May 24, 2005 – The building is known as "The Senate Building." The words are placed high in the center of the cream colored two-story building. The building stands near the corner known as Bassin Triangle, in an area called Contentment. Sometime in its early years of vacancy, someone added the word "Old" between "The" and "Senate." Decay and neglect have prematurely aged the building.
Rooms, which once courted the movers and shakers of V.I society, are gutted, nearly every glass pane is shattered, and graffiti litters the walls. This building, once the seat of power on St. Croix, where legislative trailblazers such as Ruby M. Rouss, Elmo D. Roebuck, John Bell, Michael A. Paiewonsky and others once maneuvered, is now a perch for pigeons and a refuge for weeds.
The V.I. Legislature was the building's last official occupant. It has stood empty, without legitimate occupants, since 1995.
In the past few months, some strange "goings-on" have been afoot at the site. Someone has erected a makeshift structure from cast-off lumber. A fence, made of wooden palettes, stretches from one end of the compound to the other. It is unknown whether the fence's purpose is to keep something out, or to keep something in.
Further investigation inside the fence's perimeter reveals a haphazard but neat microhabitat. Off to the right is a small pen containing several young chickens and a mother hen. To the left is a structure about the size of a large garden shed made of cast-off wood panels. Attached to this structure is a sign written in red paint announcing "911Constitution Hill". Again, observers wonder if this is an address or a reference to a disaster. Next to the sign, an American flag is tacked. Patriotism seems to run high here, the flag is one of two displayed. The other flag, attached to a pole, juts out over the second story balcony. Fine gravel swept into neat piles around what used to be the parking lot, provides a border for tomato plants. A patch of sugar cane spreads freely against one of the buildings.
Clint Murray is bent over, tending to some seedlings. Murray, 38, is the self appointed caretaker of the building and surrounding area. He is about 5'7", close cropped hair, mustached, wearing loose jeans and a faded blue T-shirt. He has lived in the abandoned building since 2000. Murray has had several brushes with the law, mostly for burglary. He was released from the Golden Grove Correctional facility five years ago, after serving 12 years for burglary. He said he lived with his mother for a few months after he was released from prison, but after a while she told him he couldn't live there any longer. That is when he made the abandoned building his home.
Murray doesn't want to talk much about his personal life, but when asked about the 'improvements' he's made to his adopted home, he chats amicably.
Murray said he began his rehabilitation of the area by clearing all the bushes from around the building and discarding the resulting debris. He salvaged a window and a door and installed them in one of the former senators' offices. Now it's his office, he says.
Murray has been frugal in the creation of his habitat. All the vegetables he planted were picked up during his daily travels. The chickens were a gift from a friend. He has a varied assortment of plants including bananas, peas, okra, sugar cane, mangoes and avocados. When asked if he ever went to the government for assistance, he just smiled and said, "Id rather do it myself."
The building belongs to the Christiansted Moravian Church, located just a half a block away on Centerline road. Dion Christopher, a representative of the church, said he is aware that Murray is living on the property. "We've asked him to leave, but he says he has no where to go." Christopher said
Murray spends his days tending his plants and sweeping his yard. In the afternoons he goes into his office and spends hours writing in a tattered notebook. He said he is writing new laws for the V.I. Code. "The senators don't write the kind of laws people need," Murray said. "They are just in it for themselves."
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