This week was to start off with a column about a historic dump -- the press room in the Roundhouse. It was suggested I try to capture the ambiance of the place called Room 619 on the occasion of our being thrown out of there by the new police administration. So much for history.
Apparently, the execution has been stayed. We don't have to leave the building, though there is some question whether we'll get to keep the room. But what a room it is. Or was.
It's been a few years since I've sat where Barbara Boyer now works the phone and her sources in blue.
But the place sticks with you.
The stale pistachio green walls, decorated with black and white photos from when cops wore hats and drove squad cars that looked like they'd been designed by R. Crumb.
The floors were some sort of no-tell, mottled brown and gray tile that had snuffed the life out of a million cigarette butts. There were towers of ugly file cabinets and spent Royal typewriters, pizza-stained Rolodexes and big-shouldered desks whose bottom drawers secreted stacks of skin magazines.
My first visit I was filling in for the regular Inquirer guys -- Tommy Gibbons and Bo Terry. There was an agreeable gent from the Daily News named Joe O'Dowd, and when his day was over, in came a white-haired, squat and silent type who worked the night shift. His name was Jack McGuire and he was an old-school guy who worked with pencil and paper, and I had the sense he viewed new Inquirer reporters from the main office as something to scrape off his scuffed soles.
It took hours before I realized that the giant glass vat on his desk was not stuffed with hard-boiled eggs, but rounded ice cubes for his tea.
I was talking about the place with city editor Chris Hepp the other day, when he shared a Jack story. This was back in the day when reporters from four papers -- the Inquirer, the Daily News, the Tribune and the Bulletin -- all worked the cramped press room, and lived in fear of getting beat. Chris was the Bulletin's guy, and it was late on a Sunday. All night, Jack had been quiet. He'd get up occasionally and disappear for a half hour. This would fill Hepp's head with horrors.
"It was a bad sign when he got up. It meant he was working on something. He'd file from a phone booth."
At the end of the night, when McGuire's shift was over, and the Bulletin's deadline had past, he got up from his desk, crumpled the sheet of paper he'd been working on, and marched to the door.
"Read it and weep," he announced, and threw the wad of paper over his shoulder like a grenade.
For the past week maintenance crews have been sweeping up, getting ready for a move may or may not happen.
Barb Boyer says the crews discovered corners that hadn't seen light in years. The room had been given a bit of a makeover since a group of young woman replaced the old boy's club. Boyer brought in an unfortunate '80s couch from home. The paper paid for the walls to be repainted, the bilious green replaced by a bluish-white.
But some things are hard to cleanse. In a closet someone found a single bottle of a libation called Nude Beer, whose label sports a picture of a buxom blonde in a black bikini. A Whoopee cushion turned up in someone's desk. When you sit on it, it spits out scatological insults, perfect for what one might think of one's superiors.
The last thing they found was a dried-up chicken's foot.
Public Affairs was apparently interested in it, and removed it from the room. Maybe for evidence, of a more storied time.
(Photos by Inquirer photographer Tom Gralish. Why, you may ask, is a second-floor press room called 619? Tradition. That was the number of the old room in City Hall where cop reporters made their calls.)