time as executive director of the non-profit East of Broad Improvement Association. Signatures withdrew the application and, in 2005, after the LCB voted once and for all not to renew its amusement license, the club closed, leaving the building vacant for several years. (Thanks to Bill Ewing for added information on this.)
During those next few years, plan after plan was rejected, as the LCB and the community struggled to find a use that they deemed “both appropriate at this location and not detrimental to the economic revitalization of the community.” One plan, an innovative design by AlwaysbyDesign architects to be called thirteen01, below, was turned down because it included entertainment and alcohol as well as dining. Finally, for a short time, the sign on the 13th St. side was changed to Remy’s, below, which the EBA also opposed and which never even opened. This was the final blow to the corner’s long history as an entertainment area.
In 2011, Harriton High School alumni Matt Gorman, Scott Caplan and Farrell Ender opened Nest, a multi-level private membership day-care emporium. Green Eggs Café, the eco-friendly restaurant in the north end, doesn’t even serve alcohol. As for All in the Family owner Tony Gentile, he died in 1998, thirteen years before 1301 Locust would be home to an altogether different kind of family.