blight

Been a long time coming

The northwest corner of 20th & Carpenter has been through some serious changes in the last decade. Turning back the clock to 2007, the building at the corner was a vacant mess and 922 S. 20th St. next door was a bodega with a well-deserved reputation for drug dealing. Though some of the activities that took place in the bodega were quite illegal, the building had some terrific bones. 

View of the corner in 2007

As the years passed, things changed, as they're wont to do. The building at the corner got a gut renovation, with two apartments upstairs and a corner store below. A few years ago, the folks who own 19 Degrees at 19th & Christian bought the former bodega next door and had plans to renovate the building and open a pho place on the first floor. Somewhere along the line, the renovation plan was scrapped and they demolished the building instead, excellent bones be damned. The property has sat vacant ever since.

But wait! We passed by the property yesterday and it looks like foundation work is underway. Could pho possibly be far behind?

Will probably just get torn down

Our first visit to the 1500 block of N. 16th St. came several years ago, when we discovered a stucco box apartment building filling a vacant lot next to an architectural gem. We were cheered back in 2014 when we learned that a larger apartment building was under construction next door, blocking views of the aforementioned stucco box. While the new architecture doesn't hold even a faint candle to the old, the block has seen some serious infill in the last few years.

1500 block of N. 16th St. in the past
Block looks quite different today

Today we direct your attention to 1511 N. 16th St., the amazing Victorian mansion that's currently home to the Alpha Kappa Lambda fraternity. This building has been used for student housing for many years, but may retain some of its original interior architectural details. About ten years ago, the property was listed for sale with this amazing description:

We'd thought this building would be demolished

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.

Building looks lousy

Though South Kensington has experienced a wave of redevelopment, there are still many buildings in the neighborhood that remain in poor condition. It's unfair to pick on one, but that's just what we're doing today as we consider 406-408 W. Jefferson St., a former auto garage. The property came to our attention recently as a neighbor noticed a violation posted on the door. There's also a construction fence surrounding the front, forcing pedestrians into the street.

Orange violation notice on the building

The building wouldn't even stick out all the much but for the second story, which seems to be a cinderblock wall with nothing behind it. It has a raft of violations on it, the most recent of which declares the building unsafe. The building got new owners at the end of last year, and we wonder whether they'll simply demolish the building and replace it with two townhomes. Should that happen, the people who eventually move here will have a newly renovated park in their backyard.

Actually it's a vacant lot right now

Several years ago, a reader directed our attention to 2619 Brown St., a large property that included a seemingly vacant building at the corner of Taney & Brown and a collection of one-story garages. When we investigated, we discovered that the same people also owned a blighted, ivy-covered building immediately to the north.

In the past

All of the buildings on this property were demolished a little over a year ago, and the owners quietly advertised that the property was available by posting a little FSBO sign in the vacant lot.

Current view

Developers purchased the property toward the end of last year, and they're now looking to build seven homes on this parcel with 1:1 parking accessed via a drive-aisle on Brown Street. Six of the homes will front Taney Street, and one home will front Brown Street. JKRP Architects did the design work. Here, take a look at the plan:

But there's still room for more development

We've had our eye on the 1200 block of N. 7th St. for a couple years now, ever since four homes and a mixed-use building replaced a vacant lot at the corner of 7th & Thompson. With that project in mind and numerous blighted buildings and vacant lots immediately to the south, we figured it was only a matter of time before new projects came along for this block. About a year ago, we learned of plans to build six triplexes at 1216-22 N. 7th St., and it appears that two of them are currently under construction with more to come. 

Triplexes framed on the west side of the block

This is great news, as these lots have been vacant for longer than we can remember (and possibly longer than we've been alive). If we may pile on the good news on this Wednesday morning, we recently noticed zoning notices across the street.

A surprising quadplex coming to the neighborhood

A reader just tipped us off about some new construction on 11th Street, just north of Christian, so we figured we'd check it out. These blocks are really well established, so it's pretty unusual to see much construction. But our readers are amazingly honest and this was no exception.

Construction at 813 S. 11th Street

Previously, there was a three story building here with some classy fiberglass awnings. Unfortunately, in all the old images from Google Streetview the building is blocked by a tree, so we can't show you what it looked like- you'll just have to take our word for it that it looked kinda crappy. Looking at an old listing, we discovered a classic South Philly grandma house, replete with wood paneling, drop ceilings, and colorful old bathrooms.

Developers purchased the property at the beginning of this year and could have done a gut renovation if they hadn't torn down the old building. But considering their plan is to construct a four-story quadplex, it's probably for the best that they're starting from scratch. Since the lot is enormous and zoned for multi-family use, this is a by-right project. Should be interesting to see whether they opt for rentals (our vote) or condos.

Bar/restaurant coming to the first floor

We wrote about the vacant building at 941 S. 8th St. back in the summer of 2011 after wondering about the property for many years prior. The building was fascinating to us because 1) it was a vacant and blighted building in an otherwise thriving neighborhood, 2) it had wonderful bones, and 3) the remains of a long-closed corner store were visible through the first-floor windows. Not only was the store closed, but the windows on the upper floors were covered with plywood, pretty much a bad look all the way around. And don't get us started on the weatherbeaten vinyl awnings.

Back in 2011

Passing by the property today, you can see that its condition is dramatically improved. The window openings have been filled with windows. The details on the bays and the cornice have been wonderfully restored. The awnings are gone. And there's a liquor license application in the window.

This might finally lead to change on this block

There are some blocks in this town that we just can't quit. Every year it seems we find ourselves on the 600 block of W. Girard Ave., hoping that this block will finally take a step in a positive direction. With the amazing Tiffin anchoring the south side of the block for several years, you'd have thought that the north side of the block would have experienced some redevelopment by now. But it looks more or less the same as it has for as long as we can remember, aside from the demolition of an old stucco building about a year ago.

Or will it continue to sit vacant and blighted?

South Kensington has experienced tremendous growth in the last few years, with small and large projects alike filling up vacant lots and replacing blighted buildings. Despite all this positive change, there's still a huge blighted building looming over the neighborhood, like Lurch on the Addams Family. The building at 5th & Master was once an umbrella factory, but it's been sitting vacant for decades. We last visited the property about a year and a half ago, hoping that renovation was imminent, but it looks pretty much the same now as it did back then.

The former umbrella factory
View from the east

A refresher, there was a plan for a residential conversion here back in 2006, which would have meant 141 condo units and a parking garage next door. The project encountered considerable community opposition, but it was ultimately mothballed because of the recession in 2008.

Pages