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: April, 2013

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

* * *

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!

Advertisements

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: