Friday, December 9, 2011

Paradise City

If you're familiar with Philadelphia, you know what an abandoned building can do to the morale of its neighbors. If you're familiar with West Philadelphia, you're familiar with the Croydon. If not, you may have mistaken it for an old West Philadelphia high school. This mistake is easy, as the blighted edifice looms over West Philadelphia High School's athletic field.

Once home to the children of the Industrial Revolution, the Croydon has established a reputation with an underground community that sponges off the working class, property owners, and everyone in between.


I'll get to them in a moment.

The Croydon's sketchy past is fit for a horror movie and has undoubtedly encouraged more than a few kids to play Candy Man, a horrific tale that came true in 2007 when its rooftop was the site of a grizzly murder.

Purchased by Orens Brothers in July, the apartment building at 49th and Locust stands to redefine the fringe of University City with $10M in renovations. One to three bedroom apartments will be offered in the rehabbed apartment building for $600 to $1300 a month.

As it stands, the neighborhood has done nothing but applaud the project, including full support from Councilwoman Jannie Blackwell.

Orens Brothers rendering of the rehabilitated Croydon Apartments

If unanimous support wasn't weird enough, don't forget where we are.
The property has a national reputation amongst a loosely knit community few know much about. Philadelphia's decidedly homeless, international transients, and a pantheon of undesirables have dubbed the Croydon "Paradise City." The origins of its namesake aren't certain, but one can assume it refers to the fact that its absentee owners allowed it to stand open and unsecured, allowing vagrants to occupy its floors unchecked, siphoning off its available resources.

This community of modern day hobos is surprisingly active. An Internet search for the Croydon Apartments finds many benign blogs and articles about the building's colorful history, followed by hostile comments from its illegal inhabitants defending their right to live off the grid, illegally trespassing and vandalizing private property.

Thi Chien went as far as documenting three days in the lives of two of its residents, Papi and Christina, glamorizing their life of panhandling, drug abuse, and crime.

It's hard to muster sympathy for these people. Choosing a life of homelessness and abusing the strapped resources set aside for those with no alternative is insulting to the thousands of situationally homeless residing in Philadelphia who struggle to contribute to society. To be born to family, privilege, or opportunity and cast it aside for a culture of ingrates who find solace in one another's laziness is the ultimate exercise in narcissism.

There is an incredible arrogance that comes with playing Box Car Willy while claiming to make a statement, particularly in those who expect the "close minded" property owners to supplement this lifestyle. 

The Croydon Apartments circa 1925, shortly after its opening
Ironically, these aren't the products of a bad economy, but of a bloated financial situation: so bored, guilt-ridden, and entitled that the only path to self actualization is completely checking out of the society that created them.

The hypocrisy is evident in, among other things, the fact that they are blogging from the top of the Croydon from smart phones. Then again, what else is there to do after shooting up, eating a can of dog food, and dodging concerned relatives?

The parasitic counter culture manages to hide in society's cracks between hipsters and big-city tunnel-vision, but if you've been to Philadelphia, you've seen them.

These times are trying for most, and as more and more continue to struggle with the realities of an economic crisis, playing homeless won't be the ironic game it was when we were at the climax of our 21st Century Gilded Age.

The Croydon's resurrection as a place for those seeking affordable homes and neighbors yearning for pride in their neighborhoods is a welcome glimmer of hope. It's time for Papi and Christina to move over for those who contribute to a greater Philadelphia.


  1. 600-1300 a month? You didn't belive that did you?

  2. 600-1300 a month? You didn't belive that did you?