Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Is Little Pete's Worth Saving?

#savelittlepetes is now a thing. 

As the block home to Little Pete's at 17th and Chancellor will likely be rezoned to accommodate a 12 story Hudson Hotel, the diner's days are numbered. 

However, unlike the 50s-era Letto Deli recently demolished at 13th and Chancellor, Little Pete's iconic 17th Street location is only iconic in its interior and signage, all of which could be moved to another location if management chooses to. 

It could even feasibly be reopened on the ground floor of the new hotel. 

But Bob Skiba, the Gayborhood Guru of Hidden City uncovered a bit of history that will be lost with this unassuming parking garage. Like Letto Deli's location on 13th, Little Pete's was once a Dewey's Famous Diner. While Dewey's on 13th tolerated the Gayborhood's largely LGBT clientele as far back as the 1960s, its 17th location barred "a large number of homosexuals...wearing non-conformist clothing."

Civil protests were certainly not unheard of in the 60s, but four years before the famous Stonewall Riots in New York City -  events that typically mark the beginning of the Gay Rights Movement - 150 men and women staged a protest at Dewey's on 17th in 1965.

That same year, another one of the nation's first gay rights rallies was held at Independence Hall. Known as the Annual Reminder, these pickets were held until 1969 when the movement was moved to Christopher Street in New York City to coincided with that year's Stonewall Riots.

While Dewey's is long gone, the location's significance may perhaps be stronger than ever given recent strides in LGBT rights and marriage equality. Philadelphia is home to a lot of "firsts" but I'd be willing to bet that quite a few, even those active in the LGBT rights movement, know just how integral a role the City of Brotherly love has played. 

Even today, despite conservative politics in Harrisburg and throughout the Commonwealth, Philadelphia continues to lead the nation in progressive policies. From Congressman Brian Sims to the ever vigilant Councilman Jim Kenney, both more concerned with doing what's right than playing politics, we continue to be a city that pushes towards the side of acceptance, even if it's unpopular. For the second year in a row, Philadelphia has tied for first place in LGBT equality.

While we have leaders to thank, like State Attorney Kathleen Kane who refused to defend an unconstitutional ban on gay marriage, we also have a loud and opinionated public that refuses to accept injustice even when it may not coincide with their personal beliefs.

Growing up in the South I'm well versed in the hypocrisy of a region known for its "hospitality." It may seem ironic that Philadelphia, a city reputably rude, would also be so tolerant and accepting. Perhaps its because hospitality and politeness are a farce and rarely have anything to do with recognizing what's just. Anyone who's participated in a protest or sit-in knows how true that is. 

And that's exactly why Dewey's Famous on 17th Street may play a role in history, but as a building, isn't deserved of preservation. 

Our rebellious roots were alive and well in 1965. Philadelphia is no stranger to architectural lost, but we've never lost our way. Little Pete's is just a diner and the Hudson Hotel is no one's civil enemy. Philadelphia is still - and will remain - a city that fights for what's right.

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