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.
For many years, we delighted in the fact that a pizza place at 43rd & Baltimore thought it was a good idea to call themselves "Wurst House Pizzeria." And it was definitely a sad moment for us back in 2006 when new ownership came in and inaccurately renamed the place "Best House Pizzeria." While it was indeed a house of pizza (and beer), there was little about the place that could be classified as best, unless you were looking for the best place near 43rd & Baltimore to snag a mediocre slice of pizza. In that sense, the name was very apt indeed. But none of that matters anymore because Best House Pizzeria has closed its doors.
Signs on the door
According to West Philly Local, the folks behind Local 44 and Memphis Taproom will be taking over the place and renaming it Clarkville Beer. There's no additional info on the concept as of yet, but if history is any indication based on their transformation of Kelliann's into Local 44, they will do a solid job creating a beer destination for the neighborhood. Hopefully, the place will continue to serve food.
It was an obituary that ultimately provided the information that led to the transformation of a blighted home near 49th & Baltimore instead of its demolition on the taxpayer's dollar. Detective work from Project Rehab reached all the way to Brooklyn, and in the end a home that had collapsed in on itself everywhere except for the facade was renovated and sold for $335K in a span of 18 months.
In the past
“There are always different stories and always different complications,” said Ryan Spak, who operates Project Rehab at University City District.
Since its conception in 2011, Project Rehab has positively impacted thirty-one homes in University City and West Philadelphia and has created $11.3M in real estate value from distressed properties, according to Spak. In February, we shared the story of another collapsed home at 4923 Osage Ave. that had been rehabbed and put on the market for $350K.