There are a slew of properties on the Main Line worth more than 204 Merion Road’s $1,399,000 asking price, but those houses with their gaudy price tags — well, they’re just houses.
This house is different. This is where the legendary nightclub owner Frank Palumbo and his “vivacious” former Hollywood starlet wife, Kippee Valez, lived. That means the new owners of 204 Merion Road will be acquiring a home that comes with a story.
In 2004 the Inquirer’s Matt Blanchard said the home "is probably the closest thing to Graceland in Pennsylvania, and the last remnant of a once-great hospitality empire."
For the benefit of our maturity-challenged readers, Frank Palumbo was a South Philadelphia restaurateur and nightclub owner. As is noted on the historical marker at the site where Palumbo’s was located at Ninth and Christian, “The Palumbo Family’s legacy of humanitarian efforts began here in 1884 with Antonio who received hundreds of Italian immigrants into his boarding house. Frank, his grandson, expanded the restaurant/nightclub complex and brought top named entertainment from all over the world.”
Before he converted the Ninth and Christian location into the landmark institution that it became, Palumbo operated several other nightclubs around the city including “The Click Club” at 16th and Market. (It’s hard to picture a big nightclub at that location, isn’t it?). In 1946, Benny Goodman recorded a live radio broadcast with pianist Teddy Wilson and singer Patti Page there.
Mayor Frank Rizzo practically lived at Palumbo’s South Philly location, and Frank Sinatra performed there on several occasions.
Notwithstanding the frequenting of the aforementioned luminaries, the Inquirer’s Joyce Gemperlein noted in Frank Palumbo’s 1983 obituary:
“Mr. Palumbo's reputation did not go unsullied, however. In 1971, for example, he was named in testimony in U.S. District Court as a political fixer for the underworld in Philadelphia. He co-managed championship fighters with Cosa Nostra member Frank S. Palermo Sr., who later went to jail for interstate extortion involving boxing.”
The restaurant, a true Philadelphia institution, burned down in 1994.
As for the home, Main Line residents above a certain age will recall the Christmas traffic jams that formed on Merion Road in front of the Palumbo home as gawkers (not just from the neighborhood) came to view Frank and Kippee’s over-the-top holiday decorations.
Kippee died in 2003. Born Vanda Bozzacco, she had appeared in eight Hollywood films between 1947 and 1950, including a credited a role in the 1949 production of “The Daring Caballero.” In 2004, the family sold the Merion home for $700,000. It had originally been listed at $975,000, but as Blanchard suggested, “It could be that today's Main Line home buyers aren't quite ready for 7,000 square feet of South Philly Fabulous, circa 1959.”
Maxwell Realty Co.'s Nancy Alperin said that the current owners had “pretty much gutted the house and then fully restored it," although four of the original built-in safes still remain. The last safe that was removed was “behind a shower and looked like a medicine cabinet.” Alperin also noted that “The Grace Kelly Staircase” is still in place.
In addition to its intriguing legacy, 204 Merion Road offers additional amenities, not the least of which is its proximity to the Merion Train Station next-door. The centrally air-conditioned two-kitchen home has a marble library, a three-car garage and sits on 1.3 acres. It's in the prized Lower Merion school district and is just a stone’s throw from the beautiful Merion Botanical Gardens.
THE FINE PRINT
Square feet: 7,125
• Listing: 204 Merion Road, Merion Station, PA