Gay Old Times

Philadelphia may be one of the most gay-friendly cities in America, but it wasn’t always that way. Tracking down the gay pioneers who first settled in the blocks between Broad Street and Washington Square, Amy Korman hears tales of courage, crisis, community, drag queens and Frank Rizzo — and chronicles the making of the place we call the Gayborhood

David Warner, former editor, City Paper: Is it true I coined the term “Gayborhood”? Yes. At least, I always thought it was true — I’ve seen so many uses of it since, in so many other contexts, that I wondered if maybe I’d just tapped simultaneously into some gay zeitgeist. But if people want to give me credit, hey, I’ll take it!

Tony Goldman, developer: When we came into the area, 13th Street was virtually a red-light district — people would avoid it. Now it’s become a prime street. What’s referred to as the Gayborhood is a neighborhood of very creative people, a closely knit community where there’s a lot of creative energy. 

Frank Rizzo Jr.: My father had a good relationship with Mark Segal, and Mark Segal told me he was going to support my dad for reelection in ’91. Mark met with my dad a few days before his death, and he always appreciated that my father would not allow the gay community to be victimized.

In 1997, the William Way Community Center opened in the old Engineers’ Club, a Union League-esque paneled retreat.

Dolph Ward Goldenburg, former director, William Way Community Center: William Way’s friends called him Bill Way, and there was a time when groups all held meetings in his living room. Bill was the first high-ranking civil servant in the City of Philadelphia to be out as a gay man and to be out about having HIV. He died of complications from AIDS in ’96, but he made a tremendous impact on people’s lives while he was alive. He was very involved in the community center. And now 100 different groups use our space.

Henri David: The Engineers’ Club was a bit stuffy. The members weren’t high–society, exactly, but it was a gentlemen’s club; it had dark wood and dark walls. When the community center bought it, I hired an artist to take out the fan-shaped transom over the door and replace it with a rainbow.

Mark Segal: The best example of how this neighborhood changed from being homophobic is the Guzzardi family, who owned a lot of buildings in the area. The Gay News opened its office across from a Guzzardi building, and one night the senior Guzzardi came into the [PGN] building and took out all the electric and plumbing. Thirty years later, the Guzzardi family helped finance the William Way center — they went from literally trying to tear the community apart to putting it together.


“A full seat at the table.”

The name “Gayborhood” stuck, thanks in part to a P.R. campaign that invited tourists to “Get Your History Straight and Your Nightlife Gay.”

Jeff Guaracino, Greater Philadelphia Tourism Marketing Corporation: We were one of the first big cities to market ourselves to gay tourists. There was Provincetown, Key West, Fire Island, but we were the first big city.