Owner of razed Kensington pet store recalls when Rocky came calling

Shot of the storefront in the movie "Rocky."

Joseph Marks never expected that his Kensington pet shop, J&M Tropical Fish, would end up as an icon of Philadelphia film history.

But in the mid- 1970s, producers came knocking at 2146 N. Front St., and Marks agreed to rent out his shop for a day and a half so it could be featured in a little motion picture named Rocky

“It wasn’t enough money to put me in Beverly Hills or anything like that,” he said.

He earned roughly $1,500 for the loaner.

Marks, now 71, was less surprised to learn of the building’s demolition this week — it had been categorized as "Imminently Dangerous" in June 2016 by the Department of Licenses and Inspections.

Unable to compete with larger chain pet stores, Marks closed his shop around 2003. “The small owner is passé to a degree,” he said. 

The building remained vacant. “I would have restored it,” Marks said, “but you have good and bad years, and I had my bad years. That was that.”

Marks transferred the deed in 2011 to Anthony R. Lighty for $1. Attempts to reach Lighty for comment were unsuccessful.

“He took it and he was talking about restoring it, and talking about a Rocky museum also,” Marks said. “But things like that never materialized.”

Which is why the building's crumbling beige facade and caving roof have been reduced to a pile of sun-baked brown bricks — souvenirs for any serendipitous film buffs who might stumble upon them.

"I actually wasn't aware of the Rocky connection until today," said John Tracy, a community engagement official with the New Kensington Community Development Corp. "Unfortunately, it was in really rough shape, so the safety of the community would come first in that situation."

Though the property, which had been in the Marks family since the 1920s, has been wiped away, Marks retains fond memories of his fleeting moment in the bright lights.

Like the time he and his wife dined with cast and production staff at a nearby church, which has also since been demolished. 

Or the multiple times he got to meet Sylvester Stallone.

“He would recognize me. He knows me,” Marks said. “I mean, I’m not buddy-buddy with him.” 

Marks still owns the turtles, Cuff and Link, that Rocky bought at the fictional Adrian’s pet shop in the film.

“They could probably outlive me,” he said.

The city never did take an interest in saving the store, dilapidated as it may have been, Marks said. “It was always my hope maybe it would spur enough interest to create some type of landmark.”

For Sharon Pinkenson, executive director of the Greater Philadelphia Film Office, the physical building itself was always less significant than what happened there. 

"It's not like the Art Museum steps," she said.

But nothing can take away Marks' memories of the store, not even a six-ton backhoe.

Rocky was an experience," he said, "that I’ll take to the grave.” 

Twitter: @davidmurrellv