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: 8 | Posted Oct. 25, 2006

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"People don't come here because the rent is low," says Carver. "They come because they broke up with a boyfriend or girlfriend, or they got thrown out of their house or for whatever reason. And they have a decent job, but they don't have the money set aside for the first month's rent, the last month's rent, the security deposit and the utilities."

Carver says tenants often arrive thinking they might stay four or six weeks, but that turns into 18 weeks, which turns into a year and then ...

"It's a very minimalist lifestyle," he says. "The rooms are so small. I've often wondered why people stay as long as they do."

PW obtained 911 call reports from the police for the month of September, covering the 200 block of South 13th Street and the 1200 block of Spruce.

The Parker, at 261 S. 13th St., was the given address for nine of those calls, including three disturbances inside the business, a possible drug overdose and a sexual assault. But those figures don't even make it the hottest spot on the block. The addresses of 209 and 211 S. 13th St., for instance, drew a combined 29 calls. And a single row home, located at 241 S. 13th St., sparked eight calls all by its lonesome.

All told, police were called to that two-block radius 122 times during September.

Even Police Capt. Brian Korn, hardly a fan of the Parker, seems impressed by the hotel's stats. "For a whole month, for a building of that size and that reputation, that's remarkable," he says. "That's less than most bars or a lot of businesses."

Korn admits the place may suffer a bit in public perception because of its past. He also hedges his bets. "There could also be people in there," he says, "that might be out doing stuff at other locations."

Several people interviewed for this story believe the hotel offers hourly rates. For the record, PW was unable to get a room for an hourly rate. And Carver says they don't offer any such thing. "That was one of the things we ended," he says, "all the way back when we started."

And what of the mirrors on the ceiling?

"That was an idea somebody had 20 years ago," says Carver. "I think there are only eight rooms with those."

Carver says the employee who didn't ask for identification and allowed me to list my address merely as Philadelphia is "new and still learning."

For the record, both the Department of Licenses and Inspections and the Philadelphia Fire Department say the Parker handles any concerns that come up. And Carver casts whatever problems that occur inside the Parker in the best possible light. "When we become aware of a problem," he says, "we handle it."

There's a staffer in charge of security every night, he says, who sweeps through the entire building "five or six times" looking for trouble.

"There aren't a lot of problems," says Carver. "We get some domestic calls between guests who are staying together. But for the most part it's a friendly place. I think that's why people stay there."

A former employee, who started in housekeeping and moved to the front desk under Carver, confirms that the Parker is a surprisingly warm place. "People would ask for hourly rates," she says, "and I'd tell them, 'You can only get the room by the day or the week.' The hourly rates were ended by Mr. Carver."

And when she left last September, ending her 20-year Parker career at the age of 69, employees and longtime guests gathered in the now worn marble lobby. "I still get emotional thinking about it," she says. "It was beautiful. They gave me flowers, a beautiful plaque, a couple of monetary gifts. There must have been two dozen people who came by and told me they were sorry I was leaving."

I walk every floor, every hour, the whole time I'm there from 10 p.m. to 5 a.m. on a Friday night in October. And then I tour 13th Street. On my first trip through the building I'm surprised to find the only signs of life are TV sets playing at high volume and phone conversations that bleed out into the drab halls, which are as dim, self-contained and utilitarian as the walkways between compartments of a submarine.

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Comments 1 - 8 of 8
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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

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..

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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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8. Anonymous said... on Oct 21, 2014 at 10:50AM

“The city KNOWS there are drugs being sold on this block. The city KNOWS there is prostitution in this neighborhood. They know it is a mess, but they don't do anything about it.”


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