Friday, December 28, 2012

Fast Times at... The Arts Tower

The Arts Condominium 

1324 Locust Street

Holy, shit... its SOLD OUT!?!?
                  This recent Naked Philly article got me reminiscing about the ol' Arts Tower... not the Sylvania Hotel or the Arts Condominium like they call it today, but the piece-of-shit Arts Tower back when the place was an Art Student and Assorted Miscreant-filled shithole.
                This was the first place I lived in Philadelphia. The Locust Street-facing window on the fourth floor with the AC unit sticking out of it was mine. The apartments made out of old hotel rooms. Cockroaches everywhere, still had the doors in between the rooms, all of it. I had the smallest possible domicle, a single hotel room-turned apartment about 320-340 square feet. Nowadays, as condos, they call this type of unit the Uffizi. Plfft.
               I loved that little apartment. Just the shit going on outside the window was worth all the problems.  Worth the constantly-flooding bike room, worth the frequent fire alarms, worth the heat breaking on the coldest day of the year (and noise from the radiators once it was fixed), worth being able to smell whatever your neighbor was cooking (or burning).
              The third week I lived in Philly, I was looking out that window and saw a dude get shot in the chest at point-blank range. It was 2am and there were like 100 people outside since Key West was just closing for the night. A couple of paddy wagons showed up and like 40 cops came piling out. They all stood in a line and waved their batons while walking toward the crowd. The crowd scattered except for a few people who were so drunk that they thought that they could beat up the 40 cops. They got their asses kicked.
                After that, there were like 5 ambulances around and some paramedics moved the dude who got shot into the crappy parking garage across the street, presumably to get more light on him. I'm pretty sure the guy survived. I thought the incident might make the news, but it never did. I still kick myself for not taking pictures.
                For a few weeks that winter, some big show was happening down at the Academy of Music and there was a shitload of traffic due to so many people showing up. Two different street vendors were selling t-shirts of the show. They started arguing out in front of Mama Angelina's pizza and had a huge brawl while there was gridlock traffic all around them on Locust, Broad, Juniper, and in and out of the crappy parking garage. The traffic kept recurring every Friday and Saturday while that show ran... there was constant honking outside the whole time, so I started to call the incidents "Honk Wars". I made up a theme song for it but I forgot most of it. Good times.
                  There's more than just window stories. Remember the blind lady who used to play the recorder in the Walnut Street fancy-ass Shopping District? She lived on my floor. When I first moved there, it freaked me the fuck out because she would feel along the hallway while going to her apartment. You'd hear this "thunk" on your door every once-in-awhile that would scare the shit out of you. She would often stand out in front of the Arts Tower and ask people to guide her to the bus she would take to get over to her recorder-playing spot. People would just walk right by her. I helped her get there twice.. she was really nice. It is because of her that I learned the word "curb-cut". I always wondered what happened to her after the place turned to condos. Here's an old City Paper article about her from 1996.
               One of the best things about the Arts Tower were the garbage rooms. There was a huge one on each floor, and at the end of every month, were chock full of free furniture/kitchen supplies/electronics being left behind by people who had moved out. It was like a Sears of free shit every month. I dragged a futon frame down 5 flights of stairs and kept that motherfucker until I lived at Lofts 640 many years later. I had kitchen stuff from those rooms until I got married.
                  I was in the Arts Tower recently, up in one of the larger units toward the top of the tower. The place is a ghost of its former self now, but plenty of the details from the old days are still there. The smell in the hallway, for example. I'm glad to see that all the condo units sold... from what I understand, most of the owners just rent the spaces out to UArts kids. Every so often I meet someone who had lived there in the Arts Tower days and a sudden kinship forms. It's pretty cool. All the people who live there have at least 5 awesome stories to tell.
                  That fucking place. I lived there for only a year but I still think about that time.. there would probably be no Philaphilia had I not lived at the Arts Tower. People often ask me why I've never written about the Sylvania Hotel/Arts Tower/Arts Condo for Hidden City. The primary reason is that I have tried to before but found it too incestuous. Its the same reason I've never written about Philaphilia's Fabulous Secret Headquarters, which turns 200 in 2013, or my workplace, which will be turning 108. So, thanks to David Tomar for writing the history of the Arts Tower for me.


  1. I just saw the blind recorder player a week or 2 ago. She's still doing her Walnut St. show.