Anthony J. Sciolla, 89, whose nightclub was once a place where Philadelphians swung with the stars, died Tuesday at Abington Memorial Hospital of a heart attack. He lived in Oak Lane and had a house in North Wildwood, too.
Before the rock-and-roll era of the Electric Factory, Sciolla's Supper Club in Northeast Philadelphia was the place to go. It was one of the Big Three of clubs in the area, along with the Latin Casino in Cherry Hill and Palumbo's in South Philadelphia, all now closed.
Founded by Sciolla's father, Gaetano "Pop" Sciolla, right after the end of Prohibition, the 500-seat club on Pike Street, near Fifth and the Boulevard, came to book a long list of top acts. Among them: Paul Anka, Frankie Avalon, Tony Bennett, Joey Bishop, Chubby Checker, Vic Damone, Bobby Darin, Fats Domino, Connie Francis, Al Martino and Jerry Vale.
Until it closed in the 1970s, the club also was a key venue for many Philadelphia performers early in their careers.
"Where the unknowns got their start," read a motto on the menu.
Among those it nurtured was Teddy Pendergrass. As Sciolla's son, A.J. Sciolla, recalled yesterday, Pendergrass' mother, Ida, was a cleaning woman at the club and she liked to keep her only son nearby.
"Every day after school, she made him come over to Sciolla's," said A.J. Sciolla, now a leading Philadelphia defense lawyer. "We used to wash dishes together when we were kids."
At age 13, in 1963, as Pendergrass recalled recently in an interview with The Inquirer, he would sneak into the showroom and teach himself to play on the drum kit.
As rock began to overtake pop in the early 1960s, Mr. Sciolla opened "Gene's on the Boulevard," taking the name from a previous owner.
Along with numerous cover bands, Gene's put on shows by such '60s rock and soul bands as the Guess Who, Archie Bell & the Drells, and the Soul Survivors.
He managed Gene's until 1983, when he retired from show business.
Mr. Sciolla belonged to St. Helena's Catholic Church in Olney. Every year, he would help get the Catholic Charities Appeal started with a special show at Sciolla's.
As a member of the Cedarbrook, Melrose, Whitemarsh and Wildwood Country Clubs, he was an avid golfer with a 4 handicap.
"A sharp dresser, an impressive dancer, a loving man, Tony lived his life without want or hesitating," his family wrote in a tribute.
Besides A.J., he is survived by his wife, Nanette Sciolla; a daughter, Nanette Carney; and sons David J. Sciolla and John J. Sciolla. Another daughter, Suzy, died before him. He is also survived by two brothers, Frank and Ralph.
Friends may call from 6 to 9 p.m. tonight at St. James Church, 8320 Brookside Rd., Elkins Park, and tomorrow from 9 to 9:45 a.m., followed by a Funeral Mass at 10 a.m. He is to be buried in Holy Sepulchre Cemetery in Cheltenham.