West Philly

On a cold Tuesday night earlier this month, volunteers gathered in a West Philadelphia elementary school library at 56th & Spruce that's been closed for a few years, working to clean up the room, weeding outdated old books.

It's the beginning of work that will reopen a library in the Alexander Hamilton Elementary School. One library at a time, the West Philadelphia Alliance for Children brings its volunteers into a school and reopens closed libraries. Using volunteers, they're able to open the library one or two days a week. The Hamilton library should be open and staffed by late January, according to Sarah Joseph, library program manager at WePAC.

Lea library before WePAC
Lea library after WePAC

WePAC works with different community and religious partners to collect donations and resources that transform the library from a fallow field into a place of learning again. Schools must meet certain requirements, and the program focuses on early literacy, with a goal of helping kids read on a 4th grade level. As such, the focus in the library is books for grades K-3, though some go up to sixth grade.

So much development taking place

If you've looked west from Center City across the river, it's hard to miss the growing University City skyline. There's now Evo near the Cira Centre; a 25-story mixed-use tower going up at 38th & Chestnut; and The Study, a new 10-story hotel is going up at 33rd & Chestnut; next to Chestnut Square, the 861-bed Drexel building recently finished at 32nd & Chestnut. 

That's just to name a few.  Last year, the biggest change in University City was a spike in the amount of private investment. This year, according to the State of University City 2014/2015 report, released by the University City District, it's more investment. So much so, it's leading the city, with 82% of all office construction in the region taking place in UC. It's no surprise that the cover to their report featured a crane.

Cover of the report

“I think the biggest story has to be the scale of the new residential construction here,” said Seth Budick of UCD, “which will really change the face of 'downtown University City' creating an even more vibrant core, and which is a response to the ongoing growth in employment and university enrollment, and the desire for close proximity between work and home.”

We thought things would look different by now

Back in the spring we shared news how a decade-long vacant corner lot at 46th & Sansom had finally changed hands from the Redevelopment Authority to new owners, a process that took almost ten years, and work on six buildings, each with four two-bedroom apartments, was underway. But when we passed by recently, that lot was not a project in progress, but a big lump of bulldozed earth.

Lot shows no progress

Meanwhile, just across the street, workers were busy commanding cranes, demolishing a strip of old long-blighted homes also owned by the Redevelopment Authority. In their history, 125-129 S. 46th St. have compiled a nice rap sheet of L&I violations. The PRA also owns 133-35 S. 46th St. to round up this fist of sorry old buildings. At the least, the demolition of these buildings will eliminate blight in the neighborhood. Hopefully, it means the parcels will soon turn over and new construction will rise here.

A big blight should disappear

For three years, we've covered various renovation and construction efforts surrounding 40th & Baring in West Philly, most recently visiting some new projects last week. Every few months or so, a reader has checked in, wondering about 437 N. 40th St., an apparently vacant building on the southeast corner of 40th & Spring Garden. The four story structure has wonderful bones, but it has plywood for windows on its north side. Back in 2007, virtually all of the window openings were covered in plywood, so the building actually used to look worse.

It's tough to miss
Greater Love sign

A sign out front indicates that the Greater Love Chapel once did business out of this building, but its present condition suggests that they're not there anymore. Notes from L&I over the last couple of years seem to confirm that the property is indeed sitting empty. That being the case, it would seem like an attractive redevelopment opportunity for the folks doing their thing a block away, wouldn't you agree? And it seems that the Greater Love people are on the same page.

As more projects push along

The number of projects popping up in recent years on the blocks surrounding 40th & Baring has really been astounding. On Baring Street numerous apartment buildings have risen, mostly housing students, generally replacing vacant lots. Recently, a new run of construction and renovation has gotten underway in the area. A large building on the southwest corner is getting turned into a duplex. Just north of the corner on 40th Street, developers recently renovated a long-blighted row of buildings. Closer to Spring Garden Street a row of quadplexes are progressing. And on the east side of the block, a building with 22 units is very much under construction.