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.

Category: Locust St.

Lincoln, Lincoln, I’ve Been Thinkin’


1896 Lincoln AdThe Lincoln, at the southwest corner of Camac and Locust Streets, mostly fits into the “Straight Snapshot” category, with a history that includes the YWCA, the Seamen’s Institute and a swanky nightclub.  However, there was a brief, but important, LGBT connection in the early 1980s. 

THE 1890s PHILADELPHIA APARTMENT BOOM

1905 near Starr GardenPhiladelphia grew at a tremendous rate in the second half of the 19th century. During the period from 1860 to about 1910, the city tripled in population from 500,000 to a little over a million and a half, just about what it is today. Along the southern edge of Center City, it was not unusual to find eight or nine families of immigrants crammed into three story rowhouses that were known as Philadelphia’s “horizontal slums,” left. For middle class Philadelphians looking for housing further west near the rising City Hall, new options were appearing. One of these was a recent concept called the “apartment hotel.” The apartment hotel took an already socially acceptable model for mutiple unrelated people to reside under one roof—the hotel—and extended it to families. Apartment hotels included not only rooms for rent by the night, but suites of rooms or apartments, that could be rented by the month. High end apartment hotels included dining rooms, barbers, hair dressers and laundry and maid service. Middle class Philadelphians could now maintain a convenient city residence to entertain in during the winter and still escape to their shore homes in the summer.

1899 LincolnAt the end of the nineteenth century, much of what is now Philadelphia’s Gayborhood was a desirable residential area. It was close to the business and entertainment district on South Broad Street, the shopping areas on Chestnut and Market Streets and the Library Company and Historical Society on Locust Street. One of the first of these modern apartment hotels was the Gladstone, completed in 1890 at Pine and 11th Streets, where Kahn Park now stands. A few years later, the Lincoln, right, opened on Locust Street at Camac. The Lincoln had 52 “artistic and comfortable” rooms and 26 baths, a dining room, a sitting room and private rooms for luncheons and dinners. From the 1890s through the 1910s the Lincoln was home to upper middle class bachelors and comfortable bourgeois families who spent the summers at Cape May and hosted debutante parties for their daughters. One resident, Miss Elizabeth Crawford Washington, was a descendent of the grandfather of our first president. A member of the Colonial Dames of America, Miss Washington now lies in Laurel Hill Cemetery.

Fun Fair 1922

IT’S FUN TO STAY AT THE YWCA

1922 the friend ywcaIn 1920, the Young Women’s Christian Association bought the building and operated it as a league branch, the first hotel in Philadelphia exclusively for women. The YWCA toyed with the idea of renaming the building the more pointedly feminist “Betsy Ross Hotel,” but voted to stay with “The Lincoln.” They advertised to “business and professional women” and offered classes in dressmaking, homemaking, music and psychology. In 1922, their “Rainbow Division,” above, held a bazaar at the Lincoln to raise money for their Sisterhood Fund, which provided scholarships for girls who wanted to take educational courses.

1953 Tabu adThe YMCA continued to operate out of the Lincoln, providing a comfortable, safe place for women in Philadelphia until about World War II. In the late 1940s, when nightclubs sprang up all over Locust, Camac, St. James and Thirteenth Streets, the first floor of the Lincoln was home to the Tabu supper club and musical bar. It was owned and run by Stanley Schwartz and Dominick DiMattia who also ran the Alhambra in Maple Shade, New Jersey. This ad for Tabu, right, and its “ultimate in food,” is from the 1953 Philadelphia Yellow Pages.

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SCI

1959 SCI HotelThe Seamen’s Church Institute, founded in 1834, was an affiliate of the Episcopal Church. Its mission was to provide spiritual care, legal help and education to mariners. In 1957, when it lost its enormous city-block wide Walnut Street facility near the river to the plans for Independence Park, it moved into the Lincoln further west on Locust Street. The photo, right, with the SCI Hotel sign, was taken in 1959, looking east from 13th Street. As the YWCA did for women, the SCI at the Lincoln offered not only beds but a social space for seamen, a haven where they could find wholesome recreation, companionship and moral support while stationed in Philadelphia. In 1974, the SCI relocated to the former Corn Exchange Bank in Old City at Arch and Third Streets, closer to the Delaware River.

THE SECOND HOME OF THE GCCP

222CamacOn November 27, 1981, the first Gay Community Center of Philadelphia on Kater Street closed its doors, to re-open a month later at 222 Camac St, in the former Lincoln Hotel, by then renamed The Midston. The photo, left, by PGN photographer Harry Eberlin, shows volunteers working on remodeling the space. They spent thousands of dollars and many hours making the aging structure usable. At the same time, the Center’s administration was reorganized from the old two committee system to a new Board of Directors, co-chaired by John Cunningham and Laurie Barron. 1982 Gay Rights Bill copyJohn is visible on the far left, in this PGN photo, right, taken a few months later, at a party at the Center celebrating the passage of the city’s gay rights bill in August, 1982.

As had happened at Kater Street before, after only two years, the enormous amount of work they did to make improvements to their rented space only earned the volunteers at the Center a triple rent increase. Even though the co-chairs were able to talk the landlord, Grace Richardson, down to only a double rent increase, it was too much for the organization to bear. The Center at 222 S Camac St. closed on December 15, 1982, to be reborn for four years as Penguin Place, the “Community Center without walls.”

THE LINCOLN IS REBORN ONLY TO DIE IN FLAMES

For about 10 years, the building continued to decay as The Midston, a ninety-two room fleabag hotel that rented tiny rooms by the hour and was the site of several stabbings. In 1984, during the first wave of the rehabbing of Locust Street, Historical Developers, Inc, bought the building for one million dollars and announced that they would spend another four million to renovate it into 46 luxury apartments. The firm’s president, Thomas Scannapieco said that the plan was to rent the units our for five years, then sell them as condominiums.

2010 Lincoln

It wasn’t until 2006 that the owner began that condominium conversion. New appliances and fixtures were being installed that summer, when a four-alarm fire broke out in the building on the night of June 30th. By the time firefighters had the flames under control, the upper story wooden joists had collapsed, crashing down through the lower floors. All that was left was the exterior walls. Locust Street was closed to traffic for weeks as cranes scooped out debris from the site. Neighbors were not happy.

RUMORS

2014 8 LincolnThe building remained a boarded up shell for five years until rumors began to circulate in 2011. Cecil Baker and Associates presented a plan to renovate the building, that included preserving the exterior and creating 6 studio, 32 one bedroom and 6 two bedroom apartments for a total of 44 units. The Washington West Zoning Committee voted not to oppose the project, but nothing happened. In September of 2013, rumors again circulated that new owner David Perelman of Pelican Properties had plans to renovate the property. In June of 2014, Philadelphia Magazine confirmed that work was due to start soon. A few weeks ago, in August of 2014, fencing appeared around the Lincoln, left.

If work continues, the Lincoln will reopen to a very different neighborhood than Locust Street was just eight years ago in 2006. The hundred year old structure is now surrounded by several new restaurants including Vedge, Little Nonna’s, Green Eggs Café and Nomad Roman, not to mention the string of popular new spots on the 13th Street corridor. Across narrow Camac Street, Uncle’s has been reborn as U Bar. The same nearby amenities that made the Lincoln Hotel a desirable place to live in the 1890s make it just as desirable today. The face of the Gayborhood has changed while the derelict building slumbered.

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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:

Keeping It All in the Family: Part II

Nest logo

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.

1959 Locust & 13th W

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.”

WE’RE NOT IN FISHTOWN ANYMORE
1966 Kit Kats

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!’”

CONSERVATIVE HONKY-TONK

1983

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.

1972 09 06 13th & Locust 214-208

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.

1977 Harmony Club

THE BUMPY ROAD TO GENTRIFICATION

13thBusAssoc

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.

1980s Locust & 13th  Whispers

Nile 1996

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.)

2002 Signatures Philly Bricks

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.

2008 thirteen01 - always by designthirteen01: the design that was never built

2009 RemysRemy’s: the club that never opened

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.

Nest

Keeping It All in the Family: Part I

Nest logo

Across 13th street from the parking lot I discussed last time stands the enigmatic building that now houses Nest, a pre-school “early enrichment center” with a playspace, coffee lounge and kids’ hair salon; the ultimate family friendly space, right in the heart of the Gayborhood at 1301 Locust St.  It’s an amazing and ironically amusing transformation from the nest of hustler and strip bars that called the space home for so many years.

MIDDLE CLASS RESPECTABILITY

Locust & 13th NWThe corner began urban life in the late 1840s as part of a block of typical Philadelphia rowhouses built on the north side of Locust Street between 13th and Juniper Streets. It was an upper middle class neighborhood, inhabited by doctors, businessmen and lawyers.  In 1891, a number of respectable ladies assembled at the residence of Mrs. Crawford Arnold, 1301 Locust Street, on the northwest corner, to plan for the organization of the Pennsylvania Society of the Colonial Dames of America. This Society, “composed entirely of women who are descended in their own right from some ancestor of worthy life,” now has its home at 1630 Latimer Street, near Rittenhouse Square.

Photos through the 1920s show an anomalous pine tree shading the sidewalk on the 13th Street side of the building, see photo, above, left. How it got there, no one seemed to know, but a note on the back of the photo at the Library Company says that it was planted by Alexander Hamilton!

“FOR THE HOME OF TODAY”

Crane 1920s copy

In 1926, both 1301 and 1303 Locust Street were razed and the current simple deco building was put up. The reason for the low, boxy shape is that the building was designed by Ralph Bencker, who also designed Horn & Hardart Automats, as a commercial showroom for plumbing fixtures.1927 9 25 13th & Locust Crane Crane Plumbing Co. had begun in the 19th century, producing plumbing supplies, valves and pipefittings. In the 1920s, they became one of the first American manufacturers of decorator lines of matching bathroom fixtures; toilet, sink and tub ensembles like the ones pictured above. To showcase their products, they opened showrooms all over the country, with the largest in Atlantic City. The one here at 13th and Locust Streets just happened to be oddly graceless and out of proportion to the surrounding buildings. In the Dallin Aerial Survey photo, left, from 1927, the Crane Showroom is the long, low, bright, sanitary white building left of center near the bottom. The large, old Free Library building is across the street to the east, where a parking lot sits today. Just north of the showroom is the six story Gramercy Building, which had been built in 1915, and next to that, across Chancellor St., is a lot where the Chancellor Hotel would be built. Beyond the lot is the commercial complex that houses Woody’s today.

May 1946 The Cove

NIGHTCLUBBING, PHILLY STYLE

Cove copy1940s Philadelphia was home to a vibrant music and nightclub scene; entertainers  knew they had to make it in Philly to succeed on the national circuit. Perhaps the biggest and most famous Philadelphia club entrepreneur was Frank Palumbo, who had begun his career at his grandfather’s eponymous Palumbo’s on 9th and Catharine Streets in South Philadelphia. In the 1940s Frank owned a string of successful clubs in Center City: Ciro’s, The 20th Century Tavern, the C.R. Club and the famous Click! on Market Street near 16th. On March 19th, 1943, Palumbo opened The Cove, a dinner and cocktail spot, in the former Crane showroom at Locust and 13th Streets. 139 1946 06 15 BB Cove Lounge copyAbove is a souvenir photo of young ladies out for a night on the town on May 9, 1946 at the Cove. Top notch entertainers like Dooley Wilson (featured in the film Casablanca), The Mills Brothers and Fats Waller would make the club an overwhelming success. See the 1946 ad, left, for the Five Red Caps who later recorded for Mercury Records. The Palumbos soon hit on the idea of turning the building into a complex of small operations including The Cabin Restaurant upstairs and an additional Show Bar, since each room could operate under the same single license on the site. In November of 1946, the Palumbos, operating as The Cove, Inc., acquired ownership of the two story building for $165,000 dollars. In the early 1950s the building held Palumbo’s Twentieth Century on the ground floor and Club 13 in the basement. About 1948, Buddy Greco was discovered by Benny Goodman while playing there and in 1952, Dizzie Gillespie performed there. The Palumbo family still owns the building today under the 70 year old “The Cove, Inc.” name.

Next time: There goes the gayborhood.

Straight Snapshot: An Empty Lot That’s Full of Stories

We rarely think about the negative spaces in the fabric of a neighborhood: those odd gaps between buildings that now hold only a dumpster or two, or the countless generic parking lots surrounded by chain link fences and guarded by boom gates. They weren’t always there; all the utilatarian, asphalt covered lots around the Gayborhood once had other lives and told other stories. Many Philadelphia parking lots date from the 1930s and 1940s, when the increasing number of private cars made it profitable to tear down expensive-to-maintain buildings, leaving the city pockmarked with empty lots for parking. Often meant to be temporary, most lots have lived on for sixty, seventy and eighty years; they require little investment and provide a high return.

NE CORNER: LOCUST & 13th STREETS

The E-Z Park lot on the northeast corner of Locust and 13th Streets has been there so long, it’s hard to imagine walking down Locust St. without getting a glimpse of Voyeur nightclub peeking out from St. James Street. During the day, the space is filled with the cars of shoppers and workers in the nearby offices. At night, it provides parking for theatre-goers and patrons of the Gayborhood’s many bars and restaurants. It’s also a convenient shortcut between Woody’s, Uncles and Voyeur. The lot’s history is bound up with medical pathologies and a plan to provide free books for Philadelphia’s citizens.

CALLING DR. MUTTER

The College of Physicians of Philadelphia, founded in 1787,  is the oldest private medical society in America. In 1859, Dr. Thomas D. Mütter, left, the Chairman of the Department of Surgery at Jefferson Hospital, donated his pathology collection to the College. He also added a $30,000 endowment to administer the collection, with the stipulation that the College build a fireproof building to house it within five years. Soon after, they purchased three lots on the northeast corner of 13th and Locust Streets and razed the rowhouses there, creating a parcel sixty feet along Locust St. and a hundred and ten feet along 13th, running back to Centre Street (now St James Street).

For the design of their new home, they hired 22 year old Philadelphia architect James Windrim, who would later design the Masonic Temple on Broad St. and the Academy of Natural Sciences on the Parkway. His plans called for a fairly simple, two story pressed brick structure. In 1883, they added a third story, see photo, above, from about 1900. The first floor would house the Mütter Museum of medical pathologies and a meeting room. On the second floor were a lecture room and the medical library, below. The Inquirer applauded the construction of the new building not only for “elevating the character of Philadelphia, but, for advancing improvements in medical science.”

Even with the added third floor, by 1900 the College had outgrown the space. In 1908, they laid the cornerstone for a new College building and Mütter Museum on 22nd Street. In 1909, they abandoned the Locust Street location and moved to 22nd Street, where they remain today.

MOVING THE FREE LIBRARY

The first Free Library of Philadelphia, which had been chartered in 1891, opened in 1894 in three rooms in the southwestern part of City Hall. The rooms were so small that patrons couldn’t browse the shelves, they had to call for books at the front desk. In only a few months, it was obvious that the City Hall space wasn’t large enough. Early in 1895, the Library moved its 20,000 volumes to the old Concert Hall at 1219-1221 Chestnut Street, holding a grand opening on Washington’s Birthday. The Free Library was to stay there for fifteen years. When it needed to expand again, the Trustees looked to the former College of Physicians building at Locust and 13th, see ad, right. The Inquirer argued that although location was not as central, the new building would have much more space for collections. In addition, it was near the Historical Society which was diagonally across the street and the Library Company which was a half block up Locust at Juniper. The paper speculated that Locust St. might become a new, if temporary, literary center of the city; temporary, because plans were already being discussed for a new central library building on the unfinished Fairmount Parkway. The photo, below, is of the 13th Street Free Library in 1916. In the background at the left, you can now see the majestic St. James Hotel, which had opened in 1901 on the southeast corner of 13th and Walnut Streets. The photo, above left, is of the Free Library’s Children’s Department, located two doors east at 1233 Locust St.

In 1929, the Free Library did, in fact, move to a new home on the Parkway where it is today. Soon after, the 67 year old building at Locust and 13th Streets was torn down and within a year cars were parked on the spot, see photo, left, from 1931. Locust Street, of course, never became a literary center, but developed into an entertainment district after World War II, full of nightclubs and musical bars. By the 1960s, those nightclubs had begun to decline into seedy showbars and finally, strip clubs. Perhaps the corner stayed a parking lot simply because it wasn’t a very desirable neighborhood to build in any more. The photo, below, is from 1959, looking at the wall at the east end of the lot.

In the 1970s, a flurry of urban rehab activity changed the face of the north side of Locust between Camac and the 13th St. lot.  1331 and 1231 Locust were razed and rebuilt and 1335, Lombardi’s Musical Bar in the photo, above, was torn down to expand the lot. Only 1227 and 1229 were left of the original buildings.

The new building at 1333 Locust, where the Philadelphia FIGHT and the AIDS Library are now, provides a large, blank  western wall which serves as a canvas for “Philadelphia Muses,” above. The mural was done in 1999 by Meg Saligman for the Mural Arts program as a tribute to the nearby Avenue of the Arts. Many of the characters represented in the mural are local community members; Opera Company director Craig Hamilton, Pennsylvania Ballet soloist Meredith Rainey and Philadanco’s Kim Y. Bears among them. Today, they all  look down from that wall onto the busy Gayborhood corner, transforming that dreary, 80 year old parking lot into what Saligman calls “a fantastical artscape.”