Secrets of Philly City Hall: ‘Hoarders’ in the basement, Gerard Butler’s prison cell and more

It’s more than just offices for the mayor and City Council.

Philadelphia City Hall

Philadelphia City Hall

Wikimedia Commons

Correction appended

Go low enough into City Hall, and you’ll start thinking you’re in a prison. The walls and floors are unfinished,

Eventually, you end up here. In this chamber just below where people toss coins above, this space was actually used as a prison cell for Gerard Butler’s character in “Law Abiding Citizen.”

The room where Jamie Foxx was held as a prisoner in the movie "Law Abiding Citizen."

The room where Gerard Butler was held as a prisoner in the movie "Law Abiding Citizen."

Mark Dent/Billy Penn

It’s one of many odd locations inside City Hall. Most of the floors feature the expected: offices for the Mayor’s employees and City Council and the courts. But go near the top and the bottom and it doesn’t feel like a city building. Get down to the basement, in fact, and things start to look more like an episode of “Hoarders.”

These are the lesser-traveled areas of City Hall:

Where X marks the spot


City Hall

The seventh floor is the last main floor of City Hall before you start getting to partial floors and even higher up the tower featuring the Billy Penn statue. And given that it’s so close to the top it has to bear the load for the tower. These X’s, pictured above in the Public Property office, are load-bearing infrastructure to support Billy Penn.

The empty rooms of the 8th floor

Most of City Hall is occupied. There are 700-some rooms, and many departments wish they could have more space. About the only areas of the building open are on the eighth and ninth floors, which barely pass as floors.

To get up to the eighth floor, you have to take staircases positioned at access points on the seventh floor. To get up to the ninth floor, you have to take a staircase positioned from the one of the access points on the eighth floor. Most of the inhabited rooms on the eighth and ninth floors are climate-controlled evidence rooms for police. Some of the ninth floor is closed off because of asbestos issues.

One empty room on the eighth floor was used by contractors working on Dilworth Park before it was completed.

Just outside of that room, a staircase leads up to another empty office perhaps last inhabited by people working on a renovation plan in 2000. This makes sense because there’s a layout plan dated from 2000 still sitting on a desk.

Mark Dent/Billy Penn

There’s also graffiti apparently dating back to the 1980s.

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War-time basement windows

City Hall’s boiler room is in the basement. All the heat for the building is made here. The room has windows that Richard  A. Mariano, build services manager, says were implemented for defense purposes during possible war times. Workers in the room wanted to be able to see out at what was happening outside.

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Hoarders: City Hall edition

Aside from the boiler room, microfilm rooms and a loading dock area, most everything else in the City Hall basement is random storage. There are old Christmas decorations, X-ray machines and desks, a forest of desks.

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When new administrations come in, the basement can become a free for all, with employees discarding office equipment or needing to use something from the basement on a temporary basis.

Tom McDade, deputy chief of staff for Public Property, said City Hall equipment that costs more than $500 gets a city property tag. When it’s no longer used it has to go through a procurement process before it gets discarded. So in other words the basement is overflowing with office equipment pretty much all of the time.


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