Though the primary dish has changed considerably over the duration, 507 S. 6th St. has been a popular local eatery of some variety for well over a century now.  Its first notable occupant was Abe Levis, a Lithuanian who fled to America at age fourteen to avoid being drafted into the Czar’s army.  In 1896, the young entrepreneur had opened a sandwich shop at the location shown here below in an image from G.W. Bromley’s Philadelphia Atlas.

507 S. 6th Street in 1895

According to the Levis Hot Dogs website, popular rumor credits Levis as being the first man to put a sausage on a long bun.  Whether true or not, the eventually-named Old Original Levis Hot Dogs quickly became a source of tasty affordable lunches for the countless merchants and immigrants in the South Street district. The thriving lunch spot is shown here below in an image taken from a book entitled The Jewish Community of South Philadelphia, flanked by customers in what we estimate to be the 1940s.

Levis hot dogs in what appears to be the 1940s. We’re also guessing that one of these guys is old Abe himself

According to the text, the building not only produced wieners and fish cakes but was also the unofficial headquarters for the Republican Party in the fifth ward throughout much of its history.  Following WWII, the hot dog stand’s fortunes started to decline slightly.  Much of the neighborhood around it began to change, with many of the area’s immigrant families having achieved sufficient comfort to move out to the suburbs.  Still, in the midst of this decline, Levis remained a stubborn survivor.  It is shown here below in a 1961 image taken from the Philadelphia Department of Records.

Old Original Levis Hot Dogs nearing the end of its glory days, 1961

In spite of the shifting neighborhood around it, Levis remained steadfastly in place for the next 30 years, though reports suggest its once great dogs had begun to decline in quality toward the end.  Finally, in 1990, the family sold out to a soda merchant who was more interested in the restaurant’s Champ Cherry pop than its hot dogs.  With the beverage acquired, the new owners closed its doors in 1992, just shy a century of service.  By the end of the 1990s though, a popular new occupant had claimed the space.  Gianna’s Grille plastered the walls with punk posters, dedicated half of its space to making Vegan desserts and gradually became a preferred takeout destination for the neighborhood’s younger residents.  Gianna’s is shown here below in an image taken from Urban Spoon.

Gianna’s Grille, half vegan in the 2000s

Gianna’s fortunes declined considerably in the latter part of the 2000s, aided in no small part by the startling revelation that its vegan dining options contained non-vegan cheese.  While we’re not certain that this contributed to its closing in late 2009, it probably didn’t help.  Thereafter, the establishment that once began as a pioneer in the business of selling meat, completed the transformation to full vegan.  Its present occupant, Blackbird Pizzeria, specializes in strictly vegan offerings which, its owners assure, are the real deal.

Blackbird Pizzeria, 2013

Abe’s stamp still visible after all these years

–David Tomar