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.
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.
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
When 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, was 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.
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
In 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.
INTRODUCING NEW YORK IDEAS
The 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.
The 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.
In 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.
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: