Back in the swingin’ ’60s, South Philly was an epicenter of celebrity sightings, some might say. And a project by the co-creator of the incredibly popular holiday card to the neighborhood at Tasker and Passyunk would like to show that history off.
Kate Mellina is hosting a slideshow of dozens of historical photographs on Saturday, March 15 at 11 a.m. at the Charles Santore Library at 932 S. 7th St. The exhibition will focus on Arthur Tavani, a former South Philadelphia publicist, newspaper columnist and nightlife photographer who worked for the South Philadelphia American and Philadelphia Exclusive newspapers.
Tavani’s work enabled him to rub shoulders with stars like Bobby Rydell, Jerry Vale, Tony Bennett, Bob Hope, Liberace, Jimmy Durante, Tom Jones and more at legendary places like Palumbo’s and the Venus Lounge. And he loved taking pictures with them.
Mellina said she had no idea of the neighborhood’s cachet at the time until someone gave her and husband Dave Christopher a poignant housewarming gift when they moved to Passyunk and Tasker – a 12-pound, 3-ring binder holding 197 mostly black and white 8″x10″ photos from the mid-1960s. Tavani was in nearly every one.
“Having been away from Philly for 38 years (and having grown up in NE Philly), I didn’t know more than a fraction of this last fall,” Mellina said. She previously lived in Asbury Park, where she has been doing a weekly feature for the local Coaster newspaper spotlighting an old postcard or photo from the central Jersey shore along with a few lines describing its history.
Since getting the binder, Mellina has been piecing together the stories behind the photos by speaking with longtime residents and doing research online, at the main Free Library and at Temple University’s Urban Archives. She also did a slideshow at the South Philly Older Adults Center at Passyunk and Dickinson.
Going forward, she has arranged to meet with Tavani’s family and hopes that Saturday’s slideshow produces further leads. Within two years she plans to donate the photos and all her back-up research to Temple’s Urban Archives.
Before that happens, however, she’s going to use them as part of her next holiday display in the windows of her place at Passyunk and Tasker, like she did last year with the neighbors. Pretty neat, huh?