The stretch of South Broad that runs between Oregon and Washington is officially known as the “Avenue of the States,” and flags from all 50 U.S. states hang from lampposts along the strip. More interesting than those banners (which are sometimes there and sometimes not) are the antique lettered marquees and neon signs that adorn several of the street’s historic buildings.
Here’s a photo tour of nine of the most iconic, with a brief background about the shops they call out.
Philip’s Restaurant (1145 S. Broad St.)
In 1940, Philip Muzi opened an Italian restaurant, but, because the U.S. was at war with Italy at the time, chose to brand it with his first name instead of his last. One of the first establishments to offer air conditioning (which is noted on the sign), the spot was busy — according to a Hidden City interview with his daughter-in-law Phyllis, there were lines out the door each weekend night. Open through the late 1990s, the restaurant ceased service around the turn of the century, but the interior is apparently still intact (perhaps more so than the sign outside), filled with chairs and tables and lots of antiques and curios collected over the years by Philip Jr.
Meglio Furs (1300 S. Broad St.)
The building that houses Salvatore Meglio Furs entered the Philadelphia tax register back in 1957, and the neon sign that spotlights it appears to date from a similar era. The mannequins that still haunt the window of the now-shuttered shop appear to harken from a more recent time, however — probably the 1980s, if you judge from the style of a poster also propped up in the front of the curtained veneer.
Bambi Cleaners (2439 S. Broad St.)
How did Tom Pitucci get away with using Bambi’s likeness to advertise his dry cleaning business without raising the ire of Disney? Maybe because in the 1950s, when he founded the business, commercial copyright was less of an issue. Though Pitucci died in 1987, the business was sold and is still operating, with the adorable fawn still welcoming all who pass through its doors.
Dolphin Tavern (1539 S. Broad St.)
For years a scuzzy nudie bar, the Dolphin Tavern shut down in 2012. Half a year later, in March 2013, developer-restaurateur Avram Hornik reopened the doors, having left much of the character of the dive bar intact, but upgrading things like the beer selection, entertainment (music, not strippers) and the gorgeous neon sign that arcs across the facade.
Philadelphia Gas Works (1601 S. Broad St.)
In 1941, when the building holding PGW’s South Philly office was built, the energy company had already been in business for 95 years. However, that year marked the beginning of city ownership of the operations, and with the municipal takeover came several new office locations. Modernizations have swept through much of the organization (check out the snazzy new website), but the sign on South Broad remains the same.
Bell Telephone (2000 S. Broad St.)
Presiding over the giant intersection where Passyunk meets Broad and McKean is a gorgeously solid masonry structure built in 1962 for the Bell Telephone Company of Pennsylvania, which had just spent 50 years gobbling up other telcos on the way to becoming part of AT&T’s nationwide monopoly. After being broken apart by a 1984 mandate, the company became part of what is now AT&T’s biggest cellphone competitor: Verizon, whose logo is rather rudely slapped in front of the original stone-carved sign.
Lerro’s (2434 S. Broad St.)
From the time he was 1 year old to his death in 2008 at age 93, Pasquale Lerro spent nearly all his time at the confectionery shop his Italian immigrant father opened in 1916. The shop is now run by his son, John Lerro, and his grandson, John Pasquale. The family hasn’t changed the sign out front, nor have they changed their recipes, eschewing preservatives and artificial flavors (even though it meant they were shut out of a potentially lucrative contract with Wawa, per Hidden City).
Carto Funeral Home (2212 S. Broad St.)
There’s no definitive answer to why there are so many funeral homes on South Broad, but there’s no missing the phenomenon — they lace the sidewalk there with bittersweet reminders of life’s fragility. One of the more notable facades boasts white brick covered with black script lettering, announcing the location of Nunzio Carto Jr.’s coffin enterprise. What other businesses he’s involved in, it is not certain, but his granddaughter Natalie Guercio was a recent star of reality show ‘Mob Wives.’
Boot & Saddle (1131 S. Broad St.)
Philly architecture high priestess Inga Saffron recently devoted an Inquirer Good Eye column to the intricately shaped relic that has adorned this tavern since the 1950s. When Avram Hornik (see Dolphin Tavern) decided to revamp it into a more modern drinkery and live music spot, a condition of his takeover was a restoration of the neon-clad boot. Though it took nearly two years, that re-lighting finally got going in early June. As of last week, however, the sign still hadn’t been reinstalled — Boot & Saddle management responded to inquiries about its status with a firm “No comment.”