Philly Police are almost out of the Roundhouse and into their new headquarters: The old Inquirer building
During a tour for media members Thursday night, city officials showed off a building that retained some signs of the Inquirer, but has been largely transformed into a new office space.
Goodbye, Tower of Truth.
Hello, Tower of Power.
After more than four years and $280 million, the Philadelphia Police Department is almost entirely moved into its newly renovated headquarters: the stately former Inquirer building on North Broad Street.
The 340-foot beaux arts building — colloquially known as the Tower of Truth when it housed the city’s ambitious broadsheet and its feisty tabloid sibling, the Daily News — had been showing its age years before the shrinking newspapers decamped in 2012 for a more modest Market Street home.
But the refurbished tower has been stripped of its fading white paint and is now clean ivory brick. The unique globe chandelier in the main lobby has been restored and re-hung. The bells in the clock tower were fixed up to chime on the hour. And the large space inside, once home to rumbling printing presses and hundreds of muckraking reporters and editors and press workers, is now a maze of clinical workspaces for detectives, police brass, and patrol officers. It also house the city morgue.
“I think it’s a major accomplishment for the city,” said Andrew Brown, a project manager for Talson Solutions who helped oversee the building’s transformation. He guided media members Thursday night on a tour of the facility, officially known as the Philadelphia Public Safety Building.
Brown said the renovation was a “full gut job,” with new electrical, plumbing, and lighting systems installed, in addition to refurbishing, or repurposing, 460,000 square feet of space. About 85% of that space — the basement through the seventh floor — will actually be used, he said, and when fully occupied, the building will accommodate about 1,200 employees.
The eighth through the 18th floors, in the narrower portion of the wedding-cake-shaped tower, have been refurbished but remain unused, he said. That includes a 12th-floor office and apartment once used by former Inquirer owner Walter Annenberg.
Many staffers have already moved in over the last several months, including the police commissioner and her deputies; detectives from several units, including homicide and nonfatal shootings; and two police districts that cover portions of Center City.
The Medical Examiner’s Office has also moved into the third floor. And the 911 call center will eventually occupy what was once The Inquirer’s second-floor newsroom. The mezzanines that had previously overlooked that cavernous, two-story space have since been sealed over with blue drywall, and the call center was not part of the tour.
There were some reflections of the original tenant visible while walking through the building, including an Inquirer and Daily News directory in the historic lobby, which Brown said was restored to retain the grand look it would have had when the building debuted in 1925.
Much of the building that was shown to the press during the tour, however, appeared new and disorientingly similar by floor, with long corridors of black-and-white tile flooring leading to a series of workspaces with gray cubicles fit for any modern office.
One new installation stuck out: A large police shield hanging from the ceiling of a new portion of the ground-floor entrance, which is covered in 1,400 police badges and messages of justice.
For the Police Department, the new digs at 400 N. Broad are a far cry from the handcuff-shaped concrete slab known as the Roundhouse, the force’s headquarters at Seventh and Race Streets since the 1960s.
Cops had long joked that that building had been outdated from the moment it opened. The lighting was dim and quarters were cramped. File boxes were stacked throughout the curved hallways and the elevators often broke. Decaying walls invited unexpected guests, such as roaches and ants.
And for some city residents, the building’s drab, brutalist style came to symbolize a department often associated throughout the years with misconduct or violence.
Ed Rendell, the city’s former district attorney and mayor, said in an interview that his first job out of law school in 1968 was working an overnight shift in the Roundhouse as a prosecutor in arraignment court — “the lowest assignment” there was.
His memories of the place didn’t improve much over time, he said: “Whenever I went down to the Roundhouse as the mayor or DA, something bad had happened.”
Former Commissioner Sylvester Johnson, however, said he had generally fond memories of his 20 years in the building, first as a corporal, and later a homicide detective, deputy commissioner, and ultimately top cop.
“People took it as a privilege to be assigned to Police Headquarters,” Johnson said. “I enjoyed every minute of it.”
The city’s search to replace the Roundhouse began in 2014, under then-Mayor Michael Nutter, when City Council approved plans to rehabilitate the former Provident Mutual Life Insurance Co. building at 46th and Market Streets in West Philadelphia. But Mayor Jim Kenney’s administration scrapped those plans three years later, saying the project was proving expensive and wouldn’t be an ideal fit for police.
The city lost $42 million on that move.
In 2017, the Kenney administration said it had agreed instead to move the new headquarters into the old newspaper tower, which officials said had more space to house additional functions such as two police districts and a dispatch center.
The total cost to taxpayers to reoutfit the Inquirer building was just over $280 million.
Some officers say they appreciate a 21st-century workspace, while others have lamented leaving behind a building with its own form of battered charm.
Johnson, the former commissioner, said everyone would adapt in time.
“Everything comes to an end,” he said.