During my daily journeys, I met a musician named Chris Larkin. Our connection was keyboards ... the difference was that he could actually play them! Chris was part of a new wave band here in Philly called The Vels - perhaps one of the first to feature white girl rap and hit the pop charts.
The Vels had an incredible sound - no matter the weather, whenever you heard The Vels, it was summertime. The lead was this girl named Alice - I can't remember her last name, but I do remember that her mother was pretty popular in the big band circles in Philly back in the 1940s.
There were several bands that were staples of the local music scene - playing at least twice a week somewhere in one of the dozens of live music venues in Center City. The Vels were one of those bands - at one time they played a weekly gig at... The Hard Rock Cafe.
Years before musicans decided to take their garbage from storage and have it thrown on the walls so that bored wait staff could serve people overpriced burgers for the "experience"... Philadelphia had a music venue called The Hard Rock Cafe.
Ironically it was just steps away from the current location of 12/Market. The original Hard Rock Cafe was at 12/Sansom, above the London Restaurant - which was owned by Warren Browne, who also owned the London Victory Club at the corner of 10/Chestnut.
The Cafe wasn't much - but seeing The Vels there for free every week was always a pick-me-up. The fans they had were like family and the music was always pure synthpop.
As for the London Victory Club, this was a large disco club located at the corner of 10/Chestnut. This place was HUGE inside. The first floor had all the right elements for a club - deep dark make-out rooms with 20-foot ceilings and enormous 16-foot-high open doorways "telescoping" room to room. The dancefloor had 30-foot ceilings, and there was this cable overhead and on it was a spaceship that traveled back and forth - and then it would explode and dancers would dangle and spin from it while the club shook with heavy bass. The place was stellar.
In 1982 it hosted some great dance/new music acts like Pretty Poison, The Stickmen, No Milk and others.
Below - in the underground level - was the BEST vinyl store in Center City. You could go and get 12" singles for .99 each ... it was THE place to get the latest in disco, dance and new wave tracks ... which were all spun upstairs at the club.
Sometime in '82 a suspcious electrical fire occured and that was the end of that. The fact is, suspicious fires were a staple of the scene back in the early 1980s as property values began to slowly rise it was easier to just tourch the place, get the insurance and start anew - or sell the property for top dollar.
In the case of the Victory Building, nothing happened, since the building was owned by the king of slumloards, the evil Sam Rappaport. This man single-handedly stalled Philadelphia and its growth for decades.
So, the Victory building burned and closed and sat - empty and homeless for years. Every day you could walk by and look up and see trees growing taller from its roof as the building was left to rot. The one saving grace was that the Victory building was built to withstand war. It's built out of granite, masonry and marble. So - from the outside, it just looked closed. [click the image to the left to enlarge]
Rappaport was known to neglect his properties - and this beauty was not an exception. Thankfully, the Preservation Alliance for Greater Philadelphia and the Philadelphia Management Corporation worked to save the structure from the city's wrecking ball. They preserved and restored the building, and now it is a combination of retail and living space. Although everytime I walk by the space, I still expect to see the record shop 4 steps below the sidewalk on Chestnut. Memories.