PHILADELPHIA: Diner That Was Site Of Historic 1965 LGBT Rights Protest To Close On Memorial Day

BillyPenn.com reports:

Little Pete’s is disappearing from Center City sooner than anyone thought. Although developers for the hotel that will replace the iconic diner at 17th and Chancellor had set August 31 as the deadline for vacating the space, owner Pete Koutroubas has decided to shut down earlier. He’s also throwing a farewell party. As reported by Philly Chit Chat, the last day of operation for Little Pete’s will be Monday, May 29 — Memorial Day. On the following Tuesday, Koutroubas is planning a block party to thank his many customers.

And here’s why the diner has a place in LGBT history:

We know the term ‘sit-in’ as just one aspect of the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s. In Philadelphia, four years before Stonewall, a different sit-in took place. Dewey’s was, at the time, a chain of coffee shops across the city. The 13th Street Dewey’s, open all night, was known as “the fag Dewey’s,” where queer customers mingled with cops needing coffee, a cross-section of life on 13th Street.

The other Dewey’s, however, were determined not to follow suit. The 17th Street Dewey’s, just off Rittenhouse Square (today the site is known as Little Pete’s) was open about refusing gay customers and those wearing non-conformist clothing, which is to say non-gender-conforming clothing.

More than 150 people – black, white, gay, lesbian and transgender – took part in the first protest on Sunday, April 25th, 1965. Three protesters were arrested. The Janus Society, a local gay-rights group, spread leaflets in support, and a second sit-in occurred on Sunday, May 2. The establishment, in the end, agreed to end their discrimination.

  • JoeMyGod

    Philadelphia’s “Annual Reminder Day” protests also predated Stonewall. https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/c29dfd534418389808c17d70bcab4aab9a157d1522a133e4e5ea77de47b56e05.jpg

    • Xiao Ai

      Thank you, Joe! I was born and raised in Pennsylvania and pride myself on my LGBT history, and yet I’d heard nothing about this.

      • clay

        There’s an official historical marker between the Constitution Center and the Liberty Bell, by the President’s House site.

        • Xiao Ai

          Thanks for the heads up! Something for me to see when I visit PA next time. 🙂

  • Tawreos

    It is amazing how far we have come in the last 50 years

    • CanuckDon

      But more amazing is the personal determination and bravery of those back then! I marvel at it…I truly do. Hats off to knowing the truth and being stubborn in showing it!

      • greenmanTN

        Truly. I would like to think I would have demonstrated the same courage and guts as those people, but thanks to them I never had to. Though the way things are going these days we may all have the chance to test our mettle.

        • David Walker

          Please do…for us old farts that are maybe unable to do the heavy lifting any longer. “When We Rise” was fucking brilliant, and the point was made that we started making demands before Stonewall. That’s a long time and it’s showing up in my bones. So yes, please everyone, not just greenmanTN, there is stuff to do. Marriage equality, in a way, was just the beginning. “Ain’t gonna let nobody turn me ’round.”

      • FAEN
        • David Walker

          Totally agree.

          • FAEN

            Now that it’s out in paperback I’m going to give them away to certain people I know. They probably won’t read it but at least I gave it a shot.

      • greenmanTN

        It’s worth noting that Magnus Hirschfeld’s Institute of Sexual Science (ISS) opened in Berlin in 1919, and was possibly the first to advocate for gay rights. Their ideas of sexuality were not exactly the same as ours, positing a “third sex,” but they were way ahead of their time.

        http://www.ibtimes.co.uk/magnus-hirschfeld-einstein-sex-who-braved-nazi-genocide-wage-lgbt-crusade-1502973

        One of the best known photos of a Nazi book burning, though rarely credited as such, is the ISS library going up in flames.

        http://www.dw.com/image/16792630_303.jpg

    • Rex

      My mom is 97. I often think of all the changes in her lifetime. It’s rather comparable to the changes for the LGBT community in mine.

  • bkmn
  • Derrick Johns

    Thanks, Joe.
    I must’ve passed by this establishment 1,000 times and never knew its history or more importantly, I didn’t know about the GLBT folks who created that history here in Philly.

    • David Walker

      Now that you do, please keep looking into it. Barbara Gittings, if no one else. The July 4 marches at Independence Hall. Philadelphia is rich in our history; it can’t be forgotten.

      • Derrick Johns

        Yes, David. I used to see Barbara Gittings a few times walking on Walnut street. We always spoke to each other. She was always gracious. I knew about her before I saw “Before Stonewall”. It was a joy to see her in person.

      • Derrick Johns

        You know, David, I also started going to Giovanni’s Room when I was only 20 years old. At that Gay bookstore, I meant the wonderful man, Joseph Beam, who put together the Black Gay anthology “In The Life”. Of course, I also met Ed Hermance who was the manager for years. He also has a beautiful personality Years later I also met the Black Gay poet Essex Hemphill here in Philly
        .
        I had a Lesbian friend (well, maybe Bisexual) tell me all about Black LGBT life in Philly when she was young in the 1950s. That social activity centered around Lombard Street in center city. She and I were suppose to write a book together about Gay Philly. We both disappeared on each other.

        And then there was Mark Siegal who began the Philadelphia Gay News paper. He was very militant and brave.

        Yeah, I guess you’re right that Philadelphia was a major factor in the rise of an LGBT identity and civil rights demands– almost as much as NYC and San Francisco.

        • David Walker

          Ed was a sweetheart. Giovanni’s Room was always an eye-opening experience whenever I went there.
          I wish that book on life in the ’50s on Lombard Street had happened. That would have been a fascinating read.
          My deceased partner, Jack Veasey, was Mark’s first editor of the PGN. Jack was no slouch in activism, either. He was also a poet. Someone at William Way said they were going to mount a show with Jack’s poetry, but I haven’t heard more about that.
          I’m just worried that each new generation will forget about the people who made our lives livable. Stonewall may mark the start of the gay rights’ movement, but it certainly isn’t where our history begins.

  • JoeMyGod

    When I visited Little Pete’s a few years ago the pedant in me forced me to inquire about the discrepancy between the names on the signage. Little Pete’s or Little Pete? The cashier had no idea what I was talking about.

    • BobSF_94117

      “A pasta what? Sure, we got macaroni.”

      • teeveedub

        Or, as it’s often referred to in the Northeast, “macaronis.”

    • AJ Drew

      You were hoping to meet Big Pete?

    • toddnlaw

      This is not historic; It is romanticizing. You don’t take away a property owner’s rights because you have a fond memory. Make a photo documentary but do not stop progress. “I want to save the place my husband and I had our first date.” Put up a sign and create a website. Ugh!

  • justme

    The country could use a little of that “fire” today…

  • another_steve

    People (including LGBT people) sometimes forget that there was a movement before Stonewall in 1969. Brave pioneers who took considerable risk in speaking out.

    I had the privilege of meeting one of our movement’s pioneers — Frank Kameny — at one of D.C.’s Pride celebrations. Without his bold work and the efforts of others, Stonewall might never have happened.

    • AJ Drew

      Yes, and thank you for the remembrance…

      https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Frank_Kameny

    • A Drake

      I also met Frank a few years back. And I had the pleasure of spending some time with and sharing some of my own photo work with Barbara Gittings and Kay Lahusen. Kay, in fact, has requested prints of more recent protests that I have shot.

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  • Lazycrockett

    Go Pete!

  • A Drake

    SHHH! Don’t tell anyone in NYC about this — or the protests at Independence Hall July 4, 1965-68 for that matter. They think THEY started the LGBT rights revolution and it would totally depress them to find out that once again they are second fiddle to Philadelphia.

    • Chuck in NYC

      Hey, I get the joke, but a little credit. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been at meetings in NYC over the years when Stonewall is brought up and someone chimes in with something like, “Yes, and let’s remember all the people who fought for our rights around the world before Stonewall.” And it can get as specific as crediting protests at Independence Hall and in front of the White House and events in Berlin a century ago.

      I agree there certainly is a focus on Stonewall as a lynchpin in the movement — which it was — but while watching When We Rise I realized a lot of things going on in San Francisco during the last 45 years (two prominent examples: SF Gay Men’s Chorus; the Gay Games) were never mentioned in favor of the shorthand of Haight-Ashbury/Women’s Building/Castro/Milk/AIDS/drug abuse/marriage.

  • Henry Auvil

    I’m thinking LittlePete would be a poor choice for a username on Grindr.

  • Lars Littlefield

    Well, sic transit gloria, y’all. I’d like a cheeseburger deluxe to go, please.

  • Chuck from PA

    Back in the late 60s and early 70s before I came out around 1974, I used to go to Dewey’s on 17th after bar closing time. I went with members of my straight crowd, and we always had a great time. As suburban kids we loved rubbing shoulders with the somewhat decadent gay and S&M crowd that went there after the 247 Bar closed at 2:00 AM. I never knew about the earlier protest. By 1970 the place was always jumping after Bar Closing Time. Who knew that in a few years I’d be heading their directly from the 247 at 2:00 AM on so many Friday and Saturday nights. Just glad that my suburban crowd was open minded and adventurous. And since I knew about the 247 Bar, that was where I went on the night I came out. There and the Allegro, and one other bar that I can’t remember the name of.

    • Chuck from PA

      I failed to mention that Little Pete’s was previously called Dewey’s. Two names for the same place.

    • Johnny Wyeknot

      Ah! I thought that was you!

  • PublicSchool

    Isn’t the term “gender-non-conforming” and NOT “non-gender-conforming”? The former refers to something (e.g. clothing) that does not conform to what is expected for the perceived gender. The latter refers to something (e.g. clothing) that conforms to “non-gender” and makes absolutely zero sense to me.

    Sorry to be all schoolmarmish…

    • A valid question, Public School… But I think this is one of those plentiful English grammar “Six of one, a half-dozen of the other” situations. If you break down the parts, the non- prefix preceeds what is NOT happening; i.e., we’re not not conforming to gender, we’re not not conforming to conforming.

      Proof that those ESL students have such problems with the English language! 😉

      • PublicSchool

        I think I get you. I was thinking of it as “(non-gender) conforming” but I should think if it as “non (gender-conforming)”.

        I am Helen Keller and you are Anne Sullivan and we’re at the water pump right now! Thank you!

        • W-A-T-E-R. [As I blush from such praise AND an Alabama reference to boot!]

  • Philatonian

    I guess “Stonewall” had a more defiant ring to it than “Dewey’s.” It’s a shame it took the demolition (or impending demolition of the second) to make us realize what history these two places held. Stonewall definitely earned its place in the history books, but Philadelphia’s Yearly Reminders and the sit-ins at Dewey’s, both several years earlier, have been all but forgotten.

    I’m glad to see these, as well as other acts throughout the country and the world, finally getting recognized in their own unique contexts.

    I really wish local preservationists had gotten out in front of the demolition of Dewey’s 13th Street location a few years ago. Some called out its architectural significance, and I think had historians really understood what it was at one time to the LGBTQ community, it could have been saved. Lessons for the next time I suppose.