Just north of Girard Avenue, several blocks of Ridge Avenue have been sitting vacant for as many years as we can remember. This is quite a change from the scene on these blocks in the middle of the 20th century, when this section of Ridge was an African American entertainment district and a major center for jazz in Philadelphia. Just about every one of the old venues have met the wrecking ball over the years, according to a story from Inga Saffron, aside from the building that was once home to the Checker Club. That building, located at 2125 Ridge Ave., has been sitting vacant and blighted for quite some time.
We’ve passed this building on countless occasions, regularly admiring its wonderful bones. But this building was in really bad shape for a number of years, with a laundry list of violations, and we simply assumed it was fait accompli that it would eventually get demolished. So we stopped more or less in our tracks the other day, as we passed by the property en route to Manayunk, and noticed that it’s undergoing renovations.
Developers bought this building at sheriff’s sale back in 2015, but the Philadelphia Housing Authority took the property by eminent domain the very next year. This makes sense, as PHA took hundreds of properties in this part of town around that time, with an eye toward a massive redevelopment effort in Sharswood. Part of that effort, you’re probably aware, involves the construction of a new headquarters for PHA on the 2000 block of Ridge, just a block down from the building in question. Unrelated to that effort but still worth mentioning, there’s also some workforce housing happening just a block further south, on the 1900 block.
At first glance, it may seem curious to see this building getting fixed up, especially with a bunch of vacant lots immediately next door. But when you consider the broader context of PHA’s efforts in the area, it starts to make much more sense, and gives us the thought that we might see those lots get filled in at some point soon. Alternately, since PHA owns all the adjacent lots, this could be an opportunity to maintain this small section of Ridge as an open green space, which would preserve views of the mural on the side of the building. The mural, along with the former Checker Club, could provide a window into the history of the corridor as other blocks continue to fill in with new construction.