Bella Vista

Not to be confused with Bedford Cafe

The little stretch of houses on Kater Street between 6th and 7th Streets is relatively peaceful today given its proximity to South Street.  However, its history is as a street of ill-repute and abysmal living standards. Originally called Bedford Street, this mixed bag of immigrant families earned a colorful description as “one of the poorest and most dangerous blocks in Philadelphia during the late 19th and early 20th century.” PhilaPlace goes on to describe the block as being littered with animal excrement and given over to violent crime.  At the center of the block was salvation in the form of the Bedford Street Mission.  The sketch below, taken from PhilaPlace, shows the Mission upon its original construction in 1853.

The original Bedford Street Mission, 1853

Originally established by a Methodist Episcopal group, the Mission’s goal was to provide food, shelter, education and clothing to the neighborhood’s desperately poor children.  Just outside of a mission characterized by squalor and misery, the surrounding street was given over to drunkenness and brawling. The Mission attempted to bring salvation as is shown in the 1860 sketch here below, also taken from PhilaPlace.

So wonderful

Around town, there are dozens of buildings that have become favorites of ours over the years. One such structure can be found at the northeast corner of 7th & Fitzwater.

The building

Today, its home to Bella Organic Cleaners. But when it was first built in 1893, it was home to the Bank of Italy, according to the Preservation Alliance.

Back when it was a bank

There's so much to love about this building, which was designed by Watson & Huckel. The most unusual architectural detail is the clock that sits on the top of the building, which still seems to work. The cornice is not only fully intact, but it's one of the largest and most ornate in the neighborhood. The bays are traditional for the area, and make us wish that every new home had bay windows that replicated them. And finally, the stone entryway to the cleaners truly marks it as a building of substance.

But it's taking awhile

It was over two years ago that we first wondered about 915-17 S. 11th St., the former South Philadelphia State Bank building. At that time, the building, built around 1919 and designed by Makenzie and Wiley, was home to a business called the Cambridge Spice Trading Company. And while you could tell that the building had wonderful bones, it really looked like crap.

In the past

Almost exactly two years ago, it was clear that the spice guys had moved on, as the building was surrounded by a fence and undergoing interior construction. We didn't know then but we do know now that the owners of the property, who bought it in 2010 for $440K, are converting it into five luxury apartment units. According to a commenter from a previous post, there will be three units on the first floor which have 18' ceilings and living space on the basement, and two units upstairs with rooftop access. We can't see what the place looks like inside, but the exterior has come a long way. And while we're at it, isn't it nice to see this handsome building getting restored instead of demolished and replaced by boring new construction homes?

Site is striking right now

Over the summer, we told you that Mildred Court, a 25-home project in Bella Vista, had gotten the necessary approvals. Passing by the other day, we saw a site that looks quite different than it did just a few months ago.

Looking down 8th Street over the summer
Looking down 8th Street this week
View of the corner

A large building on 8th Street has been demolished, along with a former 7-Up bottling plant on Carpenter Street. Additionally, an unattractive former loading area at the corner of 8th & Montrose is gone. No one weeps for that thing, we assure you.

In case you've forgotten the finer details of the project, allow us to refresh your memory. Twenty-five units are being built on the 800 blocks of Montrose and Carpenter Streets, and the 900 block of S. 8th Street. The homes will range in size from 1900-2500 sqft, and will be about 34′ tall. The exterior designs will be contemporary, from JKR Partners, and the interiors will have high-end finishes. The homes will be offered as rentals at first, with the idea to sell them off within five years. This is the typical M.O. for developer US Construction.

But fewer homes than originally proposed

Two years ago, we first told you about plans for six new homes at the corner of Warnock & Catharine. At that time, a yellow, one-story building stood on this Bella Vista corner. Reader comments suggested, however, that the community wasn't crazy about the proposal, and that it had little chance of garnering support from the ZBA. Probably as a result of this opposition, the project was scaled back from six homes down to four.

In the past. Ah, those Cherry blossoms look lovely.
Same corner, just the other day

The four homes have all been framed out, and the windows have been installed as well. Look for bricks to be coming soon.

According to the listing, each home will have 3 bedrooms and 3.5 bathrooms. They'll all have rooftop decks, two-car parking, and high-end finishes. Access to the parking will be in the rear of the homes, from narrow Alter Street. The listing price is perhaps a little higher than we were expecting- $900K, but we would not be shocked if the developers get something close to that number. Bella Vista simply doesn't see too many homes like this go up. In Graduate Hospital, homes of this size have sold for a comparable price and even higher, giving us the sense that the homes are probably priced right.