10 Great Places to Put Papal Pilgrims in Philadelphia

Screw AirBnB. Screw SEPTA, too. There’s still plenty of room in the city for our September guests.

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So, now we know the plan. And despite assurances from Mayor Nutter and officials involved with overseeing the World Meeting of Families in September, any true Philadelphian has already concluded: It’s gonna be a shitshow in this town for the Pope’s visit. With incoming cars and buses restricted from something the Mayor’s calling a freaking “traffic box” — and Interstates 76 and 676 and Route 1 closed in the area — once public transportation goes on lockdown, if you’re not already on the Parkway, you’re probably not going to get there. Hell, suburbs are declaring states of emergency.

What’s worse, there are only 35,000 hotel rooms in the region. Where will we put our other 1,965,000 guests? Rentals will help, sure. And there’s been discussion of opening the city’s parks to camping, but why stop at parks? The news that a church group from New Jersey plans to bunk down at the Philadelphia Zoo for Pope Francis’s visit (and pay just $120 for their bus ride plus lodging on the floors of the bird and — brrr — insect houses) got us thinking: Where else might we put papal pilgrims up within walking distance of the festivities? And guess what? Turns out we’ve got tons of lovely space that’s just going to waste. Here’s how the city can squeeze in — by our best guess — another quarter-million guests. 

Underneath Interstate I-95

Sleeps: 40,000

Photo | Google Street View

Photo | Google Street View

There are three solid miles of urban campground under the elevated section of I-95, extending from Old City through South Philly. There’s already been an art exhibit there; why not a hostelry now? A roof overhead and a manger full of straw was good enough for You-Know-Who; a roof plus two square yards of asphalt should be good enough for those coming to honor His representative on earth.

Eastern State Penitentiary

Sleeps: 1,700

Eastern State Penitentiary: left, Jeff Fusco, right, M. Fischetti, both for Visit Philadelphia

Eastern State Penitentiary: left, Jeff Fusco, right, M. Fischetti, both for Visit Philadelphia

So convenient! Its vaulted, skylit cells are architecturally significant and built to encourage penitence. Big plus: Every room’s a single!

Girard College

Sleeps: 800

Photo | Library of Congress Historic American Buildings Survey

Photo | Library of Congress Historic American Buildings Survey

Hey, Stephen Girard was (at least nominally) Catholic — and, like this Pope, a champion of the orphaned and poor. He’d open those big old doors for sure. Yes, Francis is visiting during the school year, but Girard kids go home on weekends, so their dorm rooms are available. Big, big plus: It’s got a cafeteria!

Franklin Field

Sleeps: 100,000 (60,000 sitting upright)

Photo | Penn Flickr

Photo | Penn Flickr

The University of Pennsylvania’s football stadium is just a skip and a hop from the Parkway. Once you pack the stands, you can also put pup tents on its acre of turf and the outdoor tracks, not to mention stretching folks out on the training tables under the bleachers. Major bonus here: Group showers.

The Reading Viaduct Tunnel

Sleeps: 75,000

Granted, it could use a good scrubbing, but this underground passage that once carried freight trains to and from Reading Terminal runs for a mile and a half beneath the city’s streets. And it’s nice and cool down there in hot weather. Who doesn’t love a camping trip?

The Main Branch of the Free Public Library

Sleeps: 5,000

J. Smith for Visit Philadelphia™

J. Smith for Visit Philadelphia™

It’s not like anybody’s going to be dropping by to check out books, yo. Some of the rooms here have thick, plush taxpayer-provided carpets that would be great under a sleeping bag. And the windows should offer great views of the Parkway goings-on. Plus: Tons of bedtime reading.

Rittenhouse Square

Sleeps: 1,000

Photo | R. Kennedy for Visit Philadelphia™

Photo | R. Kennedy for Visit Philadelphia™

Lest you Rittenhouse toffs get your noses out of joint, it’s just for two lousy nights. And considering the whoppers you tell on your tax returns, you could use a little papal intercession. Let’s put that nice grassy lawn to good purpose. Major draw: Big group bathtub! Possible drawback: Check that nice grassy lawn for canine surprises before you stake your spot.

The Shops at Liberty Place

Sleeps: 5,000

Photo | Facebook

Photo | Facebook

Centrally located — and it’s not like anybody shops there, right? It’s air-conditioned, it has escalators for the disabled, and it has a food court. Booyah!

Dilworth Plaza

Sleeps: 1,000

Photo | M. Fischetti for VISIT PHILADELPHIA™

Photo | M. Fischetti for VISIT PHILADELPHIA™

Everybody loves the newest city park, so why not share it with our guests? There’s a fountain on hand for bathing and/or christenings — not to mention Capogiro gelato if the weather’s hot.

City Hall

Sleeps: 20,000

Photo | Jeff Fusco

Photo | Jeff Fusco

His Holiness is coming for the weekend; the people who work at City Hall barely show up during the week. This civic behemoth has 700 large, elegantly appointed rooms and lots of courtyard space, not to mention an observation deck with a glorious view. Let’s fill our Second Empire beauty to the hilt with visitors. Maybe some of the love and goodwill will rub off. (But remember, people: No parking on the apron; that’s only for VIPs.)

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