On the corner of 13th and Locust Streets, there are street signs memorializing members of the LGBTQ community: Edie Windsor Way, Barbara Gittings Way, and now, Jeff Guaracino Way. The section of 13th Street between Locust and Spruce was renamed for the late President of Visit Philadelphia who was a pioneer in the LGBTQ tourism industry. Guaracino passed away at age 48 in December 2021.
A dedication ceremony for the new street signs took place October 11 at the corner of 13th and Spruce. Kevin Hanaway, who met Guaracino over 37 years ago, flew up from Florida to attend the event.
“Jeff was an amazing, generous person. Probably the most generous person I’ve met in my entire life.”
Hanaway was studying to be a priest in New Jersey when he and Guaracino first met. Along with his flair for hospitality, Guaracino had a deep spiritual side that included Italian Catholic as well as Jewish roots.
“I don’t think many people knew that he was born Jewish,” Hanaway said. “And that also influenced his way of looking at other people, you know, kind of very open to diversity in every way. Religion isn’t so easy, but spirituality is really a bridge.”
As a child, Guaracino rode his bicycle to mass every day, and he gained much from the spiritual connections and community he found at church. That dedication continued into his adult years, even as he traveled the world promoting Philadelphia and its LGBTQ community long before either was popular.
“He was amazingly open at a time when it wasn’t easy to be open,” Hanaway said. “And I learned from him. I was supposed to be his mentor. But he mentored me. It went two ways. Amazing guy. I’ll never forget him.”
The dedication ceremony, which featured a stage decorated with a rainbow arch and mirrorballs, was hosted by Philadelphia City Representative Sheila Hess and featured speakers including Guaracino’s brother, Jerry Guaracino; Visit Philadelphia’s Angela Val and Michael Newmuis; City Councilperson Mark Squilla; Tami Sortman; Mark Segal; and Guaracino’s fiancè, Josh Thomas. Along with the speakers, VinChelle, Brittany Lynn, and Julian King performed musical numbers for the crowd that filled 13th Street.
“Jeff was a promoter of the city of Philadelphia,” Squilla said, “he was not a promoter of himself. But we all got to appreciate Jeff for what he gave us. What he gave us here in the city of Philadelphia was not only excitement, but also hope. Every event he did, from Welcome America, whether it was walking in a parade or going into the tree lighting events, it was always over the top. And he always wanted to do one more.”
Val, the new President and CEO of Visit Philadelphia, spoke about the groundbreaking “Get Your History Straight and Your Nightlife Gay” campaign that Guaracino pioneered.
“In 2004, at a time when gay marriage was legal in only one state and Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell was still military policy, Jeff believed it was important, no matter what, to invite the LGBT community and travelers to visit our great city. As you may have heard, Jeff dreamed big. That small idea of inviting marginalized travelers grew into a campaign that included airing the first ever LGBTQ-themed television commercial in the United States.”
Hess read a proclamation from Mayor Kenney which honored Guaracino and named October 11, 2022 as Jeff Guaracino Day. “The city of Philadelphia is known for history makers,” the proclamation stated, “and one distinguished history maker was Jeff Guaracino.” Hess also spoke about the numerous partnerships Guaracino fostered throughout the city.
“His motto was always about collaboration. And he excelled at building relationships and creating friendships.”
Thomas, who got engaged to Guaracino in 2021, talked about the lasting impact his fiancè had on the city and its citizens.
“Jeff Guaracino was tenacious,” Thomas said. “I think if we’ve learned anything from what people have said today, we know that we were lucky to have him for as long as we did. And the showing today is a testament to his work and the role that he plays in the lives of all of the people here.”
In the last few years of his life, Guaracino continued to work to increase Philadelphia tourism, especially as it rebounded from the Covid-19 pandemic, and he continued to write travel articles and encourage people to see new parts of the world. His brother, Jerry, told the crowd about his final day, touring the city he loved and seeing friends a final time.
“He really wanted to get out and see the city this one last time,” Jerry Guaracino said. “He loved the city. He loved everybody in the city.”
When asked how he felt seeing the street signs celebrating his friend, Hanaway said he had mixed feelings.
“I want him here, you know? But it’s a beautiful testament to his love for Philadelphia.”