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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Aw, come on, I say. Has anyone ever named a price for the Parker?

"No one's ever offered money," he says. "It's never gotten that far."

While many Philadelphians probably think of the Parker as the bottom of the pit, its exact location and relationship to the carny life on 13th Street aren't so easy to discern.

In my hours there I see none of the faces I spy at the Parker haunting the streets outside. But even some Philadelphians who've truly hit bottom shy from the hotel's halls.

Linwood Cook, a 44-year-old man who's staying at the Ridge Avenue Shelter, lost his home in a fire. "No offense to anyone," he says, "but I ain't never been no place like this. Some of these guys been here a long time, but I been here for three weeks, and I'm gonna get out."

From a window on North Broad Street men inside the shelter can be seen in the first floor's ward-like setting, lying down in roughly 80 beds with just enough room between them to place their feet. The Parker is well-known in these circles. Cook heard about the hotel shortly after he became homeless.

"I went over there," he says, "I saw some people smoking crack, and it looked like a trip from the fire to the frying pan. I didn't want to be there, neither. So I decided I'd take my chances with the system."

Carver and a manager, Betty Greenlee, say if any staffer smelled crack, they'd talk to the tenant. If the situation became chronic, they'd evict.

In my time at the Parker it seemed like a far better setting than a homeless shelter. And the quiet never stopped. But some time after midnight the smell of burnt matches wafted into the room, sulfur so strong it choked my throat and made me cough.

According to Sgt. Tom Leisner of the Philadelphia Police Narcotics Department, that's crack, and if the smell was strong enough to make me cough in a separate room, there must've been more than one person smoking. "One person hitting a pipe, it'll dissipate pretty quickly," says Leisner. "What you were smelling is probably several people in what the addicts would call a smoke room."

To those who already dislike the Parker, who look at its entrance and feel distaste for some of the people who come and go and linger on the sidewalk out front, such an episode will only confirm the worst of their suspicions.

"The Parker is kind of a running joke of our collective consciousness here," says Philadelphia Gay News editor Marco Baker. "The 13th Street Hilton."

On July 28 PGN reported on an alleged sexual assault by a 40-year-old West Philadelphia man, who lured a 19-year-old man to his room at the Parker with drugs and raped him twice at gunpoint.

Baker considers the Parker of a piece with other structures that remind Philadelphians of the past.

"There are certain iconic buildings," he says. "The Metro theater, the Botany 500 building and the Parker, which somehow don't get swept up in the condoization of Philadelphia and remain in this kind of development purgatory. You can tell it's a seedy place. You can see some wheeling and dealing going on with the hustlers in the area, but it doesn't seem to deter anyone from moving to the neighborhood."

Between 2 and 2:30 a.m. I leave my room at the Parker, walk the empty halls and then stand in front of the hotel, where I count the number of people who come inside and try to assess their condition.

Only one pair, arriving together, look at all like they've been drinking. Most walk with the eager stride of people happy to be home. Most of them, in grease-stained pants, with kitchen aprons slung over their shoulders, carrying plastic bags with their uniforms poking out of the top, bear some sign of who they are in this world.

Most of them are coming home from work.

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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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