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Ballroom...or swinger's club?

Vigilant neighbors shut down un-sexy work at the former Rosewood Caterers in Upper Holmesburg

Members of the Upper Holmesburg Civic Association (from left) Stanley Cywinski, Ed Rice, Tom Geisler, Dan Collins, Nancy Quinn, Marianne Letterio, Pete Montini, Liam Cywinski, 5, and Matthew Cywinski, in front of the former Rosewood Caterers on Frankford Avenue.
Members of the Upper Holmesburg Civic Association (from left) Stanley Cywinski, Ed Rice, Tom Geisler, Dan Collins, Nancy Quinn, Marianne Letterio, Pete Montini, Liam Cywinski, 5, and Matthew Cywinski, in front of the former Rosewood Caterers on Frankford Avenue.Read moreED NEWTON / For the Inquirer

WHO PRINTED up those fliers about Saints & Sinners?

Was it a biddy with the Morals Police, clutching her pearls? A frisky dad who doesn't want his usual brand of sexual encounters going down in the neighborhood where he's raising his kids? A jealous rival of Saints & Sinners, eager to cause trouble?

We'll probably never know who in Upper Holmesburg anonymously blew the horn. But we do know the deafening response it got. And that could turn out to be a very good thing, for reasons that have nothing to do with throwing ice water on the horny fun of consenting adults.

Which, actually, some of the adults might be into.

But about those fliers.

In late March, residents in Upper Holmesburg found the photocopied papers on their windshields, screaming big news:

Saints & Sinners, a "swingers/sex club," would soon open at the former Rosewood Caterers, at 8888 Frankford Ave.

"This building was recently purchased and is currently being retrofitted and remodeled for their 'Grand Opening' . . . !!!" the flier announced, its exclamation points amplifying the alarm.

"If no action is taken by our community!!! This Swingers/Sex club will open in our neighborhood on Saturday April 16th!!!"

The announcement dropped on the community like a giant WTF-bomb.

For 40 years, the Rosewood, which closed in 2014, had been the go-to spot for weddings and bar mitzvahs, Christmas and retirement parties, bridal showers and funeral lunches.

Its reputation had been wholesome, and neighbors hoped the legacy would continue. After all, the hall backs up to housing, sits near two schools and is within spitting distance of St. Dominic's Catholic Church.

So, oh, the shock of that flier.

Billing itself as "Philly's Premier Adult Playground," Saints & Sinners has as its cheeky motto, "I'd rather run with the sinners than walk with the saints."

(OK, that's pretty funny.)

The club already has one Philadelphia location and another in Atlantic City. Its current Philly site sits in a windowless, unmarked, 6,000 square-foot building at 2533 Salmon St. in Port Richmond (but patrons access the club through its back door on Emery Street). Its website brags about the first-floor bar, dance floor with pole, and seating area, and a lower level where "the party goes until the morning hours with private, open, semiprivate and group play areas."

Helpfully, "there is always an attendant on the lower level to change sheets and keep order."


When neighbors checked the club's Facebook page, they saw a photo of the Rosewood's interior, and this announcement: "SAINTS AND SINNERS - LOVE ALL SERVE ALL - WE ARE EXCITED TO ANNOUNCE OUR GRAND OPENING OF OUR THIRD LOCATION."

Elsewhere, the club touted the convenience of the new site's location: a nearby 24-hour diner, gas station, liquor store and fast-food restaurants, which - in an amazing coincidence - are all near the Rosewood, too. For the grand opening, the club had even reserved hotel rooms at Bensalem's Holiday Inn Express.

"Our phones rang off the hook" with calls from alarmed neighbors, said City Councilman Bobby Henon. "They wanted to know what was going on."

So did Henon. When the Rosewood was sold, he had contacted its new owner, Tom Sherwood, to ask his intentions.

"He said he was going to use it for catering and ballroom dancing," Henon recalled.

But neighbors had done sleuthing and what they learned cemented their conviction that the Rosewood was to be a den of sin:

Construction workers had ripped out the Rosewood's kitchen. A shower and locker rooms were being installed. And semiprivate rooms were being erected where dads once danced with their girls at Sweet 16 parties.

It seemed awfully swingerish.

So L&I inspected the site, found extensive renovation being done without permits, and shut the place down.

"You can't just come in here, open a sex club, and get away with it," said Stan Cywinski, president of the Upper Holmesburg Civic Association. "This is a family oriented area. It will chase away good families and businesses."

That stretch of Frankford Avenue needs good businesses. The Pathmark and Food Basics supermarkets recently closed, and Kmart will shut down in late July.

That's why association members are thrilled that the Philadelphia Housing Authority has just approved a redevelopment plan for the 32-acre site of the old Liddonfield Homes, at Torresdale Avenue and Megargee Street. The $40 million project will bring low-income senior housing, a senior center, and two athletic fields for nearby Holy Family University.

"That's the kind of development we need," said Cywinski. "It will bring jobs and shoppers and help us attract a new supermarket. A sex club won't."

Especially a club that opens at 9 p.m. and closes at 5 a.m. So much for foot traffic on the avenue.

Almost 500 people attended the April meeting of the civic association to shout their disdain for the Rosewood's rumored new use. Sherwood declined to attend, saying his wife was ill.

But he told me his lawyers were there anonymously, taking notes. They reported back on how crazy the rumors had gotten.

"There will be no sex club there!" he said emphatically. "It'll be catering and ballroom dancing. But the agencies of this city are conspiring to deny people good jobs. I am suing people for slander! This is collusion!"

Sherwood said he owns 100 properties in the area, including the Port Richmond building that's home to Saints & Sinners.

City records show the club itself is owned by Northeast Entertainment Inc.

I couldn't reach its officers, Allan Mostow and Dennis Freeland. Nor would Sherwood or a club employee put me in touch with the men.

"They would not talk to you if you gave them a million dollars," said Sherwood. "You know why? Their members are your police and firefighters, your schoolteachers and construction workers. These people are everywhere. They're like the CIA! You don't realize how many people are into the lifestyle."

Sherwood said he's not involved in the club, yet he also said he takes calls there all the time (a staffer took a message for him when I called). And a Sherwood family member is involved in the running of the Atlantic City club.

So who knows with this guy?

Sherwood said the Facebook post about the Rosewood was merely a promo for a birthday party that Saints & Sinners wanted to throw him. The members gather, he said, "to discuss current events and travel."

Is that what swingers are calling it these days?

The only person whose word I trust on this is L&I Commissioner Dave Perri. He said Sherwood has at last filed permits for work on the Rosewood, identifying it as a catering hall.

"But based on the work he did without permits and the advertisement," said Perri, "we do not believe he intends to reopen as catering hall. So we need for him to prove to us otherwise" before L&I issues permits.

As for Saints & Sinners in Port Richmond, Perri said, "I can say emphatically that they do not have the zoning permit that would support an adult club or a swingers club."

The club also lacks licenses for food prep and serving, special-assembly occupancy, and amusement. So this kerfuffle has popped them above L&I's radar.

"The irony," said Perri, "is that a well-run swingers club probably has less impact on the surrounding neighborhood than a catering hall or nightclub. A swingers' club appeals to obese 40- and 50-year-old men having a night on the town, and all they want to do afterward is go home and sleep. They're not gonna be urinating and fighting with each other in the parking lot."

True, but beside the point here.

What neighbors hate is being hoodwinked. And the good people of Upper Holmesburg were being played for fools by a veteran developer who knows when permits are needed for work and when they're not. And he thought he could slip something by them.

The fact that he couldn't says a lot about Upper Holmesburg, a neighborhood strong enough to stand up for itself, big-time.

My hope is that this situation has gotten the attention of a good supermarket developer who sees that such a neighborhood will be a great place to do business.

Said Perri, "What neighbors don't like is when people sneak around behind their backs instead of talking with them. You've got to be forthcoming and honest. When you are, people usually give you a fair shot."

Even if their answer is "No!!!"

215-854-2217 @RonniePhilly