In Living Color

People think they know what the Parker Spruce Hotel holds, but a night in a room there provides a clearer view.

By Steve Volk
Add Comment Add Comment | Comments: 7 | Posted Oct. 25, 2006

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"Philadelphia?" she says.

"Yes," I reply.

So for my address, that's all she writes down. "Philadelphia."

Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to the Parker Spruce. At the front desk, on this night, the place seems to be exactly what its critics think it is. But I've only just arrived.


Built in 1925, the Parker was designed as a 12-story, 209-unit "bachelor's apartment." Originally dubbed the Spruce, the residential hotel featured single-room accommodations with both shared and private bathrooms.

According to a period advertisement targeted at potential investors (see p. 24), "The demand for Bachelor Apartments is unusually great in Philadelphia and since the announcement of the construction of this hotel a large number of inquiries have already been received. Our tenants will be limited to men and we will cater to select and permanent tenants only."

The ad further boasts that "The Spruce" will have an exterior of "excellent design," a large doorway of "richly carved limestone" and a marble-floored lobby. The rooms will be modernly furnished and on par with "the high grade bachelor residences in the larger cities."

Today the Parker is generally regarded as a fleabag hotel, an eyesore and source of concern for the community.

The Washington Square West neighborhood, which runs from Seventh Street to Broad and Walnut to South, remains somewhat dominated in public perception by 13th Street, which despite vast improvements over the years continues to function largely as Philadelphia's very own old-fashioned Times Square, where locals and visitors alike can find porn shops, drug dealers and prostitutes. For many, the single largest symbol of 13th Street's many available vices remains the Parker.

"I think it's a derelict building," says Judith Applebaum, president of the Washington Square West Civic Association. "I think that probably the conditions people live in are horrific. We have, on a few occasions, asked the Fire Department and the Department of Licenses and Inspections to take a look, because our sense is that it's not a safe place to be."

Since only a small number of Center City denizens actually enter the Parker, most people's impressions of the building are influenced by what they see happening out front on 13th Street.

Priced right: The Parker would cost approximately $10 million or more to build today.

"What I see is that there are people hanging out in front of it," says Applebaum, "some of whom are clearly inebriated, some high on drugs. I don't know if they're the people who live in the building, but I do know that if there is someone who runs the building, they make no effort to discourage people from hanging out in front of it."

"There are always undesirables hanging out there, and not just at nighttime," says Washington Square West resident Teresa Valls. "You feel like you're running a gauntlet when you walk down that side of the street. It certainly doesn't improve the feeling of safety in the neighborhood."

Among Philadelphia police the Parker has been seen as a trouble spot for at least a couple of generations. "It's been a hub of deprivation and crime forever," says Michael Chitwood Sr., who worked the Center City district when he joined the Philadelphia police force more than 40 years ago. "We spent a lot of time down in Center City and in that facility back in 1967. It housed drug addicts, prostitutes, wanted persons. If there was a street crime in the area, the first place we would look was that hotel."

Chitwood, now the superintendent of police in Upper Darby Township, walked by the Parker again just a few weeks ago. "All the old cop memories came flooding back," he says. "It still looks the same--dirty and desolate. It was a toilet then, and it looks like a toilet now. It's a bust-out joint."

Chitwood's son and namesake has the same feelings. "Ah, the Parker Hotel," says the younger Chitwood, now chief of police in Daytona Beach, Fla. "The memories that place brings back."

The younger Chitwood calls the Parker "the end point of a lot of my journeys," saying, "we locked up many a person wanted in other parts of the country who somehow discovered the charms of the Parker Spruce."

Chitwood Jr. worked the 6th Police District some 20 years after his father, and later, when he was a supervisor of detectives, often returned to the Parker in search of wanted men. "It was a den of iniquity when I started on the force," he says, "and a den of iniquity when I left in 2004."

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COMMENTS

Comments 1 - 7 of 7
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1. Spencer Starnes said... on Apr 19, 2010 at 10:33PM

“Steve Volk-

I'm trying to reach you to do an interview for a documentary about this marvel of a hotel.

It would be very helpful if I could get into contact with you soon, if you see this, please contact me at SpencerStarnes@gmail.com.

Thank you.
-Spencer Starnes

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2. Mary said... on Oct 1, 2010 at 12:55PM

“What a great article. Being a recent inhabitant of the Lenox building right across the street I have already been witness to plenty of "goings-on" at the Parker, mostly in my half asleep state at 5 in the morning. The most shocking occurrence was probably my first night in my new apartment when I was awoken at 7AM to a woman outside screaming repeatedly "I'll suck yo ---- !!!" It was pretty much verbatim that scene from "Don't Be A Menace." Anyway, great to have some clarification on what exactly the Parker is all about. I have to say, as disruptive and disturbing as the place is, there is definitely a perversely charming old-worldliness about it in the midst of all of the area's gentrification... I guess that's why I never feel truly threatened by it (aaand while writing this I can hear a group of men in the Manning alleyway bickering over a drug deal with numerous expletives... It's 2 PM by the way... gotta love 13th street)!”

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3. Anonymous said... on May 12, 2011 at 10:02AM

“I belive the hotel is a dirt bag of disgrace, I belive my brother was murdered in there and was made to look like he overdosed and fell.
When my mother called to asked about somethings that were missing, them low life scumbags said "we don't keep that fucking shit we throw it out." To a woman that just lost her only son. and according to the pictures that I have seen of this place there is no way of what they said happened, could have happened.. I will find out......”

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4. harv said... on Jul 23, 2013 at 08:13PM

“These scumbags took money from my debit card so watch when you pay your bill The managers are all Indians and very mean since I got ripped off L&I will be making a visit soon with the board of health and they harassed my girlfriend fucking roach infested dump don't stay there you'll get burned What a dump safer on a park bench”

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5. Ben said... on Sep 6, 2013 at 04:22PM

“The cries of horror and prejudiced vitriol at the intrusion of this unsavoury reality into the lives of the 'respectable' are born of fear of the unknown and a failure to realise their own responsibility for the circumstances that end in the lobby of the Parker.

A refuge of last resort that has clung on in a city where tidiness, property values and civility are valued at the expense of the marginalisation of the poor and unlucky is a surprise. It is certainly not good for anyone; not the locals, not the city, and not the residents; but, perhaps, it is less bad than many alternatives.”

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6. JOHN B BARE itt BARRETT said... on Mar 29, 2014 at 12:12AM

“The health of the tenants should be a concern . There only resort for care is the emergency room and that adds to the cost of health care in the long run..
WAKE UP TO THE FACT THAT SOMEONES HAND IS BEING WASHED HERE.
NO CITY WOULD ALLOW A PROPERTY TO INFECT OUR MANKIND WITH SUCH FILTHY CONDITIONS . HEALTH DEPARTMENT CANNOT PASS THIS DUMP AS FAR AS STATE REGULATIONS. PARKER IS A DISASTER IN THE MAKING. DEATH BY DISEASE , FIRE , MURDER AND FALLING DEBRIS ON THE STREET. JBB”

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7. Gustavo said... on May 4, 2014 at 03:34PM

“I.m living in front of the "Parker Hotel" I don' understand why the City give a permission to operation in this neighborhood when many tourist come every day.
Always, every night are problems, people outside the hotel screaming during the night and disturbing all the neighborhood and the residents that as me, need wake up at 6 am go to work.
Where is the owner, they must take responsibility with the "guesses" and not allow them stay during the night standing up and screaming outside the hotel. We deserve respect as other people in this Country, and is not fair that yours "guesses" not allow us, workers" sleep during night.
PLEASE City. take action in this matter and close this place or change to another hotel that enhance our neighborhood.”

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