"Paul Schmidt" (born 1939), Interviewed January 25, 1993

Philadelphia Neighborhoods

Map of Philadelphia neighborhoods.

by Marc Stein. Copyright © Marc Stein 2009. All rights reserved.


I interviewed "Paul Schmidt" in his high-rise apartment in Center City, Philadelphia, on 25 Jan. 1993. He asked that I not use his real name and instead suggested that I refer to him as "Paul"; I later supplied the pseudonymous last name "Schmidt." I believe "Mark Kendall," who I had interviewed earlier in January, contacted "Schmidt" to ask if I could interview him and I then followed up. I think they knew each other because both were involved in the Philadelphia chapter of Black and White Men Together. When I tried to contact "Schmidt" in 2013 to ask about putting this transcript online, the telephone number from 1993 was not in service and I was not otherwise able to find him.

"Schmidt" provided me with the following biographical information:

Year of Birth: 1939

Place of Birth: Philadelphia

Place of Mother's Birth: Philadelphia

Mother's Occupation: Housewife

Place of Father's Birth: Philadelphia

Father's Occupation: Engineer

Race/Ethnicity: White/German/Irish

Religious Background: Catholic

Class Background: Lower Middle Class

Residential History

1950s: Kensington, Philadelphia

Late 1950s-1960: New York City

1960s: Kensington, Philadelphia

Early 1970s: Camden, New Jersey

Early 1970s: Fairmount, Philadelphia

Early 1970s-Early 1980s: Germantown, Philadelphia

Mid-1980s-1993: Center City, Philadelphia

Interview Transcript

Marc Stein Interview with "Paul Schmidt," 25 January 1993. Transcribed by Tracy Nathan, Nathan Wilson, and Marc Stein.

MS: Why don't you tell me something about your first coming out experience?

PS: I was in Atlantic City with some friends and I was introduced to a Cuban man on the beach, an older man. I was twenty years old then. And he bought us lunch. It was a group. We had money. We weren't hustling or anything. We were just there and he very was nice. He bought us lunch. And he invited us up to New York. And we got on the train and went to New York, myself and another friend of mine. They were Cubans. And we went to this fabulous party up around 89th and Broadway, somewhere up there. Went to this fabulous party. And I met another younger person at that party and we went to his apartment in lower Manhattan and that was my coming out.

MS: Do you remember what year?

PS: 1958-59. That's what I remember. And that was truly a coming out. I didn't know who I was really.

MS: Do you remember what your feelings were as this was all happening?

PS: No, not really. I always knew that I was attracted to men, and yet not truly to like Irish or European men. Mostly Latins. More Latins at that time. And this person was very nice. And I managed. I was in the service at that time when this all happened. And then I was transferred to New York. And that continued on just for a very short time. It just stopped. And that was it.

MS: What stopped?

PS: The relationship with this particular person. For whatever reason, I forget. That was like thirty, thirty-five years ago.

MS: Now you had grown up in Philadelphia, right? And do you ever remember any sort of gay encounters when you were growing up.

PS: No.

MS: Nothing like that?

PS: No.

MS: Do you remember ever meeting or seeing any gay people?

PS: No. I lived in a very tight neighborhood. Very white, very tight.

MS: What part of the city was that again?

PS: That was Kensington. It was very provincial. In high school I did meet some. And like again, I didn't even realize what I was until after high school. But there was maybe one person in high school who was gay, but we were just friends. There was no sexual attraction or anything. He was just strange.

MS: How did everybody know that he was gay?

PS: No, I don't think so. No, it was an art crowd. It was an art course high school kind of thing. And we were called names occasionally by some of the other ones in the school, but I just couldn't associate myself with what they were talking about. I just couldn't. I always thought maybe I was a princess.

MS: So I'm curious about this other gay guy. Was he openly gay?

PS: No, not at that time. There was nothing. It was after, looking back on it in later years with myself. And then I did meet him in the Allegro at 15th and Spruce years later. This was like middle '60s, early '60s. But I it was just a very "hello, how ya' doing" kind of thing. It was strange. After adolescence and going into the twenty years old and twenty-five year old, people were coming in and out of your life. Now I don't mean sexually, I just mean in general. You meet people, that kind of thing.

MS: Now when did you enter the military?

PS: When I was right out of high school.

MS: So that was in the late '50s?

PS: Yeah. '57.

MS: Did you ever serve overseas?

PS: No.

MS: And were there ever any gay encounters while you were in the military?

PS: As far as people, yeah, but not acting out. No sexual nothing.

MS: So what do you mean by people?

PS: Well, that they were gay. And we'd carry on and laugh and giggle and talk and go out in town and stuff like that. Out to bars in New York. This was all in New York. But no, not really. Not, per se, in the military.

MS: Not in the military. But while you were in the military, as the story that you told indicates, you were beginning to go out to gay bars.

PS: Yeah. I realized that I was probably gay because I was meeting gay people. Before I hadn't met any gay people, except that one kid in high school, and he didn't know what he was either. We were kids. And I think kids grow up a lot faster today than they did, we're talking 1950s. America was entirely different.

MS: So did you date women when you were in high school?

PS: No. I took a girl to the senior prom but that was it. Oh I knew there was something different, but I couldn't put my finger on it. And I didn't know, because I didn't have the experience. No one told me what was going on until I got into the service.

MS: So how did people tell you in the service? How did you find out in the service about it?

PS: Well! "Who are you, honey?"

The Westbury - Bar Sign and Ad

Left: Sign of the Westbury Bar, The Gay Dealer (1970), cover. Right: Advertisement for the Westbury, c. 1950.

MS: Did people talk about it openly, is that what you mean?

PS: Yes, yes. Oh, yeah. I met people who, even though we were in the same age group, were years ahead of me in terms of life experiences. They really were.

MS: And was it those people who took you out to bars?

PS: Right.

MS: And it was someone from the military, too, who you were with in Atlantic City that time?

PS: Yes, they were military people on leave and in civilian clothes. I was here in Philadelphia on a special project. And I stayed here so many months. And that's when I started to come out. It was like 1958-59.

MS: Do you remember the first bar that you walked into?

PS: Yes. It was called the Westbury, at 15th and Spruce. It was a revolving door. The Westbury Apartments have a revolving door. Now this is all closed up. At that time, the bar also had a revolving door. It was the strangest thing. You would think you were going into a department store and here you walked into this gay bar. And we were all underage. We were like eighteen, nineteen years old then. And I was introduced into that by people who were in Philadelphia, who were in the military at that time. But there was no carrying on. No, I didn't have any carrying on.

MS: But can you describe what the bar was like, aside from the revolving door?

PS: It had an Egyptian motif. Like hieroglyphics. And it was empty when we went in there. It was maybe six o'clock and it was in the summer. It was still daylight. But it was evening. So it was in the summer months and there were very few people there. And it had booths and it had the bar. And it was painted and it had these Egyptian hieroglyphics around it.

MS: And do you remember your reaction when you walked into the place?

PS: I said, "Is that all there is to this?" There was nothing going on. There was someone over in the corner with a big straw hat on. And she lifted up her head and put her head down, and someone said, "That's Sarah Vaughan." Have you heard of Sarah Vaughan?

MS: Yeah.

PS: I said, "Who?" I remember the singer Sarah Vaughan and she, with this big straw hat, down she went. And that was the end of that. That was it. That was it for Philadelphia. But right after that, one of the same guys who I was at the Westbury with, the two of us went to Atlantic City. That's where we met the Cuban and then we went to New York. And that whole thing started. And then right after that, I was transferred to New York. And while I was in New York, there was much more going on in terms of a gay life. Not the sexual acting out, just the gay life. Going out to bars and meeting more and more people there who were gay and out. Some people turned themselves in and were discharged from the service. Someone who I was very, very close with in terms of just a friendship turned himself in. I thought to myself, "Oh, why didn't he tell me he was gonna' do that so I could have at least had a couple months to break away from him." Because I didn't want to be discharged. I mean there was no reason to be discharged. But a lot of people just didn't want to go through the three years of service, because it was three years basically at that time. And I enjoyed myself in general. I had a good time. The service was very good to me and I was good to the service.

MS: Now what do you remember of the scene in New York in the early '60s, while you were living there?

PS: Oh, down in the Village, there was a bar called the Mais Oui, with all these red curtains and mirrors all over the place. I was in there a couple times. And there were a few places on Christopher Street that I remember. I don't remember their names. But we'd be out all night and come back in the morning, back to where we were stationed, and do a full day's work, sometimes eighteen hours after being out all night carrying on in Manhattan. And when I mean carrying on, we weren't doing anything crude or vulgar. It was just hanging out in the bars, and by the time you get back into the city, because those bars stayed open until three or four o'clock in the morning. And we just had a good time. It was just a good, healthy time.

MS: It sounds like there was a big gay network in the military.

PS: Oh yeah, especially in that era, oh sure.

MS: How did everyone know about everyone else? Can you describe?

PS: It must have been just a sixth sense of knowing who was who. And it was nice. And this is so wonderful what Clinton's done. I don't know what they're making this big production out of with Clinton. I mean we're one of the few militaries in the world that have all those restrictions. It's bullshit. Who are they kidding? Powell can resign; the whole chiefs of staff can resign.

MS: Do you think a lot of straight people knew who was gay in the military?

PS: Mmhmm.

MS: Did people know that you were gay? Some of your straight friends in the service?

PS: I don't know. I was surrounded by gays. I didn't have any straight friends. It was all gay.

MS: Is that right?

PS: It was, yeah. Oh yes it was, the whole tacky bunch. No, they were good. They were young. Well I mean supposedly our superiors were certainly straight, but as far as I was concerned my experience there was totally gay people.

MS: Now did your family know that you were gay at this time?

PS: No. They still don't.

MS: They still don't. Siblings, sisters and brothers?

PS: I just have a sister left now.

MS: What do you think their reaction would have been?

PS: Oh, I don't know. I never considered that even of any interest. I am what I am and I'm a human being and I've followed all the rules and regulations. I support this country in more ways than one. Financially I am the support of this country. I am the middle class who gets taxed almost half of my income! And I deserve to be here because I am the support of this country. And as far as my family is concerned, I just never thought it was an issue. I always conducted myself in a proper way with them. There was no carrying on. And that was that. My life was separate from my family.

MS: So when did you move back to Philadelphia?

PS: 1960.

MS: And what were the places where you used to hang out at?

PS: The Westbury, which I mentioned. I still continued to go there. Allegro was the place in town. That was at 15th and Spruce. It was a dump. Physically it was falling apart, but when you stepped in there on a Friday and Saturday night, you had better been in a jacket with a necktie and a shirt or they would have dished you terribly, because that was considered class. The place was falling apart, but the people in there, it was a very, very nice group of people. And they were maybe from twenty-one years old up to sixty. Across the board.

MS: So there was a real age mix. Now were there also women there or was it just gay men?

PS: Very few women. One of the owners was a woman; I forget her name now. And they were very, very elegant. It was just an elegant place and it was a dump.

MS: Was she a lesbian?

PS: I don't know. I don't know her. She just would sit at the end of the bar with a man and I guess they were the owners. But the place was always packed. And ninety percent of the people at particular time up, until around 1970-something, everyone would go in there and the majority would be dressed to the nines. That was called stepping out.

MS: Mostly white?

PS: Oh yeah, mostly white.

Maxine's - Matchbook Ad and Menu

Matchbook advertisement and menu, Maxine's, c. 1950.

MS: Was it difficult to get in if you were black or were black people discouraged from going or did they just not want to go?

PS: I don't think they even went, no. The black population wasn't that much in terms of what it is today. I mean there were blacks in certain sections of the city, but I think they stayed in their sections. You didn't see Center City being as black then as it is now. I think there's been a big increase in the black population in Philadelphia compared to 1960. That I can remember.

MS: So you don't remember seeing many black people there?

PS: Well there was one person I saw in there who I later got to know. But I think very few.

MS: And so it was the Allegro and the Westbury. Were there other bars in the early '60s that you went to?

PS: There was Maxine's. Some people would say, "Oh it's all those ribbon girls from Wanamakers, all dressed up in suits and out trying to have people think that they got money. And all they are is ribbon girls in Wanamakers." I remember that. And I said, "Look, whether they're ribbon girls or not, at least they're dressed up, they're clean, and they're buying their own drinks." I said, "That’s a plus, honey."

MS: Was Maxine's also an all-male bar?

PS: Well yeah. There was Mary the Hat. I didn't care for that place. It was just off the beaten track for me. My hangout was the Allegro. I used to hang out there.

MS: How often did you go there, would you say?

PS: On the weekends. Friday night and Saturday night. I don't think it was open on Sundays at that time.

MS: Was there dancing there?

PS: No, not at that time.

MS: Did you ever have any encounters with the police or with a bar raid?

PS: There was a club called the U.S.A. & A., which was down on Quince Street. It's now the Bike Stop. And it was next to a bar called The Forrest Bar, which was very lovely also in the beginning. And on two occasions in the U.S.A. & A., one time I got into a little problem with the police. They were undercover. What was going on is that they would come in and they were harassing the bars. I'm sure they were asking for payoffs. I'm not sure, but I would think that was it. Why else would they bother? And they wore plainclothes and they would come in. And they were asking people for age cards. And this was an after-hours club. They didn't have age cards. And I was standing by a girl one time and he asked her what her age was and what her date of birth would be. And she couldn't think of it and I told her what her date of birth would be and he heard me. Well! Paul went out the door with the cops to the owner. And they didn't hurt me or anything.

MS: They took you out there?

PS: To the landing, yeah. And the owner of the club was nice. He said, "Oh leave him alone. He's one of our better customers. Don't bother with him." And they just pushed me back in and said, "Get back in." It was like a slap on the wrist.

MS: Now do you remember the bar owner's name?

PS: No, I don't.

MS: But it sounds like he was really looking out for you.

PS: Yes, he was. And then another time at the same place, it was like January, right after New Year's, and it was early. I would go there early, because I enjoyed having a seat because it'd get so crowded. And it must have been myself and about ten other people, a couple who I knew. And we were sitting there and the police came in again and asked us all for new membership cards. Well they didn't give us our membership cards yet. We were using the old ones. They took us downstairs, put us into that wagon, and we all went down to 11th and Winter, to the police station. We sat there for about a half hour. A lawyer showed up, I think, from the club. They called up and he came in. And they released us all and we all hollered, "Well, aren't you gonna take us back?" They said, "You ought to be glad you're getting the hell out." So a whole group of us walked from 11th and Winter, which is like down by Race and Vine Street, all the way back up to 15th.

MS: Do you remember what year this was?

PS: I guess 1965.

MS: So you didn't have a record from that or anything.

PS: Oh, no.

MS: Did they say what they were going to charge you with?

PS: No.

MS: Nothing like that.

PS: Well I guess no membership, that the club was working without a membership.

MS: Do you know who owned the bar?

PS: No, I don't. I have no idea. I don't remember the names. But it was lovely, too. Very elegant.

MS: You said it was an after-hours club.

PS: Yes.

MS: And membership only?

PS: Yes. It was upstairs.

MS: How could you become a member?

PS: I just walked in there one day and I guess they just asked for I.D. And they were signing up members and that was the end of it.

MS: Now you said the first time you were there you were there with a woman?

PS: Well there were women up there and the police were raiding the place. And they were asking people for I.D. And she was sitting at the bar and I was standing behind her. I didn't even know her.

MS: So was this a mixed bar?

PS: Yeah, mixed gay. Mostly male, but some women. All white.

MS: Was she a lesbian?

PS: I don't know. I don't know her. I just was coming to her aid: "1952." He heard me. It was funny.

MS: So you really were coming to her aid, though, weren't you?

PS: Well sure. I mean come on. That was ridiculous, hitting that place for age cards. Give me a break.

MS: And did the police use any kind of language?

PS: No, they were all done in suits. They didn't come in like with their billy clubs. These were all plainclothesmen. These people were in suits.

MS: So you say they were undercover, but they were asking for I.D.

PS: I mean they weren't in uniform. They came in there. I don't know, I guess it was the vice squad? I don't know who they were. Now the second time, when we were all put in the wagon, I mean this was a general clean-up of maybe twenty, maybe ten people. They were in uniform.

MS: That was the U.S.A.&A.?

PS: U.S.A.&A.

MS:  It was the same place, yeah. Years later it changed its name. It closed down, I think, for a short time. Then it became the P.B.L. And it was the P.B.L. until it just phased out. Now it's the Bike Stop.

MS: Why do you think they picked that bar?

PS: I think they were hitting all the clubs. I think it was in the '60s, middle '60s, '65? I forget, but I remember that.

MS: And you said it was ten guys, all men?

PS: Yeah, roughly. And the women, too. I think they took two wagons and a car. They just put us all in. They didn't rough us up. They just said "everybody in the wagon" and down we went.

MS: So they took everybody from the bar.

PS: Yes.

MS: And they took the bartenders?

PS: Yeah, the bartenders. But the funny thing was, when we walked back, that place was loaded and jumping like nothing ever happened. I say, "What is this?" I say, "We were all roughed up." And we told everybody, "We just got back from the goddamn police station." The place was jumping. It was packed.

MS: So can you describe for me that club? Was it also no dancing?

PS: Yeah, that was a dance club.

MS: There was dancing?

PS: Oh yes. That was two floors of dancing. You went in; you walked up a flight of steps. It was next to a lovely regular bar that had a dining room and a regular bar, the Forrest. But in the side door, you go in, they'd check your card. You'd go up a flight of steps. There was a huge bar with a small dance floor. Then that was all; that floor was just opened for a while. Then they opened up another floor, the upper floor. So it was two floors of dancing and bars. And the top floor, the third floor, was more dancing and less bar. Very lovely. I certainly enjoyed that. I wish there was something like that in the city now. Well again, it was another time, another world. People were dressed to the nines. They'd come in there with their suits on. In fact, I remember I had a gorgeous leather coat. And I checked it in and they gave my coat to someone and they took my coat home by accident.

MS: Oh, really.

PS: And sure enough, and again this is why America was well, a week later my coat returned to that checkroom. And I put that person's coat back. They called me at home, they said, "We have your leather coat." Now do you think that would happen today? Hah! Give me a break. You'd never see that coat. In fact, they'd take it off you in the street. "Give me the goddamned coat. Your money for the coat." 

MS: Now what about other gay businesses aside from the bars. Were there bathhouses in Philly? Were there bookstores?

PS: I don't remember. I get my years mixed up. I think there was maybe one or two bookstores. I don't think that was big. Not in my life. The baths, I would never go. I was in the Bellevue Courts one time and didn't even know where I was in terms of what it was about.

MS: Was that a bathhouse?

PS: Yes, it was.

MS: Where was that?

PS: It was right behind Tiffany's now, where Tiffany's is. It was called the Bellevue, behind the Bellevue-Stratford. It was a little area there, like a court. It was called the Bellevue Court. And it was a bathhouse there. And I don't know how it got in there. And I saw that place, I said, "Oh, please." I think I stayed there ten minutes and was out of that. I said that's not my fort. No, that was tacky.

MS: Did you know of other gay baths in the city?

PS: Oh yeah. Now I don't know what year this was. There was one on 13th Street. It was a theater or something there. It was called the New C.V.A. Club. The C.V. Baths or something. I don't know.

MS: That was in the '60s, you think?

PS: I don't know. Maybe the '70s. But I remember the Bellevue Baths, the Bellevue Court, was in the '60s. But I think the other thing was maybe in the '70s.

MS: What about any movie houses or restaurants that you liked to go to because it seemed like it had a gay atmosphere.

PS: No. See I wasn't into that. And as far as the restaurants, I used to go to straight restaurants. Like I would go to the pub, because that was all dressed up, I'd go to the pub, sometimes by myself and have dinner, and then go to the Allegro. The only gay restaurant that I remember was a restaurant which is now Hepburn's. And then it was Equus and before Equus it was called the Pepper Pot or the Pepper something or other. And before that it was called the Midway. And that was very nicely done. And they had a restaurant there. I think I had dinner there once. I wasn't into dinners.

MS: Was that the '60s?

PS: In the '60s. Right. And then of course the Venture Inn. When was the Venture Inn? I think it was the late '70s, '80s when I started going there.

MS: And do you remember anything about a drag queen parade on Halloween night? Did you ever hear about that or go to see it?

PS: There was a gay restaurant called the Drury. The Drury Lane down on Drury Street. That was very elegant. I was in there a couple of times. Yes, that was very nice. Now as far as Halloween, it was a hoot with Halloween. I remember the drag queens being out and the different things. In 1987, I went into high drag for the first time. And I must have looked like something out of Katrina Velana, because she is seven foot of sequins. Was that a hoot?

MS: That's something.

The Lincoln Apartments - at Camac and Locust Streets - Presentday

The Lincoln Apartments at Camac and Locust Streets, 2013.

PS: That gown. That was a jacket or a gown that was floor-length. It must have weighed 100,000 pounds. And with the hairdo, another six feet. But as far as the drag queens….

MS: Because there's supposed to have been a parade down either Locust Street or South Street or maybe both on Halloween night.

PS: This past Halloween?

MS: No, this was way back in the '50s and '60s.

PS: I don't remember. I wasn't into that. And I think the gay community was really fractured at that time. There was this group doing this and that group doing this. There wasn't even a gay community center until the '60s. And that was on the corner of Camac. That's right, yes. It's an apartment building now, the Lincoln. The Lincoln Apartments on Camac. Yeah, Camac and Locust. That was what I can remember as the first gay community center. Now, like I said, it's an apartment building.

MS: Now in the early '60s, how would you say things were between lesbians and gay men in the bars or in the neighborhoods or out on the street? Were relations between the two good or were they hostile or nonexistent?

PS: It's my perception and I'm sure it's probably distorted, but my experience with lesbians, and it was very, very small, and like I said there was a big distortion there, but when I thought of a lesbian in a bar, I would think of someone who was very masculine, getting into a fight with another woman. And everyone would duck because a beer bottle was coming across the hall.

MS: Now did that ever happen?

PS: I remember a couple fights with women but not many.

MS: Between two women.

PS: Yeah. Really tacky. But this, again, that's not what's going on today. It's much better, but then.

MS: Was there much socializing between lesbians and gay men or was it pretty separate?

PS: No. It was very separate. I remember there was a lesbian bar on Camac Street for a while, I think. Upstairs, there was a woman, Rock.

MS: Rusty's?

PS: Rusty's, yeah, but I'd never bother with her.

MS: Did you ever go in there?

PS: I think one time I went floating through there. And then there was another place. Where was it all women? I think it was on 13th and Locust or something. It was all women. But like I said I had absolutely no interest in that.

MS: What about house parties? Were there many house parties that you went to in the '60s?

PS: In the '60s there were house parties, a few. How I really came out after the service, this is an interesting story. I had a bank account and I wanted to buy a car. I was maybe twenty-three years old. And I went to the neighborhood bank to draw out the money to buy a car. And the bank teller was there and he got talking to me. "What are you doing? What are you bringing all this money out for?" And I told him I bought a car and that was the end of that. A couple of weeks later, I bumped into him in Allegro's as a customer. And he came up to me and I didn't know anybody. I was just out of the service. And he says to me, "How're you doing with your car?" And I said, "Oh I got my car." Well we became friends and that's when I was introduced to the Philadelphia gay lifestyle, through him.

MS: So he would take you out, is that it?

PS: No, meeting people, friends. Then there was a whole network of people that he knew, because I didn't know anyone. I was just out of the service. Now I knew where Allegro was from the time I had been in Philadelphia, but coming back and out of the service. And from him, I met a lot of other people. And there were house parties and there was a whole group. And it was all white. It was a whole white clique.

MS: And was it all men at the house parties?

PS: Yes, all men.

MS: And where? Mostly in Center City or other parts of the city?

PS: All Center City. Spruce Street, Locust Street. There were a number of house parties that I would go to.

MS: Were they small dinner parties or mostly big?

PS: Not dinners. Just sitting around and people holding parties. And then there was a couple of interracial couples that I went to parties with in the late '60s. And through them I was introduced to a black gay bar, a club out in West Philadelphia.

MS: What club was that?

PS: The 4-6. 152nd Street.

MS: It's called the 4-6?

PS: The 4-6.

MS: And when did you go there?

PS: In the middle '60s. And that was a hoot. I enjoyed that.

MS: Do you remember what it looked like?

PS: Oh yeah, it was lovely. Downstairs was straight, upstairs was gay. And it was a hoot.

MS: Straight black downstairs?

PS: Yeah, it was all black. Very few whites. But there were whites in there and a white person took me there. And I said, "Now I am enjoying this to no end." This was a hoot. Sarah Vaughan was a barmaid. And she jumped up on the table. This was an all-night club. She got on the table and she was singing "Mustang Sally." We drove her home the next morning. We left her. And I met some people, I met a good friend there. I became good friends with a customer there. The person who took me introduced me to him. And we were friends for years.

MS: Was he black?

PS: Yes.

MS: What was your sense of how things were between black gay men and white gay men back then, in the late '60s?

PS: The white gay community was very proper and starched and standing there with a drink. The gay black people were into more interactions, more fun, laughter, knowing each other, much friendlier interactions than what you would see in the white bars. Because they were more isolated. And I enjoyed that more really. And then after that, like I said, along with a couple of black friends, I got to know more and more black men in terms of friends. And then I took my voyages to New York. I had a car. I was out of school. And I was making decent money. And I would hop into my big yellow Buick Skylark. I went from a Corvair to a Skylark. Up to Manhattan, to all the bars up there. Fabulous, made Philadelphia look like, you know.

MS: And why did you go to New York when there were bars in Philly?

PS: Because they were better. And it was more open. And it was more racially mixed, too, in terms of Hispanic, Asian, black. Everything went on in New York. Philadelphia was still provincial. I mean come on, this is still a segregated city.

MS: Now the bar in West Philly that you were talking about, was that bar mixed lesbians and gay men? Or was it all black gay men? Black and white gay men? Do you remember?

PS: Some lesbians, yeah, some lesbians. In fact, in the black bars, which was interesting, the bartenders were barmaids. It was women. More women serving the liquor than men.

MS: Really?

PS: Than the white bars. That’s what I thought was so strange, so different about it, that it was black women who were the bartenders.

MS: And what was the name of this bar again?

PS: The 4-6.

MS: And what were the other bars that you went to out there? Do you remember?

PS: They were tacky. They were straight places. That was the only one that I enjoyed that was gay, because it was a very small community at that time. We're talking thirty years ago. And again, very middle class. There was no riff-raff or no stoned crack heads. It was all basically working, middle-class blacks. Or at least employed and dressed. I mean it wasn't the poor and the down and out. It was working class.

MS: That makes me think of another question I have about the various neighborhoods in Philly. And it sounds like you lived in the Northeast, in Germantown, in Center City, and it sounds like you socialized a bit in West Philly. What were the neighborhoods that you thought of in the '60s as being gay neighborhoods? Were there any?

PS: Powelton Village, where I went to a few parties, house parties again, which were interracial, mixed. See it all blended in together, meeting different people. And there was a couple that threw parties in Powelton Village. And that was a very lovely section there. I always liked Powelton Village.

MS: Did that seem like the most gay part of the city?

PS: No, Center City, definitely Center City. But Powelton Village was very nice at that time. Now it's kind of tacky. Well I guess it depends on which section you're in. But at that time it was very nice. I think it's poorer now.

MS: Would you call any other part of the city a gay neighborhood at that time, in the '60s?

PS: There was a bar in Germantown, believe it or not. It was called the Attic. Yeah it was strange. Yeah, it was at Chelten and Germantown Avenue. And that was strange that it was there. It was up on the second floor and people would go up there to that. I never saw it. It was alright.

MS: You never went there yourself?

PS: Yeah I was there, a couple of times. But I wasn't living in Germantown at that time. I was living in Fairmount. And that was nice, but it was not worth the trip.

MS: What about where a lot of gay people lived, aside from where the bars were. If a gay person wanted to move to a gayer neighborhood in Philadelphia, where would that be?

PS: Center City. That was absolutely.

MS: And no place else?

PS: No. Center City and Powelton Village, as far as I know. Maybe some in West Philadelphia, but that was mostly black even then. And they seemed, too, to be around the universities, like at Temple there might have been a gay little community, and definitely Penn. Yeah out there in that section. But the majority was Center City.

MS: Now what about when you moved around, did it matter to you whether it was a gay neighborhood?

PS: Oh, no. I had a car. I went for the convenience of parking and luxury high-rises. No dumps.

MS: So it didn't matter to you to live around gay people, because you had your car and you could socialize where you wanted.

PS: Oh, sure, yeah. In fact, I'm sure the buildings that I lived in, the high-rises in and around Center City, there was a number of gay people living in them because that was considered very elegant.

MS: Now you said before that you lived in the Northeast, in Kensington, up through about 1970, right?

PS: Mmhmm.

MS: So you were living with your family at that time?

PS: Mmhmm.

MS: And your family never knew, right?

PS: Not that I know of.

MS: Not that you knew of. So you never had gay friends come home with you, right?

PS: No. No, never.

MS: And you stayed out sometimes, right?

PS: Some, not much. Maybe right towards the end when I was ready to break camp and leave home, I was staying out more. But definitely my goal was to get through school. I started late, but to get through school and to have my own place.

MS: So you lived at home while you were in school?

PS: Oh, yeah, through the late '60s.

MS: What was the college again?

PS: Community.

MS: Right.

PS: Snellenburg U.

MS: And did you know gay people at school? Do you remember?

PS: A few. Not many, not much. It was a fairly straight crowd. I tell you, between holding down a full-time job, still taking care of America, holding down a full-time job and going to school full time, I was exhausted all the time. It was just rough. I'd work nights and then get up in the morning and drive to go down to Snellenburg U. and stay there all day.

MS: Now what about your gay friends? Did they mostly live with their families or did people live on their own?

PS: The few that I was involved with lived with their families. And then again, like I said, as the years rolled by, into the late '60s, as I was leaving school and getting an education, I met more and more people who were living on their own. And I couldn't wait to get to my own place.

MS: Why did you want your own place so badly?

PS: So I could have fun. I mean that. Motels? Oh forget it. I wanted my own place. You just want your own place. That's part of growing up.

MS: So while you were living with your family you used to have to go to motels?

PS: Sometimes. Not that often. I mean believe me, I was not a promiscuous person. I wasn't. I most certainly wasn't.

Philadelphia General Hospital

Aerial view of Philadelphia General Hospital, 19 August 1966, PhillyHistory.org.

MS: Where else would you go, aside from motels. Back to other guys' houses?

PS: Yeah, just some, very few. Not many.

MS: Did you have any steady lovers in the '60s?

PS: No. One. One person, I think, I had a long-term relationship with. And that didn't last because again, I was at home. I was going to school and working. Christ, I was exhausted all the time.

MS: How long did it last?

PS: About six months, maybe a year. We're still friends to this day, but we're just friends.

MS: What would you two do together? Would you go out to the clubs?

PS: To the movies and the clubs. And then we'd go to his place. But again, like I said, it was just hard to do anything with anyone for three years, because all I did was work and go to school. And on the weekends, I had to do papers. Oh it was unbelievable. And that's when I had my first counseling. I went to a psychologist because I was just getting depressed with all this shit.

MS: Now when was that? What year?

PS: In 1967-68.

MS: Do you remember the name of the psychologist?

PS: She was a psychologist at P.G.H. In fact, one of the people I met who was a dear friend worked at P.G.H., and he set this up for me.

MS: What's P.G.H.?

PS: Philadelphia General Hospital. And she was a psychologist and fabulous. Really, oh such a star. You know, sometimes I'll sit here and I'll say, "I’d really love to give her a call." But when you break a therapeutic relationship, it's really a therapeutic relationship. In fact, towards the end she said, "I really think that you don't need to see me anymore and this is becoming a social relationship." Nothing in terms of a love thing or anything, just being friendly and we were getting out of the therapeutic milieu into a social thing.

MS: Now did you tell her early on that you were gay?

PS: Oh, that's why I went there. I was so depressed.

MS: About being gay?

PS: Yeah, everything. My father was dying and I was working and I was having this problem with an instructor in school.

MS: A school problem?

PS: Yeah. With an instructor.

MS: But you said the reason you went was that you were gay.

PS: Yeah, well I was depressed. I was depressed and it all came out. Luckily I didn't need medication or I wasn't suicidal. I said, "I need some professional counseling, because this is getting too fucking much."

MS: And how did you tell her that you were gay?

PS: It just came out and she was excellent. She was a true professional. God bless her.

MS: So she knew.

PS: Oh, she spotted me. She was elegant. An elegant, lovely woman. And I couldn't believe, in that pit, P.G.H., which was a city hospital, where everything was dumped, this elegant woman was in this dump. And she was fabulous.

MS: What was her attitude about your being gay?

PS: I was very depressed at that time. She said to me, "Do you want to be gay?" She says, "How do you feel about being gay? Do you have any problem with it?" And I turned around and I said, "No." And I said, "I just want to feel comfortable with what's going on, who I am, and where I'm at, and also just get through this goddamn school." It was overwhelming with all that was going on. And she totally accepted that. She said, "Fine." And then she asked me if I had a drug or alcohol problem. I said, "No." I didn’t. And we went on from there.

MS: So she was never at all critical?

PS: No, she just asked me did I want to be what I wanted to be. Did I have any thoughts of changing? I said, "No." I said, "That's not my problem. My problem is getting through all this bullshit."

MS: So by '67-'68, you had a really strong sense of yourself, that you were gay, that that wasn't going to change. You were happy about that.

PS: Yeah, that wasn't the problem.

MS: You came a long way, I guess, from 1960, when you first were going out to the clubs.

PS: Oh, yeah.

MS: How were you developing such a positive sense?

PS: I think it's called growing up. It was growing up and being around positive people. It's also the health care work that I was in. That helped, too. You see so many different people.

MS: Was there anyone in particular you would say who helped you get that positive sense about being gay?

PS: Blacks.

MS: Really?

PS: Yeah.

MS: How do you mean?

PS: Because again, this one friend who introduced me to this therapist was black. And he also worked in the mental health field. And he was very positive about himself and about everything around him. And I think he was a good influence on me at that time, because I really didn't know anyone. I mean really. I was still, like I said, out of the service and just floating around. I didn't know what I wanted to do for a career. And luckily, community college finally opened and I got there. And it all fell together. It all came together.

MS: So is he the person you were talking about before, who first took you to the bar?

PS: No. This was someone I met in there. Yeah, I met this person in the bar. In the 4-6 and we became good friends. Lovely. I lost track of him, too. We were always just friends. That was it. It was strictly a platonic friendship. Lovely. I really enjoyed him and, like I said, he seemed to have himself together. And I think in many ways he was instrumental in helping me pull myself together. And even by directing me to her, to the therapist, which was excellent. That I can always say about black people. Out of all the millions of people, it was a black person who said to me, "Hey, you need a little help. I'll set it up for you." And he did.

MS: I'm curious, in the late '60s, as the black power movement and the women's movement started taking off, what effect did that have, do you think, on the gay community? Did it have any effect? Did tensions rise?

PS: You know I don't remember. I remember people that I knew. Like I said, I was so caught up in school. I mean my life was get up, get something to eat, go to school, go to work, go to school, go to work. And then even when I graduated and was working, I did double shifts. I was working sixteen hours a day sometimes. I had an apartment and I never even saw it except to go take a shower and sleep and get up and go back to work again. So I mean those years were nothing but working and going to school.

MS: What years again were they?

PS: I'd say from 1967 until 1970, '71, '72.

MS: And in those years you weren't going out to the clubs very much?

PS: I was on the weekends, yeah, but other than that, my life was either school or working.

MS: So on the weekends, were there any changes you could think of?

PS: No.

MS: Did the police let up at all?

PS: They never bothered. They really never bothered. Like Allegro, that was never a problem. I really do believe that there were exchanges.

MS: Between the police and the owners?

PS: Oh sure. Yeah, I mean there had to be.

MS: Did any of your friends or partners ever have trouble with the law that you can remember?

PS: No.

MS: Other than those two times?

PS: That was the only time I remember.

MS: So people didn't talk about raids that they had been through? Bar raids?

PS: No.

MS: What about custody cases? Did you know anybody who fought that or who lost a job or had problems on the job? Nothing like that?

PS: And in my whole life, I never ever had a problem with being discriminated against or anything like that. Anything I ever wanted I got. There was never an issue. And god knows, there was a princess walking here. I got everything I ever wanted. I never had a problem. It was just that incident at the bar. And that was really my fault for telling her what her age was. I set myself up for that.

Germantown, Philadelphia - 1960

Germantown Avenue; Rex Avenue to Route 309, 24 June 1960, PhillyHistory.org.

MS: Now I remember reading that in the early '70s there were gay doctors and gay nurses groups forming. I wonder if any of the health care jobs that you had, if you remember anything like that. Were gay people making themselves more known?

PS: No.

MS: Not that you remember?

PS: No. I belonged to a group called Gays in Germantown, but that wasn't anything to do with occupation. That was just a group of people that would meet at different places in Germantown.

MS: When did that start?

PS: That was when I moved to Germantown, in 1972, somewhere in that time frame. In the early '70s there was a group called Gays in Germantown. And we would meet in a couple of places. Mostly at, what the hell was that place called? It was condominiums up off of the Drive. I can't think of it.

MS: So this was a gay male group or mixed?

PS: It was mixed. Mostly males. There were a few females that would come.

MS: And these were just social events?

PS: It was basically social. And I forget, how did I meet them? I forget. Maybe through the gay community center. I don't remember. But I just remember going to a few meetings at a condominium complex up off of Schoolhouse Lane.

MS: And was Germantown becoming more of a gay area?

PS: Oh yeah.

MS: Really? If you could date that, when would you say?

PS: I think maybe the '60s and the '70s, in that area. But I never was involved with that. My time in Germantown was in the high rise apartment building. It was older people. Nothing like that going on. And when I bought a house up there it was a very family-oriented street.

MS: Now that was, as you said before, in 1975?

PS: Yeah, roughly. And I stayed there for ten years and I decided to come back into the city.

MS: How come you decided to move back?

PS: Well, because I felt as though this was where I needed to be. And I got tired of the trekking back and forth and having a car and the aggravation of a house.

MS: Because you were wanting to be in Center City for the social life?

PS: Yeah, oh sure. It's just this is the center of the world. The rest of it is bullshit.

MS: O.K., I guess we're talking about the early '70s now. And it sounds like you started doing some new things, like you said you were going to the gay community center.

PS: Mmhmm.

MS: Anything else like that that you remember?

PS: BWMT [Black and White Men Together].

MS: Yeah?

PS: It was in the late '70s, I think, that that started. And that was very nice in the beginning. I enjoyed that. That was certainly a social outlet and it was black and white and some Hispanic. And it was a very lovely group of people. It really was.

MS: Did it meet at people's homes?

PS: They met at the Smart Place, which was a gay black bar.

MS: In what part of the city?

PS: It was around Arch. Around 9th and Arch. We met there after it was closed, like on the weekend. And we'd go in the side. And they had it there. And they would lease the place out to them.

MS: This was late '70s?

PS: Yeah, I think so. Yeah, late '70s.

MS: Going back to the early '70s for a bit, you were living in apartments until you bought the house?

PS: Yeah, until 1977.

MS: Now that you were living on your own, did you have friends come over?

PS: Mmhmm.

MS: You socialized a lot in your house?

PS: Well, again I was working a lot in those days. I didn't have any big parties or anything. Yeah, I did. I had some dinners. Nothing big. There was like maybe four people. Four or five people. Or one on ones. In fact, I had friends in New York. Like I said, I spent a lot of my time in New York. And they said to me, "I can't believe it that you come up here." They said, "We live here in New York and we can't even get someone to come up an elevator. You bitch; you drive up here and get them to come back to Philadelphia with you for a whole weekend." It was funny.

MS: So it sounds like you were successful on your trips.

PS: Well yeah and they were all very nice. Like I said, maybe four in six years, but the point is that when I would go up there and if I wanted to meet someone, I would meet them. And it was no problem with them coming back to Philadelphia. I guess it was a break for them to get the hell out of there. And it was a break for me to go up there because it was so much different than being here.

MS: And these were all guys that you met in the bars?

PS: In the bars.

MS: But you said that the relationships, the longest anything lasted was six months?

PS: Yeah, nothing more.

MS: Were they similar to you in background?

PS: No. Younger.

MS: Younger?

PS: Well I'd say maybe a five year difference.

MS: And you said they tended to be Latinos and blacks?

PS: Yeah, but I never had a problem.

MS: Now I'm curious, when someone walked into your apartment for the first time, if someone didn't know you, would they be able to tell that someone gay lived there by looking around?

PS: I don't know.

MS: Did you have any gay things around your house?

PS: No. Oh no.

MS: Nothing like that?

PS: Nothing.

MS: No pictures or books that someone who was in the life would have recognized?

PS: No.

MS: Nothing like that.

PS: It was basically like this. It was different because of the year, but it was basically this. See this, I own this, but those were rentals. So this has been fixed up by me. When I came in here it was just nothing. It was all stripped. But the other places, they were usually done up for rentals and you just lived there. Whatever you had, your furniture would go in there. And when you decided to leave, you just packed your furniture and your belongings and left.

MS: Did any of your neighbors or other people in the apartment buildings know that you were gay?

PS: I never bothered with them. This is the first building, the first place, that I have really had any interaction with my neighbors. And these people are asleep, which is lovely.

MS: So you didn't know anyone else who was gay in your apartments.

PS: In the one I did. A friend of mine lived in the same building with me.

MS: Which place was that?

PS: It was Center City 1 and at 1500. We both lived there at the same times basically. Coming and going. They were just yearly, for one year. I never stayed at those places. Once I sold the house and came into Philadelphia, I moved from one luxury high-rise to the other. I got so tired of moving. For different reasons. Mostly because of noise, the neighbors being noisy or whatever. There was always a noise factor with me. I moved to a number of places until I got here.

MS: Now did you ever hear about any of the gay political groups that were happening in Philadelphia. The Janus Society or Drum magazine?

PS: Vaguely. I heard of the Janus Society but I never was involved with that.

MS: Do you remember how you heard about it?

PS: Through friends. Just talking.

MS: Did you know anybody who was involved with it?

PS: Did he use his name on the tape?

MS: No, he didn't use his real name.

PS: O.K.

MS: He and I talked about political stuff. But it didn't ring a bell for you.

PS: That was before my time. I think that faded out. I'm not sure. I don't remember that. I remember hearing about it.

MS: The Mattachine Society? What about the Homophile Action League? Did you ever hear about that?

PS: No, I didn't bother with any of that stuff.

MS: What about the Gay Activists Alliance?

PS: No. I didn't even hear of a newspaper until the seventies. I think the Gay News came out in the '70s.

MS: Did you ever look at any gay magazines in the '60s?

PS: No.

MS: What was the first gay newspaper you picked up?

PS: I think it was a copy of the Advocate. And that was in New York. Then PGN came out here. Au Courant's only maybe four or five years old, I think.

MS: Did you ever read the Gay Alternative here?

PS: I never heard of that one. You know more about it than I do. I wasn’t into that. I really wasn’t.

MS: What about novels. Did you ever read any gay novels?

PS: No. I think one was The Well of Loneliness.

MS: You did read that.

PS: I just read parts of it.

MS: Do you remember when that was?

PS: I didn't even know what the hell it was about. I was like fifteen years old.

MS: So when you were a kid? Do you remember how you got that book?

PS: No, I forget. It floated in somewhere. My brother or someone had it. I forget. I dont know where that showed up. But I looked at that and I said, "Oh, please." And I put that away. I wasn't a reader. I didn't read. I was more into the arts.

MS: What kind of arts?

PS: Commercial art. I had a scholarship, but I didn't even take it. I went into the service, because then you were drafted. It was either you join here or you get drafted. Everyone was drafted.

MS: So you were drafted?

PS: No. I enlisted.

MS: You enlisted.

PS: Because I wanted where I wanted to go, not where they were going to send me. And I wanted to get some education, which I did. Like I said, I had a fabulous time. I was treated well. I got everything I wanted in terms of education. When I got out, I bought my house through the V.A. They sent me through school. And I earned it. They worked us, I mean really. We worked. They were twelve and eighteen hour days sometimes. We worked. I earned everything they gave me.

MS: Did you know anybody who had trouble in the military because they were gay?

PS: Only because they voluntarily said "I'm not going to put up with this shit working for seventy-five cents an hour." And they just turned themselves in. No big exploits or surveillance and all that crap. Not that I know of. They just said, "Oh, bullshit with this." But I enjoyed it. I thought it was excellent. I think it made me learn responsibility and discipline and being on your own and taking responsibility for yourself. That's what I learned. That's what I learned in the service. And like I said, I got some good training. Something I could use outside.

MS: So I guess I'll ask a real general question. If you look at where the gay community was at when you first came out in the late '50s and then where it was at in the middle of the 1970s, what do you think were the biggest changes?

PS: From the '50s to the '70s?

MS: Yeah.

PS: There were more gay businesses. People were more open. More people were declaring themselves in terms of who they were, I think. Well that was the Woodstock era and all. And there were just a lot of crazy things going on. Oh and then there was the Stonewall incident in New York, which I remember because like I said I was back and forth. I was in the Stonewall before the big to-do.

MS: Oh, really.

PS: Yeah, one time. That was a dump. It was beat up.

MS: But do you remember hearing about the raid?

PS: Oh, yeah. Oh that was big.

MS: How did you hear about it if you weren’t reading the newspapers?

PS: I guess it was through word of mouth and being in New York, going back and forth.

MS: So people were talking about it.

PS: Oh yeah, oh that was a to-do. In fact, I think it was in the straight news. Yes it was. Sure, it was a big to do out there. It was a big screaming fight out in the street. Yeah, the Village was in an uproar. I think that was the turning point. But like I said, my whole life, so many people said they needed all that to be themselves. I didn’t. Listen, whatever I wanted, I got. Really, I never had a problem with any kind of discrimination.

The Venture Inn

The Venture Inn, c. 1972.

MS: Do you think you were typical or do you think other people experienced discrimination and you were just lucky?

PS: I'll tell you the truth. I think I experienced more discrimination because people thought I was Jewish than being gay.

MS: Really?

PS: Mmhmm.

MS: In the gay community?

PS: No, not there so much, but just in general. Yeah, really. A couple times. Oh, yes.

MS: So you were a victim of anti-Semitism even though you weren't Jewish.

PS: Even though I wasn't Jewish.

MS: What things happened?

PS: I was probably more Jewish than some Jews.

MS: What things happened?

PS: I forget. Mostly like in high school there was an incident. In junior high there was an incident.

MS: Do you remember what happened?

PS: Yeah. This Italian kid and this black kid called me a Jew or something. Something about lunch money or I don't know. It was like a mugging. It was strange. I couldn't believe it was happening. And there was a Jewish overtone to it. "Oh, you're a Jew" or something like that. And I said, "What the hell?" I said, "Excuse me." And I didn't know what they were talking about. And a few times, even as an adult.

MS: Why do you think people thought you were Jewish?

PS: I don't know. Maybe the way I acted. I don't know. Just my affect, I don't know. But it was strange.

MS: You said that by the mid-'70s there were a lot of gay businesses. What businesses do you mean?

PS: Well, like restaurants, mostly restaurants. And the hairdressers, the barbers. Those kinds of people, they were more obvious.

MS: They were more obvious. What restaurants were you going to in the mid-'70s? Or in the early '70s?

PS: I can't remember. Because like I said, I don't think the Venture Inn became the Venture Inn until like late '70s. And like I said, the Midway had a small restaurant. And I think that's the only place that I remember that was gay to go to a restaurant. I usually went to the straight restaurants if I wanted to go to a restaurant. Always the straight ones. Over in New Jersey, like the Pub, to Sinelli's, places like that or in the hotels. I didn't go too much.

MS: But you were aware that there were more gay businesses around?

PS: Oh yeah. Florists, people like that. Florists, hairdressers, a couple of restaurants, and of course the bars. More and more bars were opening.

MS: There were more bars.

PS: Sure. Uncle's opened. And there were some on 13th Street that opened and closed. Then there was one, down Drury Lane, it was called the Comeback. Oh there was a number of bars, yeah. And then the one in Germantown opened.

MS: So you were going to bars a lot in the '70s?

PS: Mmhmm. There was a gay bar, in fact, when I was living at Northgate. There was a gay bar right downstairs called the Lamplighter, which was very elegantly done. Very nicely done.

MS: Why do you think the gay bars were so successful?

PS: That was only place that gay people could socialize, I think. The only place they really had an outlet to socialize was in the bar scene. There weren't any organizations. There was more certainly, but there wasn't even a gay community center that I can remember. I think that was the socialization point for people. They could go in and feel comfortable and meet people and it was safe. It wasn't on the streets and it wasn't in the parks and all that bullshit. I think that's tacky, going into parks. Oh come on. And baths, ugh! And again, I think the baths were very instrumental in the spread of HIV. People going in there and carrying on and just that kind of quickie activity, because it's not that easy to catch HIV unless you're having sex or exchanging blood.

MS: What did you think of Rizzo in the '60s and '70s? Were you aware of him and his politics?

PS: He was big and bad. He was tacky. For the most part, I think he gave a false sense of security to the masses. Il Duce, I think. Il Duce. The trains ran on time, but other than that it was just false. Things would go the way they were going in any event.

MS: How do you think he treated the gay community? Do you have any sense of that?

PS: He never bothered me. I mean I never had any things directly with him. I don't know what the politics of that was. I just have a feeling that that was the deal with the police. But like I said, it didn't bother me. Business was as usual and I never had any problem except that one little simple incident and that was my fault. And the other time it was just harassment. Everyone get in the wagon, go down to the police station, stand there for a half hour, everybody walk home. And like I said, back at the club it was like nothing ever happened. We were just an hour too early.

MS: Maybe I should ask you a few questions about where you worked. I'm curious to know if you knew other lesbians or gay men at the places you worked and if you all knew one another and if you had bosses who were gay?

PS: No one in charge, but people that were either under me or equivalent to me in terms of job title, there were some gay people.

MS: Gay men?

PS: Mostly men. It was men, yeah, in some of the places I worked. And other places it was all straight.

MS: Why don't we just finish off with a real open-ended general question about what you think was special about the gay community in Philadelphia. What was special about it in the '60s and '70s? What made it different from, say, New York or Baltimore or other big cities?

PS: It was boring.

MS: Philadelphia was boring?

PS: Yeah, it was.

MS: Really?

PS: Yeah, very provincial, boring. I'm sure there was a lot of things going on, but I wasn't involved with it in terms of the social life. I'd go to the bars. Like I said, in the late '60s and all the way into the '70s, I went to New York and to Puerto Rico. I would do my yearly trip to Puerto Rico and bump into Philadelphians in San Juan, Puerto Rico.

MS: When did you start going to Puerto Rico?

PS: In the mid-sixties, '65. I went maybe three or four times in the '60s. Had a fabulous time down there.

MS: Did you go by yourself?

PS: Yes, I did. Flew down there, got myself in the Sheraton, which is now the Dupont. Looked out on the beach. And always had a lovely time.

MS: Did you spend about a week there each time?

PS: Yeah, about five to seven days. From weekend to weekend. And then fly home.

MS: What was the gay life like in Puerto Rico?

PS: Lovely. El Camino Real in old San Juan was the big spot. Fabulous.

MS: Do you think it was easier for you to have adventures like that outside of Philadelphia?

PS: Oh yeah, oh sure.

MS: Why was that?

PS: I was out of Philadelphia.

MS: Not just because Philadelphia was boring, right?

PS: Because I lived here. Absolutely. Oh sure.

MS: Because there was less to worry about being found out?

PS: Oh, absolutely. Yes, it was absolute freedom.

MS: So you think a New Yorker might have found more fun things in Philadelphia because they were out of their hometown?

PS: Well, for them to come to Philadelphia, I think it was just something different for a New Yorker to come here and just be able to relax. Well I don’t know. It just was something different. They wanted to get the hell out of there. Maybe they were oppressed up there. They weren't exactly professional high rollers that I met. There was nothing wrong with them. They weren't criminals or anything, but they were certainly not of that. I think it was a vacation for them just to get out of Manhattan to come to Philadelphia.

MS: Right.

PS: Just dinner and go out to the bars and then go back to New York. 

Puerto Rico Postcard

Postcard, c. 1970.

MS: Well you started off by talking about how Atlantic City was your first time, so it really does seem like that you had a lot of adventures out of Philadelphia.

PS: Out of Philadelphia. Oh sure.

MS: Did you used to go back to Atlantic City a lot?

PS: No, it was just that one time. Just that one time we were down there and it just happened.

MS: Where else did you go on vacation, aside from New York and Puerto Rico?

PS: That was it.

MS: That was it?

PS: Yeah, I didn't care for the shore. The shore down here is tacky in the summer. Oh please.

MS: And you said you went to Puerto Rico by yourself.

PS: Uhhuh. Now the last time I went, I went with a friend who won a free trip at the Gay Community Center.

MS: Is that right?

PS: Yes.

MS: When was that?

PS: In the '80s sometime and it wasn't the best time I had. It was all right. I didn't care for the accommodations. If I had to do it over again, I would have said to that person, "You enjoy this place. I am hitting the Sheraton."

MS: So tell me, why do you think it is that Philadelphia didn't develop as exciting a gay life if it was such a big city?

PS: They call Philadelphia the city of neighborhoods. And I really believe it's the city of neighborhoods. And everybody knows everybody. You can be anyplace in Philadelphia and if you were in that neighborhood, you probably bumped into them.

MS: So how did that affect gay life?

PS: It was more ducking around. In fact, and I don't know if I was paranoid or not, I looked both ways before I walked into the Allegro.

MS: Because you were always afraid of running into someone.

PS: Yeah, somebody might see in a car, because there's always a lot of car traffic up Spruce Street, and you quickly duck in and then we went wherever. Because it is true. Philadelphia may be big population-wise and it's spread out over a large area, but it's still neighborhoods and everybody at one time or another will be in town. It's the business section. And if you were out there carrying on or going to a bar or whatever, your chances of bumping into someone were real. It's small and it's provincial.

MS: So you think it's that more than anything else?

PS: Oh yeah. And it's just a provincial city. I mean look, we're not an international city. When you compare us to New York, forget it. There's no comparison.

MS: But even compared to smaller cities, people often say that Philadelphia has much less of a gay life than Boston and Philadelphia's a lot bigger than Boston.

PS: Yeah. I think because it's neighborhoods. I don't know. Maybe it's the politics. Maybe it's because it was Quaker. It was that kind of restricted. I don’t know.

MS: What do you mean the politics?

PS: The people who were running the show. I think a lot was money. And people wouldn't pay the money so there was a clamping down. I don't know what was the reason, the rationale for it. But it obviously never took off, like you said, compared to the cities that you were talking about. I've never been to Boston so I don't know what Boston's like. But I know compared to New York, forget it. This was dullsville. And like I said, it was a lot of private parties in Philadelphia. That's where I think a lot of the gay life really was, in private parties.

MS: Is that right?

PS: I think, because I didn't go to them, but I really do think that in that period, from the late '50s up to the '80s, a lot of Philadelphia was undercover. There was a lot going on, but you had to be known to a group in order to get invited to these different functions. And it's a very segregated city. The blacks were segregated in their areas, with their life, with their social clique. And the whites were the Center City crowd.

MS: And that didn't change much?

PS: No. It still hasn't. I think a little more now. But see in the last couple of years, I really haven't been out.

MS: Any final thoughts? Should we finish this up?

PS: Like I said, what's important is when I was young, America was well. America is not well now. There's something. There's just a lot going on in the country. It's still the greatest place in the world, but there are some big problems out there. And that's all I can say. When I was twenty-one years old, I didn't have a car. I could get on the subway at two o'clock in the morning and feel perfectly safe and comfortable. Walk home, go back into town, walk around the streets. I wouldn’t be caught dead out there now.

MS: When did that change for you?

PS: I think I noticed a big change in like maybe 1986.

MS: Last five to ten years.

PS: Yeah, the last five years. Very dangerous.

MS: Well, thanks a lot for doing this interview with me.

PS: You're welcome.