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