A month-long buzz around Northeast Philadelphia rose to a boil last Thursday evening as hundreds of area residents packed the St. Dominic’s Church hall to learn and complain about a suspected “swingers” club in the community.
The monthly meeting of the Upper Holmesburg Civic Association also attracted Philadelphia’s Licenses and Inspection Commissioner David Perri, City Councilmen Bobby Henon and David Oh, state Reps. Ed Neilson, Mike Driscoll and Kevin Boyle, as well as state Sen. John Sabatina. Officers from the 8th Police District were also there to answer questions and make sure emotions didn’t get out of hand.
One glaring absence from the meeting was the man who, Henon said, recently bought Rosewood Inn Caterers at 8832 Frankford Ave. and who may be trying to renovate the place. Henon said that Tom Sherwood had previously agreed to speak at the meeting, but later cancelled due to a family obligation.
The Northeast Times has attempted to contact Sherwood through a telephone number on the “Saints & Sinners” website, but he did not reply to a message left at that number.
Saints & Sinners is the name of at least two existing night spots, one in Atlantic City and another in Port Richmond, each of which the management advertises as a “swinger’s club,” “adult playground” and host of “the sexiest & largest on-premise [sic] couples parties on the East Coast.” Sometime before March 24, the chain began promoting a new Northeast Philly location on its website and a grand-opening party there on April 16. Saints & Sinners never posted the Frankford Avenue address on its website. But based on ownership information in public records, as well as descriptions of the venue posted on the website, neighbors made the connection between Saints & Sinners and the Rosewood.
Henon said at last Thursday’s meeting that Sherwood misled him about his intended use of the property.
“In January, I spoke to the man who purchased the Rosewood,” Henon said. “He told me that it’s going to remain a catering hall. But that is not the intended use of Mister Sherwood and Saints & Sinners. Not only was I lied to, but we all were lied to. Nobody in the community was notified and included in the process, and that includes myself.”
Several weeks ago, Perri said, L&I inspectors visited the property and determined that interior renovations were well underway, although the city had issued no construction permits for the site. Inspectors found that workers had created a series of small rooms inside the banquet hall and that the kitchen equipment had been removed. L&I officials also took note of the online advertising.
“An adult-oriented business such as a swingers club is not permitted in that district,” Perri said
To change the legal use, the proprietor would have to apply to the city and, if refused, would have to seek a zoning variance, meet with the community and appear before the Zoning Board of Adjustment, Perri explained.
“The burden of proof for a variance is on the applicant and it’s high,” he said.
L&I has issued a stop-work order for the property, banning additional renovations or construction. Police have been instructed to arrest anyone seen working on the site. Some landscaping and cleanup around the property is still allowed, said Perri, who encouraged neighbors to keep an eye on the property and report any construction directly to the 8th Police District. Community Relations Officer Joe Hansbury said that folks can call 215–686–3080 to report suspicious activity. Meanwhile, police will be stopping by the site three to four times per shift, Hansbury said.
Perri further said that L&I will refuse to issue any new work permits for the address because, as things stand, the city doesn’t believe that the proprietors intend to use it as a catering hall.
“We’re going to stand by the advertising that was distributed until they prove otherwise,” Perri said. “If they submit an application, we will not accept anything other than what we know their intended use is.”
Ironically, as people filed into the civic meeting, a woman stood outside the front door and passed out promotional pamphlets for the Rosewood Inn, as if the new owners want to continue operating the catering business. The full-color booklets depict photos of wedding couples, dinner buffets and ballroom dancing.
Each booklet contained an insert with an apparent statement from the proprietor, insisting that the site is still a catering hall, that it “is not an adult venue or a sex club” and that the proprietor is “in the process of preparing a lawsuit against anyone that slanders The Rosewood Inn Caterers.”
“Shame on the ones that have spread this garbage,” the paper states, before promising that the Rosewood will host an open house for the community in May.
At one point in the meeting, Henon asked if anyone in the room wanted to speak on behalf of the property owner or business. Nobody stepped forward. ••