Preservation

Philip’s Restaurant

September 22, 2011 | by Rachel Hildebrandt

 

The first floor dining room, looking towards the entryway. Photo courtesy of Phyllis Muzi

In Philadelphia, flashy neon signs like those in Los Angeles, Chicago, and Seattle are few and far between. Maybe it’s because of our colonial roots, or perhaps because a greater number of ours have been taken down. One of the remaining gems, the Philip’s Restaurant sign, hangs from a brownstone mansion on South Broad Street. Although the sign has ceased to glow since the restaurant closed over a decade ago, it continues to attract the attention and pique the interest of passerby. We spoke with the Italian eatery’s former proprietor, Phyllis Muzi, about its past.

RH: Tell me about the restaurant’s history.
PM: My husband’s father opened it in 1942 or 1944. I forget which. At that time, we were at war with Italy, so he used his first name (Philip) instead of his family name.

RH: What was your role there?
PM: It was family-run. We did everything. I mainly hostessed and waitressed.

RH: What was it like on a typical Friday or Saturday night?
PM: Lines were out the door. It was always very busy. But none of the customers were from South Philly. They came from the Main Line and out of state.

RH: What were the most popular dishes?
PM: Veal and T-bone steak.

RH: And what were the most popular drinks?
PM: It changed from year to year. When we first started working, the girls would drink pink ladies, pink squirrels, and grasshoppers. The guys liked scotches and vodkas.

The conspicuous sign. Photo by Peter Woodall

RH: How do you use the space now?
PM: Everything is set up the same way, even the tables and the chairs, but it’s no longer open for business.

RH: Do you have any plans for the site?
PM: No, none.

RH: Do you have any hopes for the site?
PM: No, not as long as I’m alive. I could sell it tomorrow, but I don’t want to. I get calls at least once a week from people who are interested in buying it.

RH: Are you aware of the fact that Philadelphia signage enthusiasts love your sign?
PM: Oh yeah. I see people taking pictures of it. When it went up, it was the biggest sign on South Broad Street. It says ‘air conditioning’ because we were the first Italian restaurant to have air conditioning. The others, Ralph’s, Dante Luigi’s, and Victor’s, didn’t have it.

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About the Author

Rachel Hildebrandt Rachel Hildebrandt, a graduate of PennDesign, is a native Philadelphian who is passionate about the changing city she inhabits. Before beginning her graduate studies in historic preservation with a focus on policy, Rachel obtained a B.A. in Psychology from Chestnut Hill College and co-authored two books, The Philadelphia Area Architecture of Horace Trumbauer (2009) and Oak Lane, Olney, and Logan (2011). She currently works as a senior program manager at Partners for Sacred Places.

9 Comments:

  1. Lauren Drapala says:

    Just saw this on the Preservation Alliance e-newsletter. I thought it was a good compliment to this article: As part of his Neon Museum of Philadelphia collection, Len Davidson is acquiring and restoring two Horn & Hardart retail shop signs. (Thirteen of the Neon Museum pieces are on display at the Center for Architecture, 1218 Arch Street.) The H&H signs were put up inside 30th Street Station between the 1930s and 1950s and taken down in the 1980s. The restored sign cabinets are 12′ x 30″ with original 10″ neon in stainless letters. Mr. Davidson is looking for photos of the original signs to make the restorations as original as possible. If you have or know of such a photo, or would like to learn more about these signs, please contact Mr. Davidson at 215.232.0478 or len@davidsonneon.com. http://www.davidsonneon.com/

  2. anon says:

    So she’s happy to just let it sit vacant, dragging down the block?

  3. Damon Bonetti says:

    Sentimentality aside, it is an eyesore – sell the place, lady, to someone who will preserve the place and bring it back to life – who cares if you had air-conditioning before Ralph’s, Dante & Luigi’s and Victor’s – these places are still taking reservations.

  4. tom flanagan says:

    I live in Denver for the past 38 years, but I have fond memories of the meals.
    My wife is 100% Italian and a great cook!, but we would love to and the wonderful
    veal dishes! We miss Carlo, John and and remember Phyllis well.

  5. Sandy says:

    About 20 years ago, me and my sister were eating at the Broad Street Diner. As we left, we couldn’t help but notice the old building. Being Twins and curious, we knocked on the door. She was very sweet and let us in to take a peek. We were ouuuuing and ahhhhing at how beautiful it was. Completely original. Places like this is far and few between. Instead of insulting the owner and making her the bad guy, maybe come together and see if there is something you can do in the community to help her make it look nice again. You can start by power washing the facad. C’mon people, tearing it down or giving it to someone who will change it is not the right thing to do. Preserver it. Make her want to preserve it and tell her how wonderful the place is and how it can bring the community together. IT’S AN AWESOME PLACE!! Like the Titanic before it sunk. LETS NOT LET THIS ONE SINK!!

    1. Rachel Hildebrandt says:

      I’m with you, Sandy!

  6. Head Egg says:

    I,m with you both ……….. It needs to be saved. So much so ,I bought it in December!

    1. Neighbor says:

      Hey! I live in the adjoining building! Where did the fish statue go? Do you plan on making this residential or opening a restaurant?

  7. Head Egg says:

    I don’t know about the fish , it swam away before I closed on the building. As far as the future of the property goes, it’s currently mixed use and it shall remain that way with eyes on renovations in the early planning stage. Let me just say this, I along with many others have pursued this property for years . All with various reasons and intentions I was fortunate enough to come to an agreement with the Muzi family. My intentions are to make Phyllis smile from heaven……….. Stay tuned,. I’ll have more in the coming months.

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