BY JEFF DEENEY TODAY I SAW the words “Da Bottom” and “36th St.” written in black magic marker on the front door to Mantua Hall. The door is made from stainless steel and has a scratched-up window that looks over the lobby past the security guard’s window. There’s another identical exit door with the same words scrawled on it on the other side of a partition. It swings open and a tired looking, deathly skinny women walks past, dragging two dripping bags of garbage behind her.
Mantua Hall is one of the last of a dying breed; it’s a high-rise housing project completed back in 1960 when they weren’t yet aware that high-rise housing projects were a bad idea. Mantua Hall is scheduled to be imploded sometime next year, and its residents will start relocating to Section 8 housing within weeks.
Off the lobby, there’s a big wash room full of industrial-sized machines, where old women spend days chatting while laundry churns and tumbles. The walls in Mantua Hall are made of painted-over cinderblocks and the floor tiles are turquoise with white-and-orange squares arranged in diamond patterns every few steps. The floors are stained with filth, and there’s an ambient odor of urine throughout the building that never seems to dissipate.
The elevators are usually packed tight and take a long time to arrive. Today, there’s a crumpled can of Silver Thunder malt liquor, empty junk food bags and other various waste on the floor. The elevator groans and strains in a disconcerting way, making its riders nervous. Upon exiting the elevator, you hear a beeping sound like a steroidal version of a smoke detector with a low battery. The sound is ear-piercing, wince-inducing and is, in fact, a smoke detector with a low battery whose sound is amplified to wake the entire floor. The battery can’t be changed because the smoke detector is encased in a cage to prevent tampering. It beeps about once every 15 seconds. It’s been beeping for more than a month.
The apartments have balconies that are enclosed with rough-cut sections of cyclone fencing. Through the strands of metal, you can see rows of abandoned houses stretching from the base of the building to the 30th Street train yard, and beyond that the distant, glass-robed skeleton of the Comcast Center rising in east.