West Philly

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.

Should be ready next fall

It wasn't so long ago that we first told you about plans to demolish engineering labs at 34th & Lancaster and replace them with a large mixed-use student housing building, ostensibly for Drexel kids. About a year ago, those efforts got underway and when we checked back here in January the building process was just getting underway. We passed by last week, and were really impressed by the progress that's taken place at the site in as this year has rolled along. We didn't even need to pass by actually, we could see the building from blocks away.

This thing is pretty tall

The project, now called the Summit at University City is being built by American Campus, the same company that recently built the Chestnut Square development nearby. These guys have done almost a hundred student housing projects around the country, and have pretty much perfected the art. This might explain, in part, the rapid pace of construction.

Refreshing to see this

Too often, as West Philly has seen more than its share of new student housing rise over the last several years, developers have skimped on the design side of things, opting for function over form. It's not that the new apartment buildings in the neighborhood are unattractive per se, but looking at many of them in the context of the gorgeous Victorian homes nearby makes them look terribly plain in comparison. And while we generally don't care about uniformity on a block in terms of height or appearance, we're perhaps a little more sensitive on the west side of the Schuylkill, given the elevated architecture on so many blocks.

On the 4200 block of Chester Ave., we were excited to share the news a couple of months ago that a new apartment building would fit in very well with the adjacent twin, and have a compatible look with many other homes on the block. Today, we have another example of home that will purposefully fit in with its neighbor, this time at 33rd & Baring.

How didn't we know about this?

The Porch at 30th Street Station, now a couple of years old, has been a big success story for University City District. The public plaza replaced a sad stretch in front of our main train station, with events and food trucks adding life to the landscaped streetscape. It's been great for travelers, commuters, and the thousands who work at the IRS building across the street.

30th Street Station and the Porch
IRS Building across the street

We confess, we didn't expect any more public spaces to pop up over here, but that's exactly what's happened. Thanks to a solid tip from a reader, we visited a new green space that's appeared on the eastern side of the IRS building, where there was previously a giant hole that peered down upon I76. We can't seem to find any information or press about it, but we were really impressed with this newly landscaped area on land that was rescued from oblivion.

Nothing we can do though

Two summers past, we were jonesing for a Slurpee while in West Philly, and visited the 7-11 at 38th & Chestnut with frozen satisfaction in mind. Alas, when we got to the convenience store, we were shocked to see it closed forever, wondering aloud when we'd ever seen a 7-11 close its doors. We shrugged, moved on with life, and expected we'd eventually hear about some major mixed-use project for the parcel, considering its location in the middle of Penn's campus. Time passed, and we revisted this corner again this past summer, sharing the surprising news that the building was simply getting renovated into a Santander bank branch. That effort is now complete.