I stood in the middle of the construction site that used to be my newspaper: the lobby of the old Inquirer Building.
It seemed smaller.
Especially without Bill, the security guard who shut the doors for good when The Inquirer moved to Market Street in 2012. It was strange to walk into the building without his “Hey now!” to greet me.
The globe chandelier, the marble floors, walls, and staircases, had all been taken out for refurbishment. Gone were the old Inquirer and Daily News signs.
“Feels like going back to the house you grew up in, right?” said developer Bart Blatstein, at my side.
Blatstein had invited me on a tour of the building before the arrival of its new occupant: the Philadelphia Police Department. I was hesitant. It was less about being incurious and more about being sad that this building is no longer ours. The grand, old, busted-up building where half our current newsroom cut their teeth.
They once called it the Tower of Truth, which was very much in keeping with Inquirer parlance of 1925, when the building opened. As my colleague Alfred Lubrano reported during the move, The Inquirer’s stock and trade back then was mostly shlock — lots of highfalutin’ purple prose, a proud tradition that I try to carry on every week.
For the building to host Police Headquarters carries its own kind of irony. For many years after it moved into the Tower of Truth, The Inquirer didn’t exactly live up to its sacred moniker. Up until the late 1960s, Walter H. Annenberg, our perhaps most famous owner, tended to use the paper’s pages to settle scores. (His premier investigative journalist went to prison for blackmailing his subjects.)
But in the `70s, the paper at last came into its own — with prizewinning reporting on police brutality and corruption that became, and still is, a key staple of its work.
It was a building where suspects in violent crimes once turned themselves in to Daily News columnist Chuck Stone instead of police, knowing that in Stone’s care, they wouldn’t receive a beating. It was a building once blockaded for two days by the building trades, allegedly at then-Mayor Frank Rizzo’s command. (The mayor had been angry about a column poking fun at him.)
All this is to say is that our papers have had a complicated relationship with the cops. And now the police will make our old building theirs. Allow us a moment.
Blatstein says the $300 million renovation will be done by Christmas 2020. He’s leasing the building to the city, which is also paying for the repairs.
So we put on our hardhats and took a stroll — past the loading docks, which once bundled reams of newspapers, and will now load bodies bound for the Medical Examiner’s Office on the third floor. Through the former Daily News newsroom, stripped to the beams, which will become the morgue.
The basement, which housed a sad little gym – news people as a breed are not generally known for athletic prowess – will hold cells.
Blatstein allowed himself a sigh as he looked over the old Inquirer newsroom, which he had once envisioned as a casino floor, and which I had envisioned as a place where I would earn a pension.
In the clock tower, he talked about how beautiful it all would be.
For me, as a young reporter, it already was beautiful. Before I worked here, I used to time my nightly runs to bring me past the Daily News offices, where, through the windows, I’d watch editors huddling to make up the front page. It was a look at the promised land.
When I told my boss what I was writing about this week, he asked me what was going to happen to the old sign. He thought of it recently while driving by. “We mothballed it,” said Steve Shanahan, the project director. They’re saving it in case someone wants it. I can think of a few who might.