West Philly

Will make the corridor a more pleasant place

52nd Street in West Philly has been a commercial hub for many years. It's a street lined with various retailers, as well as street vendors hawking cell phone cases, clothing, and hats. Now some of the faded dull gray parking meters on the corridor, some broken, many with chipped paint, will be transformed into works of art.

Looking north on 52nd Street

Mural Meters is an initiative from The Enterprise Center to make old meters along 52nd Street between Walnut and Arch Streets into something new, vibrant, and relevant.

"It turns a dated object into a work of art," said Akeem Dixon, 52nd Street Commercial Corridor Manager. Funded by LISC, 10 of 56 meters will be designed to highlight the rich history of the community, while the remaining 46 will display the 52nd Street logo and provide for a uniform theme throughout the commercial corridor. Around the city you'll see similar patterns, like along the Baltimore Avenue corridor, or the rainbow flags around 11th and 12th Streets along Spruce and Pine. Submissions were due by August 10th and the project is slated to begin this October. According to Dixon, in addition to the local historic and artistic element—TEC asked that artists have a connection with West Philly— this will also create some jobs.

The old and new look kinda bad together

Close to the University of Pennsylvania, the University of the Sciences, and across from Clark Park lies a block in the middle of a strange transition, seemingly led by one property owner. We last covered construction on the 1200 block of S 45th Street back in 2012 when a building on the end of the block was finishing construction. Most of the new construction buildings on the street look fairly similar to each other. They're rather boiler plate new construction, and they wouldn't necessarily stick out in another neighborhood in Philly. Juxtaposed against the old existing two story homes though, the new construction looks a little unfortunate.

The new buildings are obviously built to take full advantage of the zoning of the property
Back in 1951

The majority of the properties in this line of houses are owned by John Cassidy. He's accumulated properties on this block over the years, with purchases dating back to the early 1990s. On several parcels, he's built three story buildings, mostly duplexes, ostensibly for student housing. Here's the view back in 2007 when the block had a quite a few vacant lots.

Around the corner from all the new buildings on Baring Street

The 400 block of Wiota Street is a rather quiet residential block in West Powelton, just north of the very bustling 4000 block of Baring Street. Prior to this decade, the street, and many of the surrounding blocks, were rife with vacant lots and structures. Now, due to its proximity to the college campuses of University City, the street is a major construction zone. As we walked from the northern end of the block, we spied three brand spanking new apartment buildings in a row, at 439 Wiota Street, which are part of a project called 40/Spring which also encompasses similar looking buildings around the block on 40th Street. We checked in on this site last fall and now the project is just about finished and most of the units are already reserved or occupied.

New building is finished

A recent commenter led us back to an interesting project which combined a surprisingly large number of units (twenty-four) with architecture that was meant to mesh with the neighboring structure. The building of interest is at 4213 Chester Ave.we first mentioned the property last year when the dilapidated twin house that was there had been demolished to make way for new development. Since the parcel itself was so large, it allowed for a larger than expected replacement structure. At that time, Harman Deutsch, the architect for this project, reached out to us and provided an applause-worthy rendering. 

What were they thinking?

On this blog, we try to stick to development issues and generally try to stay out of the weeds when it comes to architecture. First, we don't have formal training in that department. Also, it's a subjective thing and can be a bit of a moving target. For example, today we admire what's left of the works of Willis G. Hale, but the man died nearly penniless. How embarrassing it would be for us to criticize a building in the present day and become a laughingstock a hundred years from now!

But sometimes we just can't help ourselves. And that brings us to 3901 Walnut St., a building constructed in partnership between Penn and the Hankin Group. We first told you this was coming a couple years back.

The new building
A better view

On its face, the building is inoffensive. And compared to the one-story diner that we here previously, one could argue that a six-story office building is a step in the right direction. But... is this really the best project they were able to come up with? The building looks like it was designed by the same group that conceived the dorm building across the street several decades ago.