architecture

Was surely once an impressive row

It wasn't so long ago that the section of Pennsport immediately surrounding Dickinson Square Park was a little on the dicey side, with several blighted buildings and vacant lots on the blocks immediately to the north and west of the park. Virtually all of those properties have been redeveloped over the last several years, both through infill development and the game changing Southwark on Reed project, which traded the vacant Mount Sinai Hospital building for almost a hundred new townhomes. The cause for the increase in developer interest is surely related to the overall development trends we've seen in several neighborhoods around town, and the major renovation of the park in 2011-12 has also made the area more desirable.


Dickinson Square Park

On the 300 block of Tasker Street, along the north side of Dickinson Square Park, is a row of brownstones that look like they were built at the same time and by the same developer. When they were originally built, we believe there were a dozen or more homes that looked more or less the same, all with detailed cornices, decorated lintels, and brownstone facades. We tried to find a historical image of the row of homes, but sadly came up empty, so you'll just have to join us in imagining what it must have looked like. This is necessary because the row of brownstones has not remained intact over the years.

Some blend in better than others

Graduate Hospital has experienced a nearly complete transformation over the last twenty years, from a neighborhood with over five hundred vacant lots and buildings to a neighborhood today where developers have eliminated almost every vacancy. The neighborhood has become safer, the schools have improved, and businesses have filled in within the neighborhood and on its bordering corridors, making it an ever more attractive place for people to live. And as the neighborhood has become more attractive, the prices for homes have continued to increase across the board.

With prices for three story homes at an all time high and with more families sticking around once their oldest child hits kindergarten, we're seeing a spike in 3rd floor additions in this neighborhood. In order to comply with the zoning code, any 3rd floor addition between two-story homes is required to have an 8-foot setback, but we've shown on numerous occasions why this is problematic. Instead, we've advocated for three story homes on two story blocks which maintain the cornice line of the adjacent homes and utilize a mansard roof to reduce the impact of the taller home on the street. Here's a favorite example:


Mansard roof on the 1500 block of Montrose

The 2200 block of Catharine Street has seen four additions over the last several years, and in each case the property owner has taken a different approach. Let's go through them now, moving from east to west:

How will it interact with the rest of the building?

The handsome building at the northeast corner of 41st & Baltimore was built in 1927, according to the University City Historical Society, designed and constructed by Samuel Silverman and originally known as Calvert Hall. The Historical Society goes on to describe the structure as an example of Renaissance Revival architecture, with "distinguishing features (that) include stone arched and pilastered entrance, cast stone lintels and sills, 6/1 sash, quoins, decorative pilasters and medallions, flat roof, decorated parapet." The writeup also mentions that a wing of the building was removed somewhere along the line. Aside from the missing wing, the building seems to have survived the last ninety years in pretty good shape.


Existing building

Today, it's used as a student apartment building with 45 apartments, operated by New Horizons Housing. Looking at their website, we see a few units are currently available for rent, with 1 bedroom units listed for $1,030/mo and a 2 bedroom unit available for $1,800/mo. Those prices seem a little high to us, but then again the units seem pretty well maintained and you can't really beat the location if you're a Penn student.

Would fill in another vacant lot

It was just a couple of months ago that we last visited the 1900 block of Cecil B. Moore Ave., telling you about plans for 24 units on a large vacant lot. That project, at 1913-1919 Cecil B. Moore Ave., got approval from the ZBA shortly after and construction should be getting started sometime soon. We're generally fine with this, as it's almost always good when a vacant lot bites the dust.


Back in January

Our concern at the time, which remains with us still, was that the design of the new student housing project would be, uh, utilitarian, like so much of the other new construction we've seen around this area over the last number of years. And that (valid) concern remains. The situation is exacerbated on this block by a number of really attractive old buildings, including the cinema turned church in the image above. Unfortunately, as we've covered before, developers built some regrettable stucco boxes next door to that building a few years back which stand among our least favorite buildings in town.

Let us pray to the architecture gods

We were scanning the zoning calendar the other day, and discovered some upcoming development planned for the 1900 block of Cecil B. Moore Avenue. Currently, 1913-1919 Cecil B. Moore Ave. is a vacant lot that's about 6,000 sqft in size with mixed-use zoning. Developers purchased the property a few years back and are now looking to build a purely residential building with 24 apartments which will ostensibly target Temple students.


Large and snow covered

We haven't seen much student housing development this far west on this Cecil B., though there's one prominent example in a stucco-clad development that went up at the northwest corner of 19th & Cecil B back in 2012. This building is especially depressing because it sits immediately next door to the Temple of Praise Baptist Church, a handsome building that was originally built over a hundred years ago as the Vogue Theater. Let us hope that the planned project on the western side of the church doesn't take any architectural cues from the buildings to the east of the church.

Even stronger ties to Back to the Future than you'd expect

We've always kinda had a thing for 514 Fitzwater St., one of the more unique structures in Queen Village. Perhaps you've noticed it in your travels around town, it's really pretty striking with its painted bricks, colorful cornice, and use of tile and ice cube windows on the first floor. Oh yeah, and it also has a clock tower, just in case your Delorean happens to need a charge.


Check it out

Lower floors

Clock tower

View from the west

We don't have a ton to share about the property, but did find some interesting tidbits by combing through the Zoning Archive. First of all, believe it or not, this place is actually a duplex. At some point in its history, a former owner chopped out a section of the building on Randolph Street and created a one bedroom/one bathroom unit. So there's that.

Would make for an amazing rehab

Student housing has boomed across many sections of West Philadelphia, with tons of new buildings rising in Mantua in recent years. The construction has slowly crept northward, but it hasn't yet made its way to Ogden Street, where we will draw your gaze on this rainy afternoon. This part of Mantua is a bit of a mixed bag, with tons of vacant land and a number of blighted vacant buildings, but a decent number of intact blocks mixed in there too. There's some impressive architecture to be found in the area, but there aren't too many buildings that compare with what looks like a former mansion on the northwest corner of 41st & Ogden.

A couple years after its demolition by neglect

We featured the building at 1516 Green St. as our blight of the week in March of 2013, wondering how this wonderful building had fallen on such hard times. Doing some research, we quickly realized that it was under the careful watch of the Philadelphia Housing Authority that the building was allowed to fall into such horrendous disrepair.


In the past

Fortunately, PHA auctioned off hundreds of vacant properties a few years back, including 1516 Green St., and by 2013 it was in the hands of private developers looking to redevelop. They presented a plan to convert the building into six apartments, a project that would have entailed demolishing and rebuilding the rear of the building but maintaining its facade. Since the property sits in the Spring Garden Historic District, this plan had to go before the Historical Commission which unfortunately did not give its blessing. Within a year of our first story, the building was declared imminently dangerous and demolished. As you might expect, the property has been sitting vacant for the last couple of years. But hark, a reader told us the other day that construction has started here!

Amazing intersection continues epic run

We've visited the blocks around the 40th & Baring intersection perhaps a dozen times over the years, regularly providing updates on this booming part of Mantua. Way back in 2011, some new apartment buildings had recently finished in the north side of the 4000 block of Baring Street, with a large building under construction on the northwest corner. The surrounding blocks have filled in considerably over time, with new buildings regularly replacing vacant lots and outdated warehouses like the Blockley Apartment buildings on 40th Street. Less often, developers have fixed up existing buildings that had been poorly maintained, like the triplex turned duplex on the southwest corner.

Will be nicer looking than previous construction on the block

A reader tipped us off the other day about some impending construction on the 1200 block of N. 25th St. and we couldn't shake the feeling we'd visited the block before. But we couldn't quite figure out when or why. Looking at the Google Street View of the block from a couple years ago, we saw an image of the building that once stood at 1230-32 N. 25th St., and then the lightbulb went on.


In the past

We wrote about this building almost four years ago, shortly before its demolition. We were sorry to see the building come down as it had several unique architectural characteristics, most notable that it was too skinny to have a proper front door. As we said previously, we have to imagine that the entrance was at one point more attractive and elaborate than the shed pictured above, but it's now lost to history along with the rest of the building. The ten unit building that was constructed in its place doesn't exactly possess the same character as the old building, as you might expect. 

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