What’s With the Little Building Next to Union Transfer?

The boundaries of the West Poplar neighborhood are from 9th Street to Broad Street, Spring Garden to Girard, but the northern and southern sides are quite different. Above Fairmount Avenue, PHA owns the vast majority of the land and the Richard Allen Homes cover most of the area. South of Fairmount, we’ve seen considerable market-rate development activity over the last several years, with a mix of one-off homes and block-sized projects filling in numerous vacant lots. Some changes on the Spring Garden Street corridor have accompanied these developments, as a smattering of restaurants have appeared over the years and more recently we’ve seen developers renovate some larger buildings.

Perhaps the most notable newish presence on the corridor is Union Transfer, a terrific concert venue on the south side of the 1000 block of Spring Garden Street. Turn back the clock a number of years and this building housed a Spaghetti Warehouse location which we might have visited once or twice as a kid. The building dates back to way before its family friendly casual Italian restaurant days, having been built as the Spring Garden Farmer’s Market and hosting the Union Transfer Baggage Express Co. (hence the name), a tire shop, and a trust company over the years. There’s a little building next door that has considerably less history, dating back but a few decades and operating most recently as a Jiffy Lube. That business has been gone for over a decade, and the building has been used for Union Transfer storage since its opening in 2011. A mural with the quote “It was all a dream” brightens up the building, at least compared to its previous condition.

Union Transfer on the 1000 block of Spring Garden
Storage building at the corner

We were passing by the other day and saw what looked like a demolition notice posted to the building, but we didn’t stop to take a closer look, figuring we’d take a peek at public record. We confess, we don’t know what the sign is for, but we do now see that the plans for the property extend well beyond storage uses. Back in March, the owners of the property applied for a zoning permit to convert the building into a restaurant. And this squares with a Philly.com story from several months ago, announcing that Michael Pasquarello, owner of nearby Cafe Lift and Prohibition Taproom, would be opening a restaurant inspired by cuisine from the Mexican city Mexicali, home to a sizable Chinese population. It may have taken a little while, but now it appears that restaurant is finally moving forward.

Gas station / car wash across the street
A few restaurants on the north side of the 1000 block

Given that the building sits on a parcel much larger than the building itself, we suspect there will be a decent amount of outdoor seating associated with the restaurant. The outdoor seats won’t have such spectacular views, at least for now. Incidentally, this property is owned by Arts + Crafts Holdings, a developer that’s been buying up and developing properties all over the area. So the views might not be great today, but with this developer’s current streak, it’s a decent bet that they’ll be buying additional properties and improving the streetscape in the years to come. Also, considering this developer’s track record, we’re a little surprised they’re only utilizing the property for a restaurant and not for a more significant building. Eh, maybe this is just a temporary plan and they’ll build something bigger and badder at some point down the line.