Wednesday, April 16, 2014
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For Gamble and Huff: From the ashes, a museum?

Gallery: For Gamble and Huff: From the ashes, a museum?

Sometimes, out of destruction, comes creation.

Just hours after the man who allegedly torched Philadelphia International Records in a drunken haze was held for trial, owners Kenny Gamble and Leon Huff said yesterday that they may create a museum in the building as part of its rehabilitation.

In an interview inside PIR's gift store, producing duo Gamble and Huff said that they've spoken with U.S. Rep. Bob Brady about the idea, and that the Smithsonian Institution has shown interest.

"It's all premature right now, but that's the kind of interest we're getting," Gamble said. "You can't beat the Smithsonian!"

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  • Such legendary artists as Stevie Wonder, Sly Stone and Patti LaBelle recorded music in the building, on Broad Street near Spruce, in Center City, Gamble said.

    On Feb. 21, Christopher Cimini, 28, of South Philadelphia, allegedly broke into the building in a drunken stupor. Police said he was so intoxicated that he may have thought he was somewhere else.

    Surveillance videos show that Cimini, a married father of two, wandered around inside for more than an hour destroying property, then set a fire, trapping himself on the third floor, police said.

    Firefighters had to rescue Cimini from a third-floor window.

    Along with arson, he is charged with causing a catastrophe, burglary and related charges.

    Huff said he was shocked when the allegations and circumstances of the fire came to light.

    "I'll tell you one thing, that was the furthest thing from our minds," he said.

    In court yesterday, Gamble's nephew Chuck Gamble, executive vice president of PIR, told the judge that the total damage to the building was between $3 million and $5 million.

    Kenny Gamble said the insurance adjusters were still working on "a lot of protocol that has to go down yet." He said that once everything is settled, he and Huff could turn more of their attention to the possibility of a museum.

    He said that he'd previously floated the idea of a National Rhythm and Blues museum at another location in the city, but that fell through.

    The men said they hope that if a museum were to be established in the refurbished PIR, that it would chronicle Philadelphia entertainers in every medium.

    Before PIR occupied the building, and greats like Teddy Pendergrass and Lou Rawls sang there, it housed Cameo Parkway Records, where Chubby Checker recorded "The Twist."

    "If you go in that studio, you feel that aura because the music in that studio was beyond words; it was on fire," Huff said, no pun apparently intended.

    Gamble and Huff said that they've gotten e-mails of support from as far away as Germany, Japan and Italy in the wake of the fire, and that they regularly receive condolences walking down Philadelphia streets.

    "A lot of people grew up with our music," Gamble said. "There are so many people that were a part of this whole story."

    Cimini's attorney, Gina A. Capuano, said that Cimini did not plead guilty at his preliminary hearing yesterday but that she's not ruling out a plea later.

    STEPHANIE FARR & MENSAH DEAN farrs@phillynews.com 215-854-4225
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