A reader tipped us off the other day about construction on the 900 block of S. Saint Bernard Street, and since we'd never visited said block we figured it was worth it to make the trip. It's a pretty sweet block, dominated by twins that have been fairly well maintained. Architecturally, the homes have typical West Philly touches, like gabled roofs, front porches, colorful bays, and so on. While each home copies its twin, none of the pairs on the block are the same. For example:
The 5000 block of Baltimore Avenue has seen some changes in the last few years, notably with a few new businesses joining the corridor. Vix Emporium offers a collection of gifty items, mostly made by locals. Pound Cake Heaven is a small local bakery with especially tasty pound cake, as you might expect. And one of these days, maybe the long-planned Babylon Bistro will open its doors as well.
Babylon Bistro still happening?
When we passed by recently, we stopped dead in our tracks when we spied another business on the block which wasn't there before. At some point over the summer, event space Petite Fete opened their doors at 5042 Baltimore Ave., on the first floor of a building that had been sitting vacant and blighted for years. A couple years ago, there was talk that this building and a few of its neighbors would be demolished and the site would be redeveloped by the Mercy Wellness Center, but it looks like that plan fell by the wayside. It's also worth noting, the neighboring buildings still look like they're in rough shape but they look much better than they did previously.
In general, the architecture in West Philadelphia puts architecture in the rest of Philadelphia to shame. We're particularly fond of the many Victorian homes with their colorful bays and expansive porches, but sometimes it's the unique stuff that catches our eye. Earlier today, we were zipping around the blocks just below Baltimore Avenue and came upon 901 S. 48th St., a building that we somehow never noticed before. This thing seriously looks like a castle.
View of the building
Just the tower
In front of the property, there's a sign that describes it as 'The Castle Executive Apartments.' Well, clearly it looks like a castle on the outside, but we can't be sure of what the executive apartments look like. We tried calling Powelton Properties, the company that manages the building, to get some insight, but they didn't have any info on the building's history and could only tell us that there are no current vacancies. The owner of the property bought it back in 2000, and an old listing indicates had eight units at that time with rent numbers topping out at $675/mo for a three-bedroom. Even back then, those were some low rent numbers.
Back in 2010, the first Nesting House location opened its doors in the Mount Airy neighborhood. This store wants to break the "traditional route of consumerism," offering high quality used goods in a setting that's more boutique than thrift store. They realized success and continued to grow, and in 2013 they opened a second location in Collingswood, New Jersey.
Now, two years later, owners Jen and Chris Kinka are poised to open a third location at 4501 Baltimore Ave. in West Philly. Before their projected August opening, some involved renovations must be done. According to Jen Kinka, they'll be renovating the entire building which means refinishing crumbling interior walls, rewiring, and fixing the heating system.
4500 block of Baltimore Ave.
Space is on the corner
“We just couldn't logistically figure West Philly out two-and-a-half years ago,” Kinka said. But they wanted to. Before they opened the Collingswood location, the Kinkas had their eyes on two Philadelphia neighborhoods: East Passyunk, and West Philly. They already had a number of customers who drove out to their Mt. Airy Location from West and South Philly. So they knew that's where they wanted to be.
Two summers ago, we first introduced talk about Greensgrow expanding from Kensington to a West Philly location at a long vacant lot at 51st & Baltimore. And it was exciting to see that this community urban farm that nineteen years ago started as a hydroponic lettuce farm on a reclaimed brownfield site was eyeing expansion into a new neighborhood.
In the spring of 2012, a Subway franchise opened near 46th & Baltimore. At the time, several neighbors decried the move- some were upset because it was a chain and others that were worried customers would zip in and out of a parking alley behind the adjacent homes.
The store had a 10-year-lease, but it closed this past winter. At the time, the Spruce Hill Community Association was told that Subway was actively engaging new tenants for the spot. But the space, at 4533 Baltimore Ave., has remained shuttered. Now, plans for a new tenant have emerged and work has been ongoing at the site.
Over the past few years the western end of the Baltimore Avenue commercial corridor has seen considerable improvements. These changes were anchored by the relocation of the Mariposa market on the 4800 block in 2012, and since then, we've seen the openings of Little Baby's Ice Cream, The Marvelous, and Greensgrow farm on the 4900 block. among other new businesses. The latter appeared at the site where Elena's Soul burned down on Christmas Eve 2012.
Greensgrow, last summer
The most recent is Spirited Tattooing Coalition, set to open this month at 4918 Baltimore Ave., a location last occupied by a market. The tattoo parlor will double as a local art gallery, and will be run by Jasmine Morrell. Morrell will be the proprietor of "the first queer-owned tattoo shop in Philadelphia."
It's been relatively quiet along Baltimore Avenue on our end of late. Last month, an SHCA meeting for plans to turn a vacant 43rd & Baltimore corner into 132 condos and apartments was rescheduled due to a fizzled blizzard. The meeting should take place sometime this month. A few blocks away though, an old auto garage next to a gas station at 46th Street has plans for new action.
Muay Thai kickboxing coming upstairs
Soon, the second floor of that building at 4542 Baltimore Ave. will be converted into the 8 Limbs Academy, a Muay Thai kickboxing gym. 8 Limbs plans to open by March, according to the West Philly Local. It will feature an open floor plan covering 2,200 sqft of space with over a thousand sqft of mats, and will offer youth and adult classes.
At 46th & Baltimore in West Philly, Subway is closed, but Jared and his gang still have plans to sell sandwiches at this location. The original franchise operator has left and Subway is looking for another, according to Barry Grossbach, Spruce Hill Community Association zoning chair.
“I could only tell you I asked the zoning attorney on our zoning committee to see what he could find out,” Grossbach said. “Evidently, and this is the only thing we know, they [Subway] are looking for another franchise operator.”
When the Subway proposal came before the SHCA two years ago after the sandwich chain announced plans to take over a long-vacant corner location at 4533 Baltimore Ave. along the Baltimore Avenue Commercial Corridor, a handful of neighbors decried the proposal because of fears: traffic and big business. First, customers would create parking issues; it's located next to an alley and driveways behind 46th Street homes, they envisioned hungry Subway shoppers zipping down in cars on their way to and from work. Then was the fact Subway is a chain franchise as opposed to an independent small business, on a corridor full of the latter. The store opened in the spring of 2012, entering into a 10-year lease.