Tuesday, March 14, 2006

Taking The Party Underground

The year was 1982 and, as documented often in earlier posts, Center City wasn't much to look at ... the resurgence of a community was only a few years underway and much of the downtown area was pretty beaten up.

Perfect for a party!

I can't recall the date exactly - but I want to say it was early fall of 1982, since I remember that Au Courant was already up and running. A couple of friends of mine - who have since passed on - were living in their own artistic world. They shared this flop apartment located above an abandoned storefront near I. Goldberg's over at 9/Chestnut streets. The place was filled with storeroom dummies, day-glo art, huge sculptures made from trash and lots of loud music [since there were no neighbors to bang complaints against the wall].

Over the summer of '82 they got this brilliant idea to produce a one-off party in Philadelphia ... to showcase and celebrate the underground scene in Philly. The location: underground.

What many people still don't realize is that one can walk from one part of Center City to another completely underground - away from brutal weather. The catacombs run from Broad/South up around City Hall to 18/Market and down to 8/Market - where they connect with the PATCO catacombs - which head over to Locust and up to 16th.

In a world before terrorists and security, one could access the tunnels under the city all night long, even when the trains stopped running. There was no security, cameras, or care. If you were stupid enough to take a flight of steps underground, you got what you deserved.

Of course - there was no tourism dollar to court back then - so their was no effort to keep the catacombs clean from bums, urine and grafitti. Which meant the only people that walked it back in the day were bums, thugs, punks and the brave residents of Center City.

So, I remember the evening - partygoers had to enter at 12/Locust, taking the dingy red-trimmed PATCO staircase down to the subway tunnel - which sat above a second tunnel which held the train tracks.

A massive boombox was kicking out a mix of punk and new wave tunes - which bounced along the tiled walls creating a cacophony of urban sound. They had two coolers - each filled with booze - although everyone was encouraged to bring their own brown bag. They set up a card table with bowls of snacks along a side area.

I arrived around the 11pm start time and, by the 2am peak - there had to be at least 150 people downstairs - everyone was dancing and laughing and singing proud and loud! At one point I walked up the staircase and crossed the street and stood there and experienced what, to this day, is one of the coolest moments I've had.

I'm standing at 13/Locust - it's 1:30am and the city is typically quiet (since, unlike today, no one really had a destination at 1:30am on any night in Center City), and wafting up from the subway entrances - and through the grills on the sidewalk - were the sounds of the party.

Almost as if the city itself was oozing with laughter, music and joyful emotion. Being in Philadelphia at that time - as the city was so dark and dingy - and hearing such levity drift from underground -the location of the 'heart and soul' of Philadelphia - provided me with hope that things were going to only get brighter in the years to come.


Kenny said...

Oh, those moments... when you actually stop to take it all in and think of what's ahead are the absolute BEST MOMENTS! I have a few of those myself.

neon green necktie said...

One of your best posts yet - a single, simple moment - it really transported me.

brandy101 said...

AWESOME post. Dang it, I was only in 7th grade in 1982, in my "Adam and the Ants" phase, though, so I bet I would've died of euphoria at such a "new wave" event! I'm jealous you got to attend!

If you get a chance, you might enjoy an entry from my blog's archives called "The Sounds of Silence and Smell of Bum Wine" - its got a link to it on the lower lefthand-side. You'll also find a bunch of "Philly-oriented" entry links there, too. :)