Community outraged over whitewashing of Casarez mural… story by Jason Villemez, Philly Gay News

Community outraged over whitewashing of Casarez mural… story by Jason Villemez, Philly Gay News

The mural on 204 S. 12th Street honoring the legacy of LGBTQ pioneer Gloria Casarez was painted over on December 23. The building and the surrounding complex, which includes the former 12th Street Gym as well as the Henry Minton House (a former home to Black abolitionists) is being demolished to make way for a 31-story residential building.

A coalition of activists from the LGBTQ community, African-American community, and allies and neighbors had been petitioning the developer, Midwood Investment & Development, to save or preserve the mural, but the efforts were unsuccessful. The mural was created in 2015 by artist Michelle Angelina Ortiz and Briana Dawkins of Mural Arts. According to several community sources, no advance notice was given regarding the erasure.

Ortiz had previously reached an agreement with Midwood Investment & Development and Mural Arts to create a new art installation honoring Casarez and BIPOC LGBTQ history. However, in light of the whitewashing, Ortiz said in a statement that she would not go forward with the agreement.

“Midwood’s action has affected all the trust and work we have been building with the community so far,” Ortiz wrote. “My values are not in alignment with their process. I am ceasing my agreement with Midwood and Mural Arts feels strongly that they can not go forward either.” Ortiz also wrote that there had been discussions to preserve pieces of the mural and that neither she nor Mural Arts had any prior knowledge that the mural would be whitewashed.

In a statement on Twitter, Mural Arts also declined to move forward on a new installation, writing: “We are shocked to hear that A Tribute to Gloria Casarez has been painted out today. Casarez was a beacon of hope and possibility for the LGBTQ and Latinx community and with the loss of this iconic mural, we mourn the loss of Gloria all over again. We are consumed with deep sadness shared by Gloria’s family, the community, and the artist. When we first learned the building would be redeveloped, we invested months negotiating a letter of intent with Midwood to create a new tribute to the legacy of Gloria Casarez and Henry Minton, a leading Black abolitionist who once resided at that location. After this unexpected development, we cannot in good conscience move forward. We support artist Michelle Angela Ortiz’s decision to step away from the project and share the community’s devastation.”

Chris Bartlett, executive director of the William Way LGBT Community Center, told PGN “I’m deeply disheartened and angry to see the whitewashing and erasure of my friend Gloria’s image by Midwood, especially without first informing Gloria’s family and friends. Even though her image may be gone from the face of the building, Philadelphia holds its ancestors tight, and we’ll continue to pursue the justice that she taught us to fight for.”

In a letter to Midwood Investment & Development, Rue Landau wrote “Not only was this whitewashing done in bad faith, doing it right before the holidays, at the height of the pandemic that has caused so much pain and suffering for so many in our community, was cruel and heartless. There is no justifiable business reason to paint over a mural you plan to demolish. In fact, the money you spent doing it, could have gone to preserving more LGBTQ history in the neighborhood.”

Stephanie Haynes, a friend of Casarez, also sent a letter to Midwood which read in part: “Painting over Gloria’s mural this morning was the absolute wrong move. It was literally whitewashing Latinx queer history. You have no idea the anger and outrage that this move has caused in the community. Do you think we’ll forget? Good luck trying to sell this property or getting people to live in your building if you ever build it across a picket line of angry LGBTQ folks.”

The Washington Square West Civic Association also condemned the whitewashing and released the following statement: “WSWCA condemns Midwood Investment and Development’s whitewashing of the Gloria Casarez mural and the complete disregard of ongoing negotiations with Gloria’s family, friends, and neighborhood advocacy groups.  

“Gloria, a Latinx civil rights leader, and activist, was Philadelphia’s first director of the Mayor’s Office of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Affairs and passed away in 2014 after a long battle with cancer. As a leader, she fought for social justice, affordable housing, racial justice, and anti-oppression. The mural stood as a beacon within Wash West of the many values she represents. WSWCA’s mission is to protect and preserve the heritage of the community. Midwood’s undignified destruction of this iconic community symbol goes against everything WSWCA stands for.

“Before the unfortunate events that took place today, WSWCA was working on establishing a task force that would bring a new eye on development projects in the neighborhood. The blatantly intentional act of disrespect for a community champion and disregard for the residents’ voice only reinforces the need for WSWCA to identify opportunities and actions that would prevent the exploitation of our assets, deterioration of our culture, and history to remain unprotected.”

The Philadelphia Mayor’s Office of LGBT Affairs wrote “We join the community in its anger around the decision to whitewash this iconic piece of public art without forewarning. Painting over this mural was an unnecessary insult to the memory of Gloria, who was beloved by so many, and whose work as the first Executive Director of the Office of LGBT Affairs has endured through the years. She deserves a tribute that is fitting of her prominence and dedication to the community; the developers must make good on their promise to deliver another piece of public art that properly honors Gloria. We will continue to carry on Gloria’s legacy of ensuring that Philadelphia is an affirming place for all LGBTQ+ people — especially the most marginalized.”

A spokesperson from Midwood Investment & Development gave PGN the following statement: “We intend to honor our agreement with Mural Arts. This process and demolition has been planned and approved for months.”

Iconic mural of Latina LGBTQ activist painted over… story by Peter Crimmins, WHYY

Iconic mural of Latina LGBTQ activist painted over… story by Peter Crimmins, WHYY

The Gloria Casarez mural by Michelle Angela Ortiz at 12th and Locust streets was painted over on Wednesday, December 23, 2020. (Photo by Steve Weinik/Mural Arts)
The Gloria Casarez mural by Michelle Angela Ortiz at 12th and Locust streets was painted over on Wednesday, December 23, 2020. (Photo by Steve Weinik/Mural Arts)

An iconic LGBTQ mural on Philadelphia’s 12th Street, in the so-called Gayborhood, was painted over on Wednesday morning. The face of the Latina activist Gloria Casarez has been painted over with white.

The building, formerly the 12th Street Gym, was recently acquired by the New York-based Midwood investment and development company, with the intention of razing it and rebuilding. The intent to demolish drew the ire of LGBTQ activists who did not want their history to be carted away with the rubble.

The mural was created by artist Michelle Angela Ortiz through Mural Arts Philadelphia, which began talks months ago with Midwood toward an agreement on how to preserve the memorial – either saving it or creating something similar on the new construction.

Earlier this week, Midwood released a statement saying it reached a tentative agreement with Ortiz and Mural Arts to “create a new and more expansive art installation on South 12th Street that continues to honor LGBTQ activist Gloria Casarez and BIPOC [Black/Indigenous/People of Color] LGBTQ ancestors.”

The statement also said Midwood would commit to a public art piece honoring 19th century abolitionist Henry Minton, who is also associated with the property, and that Midwood would pay the costs of these public art pieces.

The whitewashing on Wednesday morning “shocked” Mural Arts executive director Jane Golden, who was not warned the mural would be painted over. As a result, Mural Arts no longer plans to work with Midwood.

“Casarez was a beacon of hope and possibility for the LGBTQ and Latinx community. With the loss of this iconic mural, we mourn the loss of Gloria all over again,” said Golden in a statement. “After this unexpected development, we cannot, in good conscience, move forward.”

The statement also said Ortiz would no longer be involved in a future public art project with Midwood.

Activists who have rallied behind the mural since last September have gone to Facebook and Instagram to voice their disdain for Midwood “literally whitewashing” LGBTQ history.

“Midwood is disgusting to do this behind our backs,” read a Facebook post from the account Keep Gloria On 12th Street.

In front of the freshly painted wall, on the chain link fence surrounding the building slated for demolition, someone hung a handmade sign that reads, “Midwood Sucks.”

When asked for comment, Midwood responded, “We intend to honor our agreement with Mural Arts. This process and demolition has been planned and approved for months.”

After months of negotiations, advocates ‘shocked’ to see mural of LGBTQ activist suddenly covered up … story by John McDevitt, KYW News Radio

After months of negotiations, advocates ‘shocked’ to see mural of LGBTQ activist suddenly covered up … story by John McDevitt, KYW News Radio

PHILADELPHIA (KYW Newsradio) — After a months-long effort to salvage the 2015 mural of the late Philadelphia Latinx LGBTQ activist Gloria Casarez, community advocates say they were surprised to learn it had been suddenly painted over.

The mural lies on a building in the Gayborhood on 12th Street, between Walnut and Locust streets. The building has been scheduled for demolition by New York-based Midwood Investment and Development.

However, after much criticism and outrage from the LGBTQ community, as well as Mural Arts Philadelphia, the company had agreed to communicate with community leaders about salvaging the mural.

Images of the mural being painted white circulated on Wednesday, and community leaders said they were not informed of this development.

In October, Midwood CEO John Usdan told KYW Newsradio that the building has to go.

“When we purchased the building, it was subject to an agreement with Mural Arts relocating the mural,” he said, “so there was an agreement in place giving us the right to do that.”

A joint statement from Mural Arts and Midwood — sent by Midwood on Wednesday — said both groups agreed to work with the original artist to create a “new and more expansive art installation … that continues to honor LGBTQ activist Gloria Casarez.” Rock Star Entrepreneurs Answer Big Questions in New Webinars Looking to scale your business? CEO Beatrice Dixon of The Honey Pot talks growth in a video by Inc. and Capital One. Ad by Capital One See More

It continued: “Midwood has agreed to contribute the full cost of the new art installation and work closely with the community in order to shine a light on these important chapters in Philadelphia’s history.”

However, in Mural Arts’ own separate statement, the organization said it was “shocked” to learn Casarez’s mural was painted over.

Gloria Casarez mural

The 2015 mural of the late Philadelphia Latinx LGBTQ activist Gloria Casarez in the Gayborhood was unexpectedly painted over on Dec. 23, 2020, advocates say. Photo credit John McDevitt/KYW Newsradio

“Casarez was a beacon of hope and possibility for the LGBTQ and Latinx community and with the loss of this iconic mural, we mourn the loss of Gloria all over again.

“When we first learned the building would be redeveloped, we invested months negotiating a letter of intent with Midwood to create a new tribute to the legacy of Gloria Casarez and Henry Minton, a leading Black abolitionist who once resided at that location. After this unexpected development, we cannot in good conscience move forward. We support artist Michelle Ortiz’s decision to step away from the project and share the community’s devastation.”

Casarez was Philadelphia’s first director of LGBT affairs. She died of breast cancer at the age of 42 in October 2014.

Casarez’s wife, Tricia Dressel, was appalled.

“It’s just a complete shock to the system,” she said. “I’ve been hearing people walking down the street saying, ‘What just happened? Where is it? It just disappeared.’ And to take white paint and literally paint over the faces and the lives of a mural that celebrates Black, indigenous, Latino, people of color — it’s absolutely appalling.”

Workers on-site refused to comment.

‘Really Disrespectful’: Philadelphia LGBTQ Community Saddened After Mural Of Iconic Activist Painted Over … story by Greg Argos, Channel 3 CBS News Philly

‘Really Disrespectful’: Philadelphia LGBTQ Community Saddened After Mural Of Iconic Activist Painted Over … story by Greg Argos, Channel 3 CBS News Philly

PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — The mural of LGBTQ activist Gloria Casarez was a fixture in Philadelphia’s famous Gayborhood. Tonight, the community is saddened after it was painted over Wednesday without a warning.

For more than five years, a mural honoring Gloria Casarez, a Philadelphia LGBTQ leader, has been proudly been displayed on what was the 12th Street Gym — that is until Wednesday afternoon.ADVERTISING

That’s when workers painted over the mural on the building, which has been bought and slated to be demolished.

“Really disrespectful,” Timothy Pepper said. “It means a lot to the people in the community. I live in the neighborhood. I live right here across the street. I see it from my apartment. I don’t understand why the builders and the people tearing it down didn’t consult the community more.”

Casarez was the city’s first director of LGBTQ Affairs. She died in 2014 from breast cancer. The mural, created by artist Michelle Angela Ortiz, dedicated the next year in the heart of the Gayborhood.

In October, dozens in the community came together demanding the mural stay on 12th Street, and it appeared an agreement was reached, but that now seems to have changed.

In a statement, Mural Arts spokesperson Cari Feiler Bender writes, in part, “We are consumed with deep sadness shared by Gloria’s family, the community and the artist. After this unexpected development, we cannot in good conscious move forward.”

“We support Michelle Angela Ortiz’s decision to step away from the project and share the community’s devastation,” Feiler Bender said.

Now with this mural gone, Feiler Bender says it’s unclear how Casarez will be honored in the future.

“It was sort of a permanent, we hoped, recognition of her contributions to the community,” Feiler Bender said. “There is a lot of sadness because Gloria, as I said, was loved and is iconic and it’s a sad day.”

Eyewitness News reached out to the owners of this building, Midwood Investment and Developments out of New York City.

A spokesperson there says they plan to fully honor their agreement with the city’s Mural Arts Program and that this building has been slated for demolition for weeks.

Eyewitness News was also told the painting of the mural is a precursor to that demolition.

Philadelphia community outraged after mural of beloved LGBTQ activist painted over … story by George Solis, 6ABC News

Philadelphia community outraged after mural of beloved LGBTQ activist painted over , story by George Solis, 6ABC News

Click here for video: https://6abc.com/video/embed/?pid=9018745

PHILADELPHIA (WPVI) — A mostly barren freshly painted white wall has many feeling angered near 12th Street in Center City.

The wall was once home to a mural of LGBTQ activist and Latinx community icon Gloria Casarez.

“I was really surprised and enraged,” said artist Michelle Angela-Ortiz, who created the mural.

The image of the mural was projected Wednesday night on the blank wall with the banner that says, “You can’t erase our history.”

The tribute to Philadelphia’s first director of LGBT affairs had adorned the former site of the 12th Street Gym in the Gayborhood since 2015. Casarez passed away in 2014 after a battle with breast cancer.

“That’s all I’ve known since I moved to the city and I look at it now and it’s just sad,” said resident Hayley Roberts.

This past fall, once word spread the site had been sold to New York City developer Midwood Investment and Development, many quickly began to wonder about the mural’s fate. Some even protested to ensure the mural would be preserved before the site was torn down.

Months of planning involving multiple parties including Mural Arts Philadelphia eventually led to the decision of a new tribute that would feature Gloria and Henry Minton, a leading Black abolitionist who once lived in the same location.

In an initial joint statement, Midwood and Mural Arts announced their partnership to commission the new installation.

“Mural Arts Philadelphia and Midwood Investment & Development today announce an agreement to work with original mural artist Michelle Angela Ortiz to create a new and more expansive art installation on South 12th Street that continues to honor LGBTQ activist Gloria Casarez and BIPOC LGBTQ Ancestors,” the statement read.

And then, out of nowhere, the mural was painted over Wednesday.

“After this unexpected development, we cannot in good conscience move forward,” said Jane Golden, the executive director of Mural Arts Philadelphia.

Golden said though it was understood the building and mural were going away, how it was done is really a major problem.

“When they go away, they have to go away with sensitivity and respect and we have to have time to mourn and acknowledge it,” she explained.

A spokesperson for Midwood says, “We intend to honor our agreement with Mural Arts. This process and demolition has been planned and approved for months.”

Angela-Ortiz is standing with others in the community expressing outrage. Ortiz said she still has no plans to work with Midwood in the future. Her priority now is honoring Gloria and Minton and all that they stood for.

“Even though this mural has been whitewashed, her history is not gone,” Ortiz said.

Councilman Mark Squilla’s office released this statement on the development:

“Councilmember Squilla is disappointed in the removal today of the Gloria Casarez mural, without notification to him or Mural Arts or the community. The developer, Midwood, and Mural Arts/the community entered into an agreement just yesterday to allocate $650,000 toward an art installation in memory of Gloria Casarez, the LGBTQ community and Henry Minton (a black abolitionist who once resided at the location). This act has undermined the agreement and the trust Mural Arts/the community had placed in Midwood.”

On Thursday, the Philadelphia Mayor’s Office of LGBT Affairs issued a statement saying it “was shocked and saddened to learn of the sudden removal of ‘A Tribute to Gloria Casarez’ mural on 12th Street.”

Mural dedicated to beloved LGBTQ activist in Philadelphia painted over without warning: ‘Really disrespectful’ by Muri Assunção, New York Daily News

Mural dedicated to beloved LGBTQ activist in Philadelphia painted over without warning: ‘Really disrespectful’ by Muri Assunção, New York Daily News

Members of the LGBTQ community in Philadelphia are outraged after a mural painted as a tribute to a beloved activist was painted over on Wednesday — without any warnings.

Gloria Casarez, Philadelphia’s first director of LGBT affairs, died on Oct. 19, 2014 after a five-year battle with breast cancer. She was 42.

In honor of her legacy, artist Michelle Angela Ortiz created a mural with more than 50 of Casarez’s friends and family “as a symbol of Gloria’s experiences reverberating out into the community where she worked,” she said in a statement. https://6abc.com/video/embed/?pid=9018745

The work — “A Tribute to Gloria Casarez” — was painted on the side of a building in Philadelphia’s famous Gayborhood and completed on Oct. 11, 2015.

The building has been sold and it’s slated to be demolished. On Wednesday, without any warning to the community, workers painted over the mural.

It is “really disrespectful,” resident Timothy Pepper told CBSN Philly.

“It means a lot to the people in the community,” he added. “I don’t understand why the builders and the people tearing it down didn’t consult the community more.”

The artwork was a project of Mural Arts Philadelphia, the nation’s largest public art program, “dedicated to the belief that art ignites change.” It was sponsored by the City of Philadelphia Mayor’s Fund.

“We are shocked to hear that ‘A Tribute to Gloria Casarez’ has been painted out today. Casarez was a beacon of hope and possibility for the LGBTQ and Latinx community and with the loss of this iconic mural, we mourn the loss of Gloria all over again,” Mural Arts tweeted on Wednesday.

“We are consumed with deep sadness shared by Gloria’s family, the community, and the artist,” the organization added.

A spokesperson to Mural Arts, Cari Feiler Bender, called the incident a “shocking and sad day.”

In 1999, Out Magazine named Casarez one of the “100 Most Influential Leaders of the New Millennium.”

Throughout her short life, she was also recognized for her social and justice activism by the NAACP, the Philadelphia Bar Association, Philly Pride, among several other organizations.

In the mural, “the circle surrounding Gloria’s portrait was inspired by Pima Mexican pottery from Chihuahua, Mexico where Gloria’s ancestors are from,” artist Ortiz explained in a statement. “Around the circle is one of Gloria’s quotes: ‘engage, find voice, expand your community.’”

On Wednesday, Ortiz projected the image of the mural onto the painted wall adding a banner that reads, “You can’t erase history.”

“Even though this mural has been whitewashed her history is not gone,” Ortiz told WPVI-TV.

Should a former Philly bathhouse gain landmark status because of its place in LGBTQ history? by WHYY & NPR’s by Starr Herr-Cardillo

Link to original article

Back when homosexuality was illegal in Philadelphia, the Camac Baths offered a safe place for queer subculture to exist. On April 12th, the Philadelphia Historical Commission will vote on whether or not to award landmark status to the Baths, a former Jewish schvitz that turned a blind eye towards gay patrons and became an underground “safe space” for white, gay men as early as the 1930’s.

As we approach the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall Riots, there are still no landmarked buildings in Philadelphia recognized explicitly for their association with LGBTQ history. While the city has a number of strong connections to LGBTQ history, pairing those stories and events with existing physical buildings can be challenging in a rapidly developing city.

Just two years ago, a demolition permit was pulled for Little Pete’s Diner, a popular 24-hour spot on 17th Street, which also happens to have been the location of one of the first direct-action protests for LGBTQ rights. In 1965, at the Dewey’s Lunch Counter Sit-In, protesters stood up to the restaurant’s policy against serving LGBTQ patrons. The event is recognized by historians as a significant precursor to Stonewall, though two years ago when news organizations covered the pending demolition, only LGBTQ publications made the connection. More often, it was overlooked.

The beloved diner wasn’t architecturally notable. It sat beneath an open-deck parking garage, which undoubtedly helped generate support for its demolition, but a broader discussion around its historical significance was never raised by the local preservation community. In 2018, a historical marker commemorating the event was installed outside, but the lunch counter is gone forever. Another 24-hour Dewey’s diner on the corner of 13th street and Chancellor was also a well-known gathering place for the LGBTQ community, a popular late-night spot in close proximity to the clubs in the Gayborhood. The low-slung, stone-clad circa 1955 restaurant building might have been a good contender for landmark status, but in 2014 it was demolished and replaced with condos. Modest architecture, but cultural significance

Part of the challenge of recognizing sites of more recent cultural significance is that the traditional preservation framework isn’t always well-equipped to recognize sites of modest or low architectural significance, not to mention buildings that don’t meet the standard 50-year age mark, which is where advocacy efforts can step in. Initiatives led by the National Park Service and National Trust for Historic Preservation seek to help navigate and resolve some of the common limitations, while underscoring the importance of recognizing LGBTQ heritage sites. Local organizations can also lead the charge. The Los Angeles Conservancy has been proactive in developing an LGBTQ Heritage initiative that confronts the inherent challenges around designation of these important cultural sites head-on. An excerpt from the organization’s microsite on the topic reads, “While some of the places highlighted on this microsite have architectural importance, many are modest in appearance and require a deeper look beyond their facades to fully understand their stories and cultural value…these stories come alive and are much more meaningful when the physical building in which they occurred still exists.” It’s worth noting that even the Stonewall Inn, which was designated a National Monument by President Barack Obama in 2016, isn’t a building of particular architectural significance. Yet it has become a deeply significant cultural landmark representing the struggle for LGBTQ rights because of the power of the events that occurred there. Camac Street looking northeast in 1934. The Baths occupy the large, five-story building on the right at the far end of the street, which already appears to have been modified with a stucco façade and projecting balconies. (Phillyhistory.org) Defining integrity Fortunately, Philadelphia’s Historic Preservation Ordinance is well equipped to distinguish between cultural significance and architectural significance, even if it hasn’t typically been interpreted to that effect. Compared to the National Register’s four, it offers ten generous criteria under which a nominator may build a case around a place’s significance, a number of which focus on association with cultural movements or events in history, unrelated to physical architectural form. This should be good news for Camac Baths which were nominated for their connection to the “cultural, political, economic, social, and historical heritage of the community,” specifically an association with the Jewish immigrant population and with Queer subculture. Still, the Commission’s staff comments on the properties’ nomination, put forth by the Keeping Society of Philadelphia, puzzlingly suggest that they are self-imposing a strict integrity requirement. The staff report, appended to the beginning of the nomination form, concludes, “The three structures included in the nomination, which were not purpose built as either a bathhouse or clubhouses, have lost any historic character and integrity they may have had from their many unsympathetic alterations Owing to their lack of integrity, they fail to inform the public of any historical significance they may have had and therefore fail to qualify for designation.” “Integrity,” in a preservation context, refers to a building’s ability to convey its significance through retention of important characteristics or qualities such as location, design, setting, feeling, and association. Philadelphia’s Historic Preservation Ordinance doesn’t explicitly require proof or consideration of integrity, though the Commission has, in the past, opted to impose one. Still, the very concept of integrity is, like many aspects of preservation, subjective. The Camac Baths, located at the Southeast corner of Chancellor and Camac Streets, was never a purpose-built bathhouse. Built in the early 20th century as a manufacturing or warehouse building, the simple, brick structure was converted to a bathhouse in 1928 and operated until 1984. Though the exterior of the building is relatively modest, it still retains some of the detailing from its time as the Baths, particularly on the interior. It is included as a contributing building within the East Center City National Register Historic District, which was reassessed in 2017. Not only does the Commission staff’s interpretation impose non-existent requirements of architectural integrity, it also doesn’t address the specific cultural context of LGBTQ heritage. At a time when it wasn’t safe to express gay sexual identity, part of the overall appeal of a place like the Camac Baths, might have been that it was under-the-radar. All too often, very little documentation or records of early LGBTQ history survives simply because leaving a record was a liability. According to the site’s nominators, the ability to connect such early accounts of homosexual activity is part of what makes the Camac Baths stand out. The nomination is backed by research by scholar Marc Stein, author of City of Sisterly and Brotherly Loves: Lesbian and Gay Philadelphia, 1945-1972, including first-hand accounts. The Baths were also a favorite haunt of well-known gay author Christopher William Bradshaw Isherwood, who lived in the area in the early 1940s and wrote about time spent there in his diaries, including a day-long visit with a Mexican ballet dancer. As Oscar Beisert of The Keeping Society puts it, “Camac Baths was never ‘gay.’ It was a place that appears to have turned a blind eye to men who had sex with men…a hiding place for people who weren’t allowed to exist.” Specifically, they were a place where white, closeted, and openly gay and bisexual men could engage sexually without fear of retribution. As the nominators acknowledge, it’s important to point out that the Baths were initially segregated. Many intersecting axes of identity affect and shape specific histories, even within marginalized communities. As an early example of underground gay culture in the United States, the Baths were a space that only a limited segment of the LGBTQ population had access to. The nomination was recommended by the Committee on Historic Designation in February. At least two letters of support have been submitted on behalf of the nomination, one by John F. Anderies, Director of the John J. Wilcox Jr. Archives at the William Way LGBT Community Center and another by the Board members of The Rainbow Heritage Network. When contacted for comment, Paul Chrystie, Deputy Director of Communications for the Philadelphia Historical Commission, responded that “the Commission as an entity does not comment on nominations other than through their votes to designate or not, based on whether a resource satisfies the criteria for designation.” Representatives for the Preservation Alliance of Greater Philadelphia plan to attend Friday’s meeting in support of designation; however, they do not wish to comment at this time.

Hey, Mayor Kenney: Here are the buildings that Philadelphians want historically preserved by Caitlin McCabe, The Philadelphia Inquirer

Few places in the nation are as old or historically significant as Philadelphia, the touted birthplace of America. Yet only 2.2 percent of the city’s buildings are historically designated. Mayor Kenney, here are some suggestions to get you started:

Link: Hey, Mayor Kenney: Here are the buildings that Philadelphians want historically preserved by Caitlin McCabe, The Philadelphia Inquirer

Few places in the nation are as old or historically significant as Philadelphia, the touted birthplace of America. Yet only 2.2 percent of the city’s buildings are historically designated. Compare that with Boston, where 7.2 percent of buildings are protected from demolition. Or, Washington, which boasts a 19.4 percent rate after rapidly ramping up its preservation efforts in recent years.

In 2017, honoring a campaign promise to better protect Philadelphia’s buildings, Mayor Jim Kenney invited preservationists, academics, developers, and city officials to examine the city’s policies. It wasn’t long until conflicting ideas and slow-moving bureaucracy clouded the process.

Meanwhile, prominent Philadelphia buildings continued to fall. A month before the May 2019 primary, Kenney unveiled the group’s recommendations, wide-ranging ideas that included creating a citywide survey of historic inventory, and introducing legislation, such as zoning bonuses, to incentivize preservation. Additionally, one of the most significant suggestions was the idea to create an “index” of buildings that, while not historically designated, could not be altered or demolished until the building’s history is properly reviewed.

Here’s how the index could work, according to the task force: Philadelphia’s Historical Commission staff would compile the list. Each property would have to meet one of the city’s designation criteria. If a demolition or alteration permit were sought for an indexed building, the commission would have a set time period to either add it to the local historic register (protecting it from demolition) or decline to do so. The index could include hundreds of properties. We received more than 50 submissions, many for already historically designated buildings. Some people suggested broader ideas, such as creating new historic districts. Two said all Philadelphia buildings built before the mid-1900s should be protected. One suggested properties along Jewelers Row, which are expected to be demolished to make way for a condo tower. The Inquirer chose 18 individual properties from reader submissions to profile here. Mayor Kenney, here are some suggestions to get you started:

The Henry Minton House 204 S. 12th St Nominator

Faye Anderson, from North Philadelphia said, “Minton was a caterer and leader in the free black community. He entertained Frederick Douglass … and provided John Brown a place to stay shortly before the Harper’s Ferry raid.” Henry Minton was a prominent black Philadelphia caterer who became a leader in the free black community. He lived and ran his business during the late 19th century inside 204 S. 12th St. in Center City, a 3½-story home. The building also served as a meeting place. Earlier this year, the house was nominated to Philadelphia’s historic register as a small piece of a larger submission that focused on preserving multiple pieces of the nearly block-long building, given their significance to the LGBTQ population. After a heated debate between Oscar Beisert, the nominator, and attorney Matthew McClure, who represented the building owner, Midwood Investment & Development, the Historical Commission voted to designate only the portion of the building on the corner of Chancellor and Camac Streets. This portion of 204 S. 12th St. was a central piece of the Camac Baths, a former Jewish schvitz that was frequented by the LGBTQ community. Faye Anderson, a preservation advocate in Philadelphia, says that with Minton’s ties to the property, it should be reconsidered for historic preservation. Minton was visited there by abolitionists Frederick Douglass and John Brown, she said. In 1880, an Inquirer article noted a court summary involving Minton, which described a local judge fining a man, John Donohue, “$1 and costs” — roughly $25 today — for committing “an assault and battery upon Henry Minton … a restaurant keeper on South Twelfth Street.”

“New City Council bill pushes for preservation of Philadelphia’s murals” by Hannah Kanik of PhillyVoice

A new bill aims to preserve murals in Philadelphia through creating a mural database and tracking system. The proposed ordinance would create a database of public artworks and establish protocols for those potentially impacted by construction.

Link: “New City Council bill pushes for preservation of Philadelphia’s murals” by Hannah Kanik of PhillyVoice

City Councilmember Katherine Gilmore Richardson introduced a bill on Thursday aimed at preserving Philadelphia’s public artwork created through the Mural Arts program. The bill would create a database cataloguing all the murals in the city, according to a press release from Gilmore Richardson office. It would also establish a notice and comment period on any construction that could affect a mural in the database.

Philadelphia has an estimated 3,600 murals created by Mural Arts, according to Visit Philadelphia. Mural Arts was established in 1984 to eradicate graffiti in the city. 

“Philadelphia is known for our beautiful murals that represent the diverse experiences of our residents, and famous Philadelphians who have given so much to our City,” Gilmore Richardson said. “It is our duty to help protect and preserve these important arts and culture monuments. We have lost too many beautiful murals in our City, and this bill will allow local communities a chance to have a voice in the process whenever a mural is at risk.”

Last October, public outrage sparked after a proposed construction project was set to destroy the mural of Philadelphia’s first director of LGBT affairs Gloria Casarez, which is painted on the wall of the former 12th Street Gym building. The property’s new owners, Midwood Investment and Development LLC, have plans redevelop the site that would not preserve that mural as it currently exists.

In recent weeks, Midwood officials have said they will honor Casarez in some way at the new building, though specifics remain unclear. 

“Midwood understands the significance of Gloria Casarez, her importance to the LGBTQ community and is dedicated to ensuring her legacy in the community,” a company spokesperson told PhillyVoice in October, “Midwood is committed to fully funding this effort and is in discussions with the artist of the mural, Michelle Angela Ortiz of Mural Arts Philadelphia, and William Way LGBT Community Center to create a meaningful and prominent way to honor Gloria Casarez on the 12th Street frontage of the new building.”

PhillyVoice reached out to Gilmore Richardson for comment and have not yet heard back.

Gilmore Richardson also introduced a separate resolution on Thursday that would establish Nov. 8-14 as National Apprenticeship Week, highlighting the importance of on the job training in mural arts.

“Apprenticeship programs help thousands of workers get on the job training and find stable employment in family supporting and sustaining careers,” the councilmember said. “With higher wages and a high return on investment, apprenticeship programs are beneficial to workers and business owners. As we work to recover from COVID-19, we will need to identify more opportunities for workers to reskill and upskill, and apprenticeship programs will be an important part of that solution.”

STEVE WEINIK/MURAL ARTS

HANNAH KANIK 
PhillyVoice Staff

hkanik@phillyvoice.com

12th Street Gym Is Great, But It Used To Be The Shvitz by Ron Avery, Hidden City

Link here: 12th Street Gym Is Great, But It Used To Be The Shvitz

NOVEMBER 19, 2014 | Ron Avery

Those svelte leotard-clad young women and muscle-building males at the 12th Street Gym are probably unaware that Center City’s most active workout venue was once filled with bald, paunchy, old guys who rarely touched a barbell. Until the mid-1980s the place was known as Camac Baths, the most modern and extensive of several such privately-owned Eastern European-style shvitzbads (sweat baths) in the city. Camac was the most popular of all of the baths among Jewish men, who simply called the place “the Shvitz.” camac poster Alexander Lucker opened Camac in 1929 at the tail end of an era when access to a bathtub and hot water was a luxury.

At the beginning of the 20th century, a charitable organization surveyed the Jewish neighborhood around 4th and South Streets. Of 1,900 residents queried, there was a grand total of 11 in-home bath tubs, half of which were used to store coal or wood. The organization promptly built the area’s first bathhouse on the 400 block of Gaskill Street, which provided showers, soap, towels, and wash tubs to clean clothes (both men’s and women’s bathhouse buildings on Gaskill Street survive). To say that Camac had a lot to offer is an understatement.

Along with three steam rooms and a variety of massages, there was a lunch counter, a barber, a podiatrist, a small ice-cold swimming pool, a few weights, a half-sized basketball court, and a four-wall handball court. There were also beds upstairs where members too exhausted to go home could sleep overnight. In the early years there were also a dozen guys who administered anal irrigations. An enema was thought to be very healthy at the time. In addition to all of this, tables were available for a friendly game of pinochle and lounge chairs to relax, doze, or even smoke cigars. There were other private bathhouses in the immediate area, like Abe’s and Kratchman’s, both on Monroe Street in Queen Village. Bershad’s Russian and Turkish Baths was on the 400 block of Lombard until it closed in the 1960s.

Among them all Camac was the most popular and lasted the longest. Eddie and Arnold Lucker–the founding owner’s sons–kept the place open 24 hours a day, 365 days a year for decades. In a 1982 interview in the Jewish Exponent, Eddie Lucker declared, “Christmas, Yom Kippur, New Year’s Eve, Pearl Harbor, we’re open.” Members checked in at the Camac Street entrance, just off Walnut Street. There was no 12th Street entrance at the time. They were issued a locker key and a white sheet. Young guys might wear gym clothes for racquetball or basketball, but most men wore only their issued sheet tied toga-fashion or else just paraded around nude. Camac was primarily an all-male world, but there was a smaller women’s section open three days a week.

All of the sweating occurred in the building’s lower level. You could start in the “hot room” which held a dry heat of about 160 degrees provided by long rows of standard radiators. Wood chairs were much too hot to sit in without a thick lining of sheets. About every five minutes an attendant would arrive with glasses of ice water and wet towels. Few could last more than 15 minutes in this blazing Sahara. In the former “pine steam room,” patrons practiced the old-world detox custom of rubbing oneself down with salt before they entered. The room is still in use today, though the bucket of coarse salt no longer sits by the door nor do they use the peculiar chemical that emitted the pine odor. The most unique sweating ritual was the Russian Bath, or playtza. Here was a room heated to more than 180 degrees by a furnace packed with tons of stone. The victims lay prone on a marble slabs while a hearty attendant hosed the man down and scrubbed him down with soapy oak leaves. The Russian Bath cost extra as did a wet, soapy rub-down outside the playtza, where the masseurs violently tenderized the customer like a cut of beef and expertly cracked every joint.

A lot has changed in the past 30 years, but traces of the old Camac endures. Down in the basement level the tile walls, ceiling tiles, and floor tiles are all original. This is where the steam rooms were, and one steam-filled room remains untouched. The original lunchroom, which looked like an old-time soda fountain, has been replaced by a much larger, cleaner cafeteria. The menu now focuses on fresh juices and healthy eating. The clientele has undergone three basic changes since Camac opened. The majority of guests began as mostly Jewish men. Then, when it opened as 12th Street Gym, the members transitioned to to mostly gay men. Now, the majority of patrons are straight folks and families. One family membership to the gym belongs to Mayor Michael Nutter. There is even a supervised kids play room to accommodate exercising mothers, says manager and owner Frank Baer. Copper door to the elevator. A bit narrow by today’s standards | Photo: Peter Woodall Copper door to the elevator. A bit narrow by today’s standards | Photo: Peter Woodall One reason Eddie Lucker sold Camac was the cost of the 35 employees needed to keep the place running around the clock. The new gym requires even more employees these days. There are about 70 classes for members–everything from cycling to “warrior workout” to yoga to exotic power dancing. A virtual temple of well being, the six floors above the gym are currently occupied by the Camac Center–a collective space for health professionals that include psychologists, psychiatrists, a dermatologist, chiropractor, massage therapy, and more. The old crowd would be baffled if they could see the place today. Camac Baths without the corned beef sandwiches, cigar smoking, and card playing would be heartbreaking. Though, what would really blow their minds is the Zumba lessons, therapy sessions, and kiddie playroom right in the middle of their old Shvitz.The post can be short or long, a personal intro to your life or a bloggy mission statement, a manifesto for the future or a simple outline of your the types of things you hope to publish.

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