The Philadelphia Gayborhood Guru

Stories of how Philadelphia's Gayborhood came to be, featuring photos, artifacts and documents from the John J. Wilcox Jr. LGBT Archives.

Month: March, 2013

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. According to Gayborhood Guru reader Rick Van Tassell, that only lasted a few months. (See his comment below.)

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.

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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