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March 24, 2016

Dispatches from the Gayborhood: William Way plans reno, yoga studio opening soon

LGBT arts & culture in the Gayborhood and beyond

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02-032316_William Way.jpg Thom Carroll/PhillyVoice

The interior of the William Way LGBT Community Center, located at 1315 Spruce St. The first floors of 1315-1317 Spruce Street were merged together by the Engineers Club of Philadelphia in the 1920s to create the floor plan that exists today.

Philadelphia's Gayborhood has long thrived as the heart of a motley community of LGBT people, one that constantly and actively funnels through as its lifeblood. In this recurring series, we highlight the latest LGBT cultural happenings in the Gayborhood (and beyond) -- including nightlife, art, music and every other significant contribution of queerness this city so lovingly cultivates. 

William Way Community Center receives funding for preliminary design plan

It goes without saying that William Way Community Center's 160-year-old digs at 1315 Spruce St. are in need of a tune-up. And, at last, it's looking like it will get one.

Paul Steinke, the co-chair of William Way's board of directors, told PhillyVoice the LGBT center was selected by the Center City-based Community Design Collaborative to receive a pro bono preliminary design plan. The selection essentially allows the center to draft a master plan for potential renovations cost-free alongside a team of volunteer designers. 

The design process will take approximately six months, Steinke said. From there, the center will receive a cost estimate from the design collaborative and evaluate fundraising needs for construction.

“We definitely want to upgrade the physical condition of the existing public spaces -- the lobby, the ballroom, the meeting rooms and, ultimately, we think it would be great to have a catering kitchen so the center can be more competitive in hosting private events like wedding receptions, private parties, bar mitzvahs, birthday parties, that stuff," Steinke said. "And one thing on our most wanted list is upgraded restrooms."

The idea is also being tossed around of implementing a cafe, Steinke added, which would provide a more functional community space. 

Thom Carroll/PhillyVoice

William Way LGBT Community Center, located at 1315 Spruce St.

And, given that Steinke's recently been hired to head the Preservation Alliance (and previously led the Reading Terminal Market renovations), he's also plenty concerned with preserving architectural character while "making the building shine again."

"This is long overdue and desperately needed, and you can’t really do anything like this without a plan," he said. "So this, at least, gets us on track to having a plan."

Chris Bartlett, executive director of William Way, told PhillyVoice the plan is to expand the center in a way that meets programmatic needs in new ways, with hopes to increase rental and program space, as well as re-envision the lobby to have less of "a 19th-century club feel."

First constructed as a residence in the 1840s, the building saw fairly consistent renovations for much of the 19th and 20th centuries, as both a townhouse and, for 82 years, as the Engineers Club of Philadelphia. However, the building has gone largely untouched since the engineers left in 1989 and since William Way purchased the building in 1996. 

A community task force consisting of approximately 25 members of the LGBT community, ranging from representatives of the AIDS Fund to the Attic Youth Center, will meet in the months ahead to weigh in on the design plan.

More dispatches: 

• Sanctuary Yoga springs up at 1233 Locust Street. Sanctuary Yoga studio, set to open the weekend of April 23, is owned by Kilkenny Tremblay, wife of Quest Chiropractic owner Jeremy Tremblay, who you might recognize from the same building that houses 12th Street Gym. Tremblay told PhillyVoice she chose the area because it's "filled with a vibrancy, a beauty, a creativity and an openness -- all key components in our minds to health and wellness." She added that she'll host a charity class every Sunday, with plans to work LGBT-serving organizations into the mix of benefitting charities. 

• Local photog and DJ launch 'ChariTdance' party series. Gayborhood photographer Alexander John Ortiz and DJ KRK (Kirk Beres) have teamed up for a new recurring dance party that donates half of its proceeds to LGBT charities. Thus far, donations have gone to Mazzoni Center, though Ortiz told PhillyVoice they're open to roping in other local charities. From an entertainment standpoint, Ortiz explained the goal is to offer pop-up parties with EDM music, as well as an atmosphere that emphasizes visuals through the use of blacklights, videos and drag queens -- ones booked to socialize, not perform. You can catch the party's second go-around at Tabu on April 16.

• Starbucks at 12th and Walnut streets is getting a facelift. Now that Cafe Twelve is a goner (for now), the Gayborhood's left with Starbucks as its go-to caffeinated hangout space. Thankfully, it's getting a makeover later this year: a local architecture firm has been hired to redo the interior. Look for construction to start this summer.

• qFLIX sets premiere date. qFLIX Philadelphia, the spiritual successor to LGBT indie-film festival QFest, will run from July 3-10. No official word on a location for the premiere but all signs point to the Kimmel Center.

Michael Newman/William Way Community Center

'#21' by Michael Newman.

Abstract art exhibit 'Look Closer' now open at William Way. Artists Michael Newman and Stuart Alter will display their work at William Way's art gallery space through April 29. Newman, an actor by training, uses the Meisner method -- traditionally an acting technique that draws from sense memory -- as a way to evoke a strong emotional response from onlookers. Alter, meanwhile, is a self-taught artist who takes an interest in the interaction of colors and the portrayal of everyday scenes as viewed through an objective lens. 

• Brittany Lynn's gone and put out a coffee table book. Any follower of Brittany Lynn is familiar with the knee-slapping hilarity of her daily face photo updates on Facebook, in which she slaps her mug on famous pop culture images. In light of her 20th anniversary of doing drag, as well as Brittany Lynn Day on March 15 (no, really, it's officially cited by City Council), she's compiled some of her fave photos into a collection you can purchase in the form of the "Many Faces of Brittany Lynn" coffee table book. More merchandise, like T-shirts, is in the pipeline.

• Gayborhood archivist launches Philadelphia LGBT Mapping Project. Curator of the John J. Wilcox, Jr. LGBT Archives Bob Skiba has launched the Philadelphia LGBT Mapping Project, a Facebook page that identifies spaces in Philadelphia significant to the city's LGBT history. The objective is to find spaces worthy of recognition from the National Park Service's LGBT Heritage Initiative, or of a historical marker. "With marriage equality passing last year, it just seems right," Skiba told PhillyVoice. "There’s a real interest in LGBT history and kids need to know that what happened last year didn’t happen out of the blue. People have been working on this for 50 years.” State-issued historical markers for LGBT spaces in Philadelphia currently include Giovanni's Room and Independence Hall, but Skiba is hoping to add Dewey's to that list in the near future. Dewey's, a once-upon-a-time coffee shop located at what is now Little Pete's, was the site of the first known peaceful LGBT demonstration in the country.

• 'Bangarang' update: Calvin Woodruff A-OK after top surgery. Last month, the Gayborhood united to raise funds for pals Mika Karnessis and Calvin Woodruff, two trans men out to finally get their top surgeries after four years of transitioning. Karnessis is currently awaiting surgery scheduled for September, but Woodruff successfully underwent the procedure late last month and is mid-recovery. "I couldn't be more grateful to Philly's LGBT community for their overwhelming kindness and generosity," Woodruff told PhillyVoice. "Together we were able to cover my hospital fees, which came as a huge relief after I was recently denied coverage for surgery by my Pa. health insurance ... To those who performed, donated, or supported Mika and I during the fundraiser, I can't say 'Thank you' enough." Woodruff and Karnessis hope to bring back the "Bangarang" event in the future to raise money for other trans people in financial need. 

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